Monday, July 31, 2006


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.

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