Monday, August 7, 2006

A Dream Come True

We started all this on June 23, 1992 or 722 weeks ago (not that I'm counting). Gas was 25 cents a gallon; you could get a good cup of coffee for a nickel; and you could stand in a public line without hearing the annoying chatter of somebody on a cell phone. Al asked me if I was interested in starting up and editing a weekly newsletter for the company. He wanted a 10 page newsletter to include store information, technology and competition related news, and other tidbits that employees might find useful.

This seemed a daunting challenge but a great opportunity. Al knew that I had a journalism degree and was feeling a tad frustrated that I hadn't up to that point been able to get into the only field that I wanted to get into not counting Major League Baseball. One of the things I've long admired about Al is his ability to put people into situations to take advantage of their talents and thus giving them a better chance to succeed. That's not something that those in leadership positions often do.

My mindset at the time wasn't exactly brimming with confidence and sun. I think the best way I can convey where I was at during this time occurred during the Halloween blizzard of 1991. I was working weekends at the 80 N Snelling store and living in a small efficiency on Goodrich a few blocks off of Grand Ave. in St. Paul. The day after the storm I had a 12-8 shift and I somehow managed to plow my Honda Civic through the poorly plowed streets. The snow had continued to fall all day.

By the time my shift was over my car was buried beneath the snow. I knew snow emergencies had been called and knew that I'd never find a spot close to my efficiency. So I decided to walk home. Now this would have been quite the pleasant two or three mile walk on a spring day but since few of the sidewalks were plowed and traffic was at a standstill the easiest thing to do was to walk on the streets. I was wearing my boots but my boots were not meant to handle walking though thigh high snow drifts. By the time I got to Grand and Lexington my feet were blistering. And it was too late to turn around since it was just as far back to the store as it was to my efficiency. So I trudged on.

When I eventually made it back to my efficiency and the unhappy because it was well past his dinner time, Max the Cat, my feet were torn up and burning. I was out of breath, and my fingers and toes felt beyond cold but not quite frost bit. I also realized I faced the daunting challenge of back tracking the next morning to get my car out of the Cheapo lot. I realized I had done a stupid if not dangerous thing and I felt like if I hadn't hit rock bottom I must be pretty darn close. I also realized I couldn't keep keeping on like I was. I needed to change something, accomplish something to get myself on track. And so the following June when Al offered me the newsletter job, I was if nothing else, determined to give it my best.

Al sent me to a newsletter seminar somewhere in Minneapolis- my failing memory (722 weeks!) doesn't quite remember the exact location. I remember a small group of people (around a dozen) had signed up for the seminar and the instructor went around the room and asked why we were there. Most people said they were assigned a task of doing a newsletter for their organization and either were struggling with the startup of the publication or were struggling with keeping the publication going either because of lack of contributions or just the overwhelming task of putting out a worthwhile read.

The instructor also had us share how often we were publishing and how many pages our newsletters were supposed to be. Without exception everyone in the seminar said they were doing a monthly or a quarterly newsletter and the length of most were either one or two pages. That's when I chirped in, "I'm doing a weekly 10 page newsletter." I think I heard an audible gasp or two.

When I reported back to Al, I suggested we cut back to eight pages and he agreed. And that's what we've done ever since without missing a single week (that would be 722 for those of you scoring at home).

I was quite nervous when the first edition came out. All I could think about was what happened with the ABC TV newsmagazine 20/20 whose first show was so awful that the network immediately fired the co-hosts, Harold Hayes and Robert Hughes and replaced them with veteran broadcaster Hugh Downs. I hoped Al would give me a longer rope than that.

My goal was to create an effective publication that was fun to read, in hopes this would encourage people to contribute articles. I also set a goal of printing at least 50 percent original material and not having to rely mostly on non-Cheapo generated articles. I figured I would write every now and then, as needed, since one of the major issues I was grappling with at the time was trying to figure out the role of writing in my life and how what I wrote affected my friends and family.

It wasn't very long though when I saw that I was going to have to write a lot more than I originally had hoped. Soon I settled into taking the last page of the newsletter to write a weekly column. Through the first few years though, this notion of not wanting to write unless I had to was at the front of my mind. I never began compiling the newsletter thinking that I was going to write a column. Instead I started each Saturday evening compiling all the articles for the week and then after I was done editing stuff and laying out the pages I would realize that I was going to have to write a column to approach the 50 percent quota I had set.

Since I hadn't thought about writing until that point I never really thought about what I was going to write about. For that I relied on what I had learned in my writing classes- write about what you know. Over the years I have come to know less and less so this strategy has led to many rambling columns about essentially nothing (not that any of you must have noticed...). I really have tried to keep my whining to a minimum and there have been times over the years where something I have written has cracked me up (not that I needed further cracking).

Write what you know. It's always meant a lot to me when a reader has told me how much they liked a particular column. It means just as much when someone tells me they like when I wrote about specific things I truly love like Bob Dylan's music, Max the Cat, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sandra Bullock. (OK no one has actually told me they like my Sandra pieces but didn't you all feel the love?)

Producing a newsletter for 14+ years has probably been the hardest thing I've done in my professional life. There hasn't been a Saturday all that time where I haven't had this gripping fear of "how the heck am I going to get the newsletter done?" Thus it's also my proudest professional accomplishment that we never missed a week. I realized early on that it wasn't going to be possible given the resources and time to produce a great publication. What I decided to do instead was to be consistent and reliable. Some would call that predictable and boring. I would only counter that as I move on in life I've learned it's nice to have some things in life that you can count on being there week after week. Nothing wrong with dependability.

It hasn't exactly been a secret that one of the major inspirations keeping this publication going over the years has been Dylan's "Never Ending Tour" where Bob has essentially played close to 200 shows every year since 1988. I've always loved how Bob seemed to have come to the conclusion all those years ago that the only way to get past his past was to hit the road and perform and just keep creating something in the moment every night. As Bob continues the tour he has expanded his canvass to a new venue- his delightful XM satellite radio show, "Theme Time Radio Hour." Wow. What I have learned is that to be a writer means nothing more than being willing to write something. It isn't about angst, glamour, fame or understanding. It's just as simple as putting words to paper. That's all it takes.

When Al told me of the end of my tenure as the editor I was of course a bit sad. But truthfully part of me felt some relief as well. I essentially haven't had a weekend off in fifteen or sixteen years. Writing a column week after week has probably changed not only the way I write, but the way I think since my natural way of processing feelings and thoughts used to be to ruminate over them. Now I just get them down and out and move on.

I have so many fond memories due to the newsletter and my Cheapo employment. The first couple years of publication were produced pre-PC on a typewriter with a memory. I'd retype the submitted stories on a Sunday morning in St. Paul as I'd munch on a McDonald's breakfast burrito. I'd copy it all off next to our shrink wrap machine. Then along came the Internet that eliminated the need to re-type interesting media articles and allow me the ability to search news services throughout the world for stories I thought might be interesting to all of us. I remember all those Saturday/laundry nights busy typing away as Mr. Max was in another room, in his favorite window and he'd come on by on occasion just to check up on me and let me know what he was up to. I'll go to my grave cherishing those memories.

Since my original fear was about Hayes and Hughes it also doesn't escape me that I'm leaving this job within a year of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings ending their long tenures as the most visible journalists in the country. Not that I'm exactly in their league or even in the same sport but like them I know I've been lucky to have a job for so long that I loved doing, that also made me a better person. I'm proud of my long association with Cheapo, and proud all our company has meant to this community. This job has literally taken me around the world (to Japan) and back and I know because of that I'm much better prepared for whatever it is that comes next.

Monday, July 31, 2006

It Was Fun While it Lasted, Like Gandhi When He Fasted

Next week will be my last as the editor of this publication. So please note that if you have been kind enough to save me some work, some keystrokes by emailing your contributions to the newsletter to me, you'll soon receive instructions on what to do after next week.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank some folks that I got to know over the years through my employment with Cheapo and who I am a much better person for our association. Most of these folks have long since moved on to other things, other places but still I hope they know how much I appreciate them.

There's Bill Seeler the man who interviewed and hired me all those years ago. Bill seemed so tired and weary (of life and of work) but he never gave less than his best and had the highest integrity. He was funnier than hell and quite the expert on all things classical.

Thanks too to Johnny Baynes, Brian Haws, Mike Nordgaard, Leah Hosmer, Stephanie Lamson, Paul Young, Fernande Rodgers, Jason Shields, Scott and Sarah Kuzma, Jennifer Stewart, Pat Wheeler, Sam Schneider, and Jeanette Brown.

Finally and foremost I have to thank Al. I've learned so much from him. He's given me opportunities that I'm not sure many people would have even considered. I respect him more than he'll ever know. I know this company will find a way to keep on keeping on. Al will see to that.

See you all next week.


Bob's Quote of the Week: "The cynic smells flowers and looks all around for a coffin."

My sister Janet gave me a jade plant when I moved out on my own after graduating from college. I still have that plant, the only one I've been able to keep alive for any amount of time. (Although to be fair for the many years I lived with Max the Cat I couldn't really have plants around. Max loved to munch on all things green and vegetarian except for my jade plant.)

This past week when I came to work (where my jade plant now resides) I discovered that most of the branches of the plant had fallen off. I'm not sure why other than perhaps the plant has gotten too big, and can't support its own weight. (Who hasn't found themselves there?).

I felt myself feeling sad that something that I've had since the late '80s might be dying on me. I've greatly neglected it over the years yet it has kept pushing on, kept growing and providing some beauty in some otherwise dreary surroundings.

This past week I also learned that for the first time in years I may not be playing softball this fall. Turns out my team was too late in signing up for our usual St. Paul fall league. The league has already filled all the nights up with teams. We tried another St. Paul league only to find that it too had already filled up. Same with Roseville. Seems like softball playing has suddenly become fashionable. When you consider how many players it takes to field a team (at least ten) its pretty remarkable that there are so many wannabe players out there in this medium sized midwestern city.

No softball. My jade plant may be on its last branches. What else could I possibly lose? And how exactly does one go about facing the end of things? Well, this frisky cowboy found himself dealing by playing his favorite song from 2006 (thus far), Paul Simon's "Outrageous." (Who would have thought that the 96 year old Simon would still be capable of writing such terrific music after all these years? Who would have thought he could still be crazy after all these years?")

The song starts out as a political rant against all the things politically wrong with this world from the exploitation of workers to the destructive human behavior causing environmental damage to the planet, to a culture that places such importance on physical beauty that the singer laments how he is now coloring his hair the color of mud. What gets me about "Outrageous" however is the chorus asking an important question. "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" Simon repeats this line many times with each repetition reinforcing a real desperate revelation. Is there enough substance inside to keep us lovable when a wink of an eye, a toothy smile, a flirtatious glance no longer is part of the repertoire?

What's even better is Simon eventually answers his own question with the definitive, "God will... like he waters the flowers on your window sill." It's a sterling image.

The other thing I did from falling into a funk was to re-watch the terrific Canadian sitcom The Newsroom. The CBC show is kind of a cross between an updated Mary Tyler Moore Show and Sports Night. It's about the efforts of the staff of a news show on the Canadian public broadcasting network. The news director is a complete jackass, sexist, racist and completely clueless. He spends most of the series taking great pains to avoid making tough decisions, and fleeing responsibility for putting out a decent news show. This of course leads to more effort covering his own mistakes. The pilot episode for example features the attempts of the intern to get the show's main phone number changed; all in effort to get the news director's mother to stop calling him at work. The intern eventually justifies this request to the corporate higher ups by making up a story about how the news anchor has been getting death threats. This leads to the news anchor becoming paranoid and demanding he be given a bulletproof vest to wear during his broadcasts.

The Newsroom first season flows along like any other smartly written sitcom when all of a sudden at the end it takes a surreal turn. A story breaks about a likely nuclear meltdown of the plant in Toronto and the news director responds as if the story is to be told like a movie. He orders a copy of The China Syndrome and begins interviewing actors to play the part ofreporters and nuclear power experts.

This unexpected turn is jarring but effective. It turns the series on its head and forces you to think about the difference between what we perceive as reality and fiction and how news coverage is often guilty of blurring the lines instead of making any of it more clear.

In the end it's perhaps the best end to a TV show season I have ever seen. And although The Newsroom was to go on for a couple more seasons, had they only done the first fourteen episodes this would have to go down as a must see TV show. It's outrageous and it's jaded and it fit the mood I was in this week.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Take Me Out Of/To The Ballgame

I've been a Twins fan for upwards to 33 years now. I don't think I've ever seen them play better over an extended period of time than they have over the past month or so. Even the world champion teams of 1987 and 1991 never put together a streak like this- where the team is so thoroughly dominating in all aspects of the game- pitching, hitting, defense and strategy.

That said, I don't think I've ever been more frustrated with a Twins squad as I am the 2006 version. They find themselves nine and a half games out of first place, and four games out of the wildcard race. And the maddening thing about their place in the standings is they didn't have to be where they find themselves to be. It's all been self-inflicted.

The team was limping along when management finally decided to pull the plug on the brief (but all too long) Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Juan Castro era. The club broke out of spring training believing that those veterans were better options than younger players (with far greater upside) like Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett, and Nick Punto. Far more puzzling (and unforgivable) was the decision to open the season with Kyle Lohse and Scott Baker in the starting rotation and Francisco Liriano in the bullpen. Manager Ron Gardenhire is now defending this decision saying that Liriano wasn't ready for starting because he spent much of the spring on the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic.

This is outright bunk. Even if it meant that Liriano's first few starts were limited by a pitch count, having him out there was a far better alternative than anyone on the pitching staff not named Johan Santana. That it took into June for the team to concede this is unforgivable. If Liriano had been given four or five more starts like he should have been the Twins likely would be that much closer to the top of the division.

Liriano has been electric. He's been the key to this turnaround. When he's on the mound there is a sense of something special about to happen. When he gives up a hit you are almost shocked. He makes Santana (who is among the elite pitchers in the game) look like a lesser pitcher in comparison.

By any measure 2006 was going to be a year of transition for the franchise. Going into the season the team appeared to be on a downward path after dominating the division from 2001 to 2004. The White Sox and Indians were clearly teams that had finally passed the Twins in talent. Detroit looked like a team ready to contend as well. This was likely going to be Brad Radke's last year in the game and Torii Hunter's last year as a Twin. Prospects for the long needed new stadium seemed dim at best.

Signing Rondell White seemed smart. A career professional hitter, White seemed to fill the cleanup hole that Justin Morneau clearly wasn't ready to fill last year. And after losing Matthew LeCroy and Jacque Jones the offense that was so weak last year needed some experience and personnel changes to make it more productive.

But if this year was the start of another rebuiding phase the decision to start the season with Castro at short and not Bartlett, and Kubel only given a nominal look before being sent to the minors was confusing at best, stupid at worst. It was time to see what these two could do and it was also time to give both of them the chance to learn at the Major League level so some of the growing pains could be endured this season rather than further down the road.

The season isn't over but to expect this team to continue on this torrid pace is unrealistic. To giveaway two and a half months while floundering along is what makes this season so frustrating. If the team is to somehow make the playoffs you gotta love our chances given that Santana and Liriano will be given four starts in any seven game series. If we don't make it, you can blame it on some boneheaded decisions, some of the worst in the team's history.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Cheapo Newsletter Diet

My Fourth of July resolution this year was to do something about my ever expanding waist line. I decided it was well past time to do something to regain my girlish figure.

It all began in the spring after bringing all three of my cats in to the vet for their annual physical. After being told that both Theo and Thompson were bordering on being overweight I decided to take the vet's advice and switch them over to diet food. I did so knowing that my trio of boyz, and Thompson in particular, really look forward to and enjoy each and every meal.

Because of this I decided that I wouldn't make a radical change- that instead I would buy their regular food and mix it in with the diet brand. It soon became clear that the diet food didn't taste as good as the regular food as all three boyz first eat up the morsels of regular stuff and walk away with a few diet pieces left in the dish.

I also realized it wasn't exactly fair that since over the past few years I have dealt with a feeling of my pants getting tighter and tighter by loosening my belt a notch or two, and buying pants with a bigger waist size.

So on this Independence Day I decided to get proactive about my own increase in weight. I decided that I would not only eat better but also get a little more exercise in my daily routine.

The first part hasn't been too hard. Some of you might have tried the trendy diets like lowering your fat or carbohydrate intake but I'm here to say that if you want to drop a pound or two or fifty, that all you have to do is remember our friend Popeye. There's nothing more refreshing in the summertime that a spinach based salad topped with mushrooms, fresh vegetables and a few pieces of cut up chicken. It's easy to make, quite tasty, and you leave the table with a sprightly and energetic feeling.

The second part has been a little more difficult- having to free up some time during the evening to take a walk. When I bought my house a decade ago one of the reasons I bought in the area I bought (the Como Park area) was that I was nearby both a lake and a park and that seemed like a good place to be. Shortly after when I was spending a lot of time with the potential housemate who never was, the gal named after a rabbit, one of the things we enjoyed doing together was taking walks around my neighborhood.

I stopped walking after she walked away. And my exercise regimen since has relied on the summer softball games and whatever walking I do at my job. Thus I may be half the man I used to be but I surely don't feel that way physically and my clothes certainly don't reflect that.

I've had the time to take walks around Lake Como most every night for the past two weeks. And quite frankly it not only has helped with my pants feeling a bit looser, but also has helped with clearing my never been more cluttered mind. During my walks I listen to a CD I haven't listened for a while (does anyone else realize that U2's Joshua Tree or Alex Chilton's High Priest are such delightful recordings?) and I've rediscovered how much I love music.

Still the thing I've probably enjoyed the most about my walks around the lake is watching the people who are walking their dogs. I love how when you look at the dogs you can just tell how much they enjoy the fresh air and exercise and spending time with their owners. Likewise you can usually see the pride and affection in the owner's eyes. It's a give and take relationship, the rewards of which come shining through across the paved path around Lake Como.

I've walked enough where I have developed a blister on my foot but still I've never come back to my house feeling anything but better for the steps I've taken. It's good to get out there again. Good to finally be feeling better about where I am these days.

Monday, July 10, 2006

When You Gonna Wake Up?

Isn't it weird how there are times when you'll hear a song, see a movie or TV show, or read a book, that grapples with the very issues occupying your most recent thoughts and it's all purely a random coincidence? How you didn't deliberately mean to stumble across this particular piece of art or entertainment, but nonetheless this coincidental discovery delves deeply into what you think about late at night when all the defenses come down or it's the very thing you wrote about last week in your weekly newsletter column for a local music retail company?

Last week in this space I wrote about my attempts to try to figure out this religion thing. Two days later, (on Independence Day mind you) I slid Ingmar Bergman's 1961 masterpiece, Through the Glass Darkly into my DVD player. I didn't have any idea what the movie was about having put it in my Netflix queue based solely on a recommendation the concerned Netflix folks made to me based on my movie rental tastes.

Winner of the Oscar for "Best Foreign Film" Through the Glass Darkly tells the story of a family (father, daughter, son, and son-in-law/daughter's husband) spending time at a lake house. The family tension is only made more difficult in that the daughter (played in a masterful performance by Harriet Andersson) is slowly going insane.

The father much to his son-in-law's chagrin, is using his daughter's illness as fodder for a new novel. Anyone who has ever written about someone else in a public forum and gotten spanked in the process can probably relate. Art is based on life and yet you either do or you don't take other's feelings into account in your suffering through the creative process. Is your work more important than the feelings of your friends and family? You decide or you don't, knowing that your decision will ultimately have some grave consequences for your own life and others around you. I love that Bergman tries to address this conundrum.

Andersson's character is convinced that God is calling her to abandon her family but when the moment of calling comes, she is frightened by God's appearance. Turns out he looks like a spider with frightening eyes.

Confession here: I think what may have fueled my current spiritual seeking mindset is that I recently finished re-watching season five and six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During those two terrific seasons there were episodes dealing with Buffy's mother's death; Buffy's death and return from Heaven; and perhaps my favorite Buffy episode of all time- where she is "poked" (Xander of course asks her to clarify just where she was poked) by a demon whose poison causes her to drift between two worlds. One world is the world we've known all along in the series- where Buffy is a superhero in a world full of demons and difficulties. The other is a world where Buffy has been hospitalized for a mental illness and where her mother and father are trying desperately to pull her back to safety.

Whenever I tell someone they HAVE to watch these episodes of Buffy they tend to roll their eyes and mutter something about David just being David. I mention in particular that the episode where Buffy's mom dies is by far and away the closest I've ever seen to anything capturing what I felt when my own Mom died. I also mention how the art of the direction in that episode is downright "Bergmanesque." I used this term having never actually watched an Ingmar Bergman movie in its entirety before.

Through the Glass Darkly confirmed my intuition and limited exposure to the much lauded Swedish director's skills. I have to think that Joss Whedon watched this movie before he wrote the Buffy may be institutionalized episode. The themes are the same- how the reality we depend on may not actually be the world we should be existing in.

Bergman's film of course digs much deeper and delves deftly into issues about how little our families can help in truly desperate situations and how the need to believe in God maybe in itself a delusion or maybe the path to our only salvation.

Through the Glass Darkly is part of a trilogy of films Bergman made between 1961-1963 based around contemplation on religion. I haven't seen the other two films yet (Winter Light and The Silence) but now I just have to. I'm sure SCTV could do some terrific spoofs of these ultra-serious Swedish movies but sometimes the jokes just have to be put aside for a serious thought or two.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Losing my Religion While Getting Right with God

It was thirty years ago this summer when my oldest sister got married. I don't remember much about the first wedding I'd ever been to. I remember wearing a lime green leisure suit that I wish I still owned and fit into. I also remember at the reception there was a low ceiling just out of my reach. I spent a lot of time trying to jump up and touch it. I couldn't have been more than an inch away. And I wouldn't give up, figuring that eventually I could cheat gravity just once.

It's quite certain that getting married changed my sister's life. (Her son graduated from Stillwater High School a couple of weeks ago). It also ended up changing mine. Because we hadn't gone to church my entire life up to that point, the wedding was the first time I remember being in a church. I think my Mom realized this and decided that our family should start going to church again if only to expose us kids to the concepts of religion.

The whole church service fascinated me. I loved being able to sing unfamiliar songs in a public setting trying to figure out the melodies and strange words merely by reading the hymnal. I tried to imagine the circumstances of the list of people that was read every week who we were praying for.

(A little girl goes to church one Sunday and looks at all these fancy plaques hung up all around. She has the chance to ask the minister a question. "Father, what are all those plaques hung up with flags on them?" The father responds, "Those are to honor those who died in service." The little girl looks at him wide-eyed and asks, "Which one, the 8 or 9:30?")

There were a couple parts of the church going experience I didn't particularly care for. When communion began we wouldn't go up to the altar because we hadn't been baptized or confirmed. As the ushers slowly let row by row go up, I felt embarrassed when they got to our row and we all just sat there, feeling unworthy.

The part of church that I hated most however was going off to Sunday school. Right before they let us out, Father Henry Hoover would read the announcements and my stomach would turn in knots, butterflies fluttering like dandelion seeds on a windy day.

I hated Sunday school because I didn't know anything about what was being taught. I had never read the Bible. And since I was the newcomer in class I felt like all the other kids in my class not only knew a whole lot more, but also knew each other. I not only felt dumb and alone, I felt God would punish me for my ignorance.

Mr. and Mrs. Miel, who were the teachers, seemed to sense my uneasiness and didn't try and call on me unless I had a look of certainty on my face. Who would have guessed I'd grow up and one day shake the Dalai Lama's hand? (Years later when the Miels came to my Mom's funeral, after it was mentioned during the service that I was a Bob Dylan fan, Mrs. Miel came over to me and said that she used to babysit Bob and his younger brother. "His brother was a really good kid, but Bob never said a thing.")

Through the years my own personal spiritual beliefs have been challenged and changed although the basis remains the same. I don't believe this world is the end. I think there's something else, some greater purpose that comes next. I have no proof (other than certain dreams and an undying faith that humans can't possibly be the highest being). I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who believes differently. I think the greatest danger facing our existence is the growing blurring between politics and religion.

That said, I don't understand those who don't seem to be curious about religion. I don't understand how you can't be. Maybe it's being able to live entirely in the present (or for some in the past) getting lost in what's going on today without trying to figure out what comes next. But at some point don't you have to stop and wonder what it all means? Am I the only one losing sleep over this?

That's why I will faithfully be watching Bill Moyers' new PBS show, Faith and Reason. The show features interviews with famous writers (the first show featured Salman Rushdie). Ultimately Faith and Reason strives to answer Moyers' question, "In a world where religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together?" If after the seven episodes air I have a better understanding of that, it will be seven hours well spent. Thank God.

Monday, June 26, 2006

If You Were Scoring My Life

There's a scene in the movie The Lake House where Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves characters actually meet and exist in the same time (like that ever happens and maybe just maybe why this movie has to be filed in the "fantasy" category). They are strangers, having met at Bullock character's surprise birthday party. They are alone, underneath the stars and they hear music coming from the house so they begin slow dancing.

The song playing is Paul McCartney's "This Never Happened Before" and it's the perfect song to capture the mood of the moment. (Yet since McCartney released the song in 2005 and this meeting moment is supposed to be occurring in 2004- there seems to be a time/space problem with the song choice that only enhances the movie's message).

Usually I'm not too big a fan of movie and TV scenes where the dialogue ceases and the music swells and we get a montage backed by a song. Often this is a sign of poor writing as if the writer of the scene couldn't find a way to express the emotion necessary so the director uses music- the best emotion expressing art form that exists - to get across what written words and actors acting their hearts out can't. But this particular scene works. It's great to hear McCartney's voice struggling to hit the higher notes. This imperfection underscores the uncertainty the characters are facing- trusting a complete stranger in a random romantic moment.

The mood of the scene reminded me of one of the beginning moments with my favorite person in the world. She told me she used to have a theme song. That song was "I Can See Clearly Now." Once she told me that there was little else I needed to know about her. If you're going to pick a theme song for your life that one might as well be it. It seemed like a far better choice than what was the theme song of my life at that time, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror."

There are other movie and TV musical moments that have over the years stuck inside me like a bad burrito. Remember the scene from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the lesbian couple Tara and Willow break up and other characters in the show have personal crisis' going on leaving much of the cast in a sad place? What did Joss Whedon choose to well up the emotion of the places his characters found themselves in? Michelle Branch's "Goodbye to You."

Now I'm not the biggest Michelle Branch fan in the world. Maybe I should be but I just haven't had the time. But her performance at the Bronze in this Buffy episode makes me cry every time I see it.

"It feels like I'm starting all over again/The last three years were just pretend/And I said goodbye to you/Goodbye to everything that I knew/You were the one I loved/The one thing I tried to hold on to..."

If someone out there was kind enough to put together a soundtrack for my life this song would surely have to be on it. It's time to move on.

Then there's the scene from the movie I've seen more times than any other- The Karate Kid. Daniel finds himself a stranger in a strange place and he's blaming his mom because she didn't exactly give him a choice on whether he wanted to uproot himself from New Jersey to move out west and start all over again. As he struggles to make friends there's a montage where Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" plays in the background. Is there a better song that's ever been sung? A better song that could say all that needs to be said about being lost and alone?

Listening now "Cruel Summer" takes me all the way back to 1984. I'm soaking my hands in pickle juice to make them tougher for all the karate chops that are needed. Of course I couldn't soak my head in the same juice and it would be a long time before I could pickle my heart leaving me to ask a question I'm still asking. Where do I go from here?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sandra and Keanu Reunite Via Magic Mail Box

The last time I had a conversation with the Duluth seamstress was in September 2001, nearly five years ago. The previous time we had a conversation was over a dozen years before that. Yet in all honesty hardly a day has gone by in all that time that I haven't talked to her. She seemed honored when I told her that during what was probably the last conversation we will ever have.

I mucked up that friendship mighty fine but her love and friendship will never leave me. She was the one following my hospitalization for head problems, when all seemed lost, who did the one thing no one else in my life seemed capable of doing anymore: she made me smile. Just as importantly I found a long lost side of me through our friendship. I found my sense of humor again. In a time it seemed impossible, whenever I was around her I felt like myself again for the first time in a long time. I don't know a bigger compliment that I'll ever be able to give to another person.

Thus the timing of meeting her was important to what she came to mean to me. Likewise if my head had been where my heart was (in a better place) at the time I think our relationship might have lasted a whole lot longer.

I tried to put the Duluth seamstress behind me by fictionalizing her. She was a major character in the great unpublished novel that has only gathered dust in my bedroom closet. There were times that tact was successful- I wasn't entirely sure I hadn't made her up in some desperate dream.

But it was through some real fiction that the "she's only a character" strategy dissolved into the watery stuff that flows from the eye ducts. When I saw Sandra Bullock play a bit part in a Sylvester Stallone sci-fi movie I was immediately struck at how much she somehow reminded me deeply of the Duluth seamstress. I wasn't exactly sure what it was about Bullock that made that watery stuff start flowing uncontrollably during the unintentionally comedic Demolition Man. Was it her eyes? Her eyebrows? Her smile? Her face? Her voice? Her down to earth sense of humor? I've never been able to answer that.

Since Bullock became a star with Speed, I've made it a point to try and see each and every one of her movies if not on opening day, then shortly after. I'll be the first to confess it is a pathetic effort to feel like I'm going to a movie again with my all time favorite movie going partner. During our chat in 2001 I asked the Duluth seamstress if anyone had ever told her she reminded him/her of Sandra Bullock. "Only about a thousand times," she said. "In fact this guy carding me at the liquor store this morning said that." I couldn't help but think throughout this last conversation that she not only seemed a bit freaked that I called, but she also seemed a little sad about what happened between us.

Bullock's latest film, The Lake House, reunites her with her Speed co-star, Keanu Reeves. The Lake House couldn't be anymore different than Speed. It doesn't have any flying buses or wild chase scenes or wall to wall action. Most of the movie takes place with Bullock or Reeves' character reading a letter to the other. (This latter film does have a couple of references to the earlier film- there's a bus accident that plays a major role in the plot; both characters' dog is named "Jack"- the name of Reeves character in Speed. Indeed The Lake House's plot reaffirms what Bullock's character repeated over and over to Jack in Speed: that relationships that begin under extreme circumstances seldom last.)

The Lake House is a remake of a Korean movie called Il Mare and its complicated (and almost fairy tale like) storyline seem foreign to an American movie and almost standard for films made in other countries. Both characters live in the same house only two years apart. Through the magic of a mail box, the characters are able to communicate with one another.

Not much happens in the movie other than two people fall in love. The beauty of The Lake House is that the movie well understands that two people falling in love happens every day but it still doesn't happen nearly often enough.

Given the story's unique plot device one has to suspend logic in order to be able to enjoy The Lake House. I'm not even sure given the rules of the world in the movie that the ending makes sense. But still this isn't a movie like any I've seen before and by the end I was blubbering, a sniffling wreck of a human being. And this time around I don't even think this emotional state had anything to do with my odd affection to Sandra Bullock. By the end of the movie I truly cared what happened to the two characters, wishing despite the odds and the circumstances that they would end up together.

The Lake House tells a convincing (albeit odd) story about how timing has as much to do if not more, with our place in the world in whether a relationship will succeed or not. The movie contains my favorite Keanu Reeves performance. He hits all the right notes as a decent, yet damaged architect. There's a scene where Bullock's character gives Reeves' character a gift, a book from the future that contains a very personal photograph, and given some difficult circumstances, Reeves begins to weep. It's a perfect scene. All the right emotions are expressed through his acting and verbal cues and not a word, and no music are needed to make it all work.

Likewise in many ways this is Bullock's best movie yet. Her character is sad and lonely, quite aware of how her withdrawal from the world into her work and how her relationship with Reeves only adds to what is in a way wrong with the woman she has become. Bullock has shown in every one of her movies (except for the dreadful Miss Congeniality duo) that she understands that playing a role understated is often more effective than going over the top with something flashier. The Lake House features her most understated performance to date. She is sad and it isn't the absence of her smile that she uses to convey it. It's her body language. She looks weary here and even the events from a magic mail box doesn't seem capable of shaking her back to life.

The day before I saw The Lake House I happened to watch Charlie Chaplin's last silent film, the brilliant Modern Times for the first time. There isn't a whole lot of similarities between the two movies yet both left me with a similar feeling of a re-energized, if still reserved hope of going out and facing the world again.

Modern Times has a lot of great things going for it. There's Chaplin's sheer genius for physical comedy. (There's a scene where Charlie's character has accidentally ingested some cocaine while in prison and as he tries to march back to his cell with the rest of the prisoners after dinner, he does these snappy little twirls that are a delight.) There's also a spellbinding performance by Paulette Goddard (as the "gamin") whose joy and energy simply radiate off the screen. My favorite moment of the film though is when Charlie's character is coerced into accepting a job as a waiter and part of that job requires him to do a song for the restaurant patrons. Since talking movies were the wave of the future and Chaplin's silent skills all of a sudden were a thing of the past- the challenge for the character seem to be Chaplin's way of answering anyone skeptical of his ability to survive in the movies if he chose to do so (he didn't). The character is shy and nervous about singing in public for the first time and Chaplin plays this for all it's worth. And yet when he does finally sing it's a wonderful performance. It's the greatest cinematic middle finger gleefully ever given.

Ironically Modern Times has proven to be timeless. It's the story of the might and weakness of labor unions and the corruption of power in a world devoted no matter what to technological advances despite the human costs. Watching the movie is like having the ability to reach into a magical movie mail box to another time to not only appreciate the history of what once was but also understand how what once was has made this world a better place after all.

Likewise The Lake House given many critics' scorn and indifference will likely disappear as one of many failed summer movies of 2006. Yet I can foresee a time a couple of years from now when someone discovering this movie will unexpectedly be transported to another time and another place. That's the beauty of a good movie- it can take us to a place where we've never been before and yet still returns us to where we've never been quite able to leave behind.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Singing Scooterer

"The sad irony of love is how seldom you feel it/Yet it's all you dream about night and day..."
-Jim White

Maybe I'll get out of bed this week. Maybe I won't. For me, life is more and more like that great Jim White song: "They say it's better to be blessed than it is to be clever but I don't care./'Cause I got 10 miles to go on a 9 mile road and it's a rocky rough road/but I don't care./For life's nothing if not a blind rambling prayer/You keep your head held high a'walking and a'talking/'til the power of Love delivers you there."

During a normal week if you're lucky (or blessed) enough to live in the Como Park area, or anywhere between Minneapolis and St. Paul, you might open up your drapes and windows one morning and happen to hear the warbling of an aging Asian fellow wearing a great big white helmet scooting by your home.

Those familiar with scooter riding know that the A-number one thing to keep in mind at all times is "safety first." Thus no matter how tempting it might be to plug in one's iPod underneath that great big white helmet, ears, hearing, and listening are needed for other things like keeping track of the traffic around you.

To make up for the lack of music, I've taken to singing. Singing my lungs and heart and spleen out. I don't care what looks I get. I don't care if the car next to me is bouncing up and down from the woofers and bass and blaring rap music. I don't care if there's someone standing waiting for a bus that can in all likelihood hear me. Along with my kitty blog, and this weekly column, and little else, singing on my scooter is my outlet, my forum.

My scooter singing song selection isn't varying much these days. I just watched (and re-watched) the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every time I see it I marvel at how effectively writer Joss Whedon demonstrates the art and power of music by how well he is able to capture the place each and every cast member was at at that point in time in the series' impressive flowing fluid storyline.

My secret wish is that somewhere in the near future some smart and creative and in tune high school drama teacher will choose "Once More with Feeling" as his/her choice for the fall or spring musical stage presentation. I truly believe that the Buffy musical would make one hell of a terrific high school stage show The music is great and the emotion of the story and music ranks right up there with my favorite plays, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story.

So there I am most mornings scooting down the streets of the Twin Cities, just waiting for an inattentive driver to hit me, and still able to feel a lot of joy and pleasure in all the fresh air and fresh scenes. And I wonder, why is it that I can so relate to Buffy's big songs? In the musical having been pulled by magic down from heaven Buffy is feeling quite dead inside, a feeling only made worse by the cold harsh reality of this world.

"Still I always feel the strangest estrangement/Nothing here is real, nothing here is right..." "I've been going through the motions/Walking through the part/Nothing seems to penetrate my heart..." "I can't even see/If this is really me/And I just want to be alive..."

"Life's a song you don't get to rehearse/and every single verse/can make it that much worse/And still my friends don't know why I ignore/the million things or more/I should be dancing for/All the joy life sends/family and friends/All the twists and bends/Knowing that it ends/Well that depends/on if they let you go..."

I've also featured in my repertoire for my involuntary audience Xander and Anya's risqué retro-ditty (did Rock Hudson and Doris Day ever break into song?) "I'll Never Tell."

"He snores/She wheezes/Say housework and he freezes/She eats these squeazy cheeses that I can't describe/I talk, he breezes/She doesn't know what please is/His penis got diseases from a Shumosh tribe..."

Or how about the relevance of Giles and Tara's duet, "Under Your Spell"?

"Believe me I don't want to go/And it will grieve me because I love you so/But we both know/Wish I could say the right words to lead you through this land..."

It's been a lifelong dream that just once every one around me will break out into song and that life would be like the one I've on occasion witnessed in the dark, on stage with clean resolutions and meanings. Since that doesn't seem to be happening I guess my scooter riding singing will have to suffice. Wouldn't be a kick if once, just once someone would join in the song? If nothing else that spontaneous music would make me feel again and make whatever feelings I should be feeling a shared experience once more.

Monday, June 5, 2006

At the Hot Corner

It was over ninety degrees Memorial Day Eve. Hotter than an empty can of Dr. Pepper thrown and discarded on a newly paved road with its tar melting away into a pungent vapor. So hot that I finally put my wallet away and turned on the AC for the feline population I'm living with, the ones with fur coats and panting from the hot air.

It was the day when my family had a little get together at the cemetery where Mom is and isn't. My brother-in- law, Dan who is a minister by trade and faith, conducted a nice service where he asked us to share some things we remember about Mom. I would have said something but it really isn't in my nature and I know Mom would have been the last person to expect that I would say something. If I had I think I would have said something about one of the last coherent conversations Mom and I had before the morphine she was taking for the pain her cancer was causing caused her mind to space out. Mom told me that she really wished she had saved some of my not to be broadcast radio shows I taped as a kid.

This memory came to me listening to Bob Dylan's XM Satellite Radio Show, Theme Time Radio Hour, particularly the second show played during the week of Mother's Day, a show dedicated to music about mothers. What I thought about saying at the cemetery was what Bob said to open this installment of his show. How moms are the only people in the world that can divide their love equally among ten children and yet each child has all her love. I liked that.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly six years since Mom died. Things have gone by fast, things that don't mean much, things that mean everything. During the sad moments I wish Mom were still around because I know she'd make everything just a little bit more bearable. During the happy moments, those few and far between, I wish Mom were around because there was no one better to share happiness with, no one who rooted harder for me to be just a little bit happier but didn't push it in any way.

The moments are there. There was a moment on the way home from a friend's graduation party when I was stopped at the stop light at the corner of Lexington and Grand Avenues in St. Paul when an attractive middle aged couple exited the Lexington a fancy restaurant my Mom ate at once, a place far too rich for me and my friends. I happened to overhear this couple's conversation that began as a red Mini-Cooper drove on by. The woman told the man that she wished she could drive one of those. The guy pointed to my scooter and told the woman that she would be happier with what I was riding on. I wanted to interrupt them and point out that I have both and that either choice would be a good one. But I didn't, I just smiled and waited for the light to turn green. (It usually does.)

Mom probably would have frowned at my scooter riding, having forbade all us kids from getting a motorcycle. One of her few steadfast rules. But the episode by the Lexington reminded me of the joke I learned from J.D. Salinger about what one wall said to the other. "Meet you at the corner!"

Mom would have laughed. She would have also would have chuckled at the latest installment of Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour that featured songs about baseball and included a wonderful opening where Bob sang a smile inducing acapella version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Speaking of happiness Mom loved the late Max the Cat almost as much as I did and not only because he was a great cat, but because she knew how much I loved him and that was good enough for her. Thus I think she'd also be quite fond of the three cats who keep me company, keep me entertained and keep me from slipping off into the darkness for too long a time. Mom would have loved how Thompson, the three-legged cat who has had issues of trust, undoubtedly since the accident where a trap cost him his leg and nearly cost him his life, will take a step forward in trusting life once again even if later he'll take a couple of steps backwards. The way he deals with each day is enough to forget at how unfair life can be. It's a struggle but one he manages.

Mom would have also loved how Theo, the youngster, loves to launch himself into my arms and how Diego-san is the best cuddler since Stephanie Jane (not that I remember or knew). I didn't say any of this at the cemetery but hopefully Mom heard anyway.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Fourth Boy

We all know the story. They were just about to hit the big time. They had conquered their home town and beyond and with every appearance the legend began to grow. Four cheeky lads. But behind the scenes there was discontent. The rhythm guitarist and the bass player, who shared singing duties, were said to be jealous of the drummer's dark brooding handsome good looks. Or that's what the drummer's mom said when asked to explain why the rhythm guitarist and the bass player ended up firing the drummer and replacing him with a sickly (and somewhat homely) lad.

We'll never know if the Beatles would have been as big, or bigger had Pete Best remained the drummer and Ringo Starr had been left to bum around back in Liverpool. We'll never know if Pete was a better drummer than Ringo. We may never know the real reason for the personnel change.

Whatever. This past week may have been just as momentous as the one where the Beatles switched drummers. This was the week where the three boyz of a certain Hamline Avenue brick abode were joined by a ghostly fourth finally shedding the baggage of being part of an involuntary quartet where the parts of the trio added up to a much greater sum than being lumped in with the spare wheel who wasn't one of their own species.

The aquatic newbie may not have the graying good looks of who he's theoretically replacing in the group but he is much more likely to add charisma to the chemistry.

For those of you in need of a program in order to keep track of the players here's a quick run down: Thompson and Diego-san are the skilled duo that were originally brought together through a quirk of fate. Diego-san is the cute charmer with multiple, if at times cloying talents. Thompson is the neurotic edgy one. Together their differing personalities blend into something magical.

Theo is younger than Thompson and Diego-san and sometimes follows the two around like a lost little brother. But Theo has his own abilities that can't be overlooked even if sometimes they're overshadowed. He's also probably the most likely to return to his eastern spiritual roots in search for answers.

The newcomer? He's Bucky the beta fish. The auburn hair lass was kind enough to buy Bucky to give him a new home. And granted he isn't an actual resident of the household that holds the other three boyz, rather he's an absentee member who lives a ways down the street in the Hennepin County Government Center. Bucky isn't a flashy beta fish- he's mostly silver with flashes of a spectacular shade of blue. He seems to perk up when the overhead lights are turned on and the dour and increasingly sour office holder finally appears in the morning.

Bucky's small goggle shaped tank with a plastic plant and purple rocks sits right next to a photo of the late great Mr. Max- the Elvis Presley of cats (without the self indulgence and self destruction). Bucky seems leery of the image of Max and yet often spends a lot of time on that side of the tank as if curious about that sweet face looking in on things.

It's quite possible that the group of four will never be in the same location at the same time but the bond is there in spirit nonetheless. Each provide a great reminder to one not always keen on life itself, that this moment, this shared time, maybe the best of all, no matter what has gone down before.

And like the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, the one responsible for bringing this group of four together has his manic moments but nothing is ever enough to overwhelm how proud he remains of all these special beings and how lucky he is to know them. Yes the group may not have the ability to surpass the Dixie Chicks (the 21st Century answer to the Beatles) as the most popular group of the day. And yes everyone involved has to tip their caps or beanies or hats to the country trio's great new song, "Not Ready to Make Nice" that channels anger and hurt in such a searing way, proving an artful testament to the knowledge that time doesn't really heal all wounds. But this is not to say that one day the four won't find the way to do something just as big, just as impressive. Just you watch.

Monday, May 22, 2006


One gets a false sense of exercise from scooter riding. You're out in the fresh air moving rapidly and yet riding on a scooter hardly qualifies as cardiovascular activity in any way other than the scares you get from being amongst inattentive drivers.

That's unfortunate for those of us who love scooter riding and who also are increasingly aware of how tight the old pants are getting. Besides scooter riding the closest thing I get to exercise these days is spinning the dial of my iPod.

Thus I was rather glad when the softball season started a couple of weeks ago. Every season the fear exists that this will be the year that the key to my softball game, my legs/speed will finally give way to my advanced age. I do not have enough power to be an intimidating batter though I do have to say my hand eye coordination all but makes up for my poor eyesight. My glove is above average but my range is about as good as a satellite radio placed in a Panic Room.

The part of my game that gets the other team's attention is my speed. Other than Greg Gagne I'm not sure there's a human alive that in his hey day was quicker in going from first to third. (Part of that is knowing the proper angles to take to get from here to there even faster.) The first two games of the season have proven that my game isn't entirely behind me quite yet. I haven't quite been consistent in my hitting (too many popups) but I've nailed a couple pitches on the button. More importantly despite not using my legs at all this winter, I still find there's some juice there when I turn on the jets.

I'm almost as fast as Theo the cat who displays his speed daily on a regular basis as he races Thompson, Diego-san and myself up the stairs in an impressive fashion.

I continue to love playing softball. My attempt to transition into becoming a curler knowing that my years as a softball player are numbered but my years as a curler could conceivably go on for awhile, have gone down with mixed results. I like playing curling but I dreamingly lose myself playing softball.

Of course a lot of that loves comes from my lifelong love of the game of baseball. That love is the only love of my love (with one rolling exception) that has continued to grow with time. Last year my friend asked me to join his fantasy baseball league. I had participated in another league a couple of years ago and had a decent time so I was glad to be asked to play again. It's a National League fantasy league (plus the Twins) with a few other American Leaguers included from years past when teams were made up of players from both leagues.

I inherited a team that included Joe Mauer, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Buerhle, Billy Wagner, and Torii Hunter. Before the season began we had a draft with a certain amount of dollars to spend on our entire roster. The draft involved each owner throwing out the name of a player and everyone having the opportunity to bid on the player.

I wasn't too happy with the team I ended up with after the draft. I was forced to take some players I never liked much (like Raul Mondesi and Doug Mientkiewicz) but by watching the waiver wire and free agent pool I was able to mold my team into something much better as the season progressed. I found myself in first place for much of the year even though I didn't have a single National League all star. (Soriano and Buerhle made the American League squad.)

The Grey Duck Fantasy League has been around for nearly a decade and in my first season I was able to do what several owners that had been around for years had never done- I won the league. No one in the history of the league had repeated as champs so this year I have my work cut out for me. (Who issued the truism that says that it's much more difficult to repeat than win in the first place?)

I like the team I started with much better than last year. Right now I find myself mired in second place far behind the leader. I don't have enough pitching to win this thing unless youngsters like Francisco Liriano, Scott Olsen, and Gavin Floyd can put together solid seasons. I find myself checking the National League boxscores first thing in the morning and have become somewhat obsessed with the players on my fantasy team.

Having been a critic of the geekiness of fantasy sports (football in particular that has its participants far too obsessed with statistics rather than unpredictability of the sport) I never thought I'd find myself so involved in what's going on with other teams in other towns. I maybe the only person in Minnesota who gets upset when Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins has an OHfer game. I love that my team, the Osaka Cat's Meow continues to perform at a high level validating my hunches about certain players. I love scouring newspapers trying to find the next great player. Still I realize fantasy baseball is to real ball what scooter riding is to real exercise. Yet the benefit of this game is that it gives me something to think about during my free as a bird scooter rides.

And in a matter of the media finally getting it right...

Monday, May 15, 2006


By far the best birthday gift I ever got was back in the fourth or fifth grade when Mom and Dad gave me a home radio station play set that I spotted in the Sears' catalog. It was a package set complete with a turntable, microphone, headphones, and marker board that allowed me to set the radio station's schedule and songlists.

A short while later I got a recordable 8-track player that allowed me to spend most of my weekends creating radio shows that featured my not so good radio mimicry voice and burgeoning 45 record collection.

My station featured the stone solid Stoney Duncan's new show in the morning and the wacky Figgy Figueroa noon time stint, a show that was a bit too close for comfort to WCCO-AM's Steve Cannon's. The day's highlight however was probably Shotgun Smalley's drive time show featuring all the latest hits from Barry Manilow to Paper Lace.

Somewhere in my Father's house are a bunch of 8-track tapes featuring the last broadcasts from WQSR's many talented DJs. I'm sure if listened to now they would fall neatly in line with the hall of fame tapes of Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, and all those other classic radio shows.

It should be clearly stated that one of my many cocky misconceptions about my own abilities (and it ranks right up there with my belief my baseball abilities are of Major League caliber) is that my few talents rise above even the given geniuses of this world. I've never shaken the belief that the few things I do well, I do better than anyone I know.

Among these hidden talents lay the DJing skills that could light up the radio dial like no one from here to Topeka. Up until this past week, my favorite DJ was the Current's Mary Lucia, who is among the few people left in this world who has the ability to make me chortle aloud.

Having just received my XM Satellite radio, I have fallen under the spell of a new favorite DJ whose skills I have to admit go far beyond my own. The second installment of Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's possible to hear something brand new that still sounds as if it has existed forever beyond time.

There are several things to recommend about Dylan's show. First and foremost is his obvious knowledge and love of music. This has been evident before in the covers of songs he has done over the years. The songs DJ Bob plays from Ruth Brown to LL Cool J, reinforce the man has a great ear. The other thing that has been a delightful reminder is Dylan's wicked sense of humor. In the first theme time hour that featured songs about weather, he introduced a Judy Garland tune saying something that Ms. Garland was from Minnesota, "just like Prince."

His second theme time hour featured songs about moms and included a wonderful opening poem about all the things moms do for their kids. "M is for all the things mom has done; O is for the other things mom has done; T is for all the things mom has done..." My favorite part of the mom show was Bob's introduction to Julia Lee's "Mama Don't Allow It." "This is Julia Lee, one of those singer/piano players. Lots of double entrendres, making her very popular in Kansas City." HUH?! It reminded me of the first week's observation that Chicago really isn't the Windy City but rather that distinction should obviously go to Dodge City, Kansas.

It's a long road that carries one from the days young dreamers used to hide a radio underneath their pillows late at night to try and catch the 50,000 watt stations located throughout the country to now where we have satellite's beaming down independent channels providing an alternative to the generic stations that one dials up on a regular radio. That new/old road crosses with another that has someone somewhere losing himself in dreams on a system advertised in the Sears catalog.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Mad Town

"Remember when I revealed myself to you in the car/Listening to 'Rock 'n Roll Animal' as the night got dark/Your mother called up and said/'Go ahead girl and get yourself free...'"
-Ike Reilly

I've learned to live my life via the George Costenza method. I like my life circles to remain separate. I don't like my circles colliding. I see life as a great big snowman where the three big body parts represent different life cycles and one is placed on top of the next. There of course is some leakage as things get too hot and one's form starts to melt and dissolve. But no matter how it ends up, spiritually the parts are meant to be separate and distinct because that's the way we are built.

The last time I stayed in Madison, Wisconsin was the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I remember walking around Lake Michigan late one evening, near the student union (the only student union in the country that sells beer to its patrons). I was slowly/rapidly inevitably falling in love having just gone to my first Bob Dylan show, the one where the songs were nearly indistinguishable as the echoes bounced around inside the Metrodome. I also was falling into a sea of trouble with the girl who according to a daily Google search may have been swept away lost in the Tsunami.

This time, the trip to Madison (Scootertown, USA) wasn't in any way meant to recapture or re-experience anything that's gone before. Who remembers all that? This time it was truly an excursion in getting out of here, getting away to somewhere/anywhere if only temporarily. Despite a four hour delay caused initially by a flat tire and ultimately by a full four tire replacement and brake repair to the tune of over $1000, believe me (if you can) by the time we reached Madison I was glad to be there again and quite looking forward to the weekend.

"Trample on your yesterdays/But never on your tomorrows..."
-Ike Reilly (again)

My soon to be graduated graduate school friend and I spent Friday night finding a place to stay (and eat). We planned on dining at an Ethiopian restaurant her friend had recommended but ended up next door through a confusing door alignment at an impressive Afghani restaurant instead.

The next day began with a continental breakfast served at the converted dorm/meeting center that fell into our price range. We overheard the conversation of a table of people who were in town to celebrate their 50th anniversary of some moment of life, either a high school graduation or a college reunion.

I don't really have a lot of time these days for the marking of time. I could never have even a ten year plan because after all that has gone down (and wrong) I never figured I'd live this long.

We spent all of Saturday doing a lot of walking- around the Farmer's Market and the lovely university campus. Originally when this trip was planned the reason we gave was I had heard from an up and comer/two timer that Iron Chef Morimoto had a restaurant in Madison. That was enough reason to drop and run. Our end goal then was to find his restaurant even though it was a rumor stirring the fumes we were driving on. We ended up spending our last meal at an impressive Japanese restaurant named "Restaurant Muramoto" that was so well designed (and the food so great, especially a duck based sushi roll) that it just had to be connected to an Iron Chef despite the spelling discrepancy.

We returned home, me thankfully with a new be-bop hat on head (dispelling my Dad's notion that I never wear hats anymore) and a hand made clay clock that features the many positions of a black cat (who resembles Diego-san's shadowy self) spaced out across the face to count down the time that passes away each and every day.

None of this would have made any sense whatsoever of course if not the thankful appearance of a newly released Ike Reilly EP, The Last Demonstration. The six song mix is a combination of demos of already released songs and songs that weren't included on Ike's last CD. What is learned upon this latest release of our most underrated (God why aren't people listening to him) artist? Only that it's wonderful to hear sketches of songs that Ike has since more fully developed.

Another what the hell does this mean question that comes to mind is how Ike's last two CDs (Sparkle in the Finish and Junkie Faithful) have been named from lyrics to songs that were ultimately left off the full length CDs in favor of subsequent EPs. Not all may agree but I love the rawness, and the weariness, and the unpolished vocals Ike gives us on The Last Demonstration. This is a naked soul creating something new from something that's soon to be rather than what ever was. And that's exactly what a scooter riding Mini Cooper owner blindly sees as the route to take, the way to go, even if he has no clue as to what a ten year plan may or can look like ever again.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Satchel Paige May Have Been Right

As a long time sufferer of a bout of Agoraphobia I now think I'm the premier text example of a brand new affliction, Rearendaphobia.

My fear of leaving my home was at its very worst during the late '80's/early 90's (my so called "Blue Period") when working myself up to drive myself to work was a chore unto itself. Somehow I survived all that and didn't find myself one who stayed safe at home at all times with his 20,000 cats (not yet) and have forced myself to do my share of traveling and getting out over the years.

So I allowed myself to feel some pride over time mostly overcoming one of my gazillion phobias. That was until this past week when I discovered I've come down with another crippling fear. Having been hit from behind twice in the past month, I find myself every time I'm at a stoplight looking in my rearview mirror clenching up whenever I see a vehicle coming up from behind at a speed I think maybe too fast to stop.

This new fear was at its worst on Thursday when I planned to stop after work at Circuit City (my personal boycott of Best Buy continues thank you very much Jennie Haire), to buy myself a satellite radio. In the preceding days I had the pleasure of hearing a sample of Bob Dylan's new XM Satellite radio show via the Internet. The show was quite entertaining, as Dylan featured folk and blues songs revolving around the theme of weather.

Listening to Dylan in this new format I couldn't help but picture the image of a young Bob tuning in to his scratchy portable radio while growing up in Hibbing trying to listen to Hank Williams and Odetta. This image pretty much has been influenced by the same imagery presented in the early scenes of Walk the Line where the young Johnny Cash/Joquin Phoenix sits transfixed by his family's radio trying to tune in the Carter Family's radio show.

Just as I was about to leave my house for Circuit City I decided I didn't want to chance getting rear ended once again. So I got online and ordered the radio from the XM website complete with the additional $11 shipping charges.

Having this new fear as the kids say, bummed me out. I have enough trouble sleeping at night without worrying about the next time someone will crash into me and my vehicle. (If only I could keep moving maybe then no one will hit me). That's when the following day I climbed into my now scarred shiny red Mini-Cooper and plopped the new Susanna Hoffs/Matthew Sweet (Sid and Susie) CD, Under the Covers Vol. 1 into my car's CD player. The music that blasted out of my speakers made me crack a rather broad smile.

Back during my self inflicted and so called "Blue Period" I discovered this obscure LP called Rainy Day that was as sunny as could be despite the name, featuring many L.A. musicians including members of the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate, Three O'Clock, and the Rain Parade. Susanna's cover of Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and Lou Reed's "I'll Be Your Mirror" was the fuel that kept me going for a month or two.

Under the Covers is kind of a sequel to Rainy Day. Sweet and Hoffs cover a whole bunch of 60's tunes with such love and sun that the music glimmers. Among the many great songs covered are the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" that swings with a great deal of fun, and the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" that almost matches the magic of the original version.

Hearing the bugged eyed Susanna's lead vocals on Dylan's sad "It's All Over Baby Blue" and backing vocals on Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" was almost inspiring enough to reinvigorate me to get over my Rearendaphobia and hit the road no matter the costs, no matter the consequences. As the CD closed with a cover of the Bee Gees' "Run to Me" sung with such sweetness and passion, I couldn't help but get over myself if only for a moment or two.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rear Ended (Again)

I guess I need a Hummer.

I was driving home the other day just a few miles down the road where last month Jazmin the Jeep driver rammed into the back of my Honda Civic, totaling it. On this particular day the rain had made the drive home all the way from Minnetonka via 394 a bit stressful. But I took things slow, enjoying my new shiny used red Mini Cooper.

I was now closer to home, stopped at a stop light, the second car in line when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a Chevy Impala speeding up behind me. Thoughts of Jazmin, which have never left my head since that accident, came again barreling into my noggin. "That car is going much too fast," I said to myself bracing myself for the impact. Sure enough the Impala didn't stop in time and instead rammed into the back of my car.

This time I was pissed. There was no excuse. It wasn't raining out anymore. The sun was shining and the roads were hardly treacherous. I may not have many virtues but usually being calm and composed is my general nature. It takes a lot to set off my temper and I have learned over the years that most situations are better handled in a quiet manner.

But this time I had enough. I had enough of bad drivers- careless or indifferent, or distracted drivers. Drivers too lazy to use their turn signals, or their headlights during rainstorms, or those who roll through stop signs. Drivers who think it necessary to carry on the most inane conversations on cell phones rather than pay attention to what they should be paying attention to- the road and other drivers around them.

But it wasn't only bad drivers I had enough of. I was tired of people in general who don't pay any attention to those around them- those walking with their heads down; those stopping to hold conversations at the top of escalators or right in the middle of busy walk ways; those who get on to elevators before letting others off and then standing right in the front of the button panel making it impossible for others to push the button to their own floor. Maybe I was just at the end of a seven year rope but I had had enough.

I got out of my shiny red Mini, checked for the damage (nothing visible) and made my way to the car going much too fast that it couldn't stop in time. The driver opened his door and I started screaming at him. "WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING???" I felt myself losing control. I felt myself more angry than I had been in a long, long time.

"I just spaced out," the driver said. "I'm sorry."

My voice was going hoarse and my throat felt raw. For the second time in a month I pulled my car to the side of the road with another. The driver of the other vehicle gave me his name, number, and insurance information.

I looked at my Mini more closely. There's a little ding in the fender and a few scratches. All I could think about on my drive home was that if I had been on my scooter when this had happened I would have been sent airborne and my family would have been paying money for an obituary and a coffin.

I was more than a little wound up when I got home. I tried calling my friend, the last one to speak to me before the accident, who left me with the words, "Be careful in your Mini Cooper!" but I got her voice mail instead.

It was one of those many times that I was glad to come home to my three boyz. Thompson, the three-legged cat came hopping over to me, grunting as he does as he walks and talks. He reached up to me with his lone front paw, and I could hear his purring loud as could be. I told him what just happened and he looked at me with his big round sad brown eyes and all seemed OK again.

The very next day I pulled out a little book my photographer friend Tom gave to me a couple years ago when he learned of my love of the Mini Cooper. The book is a slick advertising pitch for the Mini about the coolness of motoring. Among its many pearls of wisdom come on a page that reads, "Don't freak out if your MINI gets a nick or a ding. Just think of them as scars. And as most people will tell you, scars are sexy. They tell a story. They're evidence of an active life. A life worth living. You'll probably get them fixed but while they're there, take solace in the fact that they represent a life experience. And as with scars, feel free to embellish on how a nick came to be. Maybe it came from the steel-studded collar of a rabid dog that had been chasing you for three blocks and threw himself at your door the moment you jumped in your MINI. Exaggeration is a motorer's prerogative."

I'm thinking I won't get the ding fixed. Maybe I'll just let it remind me of the day enough was enough and that in itself was enough for now.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My Own (and Only My Own) Silver Bullet

"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Eastertime too/And your gravity fails and negativity don't pull you through..."
-Mr. "Dillon"

You just never know. You just don't.

I've never gotten into, nor understood the whole Springsteenian thing- this whole love affair with a mode, model, and make of some form of transportation. I've never much cared how or what got me from here to there. I've rather obsessed on just getting there. So in grade school when Michael Hafner tried to teach me the difference between an International semi-truck and a Mack semi-truck I never quite cared enough to learn. Same goes when Chuck Schrantz raved about the Dodge Dart I drove to high school.

Even when my Mom told the family that when she took one of them job aptitude tests placing you in your right job, her test suggested that she become a truck driver- and even later on when she said her dream car was a Mazda Miata, I just couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the wheels that spun round and round.

If left to my own devices I'd bypass all kinds of planes, trains, and automobiles if someone could only get us to the Star Trek way of getting around the need for the tedium of motors and carburetors and crank shafts to get to a final destination. In other words (probably much more clear words) I always thought I couldn't be happy with traveling until the transporter was finally invented.

Things have changed. First, last year when I got talked into buying a scooter and soon fell in love with my commute to work and other places. My ride no longer was just something that wasted time but with the fresh air and the pleasure of being right out there in the open to see, hear, and experience things in a whole other light- I just couldn't get enough of scooting. That plus the ability to zip around in a less than tank sized vehicle was a brand new appreciated experience.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I bought the one car in my life that caught my fancy- the Mini Cooper. When I told my cat-sitting niece I had bought a Mini, her immediate reaction was to call me a "dork." How could I disagree? A Mini and a Scooter (how cute does that sound?) now fill my garage and both were purchased after my 40th birthday- quickly suggesting some sort of mid-life crisis for those that don't know me better. (I've got the maturity of a four year old after all.)

So after finally getting my scooter's carburetor cleaned and purring along, I rode my bike to work one unseasonably warm day this week. Eight hours later I was in a bit of a hurry to get home. When I went down to the bike rack where my scooter (don't ya dare call it a moped!) was locked and parked, I turned the key to try and start it. It was completely dead. Not a spark to be found anywhere within sight (or touch).

I called the dealer, Bob, who didn't have much advice. I checked the battery and fuse connections. I tried kick starting my scooter rather than electric starting it, but that didn't cause the smallest rumble. My scooter was dead. Just as I was about to give up all hope I jiggled something and saw the oil indicator light up. Sure enough the scooter soon fired right up and just in time for me to get to the Twins' game I held tickets for.

As I was sitting with a friend watching our team beat the dreaded Yankees, I looked about ten rows down. There I spotted a lanky guy in a Scooterville T-shirt, and that guy was Bob who I had just frantically called hours before. By now I was calm, having gotten my scooter to run, and I was glad to see Bob was as into the game as I was. On this particular night our team scooted past the other even though the other happens to be making much more money and traditionally and always gets much more attention. It was a fitting end to the day, a lesson learned of no matter how much the wheels may or may not spin, the way we get to somewhere maybe just maybe could be considered important in the end.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You Bee 40

Growing up, I spent many Sunday afternoons with my family walking the malls of Brookdale and Rosedale and on special occasions, Ridgedale. This past Sunday I spent the day walking a mall in downtown Cleveland. I mention this not as an example of how far (or how not so far) I've come over the years, but rather that malls are about as comfortable place for me to be on a Sunday afternoon as any other. This particular Cleveland mall was connected to the Ritz-Carlton motel I was staying at. As I wandered around on a lazy late morning trying to kill time before I headed out to the airport, I saw a long line of people waiting outside a shoe store. Turns out this long line of people was for those waiting to tryout to be extras in the next Spiderman movie.

For the second time in two years I was in Cleveland attending election administration classes. The irony isn't lost on me of taking election administration classes in Ohio, the state that ran into the most publicized troubles in the country in 2004. The class I was taking had to do with public policy making. The instructor introduced himself as a huge baseball fan (he liked the Braves) and went on to say that the reason he likes the lawmaking process is for the same reason he likes baseball- that's it's a terrific game. He kind of lost me there. One of the reasons I stopped working at the Legislature was that I was tired of watching people treating the passage of important public policies as some type of game to be won or lost.

But I was glad to be in Cleveland again.

My second trip to Cleveland thankfully included going to the Indians' home opener that happened to be against the Twins. It rained the morning of the game but by the time we got to the stadium it was just drizzling. A fog rolled in around the third inning but never got thick enough to be too bothersome. Jacobs Field is a terrific ballpark. For non-baseball fans it's a place to go just to be. For those of us who need to hang on to each and every pitch as if our life depended on it, the experience of being in an old fashioned immaculately designed atmosphere with all the modern conveniences (a huge scoreboard, fireworks, and sushi) just makes the greatest game of all, that much more enjoyable.

For years I've advocated for a new Twins ballpark simply because the Metrodome was never meant to be a place to watch baseball. God almighty how can we even consider it the same game with all the phony aesthetics not to mention the pop flies lost in a white(!) roof? And for freaking sake, the majority of seats in the Dome are facing the wrong way... The experience of watching a baseball game at Jacobs Field versus watching one in the Metrodome is akin to the difference between shopping at a mall and walking up and down the store fronts of your friendly small town main street. Having now seen a few games at Jacobs Field I'm more convinced than ever that this is exactly what either downtown St. Paul or Minneapolis needs. This isn't all about giving a billionaire owner and millionaire players the benefit of our tax dollars. It's about how baseball can mean so much for our state and we the fans and semi-fans deserve a great place to enjoy the game.

The Twins got hammered 11-6 with the biggest damage coming from Casey Blake, a former Twin, who hit a grand slam home run. But amongst the obnoxious Indians' fans we were surrounded by I couldn't help but feel a little optimistic that the player I consider to be the key to the Twins' season, Justin Morneau, smacked two home runs and nearly missed a third. And despite the dreary weather I quite enjoyed seeing the new Twins (Luis Castillo, Rondell White, and Willie Eyre) for my first time. (Was I the ONLY one in the stadium hoping that we'd get to see Francisco Liriano?)

It's great that a new baseball season is underway. It's even greater that I got to watch the beginning of this one in a fabulous venue. I'd never thought I'd be jealous of Cleveland.

On the plane ride home I was listening to Bob Dylan on my Nano when the flight attendant wheeled her cart up to my seat. I asked for some juice and she said, "Ham or Turkey!" Turns out she was handing out sandwiches not beverages. I meekly said, "Ham, please," and she handed me my sandwich with a gruff snort. I was glad to be getting home albeit a bit thirsty.

Monday, April 3, 2006

That Fiery Red Head

It's not exactly an original observation that listening to Neko Case's voice beseeches the ghost of Patsy Cline to hover nearby. The power and passion in both Neko and Patsy's voices cause shivers to go up and down your spine and is almost enough to make the most cynical open up their minds to the thought that perhaps God does indeed exist.

Neko gave a stellar show last Wednesday at First Ave. She said she was suffering from a cold but even during the acapella parts of her songs the sheer emotion of her singing seemed almost beyond what mere humans are capable of. She's a crooner in the hippest sense of the word.

Her band is versatile enough to skillfully adapt to the different style of Case's songs from country to jazz to other worldly. Backup singer Kelly Hogan wrapped her voice around Neko's as tight as the braids that Neko kept nervously spinning her long red hair into all night long. It got to the point I wasn't listening to the words much as I just found myself lost in the sound of it all. Even when Neko was singing the high "woos" I was transfixed. Ethereal, positively ethereal.

She did a good mix of old songs with songs from her recently released CD, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Several songs were introduced as being "sad" or "scary" as if those familiar with Case's songwriting needed the descriptive warning. My favorite songs were a trio of covers: Buffy St. Marie's "Soulful Shade of Blue" that had tremendous energy; "Wayfaring Stranger" which up until this evening my favorite version was Emmy Lou Harris' with a close second being Neko's version on last year's CD, The Tigers Have Spoken; and Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain" with a joyful arrangement that only enhanced the bittersweet lyrics. "Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must/You do what must do and you do it well/I do it for you, honey baby can't you tell?"

That's not to say that Neko's own songs didn't hold their own. There was the cutting "The Needle Has Landed" that had a driving groove; "John Saw that Number" that taught us all a bit more about the whole John the Baptist fable accompanied by a delirious banjo(!) solo; and a spooky "I Wish I was the Moon" where Neko's warble on the refrain, "I'm so tired I wish I was the moon tonight..." was so real and heartfelt that one wonders how she could convey such authenticity on the very first night of her tour.

An added bonus to the evening was that Martha Wainwright was the opening act. For the past five years I have burned a compilation of my favorite songs from the particular year for my family and friends. Last year's comp included songs from both Martha and Neko.

Martha is a charismatic live performer with her bouncy and sincere performing style. When she closed her set with the seductive "G.P.T." I was somewhere near heaven.

Earlier that day I test drove a shiny red Mini-Cooper. The ride was smooth. The car was my dream. It didn't take much thinking (critical or otherwise) to decide what I had to do. I'm in love with all things red these days. I made an offer to the owner and we settled on terms. Today we closed the deal and I drove home in my less than practical but coolest vehicle I'll ever own.

Of course the Mini has a fine speaker system and I deliberately made sure that Neko Case was the first voice that accompanied me on my ride. Driving home on 35W with Neko belting out "Twist the Knife" it occurred to me that it's been a long time since I felt so happy and content. I felt the power, both in pressing down on the gas pedal and from the music blasting in my ears. I'm not quite sure who will share in the ride during the life of my Mini (MY Mini!) but for the first time in a long time I'm glad I'm having such thoughts. The songs aren't so sad if you take the time to appreciate the road you've traveled to sing them.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Nine Lives of Separation

Last fall the blue-eyed editor and I took a personal essay writing class at the Loft. Our class was full of a lot of lesbians and people with a lot of emotional scars. We also had a blogger- who ended up being among both the blue-eyed editor and my favorite classmates.

I worked up the nerve one class to ask the blogger the address of her site and what she wrote about. Being a voracious reader she blogs about the many books she reads. When I checked out her blog I discovered that Stefanie reads more books in a month than I've read the past five years.

One of her entries was about a memoir that a friend had just given to her called Waiting for My Cats to Die by Stacy Horn. Stefanie had to cancel a trip abroad because she couldn't find anyone who could take care of her diabetic cat. Horn's memoir in part deals with her having to deal with the needs of not one, but two diabetic cats. In her blog, Stefanie said she hadn't had the chance to read Horn's book yet. Still, the name of the book intrigued me enough to go out an get a copy of it.

Waiting for My Cats to Die is quite the enjoyable read despite some at times, depressing material. Horn is a 42-year-old woman obsessed with death. She's worried that her life has hit the stage when things really don't get better, that the luster of youth is truly gone. In between the accounts of caring for her cats who need insulin shots (and one also has a kidney ailment that requires a regular IV), she also writes about visiting cemeteries and her interviews with elderly people looking back at their lives with much insight while preparing themselves for death.

Horn's humor makes what otherwise might be a dreary drumbeat come alive. Even as she worries that her life maybe not only slipping away, but already has slipped away, her love of the little things, from her cats' behavior to her participation in a drum band (one of her fantasies is to be a rock star) is quite enchanting.

As I was making my way through the book I found myself relating to a life that revolves in many ways around a deep fondness for another species. The intrigue of the feline world has enriched my own life to such a degree that I couldn't help but smile at the chapters where Horn writes with a lot of love about the interaction between her and her cats.

And then I got to other chapters about another love of Horn's life- her love of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During the show's seven seasons Horn seems to be the type of fan that looked forward to each and every Tuesday night. Buffy was the rare show that one made the effort to watch as it aired; taping it and watching it later just wasn't good enough. Her obsession with the show mirrored mine but in a way went beyond. She even thought about contacting one of those involved with the writing and acting to see if she could date them. (As much as I loved Faith and Anya and Marti Noxon, it never crossed my mind I should maybe write them a letter or zip off an email).

Horn also devotes a chapter of her book about seeing one of my all time favorite movies- the Japanese film After Life that concerns this company that recreates a single moment in life for those who have just died. This filmed recreation is the one memory that the deceased can take with them for the rest of eternity. It's an intriguing concept- given the choice, what memory would you want to relive forever over and over again?

I so connected with Horn's writing (and was somewhat freaked about all the things we share in common) that I seriously have thought about trying to contact her. Of course such contact would have stalker written all over it. Still in reading her memoir I think Horn is the type of person that would understand that dilemma.

Perhaps what I should do is send her the link to the blog I secretly started last January After we finished our personal essay class the blue-eyed editor and I decided to take a break from our writing classes. During our last class I found myself having a difficult time getting a handle on how to write a good essay. I was beginning to feel that what my own writing needed was a break. Then an alternate plan came to mind. It's been an ambition of mine to write a children's book. I've never done anything remotely close to children's writing and not having any kids I'm not sure I ever could. But my life with three cats gives me plenty of material that a kid might enjoy so the idea has increasing appeal.

Hence the idea of creating a blog about my cat's antics was launched. As I learned about how to create a blog and disciplining myself to daily posts I thought I would do so for a while in total anonymity. I was stunned then when a couple of people from other areas of the country posted comments to my blog telling me how much they loved it. The idea then of contacting Stacy Horn, a woman who like me loves cats and Buffy, may not be as crazy as it sounds.