fredag, oktober 26, 2007

A Good Friday

It's about time. Yeesh.

torsdag, oktober 25, 2007

Approaching the City from the Air

Increasingly each Netflix DVD I receive is a shiny, round, flat piece of crap about 4.5-inches in diameter. Each arrives with a 0.5-inch hole in the center. As the modern toilet is not configured to accept rigid waste of this shape, I instead opt for putting these pieces of crap in my DVD player.

True, probaby 4 out of 5 play, but that 5th disc, like the one dang dentist who refuses to approve such-and-such toothpaste, holds out.

Okay. Now: not only have I been taking Swedish classes of late but I've been revisiting the entire Ingmar Bergman oeuvre and watching the movies in order (save for 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night, which Netflix lists as "A long wait").

I'm up to 1968: Hour of the Wolf.

I've been bitten by this film before. (Ha! Pun!) My mother once tried to give it to me for Christmas but Amazon never mailed it. We were asked if we wanted to be put on a waiting list. We did. Eventually, updates about the order stopped coming.

I've seen it before, yes. And I like the film. I wanted to see it again. So I ordered from Netflix as part of this Bergman run.
Alas! No joy. It arrived, but the piece of crap (described at the outset here), refused to play beyond the opening, annoying, unavoidable growl of MGM's promotional lion. (I cannot help but recall, happily, the opening of Strange Brew. The lion roars, per usual. Then the camera takes us behind the black screen and there we find Bob and Doug Mackenzie standing behind the MGM lion, whose resting on a platform. One of the Mackenzie brothers utters, "Maybe you should crank his tail, eh.") So the DVD isn't working. Not too surprising.

Ignorantly, I held up the DVD player for inspection--as if the player was the problem, and maybe the player is the problem?--and held it at a slight angle when a little urge in me compelled me to hit the OPEN button. The door slid open, but the disc...WOOP! It slid back inside the player.

Fair enough.

First I tried to shake it free. Ape sounds: Ooo-ooo-OOO! Failure. Then I tried to retrieve it with chopsticks. (Why do I have a pack of chopsticks?) Then small butterknives. More shaking. This, friends, is what separates us from the other low beasts: tools! And: ignorant uses of them.

Finally, I put on my shoes and trudged down to the car (which, of course, I'd parked two blocks away) and retrieved the old toolbox I once made with my grandfather. (Awwww.) I found what I needed: my toyish-looking little Stanley screwdrivers with the magnetized heads.

A few minutes later I had taken out the 10 little screws that hold the cover on the player and extracted the DVD; but not before taking a few photographs of the city of circuits and cobwebs that lives on inside this thing.

To boot: It's back together and STILL WORKING! Nice. AND: the disc played!

(I liked the film less than the last time I watched it.)

Still: Viva cinema! Viva Stanley! Bring on Autumn Sonata!

onsdag, oktober 24, 2007


Wool socks, long sleeves, breaks for yoga, electric blanket, and a constant steaming cup of Barry's breakfast tea acquired from my friends down at Irish on Grand. I love working from home, but this apartment is drafty!

Funny (or sad?) to think that in two or three months time a day like today will seem down right sweltering!


Found via Laser Hands: Lyndard Skinner as
a Second Language (LSSL). This is
apparently a rather poor student.
Occasionally I find it amusing simply to type terms into Google and see where they lead. My friend John tends to do this, or says he does. One never knows how he really stumbled upon the things he stumbles upon--or maybe he searches them outright?

Either way, odd flotsam from the web arrives in my inbox with a cryptic note from him reading, for example, "I found this by typing laser hands into Google."

Today I typed hopeless into Google Images and found...

* This odd bit of fantasy art depicting a bluescape with nude woman on a seaside rock watching, with apparent irritation (to judge by the "there he goes again" position of her hand), a killer whale attempting the Fosberry flop.

* A rather clever Nat Turner-ish chess image

* A French site with a hideous band photo. Thank god the image is cropped!

* And, of course, the image that hangs on my girlfriend's bedroom wall! (As in hopeless romantic, hello.)


tisdag, oktober 23, 2007

Yes, But...

Yes, ma'am, I understand that you consider your love for Garrison Keillor to be "transcendental," and we'll ignore the fact for now that transcendentalism is scarcely used in such a non-academic, pedestrian manner for describing love--except by those who are crazy; and I'm certainly willing to agree that celebrities have at times a fairly skewed sense of what constitutes an invasion of privacy or what crosses the line of appreciation; but...

Do you really think mailing someone an alligator's foot and dead beetles is a normal expression of gratitude?

(Yes, I can hear you now: "Well, the beetles were alive when I mailed them. Blame the post office for ruining that gift!")

Or wandering about outside a celebrity's home? at night? in the shadows?


måndag, oktober 22, 2007

Chuck Norris Must Be Launched Into Space - TODAY

That's it! I'm doubling my Swedish lessons and getting the hell out of here.

First, a study showed that 55% of Americans believe that not only is the Constitution a Christian document but that religious freedom is essential to our long as that religion is Christianity. The survey revealed 97% claiming freedom of religious practice was essential to our liberty; but only 56% believed that applied to all relgions.

Now, Chuck Norris--that's right, Walker, Texas Ranger--is publishing conservative political propaganda. (I'll ignore the larger question of Why should Chuck Norris be given a public platform to endorse a candidate. Yeah, he's kicked people in the face on tv, but, really.) He's endorsing former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for the presidency. Huckabee was previously known not for governing really but for losing a lot of weight while governor. The other day, he blazed a new rep for himself by referring to abortion as a baby holocaust.

(Even more inexplicable is that Huckabee made this comparison as a way to explain why the US imports labor. We've aborted future laborers, you see--fetuses that might otherwise develop into dishwashers, uninsured fieldhands, etc. But we've aborted these future low-wage workers, so we have to accept foreigners into our society...though one wonders why zealot politicians fail to see foreigners as a segement "to be perfected" by Christianity, as Anne Coulter phrased it.)

Back to Chuck: In his endorsement of Huckabee, dude has been quoted as saying, "Like our Founding Fathers, he's not afraid to stand up for a Creator and against secularist beliefs.”

Yep. I remember that stand. Remember? when the Founding Fathers REFUSED TO RATIFY THE CONSTITUTION WITHOUT A BILL OF RIGHTS? such as the SEPARATION of Church and State? Remember that, Chuck?

May you be kicked in the groin, Chuck. And often.


* While he's anti-abortion, his state, Arkansas, has an above-avergage infant mortality rate: 7.5 per 100 births (US: 6.4)
* Arkansas has the second highest percentage of toddlers who haven't received immunization shots: 33%!!
* The sixth highest rate of low-birthweight babies: 13%!!
* And despite Huckabee's weight loss, which was good, Arkansas remains unmoved as the 8th most obese state in the US

Dude, if you're going to be so gung-ho about bringing babies into the world, TAKE CARE OF THEM!!

söndag, oktober 21, 2007

Back to School

If only I could learn to do the Triple Lindy! I feel like Rodney Dangerfield today: Back to School. The Muse and I took some time this morning making a frittata from a recipe that we quickly ignored. We declined mint in favor of basil. We added red pepper, red pepper flakes and garlic to the red onion. That sort of thing. In the end, we made exactly what a frittata is: a fancy scramble (only you just stop stirring it and finish it in a hot oven).

But it was really just a college-type morning because:

1. We ate the whole frittata over two hours of laughing and watching cooking shows. NOTE: The frittata was made with a dozen eggs! Six eggs a piece.

2. We shared about three 12-oz. Diet Mountain Dews (DMDs).

3. We then capped off the morning by me parading about in spandex shorts. Now that's good comedy.

These are good days.

tisdag, oktober 16, 2007

Put a Cork in It!

Whoa. On Monday night I went with friends to one of their (former?) favorite restaurants in Delray Beach, Florida. It's a little Italian restaurant with something of a dining rarity in this central/south portion of the state's Atlantic coast: an open view of the ocean.

We sat inside, though the large windows of the place were thrown open so that it was like being out doors. Our table was breezy and one side of the table cloth flapped incessantly, often folding up onto the table.

The sun was setting. It was a lovely evening.

So there we were. It had been a long day of work, but now we were to relax. We ordered some sparkling water. They brought us wonderful garlic bread rolls and a dish of olive oil teeming with whole caramelized garlic cloves. We ordered the wine.

And then the dinner fell apart.

The wine we picked was one my friends had really enjoyed on a previous visit. And it must be noted that, without question, they've spent thousands of dollars at this place over the years. Seriously. Thousands.

Does this entitle them to special treatment? No. Does it entitle them to the same sort of respect that a restaurant should offer every customer (as a new customer is a potential return customer)? Damn straight.

The wine was brought, but the waiter made a dismal state of the cork. Happens to the best of us, right?

Ten minutes, three cork screws, six servers and one gaping-jaw busboy later, we were still without wine. They'd managed to tear the cork to pieces and had finally retreated behind the bar with it. A waitress stopped by and asked if we really wanted a filtered bottle because that seemed to be the only solution they'd come up with. No, we didn't.

You can do that at home, sure. But when a place is charging 400% or more above cost for wine, and when you're paying them $60 for the bottle (as it was in this case), no way.

So we canceled that order. We requested another bottle. "I'm sorry," the waiter said. "That was our last bottle."

Cool. We selected another, but since they couldn't provide us with the wine we'd ordered (and which had been in stock until they butchered the cork), we asked if we might have the new bottle ($85) at the other bottle's price ($60).

"I'll see what I can do," the waiter said.

Something I should have noted at the outset is this: On the menu's opening page is a statement from the restaurant that "A pleasant demanding customer makes us better."

So now the manager--"Ted"-- comes out. He's in a huff. He tells us he can't give us the $85 bottle at the $60 bottle price.

"That's not my problem," he says of the wine. His tone is unexpectedly brusque. "That's the bottler's problem. I've already lost a bottle of wine. You want me to eat another $25? I can't do that. That's not my problem."

Pause. We're all a little taken aback by his manner.

He asks, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Ian replies brilliantly: "I understand what you're saying, I just don't think you should be saying it."

Ted repeats his position, turns, puts the wine menu forcefully back in its cubby at the wait station, and huffs away.

What is he thinking? If they sent out a plate of crap they'd charged $40 for and you said, "This isn't right," they'd apologize and comp it. Why would he think any differently about wine? Especially when one considers the alcohol mark up.

Two bottles sold at $60 and $85 = $145 of business. The maximum price they acquired each of those for is probably $20 and $25. I'm overestimating that, really. But that's an acceptable figure, so $45 cost of acquisition.

Had they sold the $85 bottle at $60 they still would have made $15 on the two combined AND they would have sold $150 - $200 or so of food. (We'd already eyed two appetizers and three entres and one never knows about dessert. Room is made when one sees the dessert menu.) It seems Ted was not just a crappy manager but a crappy mathematician.

So we left.

We went next door to a place called Shore. We ordered a wonderful Italian (Barbera grape) bottle of wine. We had an appetizer of tuna, corn salsa, avocado and creme. We ate rack of lamb and grouper. We had coffee, molten chocolate cake, and pumpkin pie. We left $200 lighter and pounds heavier and feeling good.

Good enough to author a complaint letter to the restaurant that had been such a disappointment. I don't know how the letter ended. It was still being edited last I saw it. But I thought it had a beautiful final line in the draft:

Ted was just plain rude.

He was.

An Encounter

Stockholm Central Station, from my hotel window.

On the first full day in Stockholm, I wandered about a bit then returned to my hotel in mid-afternoon when I realized I had reached the edge of my neighborhood again. I decided it was best to sit and write a bit rather than get lost again and be late back for dinner with my parents.

So I wandered around the corner to the hotel's restaurant. It was a warm day and the avenue was crowded, as was the restaurant's patio, though I managed to get the last of the tables. It was right along the street.

Nearby was a teen center, and here and there young people appeared. They wandered up from a public plaza. The stairwell emptied out just next to the restaurant. A young woman passed in tears and we met eyes. I felt bad for having seen her in that state; or, more to the point, for her having seen me seeing her.


I believe it was William Matthews (and later Rodney Jones) who opened a poem with the line, "Once I was drunk in a foreign city." I wasn't drunk, but I adore those words.

So there I was sipping a Spendrup's and feeling pretty good. I was writing notes about the people passing by: manners, clothes, expressions, etc. I was writing notes about where I'd been that day.

Then it happens: I'm approached.

A young man of, I believe, Indian origin wanders over to me. A friend of his, also from India, waits 10 feet away and observes. They are carrying large bags and I assume they've just come from the Central Station around the corner.

He asks for directions, but I miss something in the broken English.

"The Central Station?" I ask.

"Yes," he says. "The free bus."

I recall having read something about a free bus in a travel guide, but I can't recall where it went to or where it left from. Undoubtedly from one of the main transportation depots. (I recall reading that one takes the bus and then most likely cabs.)

He says something about the tunnelbana (metro).

"The tunnelbana station?" I say.

"The free bus," he says.

"I'm not sure where the free bus leaves from," I say. "I just got here today."

Normally, that's a lie. I've told people in my own neighborhood I'm new simply because I don't recognize where they want to go and "I don't know" seems so incomplete and lazy. This most entertainingly happened when a couple asked me where Bethel--an assisted living home--is. I said I didn't know, I was new to the neighborhood. Ten minutes later, I realized it was around the corner from my building. I'd been standing outside my building when this poor couple had asked me for directions.

Now the second Indian man approaches.

"What is the course of this discussion?" he asks.

I love that line. I wish English that polite and direct occurred to me, but as a native speaker it is, of course, my fate to simplify sounds, word length and manners in conversation.

"I'm not from here," I say. "I came to Stockholm today."

"I understand," the second man says. He nods politely. "Thank you for participating in this discussion."

fredag, oktober 12, 2007

Classy Behavior

A horse-drawn cart surprises a shopper on the narrow streets of Stockholm's Old Town, Gamla Stan.

Who can resist the pun title? Not me. I've spent too many years working in publishing not to have developed an inflated sense of the pun's worthiness. I quote Kingsley Amis quoting HW Fowler in Amis' book The King's English:
The assumption that puns are per se contemptible, betrayed by the habit of describing every pun not as a pun but as a bad pun or a feeble pun, is a sign at once of sheepish docility and a desire to seem superior. Puns are good, bad, and indifferent, and only those who lack the wit to make them are unaware of that fact.
(Amis does go on to say puns are clustered probably too thick in newspaper headlines, and he's probably right, but I write for magazines.)


So I'm taking Swedish classes at the American Swedish Institute and having a blast. Sadly, the class meets only once per week for 90 minutes a session, and I'll have to miss a session next week while working in Florida; but even these short sessions, however few, are a far more affordable avenue than seeking a spot in a university class and occupy a considerably smaller portion of my already-busy week.

We're covering a great deal, our little class of ten plus the instructor. Each meeting is a funny mix of rote recitation, practicing sentences covered in previous weeks, grammar rules, and passage translation.

We use a Swedish language book that does not include a lick of English. It's a curious book from Sweden used there to teach immigrants, so in portions that ask you to translate, it requests you do so in your own language.

Some of the exercises I've pursued this way by translating into German; and I'm finding I recall much more German than I expected too, but it does threaten to confuse the languages so maybe I'll stick to English only until I'm far enough along.

One more note about the book. It allows us one of my favorite language study moments: following the fictional family. We follow the Åberg (pronounced like "O-berry") family--Jonas, Ellen, Emil and Klara--as they drink coffee and beer, drive cars, laugh, play guitar, etc.

Hey: I like the continuing education gig. I especially like it now that I'm taking a class that isn't for my professional well-being but simply for my own knowledge and enjoyment. Who knows? Maybe now that the Muse has me doing yoga, perhaps I'll take a yoga a year or two. For now it's Swedish, and I dig it.

Advice for those taking a less-formal language course (and languages are something we should study more in the US--we'd understand English better if we did):

  • While the peculiarities of a language new to you are worth thinking and talking about, it is best not to use class time to question why particular pronunciations are the way they are.
  • The same applies for the sharing of personal experiences. Genealogical and travel notes may be very relevant to your interest in the class, but they should not occupy the class time. We have only these 90 minutes, friends; and only 9 sessions. To lose 15 minutes to personal stories that don't add to the learning (or enjoyment) of a class is agonizing.

* Night Editor's story of coxswain leadership, falling ice and championship rowing squads

* The Birdchick is feeding bees and digiscoping

* And Al Gore is a co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Congrats, dude!

onsdag, oktober 10, 2007


I had the good fortune this summer to take four weekends and a bit of extra time at the cabin. Woo hoo! And with an unfortunate lack of time for writing today, hey: I'll post a few photographs from the summer fun.


tisdag, oktober 09, 2007


Shaggy and not amused with BMI. If only
I had a T-1000 at my disposal.
It's fitting that the chief music rights "service" is BMI, for clearly it stands for Bowel Movement International.

I do a pub blog for a friends' joint. We were called today and harassed by BMI reps over wording I'd used regarding an independent musicians' form of jazz. I'd published on the site exactly what had been told to me. The man would play "jazz classics."

BMI is demanding a ridiculous sum of money from the pub now under the argument that if a musician really is playing a jazz classic, its rights must be owned by someone so give BMI a buttload of money and they'd find the rights holder.


Further making the situation worse, I'd provided a link to the record company of a band that plays regularly at the pub, and that website has posted some yet-to-be-mixed tracks for a future album. Among those numbers is a Johnny Cash tune (appropriately enough involving a prison in the title). BMI is using that as fodder against the pub, that band, and that record company.

So I've had to go through and cut out all sorts of stuff. Idiotic.

I thought in coming back to blogging I'd try to mind my language, but I'm going to make an exception and get Oedipal on them: "Mother fuckers!"

UPDATE: I feel a little better when I read about stupid people doing stupid things. The man in this story probably has real mental issues, but today I'm just going to imagine he's an ordinary idiot. He probably works for BMI.

måndag, oktober 08, 2007

Fear the Ear

My brother and his wife sent along this photo from Concordia College, Moorehead, Minnesota. The school mascot is an imposing corn. They are the Cobbers.

Fear the Ear!


Note to self: Pack anti-bacterial
soap, and maybe a Hazmat suit.

My brother the tK and his wife, Hope, spent the past weekend in the Fargo - Moorehead megaopolis that straddles the North Dakota-Minnesota border. And somewhere in that Beyond Thunderdome-like zone between Minneapolis and Fargo they found the unfortunately named Middle Spunk Rest Area.


Curse these lungs! Cough cough cough. Cough cough COUGH. So finally I went to see Dr. Wolf and got a prize for my visit: free antibiotics! They're weird, though. It's a powder dose that I have to mix with water. He advised me to take it in two sessions rather than in one fell swoop. "Most people seem to get sick to their stomach," he said. "When they try to do it as the packaging tells them to," he added.

Then it was off to the pharmacy for bronchial stuff.

On the plus side: my blood pressure was good (102 / 74) and my heartrate, despite my huffing and wheezing, remained under 70.

"You're awfully calm," Sonya the Nurse said.

"Shouldn't I be?" I asked.

"I suppose," she said. "This probably isn't a day we'd be mean to you."

And then, aptly enough, we talked about Invasion of the Body Snatchers. She'd just seen the old Donald Sutherland version.

söndag, oktober 07, 2007

The Walk

fredag, oktober 05, 2007

Oh, Dear Me

This article in The Local, Sweden's English-language newspaper, is quite alarming. Looks like the Hotel van Belle just got knocked down a few stars for its Travelocity rating! Where's that gnome when you need him? From the article:
"There were faeces on the carpet, on the toilet door, on the external door, on the chair and on the wall," receptionist Rashid bin Hach told Expressen.
And the guests were political reps! Oh, dear me, SDP.

ALSO: A late-night host threw up on live tv...and kept the show going! That takes skill. It's an interesting video.

And finally: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, tK!


torsdag, oktober 04, 2007

A Thing I Wonder

Is that toilet wired?

Not that I'm wandering about in gold chains and track suits, but: Will growing environmentalism reduce interest in gold jewelry? If even frequent meat-eaters turn away from veal because of the way the animal is treated or avoid factory farm eggs for similar reasons, will people avoid gold jewelry if they know how cyanide is used to retrieve the gold from rock?

One year at a conference in Texas I asked a South American engineer about gold mining in Chile. He'd worked at a site around which birds had stop coming. For a 10-mile radius.

It was a mining site his company had been called in to fix.

Movie Recommendation: After the Wedding

Copenhagen is the setting for After the Wedding.

The 2006 Danish film Efter brylluppet (After the Wedding) is devastatingly good. Susanne Bier directs. (Her 2002 movie Elsker dig for evigt--Open Hearts--is awesome too.) In it, one of my favorite actors, Mads Mikkelsen, returns to Copenhagen from his years in India ostensibly to meet briefly with a wealthy man. The man has asked specifically for Mads' character to visit--even though they've never met--so they can discuss how the wealthy man might donate to (and save) the failing school / orphanage Mads helps run.

The wealthy man delays things. Mads is irritated at being back in Copenhagen, but agrees to meet with the man at the wealthy man's daughter's wedding. Soon, it's apparent that the wealthy man is married to a woman Mads was involved with many years ago...about as many as the daughter is old.

And then a rather strange deal is proposed to Mads by the wealthy man....

If you rent this film, brace yourself. It gets rather intense. This bastard made me tear up TWICE!! And the speech the wealthy man gives at a party is one to remember.

What a DAYS!

I had the tv on mute as I worked through lunch on Wednesday, but I looked up every now and then for the simple joy of what was occurring on Days of Our Lives. (Does one really need the dialouge?) Here goes:

* For most of the episode, Steve Johnson (aka "Patch") held a gun to supervillain Stefano's head...on LIVE tv. All the residents of Salem were watching this news broadcast. At least, all those who weren't tied up.

* Elsewhere, Tony (Stefano's evil son) had tied up Detective Roman Brady and had strapped explosives to his chest AND was holding a gun to his head. If anything happened to Stefano it would go bad for Roman; and vice-versa.

* Elsewhere, the occasionally evil but currently good Sami (who also hosts NBC's Biggest Loser) was tied up with EJ Wells, also one who floats between evil and good. I believe the two of them are "star-crossed," in that they must marry or something like that (perhaps simple consummation will do) to break a curse that keeps their families in perpetual conflict...that curse going back many generations to a love feud involving, it seems, a nun.

* And when the episode ended, somehow Tony had a gun to Hope Brady's head. Hope is the wife of Detective Bo Brady, who is brother of Detective Roman Brady. Bo had earlier had his gun and was telling Patch he was going to arrest him (no matter how much he might like to see Stefano take some lead).

Now that's good tv!

onsdag, oktober 03, 2007


I recall an early moment from a Woody Allen short story in the New Yorker some years ago. He describes a man throwing out his back, and the position of his spine is likened to a Möbius strip. I don't feel quite that pounded apart from my initial yoga sessions--all two of them--but I am sore.

The Muse has us getting healthier this way, and good for that, but man did Rodney Yee put us through the ringer on his Power Yoga: Strength (for Beginners) DVD. The Muse had a tape of this from years ago, but when we put it in the VCR the machine ate the tape. So DVDs were purchased, and apparently Mr. Yee has updated his beginners fare, adding various suspension moves one might more often find male gymnasts performing during a floor routine or even on the pommel horse.

Reviewers at Amazon, ever out to prove Aristotle's warnings about democracy, complained that this yoga DVD set was (a) too simple for even beginners, (b) too difficult for beginners, and (c) perfect for beginners.

I've had a yoga mat and strap for a good spell, and two years ago was decently flexible, but I'd never tried an actual yoga instructor-led workout. (I'm also the sort of person who rarely reads directions.) OUCH.

Damn you downward dog!

Even more annoying: it's a satisfying pain. I feel really good now. I'm sore, but I feel really good. Bendy Wendy (link goes to YouTube) would be proud.


Tonight the Cubs embark on their probably brief post-season journey. And I will once again be thrown under the emotional bus.

tisdag, oktober 02, 2007

A Moment

It's darker at this time of year and at this latitude, and at both ends of the day of course. This morning as I returned home at 6:30 to get some work done ahead of the second of nine Tuesday Swedish classes, I was transfixed by the sunrise.

Selby Avenue runs east-west all the way to the Cathedral in my neighborhood overlooking downtown Saint Paul. This morning the sky was pink and lavender like some sort of French field from a calendar.

I wish I had a camera (and camera skill) by which to accurately record this type of image.

So having watched this for the 2 mile drive along Selby I parked, ran up to my apartment to drop off my computer, and picked up my camera. I sallied out.

Odd how one can feel alone at a moment like this; by which I don't mean lonely, but as if this whole thing had been staged simply for you. It's the singularity of interest, I guess, and the darkness. Or the belief in the singularity of interest, which is its own sort of darkness.

I walked the few blocks to the Cathedral snapping pics of the sky. The pink was already going away. By the time I made it to the Cathedral steps, just a few minutes later, the sky had changed.

I paused there on the steps. It was maybe 7:00. A workman was already out doing drainage work--I think--along the front of the rectory. He'd a wheelbarrow full of tools and was digging in the garden, pausing often to replace a sheet of pink foam insulation or weed-barrier panel that seemed to have previously been placed beneath the soil but which he was trying to lean against the building as he dug. It wasn't cooperating. I didn't understand why he didn't just throw it to the side.

A somberly lit bus passed with seven sleepy passengers.

I wandered home along Dayton. A boy skated by wearing those shoes with a wheel in the heel. I crossed the street to avoid teenagers waiting at a bus stop. The Asian kids at Ambassador Preparatory were turning on lights and hopping out of bunk beds. An old woman with a lapdog wished me good morning.


* To Keith as he recovers from his stroke.

* To Nancy as she begins her lung cancer therapy.

måndag, oktober 01, 2007

Street Poets in Autumn

While returning to my apartment from a walk the other day, an old man in ill-fitting clothes asked me if I wanted to hear a poem about his mother. He'd asked me this as we passed in the middle of an intersection just outside the Commodore, a former hotel (now condos) in which F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had once lived.

(That Fitzgerald fact is sort of silly to mention, since he lived in many places in Saint Paul. It's not quite as flat as boasting that one drank at an LA bar in which Charles Bukowski had once had a drink--Can you find one in which he didn't drink?--but it's pretty silly.)

So I said, "Sure."

We agreed it would be best to move out of the road so went to the curb. He began. It was a poem very much like a Mother's Day card. It went something like this:

Mother, you have taught me so much and given me strength. You were always there for me. I can never repay you for all of the things you did....

He recited this poem from memory over the course of 90 seconds or so, during which time I noted more closely his pants being a couple sizes too big (bunched at the belt) and probably secondhand; his shoes were scuffed badly; his blue stocking cap sat tall but looked deflated on his head. His nose hair was prodigious.

His manner of speech was often halted, as if he suffered from either weak lungs or terrible stage fright.

At the conclusion of his poem recitation, he added quickly and almost with boyish glee, "I wrote that myself."

Then: "Would you like to hear my poem 'The Owl'?"

For a moment, the old fear that I've wandered into an unstable situation rose up. (I've had a habit of getting myself into those.) But he must have sensed it too, probably in the stillness of my face, for he said, "It's a short poem." And: "I wrote it for my girlfriend who died of lung cancer seven years ago."

This poem was, indeed, short. It too sounded much like a greeting card. He began:

Give me the strength of the grizzly bear, the wisdom of the owl, the...

I think the poem ended with words like, And I see it all in your eyes.

After that he said, quickly, "I wrote that myself." We shook hands. His name was John. "John the Poet," I said. I thanked him for sharing them. He said he had 12 more but wouldn't take up more of my time. We went our ways.