Mel Jass And Me
When I was young and impressionable, the afternoon TV movie was hosted by a pitchman extraordinaire, Mel Jass. The thing about his show was that it was done on the cheap, with local sponsors, and had a limited budget for feature films. The genius of Mel was that he could get quality European films by Fellini, Antonionni, Ealing comedies, etc. for next to nothing, and, being such a personable host, people would tune in to watch HIM and stay for the movie. The Coen brothers have been quoted numerous times about his "influence". My brush with Mel occured in the mid-seventies, at the Aquatennial (summer festival) parade. Standing in his convertible Cadillac, he was surrounded by a phalanx of beauty princesses (the queens rode on a float) and he was obviously "in the moment". I felt a need to reach out to my hero, but how? Just as he passed I shouted "WE LOVE YOU MEL!" . He smiled, and with a twinkle in his eye he turned, and looked straight at me. He raised a bullhorn to his mouth and spoke those words I'll never forget: "The movies are great on WTCN!"
Yes, the movies were great on WTCN, but not as great as you Mel!
It was in one of those national chain bookstore-cum-coffee houses that I found myself. Over by the magazine section, curled up in a chair was a young woman, dressed as for work with nylons, grey skirt, tasteful blouse, make-up, etc. The idea behind these stores is to make you feel at home, so you stay and drink overpriced bad coffee and buy the latest publications. She felt at home, to be sure, she was sound asleep! She probably had had a tough day behind the counter, or a long night the evening before, but she looked positively angelic, with the still-open book cradled in her hands. Perhaps she was dreaming; her book had entered into her slumbering state - a romance novel or some exotic adventure? I carefully sidled over to catch the title of what must be a powerful work of literature. The title? My Life by Bill Clinton. Or maybe it was just boring.
Calling In Dead
Several years ago, there was a young woman who worked part-time at the lab. She was a little strange, but then everybody at the lab is a bit "off". She was thin, I mean really thin, and she sort of had a strange walk, she dragged one foot alot. I thought that she might have been in an accident, or had a congenital condition. She was very insular, no chit-chat, and no joking. She did her work OK, but didn't like criticism. I suggested she try a different technique one day and she nearly bit my head off. The next day, she was supposed to open her department. When she was about 10 minutes late, I went over to get things rolling. Just then the counter person came over and gave me the news. The young, thin woman had died the night before. Her mother called in. We found out that she had made herself into a walking toothpick - she had anorexia. Some of the others recalled that she never ate. Anything. Nothing like having words with somebody on the day before they die. Every once in a while, I run across an anorexic blog. I get the same feeling of helplessness reading that now as I did then, when my coworker called in dead.
Coyotes of Anoka
Pedaling back from the library, I take the river trail, through the scary woods. I am used to seeing a variety of wildlife: birds, deer, geese, feral cats, woodchucks, etc., but not 60 pound predators with three inch long teeth. It had been drizzling, and the county fair was going on about a half mile away on the other side of the river, so the critter didn't hear my approach. As I swooped down a small hill, there was a sharp curve and as I took it there it was. A beautiful coyote, wild and free, lopeing ahead, perhaps looking for a furry snack. It turned and fled into the underbrush as I neared. If my posts stop someday, send out a search party to retrieve my gnawed carcass from the Rum River Trail.
When you move out own your own for the first time, the newness of the experience ensures that you will never forget it. No more curfews! No more chores! No more babysitting! It's you against the world, baby, and are you ever ready! Bring it on! Of course, then reality sets in. Things like:
Trips to the laundromat.
Police shoot-outs down the street.
Digging through the sofa for enough loose change to buy some food.
Pounding on the door by your girlfriend's ex-boyfriend, threatening bodily harm.
Police coming to YOUR door (in a squad of SIX) looking for the previous tenants.
Mice. Mice. And more Mice.
Still, it was all worth it. Crazy parties. Nights of passion. That sense of "This is MY place." And the feeling of regret when you finally move on. When I moved out of THERE, I only moved NEXT DOOR. But my friends moved in to my old place. On THEIR very first night, a police chase ended when a car crashed into the house on the OTHER side of them. Never a dull moment when you are 21.
On a Saturday or Sunday in Reykjavík, down by the harbor, in the old customs warehouse, is Kolaportið, the "world's northernmost flea market", as it is advertised. There is something to be said for examining a culture from its dregs, and this weekly gathering does not disappoint. It isn't terribly big (like Iceland) and certainly not pretentious in any way (also like Iceland). The first thing you notice is a lot of reading material. Most of it is Icelandic, although a fair smattering of English and other Nordic laguages is in evidence. This is a country where people like to read. Pop culture isn't ignored, plenty of videos, CDs and computer games. I had a great talk (with audio demonstrations) with a vendor about the "Keflavík Sound". Second hand clothes were in evidence, with several booths having "fashion" dresses and accessories - stuff that looked like a lot of fun. And did I mention food? There was a small area with vendors selling varieties of dried fish (don't knock it till you've tried it - and it is about the most nutrious "snack food" you will ever eat.) There was also frozen lamb and fresh fish, Sort of like Seattle's Pike Place market, albeit on a tiny scale. There was also a food court where you could buy sugary pastries and light sandwiches. A nice touch about the food court was the live entertainment - folk singers, playing traditional and international songs. Corny, sure, but really sweet. The performers just stood in the middle of the tables, and people of all ages enjoyed the music, even singing along on many songs. It was as if I had gone back in time, to rural American market day. It is this sense of community that has been lost in urban (and suburban) America and it is something that we could really use.
As I was enjoying the atmosphere, I thought it might be a good idea to capture on film the "splendor" of my environs. I didn't have my tripod, so I set my trusty camera upon a conveniently placed trash bin. I focused, framed, and shot and I was about to put my camera away I was suddenly surrounded by three preteen girls on rollerblades. "Camera?" the boldest asked, and pointed at it and then herself. Hmmm. Should I give my $500 camera with a $300 lens to a rollerblading 11 year old in a strange country? I must have had Loki whispering in my ear as I gave it to her and her friends to examine. I had the fisheye lens on and they thought that was great fun. I feebly attempted conversation, but they didn't speak English or didn't care to. As quickly as they had come, they were gone, their photographic interests satisfied, they were off to another adventure. When I developed the picture later, they were in the center of the frame, the roller-princesses of Kolaportið.
I may have left the impression that I don't drink, or am anti-drinking. Not so. I am not much of a drinker, that's for certain. But occasionally I will imbibe, sometimes even get a little daring. I thought it might be fun to share (and let you share with me and the six or seven other readers of this) some of the most off-beat, surprising or revolting drinks you have had the pleasure of consuming. Back in my party all night days, I was fond of champagne with a coffee chaser. Like all night long, about glass of each about every hour until the sun rose. I didn't even get a headache! Nowadays, my odd combo is lemonade with a shot of Brennivín (Icelandic caraway schnapps) stirred in. It makes the best -tasting lemonade you ever drank! (Although this will give me a headache in a hurry - they don't call it black death for nothing!) How about you? Any recipes you'd like to share?
In Philip K. Dick's novel Valis, the main character, Horselover Fat, has an epiphany (one of many) where he comes to realize the there is one sentence that can destroy us, and one sentence can save us. Taken outside of the context of the book, I wonder if this is so, if a string of words can literally destroy our self-perception? What kind of person would deliver this blow? Someone who knew the other's weak spot, and, more importantly, wanted to destroy that person. A scary thought. The opposite situation is where a series of words could heal someone. Dick called these people a micro-form of God. Perhaps these were what we use to call saints. Who are the saints of today? The poets, songwriters, novelists, bloggers? What sentence could heal you?
When I was young, there was an older boy in the neighborhood that every one called Bubber. The story, or what I understood to be the story, was that he had, as a small child, been hit by a city bus and had been mentally impaired by the accident. His family had received a settlement from the bus company, part of which was, I believe, a bus pass. You would see him everywhere on the North Side buses. Some times he would have boxes of cards that he would sell, sometimes seeds. Sometimes he would show up at the park and play the simpler games with the other children, usually younger ones. He was a real good guy. He was speech impaired, causing a slight stuttering and slurring when he talked (the nickname), but he could make sense, and had an infectious laugh when things were funny. Sometimes a mean older boy would taunt him or pick a fight. We were too young to do anything, but even then we knew which of the two was retarded.
Flowers! - The Movie!
A nice hot 'n humid summer evening. Sitting on the open front porch with a southwest breeze bringing me dozens of scents. Every once in a while one will come to the forefront of my consciousness, as if to say "smell me! smell me!" Flowers all around, the cool, wet spring was good for something. This 3-D technicolor production (in Odor-Rama) is presented for a target audience of bees and bugs, I just snuk in when the usher wasn't looking.
The Invisible Chain Gang
We're all on it. Maybe there are a few trust fund babies, people of indeterminate means, fat cats or heiresses, but they have a different set of problems. No, I'm talking about those of us who work, and work nearly every day. And what chains are these, invisible, yet so real? Food, clothing and shelter. Taxes. Transportation. Security. Communication. Familial obligations. Health care and upkeep. No wonder it is easy to feel trapped sometimes. Some people think of love as a trap. It certainly can become one. But for the rest of us, it is a moment when the chains are lifted, and we can become the natural creatures that we actually are.
"One of these days, I'm goin' home,
one of these days, I'm goin' home,
to see my woman, whom I love so dear,
but meanwhile, I have to work right here -
well don't you know, that's the sound of the men,
workin' on the chain, chain gang -
well don't you know, that's the sound of the men
workin' on the chain gang..." - Sam Cooke
Second Hand Nirvana
I stopped in at the Thrift Store on my way home from work. You never can tell what will turn up. Today I saw the Dali Lama shopping there. He had the silk robe, the shaved head, the glasses, etc...I guess that although his material needs are few, he does have some. Maybe he was shopping for a razor, another bowl and spoon, or some new sandals. There was a cassette tape of Nirvana on the shelf a few days ago, I don't know. Maybe it wasn't the REAL Dali Lama, only a poseur, a wannabe, or perhaps a body double. He was looking through a bin of hand tools, maybe there was a broken hinge that needed mending at the temple. Whoever he was, (and he was a dead ringer) he was regular guy, not slumming or putting on airs. No "holier that thou" attitude. When you shop second-hand, everybody is equal.
Last evening the sun shone red. Not at sunset, but at about 8 p.m. The weather report mentioned that it was due to Canadian forest fires. Nothing in the news. nothing in the paper. It must have been a pretty big fire to have this much of an effect over 500 miles away. Lots of habitat, animals, maybe some homes destroyed. But not newsworthy. What was front page news? A visiting politician. The Twins won. A triathalon. Another murder in Minneapolis. It's only Canada.
One Two Four
I don't know where I came across it. A simple formula. No thinking. No psychological explanations. No exceptions. Just do it. When ever you drink, use this plan. One drink per hour. Max. Two drinks per day. Max. Four drinks per week. Max. If you can't do it, then you have a drinking problem. That situation needs another plan.
About ten years ago, the Professor was not the cheerful, happy-go-lucky type that exists today (even though he has a disconcerting habit of writing death-blogs). Down at the lab, every day was unrelenting torment. Everybody was cranky and/or uncommunicative, and Batty WAS going batty. One day a new employee started, and things began to change. Was it something she said? She was fun to talk with, but not a Shakespeare. Was it her disposition? She was generally upbeat, but not always. But as their working relationship developed, his disposition gradually improved. It was fun to go to work. He no longer dreaded Monday. As he got to know her, he realized, from her example, that his approach to work had been wrong-headed. She was not a philosopher, not a comedian, not a psychologist. She was honest. She was pragmatic. But the most important thing was that she saw the worth of living fully, and did not let petty circumstance bring her down. She did leave, however, Minnesota winters were not to her liking. She moved to Hawaii, and worked her way up to a better job and a home of her own. Some people in the lab thought they were lovers, but they weren't. Just good friends. He kissed her just once. He kissed her good-bye.
"we sang in the sunshine, you know we laughed every day...we sang in the sunshine, and then she went away" ~ Gale Garnett
Whilst approaching my local market for the selection of the week's comestibles and sundries, I came upon an arrest in progress. The suspect, a very well groomed, handsome man in his late twenties, was surrounded by a half - dozen security guards. One, behind the alleged "perp" was forcefully instructing him to hold still, as he was attempting to "cuff" the miscreant. This desperado (and indeed, he was desperate) was shouting at the guards, out of hopelessness I suppose, in a vain attempt to be freed. The police had not yet arrived, and figuring that my prescence was not needed or desired, I entered the store. As I shopped, I wondered what offense had been commited? Shoplifting? I suppose it was possible, although probably not groceries - maybe trying to lift a narcotic at the pharmacy. Or perhaps he had a habit of writing bad checks - although that is usually left to collection agencies. Identity theft? Using a stolen credit card? Who knows? Later, as I walked the isles, I saw a policeofficer leaving the stores' office. They then must have been taking him to the squad car, for as he went by the door I heard another string of threats and demands by the "crook". Did he think that yelling would do anything for him? When you have been "cuffed" the time for tough talk is over - save it for the judge.
I live in the U.S. of A. The U.S. of A. is BIG. The people who live in the U.S. of A are BIG (mostly). It wasn't always like this. It used to be that the people here were like people everywhere else- some tiny, some small, some medium, some large, some big (Not in terms of height, in terms of proportion). Now the distribution is skewed, and getting worse. My question about this is why? Why so many, why so big, why here, why now? With tons of low-cal, low-fat, low carb options available you would think that we would be a nation of skeletons. Think about those "options." If it is a processed item (ie: something that you can't pick from your garden, or catch, or gather from the natural world) chances are pretty high that it is BAD FOOD. This has nothing to do with taste, Some food is BAD FOR YOU regardless of its flavor. If you eat bad food, you will still hunger for nourishment. Then you will eat more. This fact, coupled with insidious (and highly effective) marketing by large multinational corporations, and a sedentary lifestyle, leaves the American consumer at a deadly disadvantage.
A Gaggle Of Geese
After checking on the well-being of the local feral cat colony (they're fine, thank you), I continued on the Rum River Trail until my progress was impeded by a large gaggle of geese. They have steadily been increasing in numbers, and are now a force to be reckoned with. Woe be to the unwary pedestrian who comes upon this herd of hissing, spitting avians. They are very territorial, and have come to believe that the paved path of the trail serves very well as their bathroom. I slowed my (t)rusty bike and warily made my way into the pack. They moved, be they twarn't likin' it. If they ever remake Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds they should do it with geese - they are mean enough and big enough to do some real damage.
So much for any thoughts I may have had of becoming "one with nature". I may have to start adding full riot gear to my bike helmet and gloves.
Hot Fun In The Summertime
"...all the girls walk by, dressed up for each other..." - Van Morrison
The first real day of summer, mid eighties, some humidity. Our town had an Arts celebration today, with a classic car show tonight. Everyone wearing their summer clothes, trying to stay (and look) cool. And the girls wear clothes they would be embarrassed to be seen in any other time of the year. It is all part of the mating dance, maybe just a little more obvious now, but it is the same as it was, as it will be. Chilling out at the Dairy Queen, a trio of teen girls, with womanly bodies but the postures of children, wearing just-barely there tops and low riding pants. Even though this show is not meant for me, I can't help but admire them - their curves are better than those of the classic autos.
The kids are alright. It is kind of sweet. Really. I'm not complaining.
"Vanity, thy name is BATTY"
At a certain stage of a man's life, he actually has to start paying attention to his body. The free ride is over, buster - time to face the music - time for a literal "gut check". Let's go down the list shall we?
•Hair - everywhere but the top of my head
•Skin - same old pasty fish belly white
•Feet and legs - lookin' good
•Naughty bits - complete and functional
•Torso - Uh Oh...I could stand to lose about 20lbs - Are those the beginning of Old Man tits?
•Arms, Hands and fingers - 2, 2, 9&3/4 - don't ask
•Face - Oh the horror! Is this the end of Batty? There they are, right below the ends of my mouth - JOWLS!
5 X 5 X 5
Greet Happy Unite Enjoy Bliss
Frank Laugh Revel Dream Sleep
Nerve Brave Drink Foggy Dizzy
Irate Angry Annoy Groan Awake
Fight Growl Avoid Vomit Alone
In 1931 my father's mother died of an aneurysm caused by undiagnosed high blood pressure. My father's father took this very hard and remained pretty much intoxicated for the remaining twelve years of his life. My fathers' siblings, three girls and four boys, were thrown into the world - left to fend for themselves. The younger kids were "passed from pillar to post" while the older ones went into the army and/or got married. My grandfather was not a bad man. He just couldn't figure out a better way to deal with his grief. My family history is full of gaps, gaps that were never discussed. My grandmother's aneurysm was not just a rip in an aorta, it was the ripping apart of my father's family. Most of the kids turned out well. One of the sisters kept marrying alcoholics, one sister died of the very same thing that killed her mother. One of the boys died like his father- drunk. The others lived long full lives, nothing great, but they managed to rear their children to adulthood, and their family circle was not ripped asunder. The chain can be broken. My grandfather was not a bad man. He just could not get over the loss of his wife, my grandmother.
The Batty Egosuction Clinic®
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A Tough Night
Back in the professor's show biz days, some gigs were harder than others. It was a benefit, held in a church basement in St. Paul for a six year old with cancer. It was well organized, with activities for kids, a silent auction and lots of door prizes. Our combo was the entertainment. About a week before, the child died. It is strange, to play a wake. The parents were there, his medical team, relatives, neighbors and schoolmates. His father gave a heart-rending speech, thanking those who helped, but he was really inconsolable. We played the best we could, I think people appreciated it. Afterwards, there was a ton of leftover beer that had been donated by a local brewery. They told us to take as much home as we wanted. It was really good beer, but it didn't make me feel any better.
The Best Fireworks Ever
If you think about it, a modern fireworks display is a very controlled experience. Due to the dangerous nature of the fireworks themselves, extreme care is used in their manufacture, transportation and exhibition. When I was a teenager (hmhmyears ago), our neighborhood park would always celebrate the fourth with a pyrotechnic extravaganza, launched from the parks' sledding hill, out over the mighty and majestic Shingle Creek. One year, an errant missile, only the second or third in the program, fell back unto the stacks of unlit rockets. An immediate chaotic eruption ensued. Instead of thud - whoosh - boom, with colorful sparks making orderly flowers of fire in the sky above, we had a 3-D nightmare scene of people running, sideways expolsions, and the sense of "this can't be happening!" Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, but that was the end of our neighborhood fireworks. As a spectacle, it was hard to top - instead of looking at the fireworks, you were in the fireworks!
Without a doubt the most referenced movie I have come across on blogs or in person with people of a certain age (17-35) is the Coen brothers classic "The Big Lebowski". This film (which was something of a dud on its initial release) has crept into the English-speaking worlds' collective consciousness. An inspired premise (aging slacker becomes a reluctant Raymond Chandleresque anti-hero), a truly magnificent cast (has Jeff Bridges ever been better? Or Julianna Moore? Or John Goodman? Or any of the actors in the smaller roles?), and the Coens' brilliant dialogue, this flick must certainly rank with their best work.
What sets this film apart is its sub-theme, an affectionate but pointed examination of Seventies culture, and its fading into irrelevance. This may be a film for the ages, one that future film scholars will reexamine, a movie whose importance will grow, not fade. As Sam Elliot's omnipotent cowboy said at its ending: "The Dude abides".
In the late sixties and early seventies, the American Elm tree was ravaged by the Dutch Elm disease, a parasitic fungus spread by the Elm Bark Beetle. Miles and miles of tree-line boulevards were razed, and still the plague spread. In my town was a small section that had survived for thirty-five years, still hanging on, with graceful Elms forming a perfect archway over the asphalt street below. Yesterday I saw that they had finally succumbed, only ugly stumps remained, and what was a cool grotto is now a hot city street. New trees will be planted, and in about twenty years the street will have thick shade again. But the new trees are a mix, and however nice they appear individually, they will never equal the massed splendor of an Elm Canopy.
kiss face warm girl
hard slap nice gone
rude jerk went home
boys real mean hurt