Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a Denver/homeless guy story.

The summer after I graduated from college, I had big plans. I was going to move to Denver and begin my very first museum internship. I was thrilled: for the first time in my life, I was going to live in a metropolitan area. The biggest city I’d lived in until that point was Morris, Minnesota: boasting a population of just over 5,000. It was big enough for a McDonald’s, but not much else. I grew up in a town of less than one thousand people, so Morris itself was something different for me. They had a 24-hour grocery store, for crying out loud.

I graduated with degrees in English and Art History, so obviously, my job prospects were slim. So I set out to do what so many Art History majors have done before me: gain experience through an unpaid internship. I thought it sounded great. I could hang out in the museum and learn what happened behind the scenes, AND I got to live in the mountains! My aunt and uncle who lived there were kind enough to put me up for the summer, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to find an apartment. Sure, the whole not getting paid thing was kind of a drag, but finding a part-time job would be easy as pie, right?

Wrong. I graduated in May 2009, and the economy was in the dumps. When I arrived in Denver, I expected to have a job within a week; two weeks tops. I was applying at restaurants, stores, you name it: nothing. I was astonished. I had never had to REALLY search for a job before: I had only worked in smaller towns where it wasn’t nearly as difficult to land a part-time job. In Denver, I was finding it next to impossible.

For the first time in years, I was unemployed. I had worked summers in high school and all throughout college, and here I was: a college graduate who was jobless in Denver. I was used to living on a tight budget: that was probably one of the most useful things I learned in college. However, I was NOT used to living on a budget with that involved no income. That was something new.

My internship was twenty hours a week in downtown Denver. 
My museum circa summer 2009. Pretty sweet, huh?
My aunt and uncle lived outside of Denver, so I took the bus into the city every day. This was my first experience with public transportation, and let me tell you, it was an eye-opener. The bus I rode was actually kind of fun. There were all sorts of regulars: there was the girl who dressed like she came straight out of 1992, and there was the guy who looked exactly like Buster Bluth. 
There was also the guy who sat down next to me and offered me Russian interpretation services.

Since my internship was only twenty hours a week, I had to find something else to fill my time… preferably, something free. I couldn’t get a library card without a.) becoming a permanent resident of Denver, or b.) paying a rather large fee, so that was out of the question. I did my fair share of exploring downtown, but there’s only so much you can do there for free. I eventually began borrowing books from my aunt and uncle and settling in the park outside the capital building. 
The view from the tippy-top of the museum.
The park in question can be seen on the left.
This was the perfect activity. It was peaceful, and summertime in the mountains is a wonderful time of year. I had it made… that is, until the homeless people noticed me.

One afternoon, I was sitting quietly on a park bench, reading a collection of short stories. Suddenly, I heard someone approach from behind me. Unnerving, yes, but I figured it would be fine. It was daylight, after all. “Hey,” slurred a voice from behind me. “Whatcha reading?” I ignored the voice, hoping it would just go away. Of course, that never works. A middle-aged, dirty man emerged from behind the bench and sat down next to me. The smell of body odor and cheap alcohol was overwhelming. Once again, I tried to ignore my new friend, hoping he’d pick up on the hint. Surprise surprise, he didn’t.

When Homeless Drunk Guy realized he couldn’t get my attention from the side, he tried a new strategy. He came and squatted down directly in front of me. “HEY,” he said, louder this time. As I was all alone in the park with this guy, I decided it was in my best interest not to make him angry. So this time, I looked up from my book. “Hey,” he said again. I was beginning to think that “hey” was the only thing he was going to say to me. I was wrong. “I like your blue eyes. You know… you look like a couple of my ex-wives,” he said. How lucky for me.

“So… you like to read, eh?” Homeless Drunk Guy was not giving up. He reclaimed his place on the bench. “Do you like to read the Bible? What do you know about the Bible?” As uncomfortable as this encounter was making me, I have to admit that I was curious to see where it was going. “I know enough about it,” I said, keeping my eyes in my book. “Oh?” he responded, seeming surprised. “Do you remember the part where… uh… the guy did that one thing, and there was fire? Or something. Anyway, do you think I’ll go to heaven?” Clearly, this conversation was taking a turn for the weird. It was time for me to end it.

I stood up and gave him some excuse about being late for a meeting. Lucky for me, homeless drunk guys are easy to fool. “But,” he spluttered, “I don’t know your name! Pleeeeeeease tell me your name.” I told him that my name was Shirley, which he seemed happy with. “Shirley, how old are you?” I was 22 years old at the time, but I smiled sweetly and told him that I was 16, hoping that this would deter him from continuing to hit on me. Once again, I was wrong. “Shirley, would you ever marry a guy like me?” Homeless Drunk Guy implored. I turned and walked away. “Shirley, wait!” he called. “Marry me!” Thankfully, he was drunk, so he couldn’t come after me very quickly. I power-walked my way out of the park and immediately called my dad: just in case Homeless Drunk Guy did catch up with me, I wanted somebody to know what to tell the police.

Dad, of course, was less than pleased to hear this story. He asked me if I would please stop hanging out in that downtown park, and I hastily agreed. Thankfully, it wasn’t too much later that I got a part-time job, so my free time all but evaporated. Honestly, I was fine with it.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last uncomfortable encounter that summer in downtown Denver. The museum offices were located several blocks away from the museum itself, so you had to walk through that same park to get from Point A to Point B. Walking that way, I heard all sorts of propositions, most of them beginning with “hey baby.” Not that I’m any great beauty, but the homeless population of Denver seemed to think that I was Venus herself. Maybe they could tell that I was an out-of-towner.

My poor parents heard these stories all the time. Being nearly 700 miles away, there wasn’t much they could do about it. I rode with my aunt and uncle back to South Dakota for a quick visit in early July, and my parents were relieved to see that I was (more or less) in one piece. Mom did have something to send back with me, though: a fake engagement ring. 
I'm not sure WHY my mom had a fake engagement
ring, but it was rather helpful.
She asked me to wear it when I was walking downtown; anything to deter the romantic advances of the park folk. We even came up with a fake fiancé: he would be a body builder with anger issues who was extremely jealous. I like to think that his name was Jean-Claude.

You probably assumed that I made it out of Denver alive. Indeed I did, but certainly wiser because of it. After Denver came New Orleans, which was full of unexpected adventures of its own. That Christmas, my parents put Mace in my stocking. My next move was to Minneapolis, which was considerably less interesting (story-wise) than my other two internship cities. And now, here I am in Sioux Falls. I have yet to see how that turns out. I do still have my fake engagement ring, though. You never know when you’re going to need one of those.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a sparkly poetry story.

Once upon a time, I was a freshman in college. A great many things happened during my freshman year: I made new friends, learned that I wasn’t meant to be a psychology major, and found out what it was like to have to buy my own groceries. I did a lot of things that year, some memorable, some not so much. There is one thing I will never forget about my freshman year, and it’s not even something I did: for this memory, I can thank my dad.

I’d better start at the top. I signed up for college band when I registered for classes the summer before I began college. I had my doubts, but it fit perfectly into my schedule, and a little dorky part of me knew I’d miss playing my horn. Turns out it was the best decision I could’ve made. I played some truly strange music and met the greatest people. Concert band led to jazz band, where I met even more great people and got to go to New Orleans. This story, though, is about the final concert of my freshman year.

Our concert band director was a crazy guy. He was only around for my freshman year, but he certainly made an impression. He had this grand idea for the last concert of the year: one of the pieces was going to be a multimedia performance. Yes: multimedia. Keep in mind that this is a liberal arts college that I’m talking about. We were performing a piece called “Sparkle” that was composed by a UMM alumnus. This concert would be the world premiere of “Sparkle,” and our director wanted to draw a crowd. He was going to bring in painters and dancers; he was going to create a slideshow with photos that sparkled, and he was planning on handing out paper and pencils to the audience so they could write “Sparkle”-inspired poetry. It was very liberal arts of our director, and he was sure it would be a hit.

We spent the entire week before the concert rehearsing in the concert hall. It wasn’t until the last day or two, though, that the dancers were brought in. The dancers were instructed to do interpretive dances in the concert hall’s walkways. I can’t speak for my fellow musicians, but I found myself incredibly distracted. I wanted to see what “Sparkle” would look like as a dance, and the dancers mostly just looked uncomfortable. As for the slideshow and the painters, we weren’t going to rehearse with them. The slideshow screen would hover above our heads, so as long as nobody stood up, that would be fine. 
I have no idea what the director put in the
"Sparkle" slideshow, but I'd like to think
that this picture was involved.
The artists, however, were not invited to the rehearsals. The director didn’t want the painters to hear “Sparkle” ahead of time: they were supposed to create paintings based on their initial reaction to the music.

My parents had been incredibly faithful concert attendees. My mom actually knew my concert schedule better than I did. When I called to tell them about this concert, I hesitantly mentioned the multimedia portion. I didn’t want them to come all the way to the concert without knowing what to expect. My mom and my sister couldn’t attend this concert; Mom was chaperoning Darrah’s high school band trip to St Louis. Dad planned on coming, as did my brother Mitch. They also planned to bring along our neighbors: my friend Sarah, her brother Dylan, and their mom, Sharon.
Sarah and me after the concert. See how happy we are
that it was finally over?!
The day of the concert arrived, and I spotted my cheering section in no time. The first half of the concert was fairly normal; I don’t remember what we played, but it certainly paled in comparison to the freak show that was the second half. As the painters were setting up their easels and the dancers were taking their places, our director gave his spiel about what was going on. I could see the befuddled looks on the faces of the concert-goers; clearly, not too many of my fellow performers had warned their families beforehand. Out front with the programs, there had been a basket of paper and pencils free for the taking. The director then explained what these were for: he wanted the audience to write poems based on “Sparkle.” They were supposed to let the music inspire them. The audience members’ eyebrows rose even higher. I’m certain they were wondering if they could sneak out without anyone noticing.

“Sparkle” began, and the dancers gyrated in the walkways. They were dressed in black and had colorful scarves: it was the closest to avant-garde they could get, apparently. We couldn’t see what the painters were doing; their artwork faced the audience. I could, however, see my dad, and he was writing something. I figured that he and Mitch were just passing notes back and forth about how hokey this whole concert was. I was in for a major surprise.

“Sparkle” finally ended, much to our relief and the relief of the concert attendees. “Now,” said the director, turning to face the audience. “Does anyone have a poem they’d like to share?” To my utter horror, I saw my dad look over one shoulder, than the other. It hit me: he had a poem to read. When Dad saw that there was no one clamoring to read their poem, he stood up to read his poem. I thought I was fairly safe; not too many of my bandmates knew that this guy was my dad. He began his poem:

“Five of us came from SD 
(my thought: “Well, there could be others from South Dakota…”)
To see my daughter, Calla B. 
(every single person in the band turned to look at me. Busted.)
She really makes her father beam
Now, if only the Twins had a team!”

Before he sat down, Dad followed with his alternate ending:
“She’s just about as good as she can get
If only she played the trumpet!”

The concert band members actually applauded, and the audience was also quite appreciative: any poem that mentions the Twins is ok in their book. The director, though, was not quite as amused. He was looking for something a little more “sparkly.” He said, “Uh… thanks. Anyone else…?” There was silence: how could anyone follow my dad’s poetic work of art?! Finally, someone (the director’s wife) did stand up and read a poem consisting entirely of adjectives.

Mercifully, the concert ended there. As soon as we were off the stage, the other band members clamored to talk to me. “Calla, that was your DAD?! He’s AWESOME!” was the consensus. Many of the band members (and the audience members, come to think of it) actually sought out my dad to introduce themselves and tell them how great his poem was. James (the boyfriend, but not at the time) played trumpet in the band, and his parents had come to the concert. I’d met them once before, but they had never met my dad. After the concert, James’s parents (who had been sitting right in front of Dad) introduced themselves to Dad, saying, “We KNEW there was a reason we liked your daughter!”

For the next three years of my college career, I remained in at least one band: jazz or concert (and sometimes both). At any performance, there was always someone who said, “Calla, remember that time your dad wrote that poem? That was the best concert EVER.” There were a few prospective students in the audience that day, and they eventually came to Morris and joined the band. They would hear someone mention that poem and say, “Calla, that was YOUR dad?! That was amazing!”

And that, my friends, is how my dad became better known at my college than I was. To this very day, my college friends will mention that concert fondly. Without my dad, it would’ve just been some weird liberal arts conceptual mumbo-jumbo, but he brought it back to where everyone wanted it to be: Twins Territory, that is!
Never forget it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

really pathetic laundry stories.

I am one of the least domestic people you will ever meet. Cooking? Only if it involves a microwave. Ironing? The only time I’ve ironed anything was the time I made goofy t-shirts for Talk Like a Pirate Day. Vacuuming? Only if I can’t figure out a good reason to put it off (and I usually can). Don’t ask me to help you scrapbook, because I’ll just do more harm than good. God forbid anyone asks me to plan a bridal/baby shower, because I will most likely buy a pizza and call it a day. No, I never have been and never will be good at those kinds of things.

A prime example of my domestic ineptitude would be my history with laundry. When I was a kid, Mom did the laundry, and the most I had to do was gather it from my siblings’ and my rooms. When I was a child, Mom asked me to put the clothes in the washing machine. I readily agreed, and I carted the laundry with me to the basement. Mom loves to tell the story about how I came upstairs a few minutes later and bewilderedly asked her which one was the washing machine. That was more or less the end of my laundry career. Every now and again, if Mom was really desperate for help, she’d ask me to sort the laundry into lights and darks. I even struggled with that. That green shirt could be a light OR a dark, and I wasn’t about to be the one who screwed up the laundry. And don’t even get me started on clothes with multiple colors: stripes were the worst.

It should be no surprise, then, as I grew older and started buying my own clothes, I paid close attention to the labels. Not labels as in brands: labels as in washing instructions. I avoided anything and everything that said “hand wash” or, even worse, “dry clean only.” If my clothes were wrinkly, oh well: rather than iron them, I would wear the wrinkly clothes and hope that no one noticed.

My laundry troubles only grew when I went to college and discovered that I now had to PAY to wash my clothes! I learned to hoard quarters and ration clothes carefully: you saved your best clothes for the weekends and wore all the other junk during the week. You wouldn’t want to be caught in something less than wonderful at the local skeezy house party! Like any other college student, I brought along loads of laundry every time I came to visit my parents. I had never realized what a luxury it was: I didn’t have to pay to wash my clothes there, and I didn’t have to babysit my laundry for fear someone would remove it prematurely from the washing machine so they themselves could take over. The college laundry room was a brutal place.

The following year, the campus did away with the coin-operated machines and laundry was free! What a wonderful year that was. I washed my clothes on a regular person schedule of once a week, as opposed to the college person schedule of “whenever I can find enough quarters” or the more dire “whenever I run out of underwear.” You still had to watch your laundry in case someone snaked your machine, but it wasn’t nearly as painful since it was free. That was definitely the best of my sophomore year of college.

During my junior and senior years, I lived off-campus in a house with a number of my friends. We had a washer and dryer in the basement, so I felt as though I could continue washing my clothes whenever I darn well pleased. And here, I wouldn’t have to sit and watch my clothes! How wonderful! Or so I thought…

It didn’t take long before I realized that something wasn’t quite right with the dryer. The straps on some of my tank tops looked a little singed. Odd, indeed. I kept on washing and drying my clothes like I always did, until the day that the tank top straps were practically burned in half. Some of my other clothes had rusty-looking streaks across them… what on earth was the problem?! I asked my other roommates if they’d had the same problem, and they confirmed that the dryer was destroying their clothes, as well. The clothes would get caught somewhere in the dryer, and it would proceed to BURN them. I stopped using the Dryer from Hell immediately and began dragging my laundry to my parents’ house again.

The only thing that the dryer didn’t ruin was jeans. Since the material was so much thicker than all of my other wimpy college clothes, the Hell Dryer was no match for denim. I could continue to dry my jeans, but nothing else. One day, I decide to wash my winter coat with my jeans. It was thick; it could certainly withstand the wrath of the Hell Dryer. So I tossed my red coat in the washing machine with several pairs of jeans. My red wool coat. I bet you know where this is going.

When I pulled my clothes out of the washing machine, my coat looked slightly smaller, and all my jeans had a pink tint. Yes. Because I’m an idiot, I dyed my jeans pink. I immediately called my mom to find out how to fix it. After she stopped laughing, she told me that I was more or less out of luck. I could try washing them again (without the red coat), which I did. Sadly, the second time through the wash did nothing: I was stuck with a whole bunch of purply-colored jeans.

My laundry misadventures continued into my basement apartment in Plymouth, Minnesota. James and I lived in a converted garage underneath someone’s house (thanks, Craigslist!), so we had no washer and dryer. We were banished to, horror of horrors, the laundromat, which is just about my least favorite place on earth. James and I went to the cheapest place we could find, and unfortunately, “cheap” and “scary” go hand-in-hand in laundromat world. Whenever the time came to do laundry, we brought along books and tried not to make eye contact with anybody.
Never trust a place with dryers bigger than you.
One evening, I was in dire need of clean pairs of jeans. James wasn’t getting home until late, and there was no way I was going to the creepy laundromat by myself. Like any logically challenged individual, I decided that I was going to wash my jeans in the shower. The shower in question had no bathtub attached… it was just a shower. You can imagine how well this turned out. I all but flooded the bathroom trying to get my jeans rinsed out. Then, there was the question of how to dry them. I squeezed all the water I could out of said jeans, but they were still sopping wet and weighed about a ton. Since I am brilliant, I thought it would be best to hang the jeans on outside. Did I mention that it was February? James came home to find three pairs of frozen jean-cicles draped on the railing. I sheepishly explained my seemingly ingenious plan, and I thought James was going to suffocate; he was laughing so hard. Turns out I’m good at making people laugh when it comes to my laundry ideas.

And now, here I am, living in my lovely Sioux Falls apartment and STILL bringing laundry home to my parents. When will I grow out of that? Not until I have a washer and dryer of my very own. A washer, I might add, that gets all the soap out of the clothes (unlike the washer in Minneapolis) and a dryer that doesn’t burn anything (Morris dryer) or leave nasty little lint particles all over your partially-dried clothing (Sioux Falls dryer). Is that really too much to ask? It’s not for lack of effort that I reverted to my parents’ laundry room; I just have high expectations that none of my laundry facilities have been able to meet. Plus, I never have enough quarters.

Monday, February 13, 2012

top ten love songs: part II (the awesome stuff).

It’s time to move on to Part II of my Valentine’s Day song list. This list is much more up my alley: nothing sugary sweet about these songs. These are the songs that are really not all that romantic, but they’re still about love (unrequited or otherwise). I like to call this set of songs “Less Romantic, More Awesome.”

Boston: “More Than a Feeling”
Nothing says love like rock from the late 1970s. “More Than a Feeling” is about, as I’m sure you know, a woman named Mary Ann and how much the lead singer wants her back. Some old familiar song triggered all sorts of memories, and now we’ve got this awesome song. It may be cheesy and over the top, but I dare you NOT to rock out when they get to the guitar solo.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: “Dammit, Janet”
Ever since I first heard this song, I’ve wished I had a friend named Janet so I could address her as such. This is one of the first few songs of Rocky Horror, before the cross dressing really kicks in. This song is how Brad (Barry Bostwick! awesome!) proposes to Janet (a pre-Tim Robbins Susan Sarandon). It’s really cute: “the road was long, but I ran it (Janet)/there’s a fire in my heart and you fan it (Janet)/if there’s one fool for you than I am it (Janet)/I’ve one thing to say, and that’s dammit, Janet, I love you!”

Rainbow: “Since You Been Gone”
Not to be confused with the Kelly Clarkson song of the same title, Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone” is pure late 1970s delight. With their piercing near-falsettos and all that guitar, you can’t help but love it. “Since You Been Gone” is very much along the lines of “More Than a Feeling,” except that the Rainbow guy was reminded of his girl by a dream (as opposed to the Boston guy’s song reminding him of Mary Ann). Short on subject material? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

The Kinks: “Lola”
“Lola” is a sweet little song about a young man who encounters a woman named Lola in a Soho club. He is impressed by Lola’s size and strength: “when she squeezed me tight, she nearly broke my spine.” However, at the end of the song, he realizes that Lola is not who she seems: “I’m not the world’s most masculine guy, but I know what I am, and I bet I’m a man… so is Lola.” What makes this song really sweet is that he stays with Lola all the same.

Adam Sandler: “Red Hooded Sweatshirt”
“Red Hooded Sweatshirt” premiered on Saturday Night Live especially for Valentine’s Day, and it’s a love song from Adam Sandler to his red hooded sweatshirt. Generally, I don’t think Adam Sandler is that funny, but this song is wonderful. The best line from the song goes: “oh, what is it about you that makes me so jolly?/is it your 50 cotton, or your 50 poly?” My friend Allison introduced me to this song, and she spent a fair amount of time searching for the perfect red hooded sweatshirt: of course, it had to be 50% cotton and 50% polyester. This was more of a challenge than one might realize when you are too young for a driver’s license and your only real shopping option is the Brookings WalMart. Allison did eventually find her red hooded sweatshirt, and I’m certain she sang this song every time she wore it.  

Nelson: “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”
Meet the Nelson brothers: Gunnar and Matthew, owners of some of the most glorious hair I've ever seen. They are twin sons of Ricky Nelson, who in turn is the son of Ozzie and Harriet. The Nelsons were once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only family to reach number one status in three successive generations. Anyway, this song was written about a crush on Cindy Crawford, which makes the song slightly more creepy. In any case, it’s the epitome of early 1990s rock, and I love every second of it.

Johnny Cash: “Ring of Fire”
You can always count on the Man in Black’s for something wonderful. Cash himself stated that this song is about “the transformative power of love,” so I’m going to go ahead and take his word for it. As we know, love can burn, burn, burn. But when you’ve got Johnny Cash singing to you about it AND you add a mariachi band, you’ve gone one great song.

The Turtles: “Elenore”
After their number one hit “Happy Together,” the Turtles were asked to create more songs like it. Their cheeky response was “Elenore,” possibly the only Billboard Top 100 song to contain the phrase “et cetera.” The lyrics go: “Elenore, gee, I think you’re swell/and you really do me well/you’re my pride and joy, et cetera.” How can you not love a song with lyrics like that?

Queen: “Somebody to Love”
This song is about the lack of love, but it’s a love song all the same. Freddie Mercury just wants somebody to love – is that too much to ask? The lyrics really are quite sad: “each morning I get up, I die a little/can barely stand on my feet.” Poor lonely Freddie! Though it’s kind of depressing, “Somebody to Love” showcases Freddie Mercury at his best… the man had a VOICE.

Meatloaf: “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
This song falls into the “songs I totally love but don’t want to admit it” category. But now I'm admitting it to the internet. Who can resist Meatloaf, anyway? Not me, that’s for sure. He had me with that rockin’ keyboard intro. As the title suggests, the song is all about Meatloaf doing anything for love – except that. What is “that”? Only Meatloaf knows, and he’s not telling.
So that's my list: twenty of my favorite love songs of all time. I don't know about you, but I'll be listening to any combination of these songs on Valentine's Day while I eat my candy and spend the day dotting my i's with little hearts. Ok, so I won't be doing that last part... all day. Whatever you end up doing, I hope you have a great Valentine's Day with your spouse, partner, boy/girlfriend, family, pets, or whoever loves you. :) 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

top ten love songs: part I (the sappy stuff).

As the card companies and jewelry stores will tell you, Valentine’s Day is a-comin’. Love it or hate it, there’s no stopping it. I am about the least romantic person you’ll ever meet, but I’ve never had a problem with it. To me, Valentine’s Day meant one thing, and one thing only: candy. Some years, I got more candy on Valentine’s Day than I did on Halloween. Valentine’s Day was not about boyfriends or true love or any of that garbage; it was about receiving candy and handing out the goofiest Valentine cards you could find.

Since I celebrate Valentine’s Day for the wrong reasons, I do enjoy the holiday. In celebration of a day full of chocolate heart-shaped treats, I present a two-part Valentine’s Day blog: love songs.

I know what you’re thinking: love songs? Didn’t I just say I wasn’t romantic? It’s true: I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy music. I loved some of these songs before I even KNEW they were love songs. I divided them into two sections: the first section contains songs that are pretty easily pegged as love songs – they tend to be sweet and nice and there’s no question about it. However, most of these love songs are about fleeting love, so even I can handle it. The second section, however, consists of songs that I personally would categorize as love songs, but they’re a whole lot less romantic. Here we have Part I: Romantic Love Songs. I’ll do my best to stomach it.

Simon and Garfunkel: “Kathy’s Song”
In order to fully grasp my appreciation of this song, one must fully grasp my appreciation of Simon and Garfunkel. I spent a solid five years during junior high and high school listening to almost nothing but oldies radio, and Simon and Garfunkel emerged as my clear favorites. I was a die-hard fan… about 35 years after their prime. I had all of their albums on CD and vinyl, and my friend Sarah and I even went to one of their reunion concerts in 2003. In any case, while “Kathy’s Song” is not my favorite Simon and Garfunkel song, it is one of my favorite love songs. Paul Simon wrote it after he had spent some time in England, where he met a girl named Kathy. The song is short and sweet, and it’s all about how much he misses her. SPOILER ALERT: Paul Simon and the mysterious Kathy never did end up together, but Paul Simon did end up (briefly) marrying Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia. 

Tommy James and the Shondells: “Crimson and Clover”
I so clearly remember the very first time I heard “Crimson and Clover.” I was driving in the Buick, listening to the radio. Towards the end of the song, the music gets all wobbly. (Fun useless fact: this effect was achieved by plugging the microphone into a guitar amplifier and flipping the tremolo switch.) I thought my radio had blown a gasket, and I certainly couldn’t live without my radio. Just as I was calculating how much I’d have to save to get it switched, the song ended and everything went back to normal. “Crimson and Clover” has been one of my favorites ever since.

Neutral Milk Hotel: “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
As evidenced by their name, Neutral Milk Hotel is one weird band. Many of their songs are just plain bizarre, but this one is bizarre in a “weird, but what a nice sentiment” kind of way. With lines like “but for now we are young/let us lay in the sun/and count every beautiful thing we can see,” it’s easy to look past the peculiarity of the song and just take in how sweet it really is.

Donovan: “Catch the Wind”
“Catch the Wind” is a love song without the happy ending. The song is about how wonderful it would be to be able to be with this woman, but it is impossible because of how flighty she is. You feel bad for the poor narrator; he’s smitten, but he knows it will never work. The lyrics are endearing just the same: “for me to love you now would be the sweetest thing/’twould make me sing/ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.”

West Side Story: “Tonight”
West Side Story has never been one of my favorite movies. I know, I know: Romeo and Juliet, blah blah blah. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I’ve never been thrilled with the idea of love at first sight. Tony and Maria have known each other for approximately two seconds (give or take) when they sing this song. Gag. All that aside, it really is a nice song about how love makes the world a better place. That is, until the gag war, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Frank Sinatra: “The Way You Look Tonight”
Old Blue Eyes never fails you come Valentine’s Day. That smooth voice, that smile. This song is a must-have at any respectable wedding. Sinatra sings about always remembering you “just the way you look tonight,” come what may. I’m no romantic, but this song can melt even my cynical heart.

Pete Yorn: “Precious Stone”
Much like “Catch the Wind,” “Precious Stone” is about impossible love. In this case, the relationship’s end is inevitable, even though the narrator doesn’t want it to be: “I know you know it’s going nowhere/and I feel the hurt from miles and miles/cause I want to be with you forever/I want to be your precious stone/I’ll never be your precious stone.” It’s really quite sad; the rest of the lyrics are about how incredible this woman is and how much he really does love her. Poor Pete Yorn. Life is tough.

The Beatles: “Here, There, and Everywhere”
This is really a nice song. It’s about the narrator’s love for a woman who apparently has super powers: “changing my life with a wave of her hand.” Ok, maybe she doesn’t have super powers. But in this case, whatever the two of them have must be something special.

Elton John – “Your Song”
Elton John is generally not the first person you think of when you think of love songs. I tend to associate him more with sparkly glasses and giant platform boots. However, “Your Song” is really quite nice. Elton John sings about “how wonderful life is/while you’re in the world.” Aww, fer cute!

The Proclaimers: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
This song is about a guy who is very insistent that he’s going to be the one in this girl’s life. He’s gonna be the one getting drunk next to her, and he’s gonna be the man who’s coming home to her. He isn’t quite as bossy as he sounds: he’s willing to give her all his paychecks and will walk 500 miles, and then 500 more “just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door.” Now that’s dedication.

So there you have it. My top 10 romantic-ish love songs. Now that we've gotten all the drippy stuff out of the way, stay tuned for part II: less romantic, more awesome!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

a little blue coupe story.

Everyone remembers their first love. Maybe it’s your high school prom date or that charming young lady you met on Craigslist. I’ve had a number of little crushes in my time: Leonardo di Caprio, that one guy at band camp, 1960s-era Art Garfunkel (don’t judge). But my first true love came along when I was 17, and I’ll never forget her. Yes, her: my little blue coupe named Susie.
Note: not actually my car. This is just a stand-in until
I can find a picture of the REAL Susie. 
When I began driving at 14, my parents were ecstatic. Finally, they weren’t the sole means of transportation around the house. I could take my siblings to Tae Kwon Do, I could run to the grocery store, I could get myself to my own dentist appointments… life was good. However, in order for me to begin my career as a chauffeur, I needed to get me some wheels.

My wheels came in the form of a 1987 Buick Park Avenue. 
Not actually my Buick. But it was silver and had whitewall
tires, so really, what's the difference?
It was a pretty sweet car in its day, and it came to us via my grandmother. When I was a kid, I loved riding around in that Buick. With its blue velvet seats and automatic windows, it was the lap of luxury. Even at 14, I was thrilled to have it come my way. Considering my only other method of transportation was my metallic pink bicycle, having that Buick was more than anything I ever could've imagined.

I immediately began making my car "cool," or as cool as a then-fourteen-year-old car inherited from one's grandmother can be. Keychains, fuzzy dice, Spiderman floormats... my Buick was everything I had hoped for and more. My friends and I dubbed it the Batmobuick, and I believe it gave us the best years of its life.

The Batmobuick had its fair share of problems, though. One of them was undoubtedly my fault: at 16, I cruised through a yield sign and got t-boned by a guy in a nicer Buick. I put a big ol' dent in the passenger side door... on my mom's birthday, no less. Fun fact: that was the last ticket I've gotten. Almost eleven years later, I am ticket-free. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

We kept the Buick in my dad's machine shed, which, as we found out the hard way, was anything but mouse-proof. One spring, a mouse crawled in the heating vents of the Buick and proceeded to die. Once we figured out what was happening, Dad took the car to get checked out. The verdict? There was no way to access that little dead mouse. We were stuck with it, and I was going to have tough it out. I wasn’t thrilled, but I thought I could handle it. How bad could it be? The answer was BAD. My passengers and I spent the whole summer smelling dead rotting mouse. When winter rolled around, I thought I'd be rid of the stench. No dice: the heater just warmed up whatever was left of that mouse, and it lingered well into the following spring.

By this time, I was approaching 17 and the end of my junior year of high school. The Batmobuick was hanging on, but not by much. I had spent all summer working at the nearby church camp and had been (uncharacteristically) saving most of my earnings. With just over three thousand dollars in my savings account, Dad and I decided it was time to put my money to work.

We had just barely started looking when Dad and I drove through the discount lot in Watertown. But then I saw her. An adorable 1998 blue Ford Escort ZX2, the very car I had admired as a youngster when its ads first appeared in Newsweek. (Yes, I read Newsweek as a preteen. No big deal.) It was love at first sight.
Just like this!
She had 80,000 miles on her and was priced around four thousand dollars: a steal! (This was in spring 2004, shortly before gas prices skyrocketed, so fuel-efficient cars like this one were not in demand.) I was already going for my checkbook when I peeked in the window and noticed something terrifying: the car was a STICK SHIFT.

I pointed this particular downfall out to my dad, who gave me a “pff.” He reminded me that I had begun my driving career in a rusty old four-speed pickup. Sure, but that was when I was ten. I could barely operate the vehicle back then, and I had long forgotten where to even begin. I also reminded him that I had only three thousand dollars to spend, while the car was marked around four. Dad, eager for me to obtain a reliable vehicle AND acquire a new skill while doing it, struck a deal with me: he’d throw in the extra thousand dollars if I would let my mom drive it to work if she wanted. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

We met with an enthusiastic car salesman, and Dad negotiated his way into a two-parted deal: 1.) give us a discount for the scratch on the car’s body; and 2.) let us have the car for a week. If I couldn’t learn how to drive it in a week, we could bring it back. And with that, I was the proud owner of a little blue coupe.

My driving lessons began immediately. I was a bit melodramatic at times (“DAD! I CAN’T DO THIS!”), but at the end of our weeklong grace period, I decided that we were keeping the car. Once I figured out the let-off-the-clutch-step-on-the-gas sweet spot and stopped killing the engine, I was golden. I still had trouble starting on hills, though: Dad and I had driven to a little ice cream shop by Lake Poinsett, and I parked on a slight incline. When the time came for me to take off, I couldn’t quite do it. I kept drifting backwards, and Dad told me to step on it. I did what I was told, and I left a black mark about two feet long in the parking lot. Everyone at the picnic table just turned and stared: squealing tires tend to attract attention. I finally got out of the parking lot, my ego and my tires a bit worse for the wear.

That summer, I went back to work at the church camp. As it turned out, my new driving ability came in incredibly handy. I was the only one of the support staff who knew how to drive the five-speed camp pickup, so I got to run on errands to Arlington and Lake Norden while everyone else was weed-whacking. Life was good.

But why, you ask, is my car named Susie? This was no random act of christening. When I was a child, one of my favorite cartoons was a Disney short about a happy little car. It's called “Susie the Little Blue Coupe,” and it is delightful. 
Susie begins in a showroom, where a man falls in love with her, takes her home, and spends many happy years with her. Eventually, Susie begins to run down, like most cars do. The man can’t afford the overhaul, so Susie ends up in the used car lot. She’s purchased by a fat bum who gets parking tickets and drives her drunk. Poor Susie’s downward spiral comes to a climax when she’s stolen! Susie is taken on a high-speed chase as she flees from the police cars. It all ends when, in the midst of Grand Theft Auto: Disney, Susie crashes into a trolley and is totaled. Poor Susie gets towed to the junkyard where she is sure she’ll spend the rest of her days. Spring comes, and a scrawny red-headed kid comes around and buys Susie for $12.50 (marked down from $15). The kid fixes Susie up, and she’s just as good as new (“she felt 50,000 miles younger”). Susie drives off into the sunset, happy as can be. And, according to the narrator (Sterling Holloway, who you might recognize as the voice of Winnie the Pooh), “it couldn’t have happened to a nicer little car.”
Look at how cute she is!
So everything turns out in the end for Susie, and I was always so happy. I wish I knew how many times I watched that ten-minute cartoon; certainly more than anything else I watched as a child (save for The Lion King, perhaps). So when I purchased a little blue coupe of my very own, it was only right that we call her Susie.

I drove Susie the Little Blue Coupe throughout the rest of high school and all of college. She took me to Morris and back countless times: Susie was the perfect college car. She was small, zippy, and trips to the gas station were easy on my slim college student budget. Susie was so good to me, save for the time the alternator went out in the middle of the night in February or the time she got towed during a snowstorm (but that wasn’t her fault). There was only one occasion when Susie wouldn’t start, and that was because it was it was about -40˚ and windy. I wouldn’t have started either.

When I graduated from college, I planned to drive to Denver for a summer internship. By this time, Susie the little blue coupe was eleven years old with more than 120,000 miles to her name. Susie probably could’ve endured the grueling drive to and fro, but no one wanted to take any chances. So what would I drive? Why, my sister’s Mercury Sable, of course! It’s decidedly an old lady car, but old lady cars are always reliable. Plus, it had cruise control: a must-have for the twelve hour trip to Denver.

Now, contrary to what you might think based on my previous two cars, my family does not actively seek out names for our cars: we don’t sit around and make lists of potential car names until one sticks. The cars name themselves. I don’t remember how the Batmobuick came to be so named, but we knew that was THE NAME as soon as someone said it. Susie the little blue coupe was meant to be, thanks to the cartoon. The Mercury was the first car I ever had that didn’t immediately have a name. We simply called it “the Sable.” That is, until the day we were talking about how the Sable was a more grown-up version of Susie. The car was larger and wider, and therefore had “womanly” hips. And what’s a grown-up version of the name Susie? Why, Suzanne, of course! And that, my friends, is how my present car was christened Suzanne.

After I inherited Suzanne, Susie was passed on to my brother. He drove her for a couple of years, and he took pretty good care of her. Mitch had a few good adventures with her: he once got a ticket for squealing his tires. As it was only an unintentional start-up squeak, as five-speeds are wont to do, my intrepid brother decided to head to court and fight his ticket. With a little help from Webster’s Dictionary, Mitch won his case. It’s quite a story: next time you see him, be sure to ask him about it!

You may be wondering, though: whatever happened to the Buick? Well, the Buick finally did die, not too long after I got Susie. We weren’t sure what to do with it: it certainly wasn’t worth anything, so we weren’t going to bother trying to sell it. Finally, Dad came up with his answer: he would donate the Buick to the fire department so they could practice using the Jaws of Life. The Buick came to a noble end.

So after all that, here I am with old reliable Suzanne. She’s gotten me to Denver and back, New Orleans and back, and to Minneapolis and back countless times. She’s a good car, but Suzanne will never take Susie’s place in my heart. I don’t think any car ever could.
Except maybe this one, but please don't tell Susie.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

let's talk about Crocs.

There are few things in this world that make me cringe quite the way that Crocs can. Just thinking about their squishy foaminess, their blinding colors, their stupid shape, and those stupid holes is enough to make me gag.

My intense distaste for Crocs began immediately. I don’t remember when I first encountered them, but I remember when I first faced them in mass quantities: Disney World. I went there with my family in March 2005, and the place was overrun with colorful rubber shoes. Oh, the horror! You couldn’t buy your ten-dollar corn dog without trampling over six pairs of Crocs to get there.

When I talk about how much I dislike the Croc, I’m mostly referring to the original design. Everyone has seen the original Croc, cleverly labeled the “Cayman” design. (For those of you not up on your reptilian lingo, a caiman is a crocodilian-type animal, distinguished by its broader snout.) In recent years, Crocs have tried to disguise themselves as normal shoes, appearing in such styles as ballet flats and sandals. Sure, they’re not AS horrible as the original design, but at the end of the day, they’re still rubber shoes.
Nice try, Crocs.
I should clarify: I have nothing against rubber shoes. I’ve owned my fair share of cheap-o flip-flops, and you’d better believe that I was the queen of Jelly shoes. So it’s not the fact that they’re made out of rubbery foamy stuff that gets me. It’s everything else.

Crocs are advertised as being practical and comfortable. Sure, I’ll give them comfortable. But practical? Not entirely. Most Crocs are simply slip-on, so it is imaginable that they would slip off pretty easily, as well. Crocs are also borderline dangerous: there have been reports of children suffering injuries because their Crocs got caught in escalators. Also, what’s with the holes? Wouldn’t they just allow outside materials easier access to your foot? For example, let’s stay you’re wearing Crocs in a snowstorm. How could those shoes possibly protect you from that kind of assault from the Great Outdoors? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have a good pair of sneakers.

With the aforementioned new designs, Crocs are also being marketed as fashionable. If you asked me for a list of words to describe the Croc, you can bet your bottom dollar that “fashionable” wouldn’t be one of them. When I contemplate fashionable shoes, the shoes that come to my mind are never rubber, and they certainly are not shaped like alligators. I’ll give Crocs points for effort, but fashionable? Come on. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Crocs at the beach, let alone at work or with friends.

Most often, I see Crocs located on the feet of small children. This could be a result of their easy-on, easy-off feature. Easy-off, like I have said, is not necessarily a good thing. I wonder how many Crocs have simply fallen off the feet of toddlers as they were being toted through the state fair. These poor children: through no choice of their own, they have been forced into these wretched shoes. Many years later, they will look at pictures of their childhood, see the Crocs, and remember why they don’t speak to their parents anymore. They’ll feel the same way I do when I see what I wore as a toddler in the late 1980s: what were my parents thinking, and were they laughing behind my back?

I would like to say that I have never even put my foot in the gaping maw of a Croc, but that would not be true. It’s shameful, I know. However, it was for a good cause. The only time I have ever worn a Croc was the year I dressed up as a Croc for Halloween. 
Yep, that was my Halloween costume: the scariest thing I could think of was a giant pink Croc. Believe it or not, I was a hit.

Unfortunately, my battle with Crocs remains uphill. I have succeeded in ensuring that none of my immediate family members owns a single pair: knock-off Crocs or real deal Crocs. Sadly, a few of my cousins and a few of my friends have fallen into the gaping jaws of the Croc. Never fear, though – I won’t give up hope! Mocking them every time I see them, I feel their resolve will break down eventually. They’ll either get rid of me or the shoe, so let’s hope it’s the Croc and not ME that falls victim to sacrifice.
I do not intend to insult the owners of Crocs: simply the shoes themselves. I question the judgment of those who wear them, yes. Owners of Crocs: I believe you are all good people, blinded by a temporary lapse of judgment. It’s not too late – burn your rubber shoes! Melt them into pencil erasers! Begone, foul things! Join me and millions of others in the land of the Croc-free… where shoes do not have holes, and we remember how to tie our shoelaces!