"Please hold for an important message from the Bush-Cheney re-election committee..."
I was interrupted during my quality family time today (pumpkin carving!} by a political phone call. The nerve of it all. And the topper was that it wasn't some person who, for God knows what reason, sincerely believed that their phone call would make one bit of difference to me - it was a recording. And the recording was telling me to wait for another recording! Well I have been on hold. I have been on hold for four years. On hold for an economic recovery. On hold for the planning of my retirement (if I will ever be able to retire). On hold for something to be done about the real threat of Arab Fundamentalism. I'm on hold. Nothing is happening. No one is accepting responsibility for four years of incompetence. I am already waiting. There is no need to put me on hold.
I think I've already got the message.
The neighborhood boys had a variety of paper routes. One route, in particular, was never wanted. It went down by the river, it was said that hobos lived there, in the river flats. It also went by Green Lake, a ten acre pond of caustic soda (lime), a by-product of a small factory. But what clinched the case against this route was that it went by the "old folks home" - the haunt of the "Sheet". All of the morning carriers had seen it; a ghostly apparition that would slowly materialize out of the morning fog, making strange groaning or coarse guttural sounds. The old folks home had a history of its own: years ago, before this part of town was incorporated into the city, it was the home of the county workhouse - where miscreants did their thirty or sixty days, making bricks for the public works department. A few outbuildings still remained in the field behind it. Perhaps the "Sheet" was an inmate who hanged himself on his bed linen, and was doomed to spend eternity at the scene of his demise. The boys who saw him didn't stick around to ask questions.
The years went by, the old home was torn down, a modern nursing home was built. I found myself back there many times, my mother lived there for nearly ten years with Parkinson's syndrome. If places can be haunted, that spot would have thousands of souls, trapped in crumbling bodies, with fading memories of their previous lives, of their families, of their own children who were paperboys and girls in this neighborhood. I had that route for a while, as did my youngest sister. The "Sheet" had probably been a resident of the old home, out for a stroll in his gown.
"Are you making it scary for Halloween?"
The speaker was a twelve year old girl, who saw me hanging a motorized bat from my porch eave.
"Well a little I guess, are you going out for trick or treat?"
"Well, maybe, if my sister will hand out candy, then I can go for a while."
"Will this be your last year?"
"Oh I don't know, Maybe not - I'm pretty short." She was smiling at the justification.
"If the weather is nice there should be a lot of kids."
"Oh there aren't that many around here."
"A lot of kids have moved in, and kids come from other places to trick or treat here."
"Are you going to scare the kids again this year?"
"Oh I scare the kids do I?"
"I remember when I was small you scared me good!"
"Well maybe I did scare a few..."
"That's OK, that's what makes it fun."
"Some people don't like Halloween."
"Some people think its evil, people from churches and stuff. Its just for kids to have some scary fun."
"Yes I guess it is. So should I scare the kids this year?"
"Oh Yes! It's a lot better when it's scary."
"Well, you'll just have to wait and see."
"There's my sister, bye!"
I love Halloween!
Ah, lunch at last… I'll just sit down here across from the new girl and… what's that headline in her paper…"LOVE WILL STAND TRIAL"… bringing back the miscegenation laws are they? I remember when the last one was finally repealed - in 1972 I believe... Home of the free - right...of course the same arguments against gay marriage now were used then against interracial marriages…
I wish she would leave so that I could read that article, I'll wait… maybe its about that church down the road that has a "boot camp" for adult men to learn "sexual purity"-no porn, lustful thoughts, or masturbation allowed (what about the women of that church? - they must already be pure)… or maybe its about the way that love between two people always seems to come with a lot of "tests', some big, some small (some ordeals).… or might it be like the Scopes Monkey Trial of the twenties, with two grizzled lawyers giving love (romantic, carnal, filial?) a legal workout…
Oh good… she's getting up… let me see that story…"Lawyers for Courtney Love said today that she will stand trial for an incident…
"COURTNEY LOVE! The one kind of love I just don't understand!
… take it easy, buddy…
… no need to be so uptight…
… the world will still be here tomorrow…
… some days are better than others…
… just relax, take a few deep cleansing breaths…
… just do what you can…
… we're all in this together…
… it was only a bad dream…
… just another week…
… welcome to eternal World War III…
As in effing mouse jockey. As in ucked-fay ouse-may ockey-jay. I have managed to avoid a full time mousing position for a long time, but lately I have been working on the newer machines at work. My choice of control is either a vague and slow touch screen or a mouse. I have used dozens of machines over the years, some better than others, but most had some sort of fixed input control device. Usually a keypad, or knobs and switches, maybe even the aptly-named joystick. All did the job with certainty and precision. But to spend a day wiggling a stupid mouse "around" and watching the cursor trail the movements until I could click on a poorly designed control screen is maddening.
With the older machines, one quickly became one with the process, until the machine was an effortless extension of the operator. With the mouse, you first have to find it (it moves around, remember) and then you have to hold it just so, and wiggle it until you are ready to click.. My hand, forearm, upper arm and shoulder are killing me. The laptop I am using to write this has a touch pad, not the most precise device, but it does the job and it is always in one spot and works with a minimum of movement. I have used trackballs (good ones are very nice) but they are not an option on this machine. So am I doomed, doomed to spend the rest of my working days tethered to this little imp of torture? Professor Batty, Phd of Mouseology. Bah! The machine may have won this round, but I will have my revenge!
Feral Cat Attack!
On my weekly trip to the library (via the Rum River Trail), I noticed signs posted at the feral cat hang-out. An animal activist group "Animal Ark" has taken it upon itself to "fix" the feral cat "problem" in our fair city. This means trapping, neutering and returning the cats to the site. Looking at their web site I noticed that this organization offers shelter and placement services for pets in the area. There are also articles about "unacceptable" cat and dog behaviors, and also sections concerning feral cats. I couldn't make any sense of it.
Look, Minnesota is pretty harsh in the winter. A lot of these cats don't make it. Also, predation by dogs and coyotes also takes a toll. These cats don't live very long. No matter how many kittens are born, the population stays about the same. The cats replace natural predators (foxes) and may have an impact of bird populations. (But not the geese!) These cats live a short, glorious life. Most of their time is spent napping, hunting, or just exploring. They don't exhibit the neurotic behaviors of many house cats. These cats range over an area of hundreds of acres, and do little harm to anything (they probably keep the rodent population down). They are not friendly, but they are curious, and look forward to visits from "the regulars" on the trail. When the population gets too large for the food supply, some of the weaker ones die. This is the way of the natural world. This is a lot of money and work to correct a "moral" dilemma that doesn't exist. There are many animals that ARE abused and need help - these cats are not among them.
In my show biz days, bands could still get a week long, four or five night gig. That is pretty much a thing of the past; the music scene is so fractured and competitive now that most bands are lucky to get a single night, much less a week-end at any one venue. "Pay to play" is the worst trend in modern music. When we did have a week booked, there was a real difference between each night.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the nights when you played to other musicians. Everybody was always checking every other act and venue. Those nights were used to try out new material, impress other bands and kind of establish your "turf". Thursday the crowd changed to harder drinking types who like to start the weekend early. Friday was TGIF, the wildest dancing and most unruly crowds. But Saturday night was altogether a different animal.
Saturday night was "date night" and the atmosphere had a different charge. There was serious interaction between the sexes, and the good bands knew that it was these "couples" or would-be couplers that were the show. You played music that made people want to get together, get in the mood. The last set, if it went well, was a form of foreplay. When you could smell it, amidst the smoke and sweat and alcohol, that musk, those animal attractors, the mesmerizing scent of human desire - you knew that the gig was a success.
Oh My! I'm in a perfect state, a tizzy as it were, over the choice of my Halloween Outfit this year (it's only nine days away.) In this recession year (fourth in a row) I have to pinch every penny, yet it just wouldn't be right - living as I do in the Halloween Capital of the World - to short-change the tykes with their trick-or-treat baskets. My normal appearance is enough to frighten the children, but I need to give it just that little "plus" to elevate their imaginations into the trauma zone.
Let me consider my options:
Pirate...Not this time, Johnny Depp has raised the bar on this one.
Bum...Too close to everyday. Not PC.
Vampire...now rated "R".
Homer Simpson...Trademarked characters mean $$$ costumes.
Dubya...Scary enough, but may get confused with Alfred E. Neuman.
Mrs. Batty has the last word on scary, cost-effective costumes:
"Why don't you just be the crazy naked man?"
I love Halloween!
With the thought of spending another morning with that smoking, chattering, POS toaster that I have had for the last ten years, (who was it at Black and Decker that thought their tool-making expertise would transfer to kitchen appliances?), I reluctantly assumed the role of consumer. I was no impulse shopper on this trip, however, for I did my homework by consulting consumer magazines, online searches and in store comparisons. It's a good thing that I did - the world of toastology has changed greatly in the last decade. I soon found myself in a terra incognito of strange jargon and new features:
"Electronic toast technology" - hmmm, the idea of eating electronic toast isn't very appealing.
"Bagel technology" - A little better, except it is a toaster I need, not a bagel engineer.
"Use of extension cord may cause FIRE OR DEATH" - well, enough high carb toast with butter may cause death also.
"Optical Browning Sensor" - this can detect the proximity of certain a romantic poet? Or a hunting rifle?
I finally made my choice - European Engineering (designed by a infamous German Arms Maker), a simple lever, an easy to understand knob, a warming tray on the top (something I have actually wanted in the past!) and even a Bagel Button. I brought it home, read the manual ("Do not use in or near the bathtub!" - Drat! I'll have to forgo my daily shower toast!) and tried it out. It worked perfectly, with only a faint "air" of Teutonic superiority.
The world is full of unrest, troubles and war. My life is a series of innumerable setbacks and defeats. At least I can have one simple pleasure - perfect toast.
Flippist Industries, Inc.
Many of you may wonder what is required to produce such a top-notch blog day in and day out. Some may think all you need is a gift of gab, a laptop and a modem. Au contraire, mon feré! I've prepared a little presentation so that you can understand all the effort that goes into every single quality Flippism Is The Key posting...First slide please!
Here you see an aerial view of the Flippism campus, located on 4000 acres of virgin prairie, in Minnesota's heartland, Anoka. Please notice the man-made lake, nature trails, and meditation huts located in the feral-cat preserve.
Entering the main reception area, you will notice the indoor waterfall, the pianist in the marble atrium, and the Versace-clad security guards (with color-coordinated Uzis!)
The first complex houses 244 wordsmiths (that English major IS good for something) toiling away on the proper structure, parsing and syntax for the upcoming post - ever wonder what the meaning of "is" is? They know!
Now we're in the legal department. A phalanx of barristers (in wigs) is kept busy with the judical issues surrounding this blog, including analysis of those intriguing Nigerian emails.
This is my favorite area - the theology department. One hundred monks and esteemed scholars ponder the mysteries of Flippism. Their current project? Attempting to create a version of the Hanson Bible in ancient Aramaic.
And here, yes this is it, the inner sanctum, my fortress of solitude, the office where I work on this blog. Strewn about this knotty-pine garret are various volumes of forgotten lore, Icelandic phrase-books (most of the phrases are somewhat morbid), Björk videos and a copy of HTML for Dummies. Please note the stack of moist towelettes next to the keyboard!
(click and off)
There it is! A cast of thousands laboring day and night to bring you the finest in internet entertainment. Any Questions?
When I was 16, I went to Bible Camp. I learned many things there. I learned that the Anti-Christ was now a teen-ager, growing up among us. (!?) I also learned that the boy and girl counselors (19 year olds) had a 'special" bible study after lights out. I learned what a sauna was when I went on a field trip into the Finnish town of Menahga, Minnesota. I learned that if you shared a Slow-Poke taffy-on-a-stick sucker with a beautiful 6 foot tall girl named Barb girl germs were okay. (After you had been working on that thing for a few minutes it got very warm and gooey.)
One night I got caught outdoors after lights out, trying to wake up Barb (who never did wake up.) The next day I learned that my heart was full of lust, that I was evil, and headed straight for hell. I knew the first part already, I didn't believe the second, and I may yet end up in hell - but the path has fortunately been meandering. I think I've missed my chance for the Anti-Christ job.
Most of the year, Minnesota is reasonably temperate. From March through December, the weather is tolerable, maybe a little warm (and humid) in the summer, but for the most part easily coped with by the wearing of appropriate apparel. Last night we got the first real frost, just a little warning of the winter to come, just enough to jar me out of my daily routine. When the cold weather does come, it always makes me wonder: "What am I doing living here?" If I lived in the tropics, or Southern California, I wouldn't need to have a special set of "winter only" clothes, snow shovels or deal with snow emergencies. It would probably feel like cheating, not having to suffer the effects of the cold.
Oh, I guess I'll grumble about the weather, but I'll put up with it. It keeps me humble. And there are no mosquitoes. Maybe I'll take a winter vacation this year - Cancun, St. Croix, Virgin Islands? Mmmm...I know - the perfect place - Iceland!
I Want You
You're the one that I want.
Let it be me.
Let's get together.
It's twine time.
Hold me tight.
I fell into your burning ring of fire.
It's now or never.
Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!
All is full of love.
Do that to me one more time.
I miss you.
Arriving at 5:55, MSP, International flight from Reykjavík, with the firstborn on board. A three month journey throughout Scandinavia, a celebration of earning his masters in Geology. The people start to trickle through the security doors, and then - it's Leifur the Red! My son, with a bushy coppery beard, wearing that knit hat and toting his "abode" in a large duffle. After hugs, and a trip from the airport, we're back home; the family is all together again, if only for a few days.
The wandering son, always on the go - out west, New Zealand, even seven weeks in the field in Antartica. He's probably safer in the wild than riding from the airport. He unpacks his gifts - Gudbrandsdalsost (Norwegian brown cheese), Molte (Cloudberry Preserves) and even a bottle of Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps). Instead of me bringing home the gifts, its his turn now.
Every year since he was twelve he has been gone most of the summer, and every year since he was seventeen he has been gone most of the year. It seems like he was a baby for a day, a child for a week, and a youth for a month. Now he is a man, school is over, and his adult life begins. It all goes by too fast.
Hi There! I thought I'd watch the debate tonight before I wrote my post...I'll be back later.
Is he gone?
Yes id, he's in the other room. You don't have to whisper.
Well, while he's away we can finally make ourselves heard, soup.
That's SUPEREGO, id, you know my title.
I know all about you and your titles...say - he left the computer on! Let's surf the net for porn sites!
That's just your style, isn't it id? Instant gratification, with no thought to personal betterment.
Aw, you're always cramping my style, right from the first day you appeared!
Are you still sore about not going home with that girl on the bus when he was 15?
Oo! Oo! She was hot and ready! A candy-striper! She had that special "wiggle"!
Please. Control your animal urges.
That's all you ever say! Don't you ever want to "let go" and "let it all hang out?" You always want to control me!
THAT is my function, thank you, and I do it very well. I wonder how the debate is going?
Ha ha! My guy won last time, and he's going to win this time too!
I beg your pardon, he did not win. He stole. And HIS id is ruining the world
Hey! Action is good! Just do it! Soup, you worry too much!
Id, there is a world of nuance that you are completely unaware of.
I don't do nuance...shhh! He's coming back!
Well, I'm back. The debates are over. My mind is made up. Is yours?
"Now its fall, just the nicest time of all..." - Lois Lenski
A beautiful fall day, out here on the Minnesota Prairie. Out for a bike ride amidst glowing trees, perfect skies, the geese gathering into flocks, even the Monarch butterflies are picking up a little last minute nectar before their migration. People are out and about, getting things ready for winter, clearing out last year's garden, just a glorious day to be alive. I head for home, and as I near it I see that the little kids across the street are sitting on their front steps. No doubt planning an adventure, or resting from a game of hop-scotch. I slow down, and I am a little bit saddened by what I see. Three kids, probably four or five years of age, are outdoors on this wonderful day. They are playing. Game Boy. Each has their own. No talking, no interaction. No awareness of the world around. Little kids, who will soon be in school, soon to leave the direct experience of reality behind, lost behind a fog of ersatz reality. This great day is lost to these tykes forever.
Satan is real.
Always with the yelling, whether to come home or go out, sometimes with the belt, sometimes with the strop. To clean your room, to get up, to eat. Yelling at the kitchen table until somebody cried. That's the way it was. Didn't know any better, other kids' were yelled at too. The houses were only eight feet apart. When someone was on the warpath in the neighborhood, you knew it. Afterwards, never a reconciliation. I got out as soon as I could afford it. Then I realized that you could go through life without yelling.
Did the yelling make a difference? Sure. Thanks for the memories, dad.
In the shadow of Snæfellsjökull (a small glacier in western Iceland) is a humble church and a small graveyard. The church is covered in corrugated metal, as are most small buildings in this nearly treeless country.
The graveyard is in a small pasture-like area, with a surface of boggy turf, surrounded by a low stone fence. This is not an old church, the graveyard is nearly empty, but there are a few stones and markers. One grave is defined by a white wooden frame. Lining the frame is a bed of white gravel, a rarity in this black lava dominated country. There are a few small pots with plastic flowers nestled in the gravel, and a metal trough in the shape of a cross in the center filled with live plants, now dormant. An upright white cross with a brass plaque tells the name and the dates of birth and death of the body residing here: an older woman who had lived a full life in this isolated community. The sting of death is eased somewhat by the decorations on the site. Small brightly colored figures of the seven dwarfs (Disney version) placed there no doubt by her loving grandchildren in this lonely and desolate place.
So who is that person that Slim is chatting up? Slimmer than Slim, and taller, with an Opie-from-Mayberry haircut and a broad smile. With a plaid red flannel and stovepipe bluejeans. Wait a minute...the boyish figure and demeanor doesn't quite fit. The way that those two laugh without joking, how their eyes flash in sync...I make it my business to stand a little closer - not to eavesdrop, just to hear the sound of their voices. They are matched in pitch and inflection.
Slimmer than Slim leaves. After a while, I ask Slim:
"Was that your sister?"
"She's younger than You?"
"Yeah, about three years"
"Is she going to school?"
"No, she's not ready for school, she's having too much fun."
"She's just adorable..."
Slim flashes red for a second.
"She's a brat."
Pants - Brown Hopsack, cuffed.
Shirt - Button-down Madras with a loop on the back.
Belt - Brass, Baldy-style.
Shoes - Florscheim wing-tips, polished to a high gloss.
Hair - Basic Beatle bangs, blow-dried to bushiness.
Scent - English Leather.
Scene - Big dance at a large Metro Catholic school.
Music - Michael's Mystics, playing "Last Night" by the Bar-Kays.
Partner - A fine young Catholic girl, pleated skirt, frilly blouse, and flats - dancing with you.
A Number Six
"Who's next? What'll you have, lover?" The clerk at the fast food counter called me lover. I hadn't heard that from a service worker since that summer in Cornwall. This woman's southern accent was from the U.S. not the U.K., however, and her tan was permanent. We had met before, even chatted once when she was on her break. About how people were always "shopping" but seldom "buying" when interacting with the opposite sex.
"I'll have a Number Six, for here." My usual.
"You want cheese on that, Love?" She looked me right in the eye.
"No thanks" She always asks, I always say no.
"That's Three - fifty - one." I handed her a five and she made change.
"How you doin" lover?" She handed me my change, and then gently squeezed my hand.
"Better. A lot better."
José Loved Betty
José lived in the biker gang's house. He wasn't a biker,
but he hung out with those guys, coming and going as was his wont.
Betty lived with us. She was brought up in the country by a loving mother, along with a bunch of brothers and sisters.
José wasn't big, but he was a scrapper. I didn't want to know where he got his scars - or that nick out of his ear.
Betty was a sweetheart, never causing any trouble, she was just a joy to have around the house.
José wasn't exactly the neatest character, and maybe his personal hygiene left something to be desired.
Betty was very well groomed, and was always clean.
José would come around, checking on Betty.
Betty didn't mind.
José took off for a while. The guys in the gang house had a disagreement. Firearms were used. The gang moved out.
Betty got bigger and bigger. She had nowhere else to go so she stayed with us.
José came back, the new people who moved into the gang house knew him and let him stay, they liked having him around to watch the place.
Betty's time came and she decided on using our old double bed in the back bedroom for the birthing place.
José stayed away.
Betty had four of the most beautiful kittens you ever saw.
José started to come around again.
Betty got fixed.
José still loved Betty - but after she was fixed...
Betty loved everybody...
Photo: Dick Toftness, 1967
A picture in my high school yearbook.
My drama teacher reading the riot act to the senior class play cast, and we deserved it.
In the background, in the third row, sit three student actors. Karla of the clear mind, the perfect diction, the contagious enthusiasm. Bonnie, the class clown, perkiness personified, almost my girlfriend. And me. We had been talking about the divorce that Bonnie's parents were going through. In the picture, even in the fuzzy half-tone image, you can see that Bonnie has been crying. We did shape up as an ensemble and eventually managed to perform the class play - we even had a cast party afterwards. Bonnie and I remain friends in a fashion, and, after a gap of about 25 years, Karla and I renewed our friendship. What a coincidence that the yearbook photographer (thanks, Dick!) managed to accidentally preserve such a meaningful moment in my life. I know that both Bonnie and Karla have lost their yearbooks.
I wonder if this picture would stir as potent a memory in them as it has in me?
In my grandmother's house in rural Minnesota was an old-fashioned crank telephone. When we went to visit we were told not to answer the phone, she had a certain ring pattern for her calls, the other rings were for her neighbors. When there was news in the area that my grandmother thought she should know, she would ever-so-carefully pick up the ear piece and listen in on the party line. When the telephone company in her area modernized, they went directly to a modern touch-tone phone, private line. It was one of the first such systems in the country. By taking this step forward, she lost some of her "network" capabilities.
Now we have blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging and e-mails. The blogs and chat rooms are sort of a "party line", with people communicating while others can secretly eavesdrop. My grandmother lamented the loss of her party line, and it took us another 40 years to regain what she had on her crank telephone.
One summer, when I was about twelve, I caught a turtle while exploring our neighborhood wilderness area, Shingle Creek. I brought it home, and made a little pen for it, gave it some lettuce and gave it a name. My parents were less than thrilled. They made me keep it in the garage. When I went to check on it the next day the top of the pen was opened and my new pet was gone. Whether it had made its escape on its own or was "helped out", either way I was devasted. I cried for hours. I felt such an emptyness, such a longing, I was inconsolable.
That fall, when I started junior high, I found what I had been looking for. Her name was Deborah. Deborah was not a turtle.
Full Of Sap
I am sappy. I'll admit it. I cry at hokey movies. I smile at little children. I try not to write mean, scathing posts on my blog. There is plenty enough of that, especially in an election year .
In a recent (Sept 29) column Blogged down in Web fantasy, Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Nick Coleman trashes bloggers. Repeatedly. Indiscriminately. Now I know that Nick is writing about irresponsible political sites. (The old fashioned word for those people is LIARS). But Nick's repeated use of the word "bloggers" in a derogatory fashion is mean. It is unfair. It shows how out of touch Nick is with what is a new, still changing phenomenon. Do you want to know what someone in Korea, Iceland, Kenya or Baghdad is thinking? You won't find it in his newspaper. You won't find it on television. You will find it in a blog. Sure, most blogs are dumb, mundane and silly. But most bloggers are sincere, and if you can put up with less-than-perfect English, you might actually learn something about other people in the world. The ability to receive the thoughts of ordinary people around the world, almost immediately and exchange ideas with these people is an absolute revolution in human consciousness.
Blogging is far from perfect, but has such potential that it should not be dismissed in such a cavalier fashion. So I will continue to write my hopeful, naive, sappy blog. If I am a fool for this - so be it. Tap me for syrup and serve me on pancakes. But if this world is to ever get any better, it won't be because of a war of guns, or a war of words. It will be because people can honestly communicate with each other.