Sunday, August 7, 2011

270 (unedited)

There were many memorable things I wrote in the 269 previous installments from the jukebox. Some of them have been valuable to me, as I have revisited them more than once. Some were less than brilliant, and that's to be expected. Some are painful reminders that after 40 years life only gets harder.

There are times I have been way more personal than I care for in my writing, and facing a very uncertain future -- one I face with sorrow rather than enthusiasm -- I can't allow it to happen again.

I faced great personal challenges in my life without the benefit of a blog or journal, and I have overcome those challenges. One might think that detailing the personal struggles I face through a blog would be beneficial. I'm skeptical.

I will spend countless hours wondering how and why two people who made each other very happy in 2010 are destined to spend the rest of their lives not making each other happy. I could write about this topic for hours, but it wouldn't make a difference. The worst part is that I can't put into words what it is I'm feeling. I guess I could do it, but I wouldn't do it well.

I had finally filled a 38-year void in my life, only to find out I get it back, 10 fold, in 2011, and I'll never fully understand why.

Whether you believe in a god, karma, fate or something else, you start to lose faith in it when you find yourself four decades into a finite journey, yet still empty inside.

It would take me hours to list all my faults, and I'd miss several. There's nothing I'd enjoy more than growing as a person, and growing old with somebody to love.

Love conquers all, they say. They lie.

Janis and I loved each other, yet somehow that's not enough. If two people loving each other isn't enough, why am I going through the daily motions? I really don't know.

I will spend countless hours wondering why I'll never have the happiness I desire, but I won't write about it. I can't.

The jukebox is going silent. It will collect dust, at least for now, but I am determined to ensure it has played its last song.

I am pulling the plug.

Man down (unedited)

It was an unusual day on the bikeways of Minneapolis.

I was bicycling with Margaret today. We were on a Minneapolis bike trail when I heard a thud behind me. A guy, older than me, hit the pavement. Hard.

I sensed he was trying to get past us as soon as possible, as he seemed to be right behind me. We were approaching a stoplight and had a green light, so we proceeded across the street. It seems that as the guy rode up the curb cut onto the trail he lost his balance somehow. Thud, he hit the pavement hard. I knew that sound the instant I heard it.

I stopped, grabbed my phone and walked toward him. Somebody behind him had stopped to check on him. I asked if he was hurt, he said he was, still lying on the ground. I called 911 to report a single-bicycle accident. As I called 911 the operator asked what kind of injuries he had. As I asked Margaret and the other guy I learned it wasn't a head or neck injury, but he indicated he had pain in his ribs. The guy was wearing a helmet, but riding shirtless. He scraped a few parts of his body and is going to have serious road rash on one shoulder.

The guy slowly sat up, then got onto one knee. He called somebody to report his accident. It took an ambulance about five minutes to get to the intersection where we were. The three paramedics in the ambulance didn't sense it was a serious injury as they took their time getting out of the ambulance and approaching us. At that point Margaret and I went on our way.

That wasn't my last 911 call of the day. Eighteen minutes after I called 911 to report the injury I was calling 911 again. Margaret and I had been back on our bikes less than 15 minutes when we approached a biker down on the trail. We didn't see him fall, but two people had stopped to check him out. The guy and his bike were still on the ground. After a quick inquiry regarding an injury I was calling 911 again.

A different ambulance crew arrived. This guy, who wasn't wearing a helmet, slowly got up. We had to convince him to sit down on a nearby bench and take it easy until an ambulance arrived. He was surprised to learn he crashed, as he didn't remember it. Margaret said he kept repeating the fact that he was surprised that he crashed.

When the ambulance arrived we departed yet again, thankfully not to be making a third 911 call for the day.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Join the club (unedited)

I have two less co-workers today. Their life is better off because of it, even if that's hard to believe tonight when they go to bed.

My toxic weekly newspaper conglomerate tried to make its editorial staff feel better in January, announcing we would ramp up staffing after years of bleeding it to death. Some of that bleeding was unavoidable thanks to the slow death of the newspaper industry as we knew it. Plenty of that bleeding was self-inflicted.

We will never be as healthy as we were when I was hired more than a decade ago, but for the first time in years we were filling seats that had deliberately been left vacant. That grand announcement was made in January. Here's how we arrived at August 2011 in approximate chronological order:

• Our reorganization and seat filling meant that the trio responsible for layout of many weekly newspapers would be systematically eliminated. (I'm not sure any of us realized that at the time.) Saying there was a method to the madness is a bit generous, but we have managed to phase out the trio. The first to go was a design guru who had been with the company longer than I had. He has the luxury of not having to worry about his income as much as I do, so he could afford to walk away. He was given a management job for my group of papers, a job he didn't want, as it meant more responsibility, more office time and likely more hours in a given week than he typically worked. He quickly departed after being "promoted," opting for a part-time job closer to home. Like I said, he could afford it, his wife is a medical professional.

• The kid was hired as my new manager. He was about 7 or 8 years old when my co-worker Phil started his job with one of our newspaper holdings.

• The second member of the layout trio was booted less than three months ago. They decided that it was time to eliminate his job, but offered him the opportunity to go from full-time designer to a writing position that likely would have had him doing some layout work each week. He's another guy who has the luxury of not working full time, so he opted to stay at home with his kids while his wife brings home the bacon rather than take a job that was less accommodating to his childcare needs.

• A small staff, comprised of a few full-time employees and a few part-time employees, assembles a variety of papers relatively independent of the group I am a part of. They were told, rather insultingly, that their papers were in trouble, and that they'd have to work harder to keep their papers afloat. They were given a new weekly responsibility without the benefit of additional resources, as far as I can tell.

• One of the three full-time members of the aforementioned newspaper group took a job with Patch, the hyper-local online scam that is paying journalists more than advertising revenue can cover. She left less than two months ago.

• Last week one of the managers for my group walked away from his job, opting to go to work for his wife. (Marriage has never looked so good to me.)

• Today it was announced that we wouldn't be filling the two seats that have been vacated during the past two months. We were also told that two people were being kicked to the curb. One, the last remaining member of the design trio, wasn't a surprise. I knew it was only a matter of time before she was phased out, too. We also lost Phil, who has toiled for his small, fledgling group of papers longer than I have been with the company. His group was absorbed by our evil conglomerate several years ago, a conglomerate that punishes loyalty.

So it's 2010 all over again. We hired several people to fill vacant seats in 2011, and now we're just about back to where we started at the beginning of the year. The difference is that we have lost experienced, talented people and replaced them with young upstarts that mean well, but don't have the background and experience to give our organization the limited credibility it once had. It's a sad, sad world, and it pains me to be a part of it.

In the past I have been angry. Today I am despondent.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Exit strategy (unedited)

Today the kid told us we weren't making enough sausage.

The kid is the editor for my newspaper group. He's a couple of years removed from college, so therefore he has a world of experience and should be managing a group of suburban newspapers. He knows how to do some of the technical crap that is part of his job, but there's no chance he was the best candidate for the job. So why was he hired? I'm certain that it's because he works cheap. We don't care about hiring experience at my half-assed newspaper group, all we care about is getting people cheap.

During a group meeting he said we were doing great work, but he needs more. He knows the crappy parameters of our jobs, and how difficult it is to produce quality work en mass, but he still insisted we need to make more sausage.

I have had mixed feelings about my job for a long time. It's a job where we can only value quantity. We may applaud quality, but we really don't encourage it, and certainly can't expect it.

It has bothered me for a while now, and the fact I'm working for a kid who is willing to sell his soul in his 20s in order to pad his resume and live high off the hog down the road doesn't make me feel any better about the fact I am compromising my skills by trying to juggle an ax, Samuri sword, hand gernade, flaming torch and porcupine at the same time.

I have given myself two months to chart prospective courses that will lead me elsewhere. I have several ideas I want to pursue, and I will pursue whichever one makes the most sense come Oct. 1. I may pursue the wrong one, but all I can do is choose the option that seems to be the best when decision day arrives.

Without a doubt, riding the roller coaster that has been my life the past 13 years is the wrong decision. I use to think that the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. But I'm a gamblin' man, and if there's a chance that there's a brighter, happier future out there for me, I'll wager on the unknown.

The life I have now is a losing proposition, and that's a sure thing.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pulling the plug? (unedited)

There are times when I ponder whether or not to put my name to a blog, attach the blog to my Facebook profile and share my exhaustive observations with those who know me.

Then there are times I think I want to keep writing anonymously just for the mental exercise it gives me, spared from the comments and criticism about things I don't necessarily agree with, but write anyway.

I don't know when the end of this blog will come, but in the four years I have been writing, my life has been on a roller coaster, a roller coaster I recall vividly. I don't think I'm unique. I suspect most people would consider their lives to be roller coasters. Mine has been a dramatic roller coaster. And I'm ready to get off.

I plan to stop riding the roller coaster of life this year. I want to ride the Ferris wheel. And when I finally take my seat on the Ferris wheel, I will have written the last chapter of this book. More appropriately, the jukebox will have played its last tune.

I'm ready to pull the plug.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ready, go (unedited)

Short and simple: I have a monumental challenge ahead of me during the next two months. If I succeed in accomplishing my goals, I will find peace, and happiness, in my life. If I fail I can dust myself off and try again.

I use to have a defeatist attitude. I have mourned my lack of good fortune. I am blessed in many ways, and I have more than many people could ever hope for. I will not dwell on the negative. There's a light at the end of my tunnel. I'm not sure what that light is coming from, but I will find out, and I will reach it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What a strange Journey

I was never a big fan of Journey, but I did go to a Journey concert in 1987. I think it was 1987, my memory is far from flawless. I do know I was in high school and went to the concert with comp tickets from WLOL. That's another story -- a great one -- and one I rarely tell.

Journey had its share of hits in the 1980s, but traces its roots back to the 1970s. Since the late 1990s the band has soldiered on without the lead singer from its heyday, Steve Perry. Perry sang most, if not all, of the hits we know.

It's not clear to me whether Perry has voluntarily distanced himself from his biggest success or if the band dismissed him because he delayed their touring plans as a result of surgery he put off. Either way, the band replaced him... three times.

For several years after Perry departed Journey's lead singer was a guy named Steve Augeri. After about eight years he was replaced on a short-term basis, and for the past few years the band has been fronted by a Filipino guy who they found through a YouTube video of him performing Journey tunes. I don't know about Perry's first two replacements, but the Filipino guy is often touted as a Perry soundalike.

On Thursday night Journey was in St. Paul, performing with Foreigner and Night Ranger. (Foreigner has also been touring for years without the guy who sang all the hits, Lou Gramm. According to Wikipedia, the only original member these days is its lead guitarist.) Nine hours after the concert Journey was in New York, performing live on the Today Show plaza. Every Friday during the summer NBC's Today Show has a concert on its plaza. The performances vary greatly. Sometimes it's a big artist that is popular among today's youngsters, sometimes it's an established artist that isn't the biggest draw on the concert circuit. Journey has persevered without Perry, and their hits have become rock classics that have stood the test of time.

One of my friends made a comment on Facebook this morning about not knowing Journey has an Asian lead singer. I noted the irony that in the same 10-minute span Journey and its YouTube sensation were singing "Don't Stop Believin'" on NBC while Debbie Gibson and Tiffany were singing the same song during ABC's Good Morning America concert in Central Park.

Those comments generated a couple of discussions about the validity of Journey. A few people seem to think that Journey shouldn't exist without Perry singing lead vocals.

One comment: "Simply saying that a Journey song originally recorded by Steve Perry shouldn't be sung in concert by anyone other than Steve Perry."

Another comment: "Just don't bill them as Journey. Because without all the originals they arent."

The rules regarding bands are often fluid, and rarely is a case black and white. People identify most bands by the lead singer. A guitar player or drummer may stand out and be recognized as an intregal part of the band's sound, and success, but most bands live and die by the lead singer. AC/DC flourished with a replacement lead singer, Brian Johnson, who replaced original lead singer Bon Scott, who died. Van Halen succeeded with Sammy Hagar when David Lee Roth decided he was bigger than Van Halen. (Roth is often held up as the poster child of lead singer disease.)

Does the absence of the lead singer mean the band should be forced into retirement? In the case of Journey, the writing credits for Don't Stop Believin' belong to three people, one of them is Perry. The other two are still with the band to this day. Should the band be forced into exile if any one of the three no longer tours with the band? Since it's Perry that is the odd man out, should the rest of the band be forced to continue without performing any of the songs the band wrote simply because the lead singer of the original recording is no longer present? I don't think so.

As far as I know nobody forced my brother, my college friend, my former co-worker or anyone else to attend Thursday night's Journey concert, or to buy tickets to the concert. If people want to enjoy the music as performed by musicians who wrote it, why does that bother people? Should nobody be allowed to vote with their wallet because somebody else is singing the song we hear on the radio? Last I knew, people still have free will when it comes to spending their entertainment dollar.

More ridiculous, however, is the moronic suggestion that a band should no longer exist without all original members. If that was the case, Journey as we have known it wouldn't exist because Perry wasn't the first lead singer of the band. Beyond that, so many bands would cease to exist today if they were forced to rebrand themselves or abandon music they had written previously because the original drummer or bassist is no longer in the band.

People will always remember bands and music in their heyday, and I get that, but why is it that it bothers people that some form of the band exists for those who care more about the sum of the whole, rather than the individual parts?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

With hope, all is lost (unedited)

I've decided I'm going to come to an understanding as to why my life has turned to shit in the past year. And with that understanding, there will be peace and happiness.

I'm a pessimist, always have been. Yet there's more optimism inside of me than anyone would guess. Usually that optimism results in disappointment, at least in my life.

I'm not depressed, I'm rudderless. Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That's probably not true, but without hope, I have nothing. I can't solve the world's problems, and I can't order a fresh, new and exciting life at amazon.com. I can either drift aimlessly or I can be one of those fools who goes on some ridiculous treasure hunt. The treasure I seek: inner peace.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I've been on that road too long. Good intentions are a waste of time. I'm tired, I'm always tired, and I have half-assed it through life far too long. I'm going to get rich or die trying. I'm never going to have much money, I'm not that guy. I have enough money to put a modest roof over my head. That's all I ask for. But I'm going to be rich.

It has taken me 40 years to finally understand what matters. It has taken me 40 years to sort out what I want, what I need and what I can accept.

Doug is going to get his wish. I can't hope for that, hope is for suckers. I have to make it happen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

December promise you gave unto me (unedited)

Monica and I went to see Collective Soul at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater last Friday night.

Collective Soul emerged at the end of the hairband era and managed to adapt to carve a musical niche in the grunge era. They've probably been called a Pearl Jam imitator, as there are some similarities.

This was the third time I had been to a Collective Soul concert, all of them with Monica. I like several of their songs and their live performance is solid. Their concerts aren't visual spectaculars, but musically they enrich several of their songs, adding a little extra to excellent musicianship.

Monica insisted upon getting to the concert area early to ensure she'd be up close to the stage. And we were. We were about as close as you could get, and there were a couple thousand people gathered at the stage by the time the concert finally started.

The band played about 90 minutes, providing a thoroughly entertaining show. I paused several times to remember how fortunate I am, fortunate to have a friend who is there for me when I need a friend and values my friendship more than I value my life.

Sweating bullets all evening at an outdoor concert on a humid Friday night in Minnesota doesn't change the fact that I'm still drifting aimlessly through life. I found an ounce of peace with the fact I'm drifting aimlessly through life, but at the end of the night I still have to find a meaning and purpose to my daily existence.

We all hope that when faced with adversity we'll persevere. We all hope that we will overcome every obstacle life presents us with.

I made a December promise to myself. I pray that I have the dedication and inner fortitude to deliver on that promise.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's time to let go (unedited)

I don't know if it's anger or sadness. I can't figure it out.

My ability to cope has been challenged lately, and I suppose I can argue that I'm winning, but I worry that there's no end in sight. The human body has limits -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- I'm nowhere close to my emotional limits, but the wear and tear isn't doing me any favors.

Some people break down when they are pushed to their limits, and for some it doesn't take much pushing to get there.

Some people recover quickly from setbacks in life, and rebound stronger than ever. Emotionally I am slow to recover. I've said it before, I'm less debilitated by personal disappointment than I was in years past, but that doesn't make the recovery process any quicker. Lately I have been having recurring bouts of sadness and anger, after going weeks without them. I never feel crippled by them, and somehow I'm emboldened by them, as if this is the last time I'm going to have suffer through such personal disappointment.

They say time heels all wounds. It probably does, but I don't have enough time left on this world for my latest wound to heel.

When I was driving north on the Fourth of July to spend the week with my friends at their lake place, the thought of making that drive, alone, for the next 10 years and sponging off the generosity of my friends just didn't hold much appeal to me.

On the night before I headed back to reality I was out on my buddy's boat, enjoying beers while he unsuccessfully fished for walleye. As I stared at the relatively calm water as we were returning to shore at sunset I couldn't help but think about how much Minnesotans value the ability to cruise around a lake in a motorized vessel. I stared at the water and thought about how many people would cherish a moment such as that, and how ungrateful I was for it.

Since my vacation I have found myself dwelling on one fact of life, my life is relatively meaningless, and will never be anything more than that. I have waited 40 years for a purpose to my life, and I don't have one. That's because there ain't one, and there isn't going to be. If you're the type who prays to a god you probably believe your god has a plan for your life. My god has a plan for the lives of almost everyone I know. Yet somehow I was left off the list when purposes were being assigned.

I am a friend to many, indispensable to no one. My life is meaningless. I am blessed to have as much as I do in the world, but all the blessings in the world don't change the fact there's no scar tissue left. I am no longer able to heal.

Sometimes people make a full recovery following surgery. Other times people are crippled for life, despite the best efforts of their medical team. Some people are as good as new after knee surgery. Others are slowed down, hobbled or crippled by their knee.

I want to believe that this wound will heal. I want to believe that the happiness I had in 2010 can be recaptured. I want to believe my life is not disposable. But I'm not much of a dreamer. I have collected enough evidence to know better. It's time to let go. I'm holding onto so little, but it's hard to let go. But it's time. It's time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stinktown 4, Colorado 3 (unedited)

Chip was in Colorado today, watching his beloved Stinktown Brewers defeat the Colorado Rockies 4-3. It was two weeks after watching Stinktown lose to the Minnesota Twins here in God's Country. Chip came to the Twin Cities during Fourth of July weekend for a pair of Brewers games.

Chip has spent much of his vacation time the past several years traveling around the country, by himself, to see Major League Baseball games. Occasionally those games feature Stinktown, but not typically. Some years Chip goes to a game while traveling for work. Last year he was in Washington, D.C., the same weekend the Brewers were in Minnesota. I had tickets for a Twins/Brewers game that weekend, anticipating Chip would join me, but obviously that didn't happen. He was at Nationals Park at the exact same time I was watching the Twins and Brewers at Target Field. We often call each other when we're at a major league ballpark, and we had a brief phone conversation that day while watching our respective games.

Chip has been to a home game in every current major league city other than the Florida franchises, and I'm planning to attend games in those cities with him in 2012, when Miami opens its new stadium. In some cases Chip has been to home games at two different ballparks in several cities. I know he has been to home games at the old and new ballparks of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. I'm sure I'm forgetting a city or two. I think he's up to 36 or 37 different ballparks that he has visited. Had the planets aligned slightly differently, perhaps he could claim to have been to three different stadiums for Minnesota Twins home games as I have, but he didn't make it to a Minnesota Twins game until he was in college.

Chip also makes a point to visit and tour the state capitals of states he travels to. Given there are 50 states, I can promise he's not as close as to finishing that tour as he is to finishing the ballpark tour.

Chip had been to Coors Field in Colorado previously, but he wanted to finally put his free Frontier Airlines flight to use, and it has been many years since he visited Colorado. He says it's the second best ballpark in the country, so he determined it was worth it to make a second trip to Coors country.

He flew to Colorado on Saturday and will return Wednesday night. There's no business tie-in to his trip, it's all vacation, and it's all on his dime, sans the free flight from Frontier.

In April I went to Las Vegas for five days, by myself. It was pure luck that my trip coincided with the end of a one-week vacation my Halloween friends took, and Monica booked a pair of layovers in Vegas during my week there, so I wasn't on my own the entire week. But I was prepared to be, and I wouldn't have cared.

Chip and I are both in our 40s. (He's about 11 months older than I am.) He has done it far more than I have, but we both have taken vacations on our own. I was fortunate to be able to take several vacations with my ex-girlfriend during our time together. (They didn't happen because either of us is rich, but that's another story for another day.)

Once again I'm faced with either finding a trip both Chip and I are interested in taking or flying the friendly skies on my own. I have friends who might be willing to travel to Vegas with me, so there's a chance I might book a trip to Vegas someday without having to travel on my own. But reality is setting in, there's no romantic trip to Paris, Niagara Falls or the Mexican Riviera in my future.

For some people, that's the hand life has dealt them, and they're fine with it. I'm going to have a hard time playing my cards.

Casey Anthony, will you marry me? (unedited)

I didn't follow the case of Casey Anthony closely. The story was more bizarre than typical parent-kills-child tales, but I'm still not sure why it deserved a national spotlight. If you had to justify missing persons and murder stories to a national audience, many times you'd fail to do so, I suspect. I guess what it comes down to is that we're all looking for a good story.

Late last night Anthony was released from prison, having served her time for lesser crimes she was convicted of. Protesters showed up at her late night prison release, protesters who think she should have been convicted of murdering her daughter. It seems that most people think she did. I don't think many people are arguing that she didn't, and her actions that followed the mysterious disappearance and death of her daughter make it hard to argue otherwise. But nonetheless a jury of her peers determined the prosecution didn't prove she did it, so she walks.

Anthony is reportedly concerned about her safety. Allegedly she has been the target of death threats.

Even if she didn't have any reason to fear for her safety, what the hell is she doing to do with her life now? She hasn't had a job for about five years, and is reportedly a high school drop out. In America we do forgive and somewhat forget as time goes on, but somehow I doubt Anthony is going to be able to have a successful career as anything other than a second-rate porn star. Allegedly there are offers for the rights to her story, so that would pay the bills for a while, but it's hard to imagine she'll ever be allowed the privilege of living and working as a normal member of society. She won't fade into the woodwork. She won't be forgotten in a year or two.

I don't feel sorry for her, even if she weren't guilty of killing her daughter.

So today's story about Anthony highlighted the extraordinary security that surrounded her release and her quick disappearance from the public eye. As they showed her getting into an SUV with her lawyer, I somehow found myself wondering about an odd question. How many marriage proposals did she receive while she was incarcerated?

In a country of more than 300 million people, it's not surprising that we have 200 million with a few screws lose. I've seen this story more than once, but the example that comes to mind instantly is that of the Menendez brothers. These guys were convicted of killing their wealthy parents in 1989 and are expected to spend the rest of their life in prison. And yet one of the brothers has been married twice since being incarcerated, the other once. Women who cannot spend time outside of prison with their husbands, or have conjugal visits with them at the prison, decided that a relationship with brothers who killed their parents was a good idea. That, my friends, is the textbook definition of mental illness.

And I'd bet Anthony was receiving fan mail in prison, as well, from guys whose 15 minutes of fame expired after their appearance on The Jerry Springer Show. There are guys a lot more demented than Anthony, so I can understand her appeal to them. But there are probably seemingly ordinary, average guys out there who have reached out to her, too. And I'll bet she received some sort of marriage proposal from more than one of them while she was incarcerated.

It's a weird world we live in, and thinking about the Menendez brothers, Anthony and her potential suitors makes me a bit uneasy about venturing out to the grocery store tonight. I might be shopping alongside the next Anthony, Menendez brother or future spouse of a convicted murderer. I'm borderline paranoid right now, which is dangerous. Paranoia is probably the first step down the aisle, of marriage to the next Casey Anthony.

Update: I should have known. I did one quick Google search and found this.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thank God I don't live in Richmond (Minnesota or Virginia) (unedited)

I made another cameo north of the Twin Cities, to the little, forgettable town of Richmond.

Richmond is your classic small town. It's not disconnected from the world, it's about 30 minutes from St. Cloud, the third largest city outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, (and the eighth largest city in the state.) Richmond has a tiny downtown district, a school district, a few recreational amenities and a summer festival. Every town has to have an annual drunk fest.

My college friends and their children live in Richmond. It has been a decent place to raise a family, it appears, and it's not as if they are trapped in their small town. They find their way to St. Cloud, the Twin Cities and out of state on a regular basis.

I visited them today, taking in the festival's parade and the mediocre fireworks show after dark. I've seen it before, it's nothing special, but it's an excuse to go to Richmond and visit my friends, who just returned home from a long vacation.

I was glad I made the trip. I don't find my way up to Richmond more than twice a year, and usually just once in any given calendar year. I see my friends and their kids at other times during the year, so I don't need to make a cameo six times per year. I'm sure if they lived 30 minutes away, instead of 90, I'd drop in for a visit far more often.

Some people like the quiet, less hectic life a small town typically provides. I can appreciate that, but I need the trappings of the asphalt jungle, and all the choices it affords. I have access to thousands of jobs within a short commute, should I decide I need to do something different with my life. I have dozens of entertainment choices within 30 minutes of my apartment, every night of the week. I have numerous grocery stores within 10 minutes of my apartment, not two within the 10-mile radius of my apartment.

Given it is easier than ever to stay connected to the world, life in Richmond probably seems less isolating than it did 20 years ago. I started my life in a small Indiana town, I have vague memories of that life. It wasn't terrible, especially since it was all that I knew. And after graduating from college I spent 2-1/2 years in a city similar to Alexandria. So I have enough experience in the small town and small city atmosphere to know life in the big city, or at least its suburbs, is the only place to be. At least for me.

It's too bad I'm having such a tough time enjoying this life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thank God I don't live in Alexandria (Minnesota or Virginia) (unedited)

As I noted not so long ago, I made a cameo in Alexandria, Minn., while on vacation in small town, Minn.

I was born in a town somewhat like Alexandria. It was in Indiana, and I haven't lived there in 30 years. I have wondered many times what my life would be like had my parents never divorced and I never wound up in Minnesota. I'd love to know how radically different my life would have been in the Bizarro world.

I know people who grew up in Alexandria, I think. They still have ties to the area, but they have chosen the bright lights and big city instead of the incestuous life of Alexandria. Good choice.

Alexandria has its share of nice neighborhoods and lakeshore properties for the doctors and lawyers who work there. It's not the worst place to live, but knowing all the things a suburban area such as the Twin Cities has to offer, I can't stop wondering why anybody would choose the relative isolation of Alexandria.

I "met" several people last week, and most of them reminded me that I have no interest in living in their unspectacular city. Allow me to introduce a few of them to you. Please keep in mind that I'm making uneducated guesses about who they are. And even if I paint a depressing picture of them, they are likely happier than I am, and therefore that makes them better than me.

My favorite new friends from the Alexandria Beetles baseball game include:

• Announcer Guy. He's the guy providing much of the narration during the minor league baseball game. He has a great radio voice, so he's a natural behind the mic at a minor league baseball game, especially given the fact the job doesn't pay much. I'm pretty sure Announcer Guy works for a local radio station after his training at some prestigious school of broadcast. He's professional, no doubt about it, but he sounds like every textbook deejay in small town, America. That shit doesn't play well in a major market. Announcer Guy is either happy to have a steady job in the small market where he grew up or he is resigned to being a big fish in a small pond.

• Freckles. I mentioned her in my diatribe about attending a Beetles game. Despite the obscene freckle count on her face and arms, she was probably a cute enough girl in high school for some guy to violate. I'd love to see the guy who fathered her 13 children during the past five years. I'm not sure if breeding and living in Alexandria for the rest of her life was her greatest aspiration, but I'd bet her left arm she dreamed a bit bigger than that.

• Insurance Guy. My guess is that he either sells insurance or manages the sales staff at a local car dealership or radio station. I suppose there's a chance he's a doctor or lawyer, but he didn't seem the type. All I know is that his fancy green polo shirt and healthy gut made him hard to miss. I couldn't help but think I'm only 20 pounds away from being him, and that scared the shit out of me. Lest you think I'm painting a negative picture of Insurance Guy, guess again, muchacho. His fast track to success in his chosen field landed him a pretty nice trophy. I loved his wife's made-for-TV hair. Insurance Guy can get away with carrying an extra 50 pounds, but the trophy wife can't get away with that shit. She has to maintain a pre-pregnancy figure, and dress the part of a real housewife of Alexandria. Mission accomplished. By the time her kids are in high school she might be just old enough to no longer qualify for MILF certification. Oh well, nothing lasts forever.

• Sex Kitten. She appeared to be attending the game with her young, beloved son, and the father of her child. She liked to sell her young and adventurous persona, but appeared to have made a commitment to the family life. She doted upon the young boy and politely tolerated the older, slightly rotund stepdaughter. Sex Kitten didn't appear to be old enough to have given birth to the girl, so I could only assume that she was a child of one of dad's previous relationships.

• Toilet Paper Guy. This dufus appeared to be attending the game with his unsexy wife and a couple of kids. What little I saw of him led me to believe he was no prize. I was highly impressed by his game night attire, specifically a T-shirt depicting a roll of toilet paper with the caption "that's how I roll." Brilliant.

There were some cute teenage girls attending the game, and perhaps a college girl or two, as well as their male counterparts. But at no point did I mistakenly think I was attending a Mensa meeting.

I ran across a few other interesting characters during my travels around the Alexandria area, the most memorable being the fat guy who stopped at the gas station in Garfield. Garfield is one of the old rail towns outside of Alexandria, and served as my rest stop/turn around while bicycling one afternoon. This slob had an ill-fitting T-shirt that wasn't long enough to cover his gut, but that didn't seem to bother him. By pairing the T-shirt with cotton shorts and slipping on shoes he didn't have to tie he was set for an afternoon cameo at the epicenter of Garfield. I biked 21 miles to get to Garfield, only to have to watch fatty waddle into the convenience store. If there was ever a reminder that my life isn't all bad, tubby was it.

These people were no different than people I could meet in the Twin Cities. And, God forbid, if I lived in Alexandria I'm sure I'd enjoy sitting down to a beer with some of them. But spending a few hours in the bowels of Alexandria reminded me I have been fortunate to live in the Twin Cities for the past 14 years.

I am blessed, yet I am hard pressed to remember that on a daily basis. Shame on me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alexandria Beetles baseball: desperation entertainment (unedited)

I like the idea of minor league baseball, but it's hard to get emotionally attached to a team.

My beloved Chicago White Sox won the world series in 2005. Less than six years later there are three players left from that 2005 team. That's the nature of baseball.

In the minor leagues the turnover is far greater. I'm sure there are players who spent several years on the same minor league team, but movement up and down the minor league system, or being traded from one team's minor league system to another, is the common scenario for baseball players trying to make it to the big leagues.

Most minor league baseball teams are affiliated with a major league team. If you play for the Great Falls Voyagers of Montana, your goal is to make it to the Chicago White Sox.

But there are several minor league teams not affiliated with a Major League Baseball franchise, and one of those teams is the Alexandria Beetles of Alexandria, Minn.

The Beetles play in the Northwoods League, a summer league composed of collegiate baseball players. Many aspiring Major League Baseball players are drafted out of high school, foregoing the collegiate experience. But college baseball is a viable avenue to a major league career, too, and college baseball players who are living the dream have few options during the summer if they want to maintain their college baseball eligibility. That's where the Northwoods League comes in.

You won't find the career minor league journeymen playing in the Northwoods League, it's a place for collegiate players to spend their summer playing competitive baseball without getting paid to do so. I'm sure the teams are allowed to arrange housing and other benefits for their players, but the players aren't paid.

Some minor league teams, typically the AAA affiliates of Major League teams (the highest level of minor league baseball) draw thousands of fans to games. The teams are typically located in cities of significant size, such as Buffalo, N.Y., Indianapolis, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio.

Most of the Northwoods teams are in Minnesota and Wisconsin, in cities that are of decent size, but far from spectacular in population. Toledo has about 287,000 residents. Alexandria has less than 12,000, and there aren't many neighboring cities of significant size to draw upon.

Allegedly the Beetles game I attended last week drew more than 1,000 spectators.

I have long wanted to see the charm a collegiate minor league game in Minnesota has to offer, but I've been unwilling to make the 60-90 minute drive to cities north and south of Minneapolis to attend a Northwoods game. But I made the 15-minute drive last week to see the Beetles while on vacation.

There's a definite small town feel at a Beetles game. The old city ballpark that hosts Beetles games has a nice grandstand behind home plate, but it seats a few hundred, not thousands. There are bleachers along the baselines, but there's no outfield seating, other than a few promotional seats that weren't in use last week.

The only minor league products I have witnessed are the St. Paul Saints and the defunct Duluth-Superior Dukes, both independent minor league teams. The Saints franchise has been around in its present form for nearly 20 years. They were drawing more than 6,000 spectators a night, every night, for years. In recent years they have had to work harder to keep people coming back, but that's another story.

The Beetles sell a similar experience as the Saints. There's a lot of entertainment added to the on-the-field product. The game is serious, but the atmosphere between innings is far less so. Humor and minor league antics are part of the total package. It's cute, but not a reason to keep coming back week after week. If you don't enjoy watching competitive baseball, you'll tire of attending Beetles games in a hurry.

I had wanted to attend a Beetles game two summers ago, but their schedule didn't mesh with my vacation plans. Ditto last year. But I finally made it in 2011, and I can't say I'm going back in 2012.

Half the battle in minor league baseball is putting asses in the seats. Minor league ballparks don't gouge patrons like their major league counterparts when it comes to concessions, so once you're in the ballpark, there's a chance you'll support the franchise with a hot dog, soda or beer purchase. For the Beetles, putting asses in the seats means giving away general admission tickets for weeknight games. I made the mistake of saving $6 or $8 by taking advantage of a free general admission ticket to a Wednesday night game.

Many people who attend minor league baseball do so for the social aspects of the experience, not so much for the action on the field. In Alexandria that means several well-meaning parents attend a game with their undisciplined children, because being a good parent means pretending you're creating a lifetime memory at the expense of people who have little tolerance for your filthy offspring.

I wound up sitting in front of some freakishly freckled woman with about 10 kids under the age of 6. I lost count how many times her disinterested children brushed up against my back because it was difficult stepping around the folded stroller behind me. At no point did Freckzilla appear to notice her spawn were infringing upon my personal space. I call that Alexandria hospitality.

I got up to get a beer before the game was half over, if for nothing else than to get away from the riff raff. When I returned my bench was infested with the little freaks. Freckles was surprised to see me return and sort of apologized for invading my space. I quickly pointed out there were plenty of good seats still available. That's because several people were already headed home before the game was half over. I knew I wasn't returning to my seat, Freckula made it less obvious I wanted nothing to do with her brand of white trash.

As for the action on the field, collegiate pitchers aren't under a minor league contract for a reason. If you're above average as a pitcher, it has to be tough to turn down a minor league contract, even if there's a college scholarship dangling in front of you. The pitching and game play isn't horrible, but it definitely lacks what Major League Baseball has. I saw home runs and defense, but I also saw a fair amount of lackluster play. Not sloppy, just lackluster. That makes it harder to appreciate the game in progress, especially when it quickly escalates to a lopsided contest. Final score: 13-4 in favor of the home team.

The ballpark was like nothing I had ever seen. If you know anything about baseball fields, you know the deepest part of the park is center field, and that the distance to left field is shorter than the distance to center field. Yet in Alexandria it was 350 feet to the left field foul poll, yet only 345 feet to center field. The odd dimensions included a 385-foot sign in left-center field. The dimensions from center field to the right field foul poll were in line with your typical ball field.

As I watched the game, studied the field dimensions and surveyed the crowd, I was thankful for my meaningless life in the Twin Cities, but more about that another day.

I was glad I spent three hours at the ballpark by myself, and thankful I'm not resigned to accepting a night at an Alexandria Beetles baseball game as summertime entertainment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The whore is coming to Minnesota (unedited)

Less than 24 hours from now that whore Bristol Palin will be signing copies of her new memoir at Mall of America.

As I said before, cash in for all you can, but don't expect people like me to have an ounce of respect for you. Palin, at 20 years old, has already danced as a celebrity, will be featured in a reality television show while "working" for some nonprofit and bunking with pseudo-celebrities in California and is currently signing copies of her book, explaining how she made a bad choice as a teenager, embarrassed the Republican party days after her crackpot mother was thrust into the national spotlight and wrangled with the dopey father of her child publicly. And morons will be buying copies of this important tell-all book and having her sign it, as if she's more important than your average crack whore on the streets of St. Paul.

We are done as a society.

And just for fun, the whore's mother is joining the whore at Mall of America to prove the apple didn't fall far from the tree. The Palin whores will both be singing books. But mom won't sign hers if you don't buy the teen slut's book, and the teen slut won't sign the book unless it is purchased on site. And morons will line up for hours for the privilege of lining the pockets of these whores, treating them like royalty instead of as the fame whores they are.

It's a sad, sad world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer vacation, oh boy! (unedited)

I'm turning the Fourth of July holiday into a vacation week. I'm going to visit and stay with friends at their summer place a couple of hours north of the Twin Cities.

I'll have a good time, I'll bike several hours while I'm there and I'll occasionally forget that my life is empty and meaningless.

Rick Warren wrote a book I have never read, a book about a "Purpose Driven Life." All I know is I don't have one, and I have tried not to care about that, but it bothers me. There are people who are dying that would give the world to to have a healthy future ahead of them. I'm relatively healthy and well, yet I wouldn't argue if the ghost of Peter Falk knocked on my door right now and told me my meter has expired.

Chip is coming to visit next weekend. We're going to two Twins/Brewers games during the Fourth of July weekend. Then I head north to the lake for five nights. I'm going to a minor league baseball game one night, weather permitting, I'm playing in a free poker tournament at a bar another night and I'm hoping to spend several hours on my bike. It's not the summer vacation I want, but it's better than nothing.

One summer when I was in high school I made a difficult choice about my future, a decision that became clear to me thanks to the many hours I spent on the seat of my Schwinn bicycle. I'm not sure if I will find the clarity I seek next week, but I'm desperate for a sign, any sign, that the past 40 years weren't in vain. I don't have the energy for another 18 years of bicycling.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm a liar

I said I wasn't going to write about my meaningless, pointless life again this summer, but I lied.

I spent another Saturday night by myself. I had a rather worthless Saturday, actually, and although I have told myself several times this week that life is too short, and I can't afford to piss away my time, I have come up a bit short in the success department.

I spent about 90 minutes of my time Saturday night at the grocery store. I have professed my love of coupons and ridiculous coupon deals previously, and this week was an extraordinary week as I bought a lot of Diet Pepsi. It took a bit of effort on my part, but I bought multiple 12-packs of Diet Pepsi, and one 12-pack of Pepsi for Chip, who will be in town next weekend. Each and every one of them cost me less than 40 cents. That's right, 12 cans of soda for about three cents per can. I'm a genius.

As I was making the last of my Diet Pepsi purchases at 10:30 on Saturday night I was doing so at a grocery store in St. Louis Park. This grocery store is near a new, trendy commercial development. They call it The Shops at West End. There are several restaurants that double as hang outs for the beautiful people. Many of the restaurants appear to have the sacred outdoor seating that Minnesota rubes piss themselves for the privilege to sit at. I'm sure the drinks are uber-expensive, but that's not a problem for the beautiful people. God bless 'em. Somebody has to fund the service industry, and it's certainly not going to be me. All I can afford to do is buy cheap soda and submit liquor rebates so I can enjoy a few cocktails on the cheap in the confines of my apartment.

The West End has parking ramps for the beautiful people, and my grocery store is across the street from one of the trendy nightspots. Although signs claim parking in the grocery store lot is for customers only, it was obvious at 10:30 that rather than comb the ramps for an open parking space a few of the beautiful people chose to use the grocery store lot. I noticed a group congregating in the lot on the way to my car. It wasn't hard to deduce that this group was assembled for the purpose of a bachelorette party.

Although I had a limited view of the group from several yards away, I'm pretty sure I spotted the bachelorette. I'm guessing the woman in the tight, tiny dress with the stripper heels and a sash was the future Mrs. Somebody. Lucky guy, whoever he is. I didn't get a good look at her, but I saw enough to determine the future groom will have quite the trophy.

As I drove home with a car full of Diet Pepsi I thought a lot about the world I live in, and how there's no place for me in it. I found myself thinking back to 2007. In 2007 I watched a documentary called "The Bridge." It was intriguing, albeit a bit gimmicky and lacking in substance. I won't go into detail about it, but I will say that one of the people featured in it reminds me of me.

I remember talking about that similarity with Rush. I remember telling him there's not enough joy in my life, despite the fact my life is not particularly difficult or miserable. I also remember calling Rush from the pool of my Florida resort in late December 2007. I remember sitting there with my feet in the pool, telling him how warm and beautiful it was in southern Florida and how that was the joy in life that made it all worth while. And I wasn't kidding.

The problem, I have found, is that the moments of joy are few and far between. I'm not miserable most days, but the joy I find is temporary, and doesn't sustain me. This has been a recurring issue since I graduated from college, and there were times it crippled me. Nowadays I'm barely numb to it.

I spent a few hours Saturday night sorting though crap I have held onto for far too long and wondering why I was going through the motions of sorting it when I could literally dump entire boxes of crap into the Dumpster of my apartment building and not miss a thing, or be worse off without it. Sure, the Gilligan and Skipper figurines I came across warmed my heart slightly, but had I never seen them again, would I be worse off for it? Not a chance.

I sorted through worthless crap, wondering what to do with most of it and why I was bothering to waste my time sorting it. If I were moving to Utah this fall the exercise would have meaning and purpose, but I don't know where I'm going next, unfortunately.

Lately I find myself wishing I was moving to Utah. It seems like every sign in my life is pushing me toward starting a new life in Utah. There's just one little problem: I found out four months ago that I'm not good enough for my ex-girlfriend, who moved to Utah in early February. When she left I couldn't see myself leaving Minnesota. Now the idea of moving to Utah makes more sense than ever, except for the whole I'm not good enough thing.

The future is what you make it, they say. America is the land of opportunity, I'm told. That's all true, but there's only one thing I want at this point in my life, and when it comes my way is largely out of my hands. I'm trying to tip the scales in my favor, but all I can do is hope and pray, as I have been doing for most of my adult life. Some day my prayer will be answered. That's the only certainty I have in this world.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sick and tired of being sick and tired (unedited)

Something ain't right with me, and I don't know what it is.

Do I drink too much diet soda? Would drinking less soda magically solve my problems? I drink at least four cans a day. It may not have sugar in it, but whatever it does have probably isn't making me a healthier person.

Gluten-free products are growing in popularity, in part because of celiac disease, but also because some people find a gluten-free diet leads to better health. It seems as if every other product on the supermarket shelves contains gluten, and perhaps the American diet is filled with too much of a good thing. Is gluten responsible for the fact I feel lousy all the time?

Would I feel better if I lost weight? Is it just carrying 40 extra pounds that makes me feel so lousy all the time? Should I find some organ-damaging diet drug to lose weight? Or should I just live off of eggs, bacon, cheese and chicken. There are nutritional downsides to the Atkins diet, but cutting out potatoes, bread and other carbohydrates pays dividends, at least temporarily.

What if my daily discomfort has nothing to do with what I eat or drink? I doubt it, but it's possible? What if there's something internal that is affecting my daily life?

I'd love to know, but I'm not eager to begin an expensive battery of tests to try and determine if there's something I should eliminate from my diet. There's no question my diet could benefit from a few adjustments. I'm sure I'd feel better if I didn't cheat myself out of sleep most nights of the week.

I feel horrible, I look worn down and I'm less than energetic on a daily basis. I'm not sure what I have to do to improve my health, but I didn't have heart surgery five years ago to go through life feeling like a punching bag. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I'm not going to die with an empty tank. I have long said I'd be content to die at 58, while I might still have a few decent years left. I want to make sure there's still something left in my tank when my time is up. I don't want to be a shell of a human being.

When the ghost of Macho Man Randy Savage comes knocking at my door, telling me my time is up, I want to be slightly bitter about it. Today I wouldn't be, and that's not right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

People are idiots (unedited)

I could easily start a new series of columns about the idiots and misfits I encounter in this world, but I'm not sure I'm in the mood to shoot fish in a barrel.

But I'm having a hard time forgetting the clown I passed while bicycling Sunday night. He was an older gent, older than me anyway. Not quite geriatric, but there's no chance he has more than 50 percent of his life ahead of him.

He sure looked the part of the serious bicyclist from my brief view of him prior to passing him on my 10-year-old bike. He had a long-sleeve yellow bike jersey. It was bright yellow, ensuring people could see him in broad daylight, and had the fancy pockets sewn into the back, providing a place to carry maps, cell phones, keys and anything else bicyclists like to carry in a pocket on their back. It wasn't a hot day, but it was warm, and slightly humid, so I'm not sure why the dude needed long sleeves. It looked a little silly to me.

But not as silly as his capri Spandex pants. Many bikers have some form of Spandex shorts, myself included. I wear traditional shorts, and I always were some sort of nylon short over them, because I look silly walking around in just Spandex shorts. Most men do. But to each their own, I guess. At least they're wearing shorts. I saw a guy inline skating years ago. His shorts of choice: old-fashioned mens briefs. I'm talking Fruit of the Loom. Perhaps not a crime against humanity, but somebody should have called the fashion police.

The bicycling dude opted for Spandex only on Sunday, and I guess his confusion about the weather dictated that he shouldn't wear traditional, above-the-knee shorts. He specifically needed pants that went below his knee. I saw two women sporting similar Spandex that day. One was running, the other was walking. The concept of below-the-knee Spandex is just as silly when women wear them, but it looks less ridiculous. Mr. Capri looked stupid.

But his insistence upon wearing a long-sleeved jersey and capri Spandex took a back seat to the most ridiculous aspect of his biking attire. The dude's helmet made me laugh the most.

His helmet wasn't some dorky, outdated model. It wasn't a ridiculous color either. Why did his helmet make me laugh? The grey fox insisted upon biking with his helmet strapped under his bike seat, displaying his flowing grey locks for all the world to see.

Not only did this guy look like a clown, he insisted upon making it known he was nothing more than an idiot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My My My My My (unedited)

I went to a Sunday night comedy show to see a local celebrity peform: Fancy Ray McCloney.

Fancy Ray is the textbook definition of a local celebrity. I'm not sure how his career has evolved, but he does standup comedy and local commercials, and has hosted a cable access show. He has parlayed his local fame and charisma into appearances on national TV. He was featured on Maury Povich's talk show, (which isn't anything to be proud of,) and has also appeared on one of the 12,000 syndicated courtroom shows people seem to love. I believe his case was aired on "Texas Justice." One of his earliest television appearances was not as Fancy Ray, but as Bruno El Diablo on the 1980s lip sync show "Puttin' on the Hits." (He is called "Skeebo," I think, by the host at the end of the clip.) Ray has posted a clip of his appearance on YouTube.

Ray is a Minnesota guy, evidently, but has parlayed his local fame into commercial gigs in markets around the country and even overseas. Clips of some of his commercials are also available on YouTube. Locally many of his commercials have been for adult-oriented businesses, or businesses that appeal to lower-income viewers. His commercials rarely appear outside of late night time slots.

Nationally he can claim he has appeared on "The Tonight Show," "America's Got Talent" and "Last Comic Standing." He hasn't, to the best of my knowledge, been a featured performer on any of those shows. He was featured in an on-the-street clip on The Tonight Show, as I recall, and I'm guessing his appearances on NBC's talent shows were for his auditions. I don't think he was a contestant on those shows, but perhaps I'm wrong. Had he been a contestant, I'm guessing he'd never let us forget it.

Although he has long worked as a standup comic, I've never known him to perform on a regular basis here in the Twin Cities. The first time I saw him was when I worked in Canada. He did a weekend of comedy shows in the middle of winter on the Minnesota border. It was rather entertaining. A few years later I saw one of his rare local shows in the Twin Cities. I bet that was 11 or 12 years ago. Sunday night I saw his schtick for the third time, spanning more than 15 years.

Part of his show is playing up his love of himself. He calls himself "the best looking man in comedy" and the "human chocolate orchid." He talks about how much he loves himself, making jokes about having candlelight dinners with himself, making love to himself and so on. It's kind of funny, but it's not comedy so much as it's schtick. It's a flamboyant guy who admits to being androgynous, talking about how much he loves himself. It's entertaining, but to a point. His act wouldn't work if he didn't do traditional comedy, which he does.

His show on Sunday night was outdoors. A lakeside bar/restaurant is hosting weekly shows all summer. They call it Beach Blanket Comedy. It's cheap, just $10, and allegedly comes with a $5 drink credit. Each week you can see a local comic headline the show. (Maybe some of them are touring comics, what do I know?)

Sunday's show started 30 minutes late, for no reason I'm aware of. Ray was hanging out at the outdoor bar and talking with anybody and everybody that crossed his path before the show ever started.

Eventually the show began. As is the case with most standup comedy, there's a host who introduces each comic and gets a chance to do three or five minutes of comedy at the beginning of the show. The dude they had hosting the show was painfully funny. He was so bad it was funny.

The opening comic was OK, the second guy started out strong but faded into mediocrity too soon. Ray finished up with a decent set. Despite that, I doubt I will see Ray perform again, and I'm not interested in going back to Bayview Park/Bayside Grill for another comedy show.

The show was held in an area they must use for outdoor weddings. It was fine for 90 minutes of comedy, but as it got dark, the lack of lighting on the stage was a bit annoying. By late August, when I'd consider going back to see another local guy I like, it will definitely be dark before the show ends. That was the least of the problems.

Add the terrible host, the late start and the mediocre warm-up acts into the mix and you have a weak comedy show. To make it worse: despite the fact this was the second Sunday of standup comedy at the venue, they were out of vouchers for a $5 drink credit. I was told to find somebody specific about getting my $5 credit. I didn't bother, all I wanted was a Diet Pepsi. And it's not as if the Sunday night comedy show is a big hit. People aren't lining up to see the show. They were already selling discount tickets to the show via Groupon. Yet somehow Bayview didn't have vouchers to hand out to its patrons? That's ridiculous, and unprofessional.

But the coup de grĂ¢ce was something beyond Bayview's control. Some dude, his wife, children and parents -- or some dynamic similar to that -- sat in the front row. Middle-aged dude decided that he needed to interject himself into the show. He got ripped by one of the warmup guys, and he seemed to take it in stride, and enjoy it a bit, but he couldn't stop flapping his gums. The dude was damn annoying. Ray had an exchange with him, as well, but it wasn't as drawn out or painful. Nonetheless this chumbolone managed to annoy me as I sat through an unprofessionally conducted comedy show.

As I said, it's likely the last time I see Ray perform. Forget what a lousy job Bayside did, Ray just isn't as entertaining to me. Perhaps I'm getting old, but his fawning over himself and telling people how pretty he is just doesn't entertain me like it use to. There just wasn't enough real comedy in his show, and I wasn't as entertained. I wasn't bored. I laughed plenty, but I don't feel the need to see his act again.

Would I go see him again if you offered me free tickets and drinks? I suppose, as long as the show isn't at Bayside.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

People #6

Coworker E is not originally from this planet.

He has a wacky religious upbringing that probably didn't do him many favors as he has progressed through adult life. He has a weird sense of humor, a real lack of social grace and below average self awareness. He has no idea what a complete moron, clown, idiot and dufus he can be in the course of his daily life. And his symptoms are not erratic, they're part of his daily life.

He not the type of person you would immediately dislike, but he will rub you the wrong way. And his awkward laugh at the end of almost every sentence he utters will drive you insane.

He's tall, lanky, slightly awkward and eclectic, not exactly a dream come true for most women, or gay men, I would guess. He has friends and knows a lot of people, but I've never known him to have a girlfriend. That doesn't mean he hasn't had one in recent years, I've just had no indication of it.

They say there's somebody for everybody. That's probably true. I also think that some people are destined to be alone if they hold out for exactly what they're looking for. Life is about compromise, and for some our looks, personality and interests don't combine to form a dynamic, winning combination. Even if the most unattractive, dull, uninspired person has a perfect match out there, will s/he ever find that person? Probably not, especially if the unattractive, dull, uninspired person seeks perfection from another human being.

Coworker E may very well find someone who wants to share his or her life with him, but the odds are against it, and the odds get longer every day, especially knowing that he seems to prefer young, blonde women. If he holds out for a young, blonde hottie, he has no chance of ever getting married.

But life is full of surprises. One lightning strike, near-fatal car crash or health scare may shake his foundation to the core. He may reinvent himself in some way and become a hot commodity on the free agent market. Stranger things have happened.

If my competition was a world full of Coworker Es, perhaps I'd have a chance at long-term happiness.

But the world doesn't work that way.

Monday, June 13, 2011

People #5 (unedited)

I have already introduced Holly, a former co-worker.

Today I received an email announcing her engagement to Roger.

Holly didn't get married until her 40s, as far as I know. (I'm guessing her marriage to Phil was her first, but I don't know that for a fact.) It's a bit surprising she didn't get married sooner. She seemed like the type. She'd have made a good trophy wife, I think. I don't say that to be disrespectful, even if it sounds that way. She isn't afraid to find her own way and have a career., but women like her usually attract successful men.

The end of her relationship with Frank was hard on her. She rebounded, however, and married Phil. I remember Oct. 7, 2005, very well. I was there.

Less than four years later she was moving to California, divorced from Phil and doing something I haven't the guts to do, starting over. She didn't randomly pick southern California, she had a few connections there. But nonetheless she moved away from home, and all the comforts of home. I'm not sure if she knew Roger before she moved, but the duo hooked up shortly after she arrived. And now they're planning a 2012 marriage.

I'm slightly conflicted about the fact that I went to Holly's wedding less than six years ago and now she's planning marriage No. 2 less than seven years later.

Despite that, I'm happy for her. We all make mistakes. We all hope for the best, but fail to produce results that match our expectation, sometimes as a result of our actions and decisions, sometimes through no fault of our own. I'm not sure who is to blame for Holly's failed marriage, but she has always been somebody I've thought deserves happiness. I hope she gets it right this time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

103, you say? (unedited)

We hit 103 degrees today in God's Country.

It didn't last long, I'm told, but we hit 103F for a short time. For several hours, however, we hovered at 102.

Considering we were shoveling snow less than two months ago, that's hot. In Nevada it routinely tops 100F in the summer. When I was in Nevada last July it was hotter than 103. I went geocaching during our first morning in Laughlin and it was 100 by 9 a.m., and that's dang hot, even if it was dry heat.

We spent two nights in Vegas before spending one final day in Laughlin. It was about 116F that Wednesday afternoon. It may have been a dry heat, but it's still too hot to spend a lot of time outside.

Minnesota never gets that hot, but it's almost always humid when it's hot. I'd argue a 95-degree day in Minnesota is as bad, if not worse, than 115 in Nevada. Bottom line, neither is tolerable if you're not in the shade, or a swimming pool.

We rarely hit 100F in Minnesota. It has been almost five years since the last time we hit 100. There's not much difference between 100 and 103, but it has been more than two decades since we hit 103, if I understood the weather report. The last time we hit 103 in Minnesota the mercury climbed to 105 in 1988.

So how did I commemorate the 102F day we had in Minnesota? I went bicycling.

I learned several years ago, on a 99F Sunday afternoon, that I have limitations. I was bicycling three loops around a lake at the time, and each loop was about 8.25 miles. I thought I could do my usual three laps around the lake as the mercury climbed toward 100, but I realized I was kidding myself by the time I started my second lap. I finished two laps, but that was all I could do. I'm not sure I could have finished a third lap if my life depended upon it.

Given today's heat, and the fact I'm behind my usual bicycling pace for early June, I had no problem limiting my evening bike ride to 13 miles. No matter how hot or humid it gets during the day, I don't have much of a problem bicycling after 7 p.m., as the sun isn't overhead, so it isn't beating down upon me as I ride. I waited until close to 8 p.m. to start riding since I'd be on the road for less than 60 minutes.

The biggest challenge wasn't the heat, or the humidity. Although there's rarely dry heat in Minnesota, when it gets ridiculously hot, the humidity typically drops. It was rather humid on Monday and Tuesday morning, but the humidity decreased during the day on Tuesday. By Tuesday night I'd argue we had dry heat.

But it was windy this afternoon and evening. When it's hot, wind provides little comfort, but on rare days like Tuesday, it wasn't the worst thing to deal with, unless you were bicycling. It certainly made my final miles home more challenging than I cared for.

But I made it, and in a couple of days the high temperature is going to fall short of 70F. In my old age I don't need heat, I'd rather have a high temp of 65 than 85, so you won't hear me complain that it's not warm enough. Today reminded me of that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Thank Jehovah it's June (unedited)

I don't like using the symbolic turning of the calendar page as an excuse for making wholesale changes in my life, but the start of June seems to coincide with the end of a long, painful spring.

I never intended for my blog to be a vehicle for me to whine about how shitty life is. Unfortunately tales of woe have found their way into my blog during the four years I have been writing about the world around me.

I'm not excited about this summer, even if I have plans to look forward to. I'm not going to be a different person by Labor Day, but I won't be the same person, either. I wish I could be excited for my future, but that's just not possible. I guess the fact I am free to do what I want with my life is something to be thankful for, but I'm not going to forget the sadness that will shadow my life for years to come. As I noted previously, I'm coping quite well with disappointment. I have come to expect it in life. But that doesn't mean I won't be haunted by my sadness. I know myself well enough to know it's a cross I will bear for a long time to come, no matter what else happens in my life. I really wish I could treat people as disposable, I mean that sincerely, but we all have our faults, and caring about people is one of mine.

I'm not going to quit smoking, drinking and swearing with the turn of a calendar page. I'm not going to start exercising four hours a day, volunteering at the soup kitchen and studying for a master's degree simply because we've reached the unofficial start of summer. But during the past week I have made conscious choices to better my life in a few small ways. I'm not ready to slap myself on the back for my effort through five days of June, but I'm better off than I was five days ago, even if it's only psychological.

There's a light at the end of my tunnel, I can see it. More important, I believe in it. I know I will reach it. And this will be the last I'll write about my pointless, meaningless life this summer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The summer of George? (unedited)

The summer of George turned out to be a lost summer for George Costanza. I can't afford a lost summer.

I have a new manager at work. He's at least the fifth manager I have had in the past six years. he's young, confident in his abilities and rubs me the wrong way. He has no real managerial experience, and the little things he nitpicks about remind me, yet again, that my life is one big waste of time. My company is a joke, and after more than 13 years, the joke is on me. I have pissed away more than six years working for a despicable company, if not more. I know every day of my life since Dec. 9, 2004, has been pissed away.

I have spent most of 2011 wondering what I'm living for. The answer is nothing. I haven't been enamored with my job for years, but I don't know what else to do. I can't wait much longer for the answer to magically appear. My job is the most significant thing in my life, unfortunately, and it's killing me. It is literally killing me.

When my girlfriend left Minnesota in early February, I was doubtful that I would ever move to be with her. I don't know what I expected to happen, but packing up and leaving Minnesota didn't seem like the answer.

Almost immediately I started to realize that moving out of state wouldn't have been as ridiculous as I first thought. I started to envision a scenario that would have made a lot of sense for me personally. This all happened within two weeks of her leaving, but it was only after she left that I was informed she was ready to kick me to the curb months prior. I had outlived my usefulness, but she decided it was easier to kick me to the curb after she left.

I thought she was the one person who kind of understood me. She couldn't put an end to the slow, downward spiral my life was in, but by moving out of state she unwittingly gave me the incentive I needed to finally jump off the runaway train my life had become. The hiring of Mutton Chops, my new manager, should have been the last straw. My personality clash with Mutton Chops should be affirming my decision to leave Minnesota behind. I should be moving to Utah in September.

Instead I'm left to pick up the pieces of my life, before it's too late. I'm not sure I have the strength.

Somehow I have to find the inner strength to carry on, faced with a life that is devoid of meaning and purpose. I don't know how that is going to happen. This may very well end up being the summer of George.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bradlee Dean is a whore (unedited)

I first encountered the cult of Bradlee Dean several years ago.

I was introduced to his wacky organization while pumping gas in Plymouth. His "international" organization, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, is religious, political and educational, I guess. It depends upon which shoe fits that day. At the time they were focused on promoting a drug-free message. Some dude volunteered to pump my gas and was happy to accept a donation for his anti-drug crusade. I quizzed him about his organization, thought it was a cute idea, gave him a buck and took a copy of his propaganda. I thought perhaps it would make an interesting feature story for my employer.

I'll get a few details wrong from here, but I don't care. I won't waste any more of my time perusing his ridiculous website.

Bradlee Dean, (that's his stage name) is the head honcho of YCRBYCH and a rock and roll washout. He didn't make it as a rock star, so he found God. Or something like that.

There's a great picture of him, looking every bit the part of a late 80s hairband drummer. He is the right age for the gig, too. Today he is in his 40s, I'm certain. (I found age info on his website years ago, which explained why he looked like an 80s hairband guy 15 years too late.) He would have been in his early 20s when hairband rock was all the rage on the Sunset Strip and hard rock radio.

Somehow he never hit the big time, but as I recall he claims that his own dabbling with drugs in his years of pursuing the dream provide the inspiration for his YCRBYCH program.

Today he has a band of like-minded folk who play hard rock. They call themselves Junkyard Prophet. (Or should that be Junkyard Profit?) I think their philosophy is that in order to reach kids, you have to speak their language. So by rockin' out, kids will understand what Bradlee means when he tells kids "say not to drugs."

The problem, I learned in the days that followed the gas station encounter, is that his well funded organization irritated a few school districts around the country, as their say no message was blurred by a bit of preaching about premarital sex and fidelity. I searched for info about his organization and found links to a few stories about public school districts who were surprised by the message being delivered by YCRBYCH. Girls were segregated from the boys, and the girls were basically told that they must remain pure for their husbands. And the message wasn't delivered in a clinical manner, it was presented with a bit of a biblical emphasis, as I recall.

YCRBYCH had corporate sponsors, I think, and as I recall the entourage traveled by fancy coach bus to preach its anti-drug message. Good gig if you can get it.

For years Bradlee's website has touted that Junkyard Prophet was the second best unsigned band in the nation, behind P.O.D. There's never any attribution to this claim, but somebody somewhere said it, so they cling to that to this day. I guess God frowns upon drug use, but not delusions of grandeur.

I hadn't seen or heard much about burnout Bradlee in recent years. His organization has had a booth hawking its merchandise at the Minnesota State Fair for at least a few years running, ironically right outside the building where I work. I don't stop to peruse the merchandise.

Recently Bradlee made the news here in Minnesota. He now calls himself a pastor, although I can't find any information about his alleged church. He weaseled his way into the Minnesota House of Representatives under the guise of being a pastor. He showed up, hair longer than ever, it appears, and pulled into a ponytail. Wearing a track suit, he led a prayer, video of which is online. He took a shot at Obama at the conclusion of his prayer to "Father God." One problem with that, his prayer wasn't supposed to be political. That angered Democrats and embarrassed Republicans.

So that got me started looking into the burnout's recent endeavors. As it turns out, he's a big defender of the Constitution, and he fears that it's being forgotten in the schools of America, particularly the "one nation, under God" part. I'm not sure what he is arguing for exactly, but we aren't God fearing enough in schools or our lives, it seems.

He has also been hosting a weekly chat session on a local AM radio station. I learned that he recently got the boot from his host station. This occurred before the prayer session, evidently, because he mocked African Americans. (That's what God wants, right?)

He has also been less than kind to homosexuals in the past. And shockingly he has a big supporter in wacky Michele Bachmann. What's not to like about this guy?

As if his preaching on the radio isn't bad enough, he now has a video that promotes his crusade to clean up the public school system, (the system that let him down). "My War" is not only available for purchase, he paid to have it broadcast weekly for several weeks running on our local CW affiliate. He see himself as a Marvel Comics superhero, according to his introduction. I watched a bit of it. He has all of our nation's problems pegged, or so he thinks. It's slightly entertaining, but I couldn't watch an hour of this burnout.

Good news, his hypocrisy is catching up with him. Bad news, for every media outlet or corporation that distances itself from him, another one sees an opportunity. He has been featured on cable news outlets, he claims, and that wouldn't surprise me. Cable news thrives off of extremists such as Bradlee. Having recently been booted from sending his lackeys out to Minnesota Wal-Mart stores and losing his local radio home, he'll probably get more national attention for his war. And there's a chance an FM talk station will pick him up.

Bradlee's operation is well financed, somehow. His websites are slick, his "war" video is professionally produced and his organization can afford a lot of operational expenses. He must be making big cash on the sale of those Junkyard Prophet CDs.

He's not dealing drugs or stealing credit cards to finance his lifestyle, as best I know, but I can't help but feel this guy and his disciples are criminals, too. But they're stealing time and money in the name of Father God, so I guess that makes it OK.

Wonewoc, we hardly knew ya (unedited)

The 22nd annual camping trip ended today. For the third time in its 22 years, it wasn't held at our private campsite outside Wausau, Wis.

Our private campsite is on undeveloped land, and it's a 0.2 mile walk over uneven ground to get from the gravel road to our campsite tucked in the trees. Usually the ground is dry by Memorial Day weekends. Five years ago it wasn't. Our campsite was dry, but it was rather wet walking to and from the campsite. That's not the end of the world, but it's not a good thing when my buddies are towing their kids with them. We ended up at the nearby county park that weekend and were lucky to get a campsite there.

Given the avalanche of snow the Midwest had this past winter, and the fact it has rained plenty this spring, it was a sure bet that the water was worse than ever. We decided we had to go elsewhere.

We spent a few hours last week deciding where to go. Online searches gave us ideas, but nothing jumped out at us as the answer we were waiting for. On Friday morning it looked like we were going to try our luck camping in a Minnesota state forest. State forests have campsites, but few amenities. Given our campsite in Wausau has zero amenities, a primitive campground in a state forest is not a big deal.

But then Doug offered the winning solution Friday morning. On Thursday night his wife found free camping, including firewood, in small town, Wisconsin. It sounded like the perfect solution. Instead of driving three hours into Wisconsin to camp in the Wausau area, we'd go to something called Wonewoc, a one-time rail stop in central Wisconsin.

Doug and I arrived mid-afternoon and missed our turn. We quickly determined our directions didn't match where we were going, so I called the number on our print out. My call went to village hall.

I think my call was answered by the city administrator. He explained what I was looking for, and noted that it had rained during the past two days, so the area we were headed to may be flooded. He noted, however, that there was another place to camp, Wonewoc Legion Park, a few blocks away.

We inspected the accommodations at site 1 and decided it was less than ideal. It's a great place to camp if you're a do-it-yourself biker or somebody traveling by car across the country and looking for free places to pitch a tent each night. There was enough dry land to meet our needs at site 1, but little more than that. There was free firewood and a fire pit, and an old park nearby, but our campsite was along the Wisconsin 400 State Trail. The aggregate trail wasn't a high traffic trail, but it was less than appealing. Great place to set up for the night if you bike with your tent and gear on your fork and frame, but not ideal for weekend camping recreationalists. We started to think we made a bad decision.

Our next stop was Legion Park. It has a city pool, a picnic shelter, a large grass field that was cleared in anticipation of a softball diamond that was never built and a small area for camping. It had an obvious place to park an RV, but if it is designed for more than one group to camp, I'm surprised.

Legion Park looked like the place to be, but we decided to check one last option. We needed groceries for the weekend, so we had to find a grocery store (Wonewoc has a small one with a nice guy who runs it. And he has a lot of stuff, but his store is more like a convenience store than a supermarket. If you live in Wonewoc, you don't do your major grocery shopping there.) As we backtracked in search of a grocery store we decided to backtrack further and check out a campground we passed. We worked our way back to Tunnel Trail Campground, named in honor of the tunnels the bike trail passes through. (The bike trail, like many others, is an old railroad bed, and the trains that ran up and down this line indeed passed through these tunnels.)

The campground had some adjoining spots open for tent camping, but most of the campground was full. There were plenty of camper trailers around, and that seemed to be what they catered to. There were a handful of tent sites, but we would have needed two of them for our four tents, and after checking them out we decided it wasn't worth it. Each site was $35 a night, meaning it was $140 for our two nights there. The money wasn't an issue, but what were we getting for our money? Two nice grassy spots together, yes, but small sites that left little room for the kids to play. There was a small volleyball area and a playground on the property, but this wasn't worth $140. There was a small mini-golf course that looked like fun, and it was cheap to play, but again, not worth $140 for access to. There was a swimming pool (heated, I think),) but in typical Memorial Day fashion the weather is less than outstanding. We weren't too interested in swimming even if the pool was warm. (I'm pretty sure the kids didn't have swimsuits.) We decided that Tunnel Trail Campground wasn't for us. We headed back to Wonewoc.

We set up in Wonewoc on a nice flat area that in a previous life had been the grassy space between horseshoe pits. A great space for four tents. Not long after we set up we had a visitor. It was Lee, the city administrator.

During our chat we learned about the history of the park and a few tidbits about small town, Wisconsin. I followed Lee over to the high school's outdoor environmental studies area so he could show me where the nature trail was. He told me more about the town's history, the Baraboo River and the bike trail. We were fortunate Lee stopped in to check on the park Friday night, as we likely never would have found the trail on our own Saturday.

German Bear and cubs arrived after dusk. We were all relatively tired and went to bed by midnight, I think.

I woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday to tinkle. I had to tinkle like an elephant. Too many beers before going to bed. It was light out already, and the kids were all up, milling about. I was convinced I'd never fall back to sleep, but I gave it a go. Sure enough, I snoozed without a problem. The next time I woke up it was to the sound of a police officer talking with the dads. It seems the kids were bored and decided to test if the old, dirty pay phone at the pool was working. It was. They decided to test it by dialing 911. Obviously the local officer on duty was dispatched to the park after this occurred. He found the kids and asked them if they had dialed the phone. They admitted to it. So he then talked to the dads, explaining what had happened. End of story. I rolled over and fell back to sleep.

Usually when I'm camping it gets too hot to sleep in the tent once the sun rises and starts heating the air inside my tent. That wasn't a problem on Saturday. It turned out to be a pleasant day, but it wasn't very warm Saturday morning. I slept almost until noon.

We headed out to the nature trail shortly after noon and walked around for a short while. The trail takes you near a cliff known as Third Castle, which has a cave in it. Unfortunately the cave is on private property, and on the opposite side of the river, making it inaccessible. I knew this, but the kids thought they'd be able to go inside the cave, evidently.

I wanted to do more walking, but the kids were easily bored by the nature trails, so we headed into town and had late lunch at a local pizzeria. The restaurant did a nice job, and they treated the kids well.

We returned to Legion Park and found a group was assembling on the field for a night of camping. It was a group of five, I think, all adults. They were quiet, unlike Doug, who insists upon singing, poorly, to his favorite rap and rock songs of yesteryear.

I went with Doug and the two boys to the top of a small cliff near our campsite. The boys thought it was a lot of fun to throw sticks into the trees from atop the cliff. I sat down and drank beer.

Eventually they headed back down to our campsite, I sat alone for a while, thinking back to my 2010 camping trip and how worthless my life had become since that time. During that camping trip my girlfriend told me she loved me. I don't know why she was compelled to lie to me that weekend, but there I was a year later, realizing I have nothing to live for, and instead of being sad about it, I was indifferent to it.

I wound up taking a nap before sunset, despite the fact I slept for most of a 12-hour period. I got up at dusk and sat around drinking beer with Doug until 2:45 a.m.

I had to tinkle within an hour of going to bed, which was annoying, but otherwise I slept until 8 a.m.

I got up to tinkle again and German Bear was milling about. I didn't think much of it, but shortly after I climbed back into my tent he started taking his down. He seemed to be a bit eager to pack up, but again I didn't think much of it.

Everybody decided to walk into town to go to the bakery. I stayed behind and eventually got up and started slowly packing my things up. It had started to sprinkle a bit, and I hoped we'd be packed up before a serious rainfall. (We had light showers on Friday night, too, but otherwise avoided significant rain, something we wouldn't have avoided had we stayed in Minnesota.)

The group came back after having breakfast at the family restaurant. (The bakery was closed.) German Bear had all his stuff packed up, so he quickly hit the road. Doug and I finished our packing and took off within an hour.

Wonewoc won't replace Wausau as our camping destination, but for a town we gambled upon for a weekend of camping, we did well.