Archive for the ‘friends’ Category

When I was a kid in the 70s, we played kick the can.

Almost every night during summer, when the sun went down, kids in the neighborhood gathered in a back yard with the Folgers or Maxwell House coffee can — or a Well’s Blue Bunny ice cream bucket (gallon-sized) — for an hour or two of hiding and kicking and getting grass stains on our knees. Lots of debate on who was or wasn’t adhering to the rules would ensue. And honestly, I can’t even remember the rules. It didn’t matter then or now.

My kids never experienced the thrill of rushing into a wide open space and sliding into or kicking a can so they wouldn’t have to be “it.” Technology usurped those summer evening back yard games.

I marvel in both admiration and horror as my son now sits and spends his evening with a head set and portable computer chatting in real-time with friends as he plays computer war games.

While the Folgers Coffee can has been replaced with other technology, I’m not so sure it’s ALL for the better.



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The South Beach of Miami and Key West held a varitable cornocopia of sites to see. We arrived on the front end of Spring Break, which meant plenty of youth, energy, martinis, mango margueritas, and Cuban pork (with black beans and yellow rice).

Best takeaways of 96 hours out of Minneapolis…

  • Exit and bulkhead row seating
  • No winter coat, no jeans and no socks
  • Manual elevators at Merv Griffin’s Blue Moon
  • The Seven-Mile bridge
  • Wandering roosters
  • Sand
  • Grey Goose martinis with triple olives (make mine dirty)
  • SPF 15
  • Self-guided tour of Key West on motor scooter
  • Hemingway’s Key West home complete with plenty of writing inspiration
  • Late night key lime pie and coffee at the Grand Cafe
  • Local artists
  • Walking Eastwardly for the best Cuban restaurant on the planet
  • 801 Duval
  • Peel and eat shrimp with horseradish
  • Tiki Bars
  • Helping the directionally challenged
  • The Southernmost Point
  • Blue Heaven’s avocado omelette
  • It’s a small island
  • No wristwatch


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High School Again

I graduated from high school in 1983. It was the year of Flashdance and The Police; Billie Jean and Hall & Oats.

My junior and senior year of high school were spent dating a good Catholic girl, Carol, who lived on the east side of town. We watched movies at the drive in (kind of), held house parties when our parents left town, and “parked” in her Volkswagon Beetle on quiet county roads where the smell of dirt from the cornfields made its way through the open windows. We would break up and get back together days later because that’s what kids did – and we were kids.

High school – even my small-town high school – was all about social classes. The wealthy came from the country club. The poor from Park Street (not Park Avenue). The working class occasionally produced an athlete or a genius and we took great pride in knowing those kids; the ones who elevated the rest of us nearer the top rung of the ladder.

Friends were friends and I knew who they were. I knew who could be counted on and who would turn and run when the shit hit the fan. If a friend was in trouble, we rallied around and made the recovery bearable. But kids then, as now, could be asses and the high school games some kids played were tiresome, hurtful and just plain dumb.

So I’m amazed at the games people play some 25 or 30 years later in life as if they never left high school. It’s pitifully disappointing and these are the people I never would have wasted my time on back in my teens. Why would I waste my time now when it’s so valuable. My own ethics and opinions too established and important to who I am to play the games they choose to play.

It means my circle of closest friends remains small and proximate. And I refuse to let just anyone into that circle. But it also means I know exactly who my real friends are and who I can count on when the shit hits the fan.

Here’s to my friends. You know who you are.


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Valentine’s Day night found me at the W Hotel in downtown Minneapolis celebrating the 30th birthday of a friend’s friend. I’ve not been to the Living Room bar at the hotel, adjacent to Manny’s Steakhouse, since last October.  And unlike that first experience, which was quiet and comfortable, last night the place was rockin’ with people – beautiful, unassuming couples and ostentatious men and women whom I was embarrassed for because of their crazy costumes on Feb. 14. It’s Valentine’s Day, not Halloween, right?!?

So our small group of eight stood in the midst of all the couples enjoying their evening at a hip bar/restaurant and we drank our Grey Goose martinis or Manhattans. One lively conversation led to another and another, including the topic of Obama’s economic stimulus package recently passed by the Senate and scheduled for signing on Feb. 17.  As I talked with young 30-somethings just getting married and starting their lives, their interest in owning a home is a clear priority. But some don’t have the financial wherewithall to make it a reality. Obama’s plan allows for first-time home buyers to obtain an $8,000 tax credit if they purchase a home by Dec. 31, 2009. Not bad, but wouldn’t this stimulus plan be even better if that a$8,000 could be immediately applied to the downpayment a first-time home buyer needs to make? That would finally enable many who don’t have an adequate downpayment to push their ability over that hurdle. I guess there’s more than one way to stimulate the economy, but in our current woeful economic state, I’m of the opinion the best way to stimulate the economy is to put funds and programs directly into the hands of people who have long-term plans. Homebuyers, for example.

From the trendy and hip W, the group moved west several blocks to a bar along First Avenue called, The Ugly Mug. Here is where I had a quick glass of Blue Moon and then checked out for the night. Not only is this place designed exclusively for Gen We-ers, it’s also excessively loud. At my age, I prefer not to stand in a bar pretending to hear conversation when all I can do is see lips moving, nod in return and smile a lot.  God, I sound old.

Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei make “The Wrestler,” an Oscar worthy movie. I finally got to see this film on Saturday afternoon. The audience was small, but it was Valentine’s Day at 5 p.m., and this movie isn’t really a feel-good kinda show.  Those who haven’t seen Rourke since his pretty boy days of “9 1/2 Weeks,” won’t recognize him. This role was essentially written for him, and I got the impression that Rourke barely had to act to fulfill his part in the film, especially given the past two decades of his life and the hard knocks he’s lived through. Still, the story is a good one, the father/daughter struggle all to painfully real, and the wrestling scenes almost comical in a very WWE kind of way. Tomei, in her role as stripper/single mom, deserves a solid for making her part not just relevant but dominant throughout the movie. Her torn life and dream to make something more of herself become the antithesis of Randy “Ram’s” day-to-day, piss it all away rut that he can’t get out of. In the end it seems they both get exactly what they want.

See “The Wrestler,” in theaters if for nothing else to say you saw Rourke in his comeback effort and Tomei looking beautiful in her plain-Jane kinda way she does so well. Stay for the credits and hear Bruce Springsteen sing the title track to the movie.


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Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year”

Plenty of Christmas childred-treehood memories float around my head this time of year. Like the several-year-stretch of purchasing flocked Christmas trees from Del’s Garden Center in Spencer, Iowa. Dad and Mom even bought a red flocked tree (around 1972, I think). It seems a heinous act, flocking a poor evergreen, but back in the ’70s it was the “in” thing to do and Del’s flocked Christmas trees like nobody’s business.  For those of you unfamiliar with the process, they basically stick the tree in a paint room on a stand that spins in a circle while a thick coating of foam-like, dyed flocking material covers every branch and needle. Instead of vacuuming up dried needles on New Year’s Day, we vacuumed red flocking attached to dried needles. It was stunning stuff.

One of my best Christmas memories involves Uncle Floyd and Aunt Evelyn. Floyd worked for my Dad who owned a machine shop and small-engine repair business. (Floyd and Evelyn were not actual relatives BTW). Floyd should have been retired, but Dad had a soft spot for Floyd who was a fountain of information when it came to mechanics.  The aged Floyd and Evelyn lived in a little town, Sioux Rapids, about 20 miles from our home. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas, we would collect them and host them for dinner. Evelyn made delicious caramel pecan rolls, and it would kill me to sit in the backseat of the car with those rolls waiting until we got home before I could indulge. A few years back, I began my own attempt in mimicking the creation of those pecan rolls. Both Floyd and Evelyn have passed away, so I turned to the Google and after trying a couple recipes and combining a few things, I landed on what I believe is a very close caramel pecan roll recipe that would make Evelyn proud. It’s a tribute of sorts to them both and the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners of my youth.

Some traditions fade away – while others remain or re-occur or begin. Gone are the days of flocked trees but those pecan rolls are back in my life. And my two kids, who practically peed their pants in anticipation of Santa’s secret visit and the  gifts he left them for Christmas morning, are teenagers. The excitement may be (mostly) in the past, but the spirit and intention that comes with spending time together making a dinner, playing cards or watching a movie remains anticipated and important.

Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens


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Humans develop personal comfort zones from the onset of interaction with each other. It begins at that first group play date. Two- and three-year-olds either find their freedom to socialize, or they stand in the corner with their blankets waiting for the embrace of their mothers’ arms.

By adulthood, our comfort zones define us. We cling to familiarity – the likes and interests and warm blankets of life. We think we know what we’re all about and the doors leading to the edge of the envelopes we live in slowly close.

What a shame because, clearly, an adventure to the edge from time to time gives us opportunity to taste life and all of its uncertainties.  The horizon may be beautiful to view from the balcony, however, the beauty intensifies only if you choose to run towards it.

My windows and doors remain ajar. Save from jumping from an airplane or engaging in an activity that begs for death to arrive sooner than he should, everything is fair game, even if I don’t wear that tattoo boldly on my forearm. So while it seems uncharacteristic for me to meet a dozen strangers for the first time at a bar in Minneapolis, then join them on the dance floor for hours of hip-hop and ’80s disco, when I get that chance, I take it. At the end of the night, the goodbyes are heartfelt and life is bigger, brighter and filled with new friends and new stories the next morning.


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Are your stockings hung? If not you better get to it! For in just a couple days, Santa will be making his rounds – snacking on cookies and milk at each stop and leaving all kinds of goodies around the Christmas tree for you to enjoy on Christmas morning.

Naughty or NiceThat’s IF you’re on his “nice” list, which I’m thinking most of my regular readers made this year – the “nice” list, that is. From Kitty over at “The Show Must Go On,” who helped me, and numerous readers learn how to make roux for gumbo; to Woeful at “@ The Library,” who continues to assist library patrons no matter how bad their hygiene or their interest in searching porn on public computers; to Jill at “Wordsmith Extraordinaire,” who writes some of the best stuff on the blogosphere; Colleen at “Communicatrix,” who has shared her soul-searching, goal-setting and hypnosis trials with her readers unabashedly; and Fatty at “Fat Cyclist,” who serves as an inspiration both for riding with continued frequency and enthusiasm and being a rock as his dear wife deals with cancer recovery; it’s clear these friends (and other bloggers too numerous to mention in this short post) enjoyed a good year. Santa will smile down on you for all your efforts.

As it stands, St. Nick may be sitting on the fence when he comes to my chimney (is that a mixed metaphor or what?). It’s not that I’ve been intentionally bad since last Christmas, but I haven’t made all the best of decisions.

There were a few nasty grams that were written but never sent to my former spouse (hey at least I didn’t hit send, so give a little credit, right?). And back in July I failed to return a call to an old college friend, throwing a wrench into that long-standing friendship. I haven’t been the best at maintaining relationships of any kind really, in 2007, except when it comes to my kids. For them, I do whatever it takes. They’re family, after all, and I’m their Dad. When I’m old one day, they’ll be the ones deciding if I go into a care facility or come live with them – so I figure it’s best that I be nice to them no matter what.Santa's lap

Still, with all my indiscretions during the year, with any luck, good ol’ Santa will have a little something with my name on it Tuesday morning when I climb out of bed. I’m hoping she’ll look something like this. Is that a look of desire I see on Santa’s face? Santa, does Mrs. Claus know about your little innocent tryst or is that yet another secret that you’re keeping under your red hat?

I think we best leave those questions unanswered. It’s that time of year when mystery needs to be appreciated.

And with that, my friends and partners in blogging, I just want to wish you all the very Merriest of Christmases and the Happiest of New Years. To Misty, Max and Michelle, Greg, Stil, Biblio, Jenn, and LK – and to the one and only Jason Mraz – thanks for writing, commenting and sharing all you share.

I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Cheers to you, everyone!


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My part of the world witnessed its first-0f-the-year snow flurry this morning. On my drive to work, the tiniest of snow squalls blew through the north suburbs. At about 7:50 a.m., I sat at a red light waiting to turn left into the compound that is the campus of the world headquarters where I toil, and while stopped I stared down the small white flakes beating against the windshield. I watched them evaporate on the glass of the car window.  The finest of snowflakes consisting of less than a pinhead of water. Thus begins Winter in Minnesota, even though its still officially fall for another six weeks (the first day of winter is not until Dec. 22 – as if that makes a difference).

Most everyone is familiar with the well-known musical, “The Music Man.” My son is involved in the junior high production of this Broadway smash, and the firstmusic man performance went off without a hitch last night. His role may be tiny as a “townsperson” and “traveling salesman” who finds himself in the midst of River City, Iowa, but his Dad thought proud things about him as he sang and danced and said his one line. The seventh, eighth and ninth graders who put on the show and devoted the last two months of their lives getting ready for three performances all deserve a big parade of tipped hats and atta boys (and girls).

There’s a little drama in all of us, I believe. Even in real life, drama seems to ebb up and infiltrate regular goings on – if not daily than at least every now and then. Nothing wrong with a bit of drama as long as we recognize it for what it is and don’t let it steal us over from reality on a permanent basis.

Now and again I’m known to pick up a freelance writing gig. The assignments take me out of the normal routine and force me to write objective material versus the subjective pontifications that I leave on this venue. So on Sunday, Nov. 18, I’ll find myself at a benefit event raising money for survivors of Hurricane Katrina (yes there are still survivors and yes many still need financial support to rebuild the lives that were demolished more than two years ago). I’m anxious to get dressed up and report on the event, which will take me to the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. There I’ll get to listen to some great Louisiana jazz and talk to various movers and shakers about why they do what they do to help others in need.

Not a bad way to end a weekend.



PS: When friends return to your life after absences, everything seems to make more sense.

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The new head of the science division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an old friend of mine. We went to high school together. He and another guy egged me and a friend of mine after school one Autumn afternoon. Splat, egg whites and yolks ran down our backs and these two buffoons stood there laughing. I suppose we deserved it. We were less geeky than they were. This happened in junior high. We maintained our friendship for the ensuing five-plus years.

Kent G. Bress and I not only became friends in junior high, but we also remained close throughout high school and then found ourselves as college roommates for a year (1983 – ’84) at the University of Iowa. As a roommate, I saw Kent in some very, very interesting states of inebriation. I won’t go into details here because I prefer not to have a federally funded institution investigate me at this point in my life. I will say that Kent was the consummate student, wickedly intelligent – although there was a slight shortfall when it came to common sense (thus the egging).

The Bress family I knew back in my hometown was quite typical. Kent’s Dad owned a butcher shop where we spent many a Friday and Saturday night kicked back drinking Old English 800 malt liquor in the back room. Kent’s Mom, Evelyn, was a German instructor at the high school. Her class was a riot and while I sucked at speaking German, I learned a lot about people and relationships in Frau Bress’s classroom. Kent’s older brother lived a block north of my childhood home, on the corner of West Third Street and Fourth Avenue West. I think we drank beer there once or twice, too.

When I got an e-mail from our former high school band director (Kent played a mean French Horn as well and was a two or three-time All State Band member), I wasn’t shocked to discover Kent had been promoted within NASA to head up one of its Science divisions. I’m sure he’s surrounded by a group of super-intelligent people from all walks of life and they all go home each night wondering how Kent trumps them all in the knowledge department.

However, I can proudly say that he’s still a bigger geek than me.


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