i’m your boogie man

Lately, it seems my mind is set on ‘shuffle.’ Which would be fine, if it were like iTunes and all the ‘tracks’ playing in my head were actually favorites. But no, my current playlist consists of:

“(I’m Too Old) To Find A Job”

“My Hip Hurts”

and, for some inexplicable reason,

“Boogie Oogie Oogie”

I realize only that last one is a real song, and that’s too bad. Incidentally, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” represents one of the three lowest points in Grammy Award history

1. (1979)—A Taste of Honey (of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ fame) is awarded the Best New Artist Grammy—also nominated that year? Elvis Costello.

2. (1989)—Jethro Tull is given the award for ‘Best Heavy Metal Album,’ because nothing represents pure Satanic evil and teen rage like a forty-two year old guy standing on one foot playing the freaking flute.

3. (2009)—Violating all the laws of God and man, the Jonas Brothers are allowed to perform with Stevie Wonder.

I thought of all this because I don’t just wake up with a song in my head—no, I’m so ADD I get entire setlists stuck in my head, and this morning I woke up thinking of all the songs I could remember with the word ‘boogie’ in the title (in case you’re curious: ‘Boogie Shoes,’ ‘Boogie Nights,’ ‘Boogie Fever,’ ‘Boogie Wonderland,’ ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman,’ ‘Jungle Boogie’ and ‘Blame It On The Boogie.’

Now I understand that these aren’t the deepest musical sentiments ever expressed, and it has been a few years since I put on my ‘my my my my MY boogie shoes,’ but I think these records actually point to something profound (WARNING! CRACKPOT THEORY AHEAD).

Follow my logic here. All of the above boogie-centric songs charted between 1974 and 1979, and though my late teen years had their share of global issues and hotspots, I don’t remember ever, for instance, worrying about a worldwide economic collapse or crypto-Islamic terrorists. You wanna know what I remember from the news in the seventies? Lines at gas stations were long.

My point is, there have always been bad scary things in the world, but now fear is an inextricable part of the cultural fabric, and I believe this may be because nobody is writing songs about the boogie anymore. Or boogieing (sp?), or other boogie related behavior.

All I’m saying is that when disco was a part of the musical landscape, we weren’t involved in two wars. Coincidence??? I’ll even go so far as to say that disco was a great cultural equalizer, because almost everyone looked stupid dancing to it.

There was a popular t-shirt when I was in college that said “Fuck art–let’s dance.” I’d like to expand that sentiment to “Fuck politics—let’s dance.” Because when I read about a Christine O’Donnell, or a Glenn Beck, sometimes I think maybe they just need a little boogie in their sad, tightly-wound, attention-starved lives.

So much of what passes for discourse and debate today is just anger dressed up in a suit. Maybe if the Tea Partiers would swap their Revolutionary War garb for a white polyester outfit and just dance a little–blow off some steam–maybe after that, both sides could get together and talk about the issues like adults.

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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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