Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday Musings

Affluent renderings of an impoverished mind, or vice versa, or neither.


Parking in this city is ridiculous. Today was my day to bring bagels (well, yesterday was my day to bring bagels - Today was the day I actually brought bagels). I stop in Northeast to run this particular errand, and feed a meter. I head downtown. More meters. What is it with cities an charging for parking? How much does it cost to park at the Mall of America? Nothing. The shops at 50th and France? Completely free. The malls? Complimentary my friend. Midtown Phillips? $3 an hour.

Our taxes pay for the streets. They didn't come out of some generous fund from God above. And yet Minneapolis is hellbent on profiting off parking. They even built hundreds of millions of dollars worth of municipal ramps. Of course, the ramps are not profitable, and so the city is now in the process of selling them at pennies on the dollar. The situation is so bad that Trader Joes was forbidden from building a store downtown, because they wanted to build an 80-space parking lot. Well, we can't have just any old business competing with the our city's precious money pits, so the project has been blocked. There's an ordinance, you see.

How much is parking in St. Louis Park? Right...

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Speaking of our fine city, our neighborhood has recently experienced a spate of gunfire. The police arrested suspects, owning a stolen gun and shooting it isn't exactly a high crime in Minneapolis. Maybe mothers against firearms or whomever might want to see to it that actual criminals using guns to kill spend some measure of time paying for their crimes before going after Joe Blow Hunter. You know, maybe make themselves useful, in addition to being sanctimonious?

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Lots of buzz about cats these days. It turns out that female Cheetahs are very promiscuous. I bet Jay Leno had a field day with this information. I bet he laughed at his own jokes about it, too, then made some comment to accomplished jass guitarist Kevin Eubanks about how he wished he was a Cheetah. And I bet accomplished jazz guitarist Kevin Eubanks responded with hoots of riotous laughter. I bet that's how it all went down.

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Fred Thompson has announced that he is running for President. I like him alright, but I don't know if I like him against Obama. Obama is going to become Race-card Charlie once he gets to the main event, and Thompson plays the curmudgeony old plantation owner stereotype a bit too well. We'll know early on if this candidacy is going to stick, and that will give Obama's people plenty of time to find some speech that Thompson gave to some church that once was segregationist or whatever.

Yawn... Can we just pronounce the civil rights movement obsolete and cut to the chase? There's a war on, people. Being offended is one thing. Looking for reasons to be offended is pedantic.

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The new Transformers movie looks pretty stupid. Just a bunch of people running away from robots screaming "oh my God, we're all dead!" If this is as bad as it looks, Michael Bay is going to have all sorts of 27-33 year old guys, um, blogging about him and continuing not to attend his crappy movies. That'll teach him.

Incidentally, an IMDB show indicates that the original animate movie's Japanese working title was "Transformers: the Movie: Apocalypse! Matrix Forever"

Darn uppity, those Japanese.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wet Cats

What is it with cats and water?

I mean, they do NOT like water. Not even a little bit. You get a cat in a bath and they get all like...

MEEEEOOOOWWWW

Seriously, what is that all about. Cats are some water-hating critters. You get them wet, and they'll let you know about it. Believe me, they will.

Those cats man. Get 'em near water and... BOOM... I'm tellin' you. I'm tellin' you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ROCK TV!

Hey look, it's a new Rock TV. It's entitled the "History of the American Geek". I encourage you to simply enjoy it. If you are questioning the wisdom of an open and accepting church literally suggesting that geeks should be hunted or, perhaps, burned for fuel, I tell thee, verily... You need to calm down.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thursday Musings

Monday's regularly scheduled musings were pre-empted by angry restaurant ranking, so let's muse, eh? Or, I can muse, and you can just read. Or you can go to Peter's websire and read about boar-sex or whatever. Doesn't matter to me.

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Iowa State has made the decision to deny tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomy professor who holds the view that Intelligent Design is scientifically valid. You can read more about that here. Now, Prof. Gonzalez is now slouch. In fact, he co-wrote the textbook used at ISU's introductory classes. Further, ISU is not what I would consider to be an academically credible institution (I have a different philosophy w/r/t higher education than most).

But I am always amazed at the intellectual shallowness of the anti-ID position. The most compelling argument I have heard against the teaching (at any level) of ID theory is "nuh-uh, that's religion and so you can't teach it." That's the most nuance response. Usually, it's more like "anyone who believes ID is a dummyhead really hard."

Of course, is there anyone more ignorant than one who has declared himself enlightened? College students remind me of that question a lot.

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The mortgage refinance people have a new ad, which features two people with big heads. The woman rolls her eyes when the guy waves hello. That is the ad. Two people with big heads. That's it. For an industry literally awash in (ill-gotten) cash, this is the best they can do. I suppose that if you believe you can get a $510,000 loan for $1,498 per month, then you might be the type who click on ads with funny heads on them.

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Scientists have determined that dolphins actually speak to each other in different accents. This will be a perfect addition to Kevin's Dictionary of the Mundane.

Money quote from the scientist in charge of the story:

"The idea that the sounds are different is not a bad notion..."

Um... Who reads this information and thinks to themselves, "Dolphins? Accents? This is bad. Really bad." Thanks for putting me at ease.

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You know, why are the presidential nominees campaigning now? Do I need two years to make this decision? Two years? At least the Republicans have multiple front-runners. The only way Obama is not going to be the Democratic nominee is if he pulls an OJ.

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The parents of Josh Hancock, the St. Louis Cardinal pitcher who slammed into the back of a tow truck whilst extremely drunk, has decided to assuage their gried the American way, by suing everyone in sight. They are suing the bar that served Mr. Hancock drinks, the owner of the tow-truck company (what is a tow-truck doing on the side of a highway, anyway?) and (I kid you not) the owner of the stalled Geo Prism that caused the tow truck driver to pull over.

I'll observe this, whenever you hear someone say "well if they're going to so (so-and-so) then maybe I should sue......" do they ever finish that sentence with anything half as ridiculous as this? Hey Hancocks, maybe you should sue my blog. Seems to be fashionable these days.

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Oh, and one of the folks who did get tenure at Iowa State? A religious studies professor who equates the Bible with Mein Kampf. Isn't that just so, so, edgy? He compares Christianity to Nazism! Isn't that just so profoundly clever, and yet eminently reasonable? Obivously, to draw such an obscure parallel, one must be very educated. I would only expect reductio ad Hitlerum from the finest of PhDs.

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Does anyone hunt rabbits anymore? I hope so.

TTFN!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

God Punishes Minneapolis For Sins

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Citing an uptick in violent crime, a disproportionate number of homosexuals, and generally left-leaning politics, God has opted to unleash his wrath upon the Midwest city. The wrath, taking the form of a rain-shower expected to drop as much as 1.5 inches of rain on some regions of the city's Northeast side, began at approximately 1 p.m. CST, and is expected to continue throughout the evening.

"I've had it with this city," said God. "I mean, how they have more strip clubs than children. I hope they enjoy getting wet."

The rain-wrath is dreching lawns throughout the city. A number of citizens, who willingly disregard local prophet Sven Suundgaard's warnings, failed to bring an umbrella to work.

"With a warm air mass clashing with a low pressure front, I saw this coming," said prophet Sven. "I told the people that it would be a wet one.

The catastrophe is only expected to get worse. Commuters, many of whom have engaged in the worship of other idols, will experience delays in returning home from their labors. Some prophets expect that the storm might last through weekend.

"I wanted to show Minneapolis that I have passed judgment upon them," added God. "They have hardened their hearts to my teaching. I nearly smote them after they built a temple they called 'Hell's Kitchen', but I then came to understand that they simply dispense delicious, moderately priced breakfasts, so I nailed New Orleans instead."

In spite of bearing the full brunt of God's wrathful glory, many of the city's most sinful residents remain hardened to God's message. Some even delight in the intended suffering. "I'm glad to see the rain," said Steve Richardson, a local sodomite. "I was planning on planting some marigolds, but I might just plant my tomatoes while the ground is good."

"Marigolds? Oh, they would grow those," responded God, while clappping his hands to create mild ripples of thunder. "I would level this city if not for their one saving grace, Ground Zero. For all of their sinfullness, I am touched by this display of solidarity with the people of New York City. I might go visit sometime."

While many are disgruntled by God's scripturally-supported punishment, local Christians are pleased that God has finally gotten around to smiting such a sinful city.

"I took a wrong turn off on Lake St. on the way to Lake Calhoun. And suddenly there were all these stores with signs written in weird languages," said local Christian blogger Vance Chickerson. "What the hell is this, Babel? Right then, I called on God to exhibit his wrath. Praise to him that he listened."

As yet, the leadership of Minneapolis remains unrepentant. "God's wrath? Whoopty-doo!" Said mayor R.T. Rybak. " I'm pretty sure he could drop a plague on this city, and I'd still get re-elected. These people do not give a !@#$. Trust me."

"Hey, R.T." added God. "If your looking around for the plague, and you don't see one, the plague is you buddy."

At the time of publication, Jesus was unavailable for comment.


(Editor's note: God's wrath has stopped now.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Socko?

That latest issue of Time Magazine features a fawning meditation on Michael Moore's filmmaking entitled "Sicko is Socko". Even by the standards of a liberal media juggernaut this, this is an awfully giddy piece. Find the whole thing here. Excerpts (with my charitable commentary) below.


George W. Bush recognized there was a crisis in the American health care system. But he thought the problem was that physicians' six-figure incomes weren't high enough.


This is the first sentence of the piece. I kid you not. On what planet is this a reasonable assessment of Bush's health care viewpoint? And since when are we concerned that Doctors make too much money? Hey, who cares if doctors can't practice medicine for fear of being sued! Bush made a funny! This is how I understand politics! OBAMA IS DREAMY!


These days it's almost too easy to make fun of the President; he's a lame duck who needs medical attention, and fortunately he can afford it.


I have no counterpoint. I just wanted to take the time to point out that Mr. Corliss gets paid a tremendous amount of money to write. Okay, now re-read the sentence above. Feel me?


Besides, Michael Moore had his instructive Bush-bashing in Fahrenheit 9/11, the highest-grossing documentary of all time, earning $119 million at the domestic box office and lots more overseas.


Because the benchmark for quality is box-office success. Moore is the Michael Bay of documentarians.

(Moore is) never the first to address a gut issue, whether it's corporate greed (Roger & Me), American violence (Bowling for Columbine), the politics of terror (Fahrenheit 9/11). But he's the one who does it the noisiest,


Ah yes, because that's what the political climate needs. More noise. Certainly not measured, honest analysis of the issues. Just demagoguery.

with the highest entertainment value, mixing muckraking with showmanship, Ida Tarbell with P.T. Barnum.


Ida Tarbell? Did he just Wiki the word "Muckraker", and this was one of the names that showed up? I have trouble believing he just pulled that reference out of his ass.

As both harangue and movie tragicomedy, Sicko is socko.


My goal moving forward will be to work the word "socko" into a sentence. "Hey, Earl, those are socko jeans you are wearing."

Moore is such a big fat target


Ouch. Again, when your own personal quote-whore can't resist commenting on your weight, it's time to put down the Chipotle.

Last week, for example, the Treasury Department indicated it would investigate Moore for taking a trip to Cuba to check out Castro's medical system. (Guess what he found? It's better than ours!)


Even if I cede this argument (and I do not), what does this say about Universal Health Care? In order to get outstanding health care, we must sacrifice the right to speak? The right to democracy? To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little health care deserve neither liberty nor health care.


Moore shot back with an open letter


Quick semantic point. When a journalist agrees with the contents of a document, it is an "open letter". When they do not, it is referred to as a "press release".

Moore has a genius for confrontational stunts — demanding a meeting with General Motors Chairman Roger Moore,


This was pretty genius.

chatting up an addled Charlton Heston on gun control,


Less so...

buttonholing Congressmen to see if any of them had actually read the Patriot Act


We are really stretching the definition of genius beyond all meaning here.

His bullhorn pleas met with silence, Moore took his cargo of the ailing — the rescue workers, Donna and Larry Smith and a few others featured in the film — to Havana, where they got excellent, imaginative, sympathetic care from a local clinic.


Imaginative care? What does that mean? Did they have them breathe ginseng or something? I don't want imaginative care. I mean, I also don't want to be tortured in prison. Frankly, there's a lot of reasons I don't live in Cuba.

Already, without having seen the film, anti-Moore websites have collected claims that many Cuban hospitals, unlike the one shown in Sicko, are dilapidated and crawling with cockroaches. Uh-huh. That means they're almost as bad as Walter Reed's Building 18,


Cute. So any question about whether the claims of the film are simply met with a Walter Reed joke. The hospital where I had my knee surgery would blow anything Cuba has out of the water. I absolutely guarantee it. If it didn't, I am free to blog about it without being thrown in prison (or being sued, thank you very much).


I'm sure scholars of the U.S. health care system, even those without a political grudge, will be able to poke holes in some of the movie's arguments,


Thereby rendering them as propoganda.


and address some important points the movie ignores.


The entire counterargument, for example.

The upside of this populist documentary is that there are no policy wonks, crunching numbers and reducing patients' anguish to sterile statistics.


Translation: The upside of Michael Moore's political stylings is that they needn't have any basis in fact in order to be persuasive. This is "upside" only if you begin with the conclusion that Moore's political beliefs are correct, and then work backward.

In a 2hr. movie, Moore could have taken a couple mins. to tote up the expected tab.


Yeah, that might be helpful. Let's include not only the financial tab (which will run well into the trillions), but also the human costs. Governmental health care in Europe (where, you know, everything is perfect) requires that old people go to the back of the line for coverage. This is an effective cost-saving mechanism, as a good number of these folks will die awaiting transplants and errata...

Of course, if we simply declined coverage to certain elderly persons, we could save quite a bit on our own health insurance. The question is whether folks like Donna and Larry would make the cut. For the time being, perhaps, but they might do well to take that long-planned trip to Paris, before we pull the plug. But that's all just statistics.


Like most docu-dramatists, Moore loves to show the tears of those screwed by the System;


Exactly. Moore is like most docu-dramatists. He would rather emote than observe. Most docu-dramatists are unsuccessful. Moore's groundbreaking "Roger & Me" made his point by being completely detached about the proceedings. His story spoke for itself. Unfortunately, once you've covered Flint, it only goes up from there. So Moore has been left to manufacture human drama out of thin air. As fiction, it is overwrought, as documentary, it is fraud.


in Sicko, at least seven interviewees start crying as they describe the lack of attention their maladies got.


Which will create an awkward moment for all the teenagers who thought "Sicko" was the latest Wes Craven flick.


Moore also likes to play Santa Claus.


Geez, Rich. Why don't you just call him our savior Jesus Christ while you are at it?

Moore has fun showing the cashier's window at a London hospital, where patients don't pay anything, they get money for the trip back home. And in France, the government will pay not only for health costs but for nannies. They'll even cook for you, and do your laundry.


I whole-heartedly believe that the French would have taxpayers pay for people to cook for them. That is precisely the vision I have of the French people. That is why I hate France. However, is this offer extended to those who live in their suburban ghettos? One wonders.

The chronically scruffy auteur may play the game tonight and get all tuxed up. But he's still a blue-collar kid from Flint, Michigan


Um, no. He is a millionaire who lives in the Upper West side. He makes millions manipulating wealthy liberals (or, rather, liberals with wealthy parents) into watching his films so that they can feel as though they are running counter to the very culture that has provided for him so lavishly. Find me a blue-collar employee who is as enamored of Moore's genius as Mr. Corliss. I dare you.

In Sicko, as he said at a Cannes press conference today, the larger questions are: "Who are we? What has become of us? Where is our soul?"


Um, what?

And what will America's top guerrilla docu-comic do after Sicko? "I think it's time for a romantic comedy,"


Would this consist of Moore telling jokes in the mirror?

I suppose I can't be surprised at the tongue bathing from Mr. Corliss, the resident movie expert for our nation's favorite literary candy bar. But Moore continues to get a free pass from critics for making unoriginal, manipulative schlock. Fahrenheit 9/11 was not a good movie on any level. Were it submitted as fiction (without a political bent that manifestly appealed to critics), it would be considered trite garbage.

And so those who are paid to be the least charitable, and give a brutally honest assessment of where Americans ought to spend their hard-earned dollars, continue to pretend that Michael Moore is a genius. That's not socko at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Counterpoint

What fun is highlighting the top ten restaurants in the twin cities without taking gratuitous shots at the ten worst? If you're me, no fun at all. Minnesotans are happy to keep literally hundreds of horrendus establishments afloat, so let's get to it.

Wasabi: Yeah, they were on my top ten list as well. Competent, inexpensive sushi is exactly what this city needs. But the service is quickly gaining a reputation city-wide for incompetence. Further, the bar area only seats 8. Why is this important? You can only get happy hour at the bar. I am not a fan of happy hour chicanery. Restaurants play all manner of games with their happy hour specials. Switching times and offerings, cancelling happy hour during ball games or catered events, simply disregardging them altogether. Look, if you offer happy hour, don't be surprised if I want to take advantage of it. Cut the crap.

Sawatdee: Minneapolis has some of the least inspiring thai food, per capita, imaginable. Sawatdee's financial success has quite a bit to do with this. With 4,658 locations across the twin cities, Sawatdee is rapidly becoming the Thai version of Caribou, and each locale is just as charming. Ponderously overpriced dishes (what component of Pad Thai jusitifes a double digit price tag?) are the hallmark of this McThai establishment. My personal favorite is the Washington Ave. location, where the air conditioning never works, the place smell like nasty, and the decor seems as though the place closed 8 years ago.

Chuck Wagon Grill: I'm all for charming, unpretentious family restaurants, but this downtown Robbsindale establishment looks like it has been the victim of repeated bombing. That the place serves uninspriring food is not surprising. That it looks like a bait & tackle shop in the middle of a remodel is slightly more disconcerting. Downtown Robbinsdale is a charming little area. It deserves better.

St. Petersburg Vodka Bar: Has any restaurant fallen so far out of my graces as St. Petersburg? The main problem with this restaurant is that it also functions as a banquet center. In other words, there is no way to know whether it is open to a public or not. Further, the alluring happy hour, featuring $4 caviar, is kaput, the kitchen closes extremely early, and it remains largely inaccessible due to it's location just west of Minneapolis' "Little Beirut" neighborhood.

Bellanotte: Winner and still champion. This restaurant is quickly gaining a reputation as a sleaze pit, more famous as a place to see and be seen by, um, those who think Block E is a place to see and be seen. The food here is spectacularly awful. My most recent encounter was an absurd lasagna-like substance that was beige. Beige? Why the hell was it beige? Is the executive chef named Hormel?

La Belle Vie: Just kidding...

Green Mill: Taking on a chain the size of Green Mill isn't entirely fair, but I had come to expect a certain consistency from these affordable, ubiquitous pizza-ish restaurants. Nowadays, the meals are more and more phoned in, as they are clearly working through cheaper food vendors, and I have had enough run-ins with terrible service to know that its not a fluke. Alas, perhaps this is God's way of telling me to forego chains entirely.

Que Viet Village House: I had high hopes for this Brooklyn Center establishment, which purports to be a Vietnamese restaurant. It took over what appears to have been a Long John Silver's, had some buzz throughout the area for its egg rolls. I had seen real-life asians walk into the restaurant. Alas, it is a generic "Asian" joint which offers 7-8 different dishes (of the kung pao variety), with three different kinds of meat. My selection, the "hot and spicy" chicken, was neither hot nor spicy (nor even sweet, which is what I have come to expect from Americanized Chinese places). Instead, it had some sort of absurd gravy-like sauce, piled upon some of the fattiest, inedible dark meat chicken I had ever encountered. And the egg rolls were nothing special.

The Cheesecake Factory: Anathema. I hate you more than I hate Hitler. And I sure do hate me some Hitler.

The restuarant at the Chambers Hotel: The Chambers hotel is hip. The bar shares space with an art museum. Everything is white. They have an outdoor ice bar in the winter. It has garnered international acclaim. The "red hot passion" is the best cocktail I have ever had. Everything about it says "you don't even deserve to be here". So why would you want to have dinner there? Haven't we, as metropolis, advanced beyond our fascination with restaurants that make us feel inadequate. The menu is populated by overclever, overwraught takes on the usual fine-resaurant fare (they have short ribs AND mahi mahi? Noooo....). As it is, I heartily recommend taking an out-of-towner for a post-dinner drink. It's something to behold. I wonder if this place will ever transcend it's status as a cultural curiosity.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Weekend madness

Looking for great places to eat? No? Not why you come to this blog? Expect, rather, idiotic rantings, peppered with absurdism? Well, prepare to be disappointed. I've been eating lately, and it's time to revise my top ten Twin Cities restaurants.

In no particular order, let's roll...

Axel's/Bonfire: If only because they catered our wedding this summer, and did a kickass job of it. The hors d'oeuvres went faster than a $10 alarm clock at a Tallahassee Walmart after Thanksgiving, and the meat actually tasted like meat. If you're going to be a ubiquitous local chain, this is the way to do it. Plus, the St. Paul Bonfire has free eggs during happy hour. Free eggs! How charmingly bourgeois.

Jun Bo: Following on my previous shoutout, it's hard not to like a restaurant that has an American menu (introduced as the place to find Kung Pao chicken) and a Chinese menu (which, if you are ordering from it, needs no introduction). Classy service, more than 200 genuinely unique menu items (as opposed to kung pao chicken served 200 different ways). And they have a bar. Does Yummy have a bar? A fish tank instead???? Hmmmm...

Zelo: I have no reason to change my assessment that this is the finest all around restaurant in the twin cities. Here's a hint. When reporters want to write about service at restaurants, they ask Zelo's management for expertise. In a town where the deterioration in service is matched only by augmented tip expectations (20% is minimum, 30% if they smile at you, and 50% if they actually bring you what you ordered) that's enough for me... Oh, and all of the food is really good.

Bahn Thai Cuisine: Located in one of those vaguely post-apocalpytic 70s strip malls with the enclosed walkway is Bahn, where they understand that Pad Thai is NOT a "delicacy", Tom Kha Gai should not be served in "cup" size, and that it's okay for food from Thailand to actually be spicy. In other words, it's the hole-in-the-wall thai joint I have been pining for all these years. In a town where True Thai is the recipient of profoundly unearned praise, Sawatbees (see what I did there?) continues to pack 'em in at all 124 of their locations, and Chiang Mai Thai still sounds like a particularly naughty sex act, Bahn Thai Cuisine is a Godsend.

Mai Village: I wish I could quit you, Quang. Oh, wait... Now I can (not that I'd want to)... Located in Frog Town, Mai Village ranks as the best Vietnamese place in town. Better yet, it transcends the genre with breathtaking decor, a full bar (with a happy hour that applies restaurant-wide) and great service. All the favorites are here... Noodle soups, rice vermicelli related hoo-hah. But there's some fun here, too, and an ambitious back page with more upscale offerings. Now there is a reason to go to St. Paul.

Ristorante Luci: Since fine dining establishments have apparently decided that pasta is for plebs, Luci rises to the top for executing to perfection. Yes, there's more to Italian food than pasta, and they serve outstanding meat dishes as well. But the fresh pasta (to say nothing of the sauce) is alone worth the price of admission. It's expensive, so here's what you do. Instead of going to the Olive Garden, save yourself the money and heat up a stouffers lasagna and a grab a bottle of 3 buck chuck. Boom! You've recreated the OG experience, and you have enough to take your sweetie to the most romantic restaurant in town.

Pizza Luce: Everybody loves Luce. Seriously, this is the one restaurant everyone can agree on, from obnoxious city-snob to Apple Valley culinary retard. They serve pizza and they get all sexy with it. I could eat their baked potato pizza all day, and they have some solid starters to go with the main event. They have just enough locations to be convenient without being, you know, a "chain".

Wasabi: Pretty stupid name for a Japanese Restaurant. Like naming a Chinese Restaurant "Rice". That said, it delivers, and it delivers on the cheap. Sushi lunch specials under $10 are, accounting for inflation, unprecedented in the cities. Their rolls are ample, tasty (the avocado-heavy dragon roll is perfect for sushi-noobs) and reasonable. Let's face it, the sushi sucks in Minnesota. It might as well be cheap, and served in s startlingly nice atmosphere.

Longfellow Grill: Hurray for ironic diners! The best thing about the Longfellow is not the execution (some of the dishes fall flat, though the waiters will warn you which ones) but the ambition. Gorgonzola cheese fritters with chimichurri? Sure. Bison burger? Why the hell not? Steak? Not their forte, but its cheap! Strong wine list is 1/2 price on Mondays. The Edina Grill and Highland Grill are sister establishments, each with their own unique menus.

The Loon: Nestled among the Warehouse District's miasma of humpity-hump bars and adult establishments is the Loon, which recently celebrated it's 25th anniversary. Before my company moved downtown, I lumped the Loon in with it's uncouth neighbors. To my delight, I found a bar that actually cares about it's food a little bit. Good sandwiches, an interesting take on spinach dip, a solid happy hour, and a neighborhood feel. The perfect after-work joint, and the best place to go before a Twins game.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A response to Peter

Captain: The Larroquette people are itching for a fight. McLaughlin, man the torpedoes!

McLaughlin: The what now?

Zax: Captain, they've killed a rabbit for no reason, and now they're making their way over.

Captain: Light the forcefield.

McLaughlin: How do you light a forcefield? What does that even mean?

Zax: We have no time!

Jackson Terwilliger: I'm here!

Captain: Oh, thank God.

McLaughlin: Who the hell are you?

Zax: The renegades are approaching.

Jackson Terwilleger: Arm the Poseidon. McLaughlin, man the front deck.

McLaughlin: What front deck? We're in an apartment.

Zax: I've got a visual.

Captain: It's worse than I thought.

McLaughlin: There's four people in Garfield T-shirts. Is that to whom you are referring?

Zax: They have a goat!

McLaughlin: Well, that is a little weird.

Captain: Today we do battle in the name of Zoroaster.

Jackson Terwilleger: I'll get by battle staff.

McLaughlin: Wait, did you just say... Zoroaster? Did I hear that correctly? Zoroaster?

Jax: No time!!!!!!!!! ARRRRRGGGHHHH!!!

Baptain: He's down!

Jax: Gurgle... (choke)... Splorch!

McLaughlin: Well, I didn't expect him to do that. Is he dead?

Jackson Terwilliger: (returning) I think we can hold them.

McLaughlin: What happened to your pants?

Captain: This is the battle that will define us!

Jax: Gurgle... (cough)... Sprat...

Jackson Terwilliger: We must attack! Prepare for destiny.

McLaughlin: Hold on, I have to correct a typo.

Jax: Gurgle... NO TIME!!!!..... Florp... (dies).

Captain: He's right, we have to move!

McLaughlin: Fine, your going to be "Baptain" instead of "Captain" for one line. Makes me look like a retard, but.

Jackson Terwilliger: Hold on, they're stopping at Hardees.

Captain: Vile!

McLaughlin: So, are we certain they are going to attack us? Cause right now, they look like their pretty much getting lunch. I mean, again, the goat is really weird, but...

Jackson Terwilliger: Feel the wrath of my Godhammer!

McLaughlin: Yowzer (dies).

Captain: Great work! No room for naysayers...

McLaughlin: Kids. This is an allegory for our irresponsbile and immoral war in Iraq.

Captain: That's right, in this satire, I was President Bush.

Jackson Terwilliger: I was Dick Cheney

Zax: And I was common sense.

McLaughlin: Edgy political satire!

Captain: And highly relevant.

Zax: Hey, the goat's eating Jews.

Jackson Terwilliger: No, Zax, that's a dilly bar.

Zax: But they....

Jackson Terwilliger: DILLY BAR!!!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell: R.I.P.

One of the more controversial Christians in recent history has passed away. Clearly, some are rather unperturbed by his demise. Here is one of the more balanced and articulate quotes from the political left, offered by a blogger named Wonkette:

"At a time like this, people deserve sympathy and good wishes … except for Falwell, who is an evil sonofabitch."

It's downhill from there, and I'm pretty sure her ilk will be just as happy when a George Bush or a Don Rumsfeld passes on, but... She has a point.

Falwell's legacy is, for Christians, a mixed bag. I have no doubt that his love of the Lord was sincere. By all accounts, he lived what he preached. Further, he advocated on behalf of some important issues.

But he was also kind of a sonofabitch. He joined with televangelist Pat Robertson to form a sort of two-headed monster, which seemed to fall over itself in an attempt to utter the most painful, embarrassing thing. Christians are still contending with misconceptions arising from his cruel remarks about homosexuals in the 1980s.

Even as he abandoned his fundamentalist roots to join the Southern Baptist Convention, repenting somewhat of his hardline view of homosexuals, Falwell still humiliated himself. He famously joined Robertson in condemning America's immorality, citing gays and lesbians (among other groups) for the 9/11 attacks.

By the same token, his moral majority forged a path for Christians to engage their faith at a political level. His work ensured that at least one political party paid heed to the issue of abortion, and worked to give Christians a voice in the political process. Even liberals such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo had their seats at the Washington's big tables prepared by Falwell and his coalition.

And let us not forget that the man was 73. Few people in their 70s are particularly fond of homosexuals. For years, AIDS was considered a gay disease. I grew up believing the only way to contract the disease was my having homosexual intercourse. That Falwell drew a connection between biblical condemnation of an act, and a disease closely associated with an act is not quite the dalliance into bigotry it might seem today.

Still, there is no denying that Falwell sullied his testimony by bullying those that Jesus would have compassionately helped. He embodied the perception of the contemptuous Christian, who seeks not to humble himself before Christ, but to use his faith as a bludgeon.

For all the good he has done, and I am not cynical enough to believe that God did not use him for good, he cast a shadow over faith and politics. No discussion of Christian sexual ethics can take place without the looming image of the tsk-tsking Falwell. He will forever be the symbolic standard-bearer for the so-called "religious right".

For those who have no interest in faith, he will forever be a convenient scapegoat, and one can't help but wonder how many frustrated idealists have tossed the spiritual baby with the bathwater on his account.

In his twilight years, Falwell lost a good measure of his influence. He was viewed primarily as a relic of a bygone era for the Christian movement. His public declarations, while not so deranged as Robertson's, certainly became peculiar (just ask Tinky-Winky). It is, perhaps, unfortunate that he did not have more time out of the spotlight, to reflect on his contributions more objectively.

Perhaps he might made peace with his enemies, his political opponents, his inner-demons, which were assuredly more plentiful than we could ever know. He might have apologized to evangelicals who, to this day, are forced to give an account for his social trespasses. Those reflections would have been valuable while he was still alive. He is certainly making them now.

Alas, his obituaries will note that he was a divider. Christians will note that he divided along rather arbitrary lines. Few will note his intellect, his compassion, his ambition. In the final analysis, he will not be remembered for who he really was.

As Christians, we are called to diagnose the dead, and call them to rebirth. It's a bitter message, and it can make us seem bitter as well. And while the socially immature take a cheap, transient pleasure in Falwell's death, the rest of us are left to wonder what a man with such precious and profound gifts could have done with a little more humility.

A little more Christ, a little less sonofabitch. That goes for all of us.

Jerry, R.I.P.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Say what?

For those who are unaware, college campuses tend to be rather liberal, politically speaking. Depending on your own particular ideological leanings, you can attribute this fact to a number of factors. Nonetheless, it remains a fact that conservatives are generally met with hostility at our nation's college and universities.

In and of itself, this is no big deal. In general, a politically conservative student can pursue academic study in relative peace. When I was in college, I actually relished the role of contrarian. I enjoyed revealing the ideological shallowness of my liberal cohorts (with some notable exceptions, Pomona was pretty politically unknowledgable, if not outright apathetic). Hey, if you can't defend political beliefs, you have no business having them, so quit your conservative whining.

That said, the last decade has seen the advent of "speech codes" at many colleges and universities. These codes set guidelines for what may or may not be said on a college campus, and enumerate punishments for students who violate them.

The codes themselves are alarmingly vague. One such code at Texas A&M reads "The rights of students are to be respected. These rights include respect for personal feelings, freedom from indignity of any type..."

Any type??? Way to narrow it down. In practice, these codes are used to curb racist and other discriminatory behavior. But are our post-secondary institutions such hotbeds of bigotry that it is necessary to regulate speech? During my freshman year of college, someone painted Adam Sandler's line about hating you and "all your lesbian fish-eating friends." The response was overwhleming. Candlelight vigils, op-eds about the need for tolerance in the school paper, all that noise...

So yeah, it would seem that our college are fairly self-regulatory in this regard. As such, speech codes generally go unnoticed. They serve as trite little aphorisms, words to live by, I suppose. But occassionally, they are used to bludgeon what really ought to be protected speech. Students at Tufts University were punished recently for producing a satirical "informative" leaflet in celebration of Islamic awareness week. Imagine the trouble my blog would get me into.

At present, these are isolated instances, usually prompted by Muslim groups. Adminsitrative acquiescence is cowardly, but understandable. You know what these people do when they are angry... The go right to the ACLU! (What? What did you think I was going to say?)

And fine, private institutions have every right to pursue their Quixotic quest to end racism by, um, preventing discussion of racist ideas.

The trouble comes when taxpayer institutions (like Texas A&M) craft speech codes that would potentially limit freedom of religion. For example, homosexuals are considered a protected group, and certainly the utterance of anti-homosexual speech would might be considered a breach of dignity (broadly defined).

The Bible happens to speak against homosexuality. It actually calls homosexuality an abomination. The Koran does as well, but everyone on college campuses likes Muslims, so it doesn't really matter. Christians, on the other hand, tend to be frowned upon by the politically liberal, particularly at the post-secondary level.

Thus, one could envision a scenario in which the Bible, or utterance of its tenets, might be construed to violate speech codes.

As yet, this is largely the stuff of Christian conspiracy theorists. Most Christians are able to navigate college life by exercising decorum and tact. No harm, no foul, stupid speech code, who cares?

But what if that climate changes? Colleges exist to serve their students, who pay the bills. Whatever the billpayers want, they get. What if they want to apply speech codes to Christian organizations? Groups like Inter-Varsity already face petty opposition from ideologically minded administrations and student councils. Christians are in the minority on all taxpayer supported institutions, so will there be enough principled individuals to offset the tyranny of the minority, lest a wave of expulsions face Christians who dare speak Christ's name?

Possibly, but why take the risk that our tax dollars could be used in the name of religious discrimination? The fix is rather obvious. Eliminate speech codes. Just get rid of them. If someone offends you, tell them you are offended. Explain why you are offended. Communicate. The idea that we would need that phrase "thou shalt not hurt feelings" enshrined into school charters is the stuff of parody.

Here's my proposal. At all publically funded colleges and universities, replace long-winded speech codes with a plaque, posted above the door to the president's office, reading: "Don't be a pussy!" If any student comes to the administrative building to file a grievance because someone wrote a letter to the editor that offended them, the secretary can simply point to the sign and return to work.

Somehow, I suspect that isn't going to happen. Oh well, glad I'm not in college anymore.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Musings

It’s Monday again, let’s roll…

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So I was having some leg pains, presumably as a consequence of my surgery. The on-call physician recommends a visit to urgent care to determine the problem. Urgent Care facilities are peculiar joints. This particular facility is on the second story of a strip mall in Crystal (for the uninitiated, Crystal and New Hope are two suburbs of Minneapolis which seem to have been named ironically). The doctor, whose English is rusty a smidge, offers the following diagnosis:

“The leg is okay… This is a short surgery… The short surgery… No big deal… Maybe stay off leg… (Incomprehensible)… (Incomprehensible)… I prescribe Vicodin for the pain…”

Thanks Dr. Nick.

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In the days following the devastating tornadoes that leveled Greensburg, Kansas, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius spent her time devising anti-Bush talking points. Her strategy was to pin the tragedy on his war effort in Iraq, citing the lack of National Guard presence in the state.

I know that politics is politics, but there is no reason why sensible Democrats ought not call her out on this garbage. Instead of doing her job or, hell, even getting in their to help herself, she devoted her mental (and, presumably, Kansas’ financial) resources to scoring points against the President. Politics is politics. I get it, but unless and until Democrats call her out…

This is why I vote Republican, people…

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I was surprised to learn that “The Office” has been a ratings loser for NBC, trailing such curiosities as “According to Jim” and “Two and a Half Men”, the latter being the highest rated sitcom on television. That means there is a whole different world out there, where people pine for the days of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Hogan Family”. Where the double entendre is the zenith of comedic brilliance.

I salute you, swath of population I don’t know or care to meet. If you’re ever in town, give me a call. We’ll dine at the Olive Garden, catch a Luke Wilson flick, and revel in our banality. Hey, you can’t spell “banal” without “anal”. Isn’t it, so, so, so, so hilarious that I pointed that out??? You see what I did there… Of course you do.

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Favorite TPWK target Jim Wallis organized a press conference last week announcing some sort of ad hoc coalition favoring compassionate illegal immigration reform. Wallis, knowing that he needed a gimmick, concluded his remarks by stating that if he has a choice between Jesus and Lou Dobbs, he’ll choose his savior every time. To which Dobbs responded, and I’m paraphrasing, “who the @#$% is this guy?”

For the least enlightening discussion of this issue that you could possible imagine, click here. It does feature one of the more passionate (if not compelling) defenses of reductio ad hitlerum that I have seen.

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I know some of you are Googling for a counterpoint on the Sebelius comment. Why not just say it was lame? Is it any less lame because x or y Republican did something similar once?

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Paris Hilton might be going to jail for some reason. It’s on CNN constantly. It's been said before, but why on earth is this woman famous? Why would the leading news network in the nation feature a story about her on a daily basis?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cat, Say it to my face!

So, apparently the Smartycat has been oozing with tension w/r/t my blog postings recently. So much so, in fact, that he felt compelled to draft an extraordinarily vague missive indicating his offense, which you can read here.

Cat, if you have something to say to me, say it to my face. Going back and forth by way of blog entries is so pedantic. I like to think we are friends, so how about a phone call? How about at least letting me know which post particularly offended you?

Instead, you decide to voice your concerns on your blog. I'm glad that what I write is so important to you that you decided to take a hiatus from letting your blog die a slow death so you could call me out for miscellaneous offenses.

Dude, this is totally low. If you think we're going to Applebees now, you're out of your mind.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Barry Bonds and 755

I for one cannot look at Barry Bonds the same way again. It saddens me that this man could break the honorable Hank Aaron's home run record as early as this June. Think about what this man has done. He has stolen those children's innocence. Violated them. Literally ruined their lives.

Wait... What? He took steroids. That's bad. Did he do it while he was molesting children??? Wait, so there is no child molestation involved. Right. Just the steroids, then? Well, this is all a bit much, then, isn't it?

Look, it is wrong to take Steroids. It is as bad for an athlete to take steroids to enhance performance as it is for a writer to take Vicodin and Rum to craft a novel. But guess what? Jonathan Franzen was short-listed for a Pulitzer for his efforts, and you are rewarding me with your readership (and I am using at least one of the two). Barry Bonds, on the other hand, is treated like a one-handed man in a country that doesn' t use toilet paper.

Steroids are a performance enhancing drug. That is not why they are illegal. They are primarily illegal because they have very negative side-effects, and can cause death. They are also looked upon as a method of cheating, which again is not why they are illegal. Somehow, we have conflated these two facts to make Steroids into a sort of holy grail of athletic ignominy. Not only is it cheating, it is bad for you.

Pine tar on the glove is also cheating, but players who are caught usually get a slap on the wrist. DHPGA, or whatever they call that stuff that sells by the oil-drum at GNC, is undoubtedly bad for you, but who cares? Illegal gun possession is bad for everyone, but hey, did you see Stephen Jackson guard Nowitzki in round one?

Baseball, in particular, has affixed to its lore a highly moral agenda. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing. Our national pasttime should be clean, yes? The only problem is that it never has been clean. Players have been boozing, drugging, carousing with ladies and, yes, cheating, since the advent of the sport.

But when it comes to steroids, we are indignant. We are outraged. We are... Well, what are we, exactly???

See, you can tell when a player has been using steroids. No player of reasonable and sound mind exercises his jaw muscles. As such, when a player's head expands to twice it's size, said player is either using, or he is madly in love with celery. Roger Clemens doesn't look like a celery guy to me.

In the mid-1990s, just about every hitter got better. Substantially better. Larry Walker was suddenly a .370 hitter. Players had to hit 30 HRs just to stay in lineups. Somehow we collectively denied the fact that steroids were a factor, even as Ken Caminiti (who is now deceased) racked up 130 RBI en route to an MVP award. Scoring was up. Ignorant fans filled the seats. McGwire battled Sosa for a record that would be soon rendered moot. Years later, America is catching on...

And now the whole past decade of baseball seems like an illusion. McGwire vs. Sosa? Obviously steroids. SS with 100 RBI seasons? Steroids. Now, belatedly, America wants answers. Alas, baseball is nothing without it's history, it's statistical history in particular. And now, Jason Giambi looks like Optimus Prime, and a whole decade of statistical achievement has been called into question.

Enter Barry Bonds. Bonds has always been a prolific hitter. He has also been a public relations disaster. Aloof, angry, condescending. And, wouldn't you know it, he did steroids! And now he has threatened one of baseball's most cherished records, the all-time home run crown.

Ironically enough, this represents a tremendous opportunity for Major League Baseball. Bonds is widely perceived as just the sort of jerk who WOULD cheat. And cheat he did. His face is the size of a large ham.

Now, the league can make a big show of nullifying his entire career. They can festoon his record with asterisks and caveats. The can ban him from the Hall of Fame, reiterate Hank Aaron as home run champ, and tell fans that baseball has put this long, sorry chapter behind it.

But wait. Roger Clemens is 44, and arguably still the best pitcher in the league. Mark McGwire went from an oft-injured slugger in the twilight of his career to a superstar. Everyone on the planet knows they used steroids. What MLB hopes is that we are willing to sweep that fact under the rug and heap our recriminations on Mr. Bonds. Oh, and we heard maybe he molests children. Not confirmed. Just keep it under your hat. We're pretty sure he did, though.

If America embraces this narrative, we'll have live hearings, Barry Bonds in handcuffs. We'll have dissections of the race factors at play, reassuring commentary from Barack Obama about how America will live through the crisis, and (of course) a circus trial culminating in a jury verdict which will not impact Bonds' life in any tangible way, but will be heralded as a symbolic message about something.

This is what Major League Baseball wants, a pseudo-catharsis that allows us to forget about the fact that the entire sport has been a fraud for several years.

I'm not buying it. Barry Bonds used no more or less steroids than a large number of players. I'm not going to forget that fact quite so conveniently. As I see it, we have a few options with respect to how we treat major league baseball. We can use Bonds as a scapegoat for no real reason other than we can. We can expunge the memory of ten years of baseball from our collective psyche, and live with the cognitive dissonance herein.

If we want to deal with reality, we could support a full investigation, yielding dozens, if not hundreds of arrest warrants. This would be accompanied by a thorough vetting of the statistical record, hall of fame candidates, box scores from July 22, 1999... Perhaps a system of repentance could be established, whereby players are allowed to confess their sins in return for forgiveness, legal immunity, and a permanent spot in the record books.

Or, we can just live acknowledge that players cheated. They used a drug that is ultimately harmful to their long-term health, and they benefitted in the short term. What they did was illegal and irresponsible. In the meantime, baseball happened, records were shattered, and a new crop of dumb fans was cultivated.

In this narrative, Bonds is about to break the HR record, and probably several other records. But is this the worst that could happen? Steroids or no, Bonds is the best player to ever play the game. By far. Thus, the most cherished record in baseball will be held by its best player.

See, steroids can't teach you to hit. They can't tell you how to anticipate a curveball, or not chase a sinker. They cannot catch or throw a baseball for you. They probably can't even molest children. All they do is help build muscles.

This is not a debate over cheating during games. This is not a debate about cheating before games. It isn't even a debate about cheating during practice. This is a debate over what happens after training sessions end. I, for one, don't really care that much. Whatever sin Barry Bonds has committed, he has paid for with his reputation. So let's play ball.

Post-Surgery Musings

Alright. The Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers are Rolling... I'm hopped up on Vicodin. Let's do this thing!

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Nice to see the French finally pull their head out of their ass.

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Can I recommend another restaurant? Jun Bo, which took over the defunct Chi-Chi's in Richfield, is delight. Offering Dim Sum at all hours is great. The waiters wearing suits and smiling at you even though you are white is better. The kicker? In addition to the Dim Sum menu, Jun Bo features two menus. One is the "traditional" menu, and the other is euphemistically dubbed "Chinese-American" (translation, food for people who like "Big Bowl"). It's the perfect date destination for an unbearably pretentious husband and his "if it's not lo-mein, it's not going in my mouth" wife.

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Drive 105 is now changing it's name to Love 105. As a result, it plans a massive overhauls of its playlist. Instead of a mix of 70% John Mayer, and 30% Maroon 5, the station will switch to a mix of 70% Maroon 5 and 30% John Mayer.

Those looking to get their John Mayer fix can simply listen to one of the another 30 stations in this town which play his music ad nauseum.

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The Star Tribune website is ashambles. The search function is so deeply flawed that a search for Tim Pawlenty yields two stories from last June about an al paca farm and an ad for 2nd Wind Exercist Equipment. The login feature (required to even check weather) has password requirements that forbid me from using my normal password, and so I'm forced to use one that I can't remember. Thus, I never visit the site. Of course, neither does anyone else.

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When did the propietors of nice, romantic restaurant decide that pasta was the new kids meal? Seriously, try finding a pasta dish at any trendy new joint, and you'll find one unpalatable noodles n' cream type option alongside a dainty menu featuring scallops, pork medallions, seared ahi tuna, blackened swordfish, filet mignon. Look, restaurant owners, some of us aren't gay. That means we are bringing women. Women don't eat steak or scallops, and they certainly don't eat pork and raw fish. Throw us a bone and put some pesto chicken or an easy going shrimp-linguini on the menu, or we can't go to your empty restaurant.

Oh, and if you don't know how to make seared ahi tuna. Don't serve it. Thanks.

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Aberdeen, SD, home of my in-laws, is under water. Apparently, their insurance companies ceased to require them to carry flood insurance a year ago. This, in spite of the fact Aberdeen sits in a FLOOD PLAIN. Note to people. Buy insurance. Just do it.

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Can someone explain why, in the midst of a foreclosure boom, we have not forbidden banner ads proclaiming that one can get a $300,000 loan for $700 per month, or that one can "choose" an interest rate of 2.75%? Would anyone miss the ubiqutious, retarded dancing sillouhettes that are on literallt every third webpage? Would we allow Best Buy to advertise $25 home theater systems? No... Why is this the one business in which people are literally allowed to lie to your face about their product?

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You know what I like? Drugs... Kids, do drugs. Your parents do.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Surgery!

I am having surgery today! I will go into the hospital, and be lured into deep sleep by the siren charms (and drugs/injections) of the anestheseologist. Then, copiously-trained doctor's will have ay my knee with their ultra-sharp daggers of the forgotten. They will have their way with myriad ligaments and cartiledge, before sewing me back together in a desperate attempt to hide their nefarious act like so many frat boys after prospective student week.

The jokes on them, though. I've implanted two dozen spring-load snakes into my kneecap. Come to think of it, that is probably what is causing all the pain in the first place.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Michigan Trip - Day 2-3

Monday, April 30

My youngest niece Elizabeth is five years old, and also happens to be outspoken, resulting in hilarity. Among my favorites from this particular trip.

(to her mother)

"You're a perfect mom, except for your muscles."

(pretending to be juding her nephew, as though he were performing American Idol)

"Okay, I'm Randy... That was awesome, dawg! Now I'm Paula... Oh, he's soooooo cute!"

(to her mother and father, who are mourning)

"Well, there's no use crying, cause there's nothing you can do about it."

That's a future Republican right there.

7:00 p.m.

My sister, brother and I (accompanied by the aforementioned little cherub) head into town to get pizza for the family. There is disagreement over which local pizza establishment we should choose, so we stop at two places. Just like that, we are back into a world of fretting over toppings and crust. Apparently, sadness also refines one's pizza-related loyalties.

7:15 p.m.

I am thumbing through a spiritual tract that was available at the church where the funeral service was held. It is a miniature comic book. The first frame depicts police in riot gear pummeling a man, while a hispanic gentleman is selling cocaine, unfettered. A passerby inquires what's going on. The next frame reveals that the man is being arrested for putting the ten commandments up in a schoolroom. Seems a bit overblown. Most people are asked to simply take the commandments down, I'm reasonably certain. I wonder what the Republican Methodist thinks of this.

My sister and I order ham and pineapple from the Doster store. It is the first to be consumed. We win.

10:20 p.m.

My sister's apartment smells like cat piss. For the life of me, I don't get cats. Further, I don't understand why they are so frequently acquired by those who are the least equipped to contend with them.

If there is a fair criticism of my sister, it is that she lets her unbridled optimism interfere with her, well, her everything. She is perpetually enthusiastic, always sees the best in people (a huge mistake w/r/t men in Michigan) and is generally excited about you. Sadly, she has paid dearly for her good nature. People invariably mistreat those who think well of them, and she has been mistreated by quite literally everyone in her life....

Not least of which her cat, which has decided that it is horny, and therefore pisses everywhere. So help me what is it with animals and urinating to signify attraction? So my loyal sister had pledged allegiance to this foul (and manifestly disloyal) anmal.

10:35 p.m.

My brother is a pragmatist, with an engineer mentality. He has dogs. I am a seething pessimist (obviously) and so I don't have pets. At their very best, pets die on you. At worst, they sully everything with their excrement, then die. No thanks.

Tuesday, May 1

I decided I would take the opportunity to visit MY father. For the uninitiated:

My Father = (In Prison + Innocent + In Detroit).

No I don't want to talk about it. Thanks for asking.

2:00 p.m.

The thing about Detroit is that one cannot comprehend how bad it is without either visiting it or leaving the country. Take the worst neighborhoods in Minneapolis, set one-quarter of the buildings on fire, add bars to the windows of the remainder, and add a touch of Baghdad. That's Detroit.

Note to R.T. Rybak: Contrary to what you seem to have heard, Detroit is NOT what one would call a "template".

2:25 p.m.

One block away from the Mound Correctional Facility, there is a bar called "The Slammer". Droll.

2:30 p.m.

Police guards have a propensity to condescend to visitors. My mother (no relation to my father, at least nowadays) engages some mildly retarded hick at the entrance regarding the cell phone policy. He informs us that cell phones are not permitted in the lobby, compliance with which rule is obviously not a problem for us. My mother casually remarks that it must be a new rule, and hick responds condescendingly. Mother castigates hick for surliness, I inform mother she is making a scene, car moves forward unabated.

3:30 p.m.

When my father was first imprisoned, the pat-down process seemed awfully demeaning. Now, thanks to airport security (with, again, a healthy assist from Islam), the whole routine seems downright breezy. It is explained that, in the future, my shorts must not extend more than three inches above my kneecaps. Apparently, the rule is intended for women, but it would be sexist if it did not apply to men as well. Thank you, ACLU.

Oh, and children who are unrelated to a prisoner may no longer visit. This, thanks to a woman who brought her three-year old daughter in to be raped by her prisoner husband. Thank you, depravity.

5:30 p.m.

After some meandering conversation, my father abruptly says he has to use the bathroom, and so we should go. This is why I don't visit more often, for those who are prone to inquire about such things. 15 years in prison can make one lose their sense of perspective, I suppose.

In a sense, I can't blame him. Why re-establish a connection that cannot be maintained? Of what good is the occassional letter or personal interraction, other than to revisit the misery that draws us apart?

My father has a hearing in July. He is optimistic. He is kind of a cat person. We'll see...

As we drive away from the prison, my sister relates one more quote from my niece. After the funeral, my family gathered in the sanctuary to pay their last respects to Stan. After a minute of awkward silence, Elizabeth blurts out...

"We love you!"

Dad, while your still here...

I love you.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Michigan Trip Day 1-2

Sunday, April 29

9:30 p.m.

My brother is giving the eulogy tomorrow. For those who are unaware, he is a pastor, and I am accustomed to his routine for preparing a message (which involves quite a bit of late-night cramming). He is operating from an outline, which seems weird, out of context a bit.

10:00 p.m.

My brother takes a nap (he’d wind up working on the eulogy until 3 a.m.), and it’s quiet. I have the opportunity, for the first time today, I collect my thoughts over a glass of some horrendous swill my parents consider to be wine (ed. note: I am informed that this was left over by some friends).

Funny thing about local advertising in Michigan. The ads are full of “aw, shucks” appeals to Michigan’s desperate financial situation. One commercial for Art Van furniture demonstrates their willingness to help Michigan through these troubled times by offering outstanding, unprecedented deals on bedroom furniture.

Other ads feature slogans such as “we believe in Michigan,” a statement that, by its very utterance, is implicitly untrue.

Monday, April 30

10:00 a.m.

Funerals, in and of themselves, are fairly busy deals. Our house is flush with kids donning dress clothes, kids removing same to avert stains during breakfast time, last-second updates to miscellaneous documents hastily produced using various Microsoft applications. None of this feels particularly funerally, but that’s the nature of the beast, I think. A funeral is an event, after all. It must be planned for and executed.

12:40 p.m.

Rural Michigan does have one up on rural Minnesota w/r/t aesthetics. Dirt roads abound, with maples and oaks forming little cathedrals and tunnels, their dendritic branches spiraling toward the sunlight. There are weeping willows being all cliché and poetic. Sure beats corn, corn, cow, corn, wheat, corn, corn….

Another aesthetic curiosity… A van, featuring “Proud Member of (such-and-such) Methodist Church” and “Bush/Cheney ‘04” bumper stickers. In Minneapolis, any Methodism-related bumper stickers are usually accompanied by admonishment to keep laws a healthy distance from the driver’s uterus, and various rainbow-colored adornments informing us what Jesus would really do, accept, tolerate, blah, blah, blah…

1:00 p.m.

The funeral is slated to begin, and I am ushered into the nursery, which is doubling as an inner-sanctum for family. I’m a bit at odds here, the only non-blood relation (non-relation?).

Stan’s mother is sitting at the center of the room. She is a powerful presence, weathered and chiseled, with a focused glare. Almost Dickensian... And she is also clearly at a loss, though her look is one of somber reflection (there has been surprisingly little of that thus far) rather than resignation. If she is heartbroken, she is not letting on.

1:15 p.m.

After a bit of sad team-building, we are escorted into the sanctuary. I have the chick virus wherein, independent of my relative emotions w/r/t certain events, I find myself echoing the emotions of others. In short, I’m tearing up. Tears have a way of affecting one’s vision. Everything seems briefly clearer, more colorful and splendid, then blurring, then repeating.

1:20 p.m.

Various family, extended and otherwise, share their ruminations on the life of Stanley Gray. My nephew (sister’s side) delivers reflections with startling clarity and poignancy. My mother offers a perplexing anecdote about Stanley putting a paper bag on her head. It’s an open mic deal, and I briefly tempted to offer my recollection. I overcame the temptation, so I’ll offer it here:

It was our custom to spend Christmas in Western Michigan with friends and family. Broken families incur a multiplicity of Christmas celebrations, and my brother and sister would always allow me to tag along to their father’s house. I always considered myself a burden, and generally made a specific effort to avert conversation (or eye contact) with Stan (he being my mother’s ex-husband and all). My brother and sister always assured me that I was specifically welcome, but I never bought into it.

After my graduation from high school, I received a card from Stan, with a check. I was unaware that he knew I existed. It spoke volumes, and I was moved by the gesture. I never even thanked him for it. Just did.

1:25 p.m.

My brother offers the eulogy. Eulogies are peculiarities, forcing the speaker to construct a narrative from a largely unintentional happenstance of recollections and life experiences. The chosen theme for Stan’s life was that he always selflessly gave to others, and worked hard on their behalf. He loved quietly and faithfully, never asking for anything in return. If his children are any indication, I’ll hazard this is largely true.

My brother evokes Solomon’s admonishment that the wise men does not embrace reverie, but rather reflects upon sadness. Sadness is the refiners fire, the wellspring of wisdom. The wise man dwells on death, and does not take comfort in this weary life.

Holding back tears, performing the ultimate tightrope act of the personal and the job-related... My brother has never been so profound.

2:15 p.m.

Meatballs and turkey sandwiches. Courtesy of my sister’s second ex-husband’s family. That’s Michigan in a nutshell.

5:00 p.m.

Stan’s workers union presented his family with a tree, and it was decided that the tree should be planted on his mother’s farm. Her farm is quaint, an old red barn sagging as most red barns will, chicken coops quieted by the retirement of their owner. It’s the sort of thing creative writers get unduly literary about.

The barn reads "Grays 1950". Looking out at the hills, rolling toward the drizzly horizon, I reflect that, if sadness if the refiner of wisdom, my family is wise indeed. A lot of sadness for a lot of years.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Michigan Trip Day 1 (cont'd)

Sunday, April 29

My mother picks me up, and we stop at the Big Boy for breakfast. Big Boy is a nationwide chain of non-descript "family" diners that has been rejected by Minnesota's chain-restaurant class. You know you are in rural Michigan when you can find meals with a price beginning with the number '3'. A refreshing change from the Minnesota Breakfast ($9.50 for two eggs, hashbrowns and toast... add $4.25 for bacon).

Oh, and the waitresses hear still call you "hon". Much better than the "here you go" accompanied by a surly look that says "how could you eat this, you carnivore bastard! My tongue-ring hates you," to which I have grown accustomed in Minneapolis.

11:00 a.m.

More kudos for Michigan. I have yet to see a billboard advertising "loft-style living!"

What does that mean, anyway? Loft-style living? "Live as though your home is a hallowed out arms repository! With steel refrigerators!" Yippee...

2:20 p.m.

My brother's family is staying at my mother's house. His boys are at the age where they play imaginary, incomprehensible games with fake swords, fungible ground-rules, and a lot of phrases repeated ad infinitum. They do not get bored with these games. Not ever. I need a nap.

4:08 p.m.

We head to the visitation. I suppose now would be an appropriate time to note that the funeral is for Stanley Gray, my mother's first husband, and father to my half-brother and half-sister.

Funeral homes are peculiar all the way around, not least because they endeavor to simulate actual domiciles. There are couches, and furnishings that feel just like, well, someone else's home, but with ample seating. There's a ubiquitous piney smell, antiseptic, redolent of hospital and Deep Woods off. Of course, the dirtiest work imaginable takes place on premises, but, you know, enjoy the mints.

4:10 p.m.

I take some time to console my sister, who is a wreck (Stan's passing, while not unpredictable, was unpredicted). His mother is sitting in a corner, juxtaposed against the looping commemorative video. She is 94 years old. Was this what she was sticking around for? Seems unredeemably cruel.

4:18 p.m.

After some family-consoling, I make my way to the picture boards. There is a certain dramatic irony here. Everyone in the pictures is younger, healthier, and certainly happier than they are now. Couples are as yet undivorced. Women are undrained by the burdens of motherhood. Men are pursuing hobbies they can no longer afford.

Of course, pictures are inherently dishonest, cherry-picking from life's most treasurable moments. But the subjects here display such a naivete, one wonders how they can be so blissfully unaware that life is about to befall them.

One photo in particular grabs my attention. There is a photobooth strip of Stan and my mother embracing. In the last picture, my mother carries an expression I have never seen from her in my lifetime. She is excited, expectant, happy to see what the future will bring.

That optimism died in her before I was ever born.