viggo, iggy and me

We are a nation of immigrants, and we have made great strides toward inclusion, but there is still work to be done. Sorry–I thought I was running for office. My point is that, for too long, one group of Americans has been ignored despite its contributions, either marginalized or ignored. I’m referring, of course, to Danish-Americans.

A million and a half Americans have Danish ancestry, which amounts to over one half of one percent of the entire population. That means if you find yourself in a room with two hundred people, at least one of them has Danish roots. But where are the Danish pride parades? Why is there no Danish history month? I’ll tell you why—danskaphobia.

I blame the Swedes. And the Norwegians. And to a small extent the Finns, but mostly the Swedes, with their Swedish…meatballs, and their stupid gigantic stores filled with reasonably-priced furniture. Well let me tell you—Danish people make furniture too, and they don’t force you to assemble it yourself! Ever heard of ‘Danish Modern’? Ever bought an end table? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I live in Minnesota, where Scandinavian roots run deep. Yet even here, when most people hear the word ‘Danish,’ what do they think of? A pastry. Well, I am here to say that I am not a pastry—I am a Danish-American, and I think it is time for Danish-Americans to recognized and, yes—celebrated.

Eighty-nine thousand people in Minnesota can claim Danish ancestry, but are state offices closed on June 5th for Grundlovsdag? No! Why are there no parades to celebrate the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, during which Denmark regained control over parts of Schleswig and Holstein? It’s obvious—anti-Danish policies.

Try to imagine a world without Danes. And I don’t mean a world without Claire Danes, as horrifying as that would be. A Dane carved Mount freaking Rushmore, fer chrissake! You can thank Gutzon Borglum for that. Without Mount Rushmore, South Dakota would be known for the fact that Citibank bases its credit card division in Sioux Falls.

I could go on and on about Danish contributions to our daily lives. And I will. Ever thought to your self “I like cream in my coffee, and I wonder whom I should credit with patenting the first centrifugal cream separator?” That’d be a Dane. Football fan? How ‘bout the all-time leading scorer in NFL history, Morten Hedegaard Anderson. Twenty-five hundred and forty-four points, bitches. Ever listen to…music? Then you’ve probably listened through Jensen speakers—and yeah, Jensen was Danish. Wondered why Two and a Half Men is still on the air? You can thank Arthur Nielsen, creator of the Nielsen ratings. Wait, that’s not a good thing.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “So Danish-Americans have done some interesting random things, but have they had any impact on politics?” I’m glad you asked. Janet Reno, first female attorney-general, ring a bell? What about Lloyd Bentsen, one of the most famous unsuccessful vice-presidential candidates in U.S. history? That’s right—Danish.

You want celebrities? You like heavy metal? Metallica’s founder, Lars Ulrich? Big ol’ Dane. Scarlett Johansson, Viggo Mortensen, Iggy Pop…if you’re looking for someone to crawl through broken glass onstage, or someone to play a Russian gangster onscreen, or someone to be…insanely attractive–you’re gonna want a Dane.

I’m guessing some of you use a Bluetooth for all those important business calls. Well, the first king of Denmark, the son of Gorm the Old, a guy named Harold Bluetooth! When you were in college, did you ever spend Spring Break in the Virgin Islands? Guess who sold the Virgin Islands to the U.S.—yep, that would be Denmark.

It’s important for Danes to hang on to our traditions. Traditional foods, like liver paste and beet sandwiches. Yum! When we raise a toast and say ‘Skol!,’ we need to remember that the word ‘skol’ comes from the Viking tradition of drinking from the skulls of our enemies. How cool is that?

As Danish-Americans, we have much to be proud of. We have two national anthems—obviously, everyone knows Der Er Yndigt Land, but there’s also the much more hummable King Christian Stood By Lofty Mast. And don’t forget—we’re in charge of Greenland. So, the next time you sit down to enjoy some rød grød med fløde in a Royal Copenhagen bowl, think of how much Danish-Americans have done for this country. We will be ignored no longer—Danish pride! Det er et lille land, men i det mindste, vi har universel sundhedspleje (We are a tiny country, but at least we have universal health care.)

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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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