Sunday, April 26, 2009

One Night in Hinckley

(Sunday morning)
I left my umbrella in the suitcase. I left the suitcase in the guest room. I'm in rainy Minneapolis, in the same place I wrote from yesterday. I'm staring at a steady downpour, feeling lucky that I'm parked just a half a block away, on the corner of University and SE 14th.

So the question remains: do I belong here or there or somewhere completely new? There is rain everywhere and forgotten umbrellas in most interiors. I moved to Long Beach nine days ago and I still can't picture the apartment. Although I do see glow-in-the-dark cat eyes under furniture and I still hear the distant race cars going faster than I ever could dream. I, on the other hand, will slow down and walk the ill-numbered streets (should there really be six blocks between 1st Street and 4th Street?)

(Saturday night)
The wedding reception was a subdued affair. Given the legends I had heard about the groom's family gatherings and the bride's hometown, I had expected wild singalongs, drunken jigs, and long rambling toasts involving sailors, amplifiers, rural Minnesota outlaws, rogue cable guys, and the darker side of the sub-Hollywood elite. Instead, it was oddly (bot not wrongly) quiet for a wedding - almost regal without being too formal.

Sure, I could have danced to more than one song and maybe I could have told that inappropriate story involving guitars, women, and the Afghan Whigs. But I had other myths on my mind. I am forward thinking in my legends. What is most important is that the bride and groom love each other (yes), their families and friends are happy for them (yes, yes), and someone had the guts to request Jack and Diane (yes because what's more appropriate at a wedding than the words "Life goes on. Long after the thrill of living is gone"?*)

The ceremony itself - held at a fur trading post - was a nice one. I choked up at one point. A woman with a beautiful voice was singing a bible-adapted Daniel Johnston song as a harpist played a completely different song. The woman with the voice was looking at the bride and groom. The harpist was looking at the harp. The voice and the words it was singing won out over the harpist and her biblical lilting. The singer's song built and built and repeated its first words ("love is patient and kind") and its final words ("love never ends.") Somewhere in Texas, Daniel Johnston himself raised a Mountain Dew toast and grinned widely. In front of him, a black pen rested on a drugstore notebook scrawled with words better than these.

At one point in the evening, my ex-girlfriend and ex-wife were seated to the right of me discussing the killing of a Nazi with a lead pipe. To the right of them, my ex-wife's new boyfriend was urging the groom's best friend (a 40-year old gay virgin with a carpeted bathroom and a frequently updated LinkedIn profile) to do shots with him later. Meanwhile, I was talking about public transportation options in Chicago and Los Angeles with a librarian that Mike probably should have introduced me to sooner.

And then they took our dinner plates away. And then they brought dessert. And then I remembered California and the cats and the problems and the ocean. The small world got too big. Dessert and coffee and more table conversations passed. I went to the bathroom to stare at the mirror and consider all of the circumstances in my life. The groom's family's monsignor was in there combing his hair. He said to me "What a night." I smiled and nodded and washed my hands.

(Sunday morning)
And now I sit in the half-booth in the corner. I notice that the rain has slowed down. I have three people to call, to talk about possible lunch and dinner plans. No, make that four. I want to see them all before I fly back tomorrow morning. I might pull it off. There's a young couple seated next to me. They're doing the Sunday crossword puzzle together. I'm so happy for them.

(scrolldown afterword)
The young couple gave up on the crossword puzzle and are trying Sudoko instead. I'm less happy for them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

End of the Century

I'm in Minneapolis today. I'm in town for my friend Mike's wedding and the related Gaintoberfests that will be occurring. I'm in the Espresso Royale coffeehouse in Dinkytown (same table, in the back, by the mirror). They're playing the Ramones a I remember being here the day Joey Ramone died in 2001. All day long they played the Ramones box set. It was a sunny day and I was in the middle of my tenure at the University of Minnesota. Despite my sadness over the death of one the greatest rock singers ever, I remember feeling inspired and connected to the universe around me. Yeah it sounds corny but it happened. I had to teach a class that day and both before and after class, I came in here for coffee.

The last song I heard before I left for class and the first song I heard when I got back was Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio? I loved that song. I loved it not for its nostalgia for a better time for radio (the year the song was released - 1980 - was actually the peak year for radio, not the late 50s/early 60s period the song celebrates). I loved that song for the aggressive guitars and complex song structure, Joey's perfect vocals, and the stellar production by murderer Phil Spector (listen to the Spector-produced album End of the Century - a lot of Ramones fans hate it and Phil did pull a gun on the band a few times during production but its Spector's masterpiece.) Oh and I loved it for one of the best couplets ever (written by Joey):

It's the end, the end of the seventies
It's the end, the end of the century

Logically, it doesn't make sense. In every other way, it explains everything.

(Have a good wedding Mike. I'll be in the back thinking about which, if any, story to tell during toast time - should it be the one about the homeless guy at In-and-Out Burger? Or the one about the lost weekend in Vegas? Or how we cowrote the greatest unfilmed screenplay ever?)

I'm finished with my latte. My parking meter will expire soon. Better go.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Yes, I Lied

I said I'd be back Monday. It's Thursday. What can I say? I currently have two apartments and 1.25 jobs and - for a time period that could last anywhere from a few weeks to several months - two cats (with two separate eating arrangements and litter boxes). I have a wedding to attend this weekend 2000+ miles away. I just spilled coffee on my pants. And - in an event that will never be duplicated by anyone, ever - while driving home from work yesterday, I spilled orange-mango into my eyes. And I was wearing sunglasses at the time.

So you're wondering how I'm adjusting to my still-in-progress move? It's going okay. Still need to clean the old place. No, you're wondering how I can spill orange-mango juice into my sunglasses-covered eyes while driving. This is how it happened:

(all times are estimates)

3:17pm: I'm at work. I go to the market in the temporary campus dining tent. I purchase a Diet Dr. Pepper (for late afternoon energy) and a Fuze Vitalize Orange Mango Drink, along with a Kashi Go-Lean Bar. It's important to note that despite my use of the word "juice" in the first two paragraphs, the Fuze beverage is actually a "drink." This fact is vital to the story.

4:42pm: I leave work 18 minutes early, justifying this behavior by noting (to myself) that my lunch break lasted only 20 minutes. By this point, I had consumed the Diet Dr. Pepper and Kashi bar. I decide to take the unopened Fuze drink with me for the drive home.

5:07pm: I'm on the 110 freeway heading south, going home. I never envisioned that my life circumstances would lead me to be on the 110 south going home but there I was. I'm thirsty. The orange mango drink is sitting there on the passenger seat. I grab it. I unscrew the cap.

5:08pm: My cellphone vibrates in its resting place in the left cup holder. I put the bottle in the right cup holder. I grab the phone and look at who's calling. I decline the call (it wasn't you.) I put the phone back in the cup holder.

5:11pm: I remember that I'm thirsty. I grab the Fuze bottle. Despite the fact that this is a processed drink (not juice), I decide that I need to shake the bottle (like when I get that Minute Maid Pineapple-Orange juice and have to shake it so the flavors blend and the bottom of the drink isn't too sugary. You may have noticed that earlier I had unscrewed the cap. When the phone rang, I only partially screwed the cap back on. When I shake the bottle vigorously while driving at a speed of 70mph, a good 6 ounces of orange mango drink flies out of the bottle and towards my face. Most of it hit my sunglasses and the area above my right eye but enough of it ended up spilling into both eyes.

Even if you've never experienced a citrus-rich liquid entering your eyes, you can imagine that it might be unpleasant. It was. My left eye recovered quickly enough to see a moment later. My right eye took a few minutes to be fully healed from the acidic sugary invasion.

That's my story. That's all that's happened to me recently.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stars of Track and Field

Thanks to the randomness of the iPod shuffler, I had the experience this morning of hearing Belle and Sebastian's The Stars of Track and Field while walking past the actual track stadium my employer university.

(Note - the fact that this seeming synchronicity occurred does not mean that the shuffler is non-random or that the iPod has a "mind"; sometimes random things are meaningful in non-random ways. If it really had a mind, then why did it recently play Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama before Neil Young's Southern Man, rather than after, Sweet Home being the answer song and all?)

I was struck by how perfect and inspirational The Stars of Track and Field is. It was the first Belle and Sebastian song I ever heard and it was the likely cause of me hearing and owning every other song they've (legitimately) released.

There are four verses in the song and each verse's opening line is so good that what follows has to work hard to equal it.

Verse 1 opening line - Make a new cult every day to suit your affairs
(about as meaningful as ten words could ever be)

Verse 2 opening line - Have you and her been taking pictures of your obsessions?
(hammers home the sexual/visual themes/ambiguities)

Verse 3 opening line - Could I write a piece about you now that you've made it?
(you already have; you're singing it... but to ask permission is pretty bad-ass)

Verse 4 opening line - Could I write a requiem for you when youre dead?
(don't let what I just said get to your head; is this the requiem or is that another song; maybe the most poignant line ever written)

And in between is the wonderfully melodic / artfully simplistic chorus:
The stars of track and field, you are
The stars of track and field, you are
The stars of track and field, you are
Beautiful people

From third person to second, it's enigmatic enough to inform and puzzle the listener at the same time. And tuneful enough to sing along all day after hearing it first thing in the morning.

When I walked past the track stadium this morning in the just-past-sunrise Los Angeles (non-fog) half-mist, the people running in the six-laned oval or stretching in the grassy middle were not the stars of track and field. The stars show up around mid-day with their pole vaults and aerodynamic shoes that weigh less than zero. These were the university employees getting a round of exercise in before their 7 1/2 hour work day. I recognized one of them - she's on one of the many many many committees I have found myself a part of over these past few years. She runs all the time. If she's not running, she's walking. She's painfully skinny which i could criticize her for but she's the one running, not me. I'm the one who fills out half-marathon registration forms and then changes my mind about hitting "submit" because I just don't know if I'll be ready by November. I could easily be ready by November if I work hard enough and get up 30 minutes earlier.