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.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Let's Be Careful Out There

Lesson of the week? It's a dangerous world out there where it is very easy to get hit at unexpected times. Thank God for bumpers.

So I let myself get distracted. The first season of Hill Street Blues was recently released on DVD. It's my all time favorite TV show that doesn't have "Buffy" in its title. I've quite enjoyed seeing the first 13 episodes again albeit for about the fiftieth time.

The show seems a little bit dated now- its multiple interlocking storylines that back then were ground breaking now are a pretty standard part of a lot of shows from Six Feet Under to 24 and a lot of shows in between. But what made Hill Street so innovative and brilliant was it was often a show more about mood than storytelling. The writers knew that life isn't naturally organized into neatly recognizable beginnings, middles, and ends. Rather life is often about random events that come out of nowhere that have no inherent meaning other than those which we desperately try to peg on them.

Hill Street was a show about chaos and confusion in a police precinct. At its moral center was the police captain, Sir Francis Furillo who with quiet fortitude tried to hold together a crumbling universe that included eccentric cops and criminals, screaming ex-wives, and one fabulous babe public defender.

It was following Frank's calm but world weary approach to life that came in handy for me this week. It was the day after the first snowstorm where the streets were bumpy with isolated patches of ice. I was on my way to work when I found myself behind a big black Jeep that kept hitting its brakes. So I went around it preferring a safer ride comprised of a slower pace and more space between me and the car in front of me.

A couple of miles down the road I came to a stop at a stoplight. I happened to glance in my rear view mirror and saw the Jeep approaching me at a speed that given the road conditions I knew couldn't possibly stop in time. Sure enough as I braced myself for the impact the Jeep smacked hard into the back of my poor little Honda Civic.

I was more than a little pissed that the driver wasn't taking the weather and road conditions more into proper account. I got out of my car and discovered that the driver was a nice smelling young woman who opened her door and apologized and mumbled something about trying to stop but couldn't avoid sliding into me. I asked her for her insurance information and she asked if my car was actually damaged. I pointed out that my bumper was hanging at an unnatural angle. She reached into her glove compartment and handed me a sheet of paper. I wrote down the information. I thought I had handled the incident/accident quite calmly and as we were parting ways the driver (Jazmin) said, "I hope you have a better rest of the day." I didn't know how to respond to that other than to say, "Mercy. You too."

Now my back, neck, and shoulder are stiff and sore and the appraiser Jazmin's insurance company sent out to look at my car told me my car is likely totaled.

The news was sad not that I'm usually one to name my car and have an emotional attachment to all the places it's taken me. Even though it's the first car I've bought all on my own and even though we've traveled over 100,000 miles together, this car never meant as much to me as my last Honda. That one drove Stephanie Jane (who inspired a novel), Alex, and Anita and was hard to scrap and let go. This one has ridden Cindy, Jennie, Michelle, Tara, and Amy and many friends both here and there.

I think I was in a state of shock long after the accident occurred. I came home and listened to a new CD, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins' Rabbit Fur Coat and was surprised by a wonderful cover of the Traveling Wilbury's "Handle with Care." The cover lacks Roy Orbison's operatic voice wail out "I'm so tired of being lonely/I still have so me love to give/Won't you show me that you really care?" And Lewis removes the "fobbed" off word in favor of another "F" word but God I was glad to hear the song again. Because I am tired of being beat up and battered around.

It was a bit depressing having to attach the detached bumper of my mangled car on with a piece of rope. It's a bit depressing trying to figure out my finances and trying to figure out what I can afford to buy. Should I get something fun like my favorite looking car, the Mini-Cooper? Or should I go for the gas mileage and dependability of another Honda? It seems overwhelming to even think about. The accident night I huddled myself under my blankets and listened extra closely to Sergeant Phil Esterhaus say his famous line to the Hill Street cops, "Let's be careful out there."

Monday, March 13, 2006

It Was a Gas

What people who aren't baseball fans (specifically) or sports fans (in general) don't appreciate is how having your very own team to nostalgically root for through the years can provide such a vital thread to the fabric of your life.

You may be going through good times, you may be going through rough times but come spring baseball returns and there's not only a feeling of renewal, but there's also a feeling of remembering another time and place. It's with a lot of fondness and appreciation that I can still vividly feel the very first Twins game I went to. They lost 4-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers when pinch hitter Steve Brye left Jerry Terrell stranded on second base representing the tying run. Ray Corbin lost that game and I never forgave him. The memory of the hot sun and the smell of Met Stadium hot dogs are thankfully still part of who I am today.

My life and soul are totally unrecognizable today from the day in 1978 when I heard the news that my favorite baseball player, the Yankees captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. My complete being has changed from the August weekend in 1988 when Johnny Baynes and I roared in approval as Kirby Puckett went 10 for 11 in two games against the Brewers. Ever since that day I remember how Johnny called Kirby "Sunky Duckett" for no apparent reason and I not only see in my mind clear as a bell Kirby's churning running style but also his trademark ability to hit an unhitable pitch a very long way.

I remember the day the Twins drafted Kirby and sent him to their Visalia, California rookie league team. I also remember when they called him up to the majors. I read the news one evening as I went through the local newspapers in the Macalester College library as my friends were doing actual studying. For some reason I had a picture of him in my mind as a tall strapping white California kid. When I read the stories comparing his build with the Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, I had to question where I got the mistaken notion of not only his race but his physical stature.

Kirby was never my favorite Twin. I was always more a Herbie fan. I think it always bothered me how all the little kids adored him and how the public address announcer Bob Casey focused attention on Kirby with his trademark introduction, "Number Thirteee Forrrrr, the centerfielder, Kirrrrbeeeee Puckett!!!!" It was just too easy for the casual fan to love Kirby with his teddy bear build and his flair for the dramatic.

Yet when his career was jeopardized by a horrible beaning, and when the next spring he was forced to retire with Glaucoma costing him his vision in one eye, I cried listening to the news conference of his retirement. It wasn't until then that I truly realized how lucky I had been to be a fan during his entire career as a Twin- getting the pleasure to see so many of the games that Kirby played in.

The decade before his arrival things were pretty bleak for the Twins. That also happened to be the decade I fell in love with the baseball. Kirby was quite the upgrade from the other Twins center fielders I had literally grown up watching, from Hollywood Rick Sofield to Willie Norwood, from Bobby Mitchell to Darrell Brown, I watched a lot of mediocre center fielders on a lot of mediocre teams before Kirby arrived and gave the team 12 wonderful Hall of Fame years.

So there I was completing last week's newsletter when I turned on the TV grateful that there was a televised spring training game to see. That's when I heard the somber tone of announcer Dick Bremer who broke the news of Kirby's stroke. A day later came the news that Kirby had died. I can't remember another celebrity death hitting me as hard since John Lennon was assassinated.

On a lunch break my friend drove me past the makeshift memorial placed on the Metrodome walk along Kirby Puckett Place. Fans had placed mementos along the railing in front of the dome. It was a simple bunch of thank yous from people Kirby had touched. Still the whole sad ending to his life, his Elvis like fall from grace was hard to shake. You watch a guy for years working his magic while just doing his job- with such happiness and joy- it's hard not to love and admire that. It's quite the rare gift to bring pleasure to so many with such charisma and cheer. In the end, the dark side of Kirby emerged but it's the sunny side that I'll always remember him by.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Now In Love and Armed with Carly Simon Hair

In his personal essay "The Crack Up" F. Scott Fitzgerald writes about events in life so significant that a person is never quite the same again afterward. So life altering are these events that one comes to the realization that you will never be as good a person ever again; now forever flawed just like a useless cracked vase.

Fitzgerald writes that these life altering moments aren't necessarily the big moments like the death or loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the easily identified tragedies that elicit sympathy from friends and loved ones. Nope there are moments in life that quietly come and go that forever change the person you are, and not for the better.

As I was sitting mesmerized by Lucinda Williams' sterling performance at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium Saturday night it occurred to me that my life has slowly undergone a completely stealth-like transformation since 1999 the year I first really fell in love with Lucinda's music. There have been the big obvious changes- the death of my Mom; the death of my little buddy cat Max; the loss and change of jobs; the inability to fall out of and into love again; physical ailments like a bout of Bells Palsy and worsening chronic insomnia; the end of my all time favorite TV show- Buffy the Vampire Slayer; a dwindling circle of friends; etc.

There have also been a variety of new additions to my life that would have been previously unimaginable just a few years before: I've become a scooterhead; I've joined the small but loyal legion of curlers; I've added three never boring cats to my house; I've changed jobs and I've upgraded my house. I've traveled overseas for the second time in my life and I've discovered the joys of a bobblehead collection.

There's little about me that is the same as it was just six years ago. And thankfully through all these changes I've been accompanied by a life comforting soundtrack that has included just about each and every Lucinda Williams' song.

Williams is of course the queen of the sad song. Her concert in the heart of the St. Kate's college campus in the cold air of a March night in the capital city of Minnesota was perhaps my favorite Lucinda Williams concert ever. Accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar and the electric guitar of a superlative musician, Doug Pettibone, Williams played a two hour set that was intimate, inspired , creative and ultimately uplifting.

She set the tone with the opener, a introspectively low key version of "Greenville" that poked me right between the eyes like the feeling I get whenever reading F.Scott's Fitzgerald's most personal prose. When Lucinda got to the lyrics, "Looking for someone to save you/Looking for someone to rave about you..." it finally dawned on me the toll of the changes these last half dozen years have had on me including losing the best day to day friend I've never had.

As Lucinda did the best ever version of "Blue" I've ever heard and a wistful run through of "Fruits of My Labor" (my current favorite Lucinda song about taking the glory over the fame) my mind flashed back to the days after 9/11/2001 when I stumbled upon the phone number of my estranged soul mate and given the solemnity of the nation's mood at the time I mustered up the courage to call her not knowing if I'd ever get the chance ever again.

We hadn't spoken to each other in nearly a dozen years (though it isn't an exaggeration to say that there hasn't been a day since the end that she hasn't been someplace in my heart and soul). Maybe it was just the mood of the moment but I needed to express how sad I felt that our friendship ended but also how much she had continued to mean to me ("There's some people that you can't forget/Even though you only seen them one time or two...") constantly a daily painful inspiration for me. Who can possibly forget the comfort of finding somebody who brings out the best in you whenever you're around her, and makes you smile because she is not only funny but inspires your own sense of humor during a time when nothing, nothing at all, seems funny to you for the first time of your life?

And so when Lucinda did this shuffling version of "Overtime" my own ailing and forever failing heart pounded in perfect time with another's for the first time in a long long time. "I guess out of the blue you won't cross my mind/I'll get over you/Over time..." Pettibone's charged accompaniment embellished the electricity I was squirming with in a subtle but oh so effective manner.

Lucinda mixed in four new songs from a hopefully soon completed CD with the rest of the night's more familiar songs Along with the six new songs she did at her Minnesota Zoo concert last summer I've now had the pleasure to hear eight still to be recorded unreleased Lucinda Williams' songs. I can't wait for the new CD. The new songs are an eclectic mix from a skilled songwriter with a lot to say. This is someone so adept in making this place make just a little bit more sense during the ticking time when we may be facing our midnight hour.