unpacking my life

I like feeling settled. After many years of living on the edge, I love that, when a friend ask me what’s up, I can actually say, ‘Nothing new,’ by which I mean, no new crisis (“Crisis-Free Since 2010!”)

Settled—weird word, since it’s usually a negative (“You settled for this when you could’ve had that?”) Now, I have choice anxiety with everything—an ideal restaurant menu for me would have, like, three or four items, tops, otherwise I spend half an hour just figuring out what appetizer to have (and then, no matter what I choose, I end up envious of what someone else ordered.) So picking a place to live and (gawd no!) settle down, used to make my head explode.

I’ve moved around a lot, sometimes from things, usually away from things, all the while trying to ‘follow my bliss.’ Turns out, apparently, I had my bliss with me all along. Must have been in a suitcase under some sweaters. Understand, Minneapolis had always been my default go-to place when the wheels fell off (I’ve moved here four times), but this time I had a novel idea—maybe I’ll stay.

I got an apartment right the hell where I was, in Minneapolis, and after a few months, I can officially say—I’m happy here. I think it was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or illusionist Doug Henning—I get my vaguely hippie seventies fringe celebrities mixed up) from whom I first heard the phrase “Be here now.” I always knew that was a profound way to live, to be in the present, connected to the now. But my problem was, I was always too busy packing for there, then to devote much time to being here, now.

I lived here for several years in the eighties, but since I always felt I would move somewhere else, I never really tried to ‘grok’ the place (which I’d explain, but I’d rather people read a little Heinlein.) I was always just here ‘until I have enough money to move.’ This time feels different–I intend to embrace Minnesota. To that end, here’s a hotdish full of random Minnesota observations—you might enjoy these with some tater tots!

  • Minnesota, of course, gave the world Garrison Keillor and Prince—although I don’t think they ever shared a stage…A Purple Home Companion?
  • Inventors in Minnesota created the aluminum bundt pan and the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scotch tape and Cream of Wheat—four of the pillars of American society…I might be exaggerating, but they’re all pretty cool.
  • The Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove (“I’ll take Generic Bucolic Place Names for 600, Alex”) has a huge Hindu temple, and Hampton, Minnesota is the site of one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples. Factor in the large Somali and Hmong populations in Minneapolis, and I guess it’s not as monochromatic here as I thought. (Although I would have loved to have been at the Maple Grove city council meetings to hear the objections to the Hindu temple—“It’s not the Hindus we don’t like—it’s those damned finger cymbals…”)
  • This state has the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—welcome to Cognitive Dissonance, Minnesota!
  • There’s a pizza joint here whose drivers, clad in superhero costumes, drive electic cars from their wind-powered store. Stoners in Minnesota probably think they accidentally called the future.
  • Street views of North Oaks, Minnesota are not included in Google Maps, because the privately owned town successfully sued Google for trespassing. We might want to look there for the next terrorist cell.
  • Minnesota was the first state to declare an official state mushroom. This place definitely knows how to celebrate fungus.
  • Longville, Minnesota is the “Turtle Racing Capital of The World’—every Wednesday, right down Main Street. My guess is, the city fathers realized how slow life was in Longville, and figured by having turtles race, visitors would see the turtles and think the people in Longville were leading fast-pace lives by comparison.
  • This is a weird and wonderful state, politically speaking. Forgetting the wrestler and the comedian, the good citizens here saw fit to elect the first Muslim representative to Congress AND an arch conservative Luddite harpie. I think this fiercely independent streak stems from an attitude, as winter starts to descend in November, of “Well, I’m kinda bored, and we haven’t had one of those before..” And despite the presence of people who would elect Michelle Bachman, overall, our lefty cred is pretty solid—we’re the only state Mondale carried, for chrissake.  I think this is because as provincial and reserved as Minnesotans can be in public, in the anonymity of the voting booth, people here end up deciding government oughta do some stuff.
  • Bob Dylan AND Charles Schulz. “It’s Blowin’ In The Wind, Charlie Brown!?”

The only Minnesota thing I can’t get behind is lutefisk, which is cod soaked in lye. Roll that around in your brain. Cod. Soaked in lye. I picture the early settlers thinking “Ya know, I like fish a lot. Amost too much, don’t ya know. Maybe if I added something to the fish, that’s like, a poison. We’ll put it on some dry crackers and call it traditional!”

Every day I remind myself why I fell in love with this very…yin-yangy place. And if I ever start whining about a lack of ‘edge’ here, remind me of these two stories, which happened within a week of each other:

I’m at my neighborhood coffeehouse, doing the same work I’d be doing at home, but here, people can SEE that I’m a writer (“ooh—he’s smoking and he has a laptop…wonder what he’s working on”). Now the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the side of the building—who tags a coffeehouse? What kind of props do you earn marking the local java joint…are there gangs claiming this as turf? “Yo yo yo—acoustic open mic is ours, bitch—you better step off!” Then, as I sit writing this very piece, all of sudden two dudes are fighting. Punches thrown, rolling in the shrubbery, iced mocha splatter everywhere—you expect fisticuffs in front of dive bars, but you rarely see a fight in front of someplace with a special on cranberry-walnut muffins.

Speaking of dive bars, at my nearest watering hole, I spent part of one night talking about the Twins game for an hour with a transgender lesbian biker Navy vet. I’m pretty sure Norman Rockwell never painted that.

Everything’s falling into place for me here, with strange and quirky details, like a film that was started by Fellini, but with a final cut by Bergman. And to top it all off, now our baseball team can suck outdoors, like God intended. Don’t tell the student loan people, but I’m gonna be here for quite a while.

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apartment roulette

After living in Chicago for three years, and in Minneapolis for eight years before that, when I came back to Minneapolis I was kinda freaked to realize that I had turned into—a midwestern guy. Sweet Jesus at the State Fair! Grew up in SoCal, always loved New York, and apparently finding my true home simply required splitting the difference, geographically.

By the way, I loved Chicago. It had everything I liked about New York, but was cheaper and had nicer people. Granted, I could never find a decent deli that knew how to make egg salad like Murray’s, but Chicago has a heart and a soul that feels just about right. Besides, my two favorite spectator sports are baseball and politics, and there ain’t nothin’ like Chicago for sheer surrealism in both. Following the Cubs AND livin’ in the land of Daley—now that’s a veritable carnival of weird, and as a writer, it was like gold.

I was a bit put off by the notion of settling, once and for all, in Minneapolis. I don’t mind Minneapolis, in the way one doesn’t mind eating a casserole (sorry–‘hot dish’), or a comfortable pair of Dockers—they serve a purpose, they won’t annoy anybody, but they won’t ever thrill you, like lobster bisque would, or…whatever the thrilling analogy to Dockers would be.

And yet, I’ve decided I’m good with ‘comfortable.’ Sure, as a writer, I wanted the diversity of New York, and in Minneapolis, a diverse neighborhood means a mix of Norwegians AND Swedes, (it’s not so much a melting pot as it is a nice layer cake). But trying to find a place to live in New York was like trying to find Middle Earth on a map.

The Girlfriend and I might be looking for another place here soon, and I am so glad I don’t have to look alone, because that process can kick your ass. When I last tried to move to New York, I realized I probably wasn’t gonna find a place I could afford in Manhattan, so I started looking at Craigslist for roommate listings near New York that might be affordable.  Now I hadn’tt spent much time in the Outer Boroughs (which always sounds like where you’d get exiled to in Soviet-era Russia), but I had seen a couple of Spike Lee films, so I figured I’ve got a handle on the area, and as far as knowing my way around Jersey, I have “Clerks” on DVD.

There are some phrases you see in more than a few roommate ads, and I guess it’s been a while since I’ve looked into shared housing, but some of them seem a little strange. I think my favorite is when the person posting asks for “no drama,” which puts me in a bit of a quandary as an actor. Does that mean I can’t rehearse at home, or just that I can’t actually mount a full production of “Death Of A Salesman” in the common area? And I’m a little put off if all the roommates in the place are described as mellow, or as the kids say, ‘chill’–I’d be worried I’d be walking onto the set of a Judd Apatow movie. Do I watch too many movies? Anyway, if a couple of the guys living there were a little less ‘chill,’ they probably wouldn’t have to look for a roommate. I also saw a variation of this (which I hope was a typo) that described two ‘chilled’ girls…

I was actually offended by one ad. Guy in his twenties, great place, great location, and right as a I was visualizing moving my suitcases in and learning the schedule of the J train, he writes “please be around my age, older people tend to be set in their ways, and that’s a drag to live around”…I was actually gonna send him a nasty email, but I remembered my tv shows were on, and I never miss my “CSI.”

There was also a listing which might be the best example of ‘TMI’ I’ve ever read. Spent a little time looking at the Philadelphia listings (hey, it’s only an hour and a half by train), and was really tempted by an apartment that was listed right in the heart of the city. Free internet. free laundry, five minute walk to the commuter train, and this:

A cat lives there already that will fight other cats. A former roommate once took heroin and passed out in the middle of the night with the oven on. For obvious reasons, she’s been replaced.

First, note that the cat WILL fight other cats. Not ‘might.’ It will–as if, that’s what they have it for. Secondly…the roommate. Couldn’t just say she’s moved out, no, we needed the pulp novel, Billie Holliday visual. Yeah, she was replaced, but it doesn’t say whether they replaced her with another junkie who just doesn’t attempt any baking. While you’re at it, you might want to replace the cat. Oddly enough, this ad didn’t say ‘no drama.’

On a lighter note, I’ll share my favorite typos. One place seemed charming, and I think they meant ‘large’ furnished apartment, but the headline clearly said the apartment was ‘MARGE FURNISHED.” I imagine moving in, and there’s Marge–because, well, nobody had the heart to ask her to leave.

And my favorite–an apartment that conveniently has a ‘laundrymoat.” I’m thinking this may not even be a typo, but some medieval-inspired building feature, designed to prevent tenants from other building from taking your stuff out of the dryer. And that really couldn’t be a typo–I mean the ‘o’ isn’t near the ‘m’ or the ‘a’ on the keyboard!  They must actually have a ‘laundrymoat‘! I never pursued it, though–they might have a laundrymoat, but unless they have a security drawbridge, I wouldn’t have felt safe. It was New York after all.

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thundersnow and freezing fog

I’m sure you’ll forgive me if, every spring, i refuse to turn even one cartwheel. But I know how this works. Sure, after a relentless winter, we can now enjoy those special two or three weeks before it becomes too hot and humid. Seriously, this was turning into the mythical Winter With No End. And after ten or so winters here, I’m finally starting to realize something very profound–crappy weather sucks.

But what we have in Minnesota is a kind of collective amnesia, a shared mental illness that allows us to conveniently forget, every year, that the weather will turn to shit, every year. Yet we stay, walking around muttering things like “great theater…vibrant music scene” to convince ourselves that it’s actually a good idea to live in a place where on some days, you have to cover your mouth so that you breathe in air that might freeze your lungs!

I lived in Minneapolis for several years in the 80’s and distinctly remember telling my California friends how great it was to live where there’s a change of seasons. And of course, my friends in L.A. would call to give me grief every winter, asking me “How cold is it now?” and “Are you freezing yet?”–as if we don’t have ‘indoors’ here, like there are no cities, simply bands of nomads exposed to the elements. Of course, my snarky vengeance would come every fall, when I would call and ask “Is your shit on fire yet?” or in February when I could ask “Has your house slid down the hill yet?”

Now that I have the wisdom  that comes with middle-age, I think I’m less fond of Old Man Winter than I had been when I was a bit more…spry.  Last night, we got 6 inches of new snow.  I’m looking out my window as I write this, and it’s quite lovely–if I didn’t have to actually WALK OUTSIDE. But take it from a guy with a limp and a cane–one man’s glistening city sidewalk is another man’s treacherous path to the bus stop. Winter wonderland my ass–as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a lot of places where I can slip and crack my skull on the curb.

I try not to bitch about the weather here, but today is one of those ridiculous days. This afternoon, the high temperature will be 15 degrees. Spring training has started, fer chrissake! I really don’t understand how the midwest was even settled. Let’s say the westbound pioneers got here in…June. Beautiful skies over the endless plains, frolicking in the lakes. But a few months later in that first year, when it became butt-fucking cold (an actual meteorological term)…PACK UP AND KEEP GOING WEST! OR HERE’S AN IDEA–GO SOUTH! But don’t just…stay where you are. It’s not like the first Minnesotans were tied to mortgages and school districts–get in the wagon and find someplace warmer! Load up your wagons and take your ad hoc city somewhere else! Some place where a suffocating blanket of cold and ice doesn’t bury you for four months!

And TV weather people don’t help. They seem to perversely relish these ‘weather events.’ I want to hear the anchorman say “Here’s Dave with the live Doppler forecast to tell us what to expect” and have Dave say “Screw that–everybody get out of here! Evil Winter’s coming with her mighty arsenal of cold and ice!” Last night they predicted ‘thundersnow.’ C’mon–that doesn’t even sound real. In Oregon I saw a forecast of ‘freezing fog’. I was pretty sure that was just Portland’s Chamber of Commerce trying to frighten people out of moving there–let’s take TWO shitty weather conditions and pretend they’ve joined forces! And wind chill–is this concept even necessary? Do I need to be reminded that not only is it too cold to be outside, but that it ‘feels’ even colder than it is?

And then there’s my favorite meteorological phrase–‘a wintry mix.’ Now there’s descriptive, verifiable hard science for you. Anyway, I realized a long time ago that weather forecasting is actually just pseudo-science, like astrology, or phrenology. Think about it–when the weatherman says there’s a fifty percent chance of snow, isn’t that basically saying it might snow, or it might not? That’s going out on an empirical limb!

I’ve lived in a lot of cities, and I will say I’ll take cold weather over hurricanes or earthquakes. When I left L.A. after the Northridge quake, people would say “but every place can have disasters.” True enough, but with every other natural disaster get at least some warning. If you’re in Florida and the guy on your teevee says you should leave your home–you usually have the option of LEAVING YOUR HOME. If you live next to a river and it’s rained real hard for real long time, then during that real long time you could FIND HIGHER GROUND. Even tornadoes–if you can’t get to a basement, you at least have a couple minutes after the siren sounds to…I dunno–pray.

But not earthquakes. Not only can they not be predicted (we have the technology to go to freakin’ Mars but we can’t predict when our own planet might break into pieces like peanut brittle?–priorities, scientists?) but when one hits, you have no idea if it’s gonna be a few seconds of gentle rolling or THE CATACLYSMIC RUPTURE  THAT SENDS US ALL PLUNGING INTO THE OPEN MAW OF AN ANGRY EARTH!

So, I suppose I can deal with cold, but I gotta admit, if some opportunity presented itself in say, Austin Texas, I might take it. It might be a hundred degrees for a few months, but you don’t have shovel heat.

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to all the towns i loved before

In all my wandering, I’ve formed very specific relationships with each of the cities I’ve explored. Because really, when you move somewhere new, it’s a lot like dating–you get to know the personality of the place, try to figure out if the two of you are meant to be together…sometimes you have to break up with a place, and sometimes you just end up with some great memories. I decided to reminisce about the cities I’ve been ‘involved’ with.

Los Angeles: Ahh, my first love. I really only started seeing you because you were my neighbor growing up. We met when I went to UCLA, and I thought you were fun. But a guy needs more than fun, and besides, you were always dealing with some sort of drama–earthquakes, fires, mudslides–I needed something more stable in a relationship. It wasn’t till after I left you that I realized how shallow and superficial you really are, but I wish you well–I’m sure you’ll find others who get lured by your easy charm.

Minneapolis (the first time):  My first grownup relationship with a city. You encouraged me with your midwestern nurturing…because of you I was able to pursue my career. You cooked me wild rice soup and were always so nice…but like a typical man, I left because you were too nice. I thought I’d outgrown you, and needed have a little more action in my life. And let’s be honest–you can be really cold.

Boston: I’ll admit it–I was a jerk when we first got together. In my late twenties, making good money as a comedian, I was cocky and full of myself…I used you and had no intention of staying with you. We weren’t right for each other, and to be honest I always resented your provincial ways.

Miami: 1987…You were hot. And you got me into a lot of trouble. I’ve got no hard feelings about the time we spent together–but this was just a fling, all sex and drugs and no romance. I actually saw you again recently, and thought you looked good.

Los Angeles (again): I had no business seeing you again, and during our brief reunion I didn’t feel like I had ever really known you. Maybe it’s my insecurities–you’re almost too pretty for me, and though I still think about you, and I still want you, I can’t see you again.

Portland: After living on the edge for so many years, I found you, and I fell in love. You were so comfortable and low-maintenance. But ultimately, we just spent too much time getting stoned, and I was worried I was becoming complacent. With you, Portland, I didn’t have the drive to accomplish much, but it was cool hanging out.

Chicago: Now you were one helluva lady. A shot and a beer kinda gal who could still dress up and dazzle–in a simpler time, you’d have been called a ‘broad’ and it would have been a compliment. We spent three years together, and I think we could have made a go of it, but then I lost my job, my health became an issue, and I became a burden. It just seemed best to move on–guess it was a mid-life thing, and I had to find myself again.

New York: You know, I had heard about you from friends. Friends who thought we’d be great together. Exciting. Open to anything. We only had two weeks, but what a whirlwind it was (you probably don’t remember, but I actually met you ten years before–at the time you didn’t even notice me, and I left without so much as a goodbye). I think we might give it another try someday. But I’m not ready to commit to you yet. You demand more than I’ve got to give, and let’s be real–you’re used to someone spending a lot of money on you. When I get my shit together, though, I will definitely look you up.

Minneapolis (again):  Why do I always come back to you when the wheels fall off? But here I am. You’re not the most glamorous city–I’ve certainly had wilder nights and more adventurous times, but at this point in life your even temper and Lutheran reserve offer the kind of peace I need. You keep taking me back, even though you know that if something beckons, I’ll might leave you again. But probably not–I’m sure in a few months I’ll be making a hot dish, and we can bundle up like mummies and walk to the Sculpture Garden.

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