Friday, May 06, 2005

(Not Really) Feeling Minnesota [Part II: The Good]

So here I am at 11 o'clock on a Friday night, and I'm home. I feel like an old man right now.
As I mentioned in a
previous post, I have now lived in Minnesota for five years. There have been good moments, and there have been bad moments. Tonight, I would like to talk about the aspects of Minnesota life that I really like.
To begin with, there is Minnesota itself. This state is gorgeous. I remember when I came to visit Minnesota (for a job interview) with my wife, and we went for a walk near Lake Calhoun. At the time, we were living in Michigan near Fermi II (that was a hoot. I really think I saw
Blinky, the three-eyed fish), and I remember that the air was terrible. When we were walking around Lake Calhoun, I turned to my wife and said, "Do you feel this air? It's so crisp. So good!" I admit it. The environment here in Minnesota is fantastic. I used to live in Missouri, and down there the Mississippi looks so brown and nasty. Here, though, the river looks so clear and vibrant. It's fantastic. With so many lakes and trees, the state feels like a midwestern version of Oregon (or maybe Oregon is the western equivalent of Minnesota). Either way, the environment here is breathtaking. Camping is awesome, and the wildlife appears healthy.
But what about the city aspects of life you ask? Well there's appeal there as well. First of all, the fact that "the essentials" (clothing and unprepared food) are not taxed means that shopping is actually cheaper here than in many other places. None of that, "what's 6.5% of $26.36," crap. Nope, what's on the register is the price, no questions asked. Beyond that, everything feels so affordable. Maybe that's because I'm used to New York, but the fact that
Minnesota Wild tickets are more affordable than New York Rangers tickets (and you get a better, younger, and faster team to watch to boot). I went out to Esca in NY with my wife one night after a show. For what we paid there (which I will admit was worth it), we were able to go to Mission American Restaurant as well as a hockey game, and we could have bought tickets to a show at the Guthrie. Let's face it. This city, though the housing market is not necessarily there, is affordable.
Maybe, however, you don't want to cook. Maybe you want to go out. Almost every kind of restaurant choice is well represented here in Minnesota (the ones that I feel aren't I will talk about later). I have had some fantastic sushi at places like
Sushi Tango. You want French? Try Vincent. Hell, I could go on and on with types and restaurants to fill that want. The point is that there are so many great places to eat and drink. There's a reason that the City Pages restaurant section is so large: because there are SO many good restaurants.
What else do I like? I like that there are walking paths and bike trails so readily available. I like the fact that Minnesotans actually care about education (I'm still waiting Missouri....). I like the fact that I'm far enough away from family that they can't visit all the time, but they can still visit. I like the fact that Minnesota is (or seems to be) trying to make Light Rail work. I miss the New York Subway system. Sure it smells, but it sure as hell works. I like the fact that Minnesota has a large homosexual population that isn't really persecuted. I can't say it's not persecuted, because I read small things here and there. I like the fact that there is a large and mostly well-to-do artistic population. Art, Theatre, and Music seem to thrive in Minnesota. Just like the restaurants, there are so many places that a person could go hear great music every night.

I like the fact that this state, though growing, feels like a place that no one really knows about. My father-in-law likes to call it, "Mini-No-Place." Many people who do not live here do. But for a third tier place, the Twin Cities (and surrounding areas) offer so much.
That's why I like it here. It's affordable (mostly) and with so much to do, it's hard to get bored. Unfortunately, there are many aspects that make me want to leave her (which may happen sooner or later). I will elaborate on that in Part III: The Bad.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Gutentag Herr Puck

Ok, I know I promised to talk about Minnesota, but tonight presented a topic I couldn't pass up. My wife and I went to Wolfgang Puck's new restaurant here in Minnesota. It's called 20.21. It's a California/Asian fusion restaurant, and it's quite good. However, one other reason why we went was the chance to meet that loveable Austrian chef.
We ate (a great meal), and looked around for a glimmer of the man, but he was nowhere to be seen. We were even served by Scott Innefree, the executive chef. That was a treat.
So, because we did not meet the big man, I present instead a proposed conversation between myself and Herr Puck.

(Disclaimer: For all legal purposes, this conversation never took place. So no suing.)
Me: Mr. Puck, Mr. Puck! Great restaurant.
Wolfgang Puck: Zank you, zank you. I've tried very hard to make it special.
Me: It is that. I mean the food is original and great. The wine, however....Weeellll, it's a little over-priced for the choices
WP: What!? How dare you insult me with your accusation! I will crush you! I'm Austrian. You know who else is Austrian? That's right Governor Schwarzenegger.
Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I didn't mean to insult. Just trying to help. I mean this is only the second day you've been open. Sorry.
WP: It's all right. I've been testy since Julia (Childs) died. I miss her everyday. She was special both in and out of the kitchen (stares off and smiles).
Me: What do you mean by that?
WP: Veeellll, she was a beautiful women, even right before she died.
Me: Ummmm, ewww.
WP: You have no appreciation for women. I'm Wolfgang Puck! I love all women.
Me: Hey that's great. Can I get back to dinner now?
WP: Ja, ja, dat's fine. Have you tried the Lobster?
Me: I don't like lobster, and my wife is allergic.
WP: WAAAASS? Then no dessert for you!
Me: Just because I want to order something I like?
WP: Ve have nothing else to discuss. Just get your wine and finish. You've broken my heart, just like Julia.
Me: Like I said before: ewwwww. So, one last question. Are you happy with your staff.
WP: Vell, the ones I like I tell to call me Wolf. The rest call me boss.
Me: Oh, that's interesting. Who calls you Wolf?
WP: Only the ladies. You know how that goes, eh? (winks)
Me: I walked into that one.
WP: Ok, I should go now. Do you want an autograph?
Me: Could we get one?
WP: Tell your wife to show her breasts and....
Me: Check please!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

(Not Really) Feeling Minnesota [Part I]

The other day I had to cover a math class (which is funny, because I am an English teacher). So there I am working with students on math questions (Trigonometry no less), and they get done early. As they are not used to me and most don't really know who I am, they decide to ask me some questions about myself. First one out of the gate: "Where are you from?" Easy, "East Coast. Born in New York." Having lived in Minnesota for five years now, the response I got was not a surprise. One student said, "Oooohhh. You're not FROM here," and the rest of the class started murmuring. Immediately the questions started coming from all over the room:
"Why did you move here?"
"Did you really think you'd be happy here?"
And on and on it went. I don't mind answering these questions, because I'm used it after all this time. Since the day I first moved to the land of ice and snow (and it has snowed for 9 of the last 12 months. I mean, come on! May snowstorms?) people have treated me very differently. Heck, I even have a title: Transplant. That's what Minnesotans call someone not from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who lives here. Once you're branded a Transplant, the name sticks to you forever. I was once introduced at a party as, "This is my friend, he's a Transplant." Gee thanks. Great intro.
Anyway, over the next few posts, I will explain the things about Minnesota that I like as well as the things that drive me nuts. So, we'll be covering cliques, passive-agressive natures, terrible driving, beautiful settings, the lack of taxes, and the fact that there are
11,842 lakes, not 10,000.
I'll leave you tonight with this: If you really want to piss off a die-hard Minnesotan, bring up the Coen Brothers'
Fargo. Many Minnesotans took offense with the film's portrayal of Minnesotans. As one former co-worker used to tell me, "That's not how we really are, don't cha know?"

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Power of Memory

It amazes me how much we don't know about the human mind. One aspect is our ability to conjure up memories from the darkest recesses of our mind thanks to a smell, or a song, or a picture. For example, I went to a Saint Paul Saints game with my wife not too long ago. While there, I bought a bag of fresh roasted peanuts. The smell triggered a memory from when I was eight. You see the last time I had fresh roasted peanuts was when I was with my father at a circus in Germany. I remembered how a camel walked over to take some of my peanuts, and when I wouldn't give it any, it spit on me. So, as I sat at that game eating those peanuts, all I could think about was that circus, and how vividly that whole night was playing in my head. Some people say they can remember the day Princess Diana died. My father told me that he clearly remembers the day the United States landed on the moon.
So why do I bring this up? Well, today two things happened that brought back memories that I had not considered in years.
The first was a film. A 1989 thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill called
Dead Calm. The last time I saw this film was as a senior in college. As I sat there watching the film, I remembered the last time I had seen it so clearly. I was sitting in my house in St. Louis with my girlfriend (now wife) and my roommate (a faculty member, but that's a whole different story). We sat and watched the film and at one intense point, one of the cats jumped on to my roommate, and he SCREAMED. This was not just a small little yelp, this was a full on horror movie scream that neighbors heard in their apartments. One guy even came over to make sure no one had died.
The other memory is not as funny and came out of nowhere. I was sitting in the faculty lounge at lunch and started talking to a few teachers. At one point, a math teacher commented, "Some of these kids think they're Superman. Like they think, "I cannot be beaten." I used to know a guy named Chuck when I was in high school. Chuck's mantra (which he repeated every hour on the hour) was "I cannot be beaten." He would say this in classes when he got questions right. He would say this on the ice or on the field when he scored. He would even say this when he would make out with his girlfriend (or so she said). Chuck was a very brash person, and he didn't care who knew it. That brashness is what led to Chuck's demise.
After graduation, Chuck moved to New York for college. One night, as he was returning from a party, Chuck was bumped into by some guy. Rather than just let it go, Chuck turned on the guy and stepped up to him. Unfortunately for this brash young man, he hadn't realized that the guy who bumped into him had many friends. Late night in Subway in New York. One man against five. Chuck never had a chance. He was beaten to death under the streets of New York. No one ever found the guys who did it.
Let me be clear, I was not really friends with Chuck. I just knew him as a classmate, but his hubris, much like Ajax, led to his death. When I heard, "I cannot be beaten," it reminded me that in a few days, it will be the eight year anniversary of his death.
This leads me to some advice for you my dear reader(s): Realize that you are not invincible. I've mentioned the John Glenn principle in a previous post. You could go at any time. The smallest, simplest thing could end your time. Chuck did not think that calling out a guy in the subway would lead to him being killed. Just realize, if not for yourself, then for your friends and family, that you are mortal and not invincible. At the same time, cherish your memories, no matter what they are, or how deep they are buried, because your memory is what keeps a person alive after they are gone. That's the real power of memory. It can reach across death and keep someone alive in our hearts.
Sorry that this got so sappy, it's just how I feel.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Love Isn't Blind, It's Nuts

Ok, I have been asked today by alot of people about my opinion on the whole Jennifer Wilbanks affair. I honestly had not really taken the time to just look it over and think about it. Now, having looked over the (reported) facts as well as taking into account the fiance's response, I believe I can comment on this.
First of all, congratulations to Minnesota. Ms. Wilbanks has now eclipsed the whole Audrey Seiler debacle. Still, Wilbanks "disappeared" in Duluth, Georgia, which ties to Duluth, Minnesota, which makes everyone remember Seiler. Hmmm, feels like Six Degrees of Fake Abductions.
All right, you can fall into two camps when it comes to Wilbank's fiance. He has come out and said: "Haven't we all made mistakes." (Thanks
New York Daily News.) That's pretty stand up for a guy whose fiance felt that she had to fake an abduction rather than tell him, "I'm just not sure." Honestly, regardless of how this plays out, I am amazed at the lengths people will go to in order to avoid really hurting someone. So, here are the two sides you can be on now that the wedding is back on:
A. You can be amazed at the power of love and how Mason is willing to forgive Wilbanks. You can turn to your significant other and say, "I love you," because you realize that love has to be real if a people can get through trials like this for each other. You can look at what poets write about love and realize this is what they meant. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, no matter what they say, gets a feeling before they get married. Anyone who says they never felt even a tiny bit nervous is lying. Everyone questions their decisions. Marriage is a huge one. People will question whether or not they made the right choice for dinner. How can marriage be any different? This is why people talk about what they want before the wedding. Some people elope, others have ceremonies. That's why you have to talk about it.
Now, Mason could be saying all this because his wedding has over 600 guests and making a guess at how much it would cost, the wedding would be somewhere around 75,000-100,000 dollars. Could you walk away after spending that much cash? That's a house in Missouri, for example. Still, we should all be amazed at the control Mason is showing and how much he loves Wilbanks.
Not a fan of choice A, then how about B?
B. Mason is putting on a really good show. This is one of those situations where if Mason looks really good, then he essentially owns Wilbanks for the rest of their natural lives. Could you imagine?
Wilbanks: I can't believe you cheated on me! And with my Sister!
Mason: I'm sorry, should I have faked my abduction to do it?
How can she argue back? Of course, in a totally cynical world, this is what I see happening:
Mason forgives Wilbanks in a very public way. He gets the masses to see him as a sympathetic man. People wonder, "What the hell is he thinking? Doesn't he want revenge?" But Mason appears to push all of that out of his mind. He even invites Fox News and CNN to cover the wedding to show that all is well. Wilbanks relaxes, she thinks all is well. The sun rises on the morning of the wedding day. The news vans show up, the groom looks great, and all of the guests arrive. The ceremony starts with Wilbanks walking down the aisle in a gorgeous dress. She arrives to the altar and, after some brief words, she gives her vows. Mason listens, smiles, and then the priest asks him to speak his words. Mason turns to the crowd, the cameras, and then lashes out at Wilbanks in front of the entire world. He tells her that this is how he felt when she left. Embarassed, alone, ashamed. As he continues to dress her down, the people of the world who questioned his motives flicker a smile. This man has destroyed this woman forever in the eyes of society.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he is a true southern gentleman. One southerner I know says that even if he was utterly furious, he would never show it to the world, because that's not what a good southern man does.
If he really does love her, then we can all take a major lesson away from this situation. How to forgive what is, to some, unforgiveable.
I am a pessimist and a cynic. If cheated on by someone you love, I believe that there really isn't a possibility of a second chance. Still, this is different. She tried to leave, not be with another man (so far as we know).
Still, let Mason be an example. Sometimes mistakes can be fixed or forgiven. Don't rush to judgement. Instead, look over the whole situation first, then decide. Love makes us do crazy things. Maybe Mason REALLY loves Wilbanks. That's what we should be asking, not what will he do now.