Sunday, August 24, 2003

A Partially Grown Man Still Suffering from Max Attacks

For imagination's sake let's just say that you were to find yourself one innocent night somehow at a benefit concert for Alejandro Escovedo (and you didn't even know he was ill!) and the Stephaniesque singer of the first band sings something about closing down your heart just when you realize that years of self-inflicted internal bleeding close to that organ could very well be fatal unless you apply some kind of soul-sapping tourniquet which is just exactly what you have somehow managed to do and you know that despite a friend's spur of the year diagnosis in which you suffer from a bout of lack of self esteem the exact opposite is the case: you don't see yourself as God you just expect others to.

Max the breakfast boy and first time homeowner received some bad news the other day. The lab reports he had been waiting for clarified that the dinosaur bone he found in his backyard was nothing more than a stick. This was just a few months after he received the latest rejection notice for his novel that stated the usual reason for rejection, "Excessive use of the word 'throb.'" And he had a history of such things: that air transport system he invented? Turned out to be merely a hose.

Mocking people stop Max in the steel and glass skyways above the streets of downtown Minneapolis and ask, "So Mitch how can you survive in this heat without an air conditioner?" Max would shrug and acknowledge when the temperatures reached the 90's and the humidity caused an uncomfortable clamminess that he wasn't particularly anxious to leave his cool workplace for his stifling house. Truth be told (as it seldom is) Max didn't want to confess for him life was about being in a perpetual state of discomfort so what the frick and heck was new? He'd grown accustomed to the uneasy feeling and not having air conditioning was the least of his worries.

BEEP! It was a noise coming from the attic that was becoming a familiar if less than accepted sound. The smoke detector's battery needed changing but Max was loathe to head up into the attic knowing the air up there would be even more difficult to breathe. Ironically it was only a few years before that he had taken out a loan to turn the attic into a room in anticipation of gaining a roommate in a few weeks. The news of the week? That was-gonna-be-but-never was roommate, a walker of the marathon kind was pregnant again and for better or worse that could have been the two of them but it wasn't. He was a disappointment only to those who knew him well.

Peripatetic Max had a long walk to work every morning. This year his first ankle aching fluid filling steps were on the crunchy parched grass between his brick house and his decaying garage. Max noticed that the majority of the lawn, and certainly anything that remained green, was crabgrass. The uneven mixture seemed appropriate as Max had often considered himself not so much a human but more a crab-human. Thus he was reluctant to mow his lawn even though it had been more than a month since he had done so, not so much because of the heat but because he felt foolish mowing the learned scorned crabgrass. It wasn't exactly what he envisioned when he made his first symbolic nervous steps toward applying for a mortgage loan and making a commitment that proved he had somehow reached a place of stability where he could afford such things.

His final steps to work were onto one of the elevators in a bank of elevators where early in the morning a motley crew of people waited for the next car to arrive. Inevitably Max would get on a car where the rest of the people seemed oblivious to his existence. His was the seventh floor of a building of 24 floors and he was usually one of the first on and first off the elevator (most others were above him). So he'd have to work his way through the huddle and get to the door before things closed and continued on upward. Max tried his best to be polite but usually ended up muttering and bumping his way out of the car.

This (not so) noteworthy morning he received an official looking document from the United States Social Security Office showing his earnings from every year he had worked since he had begun earning a wage 19 years before. The fluctuations only served to remind him how far he had come and how far he had left to go. And the feeling inside was that he could never stop moving, because once he did he knew it would end all too quickly. He was the only one he knew whose numbing dose of Prozac was an animal not a chemical.

There were days where gravity seemed to be cheating on him, pushing down harder like the searing memory of a pet/helper gasping for his last breath as Max choked back his own tears. He woke up one morning months later to the scary sound of a replacement(?) black cat panting in the heat. There were certain things in this world that he didn't need to hear or know (and if he did it would shut him down like an overloaded electricity grid). She had the ongoing ability to shatter his heart with little apparent effort. There were other things in this world that Max would never know despite the need and his was just another hard luck story in a world full of such similar stories.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

How I Got Connie Evingson's Pants or Why a Balk is Called a Balk

A couple of week(ends) ago I had a choice to make although not really. Which is kinda like life but not exactly. With a ring like (or is it Target-like?) rash appearing just above my knee (kinda itchy, kinda stinging) and the ensuing Lyme disease symptoms that appeared a short time later (in my head and maybe in my body) I am a boy with limited energy these days. It was the weekend of my twentieth high school reunion (man am I getting old), the weekend the Minnesota Twins were giving away a Corey Koskie bobblehead, and the weekend that Bob Dylan was playing as close as he's gonna get to the Twin Cities this year- just across the borderline in Somerset Wisconsin. I knew I was gonna go to one and one only and the choice was as daunting as the choice between Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Carol Mosley-Brown.

When I received my invitation to my reunion, a mere few weeks before the event was to occur, it occurred to me that no matter how much I hated high school (and believe me there is no one still alive that hated high school more than I) that I should go and put on a show- after all that is all I did for the three years I actually attended Frank B. Kellogg Senior High just outside of downtown Little Canada Minnesota. For all the misery I went through back then I thought I'd get even and balance the scales and show the happy go lucky side of me that now permeates my personality- I'd mess with my classmates minds by bringing two of my female friends, introducing one as my wife and one as my mistress and showing pictures of the multitude of children I've had with both and others. When asked what I do for a living (something in reality I'm not entirely clear about) I'd of course tell everyone I was a choreoanimator (the person who designs the dance routines for cartoon characters). I'd leave them all wondering about me (again continuing the pattern established in the early 1980's) especially that darn Bernice (who was either my drill sergeant in the army or the girl who crushed my heart by dating a senior in our freshman year and holding hands with him in my presence).

But a certain refrain from the most relevant Bob Dylan song to me kept echoing in my mind, "People are crazy and times are strange/I'm locked in tight, I'm out of rage/I used to care but things have changed..." In other words (somewhat my own), why bother? So a fleeting thought was instead given to trying to add to my collection of bobbleheads, the most impressive part of my admittedly lame home decor. The thought of sitting on the hard concrete surrounding America's second to the worst baseball stadium in the hot humid air to get the best hitter from a team of underachievers just didn't appeal to me. I think my love of the jiggling noggins is starting to wane.

So instead I listened to what was wailing in my heart (a rare occurrence these days even though it's all I've ever known to do) and instead found myself seated and waiting on the sharp gravel outside the gates of the Float-Rite Park in Somerset, a mere stone's throw from downtown Hudson. I was with the lovely former music editor of the Minnesota Daily who happened to be in kindergarten just about the time I was graduating from high school. I could hear the woo hoos from the guys who I tended to hang with in high school, the woo hooers, that I was where I was with who I was with. But I wasn't even thinking in the same universe as I'm sure they'd be thinking. I was glad that I was attending a Dylan show with someone who was just as much of a fan as I am, who'd get a kick that he added the lyric "She had eyes of blue, and blue hair too" to "If You See Her Say Hello" (Sgt. Bernice) just as much as I did.

So go ahead B- and eat all the sushi you can eat for $27.95 and go ahead and pick all those ripening yellow tomatoes and odd shaped cucumbers from your once weeded home garden. You are where you are and I am where I am. And that's all that matters (or can exist) anymore. And you haven't lived nor should you presume you know me until you see my gliding around the bases of a dusty softball field (I'm gonna have to take up golf one of these days to acknowledge my frightening age) carefree for a fleeting moment even as my legs are betraying me during an all day softball tournament where we finished fourth out of eight teams and I did my part playing third base- the same position as Corey Koskie (but truth be told, I'm more like Denny Hocking).

Sunday, August 10, 2003

The Dapper D

Bob Dylan's current stage arrangement has him seated behind his keyboard to the far left of the stage. Guitarists Larry Campbell and Freddie Koella stand directly in front of him with bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Recile off slightly to his left. From his vantage point Dylan plays the role of the bandleader giving cues- mostly through the nod of his head. And though he is seated toward the side, the stage arrangement is an apt example one of those neat devices that Dylan inscrutably has in his bag of tricks. When he isn't at the center he makes the center come to him. That's some feat.

Dylan and the boys played at tight 11 song set at the Float Rite Amphitheater in Somerset, Wisconsin last Sunday opening for what remains of the Grateful Dead. Decked in a stylish silky black shirt with a snazzy burgundy scarf, Dylan spit out the lyrics to the opening number "Silvio" with precision and fire as he seemingly announced his intentions for the evening. "One of these days and it won't be long/Going down to the valley to sing my song/Gonna sing it loud, sing it strong/Let the echo decide if I was right or wrong..." His vocals throughout the all too short set were full of expression and passion.

The second number the soft and wistful "If You See Her Say Hello," is one of many in his repertoire where the singer is obviously wounded but he's not going to let the woman he considers responsible know it and at the same time he's not about to let her off the hook. Dylan changed the lyrics in a delightful way making the song sound brand new. "She had eyes of blue and blue hair too...""If she's passing back this way I'm not that hard to find/Tell her she can look me up/Maybe I'll be there, maybe I won't..."

In a rollicking "Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I'll Go Mine)" he added an expressive "YES!!!" at the end of the refrain, "I'm going to let you pass" that was equal parts glee and distress.

Out of the eleven songs four of them were from his last CD Love and Theft and all four cut the recorded versions to shreds. "Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum" rumbled; "Bye and Bye" was light and sweet with some great jazzy embellishments by Koella; "Honest with Me" roared even though few in the crowd even seemed to care that Dylan saved his best vocal twist for the best line in the song, "I'm stark naked and I don't care/I'm going to the woods and hunting bear (bare?)." The guitar battle between Koella and Campbell on "Summer Days" was so full of adrenaline that the gravel voiced biker guy standing next to me with tattoos of Joni Mitchell, B.B. King, Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and his kitty on his massive arms, spontaneously grabbed me and hugged me during the middle of the song. The guy had told the young ladies next to him that he had been drunk for four days straight. He also seemed to have a bit of a problem with authority figures as he berated any security guard that should happen to wander by.

The venue itself left a little to be desired. To get to our place on the side right next to the stage my friend Jennifer and I had to walk a long ways sideways on a fairly steep hill. The dusty grounds took a beating from the many tie-dyed T-shirt swirling, dread-locked masses who were obviously there to see the main act. We stayed for Bob's three songs with the Dead which meant we had to stay through a couple ten minute Dead jams before our guy reappeared dressed in a light blue cowboy suit and wearing a big cowboy hat and even bigger smile. As he traded verses of "Desolation Row" with Bob Weir Dylan's grin got bigger and bigger. On "Johnny B Goode" his piano playing style of legs bent slightly in at the knees, jiggling with the music, elbows also slightly bent in, hands pounding out simple chords at the strangest moments, was a delight to watch. It reminded me of the ten minute concert my kitty Diego-san gave to me and his three-legged feline roommate earlier in the morning. The piano keys seem to fascinate Diego and yet he nonchalantly prances across them knowing we're all paying attention. Positively Bob-like.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

The Closer

I remember reading a Playboy interview with Paul Simon a while back (just after he was still crazy after all those years), and it has stuck with me since because it was such a mesmerizing and influential document (and the pictures were interesting as well). Among the many topics Paul nakedly poured his heart (and bones) out about were his professional differences with Garfunkel and his recent decision to marry actress Carrie Fisher after a hot and cold, off and on, not sure whatever to make of things, relationship.

About Garfunkel Simon revealed that things were destined to eventually crash because there was never an equal separation of duties. Paul wrote the songs and through much of their partnership they allowed Art to "arrange" the music but once Paul began maturing as an artist he wasn't one who wanted anyone changing what he himself perceived what he wanted his work to be.

As for why he finally proposed to Fisher, Simon said that he made his decision when he arrived at a rare moment of comfort at a Yankees game (apparently he's a huge baseball fan- which may explain lots) where the Yanks were ahead by enough and they had their closer, Goose Gossage (the one with the unrelenting tailing hard fastball and most intimidating glare), in to finish things off. The alignment of the stars finally just seemed to be right and Paul knew what he had to do next.

So the other night I was at a Twins game against the less than mighty Detroit Tigers (who are threatening to post the worst ever record by a major league team) and I was sitting with Elvis' daughter (the one who won over my these daze microscopic heart by consistently laughing at my ever con-c-r-e{v}aling jokes) and we were having our usual quiet but significant time together and I thought to myself- there are times in life that things can make a little sense and you can be very glad to be where you are, with the one you happen to be, if only for a small moment of time. Mars will soon loom larger in our skies than any time in our insufficient history and aren't we to be glad that we are somehow alive (well, some of us) to witness it?

A recently shaved-headed Japanese (or presumed to be by all but one) awoke himself up the other night screaming from an apparent nightmare. The sweat that raced down his shiny forehead only oddly seemed to coincide with the flop sweat created in his "dream"- of him standing before a group of less than receptive people who were definitely not laughing at a thing he said even though he peppered his presentation (PowerPoint at that!) with his own brand of humor- the very thing he had been sometimes complimented on, the same thing that he was fearful was becoming one of those little thing just beyond his grasp...

So Elvis' daughter and I found ourselves seated in season ticket holder seats just to the right of home plate looking straight down the third base lines a mere 18 rows up. I've gotten used to the view but Elvis' daughter said they were the best seats she had ever sat in. The locals had just jumped all over the hapless Tigers and we discussed at what point we were confident the game was well enough in hand that we could leave early to beat the crowd. Recently recalled Rochester farmhand Michael Restovich had hit a bases clearing triple and the likelihood of Detroit having enough fight to fight back seemed remote indeed. But we stayed and I found that comfort zone that Simon said existed for him when the sound of silence crossed that bridge over troubled waters.

James Baldwin (not related to Alec or Billy) closed things out and Elvis' daughter and I scampered into the wanting to rain, but not being able to, tranquilizing Minneapolis night. I drove her back to her house in Richfield (or at least tried to being just one of the many Vee-hick-uls! inching their way forward on a once upon a time street known as Washington Avenue but now doing its best imitation of a parking lot)- and you wanna know what? Finding a friend who laughs at your often times lame and increasing desperate musings can be remarkably worthwhile in a traffic jam believe you me.