Monday, January 26, 2004

Straight Up

Maybe it's because the people I tend to hang with these days (when I'm in the rare mood to hang) are for the most part, merely different shades of jade. Or maybe because with everything else going on in this world it's natural to think about cost and implication first (and second), with wonderment coming in a distant third. But I have to admit I'm both bewitched and bewildered by those recent stunning photographs coming back from Mars.

Yeah in essence all we've been seeing are pictures of rocks. I could go outside my door, take a picture of my backyard and get something similar looking (although my yard really doesn't have that many rocks, Mars doesn't have my weeds, nor have we yet seen any pictures of a dilapidated garage- the kind that sits just outside my kitchen window). Yet it is kinda mind blowing to contemplate how far away those rocks are and where the crystal clear pictures are actually coming from. Never has such a barren landscape looked so beautiful and awe inspiring.

That is unless you plop Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story into your DVD player. Ozu isn't as well known in this country as Akira Kurosawa yet from everything I've read many Japanese consider him their finest filmmaker. Tokyo Story is a definitive example of why this might be.

The movie's story is starkly simple. An elderly couple who live in the country decide to visit their adult children in Tokyo. While there they discover their children have busy lives and don't have much time to spend with them. The couple cut their trip short and upon returning home, the mother becomes ill and dies. The children are thus forced to deal not only with their grief but also some mandatory guilt that they didn't spend more time with their parents when they had the chance.

But Tokyo Story isn't a melodrama (in the Hollywood sense) nor is it an indictment of selfish behavior by the children. What gives the movie some of its absorbing power is that the children are not monsters but recognizable. Being too busy to rearrange schedules was probably as common an occurrence as it was in 1953 Japan as it is in 2004 America. Ozu is able to make his point subtly by showing regular people doing regular people like things. It's human nature to not always appreciate the things we should until it's too late.

What makes this movie transcendental, remarkable, and unforgettable however is Ozu's skillful direction. His transition shots are often of the Japan landscape- rolling trains and fresh laundry hanging on lines and flapping in the wind. For an American viewing the film 50 years after it was made those touches provide a familiarity against a backdrop decidedly foreign. This is a movie shot by a visionary artist- with many of the camera angles being framed low off the ground- the position the couple is seen kneeling throughout the movie- giving it an unmistakable yet indescribable Japanese quality. One can't imagine Ozu's American contemporaries like Hitchcock or Billy Wilder or John Huston making the same movie quite the same way.

Thus this is a foreign movie in every sense of that term. It's not the subtitles, the Japanese landscape, nor the Asian faces that gives this away, it's the way Ozu creates a quiet movie with lots to say- how in the movie's many silent moments he forces the viewer to not only think about what is going on in the story but think about how it applies to human nature in a universal way. Tokyo Story is a great movie- one of the best I've ever seen- not because of any grand statement it makes but because its artistry seeps deep inside and enlightens at the same time as it inspires.

In one of the final scenes, the daughter-in-law, who actually goes out of her way to be kind to the elderly couple, says a farewell to the youngest daughter, who is left to take care of her father. The daughter criticizes the selfishness of her siblings while asking a sad question, "Isn't life disappointing?" And the sympathetic daughter-in-law is forced to admit "Yes it is." It's a heartbreaking scene because you realize the two characters have come to a realization that is quite inevitably apparent the more you travel through this world. The two young women smile at each other and go their separate ways. It's family that brought them together in the first place yet they aren't connected because they are related by blood. Rather they share a common bond because they are the rare who are sensitive enough to understand that selfishness is an all too universal human trait.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Oz Sez, "Whaa?"

Where were you 601 weeks ago? Maybe you were out getting a new pair of glasses. Maybe you were out getting a divorce. Maybe you were sitting with the pubescent members of Jet listening as they plunked a few guitar chords. Well not me. Six hundred and one weeks ago on a late June afternoon I was rolling a blank piece of paper into my electric typewriter and sitting down to produce the very first Cheapo newsletter.

A lot has changed since then. We're at war in Iraq (umm... wait a minute, maybe that isn't a change). We have a Bush as President (umm....). In the corner of the newsletter office a kitty rolls himself into a ball to try and catch some sleep despite the blaring music (umm... again not so much of a change).

Yes to quote the late great Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, the more things change the more they remain the same. Six hundred and one weeks ago I was in love with someone who was no longer around. Now days the same feeling may exist for someone who might as well not be. Six hundred and one weeks ago I was up late at night editing and typing up some stories while watching the CBS late night show, One West Waikiki torn between my goofy yet disturbing attraction to Cheryl Ladd and my critical facilities that could barely stand to continue to watch such dreck. These days I experience the same thing watching The View daily because I happen to like Elisabeth Filarski (Hasselbeck).

So a dozen years later I'm listening to Atmosphere's Lucy Ford ("I hope your new boyfriend gets cancer in his d....") and I'm sure back then what I probably was listening to was Del the Funky Homosapien ("Mr. Dobalina... Mister Bob Dobba lina..."). And you call this progress? At that time I was spending my Saturday morning pricing moldy LPs at Landfill and this Saturday morning I found myself helping my friend make labels for her infectious techno CD mixes. One step forward, one step... So time tells me I've lost one cat, a constant newsletter inspiration and production observer. I've also lost my Mom, a regular proud newsletter reader.

Very few of the readers back when we started are still reading the same thing today. One of the facts of life these daze is that very few of us stay working for the same company more than a few years in a row. Six hundred and one is far too much to long a time to expect one to stay in the same place. In the fall of 1992 I went and saw Bob Dylan perform fifty different songs at five shows within a week of each other at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis. I've never been quite the same since and have viewed music and art (and life) in a brand new (inspirational) light since those shows. When my Mom died seven years later my friend (the techno mix maker) advised me that I would have to take baby steps to somehow deal with the loss. So upon further reflection (NFL slowmo style) I think I've done that quite well. Problem is I'm not sure if those steps have been forward or back.

If someone had told me then that 12 years (601 weeks) later we'd still be, on a weekly basis, coming out with an eight page newsletter for the employees of this company to read (and more importantly, to communicate through) and that we hadn't missed a week (issue- weak issue har har har) during that time I think I might have responded by saying that would be something to be proud about because being dependable is nothing to sneeze at. Nope, being there is something to never ever take for granted.

But enough self inflicted back patting. This is all about change while remaining the significantly the same and wondering if that's a strength, a source of pride, or if just doing something over and over really is something that is ultimately a positive. Just because you are always there doesn't mean that that is a good thing. You don't have to make that much of a difference for it to be a moot issue that keeps you up at night. You can pull back and retreat and smart all at once. Or you can plow forward, head down, both out of humility and out of necessity.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Call Me the Fake Spandex Man

"The mother bird has an egg and she says, 'I think my baby bird will be hungry.' So the mother bird goes to look for some food for her baby. The egg jumps and jumps and the baby cracks out of the egg. The baby says, 'Where is my mother?' He looks up and down and can't find his mother. The baby goes looking for his mother. He meets animals and things and asks, 'Are you my mother?' They all say, 'No.' When he finds his mother he is very happy.

I like this book because it is fun to read over and over again. My favorite part is when the baby bird finds his mother. This book reminded me that it is scary when you don't know where your mother is. I recommend this book to children that are learning to read because it was one of the first books that I could read all by myself."

-Lissette R. age 7

Driving to work in the wee wee hours Saturday morning I got one of those signs that God does indeed exist. On my car stereo I was cranking, and I mean seriously cranking, the techno music mix the Asthmatic Skater was kind enough to burn for me. It was almost as if I was hoping (and praying) that the searing sound of the throbbing beats along with my head bobbing would heat up the car quicker than the blowing air from my heater. In my yet to have coffee stupor I was thinking, seriously thinking, about exactly where I was/am going. And it had nothing to do with the highway I was on or the streets I was passing. Time's running out, the timing belt probably needs to be changed and my thoughts were a thousand miles away. But I snapped to when I passed the Industrial Blvd exit. Techno blaring and I pass by Industrial Blvd. If that isn't a sign of a higher being than I have to ask, what exactly is?

And call it a lame excuse because when it comes right down to it, I don't eat the right beef to come down with Mad Cow disease but it certainly could have been the Cranky Kitty disease that caused me to bet on my own softball games. So I think you can lower the alert from yellow to taupe.

I got to work and I got a whiff of the cologne worn by the tax manager who wears too much cologne and just about the time I was going to curse my nose (certainly not Obsession) I was startled that it took me back over thirty years to my days in kindergarten. Not that my teacher, Ms. Park wore man's cologne but the thing I remember most about arriving to my classroom was that it had a unique kindergarten like smell. To me it smelled of something official, of starting down a road that had an unwritten ending. That's quite a powerful scent, I now see (or sniff).

I used to get so nervous each and every day before kindergarten that my stomach would ache and I wondered why, just why, I had to leave the only home I had known for five years (going on to six). Not that I disliked kindergarten, on the contrary it was kind of cool this learning stuff, but it was a jarring change of place.

And then all these years later I'm at my most recent place of work, taking a deep whiff and some similar thoughts are bouncing around the inches behind and below my eyes. Things aren't quite as new as they were back then, though I certainly know a thing or two more (but not all that much if the final tally is to be taken). I've learned it's best to schedule a thing or two in the near and far future to be able to look forward to even though I thought Ben Kingsley's New Year's resolution was rather keen of trying to do better at living in the moment. It's the whole routine vs. dream thing that I've bored the next generation with.

Speaking of which, the blue eyed St. Paul resident and I have signed up for a writing class in February and it makes that stomach thing come to mind at the same time as it seems like something that might be more medicinal than metaphysical. Because more than ever it all boils down to wondering has anyone seen my inspiration? Cuz I'm really not sure if I have recently.

Monday, January 5, 2004

2003 Woman of the Year

Previous Winners: 1992: H. Ross Perot, 1993: St. Francis of Assisi, 1994: Newt Gingrich, 1995: Cal Ripken Jr., 1996: The Bob Dole Campaign, 1997: Dolly the Sheep, 1998: El Nino, 1999: Belinda Jensen, 2000: The Taco Bell Chihuahua, 2001: Randy Moss, 2002: The Cheapo Newsletter

Being a small market newsletter with a stringent salary cap has meant that there has been a constant flux to the membership of the Newsletter Woman of the Year Selection Committee (NWOTYSC). This year the committee lost both its setup person and closer to larger market committees. It's tough to see people that you've worked with and next to over the years leave but it's the little things that have the biggest impact. Take for instant the time Agnes bought the wrong sized coffee filters meaning the committee had to for a month make due with too small filters taking extreme care to place the filter in the holder so as the grounds didn't end up in the brew. Yup, it was a rough month. So if this year's committee banquet seemed a tad low key, there is a reason. Still all in all there were plenty of wonderful candidates to sort through and this year's winner is as good as any of those who previously took home the hardware. So without further ado, here are the chosen who made the final cut:

5) The Dixie Chicks: We live in a land and a time where somehow questioning the decision of the nation's leader to go to war was more harshly criticized than that same leader's lies used to justify the war. Go figure. Yes Natalie, the committee members shared your shame.

4) Steve Bartman and the Wiener Girl: Committee members have long debated whether its better to be a participant or a spectator. This year the world of sports provided conflicting answers. First there was an incident in Milwaukee where the most exciting part of every Brewer game is where a group of adults dresses up in wiener costumes and races around the warning track. Milwaukeans sure can get worked up over dashing foam costumed bratwursts. Thus during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when the race was on and then Pirate Randall Simon clubbed a young woman dressed in a wiener costume on the noggin with his bat causing her to tumble like she'd been hit by Mike Tyson, it provided a weird photo op only topped by poor Steve Bartman the fan who got his hand on a foul popup causing Cub leftfielder Moises Alou to miss the ball and giving long suffering Cubs fans a goat to why the franchise once again for the 58th straight year, failed to make it to the World Series. Mr. Bartman had to be escorted by security out of the park for fear that Cubs fans would pelt him to death with their half eaten wieners. Ouch. He arrived at the ballpark expecting to cheer his team to history. He left the park a broken fan as if he had clubbed himself on top of the head with an unforgiving baseball bat.

3) Jayson Blair: It isn't often that committee members are in total agreement but the example Mr. Blair set caused everyone to shake their heads in amazement. Who would have thought that instead of dragging one's self out of bed each and every frickin work day that one could instead just phone it in? Working for one of the country's most prestigious newspapers, the New York Times, Mr. Blair decided that instead of doing the reporter's thing of actually going to a location and interviewing people he would instead just make stuff up. If only all of our jobs could be that easy and convenient.

2) Uma Thurman's Roman Toe: There is an ultra icky and disturbing moment in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill where Uma's character wakes from a coma to discover that she had been violated and taken advantage of (in addition to being shot and left for dead). Being sold for sex in a hospital in a comatose state gives Uma's character yet another reason for a vengeful killing streak. But first she has to gain use of her legs again. And with the ultimate determination she wills herself to move (forward). It all begins with the wiggling of her toes. And what makes the scene work is that Uma has Roman Toes- meaning her second toe is longer than her first toe. Hers is a quirky beauty and to be in the club of those who have the Roman Toe affliction is one of the reasons the committee could root for Uma even as she is severing the limbs and heads of those she feels has done her wrong.

1) Sports fans in Minnesota take for granted how lucky we are. We have been fortunate to watch some of the most incredible athletes and call them our own. Currently Minnesota fans are blessed with being able to watch Kevin Garnett play the game of basketball at a level never before seen while marveling at Randy Moss doing amazing things on a football field. And during the summer there isn't anything more beautiful than watching Torii Hunter chase down a flyball. Sadly Minnesota sports fans have to soon say goodbye to the thrills another athlete has provided over the past four years. This basketball player has such a keen court sense that she constantly amazes. She is as fun an athlete to watch as any this town has seen. That she has a gritty determination and cockiness to her game only adds to the fun. Congratulations Lindsay Whalen, a most deserving Newsletter Woman of the Year for your moxie and spunk.