Friday, January 19, 2018

just a stranger in a strange land


This time of year, I get a kick out of friends who have transplanted to Florida and feel the need to taunt those of us in chillier states about the “paradise” in which they live.  They temporarily forget that they also live in the state with the worst drivers and the most miserable summers (I almost added “and little Marco Rubio” but decided to keep this post non-political).

Being a transplant myself, having lived in Minnesota – land of tater-tot hotdish and icehouses and SuperAmerica – longer than I lived in my native southern New Jersey – land of cheesesteaks and the Jersey Shore and Wawa -- I hope that most transplants find ways to stay loyal to their roots…

… which somehow this week brings me to the topic of football.

Growing up in the shadow of Philadelphia, the natural tendency is to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan, although there are some bizarre exceptions to that rule (Think: goofballs such as Cowboy-loving Chris Christie).  Living in Minnesota and surrounded by a sea of purple, it’s not hard to become a Minnesota Vikings fan, and the Vikings became my #2 team when Minnesota became my adopted home.  Jerry and I had Vikings season tickets for a number of years, and I would enthusiastically cheer for them unless they were playing the Eagles, in which case I’d wear my Eagles gear to that game, of course…

… which brings me to this weekend’s game between the Eagles and the Vikings, the NFC Championship Game.

One team will go home after the game and the other will go on to the SuperBowl here in Minneapolis in two weeks.  In a way, it will be a win-win and also a lose-lose for me, however it turns out.

Without question, I’m 100% for the E-A-G-L-E-S!  Let me say this, though. The stereotype “Minnesota nice” has the reputation of being a thin-layered fake niceness, but I have found deep friendships here with a lot of wonderful people, and, if the unthinkable happens and the Vikings somehow win, my consolation prize will be seeing all those smiles around me.  And somebody has to go beat the dreaded Patriots.

Enjoy the game.  Personally, I’ll be a wreck.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

at the end of the storm there's a golden sky

Life is fragile, life is brief, our stay is unpredictable....
 
You see, I met Jerry nineteen years ago tonight... New Year's Eve 1998.  Little did I know then that he would become my life partner, that we would have 18 beautiful years together, or that one day -- 9/9/17, to be precise – I would be holding his hands as his sweet, loving heart would beat for the final time.
 
Until that last day of 1998, I had always found New Year's Eve to be a sad holiday, not a reason to celebrate.  It was like, here we go, another year shot to hell.  But after that it became an anniversary – the beginning of our life together – and something worth celebrating.
 
Now here I am at New Year's Eve 2017 and feel some awkward relief that this dreadful year of 2017, a year of illness and death and heartbreak, will be nevermore.  The saga of the year 2018 isn't written yet, but I feel compelled to have hope in my heart that not all future years will be as dark, for me at least, as this one has been.
 
Life is fragile, life is brief, our stay is unpredictable.... As the New Year begins, hug everyone you love.  Hug everyone you even like.  None of this is forever, but pieces of the temporary can be so beautiful.
 
Happy New Year.
 
*****
On a lighter note:  One of my old blog posts, remembering what happened on the first "anniversary" that Jerry and I had, 12/31/99, Y2K Eve -- a story that only could have happened to Jerry --
 
 
and a follow-up --
 
 
And a postscript:  Several years later, Jerry and I flew to Cologne, Germany for Jana's wedding, where we were known to the other guests as "the note in the bottle guys".  These wonderful folks will be friends forever.  Life sometimes redeems itself unexpectedly.  Watch for it.

 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Howard ranks the Oscar nominees


Here it is, Oscar season, and the program airs this Sunday night.  It may be all kind of silly and pointless, but when did that ever stop me from giving my opinion?   Every year, I always make it a point to see all nine Best Picture Oscar nominees and then rank them according to how I liked them.  Meanwhile, you may be saying, “I haven’t been in a movie theater in years”, but you might want to know what to see when it comes out on DVD or Netflix, right?  I should lecture you on getting out of the house once in a while, pay the ten bucks, and see a movie while it is still a thing

… but of course I won’t do that.

I may be dumb as a post when it comes to filmmaking, but I know what I like:  an interesting story, told imaginatively.

Overall, I didn’t think most of these nominees were much above ordinary, except for one of them

and that is my #1.

Here we go, from my “most deserving of an Oscar” to the “less deserving of an Oscar” to “Huh??..”:

1)       La La Land.  It’s exceptional, a creative, colorful sometimes-musical.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone totally nail their roles.  I went back and saw it a second time and liked it even more.

2)      Manchester by the Sea.  A beautiful heartbreaker.  Casey Affleck is perfect.  Michelle Williams is memorable in one scene in particular.  This movie feels like real life.

3)      Hidden Figures.  Three of the nominated films are based on true events.  This one, about three African-American women crucial to the space program of the early ‘60s, might surprise some of you not alive during that era.  This movie is entertaining and feels good.

4)      Moonlight.  Excellent acting, especially Naomie Harris as the crackhead mom.  Intense and challenging, I just wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel when it was all said and done.

5)      Lion.  Another tear-jerker, this little-boy-lost-in-Calcutta story.  The little kid is great, as is Dev Patel as the grown-up version of him.  It drags a little during the sitting-at-the-computer scenes, but overall it is a winner.

6)      Fences.  Fences is probably August Wilson’s best play and I like it, but this film adaptation always feels like a filmed stage play.  Denzel Washington is amazing, though, as is Viola Davis.

7)      Hell or High Water.  I had really low expectations for this one, and I ended up sort of liking it.  There were times when I would have appreciated subtitles for some of the conversations, mumbled in West Texas-accents by the two brothers, the main characters.  Jeff Bridges (a/k/a “The Dude”) is fun as the sheriff.

8)      Hacksaw Ridge.  Agreed, this is quite the story.  But the battle scenes, with heads being blown up and such, just went on and on, as if the filmmakers were enjoying the blood and gore way too much.  It doesn’t help my opinion that this film was directed by notorious bigot Mel Gibson.

9)      Arrival.  How can a story about aliens from outer space be so mind-numbingly dull?  Amy Adams is cool, though.

My choices for the other major categories:

Best Actor:  Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea.  Denzel might beat him out, though.

Best Actress:   There is a good chance that Isabelle Huppert might win this Oscar for the French movie, Elle, but I didn’t see that, so I gotta go with Emma Stone for La La Land, and who doesn’t love Emma Stone?  Meryl Streep has very little chance of winning for Florence Foster Jenkins, but it would be fun to watch her, in her speech, verbally shred our over-rated so-called President again.

Best Supporting Actor:  I’m not sure why Dev Patel is in this category instead of Best Actor, but I’ll go with him for Lion.

Best Supporting Actress:   Same with Viola Davis – why not on the Best Actress list instead?  She certainly deserves an Oscar for Fences.

Best Director:   Damien Chazelle for La La Land.  Of course.


That’s it for this year.  My endorsement is usually the Kiss of Death for nominees, but, hey, I am due for some validation!

If you watch the Oscars, enjoy.  Let me know what you think.  Cheers!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

OK, Jeff, here ya go

My blog has languished since its heyday of 2010 through 2013, but in a couple days (Friday, that is) I'll be posting my annual ranking of this year's Oscar Best Picture nominees (I know you are waiting with bated breath), so here I am, waking up my brain to remember how to post!

Had drinks with my friend Jeff two weeks ago, and he mentioned that he often checks back here to see if I've gotten my blog act together once again. Perhaps there are others who also have not forgotten me-- for instance, the Russian hackers!

So maybe I'll try once again to add my two-cents worth on a regular basis to the already-overloaded internet world.  It's been a rough few months for me and Jerry, health-wise and otherwise, and I don't want to dwell on negatives, even on those days when it is hard to find positives.  And it would be easy to bitch about donald trump, but others are much more qualified for that kind of bitching than I am, and they are doing it well.

So sometimes it's just better to Escape -- for instance, into the Film World.  Seeing the nominees over the past two months has been good for me.

Hey, can you remember the nominees from last year?  Of course you can't!  If you're really bored, you can go to my list last year --

http://hrdfax.blogspot.com/2016/02/howard-ranks-oscar-nominees.html

(Note that I never pick the actual winner!)..

And, if you are SUPER bored (for instance, you're in a hospital bed, not quite in a coma), here is my list from two years ago....

http://hrdfax.blogspot.com/2015/02/howard-ranks-oscar-nominees.html

So, here I am.... and, if you happen to be one of those people who, like Jeff, wants to see if I'm back to blogging, the easy way to click on this site is

needahand.com
 
which is a domain that I own, which will forward you here to my blog site.
 
Cheers!  Life is good, and it's short.  Enjoy every moment of it.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

rethinking my 'dukes of hazzard' moment

Until I looked down and saw a deflated airbag in my lap, I had no idea I had just crashed or that my car was destroyed.

This was three weeks ago.

I was driving on the freeway, less than a mile from my house, heading downtown, when I suddenly knew that I was blacking out.  I recognized the sudden, overwhelming dizziness because I had just blacked out the day before at the gym, bloodying up my hard head, which led to the onset of paramedics and an ambulance trip to the E.R., where they tested me for stuff and decided that I was just super-dehydrated.  Good guess, but wrong.

These blackouts were not your run-of-the-mill fainting spells, where you have some idea that your head is spinning and something ain't right and you better sit down fast.  In both cases, there was, out of nowhere, maybe ten seconds of warning, which, when you happen to be driving a car at 60 m.p.h., isn't very long -- for me, just enough time to see that I was at an exit.  The last thing I saw was the exit sign.  I was unconscious almost immediately, but my foot, unfortunately, was still on the accelerator.

At the scene of the accident, it took me a while to realize that amazing passersby had stopped to help me out, that something really bad had happened, that I couldn't just put my car in reverse and drive off.  Cops were there, the paramedics (again!) were on their way.

It wasn't until later, when I was in a hospital bed, that I was told what had happened.  After I had turned onto the exit, my car kept moving at a high speed, zooming through an intersection, knocking down signs, jumping curbs, then careening off a hill, "Dukes of Hazzard"-style, and landing in a clump of trees and bushes, pieces of my car's engine scattered behind me.

My injuries from the accident were minor, but I was kept in the hospital for observation to figure out why the heck I was passing out.  They hooked me up to monitors, and it wasn't too long before I had another blackout, lying there in bed.  This time, thanks to the monitors, they had the answer:  my heart had stopped for 18 seconds.  Obviously, a problem.  When I came to, the nurse said, "Looks like you'll be getting a pacemaker!", which I did, and I'm doing fine now, have a beautiful new car, and life goes on.

But an incident like that will make a person a bit more introspective, sort of a wake-up call to how vulnerable we are all and reminder of how everything can change in a second.  As I now think back to the whole dreadful experience, these are the thoughts that haunt me or encourage me:

-  Considering what my car went through, it's amazing that I was not more injured that I was.  Kudos to Volkswagen engineering for producing well-designed and relatively safe vehicles!
-  How thankful I am that my out-of-control car passed through a busy intersection without hitting anybody else.
-  That North Memorial in Robbinsdale, Minnesota is a great hospital... and these words are coming form me, who has a general distrust of the U.S. medical establishment.
-  That there are a lot of wonderful, helpful people in this world.  The bystanders -- all strangers to me -- who stopped to help -- they were so kind and patient and caring -- both the people at the accident scene and the guys the day before at the gym.  If I were a person who believed in angels ......
-  That I have more friends in my life right now than I have ever had before, and I felt their support and love through all of this.

Okay, that's enough of that.

The "General Lee" -- minus the Confederate flag, of course.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

RNO to SLC to MSP

So ends another vacation.  Three nights in Vegas, a couple days of beautiful scenery in the California Sierra Mountains, and two nights here in Reno, from where we are flying home, changing planes in Salt Lake City.

Monday, April 25, 2016

MSP to LAS

With Jerry and Tom, heading back to Las Vegas, my escape from reality place...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

at the thai restaurant tonight

For once, a fortune cookie connected with the thoughts that have been noodling through my brain --

"Affirm it, visualize it, believe it, and it will actualize itself."

It's coming and I'll tell you about it when it happens, but I needed to hear that, even if it just comes for a fortune-cookie factory...

Friday, April 22, 2016

the treasury does its history lesson

The U.S. Treasury this week announced that it was making a change, starting in 2020, to the 20-dollar bill.  For many years, the image of Andrew Jackson, President of the U.S. from 1829 to 1837, has appeared on the bill.  He is to be replaced by Harriet Tubman, former slave and active abolitionist  hero from before and during the U.S. Civil War.

Some (e.g., Trump) would call this "political correctness", but the irony is outstanding.  Here is an African-American woman who risked her life many times to help slaves get to freedom (the "Underground Railroad")  taking the place of a man who actually owned slaves.

Out of curiosity, I googled the phrase "presidents that owned slaves" and found the list.  There were twelve U.S. Presidents that owned slaves.  George Washington ("the Father of Our Country") owned more than 300 slaves and did not free them during his lifetime.

Amazing.  And this was only a couple hundred years ago.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

a local prince who happened to love purple

It may have been a big story today across the country and across the world, but here in the Twin Cities it was the number one conversation of shock and grief.  Prince, local music icon going back to his prime in the 1980s, died suddenly this morning at age 57.  He was the guy who wanted to "party like it's 1999" when 1999 was far off in the future.  He put Minneapolis and the "Minneapolis Sound" on the musical map and kept Minneapolis as his base of operations and his life.

Appropriately, it's been raining here all day today, but the rain isn't purple.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

one way to end a career

It's not often that I have one of those dreams that go on and on for what seems like hours and is in reality probably just a few minutes, and it's not often that I remember a whole lot of detail about my dreams... But I had one of those on-and-on ones last night, and I remember bits and pieces of it...

It's one segment of the dream that I recall vividly.

In it, I was a concert pianist, playing before a large audience.  The piece I was playing:  Piano Concerto No. 2 by Camille Saint-Saens, one of Saint-Saens' most popular works.

If you happen to know that particular Piano Concerto, you know that it has three movements:  an andante, an allegro, and a presto.

So there I am, playing the piano beautifully (obviously a dream), the audience is getting into it, and then I reach the end of the second movement... and stop.  I stand up to take my bows.

Now this was no run-of-the-mill audience.  They knew their Saint-Saens, and they knew that this beautiful piano concerto had three movements and that the third movement was the wild climax and that I had skipped it.

So there I stood like a fool, alone on the stage.  There was a smattering of polite clapping -- obviously not the Saint-Saens fans.

Most of the rest of the dream was about how I had destroyed my concert-pianist career by skipping that movement.  I don't think I cared very much.

I woke up this morning, got out my vinyl recording of the 2nd Piano Concerto (Earl Wild on the piano), and listened to the whole thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

when 15 april isn't 15 april

Sometimes, deadlines control...

April 15th -- generally the date when tax returns are due -- has been a controlling deadline for me for the past 38 years, and, while my involvement is much less now than it used to be, this past week was crazy busy with last-minute client stuff...

April 18th (tomorrow) -- is this year's tax deadline because of Emancipation Day in Washington, DC, which means that since April 15th fell on a Friday, it coincides with the legal holiday in DC, which somehow means that it couldn't be the IRS deadline.  Don't ask me to explain that, I'm done with the topic.

Anyway, I'm done with all of it.  Get away from the desk, get away from the computer.

*****

Grass is green, the buds in the trees are out ahead of time, the yard is beckoning.... or the garden center.



Monday, April 11, 2016

is it time for ice cream yet?

This might be the first time I ever blogged on my iPhone, so who knows what auto-correct and my fat-fingered mistyping will do to it.

I just finished eating a tough overpriced bratwurst sandwich while sitting here at Target Center in downtown Minneapolis watching basketball-- our Minnesota Timberwolves playing horribly (so far) against the Houston Rockets.  Across the street it was baseball, the Minnesota Twins just had their chilly home opener and are now 0-7, their worst season start in franchise history.

Meanwhile, across town in downtown St. Paul, hockey playoffs start soon, and the Minnesota Wild somehow made it into the playoffs even though they lost their last five games.

And now you are up to date on the state of Twin Cities professional sports.  And typing this nonsense on an iPhone isn't easy.  Remind me not to do it again.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

going to hellenium

My son Jon, the would-be horticulturalist, dropped by today to plant three new additions to my front garden, all helleniums (hellenia?).  Jon is major fan of the hellenium, a beautiful and versatile perennial.  He had me plant several last year, and they turned out great -- for instance, here was how one of them looked mid-summer 2015:


Thanks, Jon.... Looking forward to seeing how this year's bunch turn out.  Try the hellenium, readers, if you can find any!  It's spring!