tirsdag, oktober 31, 2006

Still Lives

I wish my life was a bit more still, but was again last night too busy to blog. Gah!! Still, I offer you this photo of the College of Visual Arts building on Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

It isn't uncommon to see young people wander out of this house carrying bananas. They look so self-conscious about it.

Crap. Where was I going? I recall one night being given a banana at work, on the way out, no less, then meeting some friends at a bar. Though I was happy to see them, it was quickly pointed out to me that in my coat, sure enough, it actually was a banana in my pocket.

Oh. This makes me want to see Nancy. She carried her own filberts in an old pill jar that once held anti-depressants. She traded in those pills for tequilla gimlets. Lord was she funny....

mandag, oktober 30, 2006

Manic Monday

Damn. The Bangles were right.

No time to blog. (Cry, cry, cry.)

fredag, oktober 27, 2006

Where are you going? Where have you been?

Sharing a bit of your travels, friends. Of the photo above, my brother, the tK, writes: "I don't have a solid memory of this photo from Mexico. Most of my memories are based more on food than on time. The night of that photo was early in the trip, and we stopped at a place called Charlie's for a few drinks. An Americanized place, no doubt, but the guacamole was outstanding.

"After we'd sat there awhile, enjoying the guac and Sol beer, Matt wandered off to find the restrooms. On the way back, he spotted some women in the middle of a dance lesson. Whereas I might think it rude to photograph people without their consent, Matt harbored no such reservations. And thank goodness. The resulting image included a slower shutter than Matt expected, giving a nice movement to the photograph. Life in Mexico was carefree, relaxed, and colorful. I think this photo captures that."

Hope captured this image in Snoqualmie, Washington. She was traveling with her friends Lori and Katie. On one of their days in Washington they toured outside Seattle, stopping long enough at this waterfall to snap a photo and say, "Oooo, isn't that pretty?" It is pretty.

Photos of this sort make me think of Twin Peaks and the Great Northern Hotel. Those thoughts make me happy.

Finally, a photo of Hope and the tK. They get married this evening! I happen to be the Best Man, but since there are two groomsmen, not three or more, I think this means I must be the Better Man.

Two grand souls.

onsdag, oktober 25, 2006

An Interview: Calling Russia

I’ve long wanted to interview people as a recurring element of a blog and now hope to make this a regular Wednesday-ish kind of thing. When I received a note from Joy in Moscow, I took advantage of the opportunity to strike up this conversation with someone living in a place I’ve never been but in which I have long held an interest.

So here we have it: a discussion that touches upon the possible connection between Russian vodka culture and the collapse of the Soviet Union, pickled pigs’ feet and ice cream at the height of a Russian winter, and what is it to belong where one does not belong. Blog moderator comments/questions in italics.

Big thanks to Joy for making this happen (including sharing some photos), and props to Jana for being a vital cog in the connection. J & J: You are appreciated!


What brought you to Russia the first time you went? And inspired you to go back to live and work?

What placed me in Russia? First, the collapse of the Soviet Union fascinated me, as I think it fascinated many of us who grew up in the late Cold War era. So I studied Russian in college and went to Moscow on a study-abroad program seven years ago, and then I was hooked. My current stay in Moscow is thanks to a professional-development fellowship for early-career Americans. My field is urban planning and infrastructure development, and so I will be working for the next six months at a British consulting firm whose Russia portfolio focuses on infrastructure.

She writes, "The view from my balcony late on a summer night. The church is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior."

The Look of Distance

What do you miss most about Russia when you are back in the United States?

I think if I were to be quite honest, when I am in the U.S., I miss the feeling of belonging in a place where I don't belong. I miss successfully navigating a large foreign city, of having found my place in it. Related to that, I miss being part of an international group of people. Many of my friends here are also foreigners (though not all American), and we understand why we are not living in our home countries. Many of my Russian friends here are outward-looking and well-traveled, as well. This all sounds a bit snobby, and I suppose it is, but there you go. I also miss more obvious things, like speaking Russian, and the metro (god, especially when I am in the midwest, I miss Moscow's transit). I miss the sky. Moscow has the most amazing clouds, like nowhere else I have lived.

That idea really strikes me: “…belonging in a place I don’t belong.” I realized recently that I’ve spent a third of my year traveling. Home again after three September weeks in Copenhagen and Tokyo/Yokohama, I found myself unable to sleep, unable to shut off my brain, and unable to quell an intense sense of psychological and emotional homelessness. I was depressed and wished again for the feeling of being Elsewhere, because after so much time away from home, I couldn’t get myself to feel at home. And it scared me to feel that way when I was at home. I let my apartment go to shit. I spent money I didn’t have. I was poor at communicating with people. Often, I stayed up all night working or writing in the quixotic hope I might exhaust the feeling.

Yes, it is an irony of extensive travel or time abroad. You get used to it, you learn to belong in foreign surroundings, and then when you finally go home, it doesn’t feel right. You have changed, but home feels the same, and you resent home for that. Of course, when it comes down to it, home is not static, but that’s easy for me to forget. That’s another thing that I like about living here and miss in the U.S.; the heightened sense of awareness and observation. I notice more here. I pay attention to my fellow pedestrians, to advertisements, to construction workers...things that are more easily invisible to me at home. Obviously, a heightened awareness of one's surroundings is a general condition when not-at-home and is not unique to Russia. Also obviously, I could force myself to be more observant in the U.S. But it's definitely something I like here.

"The Pushkin monument in central Moscow. There are always flowers that people have left. Imagine, leaving flowers for a writer!"

Vodka Culture

In Japan I was fascinated by the vending machine culture. You can find a cold green tea even in an alley and trust its freshness. You can get decent food from them. In Japan, you can live out of vending machines. Now, I've heard--from many drunk sources--that there is vodka in vending machines in Russia. For a tourist, maybe this is striking. But how long does it take to lose its charm when you live there?

First, vodka is not sold in vending machines. Very little is sold in vending machines, in fact, with the exception of those machines that sell a foul brown liquid distantly related to coffee and served in little plastic cups. Oh, and the newspaper where I worked several years ago had a Coke machine, but it’s one of only a couple I've ever seen here. However, vodka is very, very easily accessible--almost all kiosks, corner shops, big supermarkets, etc. have it.

Ha! Well, though we seem to have a totally mistaken belief here about Russian vending machines, you’ve noted the ease of acquiring vodka. What’s your impression of the role drinking plays in Russian culture? Is it anywhere near as defining—if not as devastating—as many of us in the US tend to tag the culture with? I guess I should confess that Forbes rated Minneapolis-St Paul the second drunkest urban area in America. So maybe this is a cold-weather cultural challenge, as is having an abundance of fermentable agricultural products. They influence culture, though.

Yes, I would say it is as defining as Americans seem to believe, but far more devastating than most Americans realize. Some of it is probably climate-related. As you note, the Twin Cities are drinking cities, and I think the Finns’ per-capita alcohol consumption may actually exceed Russians’ (though I’m not sure of that). The Finns are more functional alcoholics than the Russians, though. Anyway, drinking culture goes way back here, though mass-scale binge drinking didn’t really catch on until the 20th century. Prior to that, peasants didn’t have the time or money for nonstop vodka. Cheap, easily available alcohol was an important element of social control during the postwar Soviet period. Gorbachev tried to curb alcohol consumption in the 80s, and some people think that that, more than perestroika and glasnost, accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. It certainly accelerated Gorbachev’s unpopularity. Then, the 90s were a freefall, a collapse, a catastrophe, total social dislocation for millions of people. Obviously, alcoholism got worse.

Binge drinking is the norm (the standard vodka bottle during the Soviet era could not be recapped, and even though you can cap most of the bottles now, people don’t), so that finishing an entire bottle between two or three friends in one sitting is common practice. Drunk driving is common. Fetal alcohol syndrome is common, as are abandoned children, or homeless children who have run away from alcoholic parents. Add bad diet, stress, and the fact that 63% of Russians smoke (seriously, 63%), and the place is a public-health nightmare. I don’t know how much press Russia’s so-called demographic crisis has gotten in the U.S., but here, they’re getting worried about the fact that the population is shrinking fast. In his state of the union address in April, Putin proposed extra benefits for families that have more children. This is asinine, of course, because while Russia’s birthrate is low, it’s on par with other industrialized nations and actually higher than some. The problem is not births, it’s deaths, but there are no leaders who are willing to address the fact that this country is committing long, slow suicide via vodka and nicotine.

But I think for a lot of foreigners, especially those who are here for only a short while, or those who don’t get outside of Moscow (where economically and socially, things are much better than the rest of the country), the self-destructiveness just seems like glorious hedonism, especially if they’re coming from prudish America.

Moscow Winters, Russian Grub

Do you ever write home to people in Minnesota with thoughts like, “You punks don’t know what winter is”? What is a Moscow winter like? Are the ice cream parlors still open? Does everyone wear some sort of thermal spandex beneath their clothes? Or is the layered look abruptly fashionable come mid-October?

Ha! No, I am often forced to inform Muscovites that they’re not the only ones who know what winter is. It’s maybe slightly colder here on average than in Minnesota, but overall, it’s about the same. I feel at home, climatologically speaking. It’s darker here, though, and that gets very depressing. By December, it won’t be light until almost 9:30 a.m., and it’ll be dark by 4 p.m. There aren’t really ice cream parlors in the American sense, but there are lots of kiosks that sell ice cream bars and such, and they stay open and do brisk business throughout the winter. My favorite brand name is Russky Kholod (Russian Cold). The ice cream’s not that great, but I admire the fact that they’re making lemonade out of a lemony climate. Russians do not mess around when it comes to warm clothing, and I am often scolded for not dressing warmly enough. Fur coats are not uncommon, though the big fur hats that Americans love to imagine Russians wearing are mostly confined to elderly men and tourists these days.

Finally, what’s your favorite only-in-Moscow thing to eat? And I don’t mean “only-in-Moscow” in a rolling-eyes sense. I mean as in something we probably don’t have in the United States, or might have but perhaps would avoid.

Hmmm. Kholodets, jellied pigs’ feet, may actually be a Ukrainian dish, but it’s common in Russia as well. Salo is another Ukrainian thing that’s common here. It’s just lard (usually salted, sometimes smoked) that people slice and eat on bread. I avoid both, and I would advise you to do the same.

But enough of nastiness, there is tasty stuff, too. In many post-imperial countries, the best food tends to be that of the colonized (i.e. Indian food in the UK, or rijstafel in the Netherlands) and that is the case in Russia as well. I adore Georgian food, and it’s very rare outside of Georgia and Russia, though supposedly there is a Georgian place somewhere way out in the Minneapolis burbs these days. Check it out and tell me how it is. Order the khachapuri (cheese bread), the lobio (beans, green or red), the eggplant with walnuts, and the adjapsandal (eggplanty vegetable ragout). Those are all usually under the starters menu. When you hit really good Central Asian food, it’s also a thing of beauty. One of my favorite dishes is lagman, a meaty, vegetably stew with thick noodles. When made well, it has lots of coriander, both ground and fresh.

"The now-defunct Meat Manufacturing Pavilion at the Soviet-era All-Russia Exhibition Center. This place is one of the most bizarre sights of Moscow. Cow caryatids!?! So many cultural-theory dissertations..."

tirsdag, oktober 24, 2006

The Finnish Line

The Finns are translating Elvis into Latin.

Fate; or, Making the Grade

Back when I taught English while working towards my MFA degree for Creative Writing—yes, that IS a legitimate degree—I lived two doors away from a department professor. One night we were sitting on her porch, which is to say I was drinking her beer, and she told me she sometimes started a semester by penciling in projected final grades for her students based upon their behavior throughout the first two or three classes.

She was rarely wrong.

In my stupor, I mentioned this to my roommate, who found it horrible. She considered it unfair and rude. I, however, found it immensely entertaining.

But my roommate seemed to be a teacher first, a literature student second, and a poet third. I was a writer first and a teacher second. You get what you pay for, folks. And when you pay me $950/month for nine months of work and expect me to live on that for a year, even when one is living in an economy as depressed as that state college town's, I’m going to direct most of my energies towards the writing and reading I’m there for.

I'm not losing sleep over rubric grading.

I’ve a self-involved theory that writers possess a shadow circulatory system through which cold cold water flows. If Inga ever lets me repeat it, I’ll post one day her tale of rejecting a student’s request to write about the movie Titantic. It’s further evidence.

So I played the grade projection game for one class. I wrote the projected grades on a separate sheet of paper. I did this after the third class, well before any real writing was handed in. This was a Composition class. And I was correct on 20 of 22 students. The other two scored lower than I thought they would.

Body language, eye contact and tone of voice tells you a great deal about a student’s readiness. Yes, we all grow during school, we cease to resemble ourselves, but that growth rarely occurs between weeks one and 15 of a semester. It usually occurs in a dynamic shift one or two weeks after the semester when one’s decisions are irreparable.

A Tale of Two Fs

One night outside a liquor store, I ran into a student to whom I’d given an F, even though he’d made it most of the way through the semester. His name was Ben. He often wore tie-dyes. He had red hair and a close-cut collegial beard. I thought he would one day make a fine anthropology or history student. I said to him, “Hey, sorry ‘bout the F, man. My hands were tied.”

“Dude,” he said. “I would have given me an F too.”

He shrugged. He was quite comfortable with his cigarette. We shook on it.

I bought a 22-ounce bottle of Samual Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. (The “double deuce!” as Costello would say.) I was going to an English grad party at Sean and Jenni’s house. There would be Mardi Gras beads. Someone would vomit. Someone’s feelings would be hurt. Many of us would show no remorse for any of it. On the way out of the store, the bag they’d put the bottle in tore and my beer exploded on the sidewalk. I went back in. The Greek man who owned the shop laughed, gave me another bottle free, and asked if I wanted one of them to carry the beer to my car. “I can handle it from here,” I said.

About that same time, I had a tense encounter with a student who made it all the way through the semester but who had neglected to write three of the four papers I required (though my university-written syllabus demanded six papers). The exchange was really tense only on his part because I was, as is my nature, cold about these things. “Nate, you just didn’t do the work,” I said.

I’ve the sort of face that when impassive seems so innocent you’d like to blow a softball-sized hole in it. It’s as if a puppy looks at you and utters adorably the words, “Oh, you’re fucked.”

He cursed. He shouted. He stormed out of my office—one of the only students who ever paid a visit for actual course business.

(I’ve wondered since whether he was the one who drew devil horns and a monstrous fu-manchu on the photo of me snapped at some grad party and hung on my office door…but that’s really the sort of tom foolery only another teacher would revel in. In the photo, my hair was very curly, a characteristic that it’s lost in the years since. We’d hung a caption on the photo reading “The young Gene Wilder.”)

Six months later I ran into Nate at the bar I frequented: the Cellar. He was playing shuffleboard with a group. He’d apparently traded in ratty t-shirts and ripped pants for button-ups and khakis. He’d shaved off the ratty chin-only goatee.

I nodded to him and raised a glass. He wandered over. He apologized for his behavior that day. “I deserved it,” he said of the F. I asked him how things were going. Well. He was on pace to graduate in four semesters. We shared a toast and that was that.

On he went.


I love this moment of Mulholland Drive too much not to conclude with it. It’s the fulcrum moment of the film, about midway through, but perhaps best viewed here if you have already seen the film. The effect is heavy, nonetheless. Rebekah del Rio’s unaccompanied vocals are devastating as she sings a Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” (“Llorando”). Just what is real in this world, friends? We are no longer the same.

Llorando (Mulholland Drive)

Jesus. When I saw this film in Minneapolis with Betsy and Chris and…Mips?…this scene just gutted me. I felt as the main characters feel, only I didn’t weep openly. And I'd left my blonde wig at home.

mandag, oktober 23, 2006

Year by Year

Sipping from some mysterious coconut-like thing on a warm day of walking in Yokohama's Chinatown, September 23. My Picasso face seems to be aping a Church Lady "Isn't that special?" expression.

In lieu of therapy, for it really isn't needed in this case, I give you a memory or two from each year of grammar school. This is all probably much more revealing of my character than I realize.

Kindergarten: Todd T_______ left a potato in a cubby and it sprouted viney eyes. We used it as a gross-out educational prop. Later that year, I saw Annie with my family at Chicago's Schubert Theater. Many years later in high school, I wound up next to a guy named Chris in Speech class. He told me we'd been in the same kindergarten class. He said, "I remember you saw Annie. You told the class about it. A lot."

1st Grade:
My teacher's name was, brilliantly, Mrs. Cantwell. Mount St. Helen's erupted. I developed a crush on a girl named Kristin D______.

2nd Grade: I wrote my first short story, December 1981: "Henry and His Dog Boxer." It was about a caveboy who plays "kick the ants" and "fetch the rock" with his faithful dog. At end, Henry's mother calls him in for lunch. Henry says to Boxer, "Oh, boy!"

3rd Grade: We learned cursive writing and basic multiplication tables.

4th Grade:
Mrs. Christiansen read Where the Red Fern Grows, an act that by its gory conclusion reduced her and two classes to tears. A boy takes an axe in the stomach! A dog is killed! Another dog dies of friggin' loneliness!!

5th Grade: Mrs. March let us watch Game 1 of the Cubs - Padres National League Championship Series. A kid told his parents, his parents complained to the principal (who ceased, that day, to be our "pal"). Game 2 had to be observed in secret in the classroom closet.

6th Grade:
During sex education, I buckle. Mr. Vitek asks Tim G. to name one of the male sex organs. Tim says, "The testicles." I'd been planning on saying testicles if called upon. Now Vitek calls on me for the other one. Here I am, terrified of public speaking and totally embarrassed about the word "penis," for it seems so medical, so wussy. Can I say dick? or cock? or whatever other term we used on the playground? Probably not. So I play the apathetic student card. I say, without interest, "I don't know." Vitek, though: He's no slouch. Dude served in Vietnam. He says, "Well, drop your pants and look!" The class erupts in laughter. Dammit.

søndag, oktober 22, 2006

God Knows

Sunrise on Yokohama Bay, Japan, 5:15 a.m., 19 September 2006.

Not because it's Sunday and Sundays are churchin' or coffee mornings in much of the US--indeed, every morning is a coffee morning in the US--but because I find El Perro Del Mar's video, "God Knows," adorable. I include it at the end of this brief bloggy missive. Thanks much to DoCopenhagen for bringing it back from the YouTube graveyard.

And because it's Sunday and most of you are just kind of grinning your way through the day, and promising to do things like read the paper for once, and maybe wondering if blue skies will return in 2006, and will you ever write someone another letter, and can you see another political ad without committing murder, and perhaps you're thinking of doing something like baking me chocolate chip cookies.

Because I love chocolate chip cookies.

God Knows (You gotta give to get)

Get your coffee. Eat some chocolate. And tap your foot and smile as you listen to El Perro Del Mar. The album will be released in the US on November 7.

Good day to you.

lørdag, oktober 21, 2006

Return of the Kilt

With my brother and mother at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill, Saint Paul, Minnesota. My mother labeled this photo, “Erin, Tom and Mom.” My sister, Erin, took the photo. I, Chris, am on the far left. Mother….This is just like that time you were cutting up photos to paste certain people into cards and such; and you threw out the scraps (understandably); and coming home from school I found there in the grass at the end of the driveway, where the garbage had been, my head.

Return of the Kilt

On Thursday I stopped up at the Lake Street Garage to see Billy Watkins and get the latest. Ol’ Boy was in kilt, per usual for a Thursday, and it reminded me that I am well remiss in wearing my own. Perhaps to the coffee shop on November 1 for Samhain?

I wonder now whether my brother and his fiancé will let me wear my kilt and winter socks to the rehearsal dinner next week. TK? Hope? What say you?

K from the Attorney General’s office stopped up, and though he’s often very diplomatic in what political information he spills, we were able to squeeze a few interesting stories out of him before we retreated to safer ground about our families and such.

Heather, if you are reading this, please know I’ve let Bill know about you and Ty out in Vegas. Bill’s son Danny is flying over from Ireland to get married on, I think, November 1. There will be something like 70 cats in kilts about this time. I should have them find you in the casino, though I’m worried you might not talk to me anymore. …

Bill’s second memoir is called Scotland is Not for the Squeamish. But fair warning: Watkins is not for the squeamish! Vegas will never be the same with such an Irish and Scottish brigade coming through.

fredag, oktober 20, 2006

Letters from Afar

The statue of Nathan Hale in my neighborhood, Cathedral Hill. His hands are depicted as tied. Hale was executed by the British during the Revolution and is credited with saying, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Happy Friday, friends. I'm a little slow on this as Blogger was not quite responding this morning. Erg.

So. The world is neither larger nor smaller today, but perception tells us otherwise. I feel it’s smaller, but that’s more than anything a feeling it is easier to navigate and know. That languages are not so difficult to learn. That travel is not nearly as frantic as I can make it out to be.

One day your thoughts are singular and intense and entirely Elsewhere. Another day, the thought of boarding a plane exhausts you and you put off trips. Many people put them off indefinitely.

I've no money for it, but I've got the travel bug again. I want to see København in the winter. I want to spend a month on the Aran Islands. I want to learn much more about that place just north of me. We call it Canada. Why have I gone there only once?

My neighborhood, circa October 1.


I received a wonderful letter out of the blue by Joy in Moscow. (Thanks, J!) She sang in college with Jana, and roundabout wound up at a passage on this blog regarding a dream of parachuting onto Russian soil.

All this has spurred in me a desire to pursue one of my old ideas about what to do at this blog: Interviews.

Next week I hope to publish on Wednesday some responses to questions I’ve sent her. And I hope to do this sort of interview gig on more Wednesdays. I love asking questions. I love hearing stories. I love sending notes into the Internet abyss and making new contacts.

On Thursday I hope to publish a travel photo or two and some brief anecdotes from a couple other people. Essentially, mixed in with all these random thoughts and confessions and embarrassments, I'd like to share some distant communications and stories from others. I'm fascinated by these things.

I hope some of you (particularly non-bloggers) won’t mind if I tag you from time to time for a short interview or a photograph from your travels, events, or life. Your recommendations are welcomed too.

Another Dinner

Though the conversation would probably be quite awkward, I'd like to invite to dinner that French woman who had a partial face transplant, Natascha Kampusch, and former soccer great Eric Cantona.

torsdag, oktober 19, 2006

Elections, Hiring Decisions

Fall's frozen colors. Madge, Wisconsin, October 12.

A Quote

If you survive childhood, you have enough writing material for life. - Flannery O'Connor

Tres Randoms

Am I the only one who hears two distinct cowbells in the opening percussion of Toto's "Africa"?

Dear Gregory Gerg, my apologies on the limping speed of your site hosting service. I've tried to comment recently and couldn't stand the wait. Regardless, please keep writing! We're still reading, friend.

Lol, this entry at your blog cracked me up. Nice spot.

The Lure of Office

I don’t recall whether I “held office” once, twice or thrice in grade school, but I recall wanting to and I recall campaigning. I don’t recall a single duty of office. I don’t recall a single meeting. And maybe that was all a grade school’s elected office was: an exercise in the democratic process but not actual legislation or execution. Perhaps the council voted on whether the class would eat hot dogs or pizza during a field day. Perhaps we decided that, yes, we would have an extra art class (but only if it involved clay) rather than gym. Maybe we had power like that.

Campaigning involved a brief speech before the class or grade, depending on how high an office you sought. You had to identify something you would do for the class/grade, but what that might be, I can’t say. Less homework? I don’t recall having any. I even signed up for EC (“Extra Curricular”), a group that did extra work FOR FUN. Holy nerds.

My campaign posters contained puns developed exclusively by my parents. I recall one drawing I made of a boy fishing from a row boat. The sign said something like, “Reel in a vote for Chris!”

My memory tells me that elections happened only in grades three through six. (Apparently, one should be at least nine before being granted political power.)

In sixth grade, if not also in fifth, I was pitted against a boy named Doug. I recall his last name but withhold it for Google reasons. The name is almost comically Italian, primarily because it’s associated in my mind with a family of relentlessly hard luck. It was as if a farting trumpet followed each one of them around. Doug wanted desperately to hold an elected position.

He brought baked goods and handed them out to everyone. He was ready with compliments. He cared about people. He had similar pun posters. I recall them getting better every year.

But countering all the effort and annual hope was just that bad luck.

Certainly we were reminded, each year, that elections were not popularity contests, that elections were serious. We all had to care about choosing our leadership. (This is perhaps part of having been in grade school during the Regan administration’s final propaganda offensive against the Soviet Union. I recall social studies textbooks that flatout stated the Soviet people weren’t bad just misled. Now that’s objective!) Yet, it was clear that Doug would never win.

He didn’t. And in sixth grade, which I believe was a year I served as a grade officer, after so many defeats and so much want, he cried after the election results were announced. He had no more opportunities.

Jesus Christ.

Choice By Chocolate

I was reminded of all this on Tuesday when I read that chocolates are part of the bribes being offered within the UN as men vie to take over Kofi Annan’s position as Secretary General.

Chocolates. Our world’s most vital negotiator’s role is being decided by chocolates and warm fuzzies, hot tea, a bottle of wine. Everyone's a friend here, yes?

Sadly, or should it be happily?, I find that no less compelling than their resumes.

And, honestly, whenever I’ve been asked my opinion on hiring decisions in academia (for the three years I was there) or publishing (either for the company I worked for or other outfits which called me to discuss applicants due to my committee work), I never advised based on what I knew of anyone on paper. I operate entirely on first impressions, and in all honesty I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong.

Or maybe I just don’t believe the outcome would have been any different, save for my own enjoyment of the time invested or perhaps spent together.

onsdag, oktober 18, 2006

2007 or Bust

Saturday night, October 14, at the Good Earth. Look at that syrah-fueled red eye!! I look like Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


A Quote

"If I do have a gift that should be respected, I confess before your pure heart that up to now I haven't respected it. I felt that I had it, but got used to considering it insignificant. There are plenty of purely external reasons to make an individual unfair, extremely suspicious, and distrustful of himself, and I reflect now that there have been plenty of such reasons in my case."

- Anton Chekov in a letter to the established writer DV Grigorovich, 28 March 1886. Grigorovich had encouraged the young Chekov in a letter three days earlier to become a more serious writer.

Connecting the Dots

Yesterday morning in the coffeeshop, a little girl occupied her wait time with a freestyle version of Connect the Dots. Her lyrics included the coupled lines, "Knick the trike! Turn the spoon!" Or maybe that was "Nick." To steal? or clip?

Loading Up the Inner Van

All right. Okay. I've written before about dedicating more time and energy to writing seriously. I have. It's been considerable.

And, yes, the big push is on, but while a creative impulse is capable of burning without cessation, one's involvement with them might best be given a shelf-life for the sake of both the writer and the creative force, wherever it is that energy blooms.

Either this writing dog must have a literary day in 2007 or it's time to find a new obsession. For example, I could live like a normal person: paying down debt; having a retirement plan; maybe owning a cat or plant or something living other than the mice in the walls; etc. The last ten years have been spent not just writing for a hobby or compulsion, but with real intent to publish. I write compulsively, yes, but I work very hard at it too. Daily. I write for at least an hour each day, usually three, on top of all the other writing work I do and everything else one must do by the day: eat, wash clothes, write checks, etc. I have sacrificed sleep and a few friendships, a job and numerous job offers, and even (normal?) relationships for this. I have taxed the patience of everyone in my life and stretched my own too often thread-bare.

(Speaking of thread-bare patience, hey: Bears. Winning on two fumble return touchdowns and a returned punt? and a missed field goal by the Cardinals? Dudes. Do you realize how many cardiologists ought to just forward their bills to you? I'll need my own soon if you don't cut that shit out.)

Ack. Writers are reactionaries. We're prone to grand declarations of hope and failure, though I think this is pretty much a family trait. (You know you ALL do this, though I suspect the soaring hope side is probably a market cornered almost entirely by me.) I have trouble sleeping if I don't write. I'm a total grouch if a couple days pass during which I haven't had the opportunity to write.

I am forever wrestling with declarative sentences.

Regardless of the many ways I might not own up to this, I'm putting it down and hoping someone will hold me to it: 2K7 is the mark, else I am the Beast. If I can't wrestle free some sign that I'm doing anything at all, then it's time to let this be nothing more than a compulsion, like a restless leg. It's a thing to work on controlling, maybe even a thing to medicate. If I can't bring myself to send things out regularly in the hope of publication or landing an agent, if I can't score publication or an agent, then it's time to turn all this energy to something more constructive.

Some of us, even the self-destructively dedicated ones, are just better editors than writers. That ain't so bad. Perhaps that's the door I need to open.

Forcing Your Hand Too

As I write foolish thoughts like "all or nothing!," as I ponder how ridiculous some liberty-image woman would look if she just wandered in with the whole flag and exposed-breast get-up and in an exhausted tone and with defeated posture ordered a cafe au lait, I'm listening to Wolf Parade's "Shine a Light." Repeatedly. (Listen number 12 or so just concluded.) So bear with me. I'm wound up, it's such a frenzied song, yet it includes lyrics like "Waiting for something that never arrives." So I get to sample yin AND yang in this tune. Thanks, wP.

No one else need follow the same self-devised soul-crushing course, but some of you ought to send your work out from time to time. You write well and often. What harm is it to send out work? If you are solely a blogger, you might adapt your work to creative nonfiction opportunities.

Competitions aren't of significant interest, but I'm thinking of them today because many of them are imminent and one can always use the scratch, hey. So, writers in the mist, here are three competitions with forthcoming deadlines:

* 580 Split fiction and poetry contest. $10 reading fee. $100 first prize. Deadline: November 1.

* Briar Cliff. Creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry. $15 reading fee. $1000 top prize in all three categories. Deadline: November 1. (Reykjavik's E, I'm talking to you! Lorie, I'm talking to you! Maybe you can convince your mother to pony up the entry fee, especially since you have those breaking & entering and dog theft charges against her. Or is a statute of limitation in effect?)

* Danahy Fiction Prize from Tampa Review. $15 reading fee. $1000 top prize. All entries considered for publication. Deadline: November 1.

I've a list of many others if you're interested. Now get back to work!

tirsdag, oktober 17, 2006

Passions and Blubber

Blogging is a form of escapism, and while we weather a bastard server issue with work, allow me to depart and offer up this brief note: As the tagline of this blog begs, one should discuss Passions and Nordic things from time to time. Two quickies:

Passions has launched another online companion to its daily drama: Tabloid Truth. Awesome.

And Iceland has broken out the defib pads on commercial whaling. Gross.

Acht Questions

A view up the driveway at the Lake.


During their recent visit to Saint Paul, my parents told a story of the local paper back home. The editorial staff apparently is quite young and relies on kneejerk AP style edits without analyzing the content of what comes over the wire. When a news item went out about the Enola Gay--the plane that dropped one of the atomic bombs on Japan during World War II--it was picked up and published in the local paper as the "Enola Homosexual."

Sensitivity training has gone WAY too far.


And now we turn to a bit of Q & A about books--Eight responses inspired by Leuchtkind's German/English blog:

A book that changed your life:
Hunger by Knut Hamsun

A book you are reading:
The Lighthouse by PD James

A book you wish you’d written: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami…especially if I could improve the first 30 pages.

A book you’ve read more than once: Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. (B & C: I still have the signed copy you gave me…though the spine is now one of invertebrate flimsiness.)

A book you wish you’d never read: Being Dead by Jim Crace. I’ve eyed with suspicion the Booker Prize ever since. Christ is that book a waste of time. But I read every regrettable page. (Banana Yoshimoto's Lizard story collection was so terrible I didn't come close to finishing it.)

A book you'd want on a desert island:
Honestly, I'd want one called How to Get Off This Island Without Losing Any Limbs or Sanity, and Without Subsequently Requiring Surgery (such as for Skin Cancer): The Secrets of Safe Escape. But I suppose something long that would complement sun-baked hallucinations would go over nicely, like Don Quixote or Moby-Dick or maybe even John Ashbery's Flow Chart.

A book that made you cry: The Dream Songs by John Berryman. As I'm pretty stoical when reading, that probably had to do more with my psychological state at the time than Berryman's work, though it is emotional (despite a mostly impenetrable style) and Berryman did commit suicide about 20 minutes from here, so there's always his personal story hanging over the work.

A book that made you laugh: Hmmm. Saratoga Hexameter by Stephen Dobyns. I also enjoyed a great deal two other Saratoga mysteries: Saratoga Fleshpot and Saratoga Haunting.


mandag, oktober 16, 2006

An Encounter

This morning, having downed close to 40 ounces of coffee at Nina's, I stopped at the convenience store on the block to pick up a candy bar. One must eat a tidge of chocolate each day, you know.

When I entered, one of the owners was standing behind the counter, leaning on his fists, watching with the sort of emotionless patience that suggests incredulity a woman sniffing a long red stick of incense. A bag on the counter contained two charcoal-colored sticks. These were, apparently, ones she'd already settled on. She was now carefully evaluating the other options for this mixed batch buy.

The owner and I nodded to one another. I grabbed a candy bar (Milky Way, as Snickers was all out). As I paid, and as I listened to the woman's careful inhalations, I glanced. She was muttering, "Oh, yeah. Yeah," the incense stick nuzzled (perpendicular) against her nose. The stick quivered slightly.

Our eyes met. I nodded. "Hi," she said. She went back to her zone in one long, careful, analytical sniff.

"Oh, hell yeah," she said.


The home in the woods. Yay to Mum for snapping the pic!

First, get your coffee and set in play “You Name It” by the Cannanes. (Opens in a QuickTime page.) Now we've a quick soundtrack. Now we’ve a cabin anecdote and five things that scare me:

To Build a Fire

I have now mastered one of the four major elements.

At the cabin this weekend the heater broke. The air temp at night was below freezing so Pops and I gathered firewood from the outdoor pit (not always advisable, as you’re liable to pick up sap-spitting pine that can set your chimney on fire) and got up every 45 minutes during the night to add new wood to the small iron stove. It was certainly the most cabiny night we’ve spent there as the family.

All in all, I didn’t mind it a bit. The way-back world fascinates me, and I think we all ought to have some survival skills beyond just having Triple A at the ready in our cellphones.

The peninsula across the way--sometimes called The Island--remains undeveloped. Good.

So I helped tend the fire. I watched the way certain drafts developed, how the shift of a log affected the ebb and flow of the heat and smoke. I slept on the porch with blankets pulled up over my head and a stocking hat on.

It wasn’t tough living, of course. I’m no Natty Bumpo. But I do hope to go back this winter to spend a few days writing letters and fiction alone along the shore of our snow-blanketed lake. I’ll heat the main room from the stove. I’ll use kerosene lamps. And I’ll hatchet a hole in the ice to get water for a bathroom bucket. (Now that’s living!)

Still: When you’ve a house-full of people to take care of and when during the waking hours you are all confined, essentially, to one room, you realize quickly that the murder rate among settlers in pioneer America was perhaps alarmingly low. Imagine spending like 80 percent of your four-to-six-month winter in a 12 x 12 room with at least four others? All of whom have years of complaints they can justifiably unleash on you at any moment?

Five Things I’m Still Afraid Of

1. Heights
2. Outhouses
3. Bone-white corn fields around rural churches in October
4. Babysitting
5. Chanting “Bloody Mary” five times before a mirror in a dark room

Therapy has its limits, and a measured amount of fear has its fun.

søndag, oktober 15, 2006

See Ya, CBGB's

New York's famed music club CBGB's is moving...to Vegas. Guh?

Heather and Ty: I expect the two of you to serve as on-the-scene reporters when the new doors open.


Ginger and Brigette of the Ginger Snaps trilogy of Canadian werewolf films.

When I started using Netflix a couple years ago, I ordered almost exclusively vampire and werewolf movies because it was early October. I wanted a month of Halloween flicks. I pretty much watched their library of the applicable films...at least what they had at the time. They've added about three times the volume since. People like me must be embarrassingly common! And profitable.

Now. We are approaching Halloween again. As such, I must recommend that you all invest in some werewolf flicks via your preferred movie source. My recommendations:

1. Ginger Snaps. This teen werewolf flick from Canada is just outstanding. You will love Brigette and Ginger, the association between puberty and lycanthropy, and, of course, as you all survived high school you'll root for the (reluctant?) revenge. Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed is alright, but perhaps a little too rich in its drug metaphors. Still, Brigette is a peach, so worth watching as the star of that one. The third in the series, Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, is visually sharp and the story is fun. It takes place in a fort in the Canadian wilderness. I recommend all three, with 1, 3 and 2 being the order of interest.

2. Dog Soldiers. The title of this one alone is both reason to rent it and avoid it. It's as hideously titled as the appropriately short-lived series Space Hospital. (Appropriately short-lived both for its moronic sci-fi ER format and its launch on UPN. Good god.) I like this one for its hilariously doomed action pic setup, its gorgeous Scottish accents (especially with the primary woman character, whose accent is not nearly as hypnotizing as Kelly MacDonald's, but it's still good), and the fact that the werewolves have pubic hair.

3. The Company of Wolves. Unfortunately, I don't recall much of this other than I enjoyed it. It's a Neil Jordan film. (He made The Crying Game, The Quiet American, and End of the Affair. He's good.) It's a Red Riding Hood retelling. And JB Fletcher herself (Angela Landsbury) appears!

Your Halloween recommendations, even those sans wolf, are welcomed.

fredag, oktober 13, 2006

Karaoke Redux

Our host and her devil eyes chat up the audience. In the background, the Killian's Poster Girl cries out, "That's what I'm talkin' about!"

Here we go, Thursday night karaoke at the Sportsman’s Pub:

Jana kicked it off around 10:30 with Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker.” Just lovely. It recalled to me a nice Tuesday night at the Turf Club when the three bands playing agreed to the Benatar Challenge. Each band played one PB tune. It was loads of fun. I don’t recall who won, or which tune they played, but it’s almost unfair to uncork “Heartbreaker.” It’s got power, friends. Excellent early evening tune.

You see, one of the magics in karaoke is its ability to remind you of things you love about songs you probably distance yourself from on a normal day. For example, some of the strangers in the bar added “Jolene,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and “Who Can It Be Now?” (Admittedly, it helps to be drinking. In fact, when one girl went up to sing and issued the caveat, “I haven’t done this in awhile,” Keith shouted, “You tryin’ to quit drinking?” Apt, and appreciated by all there…which makes me wonder if a similar smokescreen governs Dance Revolution.) Maybe you sing along, maybe you stomp or nod. But you hear things in the tunes and think, “Oh, yeah.”

Karaoke is democracy in action. It’s a great equalizer, a fist to the music snobbery within us all.

Jana’s later version of Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son” made me think more of this. I never think to listen to Kansas. I probably won’t. Ever. But when she sings it, I say to myself, “You know, that ain’t a bad song.”

(Why does Kansas make me think of “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” another song I’d ignore were it not for Billy Dankert’s live version from venues like the Terminal Bar?)

The Killian's Poster Girl continues to be a camera whore, but at least she raises a glass for Mike's Johnny Cash.

Our boy Mike was a star this eve. He brought it with a version of “The Highwayman” that reminded me of the Cannanes (one of my favorite favorite bands of the past ten years, so good I give ‘em two favorites), only with greater vocal range and skill; a fine “Devil Went Down to Georgia” (which Flannery assured me, correctly, that he could keep up); and a crowd-pleasing “Gambler.”

Flannery: Thanks for bringing the knitting. You know that always makes me happy in the pub!

Ah. But things weren’t all joy. Jeremiah horrified us not once, not twice, but thrice with ghastly, alcohol-veined, pile-driven renditions of “Joy to the World,” “Uptown Girl” and…I didn’t even write the third one down. I wrote down Keith’s quote when Kym asked if they could leave ahead of the song: “Don’t worry. We can stone him, we can hang him. We have options.” We did, but we didn’t use them.

Jeremiah did wear his kilt, though. That was a plus. He’s a good spirit.

Truly, karaoke needs to be experienced. Don’t hide from it (I’m talking to you, Lollie—HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!, by the way). For example, our boy Tim sang “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” an experiment that revealed how more songs should fade out sooner. Much much sooner. This is diabolically more interesting to learn when you know the people conducting the vocal research! Few things are more awkward than a karaoke singer being hung out to dry by the two-minute repetition of a reluctantly waning chorus. They just want to, they just want to. You get the gist.

Some additional corkers from the PBR-frenzied crowd: “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, “Yakkity Yak,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Teddy Bear,” and the song that concluded my night, “Superfreak.”

(I did not contribute vocals. I know my skill sets, friends; karaoke ain’t one of them. But I’ll listen.)

Jana, you were a lovely host. Thanks for your patience, the funny commentary, and the sweet version of “Fever.” We appreciate your kindness and energy. Hostin' isn't easy.

And big thanks to Josh and Ben for spending a little time with us all when they have only this week to see one another (at least until Josh catches a flight for some time on the east coast). It’s good to see some of us in the blisskrieg, you know? Yeah, you know.

Happy Friday, all. Off to Wisconsin now for some hot food, autumn colors, sniffling ‘round the firepit, and a couple cold-ass nights on the porch. I adore this time of year. Trip to Duffy’s anyone?

torsdag, oktober 12, 2006

Walking the Line

Day Two of Snow. No heat yet. Cry for me. Cry again. But October 15 is the date that by law we must have heat! So close. ...


I’m terrified of heights, even in dreams. And yet I jumped out of a plane last night somewhere over Russia, though I recall it being fairly near Moscow but country still.

Is there country near Moscow? Or is it overwhelmed by suburban sprawl? I think nothing in Russia is a suburb. My mother equates the Russians with slowness. When construction takes too long, you might hear her say, "Even the Russians could do this faster."

So. A friend had leapt from the plane before me and I was chasing her. Threatening people were looking for her there in Russia. People back home here in Minnesota wanted to know what had become of her.

(It seems the movie Brick influenced the pursuit plot, though the skydiving angle is my own freelance, or perhaps the product of two recent trans-oceanic flight viewings of Mission Impossible 3 and its Shanghai base-jumping scene.)

For whatever reason I needed to wait until 1000 feet before I could open my chute. I had one of those altimeter watches with the horrifying blood-splatter red zone that, inexplicably, fills a head with the sound of warning buzzers when the dial enters that zone. I let go of the part of the chute I was holding. (I don’t even know what this crap is called. It’s like a starter chute, you know?) I pulled the cord just to be sure.


In real life, the chute pack would probably give birth to a baby grand, a tall lamp, an anvil and a flock of geese, each bird of which would look at me quizzically as if to say, “I really don’t know how you’re going to get out of this one, bub.” But the chute went up, jerked, and I woke, though even in my waking I added rough landings on a Moscow street, a field, the edge of a cliff. Winds pulled me into a canyon. I was stranded.

The alarm went off. I woke again.

The line between when one is awake and not awake is not so distinct.


Three people I’d like to have dinner with, and I mean at the same time:

Bill Clinton
Joan Jett
Stephen King

I’d be willing to bet some good stories would unfold here.

Three people from a table in hell:

Donald Rumsfeld
Michael Irving
Carrot Top

Can you think of a more awkward conversation? Can you?

onsdag, oktober 11, 2006

First Flakes

The morning started grey, wet and cold; and it remains so. But we're seeing our first flakes of snow now, and this realization is putting a bit of a spark in all of us.

Ask us how we feel in six months, or even two months, and it'll be a different story. It'll be ghastly. But this morning, it's electric.

I just wish the building's radiators were working. Getting the old boiler up and running is a slow process.

Suspicion Breeds Confidence

Last night I watched Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie Brazil for the first time. It's one of the many cultural oddities I've neglected, though have often felt people might think me deficient for doing so.

The basic plot is this: a man named Buttle is apprehended as a top suspect in a terrorist bombing campaign, though the man the government really wants is named Tuttle. The government, somewhat Kafka-esque, is characterized by an obsession with forms, a belief it can do no wrong, a tepid strategy to placate folks with consumerism, etc. A daydreaming, unfortunately content civil servant (Jonathan Pryce) discovers the error and attempts to undo it, as does a neighbor of Buttle's. As you might imagine, this is not an easy error to correct, given the government's incomprehensible structure, distance from the people, and farcical ability to bumble.

That generic summary does not do the story justice, really. It suggests a pretty common story, and, yes, many of the elements are. Kafka nearly said as much long ago, but Kafka didn't have the British sense of dark humor and the way it highlights the consistent absence of what we might call rational humanity.

Plus, something about our current world and American political situation gives this film extra voice today, right down to the many small things that appear in shots, such as signs in the government office that read SUSPICION BREEDS CONFIDENCE.

Three exchanges in the film I adore:

Ian Holm plays Pryce's boss and hopes that Pryce never accepts a promotion because Pryce is much more competent than Holm. In the scene, Pryce discovers the Tuttle - Buttle error.

Ian Holm: My god! A mistake!
Jonathan Pryce: At least it isn't our error.
Ian Holm (stunned): Isn't it? Whose is it?
Pryce explains the mix up.
Holm (delighted): Thank god. Well, finish your tea, then.

At an upscale dinner where a bomb has just gone off (though dinner continues and the quartet resumes playing):

Woman With a Leopard-Pattern Shoe For a Hat: What about dessert?
Pryce: I don't want dessert! I don't want promotion! I don't want anything!
Woman: Of course you want something. You must have hopes, wishes, DREAMS?
Pryce: No, nothing.

Pryce is apprehended as a terrorism suspect and for wasting government time and paper (for which it's said he'll be fined a considerable sum). He's being strapped into a chair. He's surrounded by implements of torture and lobotomy. The guard strapping him in speaks.

Guard: Confess quickly, son. Don't fight it. You'll ruin your credit rating.


All in all it's just loaded with gems: men in suits seated on public transit while a one-legged woman is forced to stand; a hole in a floor that can't be fixed because the people who made it used metric specs while the repair team uses English units; grotesque plastic surgery; ridiculous police entrances, including that always-senseless man repelling through a window; and an ever-greater importance in retreating into one's own fantasy in the face of a society and government whose contract and effort has grown stale. The group incompetence is so immense that all seem to accept tacitly the folly in objection, that in a world given over to vanity there might be no greater vanity than burrowing against the grain.

Have some champagne and get on with it, right?

tirsdag, oktober 10, 2006

Elbee on the Move

Best of luck to Elbee who is running in a 5K this weekend in Urbana, Illinois!! Elbee: I and my broken foot envy you.

I would love to support you, if not join you, but I'll be in Wisconsin with the family as we prep the cabins for the winter tenants: mice and squirrels. They need clean pans, pots, mattresses, appliances, drawers, and cushions to crap on and around as they weather a cold six months. And in mid-May, as a hint of spring arrives in these northern latitudes, the cycle of life continues as the family returns, kicks out the tenants (most of whom have departed peacefully before us), and resterilizes everything.

I really wish I could run a 5K. Though I have a broken foot, and I'm using that as an excuse, because one must always be armed with them, and though I set this damn foot's healing back today planting it wrong after slipping while unironically wearing slippers, I'd be lying if I said I'd run a 5K even with healthy feet. I'm not a mentally strong runner, I guess. I think 5Ks, 10Ks, and the like require serious mental toughness to complement the physical strain.

I love running, but I just don't have the concentration for courses or crowds. I'll run hills for an hour, but I can't bring myself to enter a 5K. It bothers me, but I know I'm not strong enough for it.

So, hey: I envy you this and wish you well.

And I hope the portable toilets do not smell nearly as foul as they did pre-race for you here in Minnesota...though I'll bet plenty of central Illinois' runners diet on sausages and domestic brew the night before a run.

Divas Unite!

Drink your honey tea. Walk about crying in your bathrobe with a tiny bit of cucumber still clinging to the edge of your eye. Put out a press release about how much fame upsets you.

And then join us for karaoke at the Sportsman's Pub on Thursday night, circa 10:30. Jana is hosting, and hey: She's a gem. And when she sings she's Jem.

(J: Any Jem in the Machine?)

So all y'all prepare. A horde of us are descending on Sporty's. It'll be like the barbarians sacking Rome, only with more singing. (Probably just as much screaming.)

Sporty's is perhaps best described in the words Keith used the other night: "It's one of those bars that looks like a dive on the outside, but it looks like a dive on the inside too." There's something to be said for truth in advertising. And the Pabst is on tap, so you have the bargain hunters, the habit-formed, the domestic slaves, and the hipsters all under one roof.

Also, I've seen more high-fives there than even at Costello's on my block during a Twins or Vikings game. And that's sayin' something. There is it: the something I've just said.

My Morning Victory

I made it to the coffeeshop in time to nab the couch and coffee table. And to my good fortune there was one bench seat open, because the serial farter is here. He eyed the other half of the couch, then chose the bench.


The Violence Within

Wow. I've watched Layer Cake and seen The Departed recently. Both films I enjoyed, but, man, as Departed wraps up, well, it's the first film I've ever been at during which the audience began whispering awed statements like "Oh no!" and "Jesus Christ!" and even "Holy fuck!"

Not as good as Goodfellas, of course, but good.

mandag, oktober 09, 2006

I Love Lucy. Seriously.

We may as well jam wads moss and ragweed up my nose when I go camping, because that's how I felt on Saturday evening near Taylor's Falls, Minnesota. Oy. I was knocked out. I had to take a couple naps. When I was coherent enough to drink beer at the fire--right there, the tepid sympathy you might extend to me vanishes, I know--I had trouble contributing to the conversation.

But Matt did whittle a really nice wooden knife. And I distinctly recall Andy saying, "I like whittling, but my problem is I never know what to make."

Loads of laughter from Friday to Sunday. Sometimes I wish I just had life on permanent record because life is just lovely.

All yesterday I did my best to stay awake, and I made it quite a spell. This was aided by one of those days that just keeps developing a new, spirited layer. I met a pack of wolves for brunch at Costello's. Then the womenfolk ventured off on a quest at the mall while the menfolk did what we do best, sit on our duffs and tell stories. Keith, Tim and I stopped at the Happy Gnome, then met back up with Kassandra, Kym and Tempest at Moscow on the Hill.

Suddenly it was quiz time in Minneapolis. Dingley was hosting, so we all ventured to the Lake Street Garage where many other fine kids were having a hoolie.

Splendid, each minute of it.

When I reached the point of falling asleep in my chair, Lucy took mercy on me and drove me back to the quaint hamlet we call Saint Paul. Thank you, Lucy. You are a dear.

Ah, but natch to poor sleep. I woke at 2:20. Again. It's starting to creep me out.

fredag, oktober 06, 2006

The Decline of Civilization, As Seen From Yet Another Target Photo Lab

We are all responsible.

Having given up on the Saint Paul Target Photo Lab (Midway location), I headed out to Roseville, site of the very first Target store. That old location was torn down a couple years and rebuilt as a Super Target. And super it is. It's gigantic. It's just plain silly.

So. I bring them my APS film. I think, maybe this is all I've needed: a change of photo lab scenery. I'm sure to eventually get my film developed in the right sizes. I'm sure to get my Photo CD.

Indeed, the visit to the photo lab was not entirely unpleasant. But it was not incident-free.

How dumb are we as a people? This dumb:

The bar code on the film envelope wasn't working. So even though there are standard charges on every piece of the photo service, and each of those pieces has its own barcode, all of which are on a single sheet next to the register, this kid couldn't figure out how to charge. Ten minutes passed, during which I coached him. "Next day service plus APS fee plus basic photos plus CD." I verified with him: "There's a CD in there, right?" "Yes, sir, there is, I think," he said.

So he turns and says, "Does $8.56 sound right?"

I asked, "Did you get the APS fee and CD?"

He said, "Ohhhhh. APS. That's what's wrong."

He started over. He turned. He said, "What about $6.53?"

"Yes," I said. "That's fine."

[NOTE: I've since checked the receipt. He got it all right. I've just been getting way over-charged at the Saint Paul Target!!! I too am part of the problem.]

Not not to be out-done, on the drive home, at a stoplight, I opened the envelope: No CD. Dammit.

Olivia, Olivia, I Cringe for You

Get physical folks!

I'm off to camp at Interstate Park this weekend, though a bit miffed that the air temp might hit 80 on Saturday, as that blows the whole northern love of a fall campout. Still, it'll be cool enough in the morning and evening for a fire, should we want one. (We do.)

This is such a nice time of year. Cool weather, sunshine, hot food, and coffee as a form of emotional currency.

I went out snapping photos the other afternoon, so will try to post some pics next week, so long as the Roseville Target gives me electronic copies. I ordered them, but Target has a nasty habit of not properly filling orders. Still, I'm giving this location a try. We'll see.

So: Olivia, that Aussie. Olivia Newton-John was singing on the Today show this morning. I'd just turned on the tv. Shortly thereafter, I turned it off. It was just too uncomfortable seeing someone struggle like that. Making the matter even more awkward, she was singing, "Only in Dreams."

A comeback? As real as it may see-ee-eem, it was only in your dreams, Olivia.

torsdag, oktober 05, 2006

For the TK

Happy Birthday to my brother! The TK and Hope are moving into a new pad today. And they hired movers, so all I've had to lift has been a mug of coffee. Twice.

You Can't Take It With You

It’s never too early to prepare, or so the saying goes. I hate plans. But as these last few months queue up for the 2006 exit and we shuffle through to 2007, I'm going to recommend that we leave some things in the rubish bin. Today's recommendations:

For the Ladies

Face-swallowing sunglasses. Foremost, only babies and children under 4 can pull off an acceptable level of arrogance beneath over-sized shades, and they can do this because they have no clue how arrogant they look. In the adult population, giant sunglasses make way too many noses look like little, creepy, Michael Jackson noses. Vanity surgery is not cool. Ever. Not even when it's successful. Plus, sunglasses as big as your face aren’t even porn sexy. So let’s just chalk this up to one of those things we’ll laugh about in photos down the line and move on. Victoria Beckham, your help would be appreciated. Real Madrid, you might help by dumping David Beckham so that the New York Redbulls can acquire him. Them Becks could use a little American tempering, and we could use a bit of their outlandish UK style (save for the shades), because right now all we’ve got are those obnoxiously omnipresent Revlon commercials.

For the Fellas

Unchecked micturation. Peeing on the floor, the toilet seat, the inside of the toilet lid, the toilet rim, etc.: this must stop. If it involves urine and you didn’t leave it in the bowl—this includes splatter—clean it up, you dirty bastards. Really. Or just take a seat. Want to know who isn't in compliance? Put on some gloves. Look beneath the toilet seat. If you see orange or yellow spots, that's dried, bacteria-laden urine. I'm not much of a germ freak, but by this point in both our lives and our evolutionary history, we ought to know enough not to live in our own filth. And I'd appreciate it if the military would turn some of their drone planes loose on the domestic population and bomb all trucks with Pissing Calvin decals.

I'm just sayin'.

onsdag, oktober 04, 2006


My parents took this photo last month at a fjord in Norway. I love that shot.

Maybe it's the distance in the photo that reminds me of emigration. It's hard to believe that so many Scandis left these incredible vistas and fields for America, but then you read their letter archives and you find out just how difficult life in that landscape could be and how tied to family they all were, so that when one left, another might, and the more who emigrated, the more crushing it was to remain.

We have a fascinating collection of family letters and photos from Sweden and the early days in the United States. To read the Ahlgren family's correspondance about life back in Sweden and life here in America (Rockford and Chicago, Illinois, mainly), to read the intrigues within the family and all the longing is like a good soap opera: there are debts, deaths, warnings about love, hope and despair. People have last names like "Asp." Depression strikes. Joy cannot be contained. Etc.

Some character background might be of use--such as Carolina is the fun-loving daughter who runs off to Stockholm and leaves debts--but I'll fire away with a letter instead. I think the most beautiful line in this letter begins, "I keep looking towards the forest...."


Letter dated 27 November 1887
From: Johanna Ahlgren, Gärdslöv, Sweden
To: Maria Ahlgren and Mathilda Ahlgren Hanson, Rockford, Illinois
Translated by Berit Nightingale

November 27, 1887

Dear beloved sisters,

First of all, I want to thank you for your letters. The reason we waited with the answer is [that] we expected to hear from Wilhelm [their youngest brother] first. He is in Malmö [working] as an apprentice for a carpenter—Högstedt. He lives in the house where Justina is working, Södergatan 19, and he is very happy about his employment. We are all healthy but I have had a terrible toothache.

Everything is as usual. Old Lundgren is working around here, but Father had to go to a funeral for the fat Lars Larsson who is dead. Löfdal is also dead and buried. I have greetings from the Asps in Skurup. Their little boy is dead [and] Mrs. Asp is devasted and has been in bed ever since.

It is close to Christmas and we have two big fat Christmas pigs. You are welcome to a sausage meal! You cannot believe how empty and quiet it is [here]. I keep looking towards the forest, but no girls are coming, and I don’t get any letters from Carolina.

I am worried about her not writing. I sent two letters to her after she wrote to me, and last time she told me she has a fiancé, and she had a wonderful time. I told her I was happy for her, but for God’s sake be careful and don’t get into bed! I don’t know if that made her angry, but she has not sent money to Mrs. Nilson for the fabric. It is a long time since she got her salary, and Father keeps muttering [that] it will be his problem eventually. I feel sorry for Father, and shame on Lina! You did not believe Olof got money from Svensson, Father got nothing—and that is not right! Olof could have paid Father for what he used, and he must have as much [money] now as he had before.

But now on to something else. How are you all? You did not [give birth] to little Ester on Father’s birthday, but my children are longing to see Aunt Mathilda’s little girl. This afternoon at sunset we were all talking about you. Hilma, Gustaf and I—we were so lonely!

Good night to you all.


The ancestral home of the Ahlgrens.

The site of the Ahlgren home, August 2005. This angle doesn't show the gorgeous colors in the fields. There was a long swatch of lavender or something of that sort. My parents returned a week or two later, dug down an inch in the soil, and found pieces of the home.

tirsdag, oktober 03, 2006

My Own Private Hitchcock Film

It isn't the night and shadows and the mean things waiting therein--such as grues--that keep me from throwing things in the dumpster at night. It's the fear that something ghastly will be discovered the next morning and some insomniac forever lingering at the curtains (Christopher!) will say they saw me throwing away something suspicious in the middle of the night. A human head perhaps? It's the fear that my neighbors might suddenly take an accusatory interest in me.

But they'd be right.

Tonight I woke at 3:20. I sat up. I listened to the apartment. Something was amiss. I went to the kitchen. I listened to the darkness. I waited. And then I heard it: the crinkle of a plastic bag.


I flipped on the light and looked about wildly for a weapon that I didn't mind sullying with mouse hair or blood or connective tissue. Eight-inch Wusthof chef's knife? No way. Cheap, 14-year-old, four-inch paring knife with the broken handle? Too close range. And then I saw it: the head of Paul Mayasich on a stick.

Mayasich and the Benderheads have had a long-term, weekly gig at the Minnesota Music Cafe. Mayasich is a kickass guitarist and singer. His head on a stick--a ruler, really--had been a thing my buddy Keith proposed to the band one night. Keith gave me this item. The photo of Mayasich has him screaming joyously while his hair billows from his head like the hair of Sideshow Bob.

Mayasich's hair is like that. All the time. He has the sort of thinning curly hair that looks like maybe he'd been the target of numerous swirlies as a teenager, only instead of dunking his head in a toilet the bullies had stuck his melon in a cotton candy machine.

So I wield the Mayasich head but realize quickly that his face's draft is slowing me down. I tear off his face. (Sorry, Paul.) Now I've got my power stick.

The mouse has crawled into a bag I'd left a banana peel in. This wasn't a trap, just a way to store the banana peel on my way up from my car. But the mouse went for it. (Do mice eat bananas?) To my fortune, I'd lazily left the bag on the counter.

Ruler raised and fearing the mouse might jump out and touch me, I open the garbage can and drop the mouse in. Thank god the foot pedal works! My face is twitching. I've got a case of the autumn sniffles. I'm in my boxer shorts. And I'm holding a ready-to-strike ruler over my head.

Oh, and my blinds into the kitchen are open. If my neighbors in the too-close-for-comfort building next door were awake, well, I'm going to have to kill them now. Witnesses.

Some time passed after I'd tied off the garbage bag and set it on the kitchen floor. I knew I needed to take the thing out of the apartment, but I started thinking about how creepy I probably look taking trash out in the middle of the night.

Also, I'd yet to believe I, like Klondike Cat, had captured my mouse. I wanted proof.

I waited. I waited to hear him shift. I waited until I saw a bit of a shadow against the bag, a flutter in the plastic. This took about ten minutes, and when it happened, I made a few crinkled-nose, timid swats with my headless ruler.

If a motion can be falsetto, that was it.

Hastily, I quadruple-bagged the thing (using plastic grocery bags, not garbage bags). Once I was satisfied my jail could hold, I dressed and took my prisoner to the dumpster.

The drop of that bag into the empty dumpster in the middle of the night was satisfyingly savage. If only it had been just a bit more like a Japanese gong, though.

I probably grew an evil chest hair in that moment to act as a doppleganger to my other one.

mandag, oktober 02, 2006

Pub News and Molly Ire

It was a sad thing when the old Molly's imploded. We had such a good community there. And for a brief spell we had one at the newer-but-now-defunct Molly's. But that imploded.

And then we had a good community and plenty of rollicking and loads of kilts at the Garage, but that imploded on multiple fronts.

Now news reaches me (via the Inner Sanctum, which contacted me about possible involvment in the venture) that some of the Good Ones are in the final stretch of acquiring a pub in the same area of Minneapolis. Good. We need it, we want it, we'll turn it, and as it will be owned and controlled by the heart of hoolies this time, we'll do it right. We have, collectively, the skills, connections, energy and stories for it.

Yet, Molly (not Molly Q. of the old pub's name, but a Molly), who is part of this crew, sort of, what was with your shots at me tonight? I haven't seen you in ages, and back when I saw you more frequently, we didn't know one another. We never have. We've always had only common friends. We shot the bull here and there while you worked, and on a few occasions we saw one another at the Dub. You always hugged and kissed the older cats and shook my hand. No loss, no worries. I'm pretty selective about to whom I dole out that sort of affection (and accept it from), male or female. And anyone who knows me knows this. And anyone who knows you knows that you are quite selective too.

This knowledge runs apparently one way with us.

But we were friendly. We had many things to laugh about.

Yet tonight, you were all, "Chris!" And Dingley went mad hugging and groping and kissing on you, and you on him. And then you looked at me and said, "But I get nothing from him."

And you went on to insult me as being too skinny. You spoke only to Ian and Dingley--two rail-thin men, by the way--save for the moments you wanted to issue an insult. You kept doing that waving a fart aside thing toward me. "You don't do it for me," you said. "Guys like you."

Did I ask? Did I show any concern? Ever? Can you name one occasion on which I've wasted our time discussing our love lives? (You've wasted our time, by the way. You've moped. You've vented. You've lamented getting back together with a guy you always fight with. And all the while I've let you.) Have I ever made a pity- or praise-me statement on these matters? Have I ever made a pass at you? (The answer's NO. The non-attraction is mutual; yet that shouldn't negate basic kindness, unless of course you're an asshole.)

But the thing that really sets me off--I wouldn't waste time writing about this otherwise--was your suggestion that I am a Republican. That's a stupid insult, everyone knows, but it's a severe one depending on who issues it. People who claim to be liberal and make that charge against me, that's when it becomes serious. Being a competent liberal, I've no patience for those who fuck up my politics with their egos, incompetence, and, more than anything, their self-important, overcompensatory, low self-esteem.

I don't discuss politics nearly as much as I think about them, largely because they make people--including me--unhappy. And I've no interest in making my friends unhappy or in hanging around people who piss me off.

(I suspect you won't be heart-broken to find out you're now on that list.)

You want a short vita? I've voted since 1992. I've voted only three times for a Republican candidate, all three of whom ran unopposed and were in local elections where I grew up. I know each of them. I regret one of those votes because it was a friend's father and he went bonkers once he held even a minor political office.

I've a degree in politics. My focus was Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. Only one person scored as high as me in Con Law (due to my struggling to an 86 in contract law, though I was top in civil liberties by a wide margin), and I was top for my program on the philosophy side with a particular emphasis on the origins of government, classical philosophy, and modernism. And, if I might note one final piece of the puzzle, I was accepted to the Master's program at the nation's top political philosophy graduate school in 1996. I won't name-check, but it's on the East Coast. It isn't Harvard. It isn't Ivy League. It's more successful. It has a Jesuit tradition, yes, but one can be quite liberal within that, as I'm sure you understand, else you wouldn't so frequently adopt that fake fucking Irish accent as you boast of growing up as "just an Irish Catholic girl."

Have you ever listened to our conversations? Or to the conversations that go on around you? Are you aware that the world extends beyond your own skin?

After firing this salvo at me, you left. You left half a beer on the bar--an act that was its own little miracle--and glared at me and left.

While we are both well-left liberals, I don't feel any reason to skulk about inconsolably angry at all moments of the day. Especially when I'm around people who agree with me. And who I like. And who I want to enjoy their evening.

I try to choose my moments with a little care. This is one of them. I'm not always successful in keeping the tiger controlled, but I try to use discretion.

On nights like this, you are the Ann Coulter of liberals: you're abrasive, you're unpleasant, you display a self-absorbed manner. You operate without reason or vision.

I know I'm yelling into the abyss, but simply having a zealous opinion--that is, independent of how you use it--does not make you valuable, as a person or to a political movement. Nor does unchecked anger. Excessive drinking and eradict behavior don't help either. Nor do uninvited political screeds, in person or in blog-form.

(My apologies to those who have, out of a sense of friendliness, read this far. I feel more than a bit embarrassed to launch such a vituperative passage on a matter I know I ought to just let go. I find this entry far worse than the prior complaint about Target's film department.)

The short take: Get your facts straight, asshole.

The Check Box for Ignorance

I'd planned on posting some photos from Japan today; but Target has neutered me once again.

Dear Target Photolab,

I'm trying to maintain some hope that a business can operate competently in Saint Paul's Midway. It's an area that needs considerable economic help. I provide what I can. But, Target: you are making it tough on me.

I gave up long ago believing that the people of the Midway wouldn't walk in front of cars or that drivers wouldn't just stop on University Avenue to shout a conversation to someone on the sidewalk. I've gotten used to all that and have learned how to ignore the lines in the road and basic traffic rules. I weave like it's a car commercial from Victoria to Vandalia. But that's just getting through the Midway.

Staying in the Midway and supporting its businesses, well, that's a pipe dream. Because you suck.

(Note: I have plenty of favorable things to say about the restaurants in Frogtown. I love those joints. I'm cool with Victoria to Dale. East side! But going west through the Midway is hell.)

Target: I just want my photos developed properly. You succeeded in developing my APS film in mid-June. Since then, you've ceased to understand APS film, and I've given you numerous opportunities (including four more rolls in the last 48 hours). You've ceased to develop the photos in the sizes they are set to be developed in. APS allows three sizes; and those sizes are tagged to the film frames. You know this. Kodak, who sells the crap, knows this. But is this your way of telling me that you (and Kodak, no less) have reduced services?

You have.

And why why WHY is there still a check box for a photo CD on your film submission envelopes when you refuse to provide that CD!? I'm really going to punch one of you if you say, again, "Oh, did you want a CD? We can make that." You can, I know, but you don't. Ever.

The box is checked! It's always checked! And it's not just checked, it's totally filled in. I was sure there was no way you could miss it this time. But you did. On all FOUR rolls.

So that's that. I'm out. Midway, may you burn, and may you be replaced by a giant whack-a-mole conveyor belt system that shuttles supportive idiots like me along and cracks us in the skull every 25 feet with massive, inflated mallets.

søndag, oktober 01, 2006

The Czechs Were an Albatross Around Their Necks

Because it is Sunday and because I did only half of what I'd intended to do yesterday; and because I can't get anything done this morning with the Twin Cities marathon shutting down roads and businesses I need today. Because I didn't sleep last night.

Because the music is too loud in the coffee shop. Because I haven't enough coffee in me yet to kill the mouse who left a turd on my living room floor while I was out of town. But those murderous coals are being stoked within me, Mouse. Right this moment, and I'm serious this time, though I know you too recall that I vowed to kill you last spring, but you left before I got up the courage. I've got six months courage, almost. It's "gravel time," bub.

So get your ass out of my apartment, or you'll get more than the Scrubbing Bubbles bleach-out foam I sprayed in the hole out of which you had the goddamn scrote to just stare at me yesterday. I'm sure you were thinking, "That dude is just sitting over my toilet!" Maybe you were thinking, "And I really have to go, man!" But that toilet is my living room rug. Did you not see the posted sign, "Please don't shit on my rug - The Management"?

Because of all of this, I can offer you little more this morning than the knowledge that the Slovaks have won the 28th World Hip Hop Dance Championship, currently being held in Bremen, Germany.
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com