søndag, juli 30, 2006

Gold Star

Continental Airlines avoided becoming inContinental to me by actually delivering my bag from Palm Beach International to Minneapolis-Saint Paul. This is no small feat.

Continental! You get a gold star!!

While Delta, Northwest, and various regional carriers have made it their mission this year to lose my luggage on domestic return flights, Continental, on my first venture with them and with a connection in Houston to boot, delivered me and my luggage at THE SAME TIME. Very refreshing.

Now, I don't know why flying is becoming a more nervous experience for me. I suppose the robust part of my brain that's dedicated to calculating the imminence of heartache, body scarring, disease, physical pain, or outright death has determined that my odds of crashing in a plane are really getting up there after so many flights. I no longer look out windows on take-off or touch-down. I close my eyes, fold my hands together. I concentrate on holding the plane together. For all I know, I am the one holding the plane together.

Still, I remain fascinated by people-watching in airports, by the great range of languages, clothing, booties and facial hair you find in airports. By all the things people say to one another to squeeze in some conversation when most of are, in trasit, quite alone.

In Houston, and at an airport (Bush) I was a little sour about visiting, I was to have a 30-minute connection window. I was sure I would miss my plane. But the flight from Palm Beach landed 25-minutes early. Countering that, we sat on the tarmac for 22 minutes waiting for someone to lower the gate to the plane. Then, I found my next gate was just two over from where I arrived. Woo hoo! Wait. That flight has been delayed a little over an hour.

There was a bar and snack shop next to my gate, so I popped in and ordered a beer. I was carded. No big deal, but, of course, a fat lot of young people consider this a serious insult, so people like me, who look in comparison to their actual age (e.g., 32) horrifyingly you-must-be-ill-or-have-sold-your-soul young, well, a reaction is expected. The old bartender was really frowny about the experience, as if it disappointed her then that I was certainly of age and would have to be provided with the pint I'd ordered. The woman next to the register began to tell me about how her son was always carded.

"It does no harm," I said.

"He lives in Sacremento now," she said. She added, "Sacremento."

She looked tired. I couldn't tell how long she'd been traveling or sitting at the bar.

"Does he like it there?" I asked.

He did.

After this brief exchange, I took an open stool on the other side of the L-shaped bar. I was one seat from the end. I took out my notebook and wrote, pausing here and there to take in the environment. Houston's B concourse is set up with bubble ends like many airports, a large circular room with numerous gates plugged into it. I took in the snoring forms, the guts, the frigthened-looking teens who traveled with teddy bears or teddy bear pillows. A group of boy scouts in full uniform were taking turns laughing and shoving / punching one another in the shoulders.

I took in the wilted shoulders and cuticle picking and idle chatter. The panicky walks. The mussy hair. The inexplicable wearing of shades indoors.

If I could have a job just wandering airports, I'd take it, I think. People in transit fascinate me. Everyone has a certain strangeness to them, a quality that emerges in isolation and maybe is unusual for them in groups (such as sunglasses indoors) but certainly signs them when alone in public. That stands for them...and not just to me but to them.

When I was finishing my pint, a crew of four women ranging in age it seemed from about 22 to 45, showed up in white, ribbed tank tops and red short-shorts with two white racing strapes on one hip. I moved over a seat so they had four consecutive seats to take along the bar. They thanked me. Each of them seemed to sigh and reflexively push a wisp of platinum blonde hair away from their eyes.

Each of them had skin bronzed beyond bronze. Their skin wore a depth of tan the likes of which I recalled seeing only on a rather leathery neighbor across the street growing up. I'd delivered papers to her and her husband (who could be seen daily walking their three boxers). It had always freaked me out to wait in their foyer surrounded by lush plants and standing atop something of a jungly carpet as she picked through a change purse. I couldn't stop staring at her tan.

So these four women next to me were of this ilk. I couldn't fathom how skin could take color that deep unless the skin was naturally that color. With the platinum blonde dyes, the women looked like some race that might appear on an episode of Star Trek or Xena. They just weren't of this world.

The one closest to me, who seemed to be the oldest one, thanked me again for moving down. "God," she added. There was a pause in which the ghosts of everywhere they'd stopped must have risen up. She said, "We sell tanning products. Please don't ask me to make another pitch," one hand waving a little bit as if drawing each accented syllable in the air.

"Oh, no worries," I told her, looking up from my notebook. "I'm really not the target audience."

"You a writer?" she asked.

"I am," I said.

lørdag, juli 29, 2006


Happiness is not a warm gun, as the Beatles sang. Nor is it what Todd Solondz presented in the movie Happiness.

True enough, it's Denmark: the Happiest Place on Earth.

This year, that country will adopt me. I've got to impress. ...

fredag, juli 28, 2006

It's the Weekend

It's been a nice week here in Florida, a state that has become, quite pleasantly though not enough to win over my Nordic heart, a little more than 1/12th of my year. Chemo treatments (not mine) have started on a very good note...and they can, believe me. Like some sort of crazed camel of desserts, I've downed four 16-oz mango shakes in five days, the consumption of which probably took no longer than 2 minutes each. My Tulipan Bakery crush even got to thinking of me (and Lara and Elizabeth, one presumes) as a regular. By this morning, she could tell us what we wanted. Lovely.

Perhaps next week when E and L stop at the bakery my crush will say, "And a mango shake?" and they'll say, "No. Ol' boy went home to Minnesota." My crush will utter "Minnesota" as if it was an exotic island no one had ever seen, a place of fable and mystery and ever-ripe fruit.

Well, we've got hockey. And we love it.

What else? Ah, yes! Ray taught me how to shoot orcs and goblins with a strongbow. It was pretty infectious, I have to say.


As I used to tell my students every Friday when class was over, "It's the weekend. Be smart, stay safe."

Class dismissed!
-David Lee Roth

torsdag, juli 27, 2006

Blaine? or Copperfield?

The pressing issue on the radio en route to work was this: David Blaine? or David Copperfield? Who is more impressive?

I'm going to side with Blaine, though I must admit I'm getting a little weirded out by his increasing ick-art stunt tendencies. The recent merman submersion was really gross. Did he plan that with the writer of the Seven screenplay or something?

As for David Copperfield, spectacle tends to lose me, and his ostentatious manner of ripping aside sheets and cloths, then posing with them, usually aided by a mild, fluttering breeze, while around him dry ice and smoke machines uncork some atmosphere...well, it's a bit much. As are the puffy white shirts undone three buttons. And the French cut pants. I feel like if magic hadn't worked out for him he'd just be running around medieval fairs in full regalia and attempting to woo maidens, yet he wouldn't be on the payroll.

True enough, I found his marriage to Claudia Schiffer at his private island lair to be a little too close to something that might occur on Days of Our Lives or Passions.

Wow. Is David Copperfield the real life Tony Demeira? son of the uberevil Stefano? Actually, that makes Copperfield more interesting. But Blaine still has him. For now.

Clearly, both men have made pacts with the Devil...who may in fact be Tom Green.

onsdag, juli 26, 2006


I have a much easier time talking to children than I do talking to pets. That's for sure.

But I'm not known to hold children. I like talking to kids. But I don't hold them, really. Babies, with their constant awe and heartbreaking fragility, are definitely out. Friends say, "Would you like to hold her?" and my heart does a fearful flip. "Oh. No," I say.

At times this produces the response, "Why don't you like kids?"

I do. Really. I just fear that they'll break in my presence, or that maybe when I touch a baby's head her poor skin will begin to smoke and we'll discover that all along I have had the mark of the beast on me.

At any rate, it's well known among my friends that I'm rather timid around children. I'm like all those idiots in Victorian novels. (Please god do not let my life list like men in a Thomas Hardy novel!) This came into play yesterday as my friends here in Florida conspired to make me sweat more than the humidity outside.

So I'm working in the conference room. Elizabeth comes in. Lara stands in the door. E begins to tell me about the family dinner / meeting they are having on Wednesday. And I'm going along like, "Yes, yes, mm-hmm" trying to be all understanding and stoic because she seems to be a bit upset. She wipes at her eye a time or two. Then she tells me about how they thought it might be a tense gathering and didn't think the children should be around for it.

E has a three year old. Her sister-in-law Jen has a three-year-old and a baby. The cogs are turning in my head. I begin to sweat.

"So we were wondering if maybe you could babysit?" she says.

All the blood in me is going to my head now, trying to oxygenate my panicking brain. I'm still trying to play it cool, but clearly I don't look cool. She adds what is meant to be an encouraging note: that two of the children are three and one--the baby--"doesn't move."

I pull at my hair, a habitual coping mechanism I later find out they'd predicted I would do.

I say, weakly, "I have like zero experience," and emphasize this by making a zero with one fist; but she's holding that paralized expression, that "Aren't you my friend? We really need your help" expression. I add cautiously, "But I guess I could try."

What a team player!

At this point they erupt in laughter. I discover soon enough that even their husbands had jokingly suggested me for babysitting duty. At lunch a bit later, after my reaction has been retold, even Lexi, Jen's husband, quips, "Thanks for babysitting, man."

I've been had. By all of them.

If I didn't love them all so dearly, I'd plot revenge. If I wasn't so terrible at lying, I'd plot revenge.

It still makes my face warm to think of being an emergency babysitter. Oy.

Sidenote: Great news from Lyn this morning at the doctor. Woo!!

tirsdag, juli 25, 2006

If I Could Talk to the Animals ...

Not having a pet, I have trouble talking to pets; but the basic experience of being around pet owners makes me think pets expect conversation of me. Still, when I’m alone with these pets, I just can’t do it. I try. It just doesn’t take. The irrational part of my rationality (rationality?) tells me that the pet and I already know who’s a good boy and who’s a good girl. Certainly, we both know who wants a treat. Probably, we both do.

(I’m thinking of this today because of Jana’s experience with people applauding to coverage of the Tour de France.)

Also, I should acknowledge that in, say, house-sitting and pet-sitting scenarios, I strongly suspect that voice-activated recorders have been stationed about the joint. Or that teddy bear in the corner or that new clock on the mantel are actually spy-camera devices. If I start talking to this cat about my day, well, it’s just going right on the internet or something. I’ll be YouTube’s next unwitting nerd star.

While here in Florida, I’m staying with Lara and Ray, two mildly foul-mouthed and extremely funny angels. I feel guilty about taking up their guest room again, but, hey: I’m doing just that.

I do things like that.

Yesterday they went for a drink with Lara’s mother, Lyn (a nearly squeaky clean-mouthed angel). I adore when they feel comfortable enough to just do normal things and not feel like they need to cart me about and provide constant entertainment. I’m really very much like a plant, or laundry. I’m just kind of there but pretty self-sustaining, which is, I suppose, it’s own anxiety-producing quality in a house guest but perhaps of use when one of these guests is somewhat frequent.

(Hmm. I should ask if they have a GoldPoints program or something for frequent guests.)

So yesterday they headed out for a bit and I went back to the hacienda, sat on the porch, took in the late-day humidity…but only for a few minutes. The cat stared at me. I tried to say hello to the cat, but it didn’t take. It came out like a whisper, one of those feeble sounds one utters when perhaps saying “excuse me” to someone you’re passing but that someone doesn’t seem to be paying attention or even care, so your voice plummets, and the realization of this makes you think, “What am I hiding from?”

The cat kept staring. The silence was intense. I tried to fill it with the BBC news, but the cat’s cool observance seemed to cut out all sound. I felt like maybe the cat saw something objectionable down in my soul. Finally, the cat began to skulk about. Finally, the cat began to yowl.

Moon (the cat) has a set of pipes. Her voice scars the air, that draws its claws along invisible chalkboards. It ranges from a devil-possessed, soaring, goat-like tinniness to a guttural, pushed-from-the-groin soul of someone like Fiona Apple. Someone out of whom such depth should not be possible because the body does not seem to be big enough to house a voice like that.

Over and over the Moon seems to cry, “Lara! Lara!”

(Creepy. Now I’m thinking of the bird on the first season of Twin Peaks.)

Finally, I went upstairs and put on headphones. The Pixies chased her away. Appropriately enough, it was the song “Where is my mind?” I’m such a bad person sometimes.


While trying to placate the cat with a form of human-to-cat sign language known perhaps only to me, I sipped a mix of Gatorade and dark rum. I named it something like “Der Champions Grog.” This is what happens when I’m left home alone. My powers of inventiveness hemorrhage.

Honestly, I didn’t think it was too bad. It needed a splash of something, like more rum or maybe lime juice. But it was worth it.

And it paired well with dark chocolate. Seriously. The dark chocolate had caramel in it.

mandag, juli 24, 2006


Not a bit inspired by the forthcoming release of Michael Mann's film version of Miami Vice, I've returned to south Florida this week. This air is like living within an aloe plant, or a greenhouse full of aloe plants. It's just wet. But the friends here more than make up for it. (Thanks, friends!)

Skipped the morning run. Will probably skip running entirely this week.

The weekend back home in Minnesota was a joy, I want to note. Big thanks due to Kelly G and Jeff V for their visit. Had a nice night on Friday in the garden at my neighborhood's most inexplicably named joint, the Happy Gnome (seriously). This was followed by a right-fine sit at Minneapolis' CC Club on Saturday. Ever wise, we transformed Saturday eve into something of a Pabst and cheese assault ahead of K and J's time at First Avenue. The jealousy of our Wisconsin neighbors was palpable. It seeped across the border and briefly clouded the sky.

Our feast: Cheese sticks, cheese curds, and veggie quesadillas. Awesome.

The quesadillas at the CC Club are, by the way, tasty, cheap ($4) and much larger than at most joints. Get some, and get a PBR on tap.

I repeat: It was wonderful to see you KG. Thanks for coming up. And Jeff, grand to me you. I just wish I could post the George Clinton story...but I know I can't.

Two more notes:

1. Jen, big love to you and all my sympathies on the recent break-in. If there's anything I can do, please let me know.

2. I'd like to welcome Tony's blog. He's a good horse handicapper...which is someone who will analyze races and place bets (or at least recommend them), not someone who does a Tonya Harding and takes a lead pipe to a horse's fetlocks. Welcome, Dr. Fager!(Some history on the Fager name can be found here.) Let us hope your wisdom shines more brightly than that of Dr. Detroit.

fredag, juli 21, 2006


I knew by 9 this morning that a grilled cheese was in my future. I knew by 9 this morning that it was a future only a fool would dare fight. I abstained from breakfast. I focused my energy. I met that future head on.

The future was awesome.

Trumps and Connections

The interior at Chico Chica

My Nissan is one year newer than Sixth Sense / Pay It Forward actor Haley Joel Osment's car. I would think it more reasonable to find me driving a car that is a year older than Haley. Not the case. He's driving a 1995 Saturn, by the way. Guh?

In my latest attempt to be harried by airlines, I booked a trip yesterday to West Palm Beach on Continental. Flight departs this Sunday. After purchasing the trip, I realized that my connection times are insane. On the way there, I connect in Detroit and have a 38-minute window to get to the PBI (Palm Beach International) flight. Little else goes from Detroit to Palm Beach. Thank god it's an early morning flight (6 am out of Minneapolis). We might be on time.

It gets worse on the way back. The midday flight from Palm Beach connects in Houston, where I'll be giving a 30-minute window. Gah!!

I feel like winning the Powerball this weekend. Normally, I wouldn't accept an paltry sum lower than $200 million (with a cash payout north of $100 million), but I'm feeling particularly generous today towards what I'll accept as a glorious victory. Powerball: You're in the crosshairs. (Ha, Haley Joel Osment! Try to keep up with my wheels now!)

Going to see the Plastic Constellations and Tapes N Tapes at First Avenue this weekend.

Lunch at Chico Chica was awesome yesterday. (Thanks for the stories, Jess. Sorry 'bout the wasps that hounded the first table, though.) I highly recommend the cheese enchilladas. Yeah, those are hard to mess up, but Chico Chica's were really good. Perfect balance of green chilis.

After more than two years in this building, I'm starting to learn who my neighbors are, and I don't mean through their bad behavior. It's just that we're all starting to introduce ourselves, having had time to decide that none of us are too creepy. One cat down the hall is a poet. Good.

Feel I had a breakthrough on the novel yesterday evening. Here's hoping. ... [NOTE: That elipses takes one into a dreamland where anything is possible.]

torsdag, juli 20, 2006

Rolodex Check: Books and Crushes

Glossing over the approximately 500 books I have shelved and haphazardly stacked along the walls in this little apartment, and not taking into consideration the extra hundreds I have in storage and back at my parents’ house, I find a number of works I adore rereading from and a number of which I read once upon a time and even made notes in but about which I recall almost nothing in the way of characters, storylines or writing styles.

Five Of The Books, In No Particular Order, I Reread Randomly From and Continue to Find Life In:

1. The short stories of Anton Chekov (Favorites: “Anyuta” and “Gooseberries”)
2. Flow Chart, a book-length poem by John Ashbery
3. Doctor Glas, Hjalmar Söderberg
4. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
5. Knut Hamsun’s work. I’ve read at least seven of his novels and prefer the Lyngstad translations. Favorites: Hunger and Mysteries.

Five Of The Books, In No Particular Order, I’ve Read But Which Have Left My Mind, A Fact About Which I Feel Mildly Guilty

1. Transparent Things, Vladimir Nabakov. Apparently my memory is even shorter than this 105-page novel.
2. The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzche. Didn’t. Learn. A. Thing.
3. Go Down, Moses, William Faulkner. Sorry, Bill; this one just didn’t take.
4. Jazz, Toni Morrison. I’m guessing there was jazz in it.
5. The five books I’ve read by Cormac McCarthy, save for Child of God, which included one of my favorite sentences ever: “Bird flew.”

A random note from the card catalog of crushes, unrelated to books

So, let’s take it way back to the safety of adolescent crushes. I danced with Kelly Clement to the Cure’s “One More Time” (off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me) in May 1988. The party was in celebration of 8th grade graduation, and some parents had put up the cash for us to have a time at the Four Colonies Club in Crystal Lake, Illinois.

Just heard that song again. Hilarious, really. What’s with that flute?

Kelly was a big Robert Smith fan, which meant many kids (Come back here, you bastards!) made fun of her for it. But I very much liked the Cure then—thanks due to me older sis for introducing me to their songs!—and I was fond of Kelly too. I was really geeked about her asking me to dance to that one. She was a gem, a total sweetie. She was. She remained that way through high school, and the one time I saw her in a video store during college, she was still the same. She invited me to the Northwest where she was living. I didn’t go.

Reflecting on her, I think what I’d say is that she seemed remarkably adjusted to growing up. She was self-deprecating, of course—most good people are—but not in need of validation (or didn’t outwardly suggest this). She laughed a good deal, but it wasn’t empty laughter. So far as I remember, she wasn’t prone to taking swipes at people.

At the time, though, and I mean 1988 in that room full of 12 and 13 year olds drinking soda and talking wistfully about the good old days as a teenage dj uncorked the day’s music, I’d no such understanding of those feelings, no possibility of objectivity. I knew only that she was kind and had, as I saw it, good taste in music. And she was a total cutie, a tall thing with a small, purplish birthmark blossom on her neck. It looked like a hickey that was just about healed. It was a hickey that fate would never allow to be healed. I always wanted to kiss it. I never did.

onsdag, juli 19, 2006

A Garden Party

Not so long ago I voyaged into unfamiliar waters: a lawless place without snacks. The change for me has been very much like the challenge smokers face when attempting to quit cold turkey, I think. To my knowledge, we've yet to invent a snack patch that slowly releases high-end sugars into one's bloodstream.

Gone are the days of ice creams and cookies...at least in my kitchen. I reserve full right to have a dessert with restaurant meals. And, I confess that I reserve the right to use my ice cream maker once every six weeks or so.

No Oreos, no Scottish shortbreads, not even faux-chocolate Snackwells. Gone even are the baguettes of French bread I'd buy at the bakery on the block, for even those I'd pick at until it was apparent I was eating half to three-fourths of a loaf per day.

(Sprawling sidenote: The word "loaf" disgusts me in the same way the word "chunk" disgusts me in food terminology, as in "chunks of chicken"...though in the Loaf Situation it may be solely the result of that scatalogical pinching phrase. The word chunk, however, when spoken seems to make one sneer slightly around the nose, as if you're daring the listerner not to react. Look at someone. Glare. Mouth, "Chunk." It's freaky. It's almost as unnerving as demonically whispering the phrase, "My friend is the class clown.")

It's agonizing, I'll note, not to snack. I even try to avoid snacking on carrots. I don't even want the oral fixation. Away with you!

So here I am getting healthier and the lungs are on the mend. Well done, boy. But yesterday the hill running program produced a most unusual pain: a full body splint.

While shin splints are not an unfamiliar sensation for me during the running season, about an hour after yesterday afternoon's hill run I stepped and felt the old sparking flare in my left shin. Fair enough. Then, inexplicably, it rocketed up my body, tagging my hip, playing one side of my ribs like a glockenspiel, and coming to a rest all the way up at my collar bone. (Hey: I like the word clavicle. It looks, actually, like it's trying to morph into a palindrome.) "Everyone all right?" I asked aloud. Everyone seemed to be, though I could still feel the resonating electricity of that nerve charge.

Is it possible to have a full skeletal splint? without the use of, say, a taser? Or perhaps I'm discovering super powers at work in me. Or maybe lesser powers.

Despite all my ridiculous snackilogical ruminations and concerns, I'm having some grand meals these days. The Farmers' Market is producing plentifully, and with mums and grams in town the past couple days I've feasted on tomato bruschetta, skewered vegetables, game hen, and creme brulee one night with a fine riesling at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill; followed the next night by spinach-artichoke dip, veggie panini with mozarella, mango sorbet and two Belgian blondes named Leffe. (Leffe is a "blonde" beer, by the way.)

I realized yesterday that most of my life in Saint Paul revolves around sitting outside, walking/running, and eating. I realized that's why I love it. It's a wonderful place for daily living, you see. It's a patient city, not necessarily the sort of place that will go out of its way to entertain you. You pretty much supply your own energy. It's like a leisurely paced film. You can sit for hours just talking and laughing. Here, you're supposed to...but only if you rise at an early hour and put in a respectable day's work.

Last night's long dinner in the garden at Frost exemplified this. It was a joy. (Hmmm. If you can get past the hokey "We're refined" use of violins on Frost's home page, you can take a tour of the patio area. Lovely. But violins like that always make me think of 19th-century frock coat- and ball gown-based period costumes and finger sandwiches.) I'm very fortunate to live in a neighborhood with so many outdoor dining options. We've a four-month window here to really seize upon the weather, and we take it. I adore this.

Eat, and eat well.

tirsdag, juli 18, 2006

Shopping with Tony Takitani

The other night I watched the 75-minute Japanese film Tony Takitani, an adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami (whose novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is awesome). The film was a much-welcomed recovery from having recently subjected myself to the fiercely poor cinematic version of John LeCarre’s Tailor of Panama.

Of Takitani, I’ve many good things to say, and I think the film is a must-see for anyone who enjoys shoes, clothes, shopping, etc. Just as there is an entire sensuous food film genre, including gems such as Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, perhaps a sensuous shoe-and-clothes-shopping genre has been born. More on that in a moment.

A quick note on Panama: At the open, they show the tailor, played by Geoffrey Rush (who speaks in a nearly inaudible whisper throughout the whole film) marking fabric for a suit coat. Yes, it’s an intricate process. Yes, the markings are totally senseless to those outside the trade. And, yes, the director wanted to show this intricate work but knew he had only a short segment (the credits) in which to do so. What device does he employ to show the progress? Not gentle, forward-in-time edits. Not a montage. No, he makes the disastrous decision to speed up the film, as if we’re watching a Charlie Chaplan piece. He makes a live-action cartoon of the process, missing only the player piano music. Am I to take anything seriously from this point forward? Impossible. Tailor of Panama, you rot.

Takitani, however, is engrossing. At least to me. I don’t mind slowly paced films. (Russian Ark—a single-take 90-minute film—is one of my favorites.) And Takitani is slow. In fact, it lacks a conventional film approach to storytelling, making it something of an evil trifecta for many movie viewers: it has subtitles, is slow, and doesn't rely on conventional scene-action structure.

Instead of relying of traditional scenes, a good 80 percent of the film is either voiceover narrative (perhaps read directly from Murakami's story) or silence. Pans move from one room to the next, taking us through time as much as location. Sometimes even the characters complete the narrator’s sentence, which adds a strange, world-weary hindsight aspect, as characters living in their present tense seem to reach forward into their futures, pull from it an objective comment on the life they’d lived, and out it comes from their mouths back in that present tense. It seems to daze them.

The basic story is of a graphic artist (Tony Takitani) who spends most of his time alone. Finally, he meets someone he really wants to be with. She’s 15 years younger. He lives fairly spare. She’s addicted to shopping. They get married. His wife keeps shopping. It worries both of them. She says she does it to fill something inside her, but can't say what; this is paralleled by the isolation Takitani prefers, though he can't define its draw either. She buys all designer stuff. They have to convert an entire room to a closet for her. One day, she’s killed in an accident. The man’s devastated. The clothes, rarely worn by her, are left as the symbol of his wife. He hires a woman who matches his wife’s body description to come to the house and put on her clothes.

Later in life, alone and depressed and having rid himself of all the clothes, the man recalls not his dead wife but the young woman who he'd hired.

The clothing scenes are really well done. This is totally not the cheesy, synthesizer-driven "What should I wear?" montages of 1980s' films (though I've a fondness for those cornball sequences). What seems like a three-minute sequence passes in which we see little but his wife’s feet entering and leaving stores, climbing stairs, walking along city sidewalks. You see changes of shoes. (Some pretty smokin' black boots at one point.) You see different shopping bags and skirt edges. On it goes.

At points, you see the room they’ve designed to hold everything she buys. It looks like a store. And it is in there that, in the wake of the wife’s death, the hired woman has a small breakdown on the day she’s being hired. It follows the silence of a two or three minute sequence in which the young woman is trying on coats. No edits. It’s a static shot of the woman dwarfed by so much stuff she’s never been able to afford, probably never even tried on just for the feel of it. She slumps to her knees, crying.

When Takitani asks what’s wrong, the woman does not say anything about Takitani’s wife. Rather, she says that she’d never seen so many nice clothes in one place.

It isn’t an insensitive moment, though. The film does not condemn any character. It acknowledges a sensuousness in new clothes, new boots, etc. It grants Takitani’s jazz musician father his free-spirited, wayward life. It’s kind to Takitani’s self-imposed isolation. All of these things define and liberate these characters; and all of these things set barriers for them. It’s just that something far more inward is always baying. And quelling that has to do as much with self-acceptance as acceptance of others. It has to do more perhaps with creating a different life between two people, a shadowy figure who handles the translations and diplomacy, who hammers out the agreements, who stands for the connection but can never be either person.

Friendship, marriage, family, professional relationships: the inner distance is always the same.

I really wish the film was longer. I wish more was done with the woman who was hired to wear the wife’s clothes. That plotline crashes out abruptly, most likely to stay true to the written story, but Murakami has a nasty habit of woefully underwriting (save for Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; it's almost a shame he's written anything else). But for a film, it really could have been lovely.

If you ever take in food films, or you ever enjoy shopping (particularly for shoes, I think), give Tony Takitani a viewing.

mandag, juli 17, 2006

Additional Goodie

This article from the Iceland Review could be a Pynchon story, as it features a kinesiologist named Van Arde Pretorious and an LA-based Iraqi Jew complimenting people on the cerulean blue of their eyes.

Update: Approve / Disapprove

Per Jon Pack's invitation on his blog, I sent him on Friday five things for his approval / disapproval consideration:

Embedded journalists
Motion senor-activated lights
Kim Jong Il wearing shades
The threat of a third Deuce Bigalow film
Salisbury Steak

Jon Pack has responded. I'm surprised, I should say, by his Salisbury Steak response. And I adore the photo he found for the Deuce Bigalow response. Scroll.

Methods of Escape

As we have real heat here for only about eight weeks each year, it’s rather easy for the many of us in old apartment buildings to live without central air. But two sustained days in the 90s is enough to make all of us doubt our decision.

On the first truly hot day (Saturday), I occupied my time with classic diversions:
1. Farmer’s Market visit at 7:15 am, before the heat got going. For $10, I nabbed three ears of sweet corn, a bunch of white table onions, seven bulbs of fresh garlic, one head of spinach, four heads of baby bok choy, a ridiculous amount of golden new potatoes, and a head of broccoli bigger than my face.
2. When the heat got going, I ventured to the Minneapolis Art Institute and wandered the halls for a couple hours, taking in the jade mountain sculpture, the Chinese scholar's room (always one of my favorites), the Japanese art, the tempera paintings, some interesting American portraits, and a small, seemingly impromptu neoclassical exhibit of Cupid and Psyche paintings and sculptures in one of the interior rooms. Nice stuff. Found rooms I can't recall having been in before.
3. I had a late lunch at one of my block’s locals. Ate quesadillas and sipped two iced teas. The bar was lively as the whole neighborhood seemed to have turned out to get indoors. At the next table, one of the young waitresses was spending her free afternoon with a pitcher of water and lemon wedges for sucking on. She scratched absently at the table. Boredom had unhinged her jaw a touch.
4. I watched Mission Impossible 3 at the $2 theater (Riverview! Woo!).
5. I went to a bookstore and wrote for 90 minutes. Tried to find the Japanese-speaking group (as I'd like to practice) but failed.

By this point the sun had dipped low enough that it had released my third-floor apartment. (West-facing windows should almost be illegal.) The joint was still quite warm. Ick. Fell asleep concentrating dearly on not sweating.

Next morning, I woke to a thunderstorm. I went running in the rain. I ran in the rain just to feel its coolness.

After the rain, the humidity was just plain wrong. I couldn’t eat. I could barely move for the phone when it rang. But it was a friend gathering some folks at a joint on my block for a late breakfast, so I met them there, my appetite returned, and we had a nice time. The filthy humidity was waiting for us when we left. It was so stiffling out it made mouths water, as if the air's water was permeating right down inside us.

Perhaps dazed from the bloody mary and beer I’d had with the French toast (which Costello's calls Irish Toast), I went running again. That was stupid. The heat was really starting to frustrate me.

I took a cold shower. I tried not to move. I ate another six ice cubes, bringing my weekend consumption of them up to about 96 at that point. I drank a Gatorade because it works for sports stars, right? I tried to read from the Gwyn Thomas book I'd found wandering the bookstore to stay cool, but I was having trouble concentrating. Even the floorboards felt humid.

Finally, I gave in. I drove into Roseville (because I could milk the AC-rich drive for 20 minutes) and bought a standing fan. I bought a model with a remote control. How lazy can I be? It has a multi-colored digital face. (Necessary?) It has three speeds, like any fan. Ah, but it has three settings: Normal, Sleep, and Natural. I can’t tell the difference between Sleep and Natural. Natural “replicates the wind,” so its speed fluctuates. It revs up, it slows abruptly. Sleep slows “in mid-cycle.” So it revs up and slows abruptly. I think what these cycles really do is add $15 to the fan's cost and $15/month to my electric bill. Dammit, Target. You got me good this time.

As I went into the Target to buy this freaky thing, bested by another year's heat, I passed a heap of other tired-looking people in their twenties and thirties, people like me who’d tried to live as simply as possible in the summer. But they too were carrying box fans and standing fans. And when I left with mine, I could feel the jealous looks of all those just like me who were about to give in.

Distraction: Got a favorite word? Mips has us pondering such things at her blog. Nice addition in the comments from c on Anglo-Saxon words.

fredag, juli 14, 2006

Living Next to the Y

Perhaps it’s the human capacity for self-inflicted torture rather than opposable thumbs that truly separates us from the lower beasts. Why else would we hold office jobs? Watch, in the way one watches an accident site for signs of gore, yet another facile report about Star Jones?

Yesterday, already baking from a day in my apartment/kiln, I set out for a hill run. It was 3 pm.

The YWCA kids, who are alright, thanks, were making their spirited walk around the building to the neighborhood park. They pumped their arms. Some of them spun abruptly, as if outwardly completing a dance routine that had gone off smashingly in their minds. Per usual, one kid was demonstrating his skills in the martial arts.

Now, if I’m to believe J-horror films, M. Night Shamalama’s commercials, or those absolute nutters found everywhere—parents—children are the scariest thing on either side of the mortality line. And, yes, whispering children are fairly creepy. And children with greasy black hair crawling out of wells to murder you are, indeed, creepy.

Not long ago, coming back from a run, I’d passed the sidewalk art the Y kids had done outside the International House (a place on the block for Asian exchange students). The chalk drawings showed smiling girls in pigtails with arms outstretched, dogs barking at the sun, cars with disastrously shaped wheels. One image, though, gave cause for alarm: it depicted a boy shooting a girl in the head. Brains were even bursting out the other side.

I’d thought about dropping a note with the Y, asking them to take a closer look at what the kids were drawing and whether it indicated anything they needed to be concerned about. I wrote this short letter in my head. I write letters like that (in my mind) all the time. I'm almost a community leader. Almost.

Three days later, I passed the same spot. We’d had a brief bit of rain in the interim. The violent drawing had gone away. All that remained was a thin ghost of the smiling girl in pigtails, stick arms outstretched.

So here I was going for a run and sweating before I’d even started. Sweating simply from the act of opening my Gatorade.

I crossed from the convenience store and headed, as they say, for the hills. (Well, hill.) This put me in the same line with the kids heading for the park.

One girl walked with a blanket, and I mean like a down comforter, clutched at her throat. The extra corner of fabric acted as a hood, very clandestine. She walked hunched, as if against a wind. And as I neared, she began to sing:

I-ee-I farted

On the second “I farted” line, a second girl joined in. I hoped for a round, but a round did not develop.

Today’s Distraction: What does Jon Pack approve and disapprove of? This blog kills me. Pack eschews writing in favor of subjects, a main image for an entry (the thing he’s either approving or disapproving of), and a thumbs-up / thumbs-down image of himself. From Randy Moss to Randy Moss’s smoothies, the Wimbledon streaking tradition to pesto, the sound of flip-flops to smoking while bicycling, Jon Pack has an opinion and he’s not afraid to share it. Dear god, please visit the site. Just scroll. Having flown a rather uncomfortable transatlantic flight on Icelandair, this entry is currently my favorite.

torsdag, juli 13, 2006


Feeling a bit drawn and quartered today from (a) the heat in this apartment, (b) realizing I mistook my quarterly tax due date by one month, and (c) computer troubles on not one but two machines.

Ah, but put that tiny violin away. I'm recovering quickly with the help of Britta Persson's "Winter Tour" video. She's sweet as pie.

Eagerly awaiting the return to Copenhagen.

onsdag, juli 12, 2006

Mid-Day Rambles

Lunch: Spicey rice and avocado with fresh garlic. Drinking well-iced orange juice.


Still laughing about: Yesterday's episode of Passions. Alistair, the show's uber-villain, watched as the lions he'd released into the Vatican's catacombs tracked Luis and Fancy (his grand-daughter). The lions closed in. Luis and Fancy held one another, anticipating their deaths. Alistair, viewing this all on a video-feed to his phone, quipped, "This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase Fancy Feast." Indeed.


Confused about: An even more wooden portrayal of the character Sheridan Crane. It's as if when recasting the role (temporarily?), they said to the new actress: "You are Sheridan Crane. Your father, Alistair, is pure evil. You despise him, especially since he made you believe for so long that your true love, Luis Lopez Fitzgerald, was dead. You're married now to a doofus named Chris who may in fact be one of Alistair's agents. You've just discovered that your son with Luis, Marty, is still alive too. Oh! And you're made of wood."


Nordic distraction #1: The design work of Jarno, a Finn. I've stolen the image at the top of this posting from his Web site. Thanks to the good people of Noisedfisk for promoting this one.


Nordic distraction #2: This creepy commercial from Iceland. Thanks to J, one of my favorite bloggers (a Bostonian ex-pat living in Reykjavik), who posted this at his rather awesome site.

Did It Work for Prince?

Nope. But Auschwitz, with the UN's blessing, is changing its name.


tirsdag, juli 11, 2006

Market Redux

Thanks to the Gerg for providing (in response to my July 11 "Routine Settles In" posting) this link to his Saint Paul Farmer's Market photo essay from last year. Great shots. Thanks, G.


Lunchtime Thoughts

Carrie and Lucas' wedding on Days of Our Lives makes me sick. SICK!! This is probably the reason I have a scratchy throat and disgusting cough. I probably caught it witnessing one of their wet make out sessions. But WE ALL KNOW that Carrie is in love with Austin! Hey: Dr. Lexi Carver! Just what are you playing at? You have had the goods on Sami, yet you've let Sami's (and your) deception of Carrie and Austin--that whole "You can't have kids together because of a shared genetic mark" bullshit--you've just let that deception continue even though your marriage already fell apart, and that was the real trump card Sami had on you. Lexi! You milktoast. Your tarot-reading mother is so much more interesting.

Is the real Stefano back? Please?

I used to joke about the return of Patch and Kayla. They're back. I'm no longer laughing. So long as they don't start the endless "Lady in Red" song montages, I'll accept their return to Salem.

Finally capping a month of sports overdosing (the Twins' incredible 19 - 2 run, the French Open, Wimbledon, the World Cup), The Italians' victory at the World Cup was crushing to me. And the media "disgrace" comments about Zidane were even more annoying than the "The Great Zidane!" sports calls each time he touched the ball. (There's no guarantee a French striker wouldn't still have missed a penalty kick in the shootout even if Zidane remained in the game, you jackasses. He would have been one penalty kick, not all five. Jesus.) If Materazzi did indeed tell Zidane, a French-Algerian, that he was "the son of a terrorist whore" then Materazzi deserved a hell of a lot more than that headbutt to the chest. He deserves a lifetime ban from international competition, for starters, and a boot in the face...just as the renowned footballer Eric Cantona gave a neo-Nazi spectator--mid-match!--years ago. Ah, that was glorious.

Routine Settles In

The Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in Saint Paul’s Lowertown has become one of my absolute favorite stops during the week, and not just because for $1 you can more bok choy than two people can eat in a week even if they eat it once per day.

The teeming crowd, the satisfying order in the rows of produce, the fresh flower stands, the geeky bands that play, the great range of Asian dialects spoken, etc. It’s a treat. I’m not one for fairs and festivals, but I adore open market crowds.

This weekend’s take: two week’s worth of golden new potatoes; two week’s worth of baby bok choy (I want my baby bok baby bok baby bok…), a week of hot peppers, a big ass bag of spinach (dearly welcomed after last week’s total absence of spinach at the market), a glorious knot of white table onions, and fresh garlic.

Have you had fresh garlic? Right from the field? It’s outstanding. It’s more like a table onion bulb and milder in flavor than the hard little bulbs you find in the grocery store. Really excellent.

Also bought a can of white gourd juice, a product of Malaysia. The gourd juice has cane sugar and caramel in it. It’s way too sweet. It tastes like liquefied caramel corn. It reminded me of fruit products I encountered in China. They were all loaded with extra sweetner. (The Koreans are not so fond of ultra sweet things, but the Chinese and Southeast Asians, like Americans, seem to accept if not encourage the addition of sugar and sweeteners to everything.)

Investment tip: Any company aiming to provide diabetic medication to Asia. Just follow the distribution of white gourd juice and you’ll find your gold mine.

fredag, juli 07, 2006

Beyond Thunderdome

Like Tina Turner sang, "We don't need another hero." We don't.

Lord. I happened by ESPN on the Fourth of July in the closing moments of the network's coverage of Nathan's annual hot dog eating contest. Japanese intake-juggernaut Kobayashi (who's thrown on some muscle with his eating prize winnings) took his sixth consecutive title, consuming 53 1/2 dogs in, I think, 12 minutes. Second place, an American named Joey Chestnut, who apparently ate 52 dogs.

The spectacle of this contest (and it's near-suicidal gastro-intestinal statistics) is enough, I think. One does not need to slather on the masturbatory, flag-waving commentary. Yet, ESPN found a way to tie it to the Fourth, for all things must be tied to America on America's birthday, right?

As the broadcast was signing off, the commentator was talking to Kobayashi, who looked quite ill. The broadcaster congratulated Kobayashi. And then he said, "But you had a good challenge this time. I think America needed a hero today, and I think America found one in Joey Chestnut."


Yes. Joey Chestnut, sausage-eating glutton. He's up there with MLK, JFK, that key-on-a-kite-string fat guy who started public libraries and fire departments and all that. Soon, velvet portraits of Joey Chestnut will appear. Tempera paintings will show a serene-faced Joey Chestnut tearing open his chest to reveal an angelic, shining, bun-cupped wiener.

Good god. What a sad, desperate people we are, to judge by our programming.

Actually, it's the commentary that's the problem. The programming is fine. Why not watch a hot dog eating contest? But why try to make it about freedom? about the Founding Fathers?

The hero culture: ridiculous. Am I to believe that none of us will get our shit together if the Japanese keep trouncing us in sausage eating contests? Look, I'd love to drive you to the hospital, friend; but I'm just so bummed about Joey Chestnut, oh and that baseball game our city's team lost, and no Americans made it to the Wimbledon quarterfinals (ending many decades of strong showings), and ...

In a time of war and under the thumb of a conservative regime, are we truly seeking that far and wide for something to get us out of bed in the morning?

Whoever that announcer was, I think it's safe to say Aaron Burr would have put a cap in his ass.

torsdag, juli 06, 2006

Kinky at the Kinko's

Two or three times per month I walk into the Kinko's to photocopy checks. I have my Kinko's card. I know my route down the steps, left, to the copy center, right, to the first machine on the right (black and white) or the third on the right (also black and white), whichever is open. My card goes in. My check's on the machine. Press COPY. Collect everything. Go. The whole visit from locking my car to returning to it usually takes no more than two minutes. It unfolds nearly with the robotic, right-angled movements of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne portrayal.

Some days are just different though.

Today I parked on the side street, per usual, and sallied up the alley, past the fish distributor with its god-awful dumpster odor. A sweaty woman paused about to light a cigarette, as if I'd caught her doing something she shouldn't be doing. She seemed to be waiting for me to pass, and indeed after I did I heard the match light and she sighed.

Now: Through the gap in the fence, into the Kinko's parking lot, into the store. ...

The copy area had a busy look, though this vision was aided, certainly, by the presence of two employees, which is about two more than usually man this zone. One guy stood there hands on hips, legs akimbo in a khaki-pant-wearing manager pose. He surveyed his kingdom.

A girl from the college, I'm assuming she was from the neighboring college, was cutting up magazine pictures and taping them to white paper. She seemed to have added word clouds and captions around some of the images. She wore a gypsy skirt, a head scarf, a white tank top and a cache of bracelets on one wrist. She was a pretty little creature. As she worked, the bracelets slid up and down her slight forearm.

Her back was to the first copier, my number one. She glanced when I turned into the area. It was the moment my eyes had turned toward the cut-out work she'd been doing. Not to seem rudely preoccupied with it, I nodded to her, said "Hey" as if maybe we knew one another. I went about making my copy.

(Oh, to insert an old Rob Schneider clip here, Betsy: "Making copies ..." By the way, did you read THIS about him? The second paragraph says enough. It screams SCHNEIDER!!)

So the paper spit out. I collected my copy card and returned it to my wallet. I collected my check and photocopy and stepped backward one step as I opened my satchel. All things like clockwork.

But at the same time, this girl took a step back. We bumped.

"Sorry 'bout that," I said flatly.

Then I did a double take. There was just something curious about the angle of her head. She said, deadpan but clearly restraining a grin, "Our butts touched."

They had.

Never one to back down from spirited repartee, and really wishing it occurred more often, I said, "God truly works in mysterious ways."

I'm claiming the victory on that one for her tongue pressed from behind her lower lip, as if to supress a smile (though the smile won out when she turned away) and she nodded in an "Uh-huh, I see" fashion as she returned to her work. I left grinning.

onsdag, juli 05, 2006


A bit too busy to write about Nathan's annual hot dog eating contest (as broadcast on ESPN), Republicans going apeshit about a PG rating on a Christian-themed film, and today's totally kickass mysterious-black-gloves-doing-dirty-deeds shots on the Days of Our Lives episode, but will catch up tomorrow.

A free moment strikes. I'm going running (as soon as I can be sure those violent Portugese diva dogs will lose to France in today's semi-final at the World Cup).
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