Another Sort of Thanksgiving
More than five years on, the feral cat colony still abides along the river. My pal Buster rules, taking the lion's share of my sardines and tuna. He knows me well, that grizzled ex-tom. If I just visit and sit down, he'll come up and start bumping my hand with his head. After the fish is gone, he'll saunter back to me, presenting his shoulders and haunches as if to say: "Let's see those fingers work!"
And I comply, with gentle kneading, he stands still and takes it for as long as I'd care to give it. A few of the other cats look on, curious, but with a lack of comprehension of this display of symbiotic pleasure. Buster understands.
Today, before our family dinner, I'll again take the walk over to the river and treat Buster and his pals. They are thankful for their lives of freedom, as I am thankful to be allowed into their lives for a short while.
And a splendid time was had by all.
Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage was a Swedish television miniseries which first aired in 1973. Public TV in the US finally aired it in the late seventies, to considerable controversy. Not really a "reality show", this scripted look at a troubled marriage was, and remains, dynamite. All of the problems that beset almost every marriage (or committed relationship) are examined here. The two leads, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, are so brilliant and Sven Nyquist's cinematography is so understated that one soon forgets the fact that it is a staged production. Our circle of friends had many couples that watched this together. Even in our relative immaturity, it was easy to grasp the fact that it contained valuable lessons. Some couples couldn't make it all the way through the six one hour episodes.
Revisiting it now, in a 2004 Criterion Collection re-release, the ideas which underlie the dialog are just as relevant, and although it is quite bleak at times, it remains ultimately hopeful- in much the same way of most good relationships. They don't always work out, but most of them do, (which I find quite remarkable) and quite often the second or even third or fourth ones succeed as well or better.
One thing that becomes more more obvious on my re-viewing is the uneasy sense of voyeurism the series elicits. Looking at this couple is like peering in some stranger's window. And then the window becomes a mirror.
One of the few advantages of living in the industrial neighborhood of North Minneapolis, when I was younger and our boys were little, was that the main Salvation Army warehouse and store was only a block away. Lots of cool stuff, some of it really old (I picked up a Hogarth print which was engraved in 1756!), some of it new (lots of Star Wars toys before they were collectible) and all of it cheap. Especially books for children. Rarely more than a quarter, and the selection was fabulous. When I was a child in the fifties, children's books were, for the most part, dull and drab, written in the twenties or thirties, and generally ignored. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne were notable exceptions that proved the rule. In the late sixties and early seventies there was an explosion of color and perceptive story-telling in the genre- Maurice Sendak, James Marshall, Shel Silverstein, Chris Van Allsburg, and many others redefined what a book for young readers could be. International favorites (Tin Tin!) had been translated and were readily available.
Later on, in the eighties and nineties, it seemed that these "plums" had been lost in a bowl of "politically correct" and educator-approved pablum. It was not surprising that J.K. Rowling had so much success with her books (aimed at older readers, to be sure) when they incorporated realistic emotional and psychological landscapes among the magical ones. There are always good books being written, but it seems that lately, in the case of the younger readers, they are drowned in a sea of merchandise tie-ins and Disney dreck.
Recently I had an opportunity to shop for some young readers, it was fun to hunt for the old "faves" in used book shops and thrift stores, even if I had to put up with a rash of "Celebrity Author" titles. Paul McCartney? Madonna? MICKEY DOLENZ?! I found most of the ones that our children had enjoyed (enjoyed so much as to have been long since destroyed), with only a few (The Giant Jam Sandwich, Light-Foot and Quick-Foot) eluding my efforts. Rereading them, I found them just as good as I had remembered them.
So here's to you kids... Jói, Valli, may you refresh your English with them, enjoy the stories, and delight in the art. And, if they're still readable when you are through with them, pass them on to other readers, or better yet, read them to younger children. The magic they possess is real, better than anything Harry Potter can conjure up.
What You Can Do
The recent monetary troubles in Iceland, which are really the whole world's troubles, have left many wondering what they could do to help out the people of Iceland. Make no mistake, there are many who deposited money in Icelandic banks who may lose a great deal of money. The fact remains, however, that the Icelandic people and its culture will take a far greater hit and take far longer to recover than any of the other vested interests. It remains to be seen if the rest of the world won't suffer in like fashion, only the larger scale and more inertia (and massive amounts of "imaginary" money) have prevented a meltdown such as this from happening everywhere. We'll all pay, probably in the form of inflation over the long haul.
So, if you have any remaining assets, why not use them for the experience of a lifetime?
I'm talking Þjóðleikhúsið, ladies and gentlemen, The National Theatre of Iceland.
What's that you say? "It's too far", "It costs too much", "I don't understand Icelandic", "How would I get tickets", and, the most telling objection of all- "I'm afraid".
Iceland is as close as a major airport. It takes about 6 hours or less to get there from the U.S.
The whole trip (Wednesday through Monday) would cost about $1500 if you didn't go wild on your accommodations. You'd have plenty of time to catch two or three shows. It would be cheaper than Broadway.
The whole point of seeing the play is that it is in Icelandic. It's a really a cool language to hear spoken. Com'on- push the envelope a little, let it overwhelm you, escape from your comfort zone.
You can order tickets via e-mail (email@example.com). The season runs from October through May, you'll avoid the summer crowds (and prices.)
Don't be afraid. Help keep Icelandic culture alive. The productions I've seen have all been fantastic, absolutely world-class.
Now is the time. Treat yourself to an experience of a lifetime. You can do it.
Photo: Þjóðleikhúsið lobby, 2006
I Am Curious (Yellow and Blue) Part 5
Of course, what IKEA© is really all about is the concept of home. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a home without some sort of furnishings, even a beggar must have his bowl. The first such example of a completely furnished home I ran across was this cozy "pad" for two:
Everything in its proper place, all one could desire for a fulfilling modern lifestyle.
I was really intrigued- the Weaver and I could start all over in a place such as this.
We could ship our space-consuming hobbies to a proper studio.
What ever didn't fit, we could give away.
I was so charmed that I could almost
picture myself at the stylish sink:
The second example was of a smaller place, a place for one. The woman who owned the place looked proud and elated in the picture. I thought that she might have just gone through a bitter divorce, and she finally had a place of her own, a place that was hers, no compromises. "It may be compact, but it is more spacious than you can imagine. It's my 409 sq. ft. home." The math leaves the guy in the first home with only 183 sq. ft. of floorspace.
No wonder it didn't work out.
I thought about what it would be like if I had to live on my own (a very sad thought, to be sure) in a place smaller than my garage. Maybe I could live above my garage. I would have to keep things tidy. Only seven shirts, seven parts of pants, two suits and fourteen pairs of socks. A four piece place setting, a few utensils, some books and a couple of framed prints.
A little while later I went back and saw that the woman who lived there was in, sitting on her sofa.
She looked a bit lonely as she gazed at her cell phone; was she hoping that someone would call?
I was shy and too embarrassed to say hello because I had been in both her bedroom and her bathroom when she was away.
On the way out I bought some real Swedish treats for my home.
The jury is still out on the Julmust.
I Am Curious (Yellow and Blue) Part 4
Enough of my gastronomic phobias.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do,
When in IKEA©, follow the arrows, always follow the arrows.
And the arrows led me to this intensely bright and severely mannered simulation of a modern corner apartment. Was it intended for those who see the world only in black and white, with no shades of gray? And would the comestibles served in the dining area be color-coded as well? Liebfraumilch and Guinness? Liquorice and tapioca? Ebony and ivory?
I followed the arrows to to the furniture area:
I tried to like them. I sat on the chairs, lolled in sofas, tried to warm up to these instruments of torture. I am not yet so crippled and infirm that I require special orthopedic appliances for my seating pleasure, I just need something I can sit upon for more than a minute or two. I wondered who, or what, these infernal contraptions were designed for. And no sooner than thought of than answered:
I found this arrangement of motorized, reciprocating pistons to be strangely arousing.
I Am Curious (Yellow and Blue) Part 3
Fear of Fooding
Why not have a "restaurant" (ironic quotes) in a home furnishing store?
A place to refresh, relax and digest your shopping experience, with a daily special:
Fifteen meatballs, with mashed potatoes and gravy = $4.99.
Not a misprint. One could, if one were so inclined, add another 5 meatballs for an extra $1. Or get forty for $11.98! You wouldn't need to eat again (or be able to eat again) for at least three days. But I was in more of a "brunch mode" (non-ironic quotes) so I settled for a wedge of "chocolate torte" and a cup of "coffee" (ironic quotes). The woman at the table next to mine saw my cake and remarked; "Say, that looks good!"
"Appearances can be deceiving" I muttered.
Pallets of it.
Just the idea makes me uneasy.
The reality disturbs me greatly.
Hard, flat, cookies.
Good for dunking?
I'll never know.
Thank you, no.
I Am Curious (Yellow and Blue) Part 2
Brave New World
Upon entering IKEA, I noticed a queue of kids lining up to enter the "ball room," not a place for dancing, but rather a place where the little tykes could burn off excess energy rolling amidst thousands of brightly colored balls. There were stylized birdhouses perched above the fray into which the kids could throw the balls. Had this been a MacDonald's there no doubt they would have been basketball hoops, with an NBA tie-in. The kids didn't care.
The escalator to the showroom overlooked a 30 foot high vertical display of bedroom furnishings.
Not exactly a budoir, unless your idea of intimacy includes the concept of vertigo.
More like a dorm room, but without the Bob Marley posters and the annoying roommate.
There is a nightstand for your stash, however, and twin lamps- but only on one side of the bed!
Now an arrangement such as that would definitely cause some control issues to emerge in any relationship.
And, believe me, adjacent stripes of purple, pink, orange and yellow have never been "easy on the eyes."
Although they might go well with what's in the nightstand's drawer.
Then there was this bit of Orwellian doublespeak:
The part about "fine quality"- are those ironic quotes?
Does it mean that the quality is not fine at all?
Does it mean that they intended to fool us hoping that we won't understand the double meaning?
Does it mean that they think that only the words "fine" and "quality" will stick in our rat-like brains as we scurry through their post-modernist maze?
Answers: Ya, Ya, Ya and Ya.
Topping it all off is the bizarre phrase "And it turned out just super expensive, for us."
It was almost not-quite super expensive, but made it only by a hair?
And "for us?" For us, yes, but not for YOU. YOU will be receiving luxury goods subsidized by our corporate largesse, leaving YOU with only an obligation that is "easy on the wallet?"
A brave new world of merchandising, to be sure.
Tomorrow: Fear of Fooding
I Am Curious (Yellow and Blue) Part 1
The Reluctant Virgin
I had been putting it off for years. That sacred comsumer's pilrimage, that testament of faith in Modern Design, that pledge of allegiance to a Scandinavian heritage: My first trip to IKEA. My initial impression, from the Mall of America approach ramp, was not of a building, nay, rather it was of a vision of geometric planes in yellow and blue, mirroring the colors of the Swedish flag. I wondered what my Swedish-born Grandmother would think of this- a building whose footprint was probably twenty times the acreage of her tiny hobby farm.
It was so crowded that I had to park in the overflow lot; whatever the economists are saying about retail sales didn't apply here. Crossing the street to get to the ground-level entrance, my heart skipped a beat- I was almost there!
Those vibrant yellow walls were almost too much to bear.
My field of vision was overwhelmed,
I was squinting in discomfort.
It was my last chance to turn around.
I wavered and then, gathering all of my resolve,
I went in.
Tomorrow: Brave New World
In Loco Parentis
Annie Rhiannon's 'blonk' posts concerning her recent travels throughout the United States have aroused considerable interest lately, especially from those commenting. Annie's search, and it is a search, may appear hedonistic on its surface but there are strong reasons, even biological imperatives, for her sojourn. When she stopped here a few weeks ago, she did speak of some safety concerns, expressing misgivings about meeting one of her internet connections. "Trust your instincts" was the only advice I could muster. She's been doing awfully well so far, but now that she's really on her own- "depending on the kindness of strangers"- the tone of her posts have changed a bit. I sense that she is up against some major problems in her life, sometimes you just have to live through them, one day at a time.
And a few words to those who may yet cross her path:
If you see ol' Annie, you better give her a lift
Because Annie's been a-workin' on the midnight shift...
If Annie puts her hair up on her head
Paints them lips up bright bright red
Wears that dress that fits real tight
Starts stayin' out late till the middle of the night
Says to her friends, hey give me a lift
You know Annie's been a-workin' on the midnight shift
Well early in the morning when the sun comes up
You look at ol' Annie and she looks kinda rough
You tell her, honey get out of that bed
She says, leave me alone I'm just about dead
Brother, there just ain't no ifs
Annie's been a-workin' on the midnight shift
~Ainsworth and Lee, Midnight Shift
Good Luck Annie...
Nate's Auto Parts
1125 North Fifth Street- Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1972
When I was out and living on my own for the first time, one of my neighbors was Nate's Auto Parts. Nate's was actually run by Nate's son, Morrie. Nate was long deceased, Morrie was in his early sixties. Nate's was spread over a full city block with parts hidden behind fences, stacked on porches, and filling several old houses and a couple of commercial buildings. I'd see Morrie from time to time as he checked his stock or pulling a part or two, but usually he just sat in his office. I can't even imagine what the inside of those houses held, their yards were a wild mix of springs, axles, wheels and even a few more-or-less complete vehicles. All of it was very old. The houses Morrie used for storage had been built in the late 1800's, boom times, and once housed the mill workers and merchants and their families, people who were then building up Minneapolis and turning it into a center of international commerce. These "Painted Ladies," as the Victorian houses of that style were called, were nearly falling apart when I moved in the 'hood, but had been fine homes in their day. The picture below shows one of the houses on "Nate's" street circa 1900:
1101 North Fifth Street- Photo supplied by Henry Lee Griffith
Behind those houses was a creek, it had long ago been paved over but it still ran underground throughout North Minneapolis, only emerging near its outlet in the Mississippi River. Natural habitat preservation didn't receive much consideration in those times. There is talk from time to time of opening the creek again, but there is just too much industry lying literally on top of it.
Ultimately, in the early 1990's, the whole neighborhood was redeveloped and all the people living there as well as the entire stock of Nate's Auto Parts were relocated. All those old houses were torn down as well, finally erasing the last links to what had once been a vibrant community.
Wishin' and Hopin'...
cool cat, looking for his kitty
even the graffiti there has a proper sense of place and style
oh man... I've got to get back...
I've only had one job where I worked only with men, it was as a clerk in the Minneapolis Fire Department's main supply depot, simply called "Stores." I was young and carefree, with few strings and fewer cares, I got the job as a promotion from a truly ghastly job in the Police Department's evidence division. I had to stock and distribute supplies to all the stations in the city. When not out in my little red van, I would spend time in the main storehouse, filling air and oxygen bottles, marking hoses and performing other simple duties.
Most of my co-workers were in their fifties, guys who had been hired by the city just after World War II and were all within a few years of retirement. There were four of us who actually worked in Stores, augmented by a rotating cast of regulars who would drop in from the city garage (which was in the same complex.) After about six months the stories started to repeat, there was not a lot of potential there for personal growth. Still, some of the characters were entertaining, none more so than Karl, the legally blind custodian. Karl would make the rounds, emptying the trash, putting it into his little compacting dump truck and then driving(!) to the main City recycling station. I even went with him once, a truly scary experience.
Karl always made it a point to eat his lunch (a jar of pickled pigs feet) in our office, tell a story or two about his lurid past, then fall asleep for a half hour or so. He had been in the Merchant Marine during the war, dodging U-Boats and always making a "little on the side" in every port, trading nylons and cigarettes for anything of value he could sell back in the States. He said that on the day the war ended he sat down on his bunk and cried. His "tales of burning love" were especially outrageous (and unprintable), but the story of his ruinous divorce was less so.
One day Karl wasn't there. His eyesight, ravaged by diabetes, finally failed him completely. He managed to call his ex-wife, who graciously saw to it that he was taken care of. I left Stores soon after, I had gotten married and was itching to leave civil service for the glamorous Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle.
If I had stayed at Stores I would be retired now.
But I would have died many years earlier.
Brrr-ave New World
The last month or so has been positively idyllic, excepting the collapse of the entire world's economic system, of course. The weather here has been most fine for weeks: an autumn that rolled gently on and on, colorful leaves, warm weather, congenial company and the promise of a new world, at least in terms of mutual respect and civility among friendly nations.
But the wolf of winter is upon my doorstep. Several feet of snow have fallen in the Dakotas and Montana; yesterday was the first whole day below freezing since last March. The corners of Flippist World Headquarters have become a bit chilly. Evenings spent watching gloomy Ingmar Bergman movies are not far away. I've started my first book of the Winter reading season- The Great Weaver from Kashmir. The first major novel by Icelandic author and Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, written when he was only 25, has finally been translated into English after 81 years! Rose and I will be posting our respective reviews on December 10th. (Sneak preview: It's good already.)
As for now, I'll just pour myself another cup of hot chocolate and cozy up with my book and a woolen lap-blanket, letting the Brrr-ave New World of another Minnesota winter begin for me tomorrow.
The Olive Garden is a national chain of Italian Restaurants. Originated by General Mills, the Minnesota-based conglomerate, it was created as a complement to its Red Lobster Restaurants. It is always a bit of a schizophrenic experience for me. The decor is sort of a film-set Italian villa, with high-quality authentic photos of Italian life adorning the walls. The food is, well, how can I say this? Comfortable? Predictable? Uninspired? Tastes as if it was developed in a food laboratory, by a committee? I've never had a meal there that I've really enjoyed; I've had some that were truly inedible. But the menu is varied, and my peculiar tastes shouldn't detract from the enjoyment of others. I was there Saturday night, with the Weaver and her siblings, in some sort of ritualistic pasta reunion. One of the sisters was showing off her texting prowess to her daughter in Oregon. I'm so out of it I haven't even mastered calling someone on a cell phone! I told her to text "Flippism Is The Key", we'll see if her daughter gets the message.
Player's block, to a guitarist, is akin to writer's block for a word-smith.
We were in Des Moines, never a musical hotbed, playing in a second floor club called So's Your Mother. It was one of those places that was successful by default- if you had no other live music options, you went with what you have. A road trip to Des Moines from Minneapolis in 1977 involved about 5 hours on the road each way in two vans (one of which had a leak in the exhaust manifold earning it the name "Little Dachau"), an overnight stay in a run-down Urbandale motel (probably not the same place the Pope stayed when he visited a year later), four meals for eight, and a take-home pay of about $100, also split eight ways.
During the sound check, Petey strapped on his guitar, but wouldn't play a note.
"I just can't do it, boys, it isn't in me tonight. I'm missing something."
"Well, we start in an hour, you better find it!"
"I need something to eat. I'm thinking some seafood might do."
Fortunately, there was a Red Lobster restaurant down the street. Petey left, then came back all smiles. "I'm ready to go boys! A little shellfish did the trick!"
"You don't mean...?"
"Yep! It was the clam before the strum!"
"And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world — our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared...
... a world was connected by our own science and imagination."
~Barack Obama, victory speech, November 4th, 2008
Obama's speech Tuesday night acknowledged that the world has, despite its differences and warfare, become one. His mention of " our stories" and his reference to the internet resonated with me of course. He gets it. He understands that people everywhere are becoming aware of the lives, dreams and hopes of others around the globe. He understands that the things we do and the way we live affects the rest of the world, as the actions of the rest of the world also affects us. His goals for the future are all based in this understanding. It has been said that politics is how things get done. Mr. Obama is also aware that politics is not an end in itself. May he succeed in reaching those goals: with politics, in spite of politics, and beyond politics.
"And now, this word from our sponsor..."
The end is in sight. Presidential politics will be over, hopefully before I go to bed tonight. Time to downshift, to take it cool, and to eliminate politics from FITK. Don't get me wrong, politics does hold some interest for me, but one of the few things I wanted to avoid when I started this blog was politics. There are many, many, MANY political blogs, most of them I avoid like the plague which they are. So, on Wednesday, Flippism Is The Key returns to its regular (what ever that is) programming. I promise.
Thinking about launching your own blog?
Here's some friendly advice: Don't.
And if you've already got one, pull the plug.
~Paul Boutin, Wired Magazine, 10.20.08
And what happens to the stories then? Some blogs are political, some are commercial, but the ones I like best are the ones with stories. Stories, lots of stories, stories nearly everyday. A good storyteller tells true stories, and all of them true, but not all of the truth. A good storyteller knows what to leave out. Some stories have a happiness so wide that words fail, and some stories have a sadness so deep they cannot be told in truth, not even a small part of the truth...
We were in the car, 2 a.m. under a starry sky coming back from the roadhouse. As the road rolled on and on so did the stories, stories about Iceland, stories about work and school, stories about concerts and musicians, stories about blogging...
The next afternoon I was at the kitchen table, going through a pile of children's books, getting them ready for shipment to some young readers. She came into the kitchen for some breakfast and started looking through them. More stories came then, stories of her childhood, triggered by the books...
Later that day we were in the car going downtown, she had booked a hotel room in the entertainment district for her last night in Minnesota. More stories were told on the way, stories about the city. "It's like being in a movie" she said as we passed through some of my old neighborhoods, all of it new for her, all of it old to me, those weary streets which held for me so many stories of frustration and disappointment...
I left her at the hotel, the next day she would be back on the Amtrak to Chicago to witness a really big story, and then she would travel further east, discovering more of America, uncovering still more stories, stories to write down later and share with us in her blog. All of them true, with just a little pinch of salt for flavor.
Don't ever stop. Don't pull the plug. The world needs your stories.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Annie.
The Halloween Visitor
Halloween brought a friendly spirit to Flippist World Headquarters:
Annie Rhiannon. Arriving via Amtrak, Annie's charm eclipsed any
ill effects of her all-night train ride. After a hearty breakfast,
we all crashed for a bit. Awakening refreshed, we were ready for an
afternoon spent exploring the wilds of Anoka...
Come nightfall, hordes of trick-or-treaters came to the door,
whom we obliged with pounds of candy (after all, Anoka is the
Halloween Capitol of the World™.) When the kids were finished
it was time to hit the highways, destination: HOLLYWOOD!
Not that Hollywood, but the "Hollywood Sports Complex,"
a roadhouse in the country, 30 miles west of Minneapolis.
When we got there it seemed as if everybody had read Annie's blog...
The band dedicated a song to Annie by that noted "Welsh" singer
Joe Cocker. Annie seemed most pleased to "Keep Her Hat On."
A surprise visit from a celebrity enlivened the band's performance...
By the end of the night everyone was dancing:
AND A SPLENDID TIME WAS HAD BY ALL!