Tuesday, August 31, 2010

dumb and dumber

I've been carrying around this Blackberry since last November, and I still mostly just use it for a cell phone and for some email. I know it's capable, in theory anyway, of a lot more functions but I'm a real klutz when it comes to this stuff, so when I was at Barnes and Noble (another guilty pleasure) the other day and saw the book Blackberry Storm for Dummies, I bought it. There on the shelf next to it was The iPod for Dummies and that book even came with an hour-and-a-half DVD, so I bought that too since I know my knowledge of my iPod is basic and on that day I must have been in a super electronic mood.

But, as I struggle through the Blackberry book, I'm realizing that a bunch of it is still way over my head, so I'm not sure what level of dummies these books in particular are made for, and that makes me nervous. Or I think I might just have a mental block toward cell phones in general. Yeah. Let's say that's the answer.

Sometimes I wonder if there will be ever be a backlash against being plugged in all the time and there will be a movement to disconnect from these gadgets and go "back to nature". Probably not in my lifetime.

Monday, August 30, 2010

leading us through the wasteland

My niece Ruthie needed someone to watch the Emmys with last night. The Emmys are the awards for TV shows, you know, and I hadn't watched those awards in a number of years. "You realize, Ruthie, that the only current TV show we know is 'Two and a Half Men'?" She assured me, though, that the reason to watch awards shows with someone else is to have somebody to make sarcastic comments to, so we of course were up for that.

But it turned out to be fun watching with her. She knew most of the nominated shows and the celebrities, so she was our interpreter for 2010 television. She also is a huge Jimmy Fallon fan, and he was the host for the program, so she was filled with Glee about that. Without her telling us who everybody was we would have been Mad Men. Or Lost.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

leave the driving to them

As I was walking to the gym this morning, a guy stopped me and asked where the Greyhound Terminal was. I pointed to it, it was right down on the corner, and as I walked on I started realizing that as many times as I go down that street, I've forgotten that some people still take the bus for long trips. That's only surprising because I worked for Greyhound for a couple years while in college, in Mankato, Minnesota. It was a low-end, minimum-wage job, mostly selling tickets and schlepping luggage, but I learned a lot there: Geography -- mostly Upper Midwest, or at least those cities that have bus service; The quirks of how people travel; and the colorful Street People that like to (or least used to) hang out at bus depots.

I'd like to think that we all have learned something valuable from every job we've ever had.

After leaving the gym, I decided on my way home to stop at the bus station (I don't think I'd ever been in the Minneapolis terminal) to have a cup of coffee and mingle with passengers waiting for the bus to Chicago or wherever. No dice, it doesn't work that way anymore. Signs: "Passengers only beyond this point." Darn. I guess they don't want the wandering Street People there anymore, and today I was One of Them.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

the books i've read this summer

1) BEAT THE REAPER, by Josh Bazell (Fiction, 2009). This might be the only novel I've read so far this year (I used to read mostly only novels). My bookgroup (that I basically attend just now and then) picked this one, and I must say I loved it -- a perfect summer beach book, without the beach in my case. It's about a former Mafia hit man who goes into the FBI's witness protection program and becomes a doctor. It's written in a very conversational style and has all kinds of surprise twists and revelations.
2) LAST CALL, by Daniel Okrent (Non-fiction, 2010). A very well-written and informative history of the Prohibition Era -- how the heck it ever happened and how useless it was. I learned a lot from this book.
3) MAYFLOWER, by Nathaniel Philbrick (Non-fiction, 2006). All about the Pilgrims and what came after the mythical first Thanksgiving.
4) THE POLITICIAN, by Andrew Young (Non-fiction, 2010). This is about the political rise and fall of John Edwards, written by his assistant. Our condo has a library, and I saw this book there -- wouldn't have read it otherwise -- and I found it fascinating. I couldn't put it down and read it in about two days.
5) THIS TIME TOGETHER, by Carol Burnett (Non-fiction, 2010). A total time-waster, but -- hey -- I've wasted time on worse things that Carol Burnett. And after all, this was summer reading.

Friday, August 27, 2010

spaghetti-and-meatballs on a stick

The Minnesota State Fair, a/k/a "The Great Minnesota Get-Together", started yesterday. It is the largest state fair in the U.S. in terms of average daily attendance, and conversations between Minnesotans this time of year, without fail, start with "So, are you going to the Fair this year?"

And I do go every two or three years, and it's usually a spontaneous kind of thing if the day happens to have State Fair feel to it. Today is one of those days, the weather is cool and perfect and I can see us strolling around the fair discovering what new foods are deep-fried and on a stick this year (If you ever want to gain weight, all you have to do is walk through the gates of the Minnesota State Fair). But I'm stuck in the office today, so the Fair urge might not last.

The downside of the Fair: It ends on Labor Day, which means this is the goodbye to summer --a definite reason to dread the opening day of the State Fair. It's no wonder that everybody drowns themselves in empty calories while it lasts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


On the flight back from Las Vegas to MSP yesterday, we were bumped up to First Class, where I found myself sitting in front of Jesse Ventura -- former high-profile professional wrestler ("The Body"), former Governor of Minnesota, current outspoken celebrity. He is a character and an interesting, even sort of likeable, guy to share a flight with. He loves to talk, as the people sitting around him can tell you, and we heard him sharing some of his Jesse words of wisdom. Some examples:

-- That 9/11 was an inside job;
-- That massive sales of bottled water will end up draining the Great Lakes;
-- That Sarah Palin is an idiot and that, if she should ever become President, we should all leave the country;
-- That he no longer is an advocate for third political parties (He was elected Governor as a third-party candidate) because a third party would become as corrupt as the Republicans and Democrats are (He thinks that candidates should be listed on the ballot without party affiliation so that voters would have to become more educated about the candidates and their positions).

He can go on and on about government conspiracies, and that is sort of fascinating to listen to, but keep in mind that he currently has a best-selling book on the topic -- American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells Us, which I now have a morbid interest in reading just for the entertainment value.

Ain't life grand? 24 hours ago, I never would have guessed that I'd be devoting an entire blog entry to Jesse Ventura!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

that's enough

OK.. Three days in Las Vegas is the limit. It's time to get out of here and head home. No more days of slot machines and gin-and-tonics for a while now, thank goodness. Well, that is, not until next week in Mississippi. Damn!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

wading ever deeper into shallowness

It should be obvious by now that anything I write from Las Vegas will never win a Nobel Prize for Literature. A person's perspective changes, the brain metabolizes, gets a bit loose and mushy. For instance, I caught Jerry and Tim, professional men in their fifties and sixties respectively, talking yesterday about how much they would like to go to a Lady Gaga concert. Can you picture that, us at a Lady Gaga concert? But Jerry is convinced that Lady Gaga and her boyfriend (with a mile-high Mohawk) were checking out next to us when we were here at the Mirage in April. Now I admit that I wouldn't know Lady Gaga if I tripped over her, but Jerry would (thanks to the National Enquirer), and the woman checking out certainly dressed and looked like a celebrity of some sort, and the hotel workers were falling all over themselves kissing her butt, so who knows?
And on this particular visit I've noticed one -- well, maybe two -- things that I hadn't particularly paid attention to lately: cleavage is certainly very in right now, isn't it! Or maybe it's always been in and it's just more, well, out in the open these days. I'm so slow to catch on to some things.
And if I were being my usual grammatical self, I would have titled this blog entry correctly -- "wading ever more deeply into shallowness" rather than "wading ever deeper into shallowness." Or is "deeper" acceptable? I don't know. It's the Vegas effect.
Last night, we went to the big show here at the Mirage -- the Cirque du Soleil show Love. What an enjoyable show, certainly my new favorite of the Cirque shows that I've seen. I had sort of low expectations for this one, expecting it to be kind of light and silly. Instead it's spectacular and beautiful, and with all Beatles music how can you go wrong?
I Should Have Known Better!

Monday, August 23, 2010

a mirage in the desert

I admit that it's one of my guilty pleasures. The Mirage Hotel is twenty years old now, but it was the trendsetter for what came later to the Strip in Las Vegas. When I come here, it's still where I stay, even though it's aging a little and there are glitzier and more over-the-top hotel/casinos now. I know I'm kinda boring, but I like the familiar feel, one of those home-away-from-home places. Fortunately, it's also (like Vegas in general) a place where three days is more than enough.
But the best part of vacations for me is always the early mornings. I never waste a vacation sleeping in late. I still have time-zone confusion, but I was up early and headed downstairs to Starbucks (another guilty pleasure) for some coffee and to read the paper. It's a beautiful morning. We'll see what the day brings. So far, we've been lucky.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

catchin' the 2:15 to sin city

It's early on one of those Sunday mornings that I love...

My son Tom stayed over, as he usually does on Saturday nights. He and Jerry actually let me win at cards last night, and I'm hoping I didn't use up all my luck on that one game. I need more.

In a few minutes, we need to take Tom home in St. Paul, where we'll stop first for some breakfast on the outdoor patio at the Day by Day Cafe. Then back home to pack up the remaining necessities of life (the laptops, the cameras, the iPods, the cords and the chargers), meet Tim and Judie downtown at the light-rail station, and take the train out to the airport. Then we're leavin' on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again (actually, Wednesday evening), and we'll be off to wallow for three days in the hideous excesses of capitalism.

Viva Las Vegas, baby! I'll hook up with you there!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

but it's a DRY heat

Saturday morning...

Walking over to the coffeeshop and from there to the gym, I could feel the humidity starting to push in. It's been an unusually hot and humid (and stormy) summer in the Twin Cities -- lots of days when it feels like we're walking through hot soup -- and it sounds like it will be pretty muggy here while we are out of town over the next several days.

When we made the reservations for Vegas, my fear would be that we would be facing temperatures of 115 - 120 in the Nevada desert in August. Looking online at the forecast, I'm seeing predicted highs of 102 - 106 degrees. Piece of cake!

As defenders of summers in places like Las Vegas or Phoenix always say, "But it's a dry heat!"

And as Jerry always responds: "So is a microwave!"
Editorial comment: I try so hard to avoid writing about the weather. I mean, it's so predictable (the topic, not the weather). But if you had a blog and lived in Minnesota, you'd write about the weather too. Trust me on this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the hard-core gambler

We were in Las Vegas in late April, first time there in several years, and had a great time. Vegas is such another world! Soon after we got back, we met our friends Tim and Judie for Happy Hour and talked about the trip, which somehow, thanks probably to the Happy Hour drinks, led to Jerry and Tim deciding that, Hey, we should all go to Vegas! Tim had only been to Vegas on business and Judie had never been to Vegas, so ,before that evening was over, we had reservations for a trip in August. We leave this Sunday for three nights.

(Meanwhile I was thinking, do we really want to go to Las Vegas twice in one year? and who goes there in August?)

Soon after that, I started getting email offers for free stays and other free stuff at certain Vegas casino hotels -- the Aria (the newest), New York New York, etc. I had done some playing in April -- and I'm talking quarter slot machines -- and had only done as much as I had because I kept winning enough to just keep playing, but it apparently had all added up to enough to make me look like a serious gambler to these places. I'm not.

Recently, though, I got an offer that was even more tempting. Free air fare for two persons and three nights at a MGM-related casino in Tunica, Mississippi (Did you even know that Mississippi had casinos?). September 1 to 4.

I say to Jerry: "We can't go on gambling trips two weeks in a row!" Jerry, on the other hand, would go on any trip anytime anywhere.

The clincher, after much soul-searching, was that Missisippi is one of the seven states that I haven't been in yet, and it's very close to three other states that I haven't been in yet (Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama). So we might rent a car there, go on the road (hoping to not get lynched somewhere in backwoods Mississippi), potentially knock off four states on my list, and avoid casino-burnout at the same time.

But I'm also thinking -- If somehow these people are considering me some sort of high-roller, then the gambling industry is in deep trouble indeed!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

lunching at a new old place

One of the benefits of working (and living) downtown is the great and always evolving choice of restaurants. Of course, I'm always on a half-assed diet of sorts, so the temptations can be a curse too. And there are so many that I'll never be able to do them all.

Today, I lunched with a couple of co-workers, Carolee and Jeff, at a newly opened restaurant named The Forum. The space has been various incarnations of restaurants since the 1930s, and the remarkable thing about the place is the Art-Deco interior, which has been beautifully preserved and/or restored. The food, featuring a very Minnesota menu, ain't bad either!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the best country in the world

I still read Newsweek and Time magazines. Or maybe I should say, I still skim Newsweek and Time. Those formerly upstanding magazines are now mostly fluff, dumbing-down the news for the masses in efforts to compete with the Internet. For instance, in this week's Newsweek, you'd be surprised how many times that Jet Blue flight attendant who freaked out gets a mention.

Both magazines these days love lists -- for instance, The 100 Most Influential People in the World. Who comes up with these lists I don't know. This week's Newsweek cover story is the Best 100 Countries in the World, listed from "best" to "least best", I guess, based on factors of health, education, economy, and politics. And the Best Country in the World, or so they say, is Finland! 2nd - Switzerland; 3rd - Sweden; 4th - Australia; 5th - Luxembourg. The U.S. is generously listed at #11, somehow just ahead of Germany and the U.K. (Our education and health systems would obviously keep us out of the Top 10). Of the countries I've been to, I'd rank the Netherlands as the Most Civilized (it shows up as #8 on the Newsweek list), but I do admit that I'd love to visit Finland sometime. It has become perhaps the most literate country on the planet. Kippis!! ("cheers!" in Finnish, I think).

Here's the Newsweek list (not sure how long the link will be on line): http://www.newsweek.com/2010/08/15/interactive-infographic-of-the-worlds-best-countries.html.
I sort of wish that Jet Blue flew in and out of the Twin Cities. What an entertaining airline!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

whatever happened to joe cocker?

I was just sitting here and suddenly a vision of Joe Cocker popped in my head (maybe because I saw part of the movie Woodstock on TV recently), and I began to wonder what the heck he's doing these days. These days, of course, you don't have to wonder about such things -- you just go to Google and find out.

Joe Cocker was one of those wild-looking-and-acting rock stars that in 1969 we never would have predicted would still be alive in 2010 (Of course, we wouldn't have predicted that we'd be alive in 2010 either). Good news, though: He is alive and well and performing often. His next tour is in Russia and Eastern Europe (Joe Cocker has fans in Russia??). He ever has a website -- http://cocker.com/. Funny thing -- he looks nothing like he did at Woodstock. 41 years does that to a person.

Here's a link to one of my favorite Joe Cocker songs, that old Lovin' Spoonful song "Darling Be Home Soon". Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqeOlQEW5SU

This afternoon's news flash: Brett Favre's plane has landed, he's back in town.

Monday, August 16, 2010

summer sports update (mostly)

Even though it's hard to think about football yet, mid-August in Minnesota this year, like last year, means wondering, "Hey, Is Brett Favre going to play for the Vikings this year or is he retired?" I think that most Vikings fans would care a lot less than they do, and in some ways it would be good to be done with these annual guessing games, except that the other Vikings quarterbacks suck. Most everybody is feeling over-Favred by the news media, here and across the world, and I'm thinking that this season won't be as much as fun as last season was, Favre or no Favre, but ya never know. I sorta hope he plays, even if he is a total media hog.

Meanwhile, on the other side of downtown, baseball continues, and the Twins are back in first place. They're three games ahead of the Chicago White Sox, and the White Sox arrive in town tomorrow for three games. The new Twins stadium is an enormous hit, and most games are near-sellouts. The stadium crowds are generating tremendously good energy for the city, at least as long as we have a winning team.

Out there on the East Coast, my other home team, the Philadelphia Phillies, have been doing better, are creeping up in the standings against Atlanta, and might yet make it to the baseball playoffs. Go, Phils!

33 years ago today, Elvis died. I got a reminder email about that this morning from my cousin Beverly, who has been the ultimate Elvis fan since the very beginning. She's still in mourning.
(Brett and Elvis. Two good guys that came out of Mississippi, of all places.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

minneapolis sunday mornings

Summer Sunday mornings are the times when I wish I could be in a few different places at once. Sleeping-in doesn't seem to be an option anymore (another weird thing about getting older, I wake up early regardless of how late I stayed up the night before), but there are so many things I want to do to make the most of those too-infrequent Sunday mornings and I can't make up my mind which thing to do and often end up doing none of them.

This morning was beautifully cool after days of heat and the downtown streets were quiet and I walked over to the coffee shop -- drank coffee, read my book -- and decided to go to church. I came back home, where Jerry had turned off the air conditioning and opened all the balcony doors. The breeze was blowing through the condo and, across the park, the Sunday morning bells at the Basilica were sounding, and it would have been cool to just sit there on the patio and enjoy. I stayed on task, though, and made it to church (hadn't been there in 2 or 3 weeks), came home and Sunday morning was gone again. I'm kinda glad I've become a person who doesn't sleep through them anymore.


P.S. FYI -- When I go to church, it's Plymouth Congregational, a few blocks away. http://plymouth.org/.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


We're lucky to have such great theater choices in the Twin Cities metro. The Big Kahuna in the local theater scene is the Guthrie Theater, and, even though I tend to prefer the smaller theater companies, we see most of the sometimes-overblown Guthrie productions. Some of their choices are debatable, but at the moment there are a couple of remarkable plays being performed there, and, if you're anywhere nearby, you should try to see them.

The first is that Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire, a near-perfect drama in some ways but maybe difficult to attempt because so many theater-goers, because of the 1951 film version, can only picture Marlon Brando as Stanley, Vivien Leigh as Blanche, and Kim Hunter as Stella. For a mortal stage actor, that's a lot to live up to without seeming to imitate. And while nobody will ever be able to put the same raw emotion into screaming "Stelllllaaa! Stelllllaaa!" that Brando did, these Guthrie actors are thoroughly believable in their roles. The Guthrie staging is world-class, as always.

Down the hall from Streetcar, a new musical, The Scottsboro Boys, is on a pre-Broadway run. It's the last collaboration of Kanter & Ebb, the team that brought us Chicago and Cabaret (Fred Ebb died in 2004). The show is based on a downer of a subject -- a true story about nine black men wrongly accused and ultimately ruined for life in the 1930s in Alabama -- but all presented in a kind of minstrel style. Much of the show is very light, with amazing choreography and good music (although with no show-stopping songs that I noticed), all leading to a depressing yet hopeful conclusion. Not sure how it will do on Broadway. I don't think it's a show that a person would go back to see over and over. Worth seeing once? Definitely.

Friday, August 13, 2010

friday the 13th part 2010

The dog days of August, day after day of hot humid weather... and Minnesotans hesitate to complain, knowing that in January or February they'd kill for days like this....

I've had bad luck on various Friday the 13ths -- car accidents, traffic tickets, etc. -- but I've had plenty of bad luck on days other than Friday the 13ths too, so I'm not going to let this one bother me. Hoping for a drama-free weekend.


Reality check: Is it a slow-news year? I wouldn't think so! But somehow the Palins and their baby-daddy Levi Johnston keep filling up the news. Now Levi is running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, with the hopes of getting his own reality-TV show. Does he have fans, or are people just attracted to a bizarre story? Has mainstream news become the National Enquirer? Little did the dweeb know that screwing Bristol Palin a couple years ago would lead to fame and potential riches.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

blessed are the peacemakers

It's odd that fundamentalist Christians never quote from the Gospels when they try to use the Bible to justify their own bigotry. Instead, they find isolated, out-of-context verses in Old Testament or Epistle books of questionable origin (which is not to imply that the Gospels are not of questionable origin), twist them into whacky interpretations, and convince the willingly-deceived believers in the pews that they are "preaching the Bible".

When I was in the my late teens, circa 1966, temporarily waylaid in the Deep South, I heard a sermon that used scattered Old Testament verses to come to the conclusion that racial segregation is Biblical. How convenient for a racist congregation! That was the moment I realized that a person can make the Bible, a very big book, say anything you want it to say. The Gospels and the perceived ministry of Christ are an inconvenience to such people.

That was my theological thought for the day. You won't get too many of those.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

today's sentences

I came back to blogging with the intent of writing something on it every day, even if it's just a one-sentence nothing. My niece Ruthie reminded me today that I hadn't done added anything the past couple of days, so I'm off to a bad start. She says it's okay that it just be a quote or a song lyric -- just something.

Quotes and song lyrics for the past several days would have been a bit negative, though... about betrayal, about hypocrisy, about sadness. Better to skip days like that or acknowledge them? We shall see.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

a not-so-easy target

A couple weeks ago, word leaked out that Target Corporation (headquartered two blocks from where I live in downtown Minneapolis) had donated $150,000 to a candidate for governor of Minnesota, using the reasoning that this candidate was "pro-business". The problem for Target, a company that generally has had a reputation for giving back to communities and for being very tolerant and supportive of its diverse employees, is that this candidate is also a right-wing nut case. He, for instance, has had ties to a "Christian" organization that has advocated for the extermination of gays.

This endorsement from Target created howls of protest from its employees and customers. A boycott of Target was organized and started, both in Minnesota and across the country. Finally, Target apologized for the contribution, although some issues related to the company's intent still remain.

Several things came to my mind during the Target mess, especially the question of, If you boycott Target, where do you shop? WalMart is obviously an unacceptable choice. K-Mart/Sears, are they any better? The sad eventual realization is how little shopping choices we have outside the "big-box" stores, all owned directly or indirectly by mega-corporations. There are hardly any local stores anymore -- the "mom-and-pop" stores -- that used to be plentiful all across the U.S., and the ones that are left are struggling to compete because the big stores can charge less for similar items, and the American consumer will go for the deal that costs three cents less.

If we wanted to do all our shopping at independently-owned stores, is that even possible? Even in a large city like ours?

And when Target and Best Buy and the other guilty corporations try to impose governors on us that are "pro-business", how pathetic it is that they want elected officials who are "pro-" businesses like theirs and not for the small-business owner and entrepreneur. Competition used to be a good thing. Eventually there will be one store to choose from, since all mergers and consolidations get approved these days, and fears of monopolies are never voiced. The Soviets would have loved it.