Sunday, September 30, 2007
[by Night Editor's son]:
When you were a little kid did you like to wrestle with your friends and goof around? I know I used to love wrestling with my friends, my dad or anyone that was willing to wrestle. When we started to wrestle I brought out my big stuffed animal gorilla. Now this toy was perfect for wrestling because it was big and soft. It was also great if you just wanted to kick back relax and maybe watch some T.V.
Whenever my friends and I were in the mood to wrestle or we were debating over something it was rumble time. I would go and grab my gorilla and we would tell each other the stakes and the rules, which were usually just, like no pinching or scratching. After that it was time to get started. Since the toy was big and soft no one got hurt and everyone had fun. We would also watch wrestling on T.V. and try out some of the things we saw on T.V. out on the gorilla.
Another perfect use for my gorilla was watching T.V. with it. If I was feeling lazy I would just grab the gorilla and use it as the perfect cushion. Also late at night I would use it as a pillow to sleep with on the couch. I probably got the best sleep of my life with it too. It was also perfect for movies and video games. When my friends and I would have a sleepover I would grab the gorilla and we would us it as a comfy chair. My gorilla could be used for any thing involved with being lazy. It was good for anything and everything.
My gorilla is still in my house. We keep it right behind my dad’s recliner. No matter how old it gets it will still always have a place in my life.
Addendum: found the pic--he writes what he knows. . . .
Friday, September 28, 2007
As a kid, I had some recurring dreams that have never come back to me as an adult. The exhilarating dream was one where I could fly. I flew low over the sidewalks and boulevard trees; I flew high over vast fields of corn and wheat. It was like I had taken a big hit of oxygen right before waking up—that’s how good I felt after that dream, the dual pleasure of fulfillment and weightlessness—and it was the probably the closest I had come to a state of transcendental meditation, at least until my feet hit the hardwood floors.
My recurring nightmare was always set along the Mekong River. My dad was in Vietnam and while he never wrote home about the Mekong (he rarely left Saigon or now Ho Chi Minh City), I saw plenty of footage about the river, or Tonle Thom (great river). I too flew in that nightmare but I was in a low-altitude fighter jet following the great river like those zooming Galactic crafts in Star Wars. I was terrified of the bends and turns and I remember my silent screams, “Please don’t kill anyone, please don’t kill anyone.”
My daughter had the night terrors for awhile, especially after her little brother was born. She was always dreaming that someone was going to snatch him away. Her bedroom dormer window peeks out over the front walk and once she woke up startled—and heard a car door slam outside. She got up on her knees and lifted one small slat of her window blinds. She saw a man walking toward the house, closer and closer. It seemed to be the dead of night. She panicked as she saw him walk up our steps. Closer and closer and she didn’t know if she would scream or cry. Then he threw the rolled-up Star Tribune up against our door hard. Only she didn’t know that. She came barging into our bedroom, her face white with fear. It scared the wits out of us, too, her barging in, and it took us all awhile to calm our hearts and explain the paper delivery.
Last night I attended a wine party. One of our hosts has a brother who owns all the MGM Liquors in town. Every couple of months or so she buys a few cases and about thirty women get together to drink and talk. Last night’s theme was Italian wine. I drank lots of good white wines—all the way until midnight. When I got home I had a bit of cinnamon toast and a cup of tea and hit the sack. The nearly full moon was out there, I knew it. I thought maybe the good flying dream might come back, only this time I’d be flying over vineyards in Tuscany. I can’t remember my dreams but I felt a little less burdened this morning. I think it might be the moon. That or all the wine. A nice way to start a Friday.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Check this out. And be sure to go all the way through it until you get to the beginning again. (Thanks, Jamison)
No One Belongs Here More than You
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
"Going for a walk?" he said.
You can imagine I'm just the slightest bit uncomfortable but I play along.
"I am." I look back to his lawn. "Nice garden," I say.
"Oh, that's not the real garden," he says. "The real garden is in back." And then he tells me about his tomato crop and how good it was this year.
"Isn't that what we're all supposed to do now? Grow our own food?" he says.
I tell him I'll take a walk back there sometime to see it. I ask him how long he's lived there.
"Well, to be honest, I don't really live there. My daughter does. I come up to visit. I'm here quite often."
I think about this.
He says, "I live in Northfield. I teach at St. Olaf."
I look over at him. He has a twinkle in his eye and now I think it's quite nice that he has joined me on my walk.
He says, "But now I must leave you, I'm going to the circus." You may not believe this but we do have a Big Top right down the hill from our house.
"She told me I should buy my granddaughter something after her performance. I have only five dollars in my pocket. What's a poor Swede to do?" he says.
And then he leaves me. I think about him a long time after that, as I finish my walk. And I know all of you out there might be screaming and swinging your arms wildly: "Send him to Ikea! Send him to Ikea!" because we all know the cartloads of items you can get for $5 there. But this is the New Sweden. Actually, Chicago has more Swedes than any other place in the U.S. but the Twin Cities has more ACTIVE Swedes. Big Difference. So what's a poor Swede to do? Here's what you can get for $5 in the Cities:
Two paks of Swedish Fish, 2 for $5, Walgreens this week
Admission to the American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis $5 fee for those over 62
Authentic Swedish Limpa, baked in the old world tradition with buttermilk and molasses, from one of four Twin Cities Taste of Scandinavia locations or online, $4.35/loaf
And to wrap up a nice evening in St. Paul, in the den of your daughter's house, how about a used copy of a book in the well-done mystery series by the pair of novelists, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who manage to combine an Ed McBain-like style with social awareness and critique. Could you get any more Swedish than that? Start out with The Laughing Policeman, only $2.28 used from Amazon.com. With regular shipping, you should come out right around $5.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Here's a pleasure: On my recent walk through Como Park's Enchanted Garden I held out my fingers--like a doctor checking testes in an annual exam; er, sorry, like a gardener pulling off grape tomatoes from the vine--and I kiped a few seeds from various plants I liked. It's late September and the plants were loaded. I know, I know, "what if everyone decided to kipe seeds from those precious plants?" But I took only a few from a bush loaded with over two hundred wispy seeds, and then I took another few from another plant, and soon my hiking shorts were filled with these things that normally would blow in the wind. I had buddleia seeds in my right pocket, white cleome seeds in my left, delphinium seeds in my back pocket, echinacea seeds in the side pocket on my leg. And then I hiked all along the bike paths, checking out the fountains and ornaments and stone benches. Then I went home and made some dinner, watched a little television, washed my face, brought down the covers, and plumped my pillows for the night. And right before I took off my shorts I remembered all the seeds. So I delayed my bedtime and sat under a nightlamp sorting and labeling them in little envelopes.
I was so inspired by these Como Park pictures by Michael Hartford that I spent Sunday night and Monday lunch at the park: first Sunday evening in "The Enchanted Garden" and then Monday noon in the Conservatory and Japanese Garden. I was blue after saying goodbye to my parents, who I won't see now for eight months or so. The park uplifted me. (And so did Hartford's pictures. You can see more of his work here.)
I love city parks. For many of us, city parks provide some of the only green space in a packed urban landscape. I love stone (and glass) structures in city parks. Luckily, St. Paul enjoys the labors of city architects like the pioneering Cap Wigington and craftsmen of the WPA.
I know the saying about Central Park that millions of native New Yorkers tell their grandchildren: "This is what New York looked like before all the buildings were here." I'm sure there are many St. Paulites who will say the same thing about Como Park--and Phalen Park and Highland Park, too.
Yesterday I saw three German tourists walk the rock paths in the Japanese Garden. Then I saw a photographer and two beautiful Korean women take pictures near the Frog Pond. And I saw an old chap, in tan work pants, a flannel shirt and braces, sitting alone and quite content on a bench near the rose gardens.
It's the official beginning of fall. If you live in a city, save a little time for yourself and take lunch in a city park near you. It'll make your day.
Monday, September 24, 2007
We all attended the Minnesota v. Purdue football game Saturday night. Not a good game, not a good game at all. But we sat with our daughter and the jubilant Minnesota women's rowing team, who were there to be honored for their 2007 Big Ten Rowing Championship.
Some notes from the game:
The manufacturer hadn't finished work on their Big Ten rings so they bought Toys R Us plastic rings in pastel colors for them to wear out on the field.
Some of the surly football boosters who have season tickets near our great seats (three up from the sidelines) were upset by all these squirrely women who really could have given a rat's ass about the dismal game. The boosters called security and the man with the yellow jacket came down and warned, "This is a football game, not a slumber party." A lot of others in the crowd, after watching the Gophers drop the ball and miss all kinds of tackles, would have disagreed.
The ESPN camera man has to run sprints back and forth along the sideline, with various intern-types running after him, cords in tow. I mean this camera man could book it! Many of the people around us got so bored with the game that they started tracking the cameraman. Finally one person said, "Hey, maybe they should give HIM the ball."
Finally, after Harris dropped the ball just 10 yards from the goal line and the Boilermakers were poised to tromp the Gophers, some of the beer drinkers started to shout out, "WE LOVE YOU CANNON MAN!" Because the Cannon Man, you see, is this Alfred Hitchcock lookalike who makes a grand statement parading along the sideline, cannon and "CANN0N CREW" in tow, ready to shoot off the thing when--if--the Gophers ever scored. Even after the game, when we were all in the elevator and there was nothing even to analyze about the Gophers poor effort, two strangers looked at us and said, "Even the Cannon Man missed shooting after one score."
From the University of Minnesota:
Rod Wallace, who built and owns the Thunderbird Hotel and Convention Center near the Mall of America in Bloomington, has fired a cannon after every Gopher football score in the Metrodome for the last 11 years. Although he never attended the University, having entered military service on his 18th birthday, Wallace is also a major University donor, having given money to renovate the interior of Burton Hall, to install an indoor field in the Gophers' football practice facility, and more.
Q: How did you become Cannon Man?
A: The Goal Line Club [a football booster club], which I helped to found, started with a cannon that made noise through the PA system. That didn't seem to suffice. I did a lot of sailing, so I came up with the idea of bringing a [sailing race] starting cannon and using it at the Dome. We tried it out and it made a lot of noise. I've been the infamous Cannon Man ever since.
Rod Wallace, aka Cannon Man, photo courtesy of University Athletics
Q: What does the cannon shoot?
A: We fire a 10-gauge shell with various different powders inside. Usually, it's six grams of powder. When the Dome used to be almost empty, we went down to four grams. When it's full for Iowa or Wisconsin games, we fire 10-gauge with eight grams of powder. But the shells seem to get louder as they age, so you never really know what you're going to get.
Q: Have you ever missed a score?
A: No, but I've held off shooting sometimes. It's a little dangerous, because it does shoot a small projectile [of packing cardboard] a short distance. Sometimes the cheerleaders get excited and run across in front of me. I have to be careful that everything is clear.
Q: Do you wear ear protection?
A: Oh, yes, it's awfully loud. My hearing has somewhat gone bad anyhow, so it doesn't affect me so much.
Q: If a new outdoor stadium gets built, will the cannon be loud enough?
A: We've taken it on trips to the various bowl games, and it made plenty of noise there. I'm going to be 80 in December, but I hope to get a chance to fire the cannon in a new stadium. I enjoy it and I'll keep doing it as long as I can.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Marcel Marceu has died. The Star Tribune notes that the 84-year-old "revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence." I was thinking how I would have liked to "see" a Sunday sermon from this guy (though most likely Marceu was an atheist), rather than some of the long-winded orators at pulpits around the country today. It would be peaceful and beautiful (like his greeting in this video) and just what we need.
Friday, September 21, 2007
That was a rash of rain we had here in St. Paul last night. The wind was whipping and a branch hit my car and then we headed into the basement for a spell.
The teen boy is going to a fall dance tonight. He’ll have two or three of his buddies over for pre-dance warmups: brats on the grill, a little X-Box competition, plenty of Axe. So much Axe, in fact, that grandpa will have to take a step back once he reaches the upstairs bathroom, because those excited teens will have layered their cheap cologne the way Estee Lauder wants us all to do: body wash, deodorant, body spray, a little matching hair gel—the Axe Effect.
We’re all going to the Minnesota v. Purdue football game at the Dome Saturday night. NOT because we are in any way Tim Brewster fans but because college daughter and her crew team are being honored between the third and fourth quarters for their 2007 Big Ten Rowing Championship. They should be getting their rings in the ceremony but they’ve been held up at the manufacturer so maybe they’ll get cigar bands instead. You know how opposing team fans bring newspapers to read out in the stands when the other team has possession, hiding their heads behind their open newspapers, acting all disinterested? Well, unless the Gophers have come up with an exciting and new game plan, a few of us in our family will be bringing newspapers for real, reading all the sections carefully—the real estate ads for 55-and-over apartments, the new movie reviews, ALL the letters to the editors. And then someone will nudge the other right at the end of the third quarter and we’ll all sit up at attention and cheer on the college kid with pride.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
(click to make pictures bigger)
This is it. The last post on cleaning, Felix, Oscar. My husband and I have been scouring the house, hanging new window decor, trimming evergreens outside. We even made chicken enchiladas Sunday night and froze them so we could just pop them in the oven tonight for my visiting parents.
Dad just called. Mom's kind of a weather nut. Hates all weather except 65 and sunny. There are tornado watches in Pequot Lakes today. They're packed and ready to drive down the five hours but don't want to be caught in storms. They might not make it here until tomorrow.
Did I say I cut roses this morning and brought them in to brighten the bathroom shelf?
My man he's been cleaning and scrubbing and cooking and all without a complaint. The bedroom is clean. The sheets have been washed. I've got a fresh candle by the bedside. Who needs company to enjoy this scene? Honey, if you're reading this now, I'll meet you at home in like 12 minutes. Okay?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
If Oscar had a tat, it would be on his left bicep, just above his short-sleeve line, and it would move up and down when he pumped his muscles:
If Felix had a favorite dessert, it would be this:
If Oscar had a favorite dessert, it would be this:
And if Oscar and Felix could dance, they'd . . . well, wait a minute. They CAN dance--and speak German, too. Have a look, below.
I know you who know me are laughing out there. Felix, shmelix. You know I'm an Oscar and you know I married one, too. And we're proud of it, we are. Some of our favorite courtship stories are the ones that come out of our Oscar tendencies. Like when I invited him over for dinner and was very nervous about the whole thing, despite the fact that "dinner" consisted of boiled spaghetti and warmed-up Ragu. I lived then in an old lumber magnate's house with a bunch of women and he lived with a bunch of men in the attached "servants' quarters." I had set the table, was boiling the water, and was just about to pour the Ragu into the saucepan. I was chattering a mile a minute and trying to get the lid off the jar when the jar and the lid and all the thick red sauce went flying out of my hands and into the big open heating vent on the kitchen floor. Oh my! Despite my scrubbing that long vent as best I could, every time the heat kicked on the whole place smelled like a Ragu factory.
And then there's the story of him camping alone in one of his favorite state parks. He gets the fever to camp in all seasons, winter to fall, and he throws whatever he needs into his vehicle and heads out without much planning. This time was no different. We were dating then and I hadn't committed a thing yet. He missed me. He grabbed a stack of brown paper towels from the trail center and sat down and composed for me a long, winding, hilarious and endearing letter. On like 17 sheets of brown paper handwipes. Then, on his way home, he mailed the wad to me at the next post office. That was definitely a deal-maker.
Television plays up these Felix and Oscar stereotypes and we begin to count on them. Will and Grace. He's the metrosexual, she's the splendid slob. Adrian Monk, the OCD-addled detective who solves crimes with precision. Monica Geller Bing, the dustbusting overachiever. Lucy Ball, the chocolate-stuffing, Dezi-loving, clumsy ditz.
But in real life, I'd venture to say we have a little bit of the opposite in each of us. I may be able to turn my head from a half-inch of dust on my bedside table, but I loath a dirty fridge. And I loath dirty things in it, like the black crust that forms on the ridges of the salsa jar. And I like my clean towels tri-folded, so they're smooth and tight in the linen closet. And my husband can't stand spills on the stovetop and counters. And he's one of those men who keeps a well-stocked shoeshine kit in the bathroom--and uses it often.
Literature is better than TV at tracking the nuances. Neatness can indicate depression or it can signal freedom to do what someone has been wanting to do his or her whole life. Sloppiness can symbolize love or it can symbolize loneliness. We can be one way and then we can be another. Nick Hornby writes this up brilliantly in his novel High Fidelity.
Many times a happy couple lets it all hang out, too preoccupied with each other to worry about appearances. The main character Rob describes his shared flat with Laura, before the break-up:
". . . the half-read Julian Barnes paperback on the bedside table and the knickers in the dirty-clothes basket. . . . Women's knickers were a terrible disappointment to me when I embarked on my cohabiting career. I never really recovered from the shock of discovering that women do what we do: they save their best pairs for the nights when they know they are going to sleep with somebody. When you live with a woman, these faded, shrunken, tatty scraps suddenly appear on radiators all over the house; your lascivious schoolboy dreams of adulthood as a time when you are surrounded by exotic lingerie for ever and ever, amen . . . those dreams crumble to dust."
And then, after Laura leaves him:
"Tuesday night I reorganized my record collection; I often do this at periods of emotional stress . . . When Laura was here I had records arranged alpabetically; before that I had them filed in chronological order, beginning with Robert Johnson, and ending with, I don't know, Wham!, or somebody African . . . Tonight, though, I fancy something different, so I try to remember the order I bought them in: that way I hope to write my own autobiography, without having to do anything like pick up a pen . . . I like being able to see how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin' Wolf in twenty-five moves . . . But what I really like is the feeling of security I get from my new filing system; I have made myself more complicated than I really am. I have a couple of thousand records, and you have to be me . . . to know how to find any of them."
Monday, September 17, 2007
My young neighbor just started his first year at the University of Iowa and is rooming with a teammate from high school; they both play football for the Hawkeyes. His mom tells me that the roommate is a neat freak: all his clothes are organized by category (dress shirts, t-shirts, pants, jeans) and they all hang uniformly on thick black plastic hangers. A tidy hamper sits in the closet, too. That neighbor's mom says her own son is a slob. Most times he can't tell which clothes are clean and which are dirty. She wonders how they'll work it out.
My daughter's new roommate has those Felix Ungar tendencies. She's got their university apartment looking nicer than a Pottery Barn showroom (only nicer because she's also mixed in flea market finds and her own artwork on the walls). She brought in a toothbrush holder for their bathroom with a sanitizing top that goes over the heads of the toothbrushes and somehow rotates throughout the night. My daughter is definitely of the slovenly sportswriter gene pool, ala Oscar. I wonder how they will work it out.
My mom and dad are coming to visit Thursday and my mom, she is a Felix, through and through. There is not one corner in her house to which she has not thrown her attention. The only things in my corners lately are cobwebs. Hey, September is for spiders, isn't it? So, keeping in mind my "good is good enough" mantra, I've got to clean up around here. Tomorrow I'm going to make a list. I think I might need to buy some furniture polish. I have plans to touch up the chipped paint on all the corners on the first floor but that might not happen. I have this big pile of I-don't-know-what in an alcove in the big bedroom, including a laundry basket of upholstery fabric and a lamp on its side. And on the window ledge in our kitchen, above the "baking counter," there are these items:
1. football cleat tightener
2. foggy binoculars from when I dropped them in East Pike Lake trying to see a moose
3. a mini flashlight
4. my son's duffel bag nametag
5. a dish of paper clips
6. some lighter fluid
7. a half-pak of Tropical Twist Trident
It feels like the Clampetts live here. I think of the pleasure my mom might have scooping all this detritus into a trash bag with the back of her hand. . . .
In a New York Times article on messiness (April 29, 2003), the writer shares a story about his friend:
"My friend Pam, certain that she could make neatniks of her young children, devised a clever strategy. 'They had shoebox-size toy boxes into which I would sort their toys by type, with the type indicated by a Polaroid on the end showing what was supposed to be in that box: Legos, soldiers, crayons, tiny cars and trucks,' she said.
'''The idea was that the kids would learn to sort the inevitable mess in each box before they could read. Wrong. I spent hours on their floors, sorting, while they watched, with bewilderment and then increasing amusement as they got older.'''
One of my own friends from high school had her first baby quite young and so began setting up a home years before the rest of us. She was a neat one, she was. And I'm sure still is. When we all drove down to Fargo to visit her new family, her toddler begged us to come look at his room and when we all gathered in his cozy little bedroom he lifted up the skirt on his toddler bed and said, "Wookit how cwean it is." And he swept his hand under the bed like a pro.
The Times article goes on to say, "Contrary to popular belief, messiness is not necessarily a sign of mental disorganization. Who among us doesn't know a messy person who can instantly retrieve, from a bewildering stack of papers, exactly what he's looking for? As Freud supposedly said: ''Don't clean up the mess. I know exactly where everything is.'"
Those productive and happy messy types, the Oscars of the world, don't sweat the details of their made environments. They just sweep the clutter off the coffee table with a free elbow before planting a box of Grandpa Tony's thin crust pizza and a coupla Dad's root beers for the game. The Oscars can torture the Felixes, easily. I could do that to my mom, but that wouldn't be nice for her or me. The Felixes, of course, can torture the Oscars. Once I took my mom to a party in Uptown, to my friend's stylish apartment. When we got back to my place we had to share a queen bed in the one furnished bedroom. We lay down together and said our good nights. She said, "You have nice friends." I said, "Thanks." She said, "You could get your place to look like that, too." Torture.
And we all might know those schizophrenics: the ones who drive cars filled with so much crap you can't move the passenger seat back anymore but who have alphabetized their CD collection and keep matching indexes near the shelf. Or the neat freaks who have one or two really annoying sloppy habits, somehow proving that they are not neurotic, they're not, they're not. Like my old roommate who always made toast on the counter without ever using a plate or a napkin and also refused to rinse out the tub after long shaves in the bath, so that the white tub had a perennial five o'clock shadow.
Anyway, I'll be tempted to post pictures of my clean-a-thon but I promise I won't. In a few days I'll get this house to that good-enough place, good enough for the Feloxcar in me.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Hey, I tried out Ngon Vietnamese Bistro this weekend (http://www.ngonbistro.com). This is such a fresh, bright place. Yellow walls and white curtains, modern art and photos. Clean, crisp flavors in their lemon grass beef wraps, and Phos, and traditional Vietnamese noodle salads.
DARA MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL of City Pages writes of Ngon's Pho:
"I have had so many bowls of pho that were just watery aquariums where low-cost ingredients go to die that I feel beyond militant on the topic. . . . [but] when I had the great, the gorgeous, the gallopingly, gargantuanly gratifying beef pho at the new Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in Frogtown, I wished to take a thousand bowls of it with me, fill a thousand Super Soaker water guns with it, and just rampage. Take that, lesser pho vendors—splat! When you try this pho, you will feel the same way: Ngon Bistro serves the best beef pho I've ever had. The broth is what does it—it's potent, hauntingly spiced and sweet, rich and beefy brown, onion-touched and herbal, peppery and anise-scented. In short, it's as complex and richly nuanced as a wedding, as dark and unforgettable as a divorce, but far quicker than either to get through. You gotta try it."
If you're close to St. Paul, go to the corner of University and Avon. It's on the north side, with parking just to the east of the corner building. You should go right after work, when you're all worn out from the monotony of this back-to-work Monday, and fill up on some Pho, then take a long, relaxing walk along the Mississippi River Blvd. You'll forget you've got Tuesday coming right on your heels.
Here are some links to Ngon Bistro restaurant reviews and info:
Friday, September 14, 2007
burquini (noun): Modest swimwear (mostly for ladies) which covers the head and most parts of the body while swimming. A cross between a burqua and bikini. The advent of the burquini has made swimming popular among conservative Muslim girls.
buffer-stall (noun):The empty stall in the restroom left unused when someone is using the stall next to it. I was so upset when someone used the stall next to me; there needs to be a buffer-stall.
deskercise (noun):Exercise, usually stretching and calisthenics, that can be performed while someone is sitting at a desk at work. I try to do at least 15 minutes of deskercise everyday in order to increase blood flow and alleviate stiff muscles.
fat finger (noun): Tendency to always press the wrong button. The system is not working because of your fat finger.
grumpelstiltskin (noun): Someone who is easily agitated; an overly grumpy person. [named after Rumpelstiltskin, a character from a Brothers Grimm fairytale] My dad can be a real grumpelstiltskin when my mom asks him to mow the lawn.
intoxitexting (verb): Sending text messages while intoxicated. Sorry if my last text didn't make any sense. I was intoxitexting at the bar.
LSS (abbreviation): Last Song Syndrome; a state wherein you keep on singing the last song you heard, whether from the radio or from someone else. I got LSS and have kept singing 'I Ain't Got You' for five hours now.
one-downmanship (noun): Verbal sparring over who has the worse tale of self-inflicted woe or the hardest luck of all. When they started talking about their disastrous first days at the office, the one-downmanship became intense.
varitarian (noun): A not-so-firm vegetarian who occasionally eats meat when cravings overcome logic. David showed his varitarian tendencies when he failed to resist the barbecued chicken at the neighbor's party.
vidiot (noun): One who languishes in front of a television screen watching videos or television programs continuously.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
This didn’t surprise me. I’ve been feeling this way for a few months now. A new copy of Real Simple, a croissant and a cup of tea, and a few hours to myself, and I’m normally happy as a lark. But there’s something turning me away. And I know what that is.
The constant push for self-improvement, that’s what. Like I said, in the last six months, when I read these magazines, I began to feel anxious and jumpy. I felt jealous of those things such as Martha’s craft room—and even more jealous of the fabulous crafts that came out of it. There was that voice telling me, “Pretty to look at but you’re never gonna do that.” Do men have the same feelings when they read Modern Woodworker or Northern Gearhead? Or do they have some sense in their heads (like the kind that comes for many married men reading Playboy), the kind that tells them this is for pure enjoyment, eye candy only?
I used to feel that way, that these beautiful things, these beautiful things like perfectly organized closets and great crafted memo boards, were for pleasure viewing only. I didn’t have to perfect them! I could even use the stuff in my short stories—to illustrate the perfectionist housewife, for instance. They didn’t mean ME when they printed those templates for stenciling long stairwells. These are just pretty things, like the shiny baubles birds go after on the seashore.
The thing is, there is just so much to fail at. I remember that line from Anne Lamott, when she shares her mom’s advice about men: “Mama told me not to marry a fixer-upper.” I think mamas everywhere should say, “Do not be your own fixer-upper. There is not room for continuous improvement.” I mean otherwise we’re all going to be walking around with our hands holding our heads and thinking “please don’t let me fail, please don’t let me fail,” like Marisa Tomei in the scene with Mel Gibson in What Women Want, when she’s thinking, “please let him be gay, please let him be gay, please don’t let me be rejected again . . .”
I worked for a publishing house that brought in TQM, Total Quality Management. We had all these consultants analyze every last step of all the work we did and then pushed us to deconstruct those steps further to see what we could kick out, what we could bring in. Our new CEO kept saying, “It will feel like we’re taking apart the plane while still trying to fly it.” Yeah, and that’s not an overworked metaphor. The thing is, have any of you ever flown Pulkovo Airlines?
So every move we made we felt the heat of TQM. Did you really need to make a copy of the edited manuscript before sending it to the author? In fact, do you really need to send the author a copy? Maybe you didn’t really need to copyedit books that much anyhow.
My friend worked at UPS at the time and they were going through TQM analysis, too. So they’d time her deliveries and ask her to walk up to the house with a package in one hand and her pen and pad in the other, writing as she delivered. Anything to shave off time, improve productivity.
In the end, the TQM scheme failed. Our CEO was fired. He went off to sell Amway, last I heard. The books aren’t being produced any faster or any better, though I do understand there is less copyediting going on. Better product? Probably not.
Now my anxiety has turned to indifference and the last few times I’ve opened up the mags for ladies I don’t even feel the pull of self-improvement: lose weight, save time, cook better, make love like a pro (sorry, honey). I just don’t really care. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can be motivated to make a really great roasted chicken, and Martha’s got a kicking recipe where you slather French’s mustard around and in the bird and roast it with potatoes and onions, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the video of her demonstrating it, either. But I’m not going to sweat it.
I recently attended a seminar by the marketing/branding firm Iconoculture. One of the key trends they’ve identified is the feeling among a new generation of adults that “good is good enough.” Works for me. Definitely works for me.
See, I just grilled some corn on the cob and I shaved the kernels off the cob into a big red bowl and now I’m eating those corn “slabs” with my fingers, straight out of the bowl. Damask pillows? Not tonight, honey. THIS is the good stuff.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
The Editors, an indie rock band from Birmingham, England, are playing the Fine Line tonight. I first heard them at SXSW a few years ago and I've been listening since.
I've got another commitment tonight so can't make it but what I really want is something from their online store--the green army shirt or the black mug. Hmmm, I've got a birthday coming up so not only are they on my recommended POMS but they're also new items on my own wish list.
For more on the band, see their official website.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Here's a poem that speaks just what's on my mind today.
by Charles Wright
There comes a time in one’s life when one wants time,
a lot of time, with inanimate things.
Not ultimate inanimate things,
Of course, but mute things,
beautiful, untalkbackable wise things.
That’s wishful thinking, cowboy.
Still, I’d like to see the river of stars
fall noiselessly through the nine heavens for once,
But the world’s weight, and the world’s welter, speak big talk and
From the online Virginia Quarterly Review
And for much less weighty news:
The boy weighed in at 149. Pretty sure no nudity was involved. He went directly to Chipotle after making weight and ate a whole chicken burrito with pinto beans AND chips and salsa.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Amos Alonzo Stagg, University of Chicago, football playbook, 1927. Throughout his legendary career as a coach, Stagg maintained careful and detailed records of successful plays he had devised. Wisconsin and Ohio State felt the impact of his offensive innovations in the 1922 season.
I’ve been on a high school track team, a West Publishing softball team, even a middle-agers pick-up basketball team, but I’ve never been on a football team. I’ve played a little touch football over the years; once, in college, we were playing in the snow on an empty lot and I fell to the ground trying to chase the passer. My palm landed on a broken Cutty Sark bottle and I had to rush to the emergency room for twenty-two stitches. That scar hurts every time I grip and swing a bat. Even if I could punt the ball deep, like some of these modern girls can, I don’t think I’d ever push to join the boys.
Still, it is the one sport I watched with my dad when I was growing up. He rooted for the Kansas City Chiefs and I was a Steelers fan. I liked watching Lynn Swann catch those passes and would think he had the perfect name for the job, like Bob Barker’s was for his role as annoying game show host. I even knew the name of the Steeler voted “most fashionable”: running back Frenchie Fuqua.
My dad and I would take up our places in the basement rec room, he in the floral wing-back recliner, me in the matching floral sofa. Mom would be upstairs watching her own shows because she hated the sound of those announcers shouting out the plays. Cosell, Madden. She didn’t mind Musberger, though, so she’d come down with toasted BLTs and chips when he called the games for CBS. My dad and his brothers played high school football in Wisconsin and one of his brothers tried out for the Chicago Bears farm team. My Uncle Larry, on my mom’s side, played OT for Florida State in 1965. I heard a lot of football over the years.
So I’m a fan. Despite the militaristic machoism of the NFL. Despite the corruption of the college game. Despite the misguided frenzy at the high school level. Despite the fact that my young son might get upended and crushed by some 180-pound kid in the junior high league.
Some notes from our first weekend of football:
I heard about the visit by pro baller Chris Weinke, a Cretin grad, who attended Florida State on a football scholarship but opted out before graduating to play baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays. He told my son and other campers at the Cretin football camp that “of all the sports I’ve played none compares to the camaraderie of football. None.”
My son rushed the ball a few times in his team’s fall preview on Saturday, but when he was stopped by a large wall of defensive linemen his coach told him he should have jumped over them. So every time we watched a game on TV and saw a running back get tackled after only a few yards, we’d yell out “SHOULD HAVE JUMPED OVER THEM,” just to make my son crazy.
One of our friends is an All-American who played tight end at Michigan. The usually mighty Wolverines are a dismal 0-2 this season. My husband walked up to him at the kids’ game on Saturday and asked, “Wait a minute. How DO you spell Appalachian State?”
In order to run the ball in official games for the eighth grade, players must weigh in at 150 pounds or less. This keeps teams from giving the ball to their enormous lunks to plow over everybody else thirty pounds lighter than them. My son is at 151. His official weigh-in is today at 3:00 p.m. with the school nurse. I was in the bathroom this morning getting ready to shower when I heard my husband walk into my son’s room.
“You have weigh-in today,” says dad.
“Uh, I know,” says son.
I’m thinking, “Don’t say it, please don’t say it.”
“You should, uh, you know . . .” says dad, faltering.
Son waits. I’m thinking, “Really, just don’t say it.”
“You should, uh, you know, try to go to the bathroom before, uh, you get weighed,” says dad.
“Man,” I think, “he said it. I knew he’d say it.”
“Dad, knock it off. Seriously,” says son.
I can see my husband, who is really not as fanatic as this sounds, standing by the scale with my son, the reading at 150-1/2, and him saying, “You should try taking off your pants now, son,” and the two of them getting in a huge fight right there in front of the unsuspecting nurse. Camaraderie indeed.
Foggy morning on John Lake, BWCAW, 2007, photo by B. A. Gaede
A Few Moments
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly
The dwarf pine on marsh grounds holds its head up: a dark rag.
But what you see is nothing compared to the roots,
the widening, secretly groping, deathless or half-
deathless root system.
I you she he also put roots out.
Outside our common will.
Outside the City.
Rain drifts from the summer sky that's pale as milk.
It is as if my five senses were hooked up to some other creature
that moves with the same stubborn flow
as the runners in white circling the track as the night comes misting in.
From The Half-Finished Heaven, published by Graywolf Press. by Tomas Transtromer. English language copyright © 2001 by Robert Bly.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Three of us on the trip are book editors. We like to analyze. We do it in our jobs all the time: moderate edit, 65,000-word manuscript, 5 pages/hour to edit, 10 pages/hour to proofread, 7 months to produce book.
Regarding our trip, we planned:
approx. 9 miles a day, since we'd be taking two leisurely layover days
approx. 2 miles/hour to paddle, unless we hit hard winds
approx. 8 rods/minute to portage
Double-back portages until the last day, when we had reduced to four packs, then we portaged the "leap-frog" method:
1,2,3,4 = person
A,B,C = beginning, midpoint, and end of portage
1 & 2 carry canoes from A to C
3 & 4 carry two packs from A to B and return to A
1 & 2 return to B and carry packs to C
3 & 4 carry last two packs from A to C
Instead of walking the portage three times, each one only has to walk the length twice.
Or, if you want a BWCA story with fewer stats--
When my then twenty-year-old, Chicago-born husband went with a crew of his friends to the Boundary Waters, he was in charge of food. This was his list:
*homage to the not-forgotten Batgirl. Boy, would she be having some doozies to say about these faltering Twins. . . .
Friday, September 07, 2007
But I KNOW I've never left the house looking this ridiculous.
For more from Thom Browne, see:
Thursday, September 06, 2007
(This is a progress shot of the front porch we built for ourselves a few years ago.)
Today I got to know the neighborhood again.
I have finally finished this huge book project and I'm feeling free and easy. I took a walk at 8 a.m. this morning, knowing it would make me late for work.
Because of some construction at the MSP airport, planes coming in for landing are now using runways that take them right over Highland Park. Whew. They make my bones rattle. We've been lucky in these parts not to have too much air traffic over the years, unlike our South Minneapolis neighbors. I remember one time taking my daughter, who was three at the time, to Lake Harriet. We played on the grassy knoll and then a big Northwest Airlines 747 came over us loud and low, its belly practically skimming the lake, and suddenly she just started running away from me, terrified, like those set extras they hired for the bombing-of-Pearl-Harbor scenes in "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
I remember hearing--or at least first recognizing--my first sonic boom. I was in my bedroom on an Air Force base in Altus, Oklahoma. I didn't know what it was but it felt like thunder inside my heart.
My dad worked on flight lines for twenty years. He shouts at people, even when you're just sitting in the dining room sipping on some tea. He really shouts when he's having a good time in a crowd. And for the longest time I used to get piping mad at him for always answering "WHY?" whenever I asked him a question. "Dad, I think I'm going to study English literature." "WHY?" he would boom. But then I finally realized that what he really should have said was "WHAT?" because that's what he meant inside, but he was too proud to admit he's practically deaf.
So I walked up Randolph Ave. right about school time and all the elementary school crossing guards in their orange vests came out in the street to flag my way through the intersection. I thanked them and most of them turned to smile back at me. The planes were going over and the big orange schoolbuses were barreling by and all the traffic coming off Snelling was loud, too.
I saw that same guy who always sits at J&S Coffee smoking a cigarette on the back patio and I saw the private school kids run laps around the softball fields. I felt the bruises on the bottoms of my feet from all the rocks on one of our long BWCA portages and then I remembered to look up at the morning sky, which, despite the planes, was lovely.
Then I came up on our little cottage and the neighbor's black cat was asleep on our porch rocker and the pink geraniums still stood out in the greenery despite the summer's end. I was happy but my hearing (which is not great to begin with) was muffled from all the neighborhood noise. When a woman walking by stopped to say something like "Nice morning to walk, isn't it" I missed most of what she said and was almost tempted to shout "WHY?" but I stopped--because I already knew the reasons.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
In the Boundary Waters, we dined elegantly:
*Salmon and Rosemary Pasta
*Spinach and Cheese Tortellini with Pesto Sauce
*Asiago cheese and smoked oysters, along with red wine
for “happy hour” on The Rock. We even splurged and brought along these nifty picnic glasses.
But now back home we're packing Sad Sack lunches for back-to-school, back-to-work: turkey and mayo on wheat, Cool Ranch Doritos for the kid, last night’s leftovers in Rubbermaid for the hubbie and me--and I doth protest. I don't want to sit inside today! Though I’m facing a tight deadline I still vow at least to bring my lunch outside and watch the sky.
But my protests are small and silly. Yellow taxicab drivers are striking in New York. Something about the demand that they install GPS units and ways to accept credit cards from their customers. A few days ago those in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward protested the debilitating lack of progress on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Clerical, technical, and health workers are striking at the U. Seems even profs who teach “Labor Struggles in Developing Countries” are being told by the administration to do nothing public about the strike that will disrupt the normal flow of classes. My daughter’s feminist theory class and instructor are planning to join the picket line Thursday.
I haven’t walked a picket line myself but I know my mother, who worked in the tradebook section of the University of North Dakota bookstore, fought for better wages. Mine have been only little acts of defiance. Once, in high school, we girls protested the school’s policy of unannounced “purse checks.” The administration was on the lookout for cigarettes and drugs. They’d call in girls and ask them to dump the contents of their purses onto the main office counter. So we contacted as many girls as we could and asked them to pack their purses with tampons—and nothing else. Sure enough, three of us were called in at once and the look of the vice principal’s face when these bundles of white sticks came tumbling out of our handbags was right out of Ferris Bueller.
If you’re stuck at your desk on this sunny day and feel the pulse of protest, large or small, past or present, pull up a good protest soundtrack. Though not specifically "protest," I always like a little Pink Floyd, especially their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Here’s some help: In the American Sociological Association- sponsored journal Contexts, the editors compile a list of "essential protest songs."
There are 14 songs on the list including standards as "We Shall Overcome," Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin' " and the 1930s union anthem "Which Side Are You On?"
"Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Lyrics by James Weldon Johnson; music by J. Rosamand Johnson. Key lyric: “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered / We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” Known as the “Black National Anthem”—the antidote to “America, the Beautiful.”
“Which Side Are You On?”
By Florence Reece. “Don’t scab for the bosses, don’t listen to their lies / Us poor folks haven’t got a chance unless we organize.” Written during the labor struggles in Harlan County, Kentucky, in the 1930s, it was later adopted by the civil rights movement.
Performed by Billie Holiday. By Abel Meeropol (who later adopted the children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). “Pastoral scene of the gallant south / The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.” A chilling protest against lynching. Maybe the greatest protest song of all time.
“Pastures of Plenty”
By Woody Guthrie. “Every state in this union us migrants has been /‘Long the edge of your cities you’ll see us, and then / We’ve come with the dust and we’re gone in the wind.” Guthrie’s ode to America’s migrant workers.
“The Times They Are A-Changin’”
By Bob Dylan. “There’s a battle outside and it’s raging / It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.” Tough call between this and Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” “Masters of War,” “With God on Our Side,” etc., etc.
“We Shall Overcome”
Adapted from a gospel song, the anthem of the civil rights movement. “Deep in my heart, I do believe / We shall overcome some day.” Infinitely adaptable.
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”Also adapted from a Negro spiritual. “I’m gonna keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’ / Fightin’ for my equal rights.” Another powerful civil rights anthem.
“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”
By Phil Ochs. “It’s always the old to lead us to the war / It’s always the young to fall / Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun / Tell me is it worth it all?” An antiwar classic, complete with a revisionist history of American militarism.
“For What It’s Worth”
Performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. By Stephen Stills. “There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear / There’s a man with a gun over there / Telling me I’ve got to beware.” Eerily foreboding.
“Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”
By James Brown. “Now we demand a chance to do things for ourself / We’re tired of beatin’ our head against the wall and workin’ for someone else.” A Black Power anthem by the Godfather of Soul.
Performed by Aretha Franklin. By Otis Redding. “I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone / Ain’t gonna do you wrong ‘cause I don’t wanna / All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home.” The personal is political.
By Bob Marley. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds.” Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” is also a contender.
By John Lennon. “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man.” Lennon as utopian socialist.
“Fight the Power”
By Public Enemy. “Got to give us what we want / Gotta give us what we need / Our freedom of speech is freedom or death / We got to fight the powers that be.” An exuberant hip-hop call to arms.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
"Atmospheric reentry is the process by which vehicles that are outside the atmosphere of a planet can enter that atmosphere and reach the planetary surface intact. Vehicles that undergo this process include spacecraft from orbit . . . Typically this process requires special methods to protect against aerodynamic heating. Various advanced technologies have been developed to enable atmospheric reentry and flight at extreme velocities."
* * * * *
Away for nine days, my first long-ish vacation in over a year: blue skies, clear water, eagles and otters and beavers--and a cow moose and calf eating wild rice on the shore of East Pike Lake. Swimming every day but one, island exploring, discovering sacred art on a point of land on West Pike (does anyone know about this spot?), long, meditative paddles and portages, full moon through triangle window of tent, shiraz and smoked oysters on "The Rock" on John Lake, a great company of women.
When my daughter went on her 30-day canoe trip in Canada I was warned by others to watch her "reentry"--that when she returned she might lick her plate clean at dinner, she might sleep on the hardwood floors at night, she might be overwhelmed by the noise and heat of the city after so much time in the wilderness. What do I do? I take her straight from her Bloomington drop-off to a loud and busy Vietnamese restaurant for spring rolls and noodles. She was as twitchy as a person with Tourette's by the time our dinner was over.
(I think hers would be described as the "blunt body concept." Like when you plunge into a chilly lake headfirst, just to get it over with. NASA first thought a blunt body reentry would quickly defer heat and pressure away from the craft and be a better design for a lunar capsule, and when I think about those quick, cold plunges we took in those BW lakes, they always worked better than the slow-footed wading we all think will be easier on our bodies--but really only prolong the icy agony. You know, the nursing home shuffle down the granite, feet first icy wet, shuffle, shuffle, ankles icy wet, shuffle, shuffle, knees icy wet . . . Still, I wish I had done better with my daughter's return home.)
My reentry has been more of the rounded "manned capsule" variety. Today I came home to a quiet house--the boys are up at the lake place--and my daughter and I arranged fresh flowers from the Farmers Market into various and pretty bouquets. Then we each took a "Caramel Queen" caramel into the living room and watched a rerun of Top Chef, the one where Stephen comes back from Season 1 to act as sommelier for Sara's team. I read some of my favorite blogs. She made a fried egg sandwich. We shared notes about paddling and the Boundary Waters. We decided to splurge and have a large Pizza Luce garlic mashed potato pizza and slices of carrot cake delivered to the house. She's taking a nap now; I'm taking time to write.
And now I can unload my gear, lay out my wet Solomon's and wool socks to dry, wash my stinky clothes, flip through my journal and remember all the sights and sounds from this amazing trip.