Monday, November 29, 2004

Growing Up to Be Just Like Thompson

I'll admit that I live in fear these days that someone will call the SPCA on me. It's gotta be considered some type of animal abuse that the only time my cats, Thompson and Diego-san, see me now days is when I'm asleep. I come home at night, plop some food into their dishes and go upstairs and get ready for bed. A few hours later the alarm clock goes off and after a shower and a pot of coffee (that is a poor substitute for actual sleep) I'm off to the office.

And yes the boyz are acting out showing their displeasure with my dropping the ball on being a vital third wheel in the household. My couches have been shredded, and many of my screens bear holes from claws ripping through the mesh. When they do see me they are as cuddly as can be but I have to think they're thinking, "Where's that goofball to entertain us with his annoying banter and odd behavior?"

But it's not like I don't look out for my Boyz. Diego-san has an annoying habit of swatting all the water in the water dish on to the kitchen floor (ruining tiles in the process). Part of me sees this and sez, if he doesn't want to drink and he just wants to play, let him do that. But it seems a tad unfair to Thompson to have to live with an empty water dish because of the actions of another.

So I was reading one of the many advice columns in the Star Tribune and a question that was asked was about a cat who displayed the same water dish swatting behavior as Diego-san. The expert responded saying the cat may be far-sighted and thus was pawing at the water to find the top and thus avoid dunking its head in the bowl. The suggestion was then made to float something in the bowl so the cat could determine the level of the top of the water.

I finally got around to testing this with Diego-san. I placed a plastic ball in the bowl. He promptly spent the entire evening batting the ball around the bowl, emptying water on to the floor in the process. Thompson just watched, as he often does.

Diego-san does enjoy drinking straight from the tap (running water seems to fascinate him) so every time I go near the bathroom it's a race. He leaps on to the sink and squeals until I turn on the water. You would think he runs this household.

The times I actually get to be home I must admit how I continually marvel at Thompson and how he gets by with his handicap having one leg amputated after getting it caught in a trap. Yes he has trust issues (and probably always will) running away and hiding on the rare occasions we have a visitor, and jumping at every semi-loud noise that occurs. But he is a great napper (an outstanding one at that) never leaving my chest when we nap together until I move. He loves to lick and it is during those times where his affectionate nature really comes out.

Getting around is hard for him. If he doesn't keep moving the lack of a front limb causes him to lose balance. But he does what he needs to do to get by and I haven't found a thing Diego-san can do that Thompson hasn't found a way to do also. (Thank God Thompson is willing to drink water from a dish.)

The other day the Photographer was over to snap some pictures for a holiday card. Diego-san who is so affectionate towards the Photographer whenever she visits that she has threatened to slap a restraining order against him was his usual suave self. But it was Thompson who really got into the spirit of the project this sunny afternoon.

He primped and posed and the end result were a couple of remarkable photos that truly caught his charismatic presence even though it is on rare display from anyone other than me. The record will thus show (for the future archives) what a sweet sweet boy Thompson really is. And this fellow boy is extremely happy about that.

Monday, November 22, 2004

How to Grow Old and Stay Hip OR How to Avoid Having Your Hip Replaced

Last summer my family helped my niece Megan turn 21 by giving her an iPod for her birthday. This past week, Megan made me chortle aloud when she sent me a thank you card. "Thank you for the iPod. I love it!" she wrote. "I can't believe that you can put 3,000 songs on it and it still weighs the same!" Megan clearly demonstrated that she got the sense of humor in our family.

Likewise for my 40th birthday my family helped me celebrate by buying me an iPod (and proving Megan is 19 years ahead of me). And like my niece I gotta say that I love the device. It has already changed my life.

I will say that having read all the glowing accounts of the iPod over the past few years I was skeptical. I remember when I was in high school and Sony came out with their first Walkman, my parents were kind enough to buy me one to keep me hip to my generation. It was the size of a Bible but it was so cool to be able to walk around outside the house and listen to MY music. Thanks to Sony the dreariness of my senior year of high school was punctuated by my own personal soundtrack playing in my ears.

The iPod is to the Walkman what the telephone was to the telegraph. First the thing looks damn cool. It's a little bit smaller than a baseball card and it's got such a sleek light look that even my over abundant dorkiness quotient is minimized by my carrying it around.

I've already downloaded (or is that uploaded?) over 100 of my CDs on to the iPod and to have that much of my personal music collection at my fingertips at all times is great. It even makes the 70 hour work weeks not so overwhelming to be able to dial up one of my favorite songs whenever I want to.

Of course Megan's joke doesn't quite work in my circumstances because how to best begin using the iPod weighed me down in moments of sheer panic. First, I had to decide what CD would get the honor of being the first on my new treasure. After much thought I chose Ike Reilly's new CD Sparkle in the Finish simply because prior to receiving my gift it was the CD that was getting my constant attention. Next, knowing that it would take me some time to fill up my iPod I had to figure out what order I was going to follow in transferring my CDs. This was where things really got tricky.

My listening habits over the years have developed thusly: there are about 50 CDs in my collection that get played all the time. There are another 10-15 that get played a lot but don't quite qualify as highly as the first group. There are then those new purchases that get a play or two a day for a week as I decide whether or not they mean anything to me. There are another couple hundred that get grabbed once in awhile just before work mainly because there is a song that I just need to hear that day.

Of course my music collection is skewed towards a few favorite artists: Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Liz Phair, Lucinda Williams, etc. Their music eventually was the first batch I put on the iPod. The process itself became great fun as I somehow managed to rediscover my love of Sinatra's music in particular. Yes I'm an old man but I dare you to listen to Frank's version of "It Never Entered My Mind" and try to feel things quite the same ever again.

The other thing I re-discovered is what a great songwriter John Hiatt is. After downloading my collection of his CDs, I marveled at how even how when his lesser known songs come up when I hit the shuffle option on iPod how glad I am to hear that particular song again. The man simply has a marvelous way with words.

I did decide that as I enter the era of a looming AARP membership that I will continue to try and stay in tune with what the kids are listening to. And it doesn't hurt the matter any to listen to their music on the forum that is the latest technology. Yes the iPod may already have become my latest obsession but I'm not alone. Not this time anyway.

Monday, November 15, 2004

What It's Like to Be Forty

"They say life begins at forty/Age is just a state of mind/If all that's true/You know, that I've been dead for thirty-nine"
-John Lennon

The story goes like this (so I'm told): the parents of four just had visited the doctor where the expectant mother was told that even though she felt the twinges of labor that she had plenty of time to go back home get her things and come back to the hospital. The father drove the mother homeward stopping first to pick up dinner for the rest of the family at Chin's Kitchen on the corner of Larpenteur and Snelling in St. Paul (Falcon Heights).

It was there where the expectant mother told the father that they had better hurry because she didn't think there was that much time. So after delivering the Moo Goo Gai Pan and Egg Foo Young at the couple's newly purchased four bedroom, three bathroom house in Roseville the father brought the mother back to the hospital where she soon afterwards gave birth to their fifth child, a second son.

That child, forty years later turned a prematurely old man, lived a life that constantly sought some type of not quite there meaning, seeking poetic symbolism that would give tune to a melody that often times seemed at least a half a key flat. And on the night of his 40th birthday, still missing his late mother the boy returned to Chin's Kitchen, now located across the street on the other corner of Larpenteur and Snelling in St. Paul (Falcon Heights) close to his house. He ordered sweet and sour shrimp because that was the type of mood he was in.

The meal was tasty and fitting for a who would have thought, certainly not he, he'd ever make it to this night. The boy, now old man, almost too deliberately returned to the Chinese restaurant because he still missed his Mom too much and wanted to feel some kind of celebrated connection, even if it was 40 years way beyond removed, for just this night.

He got home too late to celebrate much of anything and ate his meal in front of the latest episode of NYPD Blue. The show is fittingly in its final season- a show that the 40 year old boy has persistently watched even if it would not ever quite make his list of favorite TV shows. He remembered how during his Mom's too sudden yet horribly brief illness how when he was visiting her they watched an episode of the ABC drama, the one where Jimmy Smits' character died, and all the boy could think of was that by the time the repeat of the tear inducing episode aired, his mother would be dead (and he was right).

The NYPD Blue episode on this evening, enjoyed with an order of Chin's sweet and sour shrimp, featured the return of the ghost of Smits' Bobby Simone. Bobby's partner, Andy Sipowicz has endured a string of hard to take losses and on this show he needed to see his late partner, his guardian angel, and asked what was to come next. And Andy asked if there really was a God.

The boy bawled his eyes out. Ever since his mother's death there has been a certain feeling of feeling dead inside, the feeling that nothing can ever be the same again yet life as it is must continue. That's what Mom would have wanted.

Forty is an age that one shouldn't be living the way one was when he was 20, should be just a tad more grown up, yet it is an age where one isn't quite eligible to join AARP. And that is the reason the boy decided to awkwardly try his best to acknowledge this fragile bubble. He spent much of the rest of the night downloading songs on to his new iPod that his family gave him as a special gift to commemorate reaching 40. He also had gone out and bought some flannel pajamas- his first pair of pajamas since he left his parent's house for college. There couldn't be better symbols of where he was at- technology meets music to try and feel young, and some comfortable sleepwear to admit that the constant desire these days is a good night's sleep.

So the aging boy found himself upstairs with his most recent of loves, his kitties. For the record, Diego-san loves to hop up on the vanity in the newly completed upper wing of the house and lap up the water from the faucet. The big vanity mirror caught the black cat's attention this night as he saw the other cat, the three-legged Thompson's image scamper into view. Diego-san not quite understanding the concept of a reflection swatted at the mirror image, in the rear, of Thompson only to draw air (and glass).

Amusing or not, this is what it is to be 40. The taste of all that was sweet and sour from Chin's Kitchen and beyond went down smoothly yet the order wasn't quite right and seemed a bit too forced to be what one should spend one's 14,600 night on the planet fixating on.

Monday, November 8, 2004

You Do the Math

There may be a very good reason why one name I'll never be called is a pundit. Hours after the election was apparently over lessons were being drawn by those who saw a clear cut message from the results even as I sat in silence in the wee small hours of election night thinking to myself I hope no one tries and do that over the next few days.

I heard it suggested that since Mr. Bush received more votes than any other person who has ever run for President that he has a mandate to push through his agenda. Never mind that Mr. Kerry received the second most votes ever for the office and therefore Mr. Bush also received the most votes against him of anyone who has ever won the office. A mandate? You do the math.

Having said that, after spending the past few days tallying write in votes for a Soil and Water Supervisor race that no one ran for, I do think I have some insight on the minds of the voters in 2004.

Living with the discouragement in the fractures in our democracy that I witnessed first hand throughout the past year I must say as I was counting the write in votes I saw a glimmer of hope. Early returns had Twins' pitcher Johan Santana ahead of Viking receiver Randy Moss in this godawful football town. Just as I was beginning to think I just may be made for these times Moss made a late run (bad hamstring and all as the Auburn-haired election manager might say) and overtook the American League Cy Young Award winner. That sucked.

For the thousands that wrote in fictitious names I have a message: "IF YOU'RE GONNA TRY AND BE CUTE AND FUNNY LET'S TRY AND BE A BIT MORE CREATIVE SHALL WE?!" How clever does one think one is by writing in the name Mickey Mouse? God almighty why bother? And those that wrote in Snoopy, Elmer Fudd, or Ronald Reagan weren't much better in my book.

The influence of the Simpsons was quite clear as Homer, Marge, and Bart got many votes. Even Ralph Wiggum got a vote. But what I found discouraging about the Simpson votes was that no one in the entire county wrote in Lisa. She's the smartest, the most politically astute and the one family member who would live up to the environmentally conscious element of the job.

Of course someone found it funny to write in I.P. Freely and Turd Sandwich. And to tell you the truth I did too after counting name after name of all those who seemingly voted for themselves.

I did have to give props to whoever wrote in Malcolm X and the same to the voter who voted for Karl Marx. And Mr. Kerry might not find much to console himself with in this election but he did get more votes than Mr. Bush for the Soil and Water office. I also found it interesting that Jesus Christ won in a landslide over his father God while George W. may not have even beaten his father if you count all those that voted for George Bush as votes for number 41 and not number 43.

As I was pouring over sheet after sheet of the names written in by the election judges from the names written in by voters on their ballots my favorite throughout was Mattress Tester (I want to meet whoever came up with that) until I got to the vote for Sun Ra. The vote almost was enough to restore my faith in humanity. That was until other votes for musicians were for the more predictable Jethro Tull, Ted Nugent and Gene Simmons. I will go to my grave wondering if the vote for Bob Zimmerman came from a clever Dylan fan.

Though it's been a pain in the butt to count all the write in votes from voters who thought it was a lark to try and add some humor to the electoral process I must say I'm glad that such an option is available to voters. Having read that the winner of the mayor's race in San Diego is likely a write-in candidate it's a reminder that it does give people the option to say that if they care enough they can do something not voting for a candidate that fails to inspire them. It may not be the same thing as having a "none of the above" option available on the ballot but it's close. And having options in this process seems after this election, a diminishing luxury.

How I Took Up a Winter Sport to Avoid Having a Kirby Puckett-Sized Behind

Those who know me well know that if there's one thing I wanted to get done before I turned 40 it was to learn how to be a first class curler. Thus you can imagine how happy I felt to be out on the ice of the St. Paul Curling Club last Wednesday, getting it done under the gun. I couldn't imagine a more slippery surface I would have rather have been on than that sheet of ice especially since I was coming off of a 22 hour work day. Yup there's nothing like the constant danger of falling on your ass, this time literally after months of doing it figuratively, that really gets your attention especially when you're operating on a mere two hours of sleep.

Several weeks back when Cap'n Lisa Anne Marie asked me if I was interested in being on the curling team she was putting together, I jumped at the chance. What I knew about the sport I pretty much knew from watching a few minutes on TV. But just from that little exposure I knew that any sport that involved that much crazy sweeping was for me! I didn't know what it was all about, didn't exactly understand the object of the game, but I knew if it was such a big thing in Canada then it had to be something I needed to check out.

A few weeks ago Cap'n Lisa Anne Marie invited me and our other two teammates to attend a seminar at the club. Unfortunately my work schedule has been rather busy so I missed that opportunity and I also missed the practice that Lisa arranged. Thus my first exposure at actually attempting to play the sport that I didn't know the rules, didn't know hardly anything about, was to be live at our first game (match/scrum?).

So I showed up early before our first contest and Lisa tried her best to explain the rudiments of the game to me. The game seems to be a combination of shuffleboard and bowling- the object being to get your team's biscuit as close to the basket, or is it pea nearest the wicket?, or is it rock closest to home? while denying your opponents the choice real estate on the ice. The team's skip, stands at the other side of the ice and first points to where he/she wants your rock/biscuit/pea to end up. He/she then moves a few feet over to the spot that they want you to aim at.

The pitcher, or hurler, or curler, then guides the rock/pea/biscuit down the ice using momentum caused by gliding one's body down the ice and attempts to get the thing in the home target. Two teammates then follow the object down the sheet of ice staying just in front and sweeping with brooms as the skip calls out orders. If the rock/biscuit/pea isn't going fast enough in the right direction, the skip calls out to sweep like crazy to cause it to move faster. If the rock/pea/biscuit is moving too fast the sweepers don't do a thing but pray that things slow down and straighten out.

Thankfully the other team didn't show up for our first game and I got a crash course lesson and plenty of practice time. I concentrated on tossing/pushing/guiding the rock down the ice. This part of the game reminded me a lot of bowling. The most skilled players know how to spin the rock just enough to get it to end up just where they want it to end up. One of the most important aspects in achieving this is to have a uniform form of delivery. That's what definitely is lacking in my bowling game and was clearly a weakness in my first attempts at curling. I never seemed to have the same form twice and thus my consistency was somewhat lacking.

I did make a couple of nice throws/tosses/pushes where the rock ended up in a damn good place. Yes part of me really just wanted to be curled up in a warm bed but there was something exhilarating about trying to learn something new- and it definitely gave me something to look forward to this winter.

Monday, November 1, 2004

The Difference Between Red and Blue

artistic License gives one a lot of Freedom since by its very Nature there aren't a lot of Rules and the One rule of expressing something can be done on a variety of platforms without anyone saying anything like you can't do that like painting a picture where everything Blue turns red just like writing without heeding the normal punctuation and Grammatical rules that everyone expects and just like Music where the conventional pop song structure is tinkered and played with and made new or attempted to make new in an apparent attempt to create art by not only in what is being expressed but also in how it is being Expressed! and can only be topped by the auburn haired underestimated media friendly beauty who knows the only thing worse than working a 90 hour week is working an hundred hour one...

And for me that's why I've long had a problem with Wilco's music. I thought Being There was great but that was back in the days where everyone thought the group was going to assume the crown of alt-country conquerors from groups like Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt or the Jayhawks. Then Summerteeth came out and I can count on one hand I've listened to that disc from start to end. Strong songwriting gave way to studio trickery and noodling as singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy's penchant for self absorbed, moody, and too clever by a half wannabe poetry became more annoying than inspiring. There's something about the second song on that disc, "She's a Jar" juxtaposed with song three's, "A Shot in the Arm" that just has always rubbed me the wrong way. What does it mean (and do I care?) that she's a jar with a heavy lid? And the line "The ashtray says you were up all night"- I can just see Tweedy thinking he had come up with something clever the masses would either eat up or idolize him for singing such profound metaphors.

The story of how the group's record label refused to release Wilco's Yankee Foxtrot Hotel because the label thought the disc wasn't commercial enough has been well documented. That disc has grown on me a lot- the feedback, the noise, and other studio enhancements that I originally took as a way to cover up weak songwriting now seem a bit intriguing.

And even more so after seeing Wilco's Tuesday show at the Orpheum. Ironically it was the night that Yankee Foxtrot Hotel turned gold (500,000 units sold!). The show featured most of the songs from that disc as well as the group's brand new CD A Ghost is Born.

I'm not sure the new CD will ever grow on me as much. The constant droning of the electronic doodling demonstrates that the group unfortunately somehow wants to be more like Radiohead than Woody Guthrie. But somehow the new songs came alive performed live. It was amazing to try and figure out how the band was recreating some of the screeching and gurgling sounds of the CD on stage. One of the absolute highlights of a well paced show was the overly long song "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" that has a lot of stuff going on that brings to mind Lou Reed's pile of crap LP, Metal Machine Music yet amongst all the rhythmic electronic noise came the cathartic release of the band pounding out notes together and it was quite the head boppin experience.

What really won me over however was two songs from the aforementioned Summerteeth where the intensity of Tweedy's vocals was dutifully enhanced by the cacophony of sound the rest of the band produced- the truly prophetic (and sad) "I'm Always in Love" and the scary "A Shot in the Arm" where the singer says maybe all he needs is a shot in the arm, something in his veins bloodier than blood. Egads, I bopped, a drug song transformed into a I know there is something wrong inside of me that even you can't fix- song.

Throughout the show images were projected on to a big screen behind the band like when they broke into the impossible to dislike "Hummingbird" a fluttering shot of the bird was displayed as Tweedy sang the wonderfully inspired lines, "His goal in life was to be an echo..." and "She appears in his dreams..." And what I didn't understand lying in my newly constructed upper wing of my house listening to A Ghost is Born for the first time I now got. You gots to accept the entire package for what it is- accept the warts with the intoxicating scents just like the line from the Yankee Foxtrot Hotel song "War on War" (another highlight from the show) sez, "You've have to learn how to die if you wanna wanna be alive..."

And though the guy seated behind the blue-eyed intern and I in our very near the stage seats, the one who kept yelling "This is the best f*&king show I've ever been to" and who booed when Tweedy told us we had to vote against Bush, may not have been contemplating the meaning behind it all like I was, he sure got something right- Wilco's performance was pretty darn impressive throughout.