Thursday, September 30, 2010

little red vw

Work is fine, the office is fine, my clients are fine, but there are just some days that shouldn't be spent there... As I was walking around downtown after lunch today, I had the greatest urge to just get into my little red GTI -- the best, most fun car I've ever had -- and drive lazily and aimlessly and see where I landed. I mean, it was such a perfect day, and I could have opened the sunroof and and turned up the music and headed away from the interstates and down some unknown country roads (making sure to avoid the ones that are closed due to flooding) and just smile, under the optimistic assumption that those back roads must all lead somewhere.

Instead, of course, I went back. After stopping to buy a lottery ticket.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

clean water

Tonight Jerry and I are hosting a fundraiser for Clean Water Action, a nationwide non-profit organization advocating responsible environmental policies. We're expecting a turnout of between 75 and 100 people.

Clean Water Action's mission statement:

Clean Water Action is an organization of 1.2 million members working to empower people to take action to protect America's waters, build healthy communities and to make democracy work for all of us. For 36 years Clean Water Action has succeeded in winning some of the nation's most important environmental protections through grassroots organizing, expert policy research and political advocacy focused on holding elected officials accountable to the public. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

red meat night

A long but productive day at work, followed by a hard-hat tour of a 42-unit residence being constructed for homeless youth. Then home to find Jerry firing up the patio grill for bone-in ribeyes and grilled squash. All non-connected events that add up to a good day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

limited prosperity

Another mega-church, another flamboyant gay-hating pastor who ends up in bed with "the enemy"! This time it's "Bishop" Eddie Long, who leads a 25,000-member flock in Atlanta and farther than that through the miracle of television praise-and-condemn evangelistic entertainment.

It's not surprising that a leader who has the imagination and creativity to build an entertainment empire would turn out to be less than "straight" or that a person bad-mouthing other people for their sexual orientation would be less than secure in his own.

What amazes me instead is that there are so many people taken in by the spiel of a guy like this to begin with! He's one of those preaching a "prosperity gospel", which basically translates to "God wants you to be rich, and, if you're not, then you have a spiritual problem". That theory, of course, is based on the distortion of some remote verse in the Old Testament (and totally opposite the message of the New Testament). But he, the preacher, is dressed in expensive clothes, driving expensive cars, buying expensive houses, enjoying an extravagant lifestyle, so he must be right about this, correct?! Except of course, you and I can see that his riches came from the suckers throwing cash ("planting their seeds") into his offering plates. Somehow though, mindlessness continues, and prosperity theology is thriving.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

take comfort in rituals

Yesterday afternoon when I was done at the gym, I stopped at the Starbucks across the street from Target Center, which is where I work out... you know that Starbucks -- the one next to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was one of those great September days, a day that felt perfect for sitting at one of the tables outside Starbucks with a cup of coffee. And it was. That's always a good spot for people-watching too.

While I was sitting there with my coffee, I noticed that there was a new phrase stencilled on the Starbucks door. It says "Take Comfort in Rituals", with the silouette of a steaming coffee cup. I'm thinking as I sip the coffee (which I took comfort in, by the way), "Hey, there might be a blog entry in that phrase somewhere" (my blog having become a 10-minute ritual of my day, although I'm not sure how much comfort I find in it). So I start thinking the predictable responses I could blog about, like rituals that I take comfort in or maybe how people take comfort in their religious rituals, or whatever.

But when I got back to my computer and Googled the phrase "Take comfort in rituals", I found all sorts of recent blogs mentioning the phrase (it must be a new Starbucks thing nationwide) with bloggers posting about rituals they take comfort in or how people take comfort in their religious rituals, or whatever. And I apparently have nothing original to add. But if, a couple hours after I post this, you Google that term and scroll down far enough, you'll find a link to this post also. Who it is at Google that scans these blogs I don't know, but it's a bit intimidating. And impressive.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

'i can't sleep anymore, it's too much like death'

That's one of the best lines from my favorite movie, Moonstruck.

I've always heard older people say that they can't sleep late, and they get up at the crack at dawn. Now I've become one of them. No matter how late I stay up (after falling asleep watching TV), I'm awake at 6:30 or 7, and the options are to just lie there and toss and turn or give in and get up for the day.

So I'm up, and I admit that the mornings are a beautiful time to be alive. Time for coffee now. Nap time later: another old-person's trait.

Friday, September 24, 2010

a taste of san juan

Way back when, Jerry lived in Puerto Rico for a year -- a year in which he rented out roller skates and organized a failed rock concert that almost got him killed (I'll let him tell that story sometime) -- but one thing that stayed with him from that year is his Puerto Rican cookbook. Tonight, we're attending a church-group pot-luck dinner to which everyone is supposed to bring an ethnic dish (other than your own ethnicity), so Jerry is making one of his signature dishes, Puerto Rican-style rice and beans. It's always quite good. Even you might like it, Ruthie! My concern, of course, is what will the other ethnic dishes there be? If I taste even a hint of cilantro in anything, I'm outta there!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

don't ask, do tell

The U.S. Senate a couple days ago nixed the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell", 17 years old now and one of the silliest laws of all time. It's still fine to be gay or lesbian in the military as long as you never say those words out loud about yourself ("Freedom of speech" and "bearing false witness", re-defined).

My fantasy that will never happen: One day, all on the same day, every gay man and lesbian in the U.S. Armed Forces vocally "come out of the closet". Think about it. What if 10% of the military is gay or lesbian (which may be a conservative number)? There are 2 million people total in the military, so that would mean that the country would suddenly be dealing with throwing 200,000 people out of the service? Not only would the brass (and Congress) be shocked by the sheer numbers, they'd find that they were facing the prospect of firing many of The Best that they have.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

the bristol stomp

Last night I was waiting for Jerry in the condo lobby -- we needed to run over to St. Paul -- so I stopped in the condo office and chatted with Judy. In addition to all the security cameras she was watching, there on one of the screens was Dancing With the Stars, a show that I've never seen (I do have my limits, you know!), and there was Bristol Palin dancing with some partner. I'm not a pro at dance technique, so I don't know if she was any good or maybe a total klutz, but the idea of her current celebrity status still grates on me and it even annoys me that I'm writing about it. In addition to stints like this on TV, she now gets $15,000 - $30,000 per speaking engagement to advocate for "sexual abstinence". It's hard to see how she can have much credibility in those speeches, however. Pre-marital sex turned out to be the best career move she ever could have made. That and being born to a mother who became a big-mouthed governor of Alaska for about ten minutes.
Took the day off today to go to the Twins noon game later. I went over to the coffee shop early and found it to be a totally different atmosphere than the weekend mornings that I'm used to there. Weekends are quiet, with a few old guys like me here and there. Today there were lots of students from the community college across the street -- books open, laptops going, nobody past their twenties. A great energy. Life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

hawaii five-o

Blame it on the HDTV that we bought last spring, but I'm finding we spend more evenings than we used to being Couch Potatoes. We've gone from knowing zero current TV shows to knowing a few of them.

Now the "new" TV season has started, and we actually found ourselves looking forward to a couple shows last night -- the season premiere of Two and a Half Men and the series premiere of the re-make of Hawaii Five-O. It's kind of scary that we even knew what time they came on!

And even though the original Hawaii Five-O was on TV all those years, I didn't realize until yesterday that the "Five-O" part of the name was because Hawaii was the 50th state. Anyway, this remake is well done, although we probably mostly enjoyed seeing familiar Hawaii scenes in High Definition. We're going back to Hawaii for a visit in November, you know, but I'll save that story for another time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

witchy woman

It drives me crazy that the more outrageously incompetent a political candidate is, the more that person makes the news and the blogosphere. The latest is that Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell, who is now the Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Delaware. This woman, believe me, has zero credentials to be a Senator and is mostly known for her extreme religious-right statements and for being an "anti-masturbation" crusader on MTV in the '90s.

Her headlines in the "news" the last several days have been that her religious backers are shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that Christine "dabbled in witchcraft" a few years back. They are demanding explanations -- in other words, is she a pure-enough "christian" for them? This would all be hilarious to watch if it weren't for the fact that this unqualified whack-job could end up in the United States Senate (Actually, in this case, "whack-job" might be an inappropriate term to describe her!).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

visitor from the mosque

I live in a district that elected the first Muslim U.S. Congressman, Keith Ellison. There is a fairly large Muslim population in the Twin Cities. We are used to diversity in our midst. Presumably because of that, there doesn't seem to be the Islamophobia here that there is in much of the country at the moment -- the people being stirred up by by religious pseudo-leaders, Fox News, and desperate politicians who need fear to operate.

This morning in our church -- admittedly, one of the most progressive Protestant congregations you'll find anywhere -- an Imam from a North Minneapolis mosque was an invited guest to speak for a few minutes and read a passage from the Qur'an. It was a very moving service, celebrating inter-faith beliefs in common rather than hatred based on ignorance.

I was proud to be there.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

not quite ready for 'freedom'

Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, is getting lots of attention: Excellent reviews, a cover story in Time magazine, #1 on the bestseller lists, and now the ultimate assurance of selling zillions of copies -- being selected for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. What makes the Oprah selection particularly noteworthy is that she picked Franzen's book, The Corrections, in 2001, and then Franzen apparently gave the impression that he was conflicted about being an Oprah pick, so she rescinded the offer, all of which produced plenty of media attention and guaranteed the sale of zillions anyway. Apparently now all is forgiven, and good publicity is produced for all involved.

My sister Joan and I were talking about it over coffee at Barnes and Noble a few minutes ago. She is on the waiting list for Freedom at the library, and I'm debating whether to buy a copy. There is something appealing about being part of a group reading, even with Oprah fans, and I liked The Corrections quite a lot, and the Freedom story even takes place here in the Twin Cities. The downside: It's 576 pages, and I've become such a slow book reader, which of course is why I can't borrow it from the library and be expected to read it in three weeks. This might have to wait for cold winter nights. Although they are quickly approaching. Darn! Another weather reference!

Friday, September 17, 2010

the thousand-mile disadvantage

My parents both had lots of brothers and sisters, and almost none of them lived more than a half-hour away from us. When they needed each other, they were nearby for each other.

Now families seem to be scattered all over the country or even all over the world, and people get used to relying on people other than family in times of emergency and crisis and they often grow away from each other emotionally.

My five siblings and I are still close -- except in distance. My brother-in-law John in New Jersey is right now going through all kinds of hell with pain from cancer plus surgeries and treatments, and it's hard to not be more immediately available to him and my sister Mary. It's a helpless feeling being far away at a time when I feel like I should be following my dad's example and being there for family, in person and not just in spirit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

the social/anti-social network

I've been seeing trailers for a new movie that's coming out in a couple weeks. It's called The Social Network and is the story of the founders of that contemporary Internet phenomenon, Facebook.

If you use Facebook, and you probably do, then you know that it can bring chuckles and tears and pleasure and irritation. It can bring reunion with people you've lost contact with over the years or it can cause family fights or it can bring viruses to your computer. You name it.

Lately, I've seen some nasty family fight stuff going on, which mostly has to do with people finding out more about each other than they're comfortable knowing. Or political opposites within the same family. Or how about this: a fairly distant cousin (who I probably haven't seen in 40 years) who this week dropped all of her Facebook friends that hadn't publicly (meaning, on Facebook) consoled her on the recent death of her dog. Being dumped as a Facebook friend is the ultimate put-down these days, you know.

Then there are the Facebook friends that you maybe used to have some loose connection with and now have become a good cyber friend. The high-school classmates, for instance, that you maybe never once in high school had a conversation with and now you find yourself caring about their daily lives. And they care about yours.

It's all very strange. It's all quite new, yet it already feels so familiar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the ides of september

The pace of my work life seems pre-determined by calendar dates, and the 15th day of certain months -- especially March, April, September, and October -- causes anguish and too many hours in the office, blah blah blah.... the worst part of that being that time goes too fast, and, look at us, the beautiful month of September is half gone.

But I finished work late last night and went with Jerry over to Eli's Bar and Grill, a couple blocks from our place, and had some tasty late-night dinner and some fun talk and, in my case, a couple of Tanqueray-and-tonics, and life was good again.... And I went home and crashed, while Jerry tried to plan the next vacation. 'Got to get it on the calendar somewhere in between deadlines!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the bush tax cuts

The next two months will be filled with nasty politics before the mid-term election in November.

And one of the issues that will be twisted into perversion rather than contemplated in rational discussion will be the expiration of the "bush tax cuts" at the end of 2010. Unless a new tax law is enacted before the end of the year, the tax rates will go back up to what they were in 2000. President Obama has suggested, Hey let's keep the tax rates as they are except for the wealthiest taxpayers. After all, we have huge budget deficits to get under control and continuing economic problems, and the wealthy have had good rates for ten years.

But the Republicans, the Party of No, says there will be no compromise. They have wealthy friends to protect, and they want all the bush cuts to stay in effect. They apparently would rather have everybody's taxes go up in 2011 and then blame that on the Democrats.

Money is very much involved, so this will be the dirtiest politics we've seen in a while. I sometimes am amazed at people who say they are Republicans because they are "fiscally conservative", when it's obvious that they are more and more fiscally irresponsible and destructive, with the focus only on power and the next election and the short-term. Pity the generation that is just now coming of age. They will inherit a disaster.

Monday, September 13, 2010


a blank today.

My brain is crammed with work stuff that if I tried to articulate any of it, I'd drive you away forever.

Something else tomorrow.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

toccata and football in d minor

In some churches, "Rally Sunday" is the Sunday after Labor Day when the church year starts after a somewhat sleepier summer schedule. The church where I'm a member but where I'm sort of hit-and-miss about attending has been around for 157 years, and one of the many long-time traditions there is that the organ prelude on Rally Sunday is always Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach, so this wasn't a Sunday that would be a "miss" for me. The Toccata is the classic piece for pipe organ, and the organist at this church is the best I know, so I relished every minute of hearing it. I've played this piece (rather ineptly) on pipe organ, and I know how challenging it is to play but also how much fun and how motivating it can be!

Then back home for another September tradition -- Sunday afternoon football. My son Tom is here and had a game on TV when I got home, and we ordered a pizza and here we sit vegetating and enjoying the moment....

Saturday, September 11, 2010


A little earlier, I was having coffee downtown with my sister Joan, and we talked, among other thigns, about 9/11 and how that date still haunts us all. It is certainly a day every year when our country remembers the people who died in the attacks that day and the policemen and firemen and rescue workers that were the heroes that day, and it's right that we do that. But, as we were chatting and I was thinking, it was also a day when a lot of people were heroes: the people who just went to work that day, as stockbrokers, secretaries, clerks, restaurant workers, maintenance people, and were just normally doing their jobs that day.

We never heard much coverage that day about how New Yorkers found ways to get home to their families even though mass transit was paralyzed and communication was disrupted and nobody knew for sure what was going on. Or how about all those people in airplanes in flight across the country that had to be landed at the nearest airports and were potentially stranded for days? The country could have descended into chaos that day, and it didn't. I think there were a lot of heroes, ordinary people, who were never recognized or acknowledged and that there were many stories that were never heard.

Friday, September 10, 2010


My mom and dad were married 66 years ago today. It's strange, but even though they've been gone for 23 and 21 years respectively, certain dates -- their birthdays, anniversaries, the dates of their deaths -- still pop up in my mental calendar every year. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I hope that if you're out there somewhere, that somehow you're together.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

acceptable levels of violence

You know I'm a non-violent person -- very anti-war and against all forms of physical abuse -- so my love of football sometimes must seem like an obvious exception to my principles. But we all have exceptions to our principles, do we not?

That NFC Championship Game last January between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints almost made me re-think football. The obvious game plan of the Saints was to injure the Vikings quarterback, Brett Favre, to the point of having him carted off the field, perhaps permanently. It was brutal to watch but at the same time, realistically, maybe just an extreme version of what football is. Football has been compared to war -- men fighting for territory -- and it has left many football players in pain and with disabilities for the rest of their lives.

Yet the season officially starts tonight -- a rematch of the Vikings and the Saints -- and I'm anxious for it and I hope the Vikings smash the heck out of those rotten Saints. So maybe football is just another of those Guilty Pleasures of mine. Are you keeping track of these?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

another religious war would make for good headlines

I was going to write something innocuous about what a beautiful day it is and how near-perfect, weather-wise, it should be for the Twins game tonight we're going to, but now I'm too annoyed by the news media to think about all that mundane stuff. What has me fired-up is all the attention that a nobody idiot preacher in Florida is getting this week because he and his sub-moronic congregants (a measly 50 members) plan to burn copies of the Koran (Quran? Qu'ran?) this Saturday, September 11, in an apparent attempt to piss off the entire Muslim world.

Now, think about it: News reporters could have ignored the fool, figuring he's just another lunatic-fringe nut case, which of course he is, but no! They had to make this into a "news story" which has now caused international outrage. International outrage, of course, will not keep the dweeb from getting his 15 minutes of fame and becoming a hero to ignorant fear-addicts and becoming a talking-head on Fox News. His weird little church will be bursting at the seams, he'll get all kinds of offers for speaking engagements, and maybe he'll run for office as a Tea Party candidate. The sky's the limit.

I heard somebody the other day say that all wars have been caused by religion, directly or indirectly. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I do have the feeling that the next one will be a doozy. If only just the religious extremists could fight each other and knock each other off and leave the rest of us out of it! Or isn't that a big enough story?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the day after summer vacation

There is something about the day after Labor Day that brings on some sense of the blues or impending doom. It could be just the realization that we have to go through another long winter before we ever see summer again. For me and for some other people, I don't think that's it. Going back in time in my case several decades, it was always the day that school started up again, and that feeling of dread still pops up annually in my psyche, just out of habit. School wasn't exactly the Prime Time of my life, although, now that I think about it, I'd be hard-pressed to name the period that was Prime Time. Geez, maybe it's now... although I'd rather think it was a time when my eyes, my knees, and my prostate were a bit more dependable!

Monday, September 6, 2010

last day for white shoes

Labor Day. There should be more holidays like this. Ones where there are no particular places to be or things to do or presents to buy or any obligations at all.

We thought maybe we'd get up early and go to the last day of the State Fair, but the idea sounded less appealing when we woke up this morning (although we might still end up at the Fair later). Instead, we went to the Spyhouse Coffee Shop over there on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown (probably the "hippest" part of Minneapolis) and sat outside while I drank coffee and read my Nick Hornby book (Juliet, Naked) and Jerry drank herbal tea and read the newspaper. The weather today is cool and kind of cloudy, and as we sat there we thought, Hey, this feels just like Amsterdam! ... and how could life ever feel more perfect than this?

Amsterdam, our favorite city in the world (so far!) is where we went several years in a row this time of year -- late August, early September -- and the memories are good: a week on a houseboat in the middle of the city or sitting at outdoor cafes drinking coffee or smoking a joint (Ha! No, I didn't really say that). One day we'll get back there, but for this morning at least, Minneapolis felt awfully good.
For those of you who would ever wear white shoes, remember that it's been decreed by the Fashion Police that you can't wear white shoes after Labor Day, so enjoy your white shoes today. Fortunately, I've never had a white shoe on in my life anyway, unless you count sneakers, for which I hope no fashion rules ever apply!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

a junket

We got back home to Minneapolis yesterday, where suddenly people are wearing sweatshirts and jackets. (Fall couldn't wait until after Labor Day? [tomorrow?])

While I was at the coffeeshop this morning, I was thinking about this trip down South. We took advantage of that free gambling-junket offer mainly to travel through four states, but what about the gambling part of the trip? Well, believe me, we are only occasional and low-end casino gamblers, but I had a vague awareness that there were such things as gambling junkets and yet didn't know what to expect.

Most of the people on the casino charter plane from Minnesota (about 120 people) had done these trips before, so for them it was Old Home Week seeing each other again. All very nice ordinary people and none of them obviously wild-eyed ravenous gamblers, so I'm not sure exactly what drives these invitations. The casinos obviously know what they're doing, though, and are good at the red-carpet treatment. Since we don't get out of control in the casinos themselves, I'd do one of these trips again if we get the offer, which we probably will. I'm hoping for an offer to Biloxi, down there on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We could have some good driving trips out of there!

Until then -- no more casino thoughts for a while. Or road trips.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

46 in the 47th

We're on our way home after a definitely worthwhile and fun trip. Plus, I'm able to add four states to my States I've Visited List, am up to 47 -- three to go after this (Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas). The 47th was Alabama yesterday, where we spend exactly 46 minutes -- long enough to pee and have some coffee and apple pie. That gives Alabama the distinction of being the state, of the ones I've seen, that I've spent the least amount of time in, replacing West Virginia. More exciting Howard trivia to come.
For Instance:
1) Minnesota (How did this happen?).
2) New Jersey (Which is maybe where my heart has sort of always been).
3) South Carolina (Don't ask).
4) North Carolina (2 months of Army basic training at Fort Bragg, plus several other trips to the state).
5) Louisiana (2 months of Army jungle training at Fort Polk, with no return trips ever!).

Friday, September 3, 2010

on the road again

Where we're staying, in Tunica, Mississippi, is just south of Memphis, Tennessee, and just east of Arkansas, so yesterday we drove through the countryside of this part of Mississippi and into northeast Arkansas and from there into Memphis.

What we noticed: That this part of Mississippi and Arkansas, except for the casinos here in Tunica, are unbelievably poor, especially in the little towns. In fact, Tunica County was the poorest county in the U.S. until the casinos were brought here. I guess that's the reason that casinos were plopped down in an area that otherwise has nothing else -- that and its promixity to the Memphis metro area.

Also noticed: That if I lived in the South, I'd be fat as a pig. I have such a weakness for Southern-style comfort food and I'm eating such good food on this trip that it's a good thing we're going home tomorrow.

Today, we head east to Alabama so that I can cross that state off my States to be Visited List. We won't stay there long, will then head up north through Alabama and cross through southern Tennessee to Memphis where we will have a BBQ dinner in one of the great restaurants there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

the magnolia state

Ah, Mississippi.... Of the 50 states, it's the one that is usually last in education, in income levels, and a lot of the other good stuff... But today we explore it a tiny bit at least, then will wander over into Arkansas a little and then up to Memphis for dinner....

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

john grisham's neck o' the woods

The early John Grisham novels seemed to always take place in steamy Mississippi and/or across the Tennessee border in Memphis. Grisham novels might have mostly been a '90s thing -- his newer books are kind of lazy and I might be done reading Grisham forever -- but it used to be that readers eagerly anticipated those once-a-year legal-intrigue books.

Anyway, we are on our way to Mississippi for three nights, not because of John Grisham but in spite of him (he never made it sound very appealing), and we wouldn't be going at all except that it's a free airfare, free hotel trip paid by a Mirage-related casino that has been deluded into thinking that we'll gamble enough to make it worth their while. Since we were just in Las Vegas last week, gambling is (mostly) out of our system for a while, so instead we're renting a car while we're down there to drive into the backwoods of Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and maybe Alabama, at the same time hoping not to get killed by rednecks. Wish us luck!
My favorite John Grisham books: The Firm, The Chamber, and A Time To Kill.