Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Equivocator and His Massive Nights: My Four Favorite Nights of 2006

I’m waiting patiently for it to end. 2006. I haven’t liked this year.

Many of you know why, or at least most of the reason why. It hasn’t been easy dealing with the end of a marriage. Or the beginning of a new life. Or a new-ish life. One that feels different from what came before. But it’s not different. It’s really all the same.

For a year that included some of the worst days of my life, 2006 had four of the best nights of my life. Exact dates sometimes elude me. But I know these dates. Usually I don’t give out too many “specifics” about my life. I hide names and places. I give you pieces. For a year that has contained much difficult solitude (and some good easy solitude), each of these four events involved at least one other person. For a year marked by my ingrained sense of wanderlust, three of these four events took place far from Los Angeles.

About two years ago I found an old journal I kept when I was 19 during my sophomore year of college. I hadn’t read the journal in years. I was a journalism major then, switching to psychology eventually. It’s funny how my journal entries were written in the style of a newspaper reporter – the facts, the who/what/when/how and not much of the why. I reported the events of my life in brusque emotionless fashion. A typical Saturday might have gone like this:

“Worked double shift at theater. Went out to Davanni’s on 66th with John Pa, John Pe, Blaine, Brett, Sara, and Michelle K. Brett played We Are The World on the jukebox seven times.”

Reading this “report” of my life another 19-year lifetime later, I knew the rest of the story: Brett was annoyed by the behavior of some “jocks” at another table. To piss them off, he selected the then-new We Are The World as an act of revenge, playing it on repeat seven times because that’s how many songs you get for a dollar. Sara and Michelle K. were friends. We were lucky to have them with us at Davanni’s, the deep dish pizza place in Richfield. I had a crush on Michelle (Her house number was my PIN number. Her house number is my PIN number. A little creepy yes but I’ll never forget it. Yes, she could find me and steal my wallet and take my money if she remembers where she lived in 1985. But it’s not like I have that much in my account anyway.)

What’s important here is that it only seems like I leave the most important things out of my blog entries. Look carefully. It’s all there. Or most of it anyway.

My Four Favorite Nights of 2006 (in chronological order but with a decreasing level of detail), written in my traditional journalistic style (or not):

May 15, Milwaukee

In 1986, Sigmund Snopek III released an album called Wisconsinsane. It was a song cycle about life in his home state. It impressed me and many other Midwesterners at the time for its sweetly nostalgic and poignant piano-based songs that make one half- laugh and half-cry simultaneously. He then pretty much disappeared from music, at least as far as I knew. He never recorded another non-classical album with lyrics. I lost my beloved cassette copy of Wisconsinsane and my vinyl copy sits in an attic in Rochester, Minnesota because I haven’t had a turntable since ‘91.

In May, I was visiting Chicago, 100 miles to the south of Milwaukee, for an academic conference. I had told a sassy schoolteacher in Wisconsin that I liked the music of Mr. Snopek. On my second night in Chicago, I rented a car and drove to Milwaukee where I met this schoolteacher in front of a laundromat in a river-adjacent neighborhood. We ate at one of the few restaurants open in Milwaukee on a Monday night. We then had frozen custard, a local specialty. She said she had a surprise for me! We went to a nearby bar where, apparently, Sigmund Snopek III played every other Monday night. There he was, slightly disheveled but touchingly spirited, playing the theremin (!) for an audience of four. He wasn’t alone on stage. Along with him was a burly young man in a Green Bay Packers jersey. He may have been Sigmund’s son (IV?) During one of the younger man’s long and impressively symphonic guitar solos, Sigmund went up to the bar for one of his free drinks. It wouldn’t surprise me if they paid him entirely in drinks. During this break, the schoolteacher who’s also a roller derby queen went up to Sigmund and told him I really liked his music, that I longed to have a copy of his long out-of-print CD of Wisconsinsane. He shook my hand, asked me where I was from. Los Angeles, I said. “I had a wild night in L.A. once. Then we drove from Santa Monica to Milwaukee in 36 hours.” I didn’t ask him who “we” was. I thought “we” could be the Violent Femmes for whom Snopek was a touring keyboardist for a while. It seemed he was now very entrenched in Milwaukee, happy with his role as troubadour for Monday-nighters at the Linneman's Riverwest Inn. He then revealed that the schoolteacher/derby queen had contacted him earlier through a friend of a friend, telling him that I was coming to the show and to ask him to bring a copy of Wisconsinsane for me. He handed me a homemade copy, saying he was very glad to hear that his music meant so much to me, after 20 years. He then asked for 10 bucks. Which I gave him. He played a few songs off the album, including Call Me and Rose of Wisconsin. I wanted him to play Summer Guest, the second greatest love song of all time, a piano instrumental that moves me every time I hear it. I should have asked him to. But the night was perfect as it is (thanks Carrie – that was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.)

(postscript: This is Sigmund. And the other guy)

July 21,

I was back in my old hometown for a visit and to research a possible relocation there (Note to my current employer: if you find this, I like my job. I’m not looking to go anywhere else. Really. Fight On.) It was a lovely Minnesota summer night – not too hot, not too cold, a perfect night for patio dining and movie-going. My friend Sara and her roommate Jen took me to dinner at a restaurant called The Craftsman where I had what I considered then to be the world’s greatest turkey burger (turns out there’s a better one in Chicago which I discovered a couple of weeks ago.) Come to think of it, 2006 is, in addition to being Ali’s Year of Irreversible Change, is the Year of the Turkey Burger. There will be a list soon – the Five Best Turkey Burgers of 2006. I like turkey burgers.

Anyway, the three of us enjoyed a great dinner on the patio. Eventually it drizzled slightly but the umbrellas protected us. We then drove to the corner of 36th and 43rd. Or is it 31st and 38th? Wherever the Riverview Theater is, that’s where we drove. We saw Thank You For Smoking in the world’s most lovingly restored old movie theater for 2 dollars, maybe 3. It was just a great night, overall.

August 11, Los Angeles

I had more “first dates” in 2006 than in any other year of my life except for 1997. This is both a good and bad thing. This night was a good thing. Helena and I planned to have dinner at the so-good-it’s-bad legendary L.A. Mexican restaurant El Coyote and then see Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita at the nearby (not so lovingly restored) old movie theater, the New Beverly Cinema. But the restaurant was crowded and the service was slow and it was too late to see such a beautifully ironic film. Instead, we went to the horrible Beverly Center Mall to see a movie that one could consider the exact polar opposite of Lolita, Clerks 2. I liked that movie. Driving down then-sleepy Beverly Boulevard after the very late movie, I felt an ease of life that I want to keep struggling to find again. And yes I enjoyed my date’s company too.

December 23, San Francisco

I sure traveled a lot this year. Suffice it to say that I never expected to be wandering the dark streets of San Francisco holding a boombox that didn’t belong to me, participating in a performance art piece called Unsilent Night. Nor did I expect to later be sitting in a nearby burger joint (actually called Burger Joint!) enjoying a root beer float with a great person (a writer, the owner of the boombox, Laura). But sometimes the best boats on the high seas are the unexpected ones. What the hell did I just write? I can do better than that. I have better metaphors at my disposal. But I’ll just leave it alone.

So four memorable nights out of 363 (so far) isn’t so bad, is it? There were other good nights, ones that would easily make the list if I wasn’t restricting myself to four for the benefit of my reader(s). Speaking of memorable nights (or, as The Hold Steady call them, Massive Nights), if you asked me a year ago to predict who would tell me the news of Saddam Hussein’s execution and where the telling of this news would take place, I would never have guessed Debbie Harry and Agoura Hills, respectively.

1 comment:

rose said...

Awww shucks, Ali... you're the sweetest. I agree, that was an amazing night. Thanks for a lovely visit.