Friday, September 30, 2011

a last-minute soft spot for the hard rock

The Minneapolis Hard Rock Cafe is closing tonight -- slow business, wrong location, who knows why? -- so James and I had fun having dinner there last night, sort of a nostalgia goodbye even though I had only been there two or three times before.  It's too bad.  World-class cities are supposed to have a Hard Rock Cafe where people can find souvenir t-shirts and shot glasses, are they not?

I guess a Hard Rock is a place you go when you're traveling, it's not a place you go when you're a local.  We've been to Hard Rock Cafes in, for instance, Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London, and maybe Minneapolis just doesn't have enough tourists who could find this restaurant. Plus, I realize that Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts are not the big deal they were in the early 90s, that's probably part of it too.  Things change...

... all of which is way more than I intended to say about the Hard Rock Cafe.  It's a big corporation that won't miss its Minneapolis location. But how sad these employees were!  Our waiter talked about what a great place it had been to work, how much fun it had been. In the gift shop, everything was 75% off, and people were grabbing what they could to buy, and the cashiers were sad too.  It's not easy finding a job that you like -- or, these days, any job -- and now these people need to start over somewhere else.  There's a lot of that going around.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

football in minnesota

Jerry went to the Vikings game this past Sunday with his friend Jean, who has had season tickets forever (Watching the Vikings this year is very painful, but that's another story [They are 0-3]).  A woman who has a seat near Jean's is the ultimate Vikings fan:  all the purple gear, the horns, and is very enthusastic, cheering on her team.  Well, at this game there was somebody seating behind her who didn't appreciate all that enthusiasm, so that person complained to security that the fan was disturbing her enjoyment of the game, and a security idiot actually came down to the Vikings fan and gave her a verbal warning to tone it down.

What??  This is an NFL football game, not somebody's living room.  This woman was not being abusive, vulgar, obscene, any of that.  She was doing what football fans are supposed to be doing -- making noise and standing when people in front of her stand up.  The team doesn't want quiet, placid fans in the stands.  Can you imagine security people at a Philadelphia Eagles game or a New York Jets game telling fans to tone it down?

The Vikings fan Sunday apparently did not tone it down enough, and she then received a written warning about it from security.  I'm serious.

Meanwhile, the efforts to get a new Vikings stadium, which the team owners are demanding and really do need to be competitive, are stalled, and this could potentially be the last year of a Minnesota Vikings team.  Next year everybody might all be watching football undisturbed in our living rooms.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

billy clubs, tear gas, pepper spray

Pay attention to the Wall Street protestors.  They have been demonstrating against corporate greed and social inequality for the past week in Lower Manhattan and have hunkered down in a park somewhere near Wall Street.  It is a peaceful group, and their concerns are legitimate, and if I were nearby I might be joining them.

But police brutality has been raising its ugly head.  Some of the cops are beating up and arresting people in an unnecessary over-reaction.  The cops of course would say they have good reason, but, unfortunately for them, these are 2011 protestors, which means they are carrying cameras and cell phones, catching the unprovoked abuse on video, all of which inspires sympathizers to join the protestors.

The reason to pay attention:  You are going to see lots more of this.  A movement is coming -- my fearless prediction -- and there will be efforts to repress it, and the repression will strengthen the movement, and who knows where that leads.  Class warfare could start doing a turnaround.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

needahand past, present, future

You may have heard this story before... part of it, anyway.

It was ten years ago this past summer that I registered the domain --  I picked it up from the new-at-the-time John Irving novel, The Fourth Hand.  The book is about a guy whose hand is bitten off by a lion, which leads to him getting a hand transplant, and in the story there was a recurring fictional website named, the purpose of which was to match up hands from recently deceased people with people who, well, need a hand.  I checked on it, and, even though this book was a top-ten bestseller at the time, I was surprised that the domain was somehow available, so I grabbed it.

I had had zero experience designing a website, but I cobbled together something using Microsoft Frontpage, focusing at first on the works of John Irving, and I heard from John Irving fans all over the world.  The site was a bit primitive but had a chat room and everything.  It continued and evolved until a couple years ago, when the company that hosted the site sold to another company and somehow in the transition, probably due to Frontpage issues (Frontpage has become antique in the web-developer world), my website sort of disappeared.  I maybe could have found a way to salvage it, but by then I was over it, I guess.

Now, typing in the URL will just forward you here to this blog site, which is fine for now, but I've been thinking about doing something with needahand -- develop it, sell it, or what?  It's a good name for some kind of website, and almost all of the good names are already taken.  I'm done with the John Irving thing (after seeing him a couple years ago and disliking him), so where would I take a new site, what direction?  I need to brainstorm this... If you have some good ideas, let me know.

Monday, September 26, 2011

more of the same

Continuing the train of thought from yesterday -- here's a sample of some Scott Joplin music... "Maple Leaf Rag"... and this was the best YouTube version that I could find.... I don't think my fingers work well enough anymore to ever be able to play it well.  The guy in the video does a great job.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

oh! i forgot to tell you the scott joplin story!

I told you in my September 16th blog post about the Piano Club I went to, then the next day I told you about my good friend Elke in Germany and how well we know each other.  But listen to this...

At the Piano Club meeting, the members were playing mostly Beethoven sonatas and such, and for some reason a lady asked me if I ever played any Scott Joplin music.  Scott Joplin was a composer of mostly "Ragtime" music back around the beginning of the 20th century.  I told her I used to play one of his songs, "The Entertainer" (which was the theme music for the Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie The Sting back in the 70s), otherwise no.  She told me she loves playing Scott Joplin and that I should buy a Scott Joplin music book and especially learn to play "Maple Leaf Rag".  I nodded and said I might do that.

Here is the weird part of this story.  Elke, in her email the next day, told me that, in going through her late mother's things, she had found a book of Scott Joplin piano music, and would I like for her to send it to me?

How the heck did she know??  We have never mentioned Scott Joplin to each other -- who thinks about Scott Joplin? -- and I had no idea that her mom had ever even had any piano music.

Coincidence?  Or eerie transatlantic vibes?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

mixed blood with a new friend

Facebook has connected people, you know that how story goes, people that you hadn't seen or heard from in decades.  Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not so good.  Jerry recently connected with a woman from his home town who had been the sister of his best friend when he was growing up.  Laura is her name, she lives in Texas now, and he hadn't seen her since she was five years old and he wasn't much older than that.

Anyway, they began chatting over the months and that all went well, and she was making a trip to Minnesota to pick up a dog, so she and Jerry got together, not at all sure what to expect from each other in person.  She arrived at the airport Thursday at about the same time we were arriving back from Las Vegas, and I have to say, it was a great connection, a Facebook success.

She's an artist, so she wanted to visit a couple of the museums here, and we took her to a couple of plays, and the two day visit went fast.  And I need to tell you this:  If you are anywhere in the Twin Cities area, you should try to get over to Mixed Blood Theater for their current production of a new play, Neighbors.  It's a show that makes you re-examine your feelings about racism -- is an excellent play.  It's one of those plays that leaves the audience feeling stunned, but in a good way.

... anyway, Laura is picking up her new puppy and flying home with it.... and we hope she comes back sometime.

Friday, September 23, 2011

dickens on a kindle

My nephew Jeff generously sent me an Amazon Kindle in April.  The spring and early summer were kind of rough for me and I wasn't doing much reading at all so it's just recently that I've learned how to use and manage it for reading a book.  So many people that I know that are the biggest book readers have switched from paper to electronics -- to the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook -- and these are people whose opinion I value.

But I just don't know if, for me, a book on a Kindle is as satisfying as a traditional book.

I'm trying my first book -- A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (partly because it was a free download and partly because it's a book I've always thought I should read) -- and it's fine, I guess.  But yesterday on the plane I had a back-up real live book -- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Klahed Hosseini-- which I borrowed from the condo library just in case I overdosed on the Kindle and also because electronics need to be shut off and stowed during take-off and landing.

I just don't know.  I think I can see it as an occasional gadget for reading a book (or, more likely, downloading newspapers or magazines) and not a replacement for what I'm used to.

Maybe I just don't see the point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


We all have our guilty pleasures, and I admit to Las Vegas being one of mine.  It's a place I shouldn't like, but I do, too bad.  It's an escape like no other.  But it's also a place that after three or four days, you're saying, "Let me outta here!"

This was a great trip, Jerry has a nice tan, we didn't lose too much money, and, if they give us some more free nights and other goodies, don't we surprised if we're back in a couple months.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

disaster strikes facebook again

Here I am, trying to enjoy a peaceful (?)Vegas vacation, when what should disrupt the tranquility? --  Facebook has changed its format again, and my Facebook friends are in a frenzy!.... Everybody wants the old format back, or life as we know it can't go on! -- although not anybody seems to remember that they all hated that old format when it was new.

... and everybody seems to forget one thing -- IT'S ONLY FACEBOOK!  and it's free!

... And sometimes changes turn out to be for the better, you know, once they work out the details.  Here's one as an example:  "DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL", the stupidest law in recent history, has finally been repealed.  YES!  Let's celebrate that positive change that happened this week.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

old and youngstown

It's Day 2 in Las Vegas.... Jerry wants to have dinner downstairs at a Japanese restaurant, but it occurred to me that I hadn't blogged yet today, so I had to leave the casino and come up and say Hello to you all before we eat.

This is actually the first time I've been back in the room all day, which is kind of a shame because it's a fantastic room.. The Aria, where we are staying, is maybe the newest of the Vegas super-hotels, very futuristic, very high-tech, we love it...

... but we spent a good part of the day downtown, downtown being "old" Las Vegas vs. The Strip, where we mostly are and where most of the action is.  But we do like downtown too -- it kind of brings  us back into the real world a little -- it's a lot grittier than this pretend-world out here.

Speaking of gritty, our taxi driver this morning lives here in Las Vegas, but he's originally from Youngstown, Ohio, and we talked about what a disaster Youngstown has become. It's one of the cities that makes the bottom of the Money magazine "best cities to live in" annual list.  It's become a city that the United States should have taken better care of and might be a picture of what a lot of American cities will look like before long.  Which isn't to imply that Las Vegas isn't hurting economically too, but it's a whole different kind of hurt.  An uptick in the economy isn't going to help Youngstown.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Well, we are on our way to Las Vegas -- three free nights at Aria Casino Hotel, which is part of the new City Center complex on the Strip...

... and, man, do we need it...

Will check in from there...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

our modern family

I'm sitting here in the living room.  I obviously have my laptop going as I write to you good people.  Next to me is my niece Ruthie, who is on her laptop too.  On the other side of me is my nephew James, who just finished his homework on Jerry's laptop.  On his other side is Jerry, who now has his laptop back from James.  And in front of us is our widescreen TV, tuned into the Emmy Awards (and occasionally flipping over to the Eagles game)... I mean, really, how pathetic are we?  ... and we find ourselves rooting for certain TV shows -- especially Big Bang Theory (Jerry, Ruthie and me) or Glee (James), but the comedy awards are all going to Modern Family, a show that none of us watch.

But my stuff is all ready to be packed... Jerry and I leave for Las Vegas in the morning, and I am SO in the mood to be gone... as you know.

OH!  Remind me to tell you the Scott Joplin story!  But the pizza guy just arrived... and I think somebody just texted me...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

Tomorrow is Elke's birthday, and I'm wishing her a happy one.

Elke has been my friend since 2002, when she posted a feisty comment on my former website,, under the name "German Mama".  That website was more or less devoted to the works of John Irving, a favorite novelist that Elke and I shared... (and, if you click on that URL now, it will just forward to this blog).  Her comments on that site led to us becoming email cyber-friends from then until present, and our emails have gotten way beyond talking about what books we're reading.  We have gotten to know each other better in many ways better than friends that we see every day.

The emails led to us visiting Elke in Germany a couple times now (her husband Peter, who speaks no English, is still mystified and nervous that Elke has this male friend in the U.S. that she got to know through the internet), and I'd like to get back over there in the next year or two to see her again if I can.

Elke has had a couple of books published (no English translation of them yet), and, if she writes in German half as beautifully as she writes in English, I know they are good.  Her emails are sometimes masterful.

It's going to be 18 September in Germany seven or eight hours earlier that it arrives here, so I want this to be there when she checks the blog in the morning -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ELKE!  xoxo!

Friday, September 16, 2011

escapes and rewards

wow, a wild and crazy week at the office... but did I tell we're going to Las Vegas next week, Monday through Thursday...?  It's coming at a good time.  I need something.

oh, here's something for you:  There is a group at the church that meets every six weeks, sort of a Piano Club, where they get together and play for each other and challenge themselves to develop their skills by working on difficult pieces, pieces that are a stretch.  Well, I decided to attend last night, with the intent of maybe becoming way less of a lazy pianist.  I love my piano, it provides great escape for me as I play for my own amusement, but I find myself just playing the same things over and none of them are particularly challenging.  I know I was a more skillful piano player at age 18 than I am now, and I've decided to work on doing something about that.  Now let me go through my music and find something to work on for the next meeting........

Thursday, September 15, 2011

not all the jobs went to china

Yesterday morning, I dropped off some of my dress shirts at the dry cleaner's shop in the skyway nearby.  This shop is part of a chain, but the usual lady working there is fun, and we always kid around a bit.  But this time the counter was turned around and the wall was torn up and something just wasn't right.  "Remodeling? A new look?" I asked.  She told me that what they are doing is making this drop-off/pick-up spot automated, which somehow means that a person won't need to work there anymore -- somehow it will all be done by computer.  So my friendly dry-cleaners lady will be out of a job.

Manufacturing jobs in this country are long gone, replaced to some degree by lesser-paying service industry jobs, and now companies are finding ways to eliminate a lot of those too, I guess. It's hard to imagine what's going to improve the unemployment rates any time soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the 27th year and counting

I visited a client of mine, Walt, today.  He's in a nursing home/rehab center today over in Wisconsin, and he just found out, much to his happiness, that he's going home tomorrow.  He's one of those clients that I've had for 27 years, that I've watched grow old and frail.  Every year he updates me on the parts of his body that are failing him and that "this might be the last year I'm around"  (He started saying that about ten years ago).  Meanwhile, in between those gloomy predictions, he always has jokes to tell me -- some clean, some not -- and I'd pass on to you the one he told me today if I could remember it all (He tends to tell long, rambling jokes). Having a laugh with him is what we both needed.  Go home and get well, Walt.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

as i scramble to finish my work

Too many thoughts in my mind to settle on just one...

--  Lots of work to be finished before the end of the day this Thursday the 15th...
--  Surprised to ask friends to a movie on a certain day to have them respond with, "well, how about a different day and a different movie"?
--  Realizing it's not easy to be in business for yourself...
--  Heading out for dinner with Jerry and one of my business partners...

Tomorrow will be less scrambled.

Monday, September 12, 2011

and now?

When I started this blog site in 2007, it was all sort of spontaneous and directionless, and I started to name it "What Now??", which reminded me of a song from the '60s, "What Now, My Love?", which I sometimes play on the piano and which had the original French title of "Et Maintenant?" (literally "And Now?"), so I decided to class up the title by going French -- a trivia moment just in case you ever wondered where this blog name came from.

So here, for my Monday videos, are the song "Et Maintenant?" in French, sung by the guy who made it famous, Gilbert Becaud, followed by the English-language version, which was covered by many singers back in the '60s, this one done by a very sweaty Elvis Presley

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Today was Rally Day at our church (and many other churches), which marks sort of the beginning of the new church year:  summer is over, the programs are in place, the ministers and choirs are back.  The organist played, as he has for many years on Rally Day, an amazing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach on the pipe organ -- which always inspires the heck out of me.  And there was a message of peace and love on this date of incredible sadness.

I had a friend tell me that he and his wife picked September 11 to get married, one of those early years after 2001, to reclaim that date on the calendar as something positive.

I remember September 11, 2002 -- one year after the attacks -- I was at the airport in Amsterdam, about to get on an airplane to go home, and a reporter from Dutch television came up to me to interview me, to ask how it felt to be an American flying on that date.  I'm not sure how she knew I was American, but how to answer that question?  Did she expect me to say I was fearful?  I wasn't, not at all.  I said I was just sad, but the sadness of September 11, 2001, is something we have every day, not just on the one date every year on the calendar.  Nobody has forgotten.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

nine ten eleven

My friend, Mary O., just sent a Facebook message to me wishing me a happy 9.10.11.  (today's date)... Mary, an accountant and undeniably a numbers person, gets excited over certain cute dates.  Last year there was October 10th (10.10.10), this year January 11 was a significant one for her (1.11.11), now 9.10.11, and in two months a VERY big one for her -- 11.11.11!  Next year, if the world lasts that long, we have a 12.12.12 coming.   After that, she is going to have some disappointing years. 1.3.13 just isn't much to get worked up over.

... and I certainly hope you are having a wonderful 9.10.11 also.

Friday, September 9, 2011

sitting in traffic with the cabin people

I needed to drive into the northern suburbs to a client's office this afternoon, about 3 o'clock, and was surprised how congested the streets downtown and the freeway going north was at that time of day.  I was literally at a dead stop for parts of that drive, and I'm thinking, Why is this?  And it occurred to me, it's a Friday afternoon of a weekend that is predicted to be gorgeous.. People have left work early, and many of these people are heading for "the cabin" up north.

A guy asked me today if I had a cabin.  I said, No.  He asked if I golfed.  I said No.  "Then you sail?"  he asked.

No, I'm a person who will be out on his patio right here in the middle of the city, relaxing.  No cabin to maintain, no golf clubs to lug around in the hot sun, no sails to hoist.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

calamari and the boy

James (remember him?), when he moved here in June, had never heard of calamari, and, since he comes from a family not exactly known for being adventurous in trying new foods, I give him credit for even considering it.  A lot of people, especially when they find out that calamari is squid, won't even think of trying it.

... but we might have created a monster.  Now he is obsessed with calamari -- it might be his new favorite food.  Today he discovered the best calamari that he has had so far -- at Zelo's restaurant over there on Nicollet Mall, downtown Minneapolis.  I took him there for lunch today, and he was so crazy about the calamari that he asked the waiter to give his compliments to the chef.  I'm sure the waiter was thinking, who is this kid?

... and tonight he wanted to celebrate that he had auditioned into the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus... so where did he want to go?  Back to Zelo's for more calamari. That was his whole meal. Oh geez, help us.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

tragicomedy tonight

Call me masochistic if you want, but here I sit watching tonight's Republican Presidential debate.  Not sure how much more of it that I can take.

But how depressing it would be to be a Republican and think that one of these dweebs spouting nonsense is going to be that party's presidential candidate. 

From what I see and hear, this is how I would rank them:
--  The most digusting -- Rick Perry.
--  The most insane -- Michele Bachmann.
--  The most unlikable -- Newt Gingich.
--  The most unbelievable -- Mitt Romney.
--  The most oppressive -- Rick Santorum.
--  The most interesting, in a wacky sort of way -- Ron Paul.
--  The one who knows the most about pizza -- Herman Cain.
--  The one who should be a Democrat -- Jon Huntsman.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

first day of school, revisited

When my sons Jon and Tom were growing up, I used to take them to McDonald's every year on the first day of school.  It's been a while since they were in grade school -- even Tom has been out of high school for 11 years now -- but today is the first day of school here for other kids, so we revised the McDonald's tradition this evening.  Why not?

Actually, we got together not primarily for McDonald's but because the two of them are leaving for a nine-day trip to San Diego day after tomorrow and I wanted to them before they leave town -- plus, I  needed to see how Jon's garden is doing, and of course it is beautiful once again.

Have a fun time, guys.

Monday, September 5, 2011

labor day then and now

Labor Day started out being a celebration of labor.  Now, of course, the labor movement has been demonized by corporate-owned politicians and ignorant voters, and it's only a matter of time until this holiday has a name change:  Corporation Day, maybe.  Out-of-Control Capitalism Day.  Greed Day.

... and now, can you believe it?  -- even the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association is gone.  Jerry Lewis, after hosting the telethon since 1966 and after raising all that money, was booted, and, let's face it, he probably deserved it on some level, but, darn!  another tradition bites the dust.

... for us today, we observed another Labor Day tradition in Minnesota -- the last day of the State Fair.  There were a zillion people there, but it was a beautiful day for a fair and a fitting unofficial end-of-summer day.

And Labor Day as a holiday?  I say, Let's hear it for hard-working people!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

what is this? hamlet?

My sister Joan and I decided to go to the Jungle Theater tonight to see its funky new production of Hamlet, and I didn't like the idea of sitting through 3 1/4 hours of a play where I had no idea what's going on, so yesterday and today I'm doing a Hamlet cram.

I haven't seen Hamlet or ever read the play or even known the story -- just some of the famous lines, e.g., "To be or not to be: that is the question"; "To sleep, perchance to dream", "Get thee to a nunnery"...

Where to start for a quick prep? -- well, Wikipedia first, of course, for a summary of the play.  And have you seen the No Fear Shakespeare books?  They show the Shakespeare words on the left page, side-by-side with the words on the other page in 21st-century "plain English".  So I'm reading the play, admittedly more from the "plain English" pages, and will have it finished by 7:30 p.m. and be ready for a Shakespearean evening with my English-literature-degreed sister.

P.S.  The quote "What is this?  Hamlet?" isn't Shakespeare.  It's from an episode of The Golden Girls.  :-)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

'the help', the book

Last month while we were in New Jersey, we went to see the movie The Help, which has been the #1 movie in the country the past several weeks.  It's a good film, and we liked it.  It's unusual for me to read a book after I've seen the movie, but then a couple weeks ago I saw it downstairs in the condo library and started reading it and found it hard to put down, even though I already knew the story.

The story is about black maids working for white families in Missisippi, early '60s, just as the civil rights movement was making a difference, and the relationships between them.  It's hard to believe the legalized racism , the separation of the races and the overt hatred that was prevalent and vocalized in this country, especially in the Deep South, even in my lifetime.  There are still plenty of racists in this country all these years later, it's just different:  a bit more subtle but transparent.  Pay attention to the right-wing buzz words.

Read the book.  See the movie.  They are imperfect, but they help some of us remember.

Friday, September 2, 2011

any big plans for the weekend?

Is this a Minnesota thing?  I wish I had a nickel for every time each week that somebody asks me that question -- "Any big plans for the weekend?"

.. And how do you answer?

What is "big", anyway?

.. And if you answer "No", do they feel sorry for you, that you have such a pathetic small life?  Or should we relish those weekends when there are no big plans -- when the weekend is a clean slate and anything is possible -- maybe even just a nap?

Or are people just that desperate for a topic of conversation?

The three-day weekend begins now.  Labor Day is Monday.  I hope you have some big plans or at least that you had a good answer when asked.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

play it, sam

Our summer of diverse theater experiences continues, this time with one of the more well-known works of contemporary playwright Sam Shepard, who is also an actor and actress Jessica Lange's other half.  Back in the late '80s, I became sort of obsessed with Sam Shepard plays and have read most of them but, until last night, hadn't actually seen any of them on stage.

Torch Theater Company is staging True West at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, a very small venue, but the performance turned out to be first-class. The two local actors in this picture play brothers who, shall I say, do not get along well at all.  There is a lot of shouting, throwing and breaking things, and rough play, and it somehow all adds up to wonderful, well-written entertainment.  If you are anywhere near the Twin Cities between now and September 24 and are looking for some inexpensive, quality entertainment, we highly recommend this show.