Places I’ll Remember

Yeah.  That one.

I’ve been getting the house ready for family to visit, and part of that included finding and putting away all the tools I’ve got lying around from fixing this, that, or the other thing.  So.  As I was down in my workshop putting things away, I noticed this big box of photographs that I’d seen before, but never really bothered with.  Here are a few things, people, and places.

This photo of horses, taken some time in 1968/1969 (the date on the photo is the printing date):


Some of the rockets I built before I was 13 (the big one on the left, an MPC Moon Go, was probably my favorite.  Yes, that’s a model Gemini capsule on top:


My cat, Miss Meow.  She was acquired when I was in second grade, IIRC.  She was supposed to be my brother’s cat, but she was really mine.  She lived to be 20…  This photo is probably from some time in the late ’70s/early ’80s, when she was 15 or so, and the location is the family home in Shoreview, a suburb of St. Paul:


In 1976, I started college.  The building in the background is the University of Minnesota’s Pillsbury Hall, home of the Geology department.  In the foreground is the building that was the campus bookstore, Williamson Hall, a massive, underground, modernistic structure that was subsequently turned into a computer center.  It was a great place to hang out in the winter–or actually, any time:


Next is Cedar Square West, c. 1979, a complex of apartment buildings where I lived for three years.  The tallest building was Building M, or McKnight Tower.  I lived on the top two floors (yep, a two-floor apartment!) of the lower unit in the foreground, Building F.  Building E is to the right.  The red brick buildings in front are/were part of Minneapolis’ West Bank culture.  They housed the Viking Bar, the 400 (see below), the Coffee House Extempore, Midwest Mountaineering, Belville Guitars, and–of course–the New Riverside Cafe.  This was literally the corner of Cedar and Riverside, the closest Minnesota had to the Haight.


Across the street from those red buildings was another set of red brick buildings, including the 400 Bar and Annie’s Parlour, simply the best ice cream I’ve ever had.  This view, looking at the back of those buildings, was my front yard when I walked out of Building F.  This photo is probably from 1980, shortly after the 400 burned down.  It was later rebuilt.  Lamont Cranston used to play there, IIRC.


Here’s the view from a pedestrian bridge than ran (IIRC) from next to the West Bank Coop Pharmacy, across Cedar, to an alley next to Palmer’s Bar.  You can see down Cedar, past the Cedar Theater, across Riverside.  The building on the right of the intersection, far side, was the New Riverside Cafe.  Numerous shops moving back toward the viewer on the right, including the West Bank Coop Grocery, which carried, inter alia, generic beer.


My bedroom, on the 13th floor of Building F (our entrance was on the 12th floor).  My first decent guitar (still have it), bed, posters.  I remember assembling the frame for that bed in an otherwise empty room that smelled of roach poison (yes, we had roaches) and almost crying for feeling alone.  I was 19.  I lived in that apartment for about three years, with two roommates–first Bruce, then Otto (who was the brother of an ex-girlfriend).


Another view, taken at a later (?) time (lafter Dylan released Live at Budokan–which I think I purchased at the nearby Wax Museum).  A few posters have changed.


Downstairs, same place, stereo to the left, TV to the right, 50-watt Peavy Pacer guitar amp and a briefcase containing my effects board in the middle.  This photo was likely taken late ’80 or early ’81.


And a couple of old Polaroids of yours truly, playing the guitar that went with the amp.  Both taken in the dining room of the house in Shoreview.  I think that second photo shows me wearing a University of Florida shirt.


After I graduated in the Spring of ’81, Otto and I went our separate ways and I moved from Cedar Square West to a tiny apartment on the outskirts of Dinkytown.  The block I lived on ended at a grain elevator and railroad yard.  Overall, the place was much quieter than the West Bank, and much smaller, but at $50 a month furnished, sublet, it was a deal I couldn’t refuse.

Here’s the outside (I was on the left, on the second floor):


The inside of the apartment which, as you can see, was crowded. Almost none of the musical stuff or furniture in that shot was mine!  That all belonged to the guy I sublet from.  The bike (a Raleigh Gran Prix, my pride and joy for many years) and the tie (ugly, ugly, very ugly) were mine, as was the music stand.


And a sticker I put on the Window.


Summer 1981 was idyllic.  I was 23 years old without a care in the world.  Not only did I have a cheap apartment, I had no bills to pay to speak of.  I had received a $1,500 cash award on graduation.  It was supposed to help pay for grad school, but since I had already received a graduate school scholarship, I decided I didn’t need to work that summer.  I hung out, rode my bike, read books, drank beer, went to concerts (Bonnie Raitt, who had a few albums out, but was not really well-known, and Arlo Guthrie, who of course was), went to a theater festival (The Gathering, in St. Peter), and generally had a very good time.  I have had many good times in my life, but if there’s one for which I get nostalgic on any kind of regular basis, it’s that summer.

That summer, I hung out a lot with, got somewhat romantically involved with, and hoped to but did not, get further romantically involved withl L.  She was part of the group with which I hung out, and we just sort of paired off.  We went to some friends’ wedding that summer, and on the way back, stuffed flowers into the muzzle of a tank on display outside a military base.  We protested, read, did our laundry together, she worked, we went to movies and shows (see Bonnie Raitt, above) and biked around the city.  We parted, more or less by agreement, about two weeks before I left for Chicago.

It was also one of the times I reread DhalgrenI know this was that summer because the keys are, respectively, for my apartment, my bike, and various University facilities, and the date on the cassette label is early September 1981.  From this I also know that this photo was taken after my apartment was broken into.  They took my typewriter and my camera (insurance replaced both) and a couple of boxes of cassette tapes–which lead to me re-recording tapes like mad, such as this one with David Bowie on it.  Ironically, the thieves failed to open the closet, in which I had my three very nice guitars, and they failed (probably because of the component-and-cable mess) to get my stereo, though they tried.


Two last photos from that Dinkytown apartment.  I never knew this cat’s name, but it hung around for a while.  It would come to my back door and I’d set out a little milk.  Not mine, but it sort of felt like this cat and I intersected for a while.  Kind of like me and L.

There are lots more pictures and way more stories, but this covers a time.  On September 23, 1981, I left Minneapolis for Chicago.  I never lived in Minnesota again.


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It’s been a while.  I’m going to try to ease back into writing by tackling a topic that’s light–or maybe not so light.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I saw a post on the MPDG on Medium recently, and it piqued my interest.  I know the term because one night, looking for something to watch, I came across Ruby Sparks, which contains the ultimate the MPDG, and was interested enough in the concept that I clicked on IMDB.  In that film, the MPDG is literally the creation of a sad male.

Sad males are key to the notion of MPDGs.  Here’s a list of a few MPDGs:

The latter two are a fascinating comment on the 1960s, the first having been released in 1961, wherein the MPDG’s neediness finally drives her into the arms of her wanna-be lover, the last in 1969, where the lovers part ways forever.  There are, of course, hundreds more (see:  500 Days of Summer, a film that includes at least two MPDGs).

What defines an MPDG?  She’s outrageous.  She is winsome.  She’ll challenge you to steal something small; she’ll drink and party wildly (but in almost all cases, remain romantically faithful to you).  She’s usually younger than you are and strikingly–though often unconventionally–attractive (but not always–see, e.g., Maude in Harold and Maude).  She’s quirky.  She’s Suzanne by Leonard Cohen (“she is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters”).  She is sometimes doomed, usually by some hidden disease that will never disfigure her or waste her body.  She is an ideal.  She’s needy. She’s fun.  And she doesn’t exist.

You might think she exists.  As a male (or, I suppose, as someone who loves women) you might try to make her exist.  Don’t.  It’s not healthy for her and it’s not healthy for you.

When I was in high school, I knew some real life MPDGs.  One in particular I longed for.  She was most of the things in the definition above (though not doomed).  It was a couple of years before I figured out that she was an actual person, not the image I had created.  In college, I fell hard for another MPDG.  With her, I felt totally liberated–I remember dashing up to a tank outside a military base with her and stuffing flowers into its muzzle.  Something I would never have done otherwise.  Graduate school, again.

Why do we fall in love with MPDGs?  Part of it has to do with how we  see ourselves.  If you’re a sad male–even if you’re physically strong, like the Beast–you want to be rescued.  You want an MPDG to find you and pull you out of your shell.  The MPDG who showed up at my apartment unannounced one night with a bottle of red wine pulled me out of a long dry spell of depression (the male who creates MPDGs will readily identify with this Simon & Garfunkel song).  So there’s that.

But more than that, MPDGs are the people with whom we become infatuated.  And in that infatuation, we feel we have permission to act in ways that we want to act, but have never had the nerve to act.  Stuffing flowers in that gun?  It wasn’t so far from my beliefs.  But that particular infatuation gave me–and perhaps her–permission to drop the dignity act.  Like alcohol, it removes inhibitions.


In graduate school, I knew a guy who had a reputation for sexual conquests (confirmed by many of his partners, who I also knew).  He was in many respects an ultimate Alpha Male, and people loved him.  He was unable to sustain any other relationship for more than about two weeks. He’s a professor at a major university now.  But what drove his search for conquest was that the MPDG he had created had broken up with him.  Years later, he was looking for someone to replace her, and trying to get back together with her at the same time.


She was tired of being an MPDG.  So she left him.  Happens a lot.  Because being quirky and fun all the time is hard and tiring and not a hell of a lot of fun.

Some women will go along with it for a while.  Some make it a lifestyle.  (And I suppose that there may also be Manic Pixie Dream Guys (I would anticipate the same problem).)  But it’s ultimately destructive.  You can’t be real if your entire life is based around serving someone else’s need for affirmation.

Real women weigh something, and sometimes weight more.  They burp, they fart, they shit, sometimes their hair is greasy.  Sometimes they have stubble.  Sometimes they get depressed.  Sometimes they don’t smell good.  They age.  Some of them snore.  Not all of them float in and out of thrift stores.  They have jobs.  They have children.  When they’re drunk, sometimes they throw up (which is not terribly cute).  They get tired.  They don’t like cleaning bathrooms or washing dishes.  They can be conventional.

In other words, they’re exactly like real men, in all of the ways that matter for this discussion.  And I submit that part of growing up is accepting people for what they are, rather than for what we want them to be.

When I was a child, I thought like a child.

When I grew up, I found the love of my life–who wasn’t an MPDG.

She wasn’t an MPDG because I didn’t treat her like one.  I learned to treat her like a person.

It’s a relationship that’s lasted for more than 32 years now, rather than two weeks or 500 days.  And it’s real.


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Thanks, Mom.

I’ve written on this blog about my dad, who gave me the competence to do things.  Today I want to write about my mom, who taught me toughness and respect.  These are my memories.  I realize now that they may not all be perfectly accurate, but that’s what memories are.  At this point, I’m applying a little fixative.

Mom grew up a loving, tough, unsentimental atheist. She grew up in a dirt poor in a family of Ukrainian immigrants on a farm in Saskatchewan (we never knew her true birthday because her dad and the doctor got ‘looped to celebrate, and so the official record disagreed with her mother’s recall).

She taught in a one-room school and married a weird Jewish student named Shapiro who studied lakes.  She put up with living in Seattle, New Haven, Baltimore, Haifa, St. Paul, La Crosse, and Jacksonville, earned an MS in biology, had children at 37 and 39 and raised a doctor and a lawyer.

She kept a spotless (and I mean spotless) house:  I seem to recall her cleaning the toilets daily, and the dishes were sterilized before they went into the dishwasher.  The latter, in combination with the electric range, tried to kill her once (thanks to poor electrical work by our Minnesota home’s former owner) but she survived.

She took me to Cub Scout meetings and swimming lessons in St. Paul.  As long as Hove’s existed, she was a faithful shopper there, often giving my brother and I money to head up the mall to Kresge’s or Snyders, where we’d buy comic books and candy.

She taught school occasionally (I think she was doing what was then called “special ed”) when I was young (she had a box of gifts (that I envied) to hand out to students).  Helped diagnose my diabetes before I went to the hospital.  Once I was diagnosed, she took me to Donnell Eitzweiler’s Diabetes Education Center, which may have saved my life.  She stopped getting whole milk and bought skim (which my brother called “blue water,”) and did everything she could to make sure that I would thrive.

She took me to the Hobby Shop in Har-Mar Mall and waited patiently while I bought model car kits and rocket parts.  She drove me out to Stillwater, to the one shop in MInnesota that carried not only Estes but also Centuri rocket parts.  She drove me the launches almost every week.  She tolerated my taking over the dining room table as a factory floor, so we all ate at the counter.  For decades, she sat on the kitchen side of that counter, while the family males sat on the other side, to be served.

She and my dad became American citizens so that she could vote against Richard Nixon, and remained lifelong Democrats. With my dad, she traveled all over the world, but I think she loved Portugal best.

When I was in high school and became a foaming-at-the-mouth end-times Christian, she was patient with me.  She came to concerts where I sang or played guitar, and plays where I performed.

In a time of rampant disrespect, she taught me to respect women, but also that being a gentleman meant you held the door for everyone, regardless of gender.  When I was a high school junior, she taught me, my best friend, and our prom dates how to dance.

I remember her smiles when I graduated from high school, and then from college.

In 1982, when I got a research assistant job that would have me interviewing lawyers in Washington, she took me to a big & tall store and bought me a pair of size 13B black French Shriner oxfords that I still wear when I go to court (they’ve been resoled and re-heeled many times).

When I met T and brought her home for a visit, Mom (in spite of her atheism) told me that if I was going to marry T, I would need to start attending her church.  I took her advice, and it’s been good ever since.

Mom never lost patience with her kids who, before they became (my brother) a doctor and (me) a lawyer, rode motorcycles, fought with their father, drove school buses, worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, got drunk and parked the family car in the front yard, joined the military, failed out of graduate school, worked as an engineer, broke many bones, deployed in the Middle East, and had (some of) her grandchildren.

She made quilts for each of those grandchildren, and for her great grandchildren as well.

She died yesterday morning–three (or four, depending) weeks shy of her 95th birthday.


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Labeling Theory

I’ve written before about branding.  You know that I think it’s kind of a weird thing.  But I’ve seen a new version of it over the past couple of years, and it troubles me because it seems to indicate that we’re buying into branding on a whole new level.  I’m talking about the cuff label.  You know, like this:


The function of this label is the function of all labels—just like the ones on your jeans (the paper ones that go over the waistline and are sewn or stapled or plastic-riveted on, or the ones that are stuck to and/or hang off your shirts.  It’s a brand identifier.  When you’re going through a stack of jeans, and you have a reasonable idea of what fits, it’s nice to be able to tell Levi’s from Wranglers.

Similarly, when you’re looking for a jacket or suit separates, it’s nice to be easy to tell at a glance what you’re looking for.  I know that a particular brand of jackets fits me well, so I tend to look for that brand.  Etcetera.

But while these labels are there to identify the brand, it seems to me that we have become so used to having massive labels all over everything that people are starting to invest them with meaning.  I mean, I’m wearing a CHAPS jacket.  I have class.  That sort of thing.

We’re used to having labels on T-shirts and jeans, and so it must seem kind of natural to keep labels on things like suits.  Or perhaps unnatural to remove them.

This all came home to me when I was acting as a guide at a rather fancy function lately.  And saw not only teenagers, but also a number of males closer to my age wearing their hearts—um, labels—on their sleeves.  I guess that when all of our other clothing has been so thoroughly branded and labeled, it’s hard to see where to stop.

Here’s the poop:  That label is tacked on with maybe two to four stitches for a reason:  so that you won’t damage the fabric of the suit when you remove it.  Once you’ve purchased a suit and before you wear it out of your house or apartment, remove the tag.  You may want to wear sweatshirts or leather jackets or jeans or whatever with someone else’s name on it, but when you wear a suit or sport jacket, you are not shilling for someone else (I would venture that whenever you pay more than $10 for an item of clothing you should not be shilling for the manufacturer), you are presenting yourself.

What will matter is the fit of the item.  Whether it fits the setting (don’t wear a shiny maroon suit to court), and whether it fits you (I strongly suggest a read-through of Paul Fussell’s remarkable 1983 book, Class:  A Guide Through the American Status System, with particular attention to the topics of “legible clothing” and “collar gap”:


Or maybe I’m just being cranky today.  And trying to avoid speaking ill of Donald Trump.




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The Trouble with Normal

Between Trump and Brexit, it’s time to revisit this:

The Trouble with Normal

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the Third World trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local Third World’s kept on reservations you don’t see
“It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

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When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, Fireflies were a big thing for me.  On humid summer evenings it looked like some stars had come down to Earth.

I see fewer and fewer of them as time passes; could be the places I find myself in, or there could be smaller numbers of these critter about.

Last Saturday, T and I went to a party at a friend’s house and at one point, grabbed some chairs under a tree and started to do some music…and I saw a firefly.  T says she saw a whole bunch, but I was too busy playing guitar to look.

They’re still here.


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Why I Don’t Need an AR-15

Here’s a response piece I wrote this morning.


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