onsdag, februar 28, 2007

Letter from Afar

Long ago I wrote a letter to the Australian band the Cannanes. I've followed them for years years years and have given them a couple mentions in this blog. (I was under the impression I'd posted my last communication with them, but perhaps I'd dreamed it? Does anyone recall this exchange?)

The letter Stephen O'Neill sent yesterday was really sweet. So I share here the letter I sent them and the letter he sent:


I feel like my shoulders are slumping today. My shoulders are slumping today, without reason. I realized this through the instant gratification (or horror) one achieves with digital cameras. Zounds! But one must persevere, nonetheless.

Please add me to your newsletter list, friends, if you can stomach the thought. I think your work is lovely.

A few years ago I went a whole week during which the only song I'd listen to was "Chosen One." There was no issue in my life from which I was seeking solace. The hammers in my head were not busy constructing a new wing to the bird-chatter fantasy world I normally kick about in. It was a fine morning, actually, a whole series of them. But I put that song on and suddenly was like, "No more songs but this." I was blissed out that week. Hey: Nice one. Thanks for that.

In short, you do fine work. I've listened for years and am really happy you continue to be obsessive about not just playing music but recording it. We appreciate it. May the music and good times continue to multiply.

All best from Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA,


Dear Christopher,

Thanks for getting in touch and my profusest apologies for the length of time it's taken us to get back to you (bit of confusion over who was to check this email account).

Anyways, glad you wrote re- Chosen One, one of my personal favourites and one Fran has steadfastly refused to do live for many many years but I think your email may bring her round!

I'll add you onto our US newsletter list so hopefully you'll only get email if we are heading your way (possibly in May 2008) or have a new release (hopefully soon). If you'd like a copy of our latest EP [ie 3" CD] send your address and I'll try and zip one off to you in a shorter space of time than it's taken to reply to your email! - I
hoping to have some covers printed up in the next 4-6 weeks.

Thanks again for signing up and sorry again for our slackness in replying.

Stephen O'Neil
per The C's


Saint Joseph's Academy is one of my neighbors--seen here just after the weekend's snowfall. More snow is on the way. It'll be hell to park here, but the neighborhood will look lovely.

tirsdag, februar 27, 2007

Bad Boys

What ya gonna do? Apparently I've been blogging only in my head, which is apt because the imagined vs the real me has been the subject of the post that was to have appeared today.

Will finish it tonight; ideally, in your world too, not just in mine.

Saturday Morning Songs

Ah, I used hop up at 5:30 or so, run downstairs in my Stars Wars pajamas, pour some cereal, and watch the end of The Gigglesnort Hotel, The New Zoo Review, and then the Superfriends. I did this for years (I think). I'd watch other cartoons too. And mixed up in it all were the Saturday morning songs.

Songs to have stuck in your head today:

* That "Exercise Your Choppers" song with the 1950s, harmonizing toughs reminding you that eating crunchy, healthy food is good for you. At end, the coolest tough, Chopper himself, is invited to run a few laps with the other toughs. But Chopper says, "Later, man. I'm eatin' a celery stick. This is hard exercise."

* The "Hanker fer a Hunk of Cheese" song ("I'm so hungry I could eat a wagon wheel!")

* Anything from Schoolhouse Rock

* Anything by Menudo (and bonus points for anyone who can remember a song from Menudo without using Wikipedia as a memory prompt)

* And just for good measure, that crazy-fun "Beef - It's What's for Dinner" song (from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo"). This is actually the one in my head today.

søndag, februar 25, 2007

Resistance is Futile

I adore you, friends and family and family friends. Please don't be hurt. It's just that you are all inferior to my muse.

It's Sunday. Be well.

fredag, februar 23, 2007

How Soon Is Now?

People are freakin' out here, man. A day-long dread is building in the souls of Saint Paul's citizens, patrician and plebian alike. Their eyes have gone glassy and white. Their faces have gone slack. They stare too long at their coffee, drink only half a cup.

It's just that it's supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow, and somehow this go-round is really weighing on minds. Odd. You'd think we rarely see the stuff, and yes I suppose that's the case in recent winters and particularly in this rather uncharacteristically sunny season, but, really. We know.

We do.

Stay warm and be well, friends.

torsdag, februar 22, 2007

Gypsy Cab Rides, Part II

Special thanks to Lucy for sending along a photo of Ollie. This dog is sweet as pie, but he puts a fierce lean into you if you take his seat, man.

Gypsy Cab Rides, Part II

When we last saw our intrepid, albeit incompetent, hero--which was, admittedly, a little beyond where last episode left off--he was leaving the Shanghai airport after a week in Korea. His bones are weary, though he's flown there only from Seoul, for only a few days earlier the Seoul police dropped him off at his hotel after a particularly riotous night in Incheon (which he might justifiably blame on his host). Never fear. The police dropped him off only after a cab driver refused to believe where his hotel was because our hero was traveling, against recommendation, without a business card to help direct the cabbie. Even Koreans carry the cards to help better direct one, as the road system is screwier than Saint Paul's (and that's saying something).

There he is, our bright-eyed American boy. He wanders out towards the cab bay but passes through a gaunlet of gypsy cab drivers--people living off the books. Some of them hold signs on which is written, "I drive specially for you." Things like that. They all look knocked about a bit. Most of them seem too depressed to offer a ride.

The little adventure voice pipes up. And, without the slightest hesitation, yer man leaves with one of these broken drivers. Why not.

(Right about now I'm reminded of the old "Bad Idea Jeans" commercial on SNL. And right about now I really think I should never have let my parents or siblings or anyone I know in on this blog!)

He crosses the road to the parking garage. This man's leading yer man's bag at a furious pace, as if he's a common luggage thief. In the garage, a second man is waiting. Sure, that should be a flag. But, no. Your hero sallies forth, that jackass.

And with a rev of engine and in the drone of an undercarriage in need of a bit of patching, off they go. Into a land of a different language. And an eerie landscape. And probably totally foreign ways to get robbed and left for dead in the vast, treeless, mist-covered expanse of former swamp between the Shanghai airport and the outermost developments of Shanghai itself.

There this friend--yes, as we said, we're not talking about any of us, but a friend--there this friend was in the back of a ratty old…I don’t know what. Think of something one might have considered sporty in the ‘80s. In Mexico. Age it 20 years and fill it with rust holes and an engine that quivers above 55 miles per hour. Your driving 80. The interior smells like motor oil. Your seatbelt is broken, and not just non-functioning. It looks as if someone smashed it with a chunk of granite, perhaps to free themselves and escape death.

You’ve got a driver who looks vaguely South American and whose Chinese seems as clumsy as his English. And you’ve got a talkative man in the passenger seat who isn’t missing teeth but has, it seems, enough black-lined gum space between teeth to measure out enough space for an extra tooth or two if those teeth just abutted one another.

He’s rail-thin. It really is like a skin-covered skull. He grins wildly. There you are racing through the reclaimed swampland on a highway that seems to have eight lanes in either direction but there’s not even the grey outline of a city on the horizon.

And you’re arguing about the price. You’re yelling. He’s grinning.

You know from the guidebooks and hotel information—it’s a new hotel, by the way, so no guarantee anyone knows where it is…and you’ve neglected to print out the address even in English, because you…WAIT, your friend…because your friend is an idiot who even at age 32 is still too willing to just wander into situations, often for no other reason than to call it writerly.

The Art of the Deal

I won this plaque for a school-winning short story in 5th grade, "The Taffy Terror." It was essentially a story of capitalist greed gone berserk as the machines of competing taffy factories break and flood the city. I could have used a deus ex machina ending during this goddamn cab ride.

You lie about what you’re carrying. They know. Adverse to traveler’s checks, you’re carrying a wallet that’s about as fat as a good ol’ American cheeseburger with all the toppings. And you’re meat, man. Your out in the swampland in a piece of shit car with your piece of shit luck and you’re sweating profusely through your shirt and into your suit, the suit you wore on the plane because you didn't want it to wrinkle in your luggage. And you’re arguing about the price of your illegal fare, because the two of you ran out of things to say about the Olympics. And because you didn’t even do the smart illegal thing and agree upon price ahead of time.

Any idiot knows that.

So the landscape keeps unwinding in a way that looks as if one is always passing the same field, the same hovering mist, the same lonely tree.

Finally, you come to a price that’s about three times what you’d pay in a cab. It’s an adventure, right? The deal is agreed upon when you toss in 5000 Korean won, which is basically like $5.

You hand him the money.

Now this deathmobile pulls over. Near an abandoned bus. At a future toll booth site still well-under construction. A few men in sunglasses, even though this is a cloudy day, stand talking outside their cars with tinted windows. They pause to eye you and your vehicle.

The gap-toothed man places a call on his cell. The other man watches the rearview. You look back at that bus, waiting to see the curtain move.

“My brother is coming,” says the gap-toothed man.

“Tong Mao!” your friend says, naming the hotel. “Knock this shit off and take me to the Tong Mao!”

Your friend is sweating terribly, totally unhinged. He's thinking about how he can get his luggage from the trunk and flag down a police car. "Calm down," the tooth man says. "My brother, he come to get you."

He puts the money in an empty space in the dash.

“Calm down, calm down,” he's saying.

The argument goes on.

“Tong Mao!”

These may be the only words in the language at this point. Frantic, your friend is watching the men in shades, then the bus. The guys in the front seat are watching behind the car too.

Ten minutes pass.

By this point, your friend has leaned forth, snatched up the cash, and is now clutching and pumping that fist at the tooth man. “We had a deal!”

He’s still grinning. “Calm down, calm down! My brother, you see.”

Soon, a cab pulls up. A man in what looks like a discarded butler’s outfit is driving it. His white gloves have holes in the fingertips.

All of you are outside now, arguing. Cars loaded with their Chinese dreams whip by on the highway.

"He take you there," the tooth man is saying. "He take you there. Tong Mao."

"Tong Mao!"

And, of course, yer man hands back the cash rather than demanding to pay on delivery at this point. But he's smart this time: he demands his luggage in the back seat with him, having already considered jumping out, should there be a stoplight anywhere in this country.


An ancestral cemetery near Gardslov, Sweden. Not a bad place for a rest, I think.

Away he goes with "the brother," who looks very Korean, not at all Chinese like the tooth man. The brother doesn't speak. Only grunts.

You race along. You eye the dashboard. You take out a notebook and write down the cab driver number and do your best with the Chinese symbols around them. The driver grunts and eyes you in the rearview.

Tick tick tick tick...

Your paranoia really kicks in, now. You're watching the vehicles around you. You're looking for signs of other people in on this. You write down the license plate number of suspicious vans, like that black one with the black spray-painted back windows, the one that drove alongside your cab inexplicably. Raced right up, slowed to your speed. And then the driver took out a cell phone and looked over at you. Maybe he was thinking, "What the hell are YOU looking at?" But you know better. He's saying something like, "The bird is in the nest" or "The idiot is in the cab."

Abruptly you see what you think is the car you were first in. Two silhouettes. Shit. They are following. You write down that license number when it gets closer. Abruptly, that car exits.

The driver grunts.

Oh, but wait. A magical thing occurs in the next 15 minutes. Buildings begin to materialize on the horizon. You approach something like a neighborhood. There's a stoplight ahead. You grip the handle of the suitcase, give it a slight tug to make sure it is free of the seat it's wedged behind. You can do this. Just jump out.

But you stay in the car. You don't know why.

Any of these streets could be your last. You don't even know if this is Shanghai, man. People are appearing at corners. You try to get a bead on the neighborhood's character, but what do you have to go on there? This is a totally new experience.

Then you see it! The financial tower across the street from your hotel. You recognize the architecture from a Web site.

As if to punctuate the moment, you lean forward, point at the hotel (across from the tower) and say too loudly, "Tong Mao!"

Stress tourette's, I guess. The driver grunts. You notice that in one of his shoddily gloved hands he's holding 2000 won. Other won bills stick out from his pants pocket.

When you pull up to the hotel, a bright-eyed bellboy takes your bag and bows rapidly and welcomes you. "How is to you today!?" he's saying. "Welcome to Tong Mao!" With one arm he's motioning you inside, but you and your driver are having a mean staredown.

The driver creeps forward. Your stepping back with the bellboy, who seems a little confused but is trying not to show anything other than the pure joy of welcoming a guest, and you're craning your neck to get a look at the license plate. You take out your notepad and scratch down the numbers while the cab driver glares.

And then you're through the revolving doors. You're in the lobby. The bellboy tells you he'll wait for you at the elevators. He does. You're drenched in sweat, though no one else is. Why not. You're an American. And for the slightest moment the check-in girl's eyebrows furrow. Then her face is clean and bright again and she says, "Welcome to Tong Mao!"

After that I showered, changed, and went to the hotel bar where I discovered they had the Danish beer Carlsberg on tap. Had this hotel been built just for me? I'd been in Denmark again just a few weeks before my sweaty entrance to Shanghai. That beer was a welcomed reminder of more successful travels.

onsdag, februar 21, 2007

Gypsy Cab Rides, Part I

My initial Swedish-language entry for Bonamy's (Trailing Twilight's) "Don't Forget Me" photo project. Glöm mig inte!! And I've been drawing that dang spaceship all over things since the NASA diaper experiment. Lord.

Gypsy Cab Rides, Part I

For Joy in Moscow, who is both far bolder and smarter than I…hence, definitely not the “friend” noted in this episode.

I’m not exactly sure what happens to make us seek out things that we know at the moment they’re occurring are not the things we necessarily ought to be doing. Because they pose real danger. Christ. There’s not even anything to disagree about here. They’re just not the things we ought to be doing. We know that.

But for a moment we live outside ourselves and sally forth as a stranger to our own actions.

I’m not talking about kid stuff. None of that “Ooo, you’re gonna get in trouble.” No sneaking a cigarette or staying out too late. No sneaking a peek at a pornographic movie at your friend’s house when you’re 12.

(The first one I saw, by the way, had been confiscated by the principal of an area high school. He’d kept some of that contraband—for research purposes only, I’m sure—and his son had discovered where they were hid, which was simply on top of a book case in the living room. We put one in the VCR. It opened with three women smoking cigarettes—though not with their mouths. I probably developed TMJ right that moment.)

Sure, you might note you’ve entered this moment of danger for certain drugs, especially since many of them come along when you really are sentient enough to know the stakes. Then there was that last drink—and the subsequent drive home, say, through the hills of southern Illinois’ wine country with its curving, tree-lined, shoulderless roads. At night. With only one headlight.

One could, no joke, hit a pig or wild turkey or 400-year-old sycamore out there.

Or maybe it was a different sort of danger, something more emotional or psychological, such as that kiss, or that restraint from a kiss one night, and everything it did or did not lead to. All that “I’ll never do that again” stuff. Vows to override the devices to which we cannot help but be left. But as we all know, anything about which we utter those grand and hilarious thoughts, well, those words usually take years to reach the brain and compel a detectable change in behavior.

But certain episodes do help a lesson crystalize.

All that serves as a hasty introduction. So.

To give one’s eyes a respite, and to provide a bit of cliffhanger drama, such as you'll find with an episode of East Enders, I'll reconvene this post tomorrow. And I promise: in Part II, an actual gypsy cab appears. And someone loses a bit of money over this. In a car barreling further into the mist of reclaimed swampland. In a foreign country.

Today's Cute Moment

Tyler in his "Future Heartbreaker" shirt. Thanks to Julia for sending this one over (and thanks in advance for giving me permission to post!).

tirsdag, februar 20, 2007

Photo Tuesday

Because I've no time to write today, I give you PHOTO TUESDAY!!

After five more hours working on the pub, the axe makes my eye even lazier, apparently. (Eeesh! I'm lookin' pretty rough here.)

Flannery and Mike at brunch on Sunday. When Flannery knits in bars, it makes me smile real big. And Mike: I'm liking the new Mountain Mike look.

Mike and Flannery with the Hamms Bear!!! (Is that snapped at the Groveland Tap?) Thanks much for donating this one to the Cause, friends.

A macro of the flowers Lucy brought us during pub interior demolition. That's so sweet!

I had it coming. I did.

With Paddy's Day sitting nigh, and Fat Tuesday upon us, the Mayor of Lake Street has reawakened.

Send your photos, friends!

mandag, februar 19, 2007

Face Time

I'm going to be staring at myself in the mirror for a bit. This is a science experiment, I swear.

16 Tons

This has nothing to do with today's post, but it did make me happy during Friday's lunch.

It's oddly satisfying to find oneself having so much difficulty getting up in the morning following a day of (unforced) labor. Though a day at the computer can leave me feeling more than a bit sapped and with a drawing tiredness behind the eyes that makes me feel as if I've a face like an aging orange or a deflated pumpkin, it never makes the body struggle to rise from bed.

It may do that to the mind, and the mind can persuade the body that it just cannot get up, put on slippers, shuffle to the front room, and start the computer, but it's not the same ache.

All this ripping of wall board and flashing, and the passing of drivers (or drills), gets me to thinking about language. All this deconstruction of a room gets me to thinking about the parts of those walls and tools used to put them up or tear them down. And how little I know of it.

I was thrilled geekily on a recent visit to my brother's place (which is also Hope's place, of course) and he mentioned the desk he'd put together. He'd had to borrow a dremel and debur a bit of the metal.

I thought more about this after a friend recommended some Roethke poems. I hadn't pieced through poetry for a spell and was grateful to get back to it. Things like that get lost easily in the bustle of life (which is the clatter of a keyboard). I read "Lines Upon Leaving a Sanitarium" and it recalled to me Dylan Thomas' "Love in the Asylum" (though they are drastically different tales). I read "The Far Field", the opening stanza of which reminds me strongly of that Park Point or Point Park or whatever that spit of land in Duluth is called exactly. (I wrote about it almost a year ago.)

So I kept pulling books from the shelf--books by Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, John Ashbery, John Donne. A volume of poetry by the Romantics (by which I mean the period in poetry, not the '80s band you know mostly for "What I Like About You").

On it went. Words not so distant but poorly remembered and seldom used like wintry and quaking were returned to me.

And where the mind was perhaps weary a fire now burns.


Keith, Kym, Ben, Flannery and Mike: Grand to see you at brunch on Sunday. Thanks for the gathering (and Mike for the call). And Flannery: thanks for the hat. The Mayor of Lake Street shall rise again!

Jess, thanks for coming to lunch on Friday. But bugger all to your office arch enemies!

eR and jR: I hope you're enjoying Mexico.

Thanks for the "Raptor Force" showing at the Dub. Good times. And Bob Anderson was great. Really nice to meet him and hear more about the making of that film.

eW: Thanks for the Roethke recs.

søndag, februar 18, 2007

Feeling Chuffed on a Weekend

Lucy and John pause during Day 1 of the interior "demolition" at the pub.

I was up at a decent hour today and feeling rather focused. Organized the day in numerous lists over breakfast then set out to mail a card, a bit of flotsam, and two bills. It was all progressing as planned.

And then I popped by the new pub to see if my buddy John was there. It was 2:30 by this point. I'd accomplished much but most of my day had just been the kindling and the afternoon was to be the conflagration of progress.

John was there. He'd just arrived. I helped him unload the van of tools and lumber and in we went. We set up the horses, had a quick chat, then drove over to Lee's to steal some tools from his garage and more from his basement (along with a shop vac). What was he going to do about it? He's in Biloxi.

Lucy wasn't home but her coat was there in the kitchen along with a lovely arrangement of flowers in which the daisies looked dandy on a winter day.

Thoughts of spring.

Hitting the Bricks

The world's most hideously yellowed "brick" tiles. You could get a nicotine fix just putting your hand to this wall.

Back to the pub we went. Quickly quickly my afternoon's plans were evaporating. I didn't try to fight it. There they were. There they went.

Someone pounded on the side door. "Who's there!?" we called through. "The man!" he called back. "Huh?" "The MAN!!" We opened the door. He grinned broadly, his three or four remaining teeth in play. We told him the place was closed. He was incredulous.

"Closed?" he said. "On a Saturday!?"

Away! Away with you! "We'll be open in a month," we said. The door was closing but he had one last thing to say. "A month!?"

John, in his ever-burning Welsh way huffed into the pub to attack the interior. "Jesus bloody Christ!" he said.

Not long after, Gary Owen showed. And then Bill Watkins. And the day began to take form as we took down a couple old televisions, sawed up some boards, busted up the bad tiles behind the bar. We undid some sheetrock and flashing. We used a tiny saw to make sharp cuts in the concrete fill between the tiles, and as John moved the saw forward I ran the vac head before the blade to pull in the powder and sparks, but little good it did for all that hit us in the face.

Still, it was satisfying work. Eventually, we experimented with drilling a couple holes to see what was behind the disgusting plastic "brick" panels on the walls. (They were at one stage of existence white; but 30+ years of being a smoking operation had left them gummy and yellow. Thank god Minneapolis has banned that air.) We found light from an actual window, something the previous bar seemed to have been against. We found warm-toned wood panel that could be sanded and varnished and which would serve as a wonderful backdrop for the British and Celtic images soon to be placed on the wall.

So we went about ripping out the yellow panels along one long wall. A fantastic change.

Alas! We discovered window blocks and warmer wood paneling behind the awful awful awful yellowed brick panels.

My friend Betsy once said that upon moving into a place a person should always change a wall. It was a way of making it your own.

We did, and the change was profound. "Well I'm feeling chuffed now," Bill said, smiling. It had seemed like such a daunting task when we had looked at the place earlier in the day, but after an afternoon (and evening, as I didn't leave until 9:30) we could see that, yes, this joint would come to be.

Big thanks to Lucy for popping down. She brought us dinner from Longfellow Grill and a vase in which she'd bundled some of those flowers from her kitchen. (Are we all connected telepathically? What am I doing with this cell phone!?) Thanks, friend. That was really sweet.

Alright. Must shower and scrape at my finger nails for a spell...though I'll destroy them again in the three hours I'll be working over there tomorrow.

I didn't sweat or cry real tears during today's work, but I did draw blood inside of three minutes of arriving at the pub.

lørdag, februar 17, 2007

Credit Where It's Due

Thanks much to Erin and Hulles for the call this eve. They made an already golden Friday even better.

Loads of good work had happened. (Nice to feel the wheels are catching pavement, you know.) I'd had a really welcomed long lunch with a friend I don't see often enough, then caught up with Terry and Hulles at Frost early in the eve. Home again for a nap and dish-washing and staring with incredulity at a no-longer-functioning string of lights on the wall. I'd hung those lights the previous day. Natch to that.

>> Insert farting trumpet to sign defeat <<

So I was frowning at this when the phone rang. And there she was. And I was recalled to Moscow. And it was good.

It was grand.

(The Timmy Wing drawing is totally going on my fridge!)

This reminds me: I recently went back to reading Seamus Heaney's book of poems The Spirit Level. And then I saw a program in which a character picked up this book and read a passage from it. It was somehow connected to the mystery.

And now I think it was my dream from 6:30 or so (about the point in time I sadly missed the first call from Erin and Hulles). I was enjoying the show too. If only you could see the programming in my head.

Currently, thanks to a cringe-worthy date story of Erin's, I'm playing a rather outrageous dance troop's work. (It involves soil, eggs, and a bird-walk.) And, Hulles: great tale about the cocktail dress. I expect we'll see a full version for public consumption at your blog?

Happy and a little too alive in the mind for bed just yet....

fredag, februar 16, 2007

There and Back Again

Back then and perhaps before us the world was easier to puzzle out. It's just that this one point into which we've been born is the exact point at which it all goes to hell. The prophets were, you see, just way too early.

All politics. All social order. All defensible support of either Britney or K-Fed. There it goes. You heard it: the belching drain. Our manners are for shit. Our food supply haunts us at both ends--just ask anyone at Taco John's or Taco Bell or anyplace beginning with Taco.

Me? I'm going to lunch today with a friend. But it'll be free both of tacos and self-important, self-lamenting dire existential indictments. I've no place in my belly for that stuff today. Need I burble "Woop"?

Look. I'm not saying the gloomy complaints are useless. I'm not even saying the boarded windows on your compound are creepy (though I'm thinking that). But I am on a soapbox and, yes, I'll leave open the possibility that the water is warm and rising; but what I'm telling you is this: it's better to act irrational but to be rational.

I'll say no more on that point, because maybe someday when the world is rebuilding itself this blog entry and some old wrestling videos--maybe Big John Stud vs. the Iron Sheik--will be all that they, our three-eyed descendants, have to go on as they shuffle about in jute sacks and alligator shoes.

If I'm vague on Friday, I may one day be mistaken for wise.

Sudden Recommendations

That reminds me: Read the novel Riddley Walker.

And for the ever-expanding swatch of population unfamiliar with the film Strange Brew, get back on your duff and watch it.


Erin, the calculations that occur in my brain are not really based upon any system of numbers that a slide rule or abacus can solve. I think I'm pretty much dealing with variables the world (beyond my brain) may yet have to discover. I'll be alright if the Nobel committees for mathematics or economics don't call, but I'm just sayin'. I'm okay with that.

But I think three drinks and a cheese plate = $30. At least. And then there's tip. I don't think I would have overbid if this issue were ferreted out by Bob Barker on the Price is Right.

Alas, no worries and none intended.

By the way, you had a mojito that night. Were you the one who broke out the defib pads on that trend here in mid-winter? Who brought that back just as Justin Timberlake--two mentions in two days!--wanted to do for sexy? even though Prince was like, "It ain't ever left, punk"? I ordered a Darcy's Coffee on Thursday evening but said, "Is that too much work right now?" It was pretty busy. Tommy said, "Are you kidding? That's nothing. This is a land of mojitos."

The Rest Shall Rise

I popped over to Lake Street tonight to haul liquor to the basement of a pub some friends just closed on. We spent more than a little bit of time wondering how the screwy electrical pattern in the place and the years of nicotine in the walls hadn't just up and combusted the joint.

And that men's bathroom. Oh, dear god. I swear they've been scrubbing the walls with urine for decades. The women's room? No foul scent. The men's room? Allow me to wither and just say, as my students used to, it was indescribable.

(I'm thinking of buying a Hazmat suit from Axeman, just in case I'm in the pub the day we're cleaning the toilets.)

Loads of work to be done before St Patrick's Day, but the Rest, as we'll know it, will rise and it'll be worth it. It'll be a blast. More on this in the coming weeks.

Wait. It occurs to me I hate following the word "more" with the word "on." Bugs Bunny had it right: "What a maroon!"

Happy Friday, friends. Mel Blanc is not a white wine.

ps: Hey, Trailing Twilight! I'm taking my first photo for the Flickr group this weekend, and I'm delivering it in Swedish style. Glöm mig inte!!


torsdag, februar 15, 2007


I don't recall whether I've used this photo in the blog. I know I once intended to but removed the entry because it just seemed too lame. But the photo, I think, is quite funny.

The painting comes from the basement of my apartment building. In the laundry room is this weird scene covering the walls. Fields, frollicking squirrels with massive acorns, sihouettes of horses and riders on the horizon. There's a fox. There's a barn. It's all done in something of a joyous Hamm's woodland pastoral style.

(The beer refreshing!)

And then there's this white owl. On which someone, probably years before I moved here, has painted a boner.


The word domesticity seems like a mistake. I'm fine with the concept, but the word just seems like...hmm. Like "normalcy." My recollection on that one is that President Wilson uttered it post-stroke and people ran with it because it would have been mean to do otherwise.

Things get scrambled in my head, as they had in Wilson's head, I suppose. I've referred to shopping plazas as placentas. I've referred to curdling up with a good book. And I'm not even from the Isle of Meapos.

But lately I've been feeling rather domestic and enjoying it. Putting nails in walls. Hanging things on those nails. Sifting through boxes. Setting things aside for donation. Setting other things aside to hide within other things so that not even the garbage man might discover such embarrassing possessions. For example, an elf candle. Who gave this to me? Why did I keep it? It's not even something I'd burn just to watch its head melt. It's just too creepy.

(Alas! Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's soap opera swag! I'm keeping my Men of Days of Our Lives puzzle, thank you very much. AND the N'Sync sticker book, though I will send N'Sync stickers to anyone who would like one. Warning: my supply of Timberlakes is low, as he was my favorite to paste in empty cubes back in my office days. The Men of Days is available on loan, but only to the most trustworthy. Kitsch this powerful doesn't saunter along often.)

Along with my copy of Super Cat, I've unearthed many lost treasures, including a high volume of items sent without signature or explanation from Urbana, Illinois' Gehngis John.

The one that tickled me most yesterday:

This clothes drying rack schematic. At the top he's highlighted a copy error and added his commentary:

A 27-foot rack? Indeed.

onsdag, februar 14, 2007

An Epiphany

Now you can set out for the mountain in hopes of reaching it by dark, but you shouldn’t be down if you don’t reach it. Just have enough to get through the night, man.

First Thing's First: Cancer, You Lost This Round, Jerk

Let us celebrate Lyn finishing her breast cancer treatment. She kicked cancer's ass and now Lance Armstrong can kiss hers. Get on your fucking ten-speed, dude, and pay homage to a fellow survivor. Woo! I love you dearly, friend. You're one cool chick. Please have Lara play the "Three Cool Chicks" song for you from the's.

The beer I drank in your honor last night as we marked the end of your treatment:

It was a Belgian beer, St. Feuillien, and imbibed at the Happy Gnome. Really really tasty. Could be a new favorite.

Magnificent Bastards

*I include "Magnificent Bastard" solely for old sport in Tennessee, should he be reading this. Rommel can go to hell!

Joyce, that magnificent blowhard, referred to his short stories as epiphanies. Ever since, writers have made a religion of our mostly secular trade. We debate our canon, our archangels and saints, the existence of the Devil (The answer is Yes and his name is ________, by the way), the requisite penance/study for being held in proper regard, etc.

But I’ve no soapbox to construct on this point really.

Regarding the writing of fiction, I’ve not lost the fire for that field. It heats my blood and thoughts, daily daily much too much (again I link to Schwartz's brilliant poem "Baudelaire"), but I no longer get buffeted about by bitterness or carried away on any particular platform. It’s so much nicer to appreciate writing than to dictate how one should appreciate it, for one should never stake any ultimate satisfaction in life on the actions of others. (We might make certain exceptions for during certain episodes of sex, but let’s be honest: that better be a particularly singular situation, such as the imminent destruction of the earth, or those better be some pretty serious miscues. For example, yodeling. Or the television left on for 60 Minutes. Or your mother calling to ask you what is a Cleveland Steamer, Jana.) But it took me too many years to discover this not-really-zen-but-call-it-zen approach.

Probably because I’m delusional.


I woke this weekend with a rather amateurish revelation—or epiphany, dear J-man—about my fiction writing and why (perhaps) I have closed the gap on where I want to be but never get there. It was an amateurish one, but it was a welcomed one.

We’re talking about goals.

The thing is this: I have almost no goals in life. This isn’t to say I’m devoid of inspiration or ambition—I probably (which is to say, do) have too much. It’s just that life is a big thing. I may as well speculate on the number of hairs on the elephant’s back, but damn if the elephant has even a mildly hairy back. I wouldn’t know. I’m way too short to see up there.

So I tend to take things at face value. (In the case of the elephant, I might report back from his ass. And if the saying holds true, he'll remember that report!) I never think too long term. I plot things out, yes. Sometimes meticulously. I think so much about things that I wind up a little confused about the real and imagined conversations, and this causes me to hesitate or speak too far ahead of someone.

I can do the scrappin’ by things. I have a full-year’s budget, for example. Yay for me, sure. But I don’t say, “I want a big house. I want a dog named Gus.” We have very little control over that stuff, I’m sure of that.

Now you can set out for the mountain in hopes of reaching it by dark, but you shouldn’t be down if you don’t reach it. Just have enough to get through the night, man. And take note--painfully exact, painfully embellished notes--of what’s along the way, because that’s very well as interesting if not far more so than what you find on the mountain.

Am I writing an advice book? I don’t take my advice. Just keep that in mind.

Back to the Writing & Epiphany Thing

I don’t know. I just can’t cast a grand vision over life, perhaps because I think life is without tethers. (Do I think it’s tetherless?) It’s too transient to pin oneself only to static visions; that’s what I mean. Or perhaps because I’m just too hypnotized by it as it happens. Or perhaps because it frightens me that if I establish a gigantic goal—such as those blubbering fools who don’t make the cut for American Idol and who are finally escorted out by a plaintive mother who's dressed in matching clothes—I’ll be crushed to the point that I can’t do sensible things like change my socks or tip my waitresses and bartenders.

I think it’s the middle one. I hope it is. I adore life. I do. I don’t find it too difficult to find interest in life or the people who inhabit it. It's probably disastrously easy for me. The shiny object distraction problem--"My precious!" (Successful interaction is another matter. Dr. Phil’s goofy guess is as good as mine.) If something good happens to stick—a good job, a good relationship, a car that can make it through a Minnesota winter—then happy days, indeed.

So when I really force myself to name one goal, I come up with this: I don’t want to fail as a writer.

That's it, I think. That's the one, the one I can't handle not solving. That's strange. I think. Shit, that's strange. I don't want to fail my family either, but I think that's a brainless response. That is the me me, the eye of my I, regardless of who I want to be. That's life as it should be. That's what we hope we're born into.

I have been. I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends I consider family. I don't want to fail them.

But the one thing I have is not wanting to fail as a writer. It's the one thing I know is just me. Or what I think is just me. I'm not sure.

So. The epiphany: the real problem is I’ve never defined what success is. Because that hadn't occurred to me.

Is it publication of a short story in a particular journal or magazine? Publication of a novel by a certain publisher? (For example, anyone who didn’t publish Jim Crace’s Being Dead—obviously I still have some nasty thoughts!) Is that producing something that someday my parents and siblings and friends, who have extended me so much support and latitude, can look at and say without humor that they're proud of what I’ve done (not just that I’m trying to do it)? Or is it as simple as just making the turn? Of knowing the work is on the level for where it might be accepted by people who make those publishing decisions but without concern for whether the work ever is accepted? Or even reaches their desks or the desks of their underlings?

The epiphany got me only to the light. It did not show me what was illuminated. And hour by hour I change how I feel: outrageously happy, inconsolable. I promise to blog everyday. I imagine ending this site. I end friendships. I start new ones. I give up or never give up on America. I'm moved to tears by a photograph of Denmark. I'm moved to tears because I cannot keep Danish words together in my head.

That there's no such thing as settling; only a refusal to believe that things have grabbed you.

That all things remain incomplete.

That these things happen only in my head.

But there was this epiphany that's given me a very real challenge. And I am not afraid.

The Denis Johnson quote from Jesus' Son that hangs on my door for reflection each day before I go out: All these weirdos and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.

tirsdag, februar 13, 2007

Too Good

It amazes me how many good people I get to know for god-knows-what reason other than dumb luck or the luck of the dumb. Whatever it is, I wear it about. It quivers around me like that cloud around Pig Pen.

So on Saturday I was treated to dinner at a new friend's place. Too too good. Lord. I mentioned it two entries ago, I believe, and noted that my face hurt from smiling. It did. If you'd heard the stories your face would have hurt too.

(Note: Some of you may be receiving notes from Timmy Wing soon. Please know I have stolen this bit.)

But as I love love love food food food things--send your recipes, good people!--here's the menu:

Beef with a cabernet sauce (butter, flat-leaf parsley, capers, and shallots that made my weak eyes weep as I chopped them but nearly weep with joy as I tasted this sauce). Really good, though I couldn't persuade the chef of this fact. She was determined to put a negative review in my court, but being quite stubborn I'm holding my line. And I'm right in this instance, thank you very much.

I like the plates she filched from her grandmother too.

Asparagus (awesome) and squash with carmelized garlic (awesome).

Oh, damn. There was also a cardamon-orange cake, but I have neglected to upload the photo yet...and I've already consumed the rather large slice I took home. Please know it was intoxicatingly good. The cardamon made me want to get a mortar and pestel. It's like a little apothecary experiment each time one goes to work with it.

In lieu of a cake close-up, I'll give you a photo of Kitty:

Kitty apparently suffers from serious stagefright. So when the cat emerged to use the kitty-litter facilities, we had to freeze in our tracks. My host whispered (through tightened lips, as if aping ventriloquism--CAN one ape ventriloquism?), "Act like we don't see her."

All in all, a grand night. Thanks, friend. And fair warning: I've plotted my menu now.

Bonus Image

I don't know what year this is. Perhaps Christmas 1977. (My brother, off-frame because my mother sent me this copy with the tK cut out--HA!--is, I think, two in this one.) Now, look at that jaunty angle on the red cowboy hat. Look at that plastic rifle holstered in the pocket of my Toughskins. (Toughskins!) And look at that Donny Osmond doll in the other hand. He seems to be holding a microphone to my crotch.

Happy days,

mandag, februar 12, 2007

This Guy Right Here

Damn! I didn't get organized enough to post my intended post last night. Will do tonight. In the meantime, I offer up a self-portrait in crayon.

To judge by the style, this was drawn in spring or fall of '82. My third-grade art style (fall '82 through spring '83) generally involved more controlled, giant sideways-oval heads, but most of those were pencil. The crayon tracing over what I assume was penciled lines is unexpected.

Still, the #38 on the shirt may suggest this is from 1983. I have an occasional disgraphia problem (number inversion). The brain tells me one thing but the hand produces another. The eyes plead ignorance.

If this is from '83 and the number was to reflect that, this might be the oldest record of My Family's Darkest Secret.

(Dramatic music: DUN-Dun-dun)

Once had a dream in which my parents told me they'd long thought I was schizophrenic. It took me months to figure out the conversation hadn't happened. Perhaps the jury is still out.

But the cK still says: Thumbs Up.

søndag, februar 11, 2007

Quick Take

A right fine eve in need of greater words and photos. That'll be a mid-day project on Sunday, I hope. Quick take: I was fed and treated too well. I asked too many questions. A great many stories and photos--those photos!--were shared with me. A literary passage was read, the lesson of which was "wait and hope." That's just lovely.

All in all, my face hurts from smiling.

torsdag, februar 08, 2007

Super Cat

"Super Cat" was written (and illustrated) circa April 1982. Mrs. O'Hagen's second-grade class. She was the one who got me writing stories. She put out two baskets, one for stories going to her, and one for stories she was returning (usually with some sort of "Great job!" or "Super stuff!" comment).

I give you: "Super Cat." And if you'd prefer a slideshow version, you may find it here.

"Super Cat" by Chris Kelsey. (NOTE: It says "Great story" on the cover. Awesome!)

It was Monday and Super Cat was flying over the city. He flew over the river dam. The dam sprung a leak. Then it broke. A big wave rose up from the water. Super Cat tried to stop it from hitting the city.

The wave hit the city. Super Cat dug a big hole in the park. The water flowed in the hole. Super Cat found a big rock and put the rock over the hole.

After he stopped the water, the side of the rock sprung a leak. The water was set free. Super Cat dug a tunnel in the street that was very long and deep.

1 mile away from where he started there was a fire hydrant and the water broke out of it. The water started to flood the city. Super Cat said, I will use my secret weapon, my cold blow!

When he blew, all of the water froze. Super Cat pushed the ice into the lake.

After that Super Cat flew back over the city to look for danger.


Scanning Project

I've yet to use my scanner, but that'll change later today. Just found a story I wrote (and illustrated) in third grade: "Super Cat."

Prepare to be amazed.

tirsdag, februar 06, 2007

Snow Day

I'm listening to "Mary's Song" again. It's by the Aislers Set and is, I think, a nearly perfect song.

So. It was snowy today. The roads were iced. I drove a particularly nasty stretch of 35E out to Eagen to interview people who have accomplished more in life than I ever will, but that gets me to thinking on how in writing I'm given so frequently the opportunity to meet extraordinary people and hear their stories.

And how I hear their stories even when I'm not trying to earn a buck. Because they are everywhere, those stories.

It was icey and I drove listening to NPR not because I had any particular interest in what was on the mid-morning broadcast--I wasn't interested--but because I wanted to know about the roads and whether we were all dying on them today.

The snow was steady but the flakes were too thin to give us any grip over the black ice that had formed from so many days that had nipped below zero. There were all these dramatic moments of braking lightly only to hear the wheels cry in the way one imagines they will when you're spinning off towards a terrible event.

The lanes were largely masked by the blowing snow. Everyone had come to some sort of telepathic agreement about what we'd consider lanes, and occasionally you might encounter an exposed line and discover you'd been straddling a dashed turn lane or a sliver of shoulder, but you went on because you'd agreed to.

Slick Shoes

Years ago when I'd returned to Chicago for a visit I stopped at the house of former neighbors. They showed me their photos from a trip to China. This was before the woman had fallen too far down into alcoholism to climb out.

The man told me a story about driving along a rural Illinois highway one day while he was trying to make it to a business conference. At some point he'd lost his bearings. The road was caked with a thin hard layer of snow. There were no trees or telephone posts to give him guidance. There weren't even any trucks out, at least not right at the moment he decided to stop.

It was just that he'd started to wonder if he'd drifted from the highway. That sort of thing can happen out there. (It happened recently in Wisconsin. A news van fell through the ice on a lake after the driver got confused and was under the impression they were driving along a road.) So he stopped and got out to look around.

Quite a storm had developed. Lots of snow. Lots of wind. And as he walked around the car to feel by the wheel whether it was road or field a sharp wind caught in his overcoat and spun him.

He fought it but in his dress shoes he was helpless. He got spun another time or two, carried a few staggering steps, and finally went over.

When he looked up, the fierce snow blinded him. He couldn't see his car. He could not tell any better whether he was on road or field. He couldn't hear whether a truck might be coming, and if it was he was sure he wouldn't see it before it hit him or his car.

I don't know how long he waited. Not very, I suppose. He was afraid but needed to do something. In that near-panic he came up with what I think is fairly interesting solution to the problem: he began walking a circle. He widened it until his hand found the vehicle.

A number of other challenging and far less likely to be solved problems would greet him thereafter, but he made it through that outwardly dangerous, white afternoon.

It's a story that sticks in my heart as if it were my own.

mandag, februar 05, 2007

Internet Gremlins

Bad internet connection today. Can't blog. Sad face:(

fredag, februar 02, 2007

Too Cute

We may have reached the end of the Cuteness Universe, friends. Kittens in baskets be damned. Babies in peapods? Please.

Go check out the video at the most recent Night Editor posting. It's number 3 on the list and shows the effect of Joe Mauer on Minnesota's youth.

Big thanks to Elbee for (a) spotting a fake cilantro plant in a medical office and (b) spotting the Night Editor piece. Thanks, friend.



A Seoul cafe called Poem. That's sweet. I wish I'd gone up there.

I miss reading Chekov but I think he's a terrible writer for a winter, particularly on a weekend when we'll have a day or two when an air temperature of zero will be a reason to celebrate. But I'm sleepy from this week and that has me thinking of Chekhov who was, really, a fantastic writer.

But we've all got our biases in this world and I'm fascinated by ordinary things and the impact of a moment. I'm fascinated by watching people.

And in Chekhov's work there's a sense of habit--people who will relentlessly make the same mistakes or suffer the same hardships, but that's no reason to disregard them. They have qualities worth redemption. They have stories worth telling.

And true enough, the same things that are really worth appreciating are happening too. We ought not disregard that either. (I believe I've returned to Auden here.)

Many of us aren't too good at dealing with ourselves, and I'm probably in that lot, but we must deal with one another, and that's something too many of us willfully run from.

Though we sometimes must learn the same lessons, which questions whether we learned them in the first place and perhaps suggests we never can, we go on. That has its tolerable limits, true, but most often there's a glimmer of hope that we'll get it right this time. It's worth rooting for, dammit.

The Stress Shell

Back in the paleolithic era I worked in an office, and I remember my friend Betsy and I discussing how stressed out we were. I suggested that I never got sick because the germs were repelled by the nerve field around me. And Betsy suggested that our limbs might fall off if it weren't for the magnetic-like force of our anxiety holding us together.

I was thinking about that and Scooby-Doo this past week.

The stress shell around me reminded me of this electric abomindable snowman creature from an episode of Scooby-Doo. I don't recall how they explained away the electric field around the costume, and I think they actually used this plot device on two or three episodes, but it must have made an impression on me.

For when I hit these periods I feel as if the atoms are quivering (abominably?) against me.

(Sidenote: I still do not understand how in a chaotic universe two atoms don't actually bump against one another in a way that just once causes an atom to break open and start off an atomic chain of fire. I'm not making a god argument here. I'm just saying I don't understand shit about basic science. Electricity, really, baffles me. I don't understand what it is, man.)

In these times, my brow is often furrowed. My eyes feel hot. And I suffer numbness in hands or feet. I start Googling symptoms and diagnose myself with diabetes, liver failure, Raynaud's Disease, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, sciatica, MS, massive Vitamin B12 and thiamine deficiency, dementia, spinal tumors, and TMJ. I develop facial ticks.

I read things aloud, and as if to an audience, to reassure myself some sense of intellectual fire still flickers in my head.

There is a Light That Never Goes Out

Maybe I got it wrong, but I think plenty is still kicking up there. I'm happy about that.

And after a brief but really nice talk with Hulles at Frost earlier and spending a bit of time with Erin and Jim as they waited for the offer to come in on their place in downtown Saint Paul--Congrats on the sale!! Woo!!!--I feel things are returning to a reasonable perspective. I really got loads accomplished this week; I just wish I hadn't forced myself to do it all at once!

The tension in my hands has abated. I feel my feet coming back. And there's no longer a thin, tense fizzing in my head (that pressure of silence).

It's the weekend, friends. While I don't want to enslave myself to that Loverboy philosophy of working for the weekend, I will take this one happily.

By the way: Bears.

torsdag, februar 01, 2007

Nothing to See Here

Just needed to see something other than my butt at the Drama today. Copenhagen, how I miss you....
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