found in translation

Recently, I joined a Facebook group dedicated to my high school, and as we chatted back and forth, the names of my teachers came spinning at me like calendar pages in a film noir. Then I realized that, while I remembered the teachers, I wasn’t as able to remember the things they taught. Oh sure—I remember random fragments—bits and pieces of mid-seventies curricula. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to pass a midterm exam in any of the classes I took in high school.

For instance, I can picture Mr. Simonds (I even remember that his first name was Ira), but I can’t recall much of his American History class. I think the South lost. That’s about it. Or Mr. Hague and Mr. White, good friends (of each other) who taught chemistry and biology respectively, and looked a bit like Penn and Teller. I remember using a pipette to distill something in chemistry, and I think Mr. White had us cut up earthworms. I’m not sure why.

Yet for some reason, I remember most of my two years of high school German. When I went to high school, in addition to knowing the capitals of  all forty-five states, students were required to study a foreign language for two years. Our choices were Spanish, German, and French, and of course, living in Southern California, I picked…German?

What I remember most about German class are the ‘dialogues’–short conversational snippets designed to put you right in the midst of the culture. And the first dialogue in my German I textbook? My initial exposure to these storied people?

Fussball, nein. Limonade ja! (Soccer, no. Lemonade, yes!)

We also learned the following:

Wo ist Monika? (Where is Monica?)

Im Boot. (In the boat.)

________________________________

Wohin geht Peter? (Where is Peter going?)

An den See. (Out to sea.)

Forgetting that the last two exchanges seem to cast the mostly landlocked Germans as seafarers, the first one is really the foundation on which German literature is based–a long, hallowed tradition of choosing lemonade over soccer.My point is this: The main reason people in other parts of the world hate us is that when Americans visit other countries and try to ‘fit in,’ we never learned any really useful phrases. So we sound like idiots.

If you’re at a restaurant in Paris, and you are able to remember how to say “I have a spoon” in French, your waiter won’t be impressed by your cross-cultural gesture, he’ll think you’re a patronizing buffoon.  It’s classic American ego to think that a handful of Berlitz phrases tossed around allows you to ‘fit in.’

If we want our friends abroad to welcome future generations of rich, spoiled American college kids, foreign language classes should teach phrases we could actually use in Germany, France, or Spain, for example–

Die meisten Amerikaner sind anders als die Leute auf “Jersey Shore.” (Most Americans are different than the people on “Jersey Shore.”

Je souhaite que mon pays ne cesse de se mêler dans les affaires des autres nations et commencer à s’inquiéter de nos propres problèmes. (I wish my country would stop meddling in the affairs of other nations and start worrying about our own problems.)

Fue todo culpa nuestra que la economía mundial colapsó hace un tiempo. Lo sentimos! (It was mostly our fault that the global economy collapsed a while ago. Sorry!)

<the preceeding comedy idea was brought to you by Google Translate>

 

I’ve always been a student of language–in fact, when I was fourteen I invented my own alphabet. Because as a junior-high kid with a clarinet and a briefcase (?!), I could afford to be even weirder. I also own the book ‘Winnie-the-Pooh‘  in seven different languages, including the Latin version, which is the only book in Latin to ever make the New York Times bestseller list…Anyway, after my zwei Jahre of German, I figured college French wouldn’t be too difficile.

I was wrong. I didn’t realize it would be a ‘total immersion’ class, obviously named for the drowning sensation students feel when they’re only allowed to speak A LANGUAGE THEY DON’T KNOW HOW TO SPEAK YET! It may work for some, but I just kept wanting to scream, “I don’t KNOW how to ask it ‘en français,’ because this is SUPPOSED to be Française 101!” Other than being able to…count things, I’ve retained nothing from two semesters of French class.

Since I switched to Team Judaism a few years ago, I’ve had every intention of learning Hebrew, but it’s a little daunting. I have a hard enough time writing English letters, since I’ve typed everything for the past twenty-five years. To say nothing of the whole ‘right-to-left’ thing. Makes me wonder if there are any dyslexic cantors. Which would be a great name for a band–Dyslexic Cantors.

Having lived in New York, Chicago, and L.A., I’ve had a pretty multicultural life. Based on the random phrases I’ve picked up, I think I can handle just about any situation:

I can say “I want to be your friend” in Japanese, in case I’m in Tokyo and…want to be somebody’s friend.

I can greet someone in Warsaw with a hearty “Jak sie masz,” but unfortunately, I won’t know how to tell him I want to be his friend.

When I travel through Russia, I will only be able to drink or say goodbye to people.

In Italy, I will be able to talk about anything that is mentioned in the song “Caro mio ben.”

It’s worse to know a little bit of a foreign language than to be blissfully ignorant. Here’s why. If you happened to pull out just the right phrase for the situation, the person whose native language you just ‘spoke’ will think you really speak the language and start a conversation. Meanwhile, you’ve already used all the conversaitonal Farsi you remember, so you stand there mute while Guy Who Speaks Farsi thinks you’re either stupid, or that you were mocking him.

I’m not sure how Mrs. Dashiff (again with the names!) did it, but she managed to instill a deep, lasting knowledge of the most pedestrian German interactions (“What are you doing?” “I’m practicing the violin.” “Are you tired?” “Yes.”). But to be fair, and to her credit, I also still remember the first four lines of Heinrich Heine’s lyrical and wistful poem, “Die Lorelei”.

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

I don’t remember what it means, exactly, but if I’m ever in a bar in the middle of Hamburg, I’m using it. At least I won’t be asking where the nearest McDonald’s is.

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a birthday epiphany

Birthdays are funny things. I know, because I’ve had fifty-one of them. Frankly, I’m not sure I plan to have any others. Don’t panic–I still intend to get older, I’m just done counting birthdays.

Certain ‘big deal’ birthdays were less than ‘big deals’ for me. Eighteen—woohoo, I can vote and go to war!—yeah, even when I was eighteen I realized that tradeoff sucked.

Twenty-one—Yes! I finally can have some of that ‘alcohol’ I’ve heard so much about but never had the chance to try! True story: for my 21st birthday, mom and dad took me to LasVegas, because nothing says ‘You’re a man, now’ like standing in line at the breakfast buffet with your parents…it was like going to the prom with my Aunt Joan.

In theory, turning thirty is a big deal, because by thirty, you’ve become established in your career. Unfortunately, I had the distinct lack of foresight to choose standup comedy as a career, and never got the memo that the standup comedy boom would end in about 1992. Actually, turning thirty-four seemed more significant, because it meant I had outlived Jesus.

I think around birthday number forty, birthdays stopped being a big deal for me. Look, a good chunk of my adult like was spent creating crises for myself, yanking myself out of one crisis, moving across the country (‘cause that fixes shit), and…manufacturing new crises. You make enough bad choices in life, you start to feel like EVERY birthday is bonus time—“Really—I made it to forty-five? Yeah, that’s cool—but keep it down! I don’t wanna jinx anything!”

For this reason, turning fifty was a big deal, celebrated with all the requisite “I love you, man”s and “You look great”s. I was embarking on the second half of my life (yeah—half—like I’m gonna see a hundred…) with renewed vigor and a passionate lust for seizing the proverbial day.

Or, some days, I’d just be kinda tired. Sometimes, ‘seizing’ the day just sounds exhausting, and I’d rather…sneak up on the day. Herein lies the beauty of being post-fifty. I’ve given myself permission to NOT do anything. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been non-productive before, non-productive on an Olympian scale–but it always looked like I was busy doing shit. It was always in the guise of “Things are really crazy right now, so that’s why I haven’t been able to do any of those things I should have been doing.”

Then I figured, “What if I just stopped being a crazy person? Might that possibly make my life, in fact, easier?” Turns out, now that I’m not trying so hard to ‘get my life together,’ I’m actually getting my life together. I’ve actually come to the conclusion that I may not have enough time to finish every project, avenge every injustice, and fix all my broken pieces, and I’m cool with that.

It’s like with anger. I’ve been righteously indignant about one thing or another since high school, when I refused to smile for any of my yearbook pictures because I felt smiling ‘on cue’ made it fake and I wanted to have integrity and blah blah blah. I think, looking back on it, I may have been pretty tedious as a teenager. And my mom wasn’t happy that the yearbook she paid for included at least ten pictures of me looking like I’d won The Most Miserably Unhappy Student trophy.

But though I still feel strongly about what I believe, what used to be a rolling boil is now down to a simmer on the burner of life. I still Rage against the Machine sometimes, but I’m just as likely now to try to understand the machine or, more likely still, ignore the machine entirely and focus on my little corner of the world. Besides, getting existentially peeved at the world has not, apparently, changed the world.

Anger, like youth, is wasted on the young. The girlfriend and I were watching some video by some band of angry twenty-somethings, screaming their angry lyrics about how angry…something made them. I think the song was called “Paid My Dues.” You’re in your twenties! What dues, exactly, have you had to pay! You’ve had to endure…sitting quietly in a classroom? Oh, the inherent cruelty of it all!

Look, you PBR-drinking, soul-patch-sporting, doc marten-wearing whiners–the world could not possibly have fucked you enough yet to warrant this much bile. Why don’t you guys take your girlfriend to a movie at the mall, play a little pick up basketball to blow off steam, and then write some songs about how, at your age, life is pretty fucking cool if only because you haven’t had enough time yet to piss away any opportunities or burn any bridges!!!

Now at my age, I’ve seen enough of the cosmic crapstorm to feel justifiably angry—I can now emipirically prove that some shit ain’t fair. But here’s the bitch about aging—by the time you have enough evidence to make a case for how evil people can be, how unfair the government is, how wrong the system is… you’re just too damned tired.

But I am not by nature a cynic. I believe there are younger folk out there willing to fight the good fight (and young enough that they don’t use the word ‘folk’—jeez!). Kids who are all hormones and hyperbole, who will take up the banner of protest. And that’s as it should be. But as I keep adding numbers to my age, I think I’ll find a comfortable chair and watch some of the fighting from the sidelines.

As you get older, you realize that your body should have come with some sort of extended warranty. At least for the factory parts. Beyond the obvious design flaws (the knee? Hello? Little extra padding would have been nice…) there’s the planned obsolescence—every part of me that moves now is either stiff, or it aches. If I can move it or bend it, it probably hurts. But in the spirit of making nice with Old Man Aging, I’ve have found some perks to being ‘of a certain age.’

I no longer feel obliged to try new foods, or new ways of cooking foods I hate because it will broaden my horizons.  I hate brussel sprouts, and I don’t care if you dip them in chocolate, deep fry them, coat them with maple syrup and serve them on a golden plate, underneath, they are brussel sprouts, and I believe they were not meant to be eaten.

I am OK with wearing pajamas during the day, and if I have to leave the house, I’m OK with just pulling my sweats over my pajamas. When you’re older, it’s all about easy-on, easy-off.

I can now convincingly pull off the ‘shaking your fist at the heavens’ gesture if I get pissed.

When I process the pros and cons of aging (CON: things don’t work like they used to; PRO: you’re alive to bitch about things not working), I realize the number itself is the problem. Hence, I will acknowledge no future birthdays. I’m done counting. I made it to fifty. I’m in bonus time. But I’m not gonna say I’m fifty-one, or fifty-seven, or sixty-eight. From now on, when asked my age, I will simply respond, “I’m at least fifty.” It’s accurate, but it avoids all those negative connotations associated with being ‘over fifty.’

You kids out there—keep on yelling. Just remember the old adage—What doesn’t kill you, weakens you so it’s easier to be killed the next time. L’chaim!

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you don’t look peevish

I’ve never catalogued all of my pet peeves, but I have quite a collection. Having pet peeves is great for killing time—sorta like having an actual pet, but with no cleanup, or having a hobby without having to buy glue and construction paper.

Most of my peeves relate to language. Now, I’m not saying you should follow the Chicago Manual of Style when you’re writing a casual email. And I understand that language evolves (see, I started that sentence with a preposition—I’m a rebel!). But let’s not give up the fight entirely and just slide lazily into some hundred-and-forty character morass of poorly chosen words and misused phrases.

A small step would be for people to stop using the word ‘literally’ when they mean ‘metaphorically.’ I swear to My Vague, Nebulous Concept Of What God Might Be If There Is A God that if I hear one more person say something like ‘My head literally exploded’ my head will figuratively explode.

I’ve been a nitpicker of words for years. I remember as a teenager being annoyed by Neil Diamond. Granted, there are many reasons to be annoyed by Neil Diamond, but specifically, how can an otherwise competent songwriter write the line ‘songs she BRANG to me.’ You know, I could be making love with a supermodel on a private beach with Neil Diamond THERE in his jumpsuited glory singing that song to us directly (hold on to that mental image), and at the word ‘brang,’ it would be game over.

With the internet, I haven’t used the print version of a dictionary or a thesaurus for years, and I’m fine with that, but I’m pretty sure Roget is turning over in his grave (see also: crypt, mausoleum, catacomb, sepulcher…)

It’s amazing to me how blasé we’ve become toward technology. Like being able to access most of the entire world’s history and collected knowledge in my apartment on something I bought for five hundred bucks at Best Buy. And yet how many of us just bitch about how long it takes for Facebook to load?

You kids today. I realize that’s what I sound like—the old guy who says ‘You kids today.’ I just think people take for granted the amount of mind-blowing shit we can do while sitting on our couches.

Although I’m hardly a Luddite, I’ll admit that some newer technology I just don’t get. Like the whole Wii thing. A friend invited me to play Wii (the Wii? on the Wii?) and after a spirited ten minutes of beach volleyball, it occurred to me that ‘playing sports’ by pointing a wand at the tv is wrong on two levels—it requires standing and waving your arm around, thus defeating the purpose of video games, and yet all it requires is standing and waving your arm around, defeating the purpose of exercise. I worry that a generation will grow up not knowing that tennis can also be played outside.

Some tech things I’m just a little late getting to. For instance, I recently got DVR (a DVR? the DVR?) and I gotta be honest–the first few times I used it, it felt like I was employing sorcery. I can rewind a show while it’s being broadcast? Why, this is preposterous! I’ll end up altering the space-time continuum!

I worry a lot about altering the space-time continuum, which is why I don’t go back in time. The main reason I haven’t gone back in time is that I’m a klutz. See, every science fiction story I know explains very clearly that if you DO go back in time and change anything, disastrous things will happen. Well, I’m such a klutz, I would inevitably trip over something or knock something off of a shelf that would cause some sort of butterfly-effect chain reaction and then we’re all living in bunkers as drones to our Martian overlords.

Also, if I were able to go back in time, I don’t exactly have the skill set to ‘blend in’ in another era. My pottery and cobbling skills are marginal at best, and ‘being funny’ just doesn’t seem to be something with which you can barter.

It makes me wonder what place there was in primitive society for the funny guy. Even in the era of cavemen, there had to be that one guy. You know, the guy who would change a cave drawing so that instead of reading ‘”Og killed a mastodon” it reads “Og had sex with a mastodon.”

I might have enjoyed being a funny guy in the Middle Ages. If you think about it, court jester was probably an easier gig than doing standup in a bar—you really only had to make one guy laugh. And, if the king wasn’t digging my act, I could always become the village idiot.

I wonder what comedy in the future might look like. With the right technology, maybe one day you’ll be able to download a comedy routine consisting entirely of jokes that only you understand into a chip in your brain, while nanobots deliver the equivalent of two drinks to your bloodstream and then you can virtually heckle yourself.

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bemused in bemidji

I’m not sure I can define ‘hip.’ I’m pretty sure I’ve been ‘hip’ occasionally (once in 1980, for about a month in 1994, and there might be a weekend in the early ‘aughts when I pulled it all together), but I’ve usually only acquired ‘hipness’ by being around other ‘hip’ people.

I’ll admit I’m an urban snob. I like having having symphonies, and pro sports, and the other things that go with a few hundred thousand people living together. The only time I haven’t lived in a big city was the three months in Bemidji, Minnesota, and that was a bit…less than hip.

So, realizing the power of language to change perception, I tried to get the locals to start calling Bemidji…wait for it…The ‘Midj.‘ That’s right–roll it around on your tongue–say it out loud. The Midj. Which sounds hipper–“I’m spending a few months in Northern Minnesota,” or “I’m doin’ The Midj this summer.”

I guess the hardest thing to get used to there was the talking. As in, people talking to other people. On the street. Just–randomly. You see, in big cities, we’ll talk to strangers on the street, but only to efficiently communicate important information:

“Watch where you’re walking, buddy!”

“Back of the line, asshole!”

“I have twenty dollars in my back pocket–please don’t shoot me.”

But there, people just say hello to you when they walk by. And they’re not asking  for money. Very disturbing. I think I might have pissed off one our neighbors, because when they asked “How’s it going?,” I said “I don’t have any change, but I can give you a cigarette.”

Three in the morning, I’m sitting on the front stoop having a smoke, and twenty-something dude walks by. He bums a smoke, and then, I assure you with no prompting for me, he says, “Yeah, some chick just hit my girlfriend in the head with a rock.”

Now when someone says something so…out of nowhere, I like to play a game I call “Guess The Backstory.” Like maybe he’s at a party, his girlfriend gets into a heated argument about “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” when suddenly a crazed Taylor Lautner fan gets all rock-throwy, and he decides to wander the streets of Bemidji hoping to run into an off-duty paramedic (who smokes, cuz it’s stressful to see your girlfriend hit in the head with a rock)? “Yeah, some chick hit my girlfriend in the head with a rock, and if you happen to know how treat a skull fracture that’d be cool.”

Then there was Random Talking Woman From Down The Street. I’m going to give you three things she’s said to me (although ‘to me’ isn’t really accurate—she simple says them as she passes me without actually looking at me)…now for your writing exercise, you “Guess The Backstory”:

“I’ll put my hair down as soon as it’s not so humid.”

“Thank God I finally got rid of that bassinet.”

(said while carrying a cushion on her head after leaving someone’s house) “At least I got a good chair—if you wanna fight, go ahead.”

I think even Random Talking Woman (her Native name?) would tell you it’s beautiful up here. Lake Bemidji is gorgeous. And at least they went to the trouble to name the lake, rather just describe it.

Amongst Minnesota’s thousand of lakes, it turns out there are several named simply ‘Round Lake.’ Now that’s just being lazy. I don’t know if there’s a state Lake-Naming Commission, but c’mon—were all the good names taken, so the town founders just thought, “Well, it is sorta round.”

There are at least ten thousand famous people are lake-worthy—nobody’s done philosophers, so why not Lake Schopenhauer? Or how about honoring one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time with Emerson Lake and Palmer Lake? But instead, Minnesota has a lake named ‘Woman Lake.” Nice gesture, but go the extra step–be specific. You could…pay tribute to afternoon talk show hosts with Rikki Lake Lake. These are just off the top of my head, people!

My first week wrapped in a heartland americana snuggie ended with watching Bemidji’s annual Fourth of July Parade. It started with what must have been every emergency vehicle in the county (side note: maybe not good planning to tie up all the fire trucks on a weekend when people shoot off fireworks). Then the veteran’s organizations, or more accurately, four old guys in a jeep.

I had to support the local high school band, having walked that path myself (“OK—welcome to marching band…now just so the rest of the students can easily identify you as misfits, we’re gonna make you wear a tall furry hat while you march.”). Not sure why the girls in the flag team were dressed as wood nymphs (sprites? I get nymphs ad sprites mixed up.), but they looked kinda unhappy.

Square dance float? Check. Local car dealers? Check. Local roller derby team? Check—whaaaaat? Well there’s something to boost civic pride! Nothing says country and patriotism like women in spandex crashing into each other at thirty miles an hour.

Ah, America, where we welcome with open arms anyone who can get past a security fence and present their papers, unless you have a suspicious-sounding last name. Now I really don’t mean to dwell on the diversity thing, but it was a parade to celebrate America.

So the whole town comes out for the parade and I see exactly three people of color. It really made me uncomfortable that two of them were on the same float—I was worried the parade was gonna end in some sort of auction. Thankfully, that was not the case.

You know, despite my crusty sarcasm, the parade was actually quite charming. The kids all seemed to have fun, the weather cooperated, and the forest sprites, I’m assuming, got to change out of their freakish outfits. The reality is, how can you not like a town with a roller derby team AND a statue of Paul Bunyan? Just ask Random Talking Woman.

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better than nice

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So for about three months, I lived in Bemidji. Oh wait—I just realized that with the way my mind works, you might be missing some details that would explain why I’m here.

I had a really primo writing gig until a couple months ago, at which point I was laid off. It seems weird to get ‘laid off’ from a creative job—shouldn’t I be pursuing a writing career because I was laid off from my ‘real job?’

But whatever ‘angel investor’ this company was waiting for never came, and they ‘let go’ around thirty of their forty-five employees. Sure glad they ‘let’ us ‘go.’ Nice of them to not force us to…keep working.

Anyway, because of my principled and long-held opposition to the banking industry, I didn’t have—what is it you call money that you haven’t already spent?—oh right, savings. Actually, that’s more because I usually have any ‘extra money’ tied up in weed.

I have an amazing network of friends who have bailed out my ass on many occasions, and thanks to them I’ve bought some time, but the reality is, I haven’t found work, and I’m gonna have to move.

Thankfully, The Girlfriend was willing to take me in. Oh right—I haven’t explained that either. I get a ‘friend request’ on Facebook a few weeks ago from a woman, and I accept. After which I get the following message: “You are now friends with Kara.” Cool. Not sure I know who Kara is, but…cool. A new friend.

Short version—apparently we really ‘clicked’ at a mutual friend’s party six-and-a-half years ago, and she found me on Facebook. I say ‘apparently’ because I don’t remember the party as clearly as she does, in that I don’t remember the party. But apparently, six-and-a-half years ago, I had some game—or she entered a convent six-and-a-half years ago and just got out.

Here’s the beauty part—she gets my sense of humor. Now I’ve dated people with a sense of humor, and they get my jokes, but there always was that one moment where I would say something snarky, and they would look at me like they were watching C-SPAN, and I’d be thinking, “You seriously don’t see why that’s funny? With the thing, and the deal, and that other thing? I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME!”

So this one, this mysterious Kara person, laughs at the same shit I do! She gets my references! Oh yeah, and she’s really smart, and sweet and sexy—but my point is, she gets my references!

There were a few red flags that concerned me. I don’t mean the whole moving-in-together-after-only-knowing-each-other-for-four-weeks-and-one-(apparently)-memorable-night-six-and-a-half years ago—I’m talking about other stuff.

She had two cats. She’s not exactly the Crazy Cat Lady, but she’s only about one cat shy. Talks to her cats in complete sentences? Check. Refrigerator covered with cat-themed magnets? Check. Living room a minefield of cat toys and other cat-related things for me to trip over? Check.

I’m also a little concerned about something she told me when we first started talking about serious relationship-y things. Around week two, she told me she has “issues with men.” I thought this was troublesome, mostly because, demographically, I’ve always identified myself as being a part of that particular group. But so far, I guess, she hasn’t noticed that I’m a man. Damn—that doesn’t sound good at all. What I mean is—never mind.

Besides, with me questioning my career choices, carrying around anxiety disorder, depression and OCD, meeting someone with issues about only one thing is…downright refreshing.

I really do believe in things like romance, and destiny, and kismet, and I may have stumbled into all of those things here. Which brings me back to the concept of ‘here.’

Which for a few months was Bemidji, Minnesota, from the Ojibwe word meaning ‘fours hours from the nearest real city.” Please don’t get me wrong. Though I consider myself an urban guy, I can appreciate small-town charms. The leisurely pace, the friendly neighbors, the WHO AM I KIDDING WHERE ARE THE MUSEUMS, AND THE THEATERS? I WANT TO BE ABLE TO GET THAI FOOD AT ONE IN THE MORNING WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE BARS ARE CLOSED ON SUNDAY GODDAMMIT?!

I didn’t want to judge the place too quickly, so I did a bit of research online. Hey, they’ve got a college here. Let’s see if the campus groups give me a little big-city diversity. There’s gotta at least be a GLBT group—what? Muslim student union? Nope. Hillel for my young Jewish brothers and sisters? Uh…no. There are however, two Christian athletic fellowships and, I’m told, a vibrant Young Republicans group.

Here’s an example of how aggressively bland this part of the country can seem. People in the region refer to a concept known as ‘Minnesota nice.’ It’s never really defined, but it’s culturally midway between the ‘love ya, babe’s of L.A. and the ‘fuck you’s of New York. Born of repressed Nordic stock, and forged by a (let’s be real here, people) uninhabitable climate, ‘Minnesota nice’ is really more ‘Minnesota polite,’ or ‘Minnesota don’t cause a fuss.’ Well…here in Bemidji, there is a café CALLED ‘Minnesota Nice!” Across the street from a secondhand store called ‘Twice But Nice’!

On the plus side, I immediately became one of the edgiest people in town, and I might already be the most famous bisexual Jew in the history of Bemidji.

My urban prejudice notwithstanding, it is lovely there. A beautiful lake, cute little downtown, and I discovered a terrific Italian bistro. I wouldn’t have picked as a relocation destination, but I got a little peace of mind, maybe found a little clarity, and got some writing done. Besides, there was someone there who seemed to want to provide my broken-down middle-aged ass with some nurture. And that has been better than nice.

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fifty is the new forty-five

When did I become that guy?  Seems I was this…other guy for a lotta years. But now I’m that guy. And it’s not like I miss being that other guy, the guy I was in my thirties and forties, it’s that I don’t even recognize him—it’s hard to realize I ever was that guy. There are things I did when I was younger that I can’t imagine doing now, not because they’re all that wild, but because just remembering doing them makes me tired.

So I’m that guy now. I’m the guy who…

says he’s been “sitting too long”—How is that even possible? Sitting is not an activity—you can’t do it ‘too long’!

hears a song on the radio and says “but you can’t understand what they’re singing”!

has so many body parts that pop and crack that when I get out of bed it sounds like an Afro-Caribbean percussion section

goes to a restaurant and says “I need to order something bland”—Seriously? I used to go to a Sri Lankan restaurant in Minneapolis and order level four spiciness , dammit! Level four, do you hear me people?! Now, what,  I have to make sure the mashed potatoes don’t have any…basil because that might not agree with me?

Somehow, I’ve acquired a bunch of twenty-something and thirty-something friends, which definitely makes me feel younger. Although I don’t think they find me cool or hip so much as–intriguing. “He’s really talented…but kinda troubled too…wonder if he’ll snap some night when we’re just hanging out…”

I’ll party with the kids, but it’s different now. I can drink as much as I used to, but I don’t recover as quickly. And I forget this when I go out—maybe bars should require you to check your own ID so that you realize how old you are before you start drinking.

So, the night of my birthday, a group of the ‘kids’ threw me a party at a local Thai restaurant attached to a mall (I know—I’m out of control—pad thai level one all around!). And I was home by the age-appropriate hour of 11:30. Turned on the iTunes, opened a box of cabernet, and realized that I was sitting in a one-room apartment drinking cheap wine and listening to merle haggard, and that I had in fact turned into a country song.

Don’t misunderstand here—I can still rock…I’m just choosing not to. Some cable channel I’d never heard of and didn’t know I had was airing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies from a couple years ago. The highlight had to be Iggy Pop, who was introduced by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day (quick aside to Billie Joe—if you can write a three minute song, maybe you could write a three-minute speech? I swear he mentioned every band that ever recorded an album as being influenced by Iggy). Anyway, Iggy comes out, still visceral, raw and shirtless at 63. I’m only 50, and I catch a terrible chill if I don’t wear my AARP hoodie—meanwhile Mr. Pop is rolling around on stage without a shirt—that’s a good way to catch a cold, mister!

Not sure why, but the other significant act in this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class was Abba. Iggy and Abba. Headlining for eternity at the Opposites Club. Now, as creators of the kind of sterile pop fluff that sticks to the brain like Cheetos dust sticks to your fingers, I love me some Abba, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? That’s like giving Jerry Bruckheimer a Lifetime Achievement honor at the Independent Film Awards. The drop-off in rock and roll credibility from Iggy Pop to Abba was vertigo-inducing. But at least the members of Abba kept their shirts on.

I haven’t been to many live concerts, and now I suppose I’m relegated to seeing age-appropriate music acts. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the Fleet Foxes or Vampire Weekend, but it might feel a little weird to go to one of their shows. Somehow I feel like I’d be harshing everyone’s buzz, like they’d all be looking at me as if I were a chaperone, or a faculty advisor. “You kids get this gym cleaned up if you want to have any more dances.”

A couple years ago I went to see Foghat at the State Fair, and it was none of the same people—I’m pretty sure it was just four guys who happened to own Foghat albums. Last year I actually saw Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Survivor. I haven’t seen that many paunchy white guys in the same venue since the last Republican convention. And that was just on the stage! Thank you–good night! Sorry…I had a little standup flashback there.

So, I’m that guy now. When did I become the sitting-too-long, bland-food-eating, comfortable-music-listening-to guy? I’ll tell you when–a few days ago, when I looked at my ID and remembered that somehow, despite my best self-destructive efforts, I had passed fifty. I actually made it. Sure, I don’t get around like I used to, but on the other hand, I feel like now I’ve got a license to dispense unsolicited advice to everyone I see, because, well, I’m fifty. I may not do a lot anymore, but I damn sure know a lot. And for what I don’t know, I can always just quote Styx lyrics–their stuff was deep.

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