Archive for the 'Friends' Category

14
Jun
13

Goodbye, Minnesota’s Rose

Catherine and Wain

Catherine Jensen and Wain McFarlane, Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge, Minneapolis, May 2010

It seems impossible, ridiculous really, that we are bidding goodbye to our dear friend Catherine today. Just five days ago we had no idea she was even ill.

We got the news late on Sunday night, that she’d taken a turn for the worse, that she’d been on life support, that she was going to die.

The word “shocking” isn’t nearly accurate. What word is? There is no word for this feeling. There is no poetry for this. One moment, not a thought about her. The next, she is nearly gone. Continue reading ‘Goodbye, Minnesota’s Rose’

17
May
11

Can’t Win for Losing

Some people are naturally competitive about everything they do. I am not.

That’s not to say I want to lose, or that I don’t like to be my best. I get jealous when someone is good at something I want to be good at. I want to be a success, and I want people to think I’m successful, but my goal is merely to be accomplished. I don’t necessarily want to be better than anyone. I just want to be as good as they are.

I don’t need to win. Sometimes I don’t even like to win, because I feel bad that someone else had to lose. I just want to be evenly matched. And then if I should happen to win, its not my fault that someone else lost. It’s just down to a good hand. Luck. Fate.

And I don’t like to celebrate and carry on. I don’t like to stand under a spotlight as draw attention to myself as “the winner.” I definitely don’t like to put it in anyone’s face.

But then sometimes, when I drink a lot, I behave much differently.

Continue reading ‘Can’t Win for Losing’

01
Mar
11

The Sole of Wit

As we settle into the on-ramp to middle age, my husband and I find ourselves utterly captivated by the lamest of intellectual parries and thrusts. One of our favorites is the synonym game. “Eat,” one of us will say. “Devour,” the other will say. “Chew,” comes the reply, followed by “masticate,” “digest,” and so on and so forth.

Last night, inspired by a piscine pun a friend of ours wrote as a Facebook status update, Jeff asked me to name species of fish.

“Uh… trout?” I said. “Pike. Flounder. Why?”

He showed me the picture on our friend Marc’s Facebook wall, a folk-art plate with a fish skeleton painted on it, accompanied by the words “Tuna Half Men. Sole Train.”

Ah. I was beginning to understand.

“I’ve already got ‘Carp 54, Where Are You?'” Jeff said. I need another one.

I gave it a long, hard think. Before long I had one. Perfect.

“Who’s the Bass?” I said.

And we were off.

Continue reading ‘The Sole of Wit’

29
Aug
09

In Memoriam: Joey Ruggiero

It’s one of life’s great cliches that everyone comes into your life for a reason. It does not always follow, however, that they go out of your life for a reason, too. Sometimes they just go, and it’s cruel, and it’s brutal.

I did not know Joey well. We met in January, and he was gone by mid-April. Every time I saw him in those brief months, he brought some new delight into my life &#8212 a fun, clever friend of his; a fabulous place for brunch; a ceramic two-tiered deviled egg serving tray.

Since his death, I have been remembering all of the “lasts.” You always remember those: the last tweet, the last Facebook update, the last photo I took of him, the last time he was at my house, the last time I was in his disastrously messy car.

Everything around me is a reminder, as if a trace of life is left behind everywhere he went, like a scent. Whenever I’m on South Street, I remember the last time he got new plugs for his ear lobes. RuPaul reminds me of him. Britney Spears reminds me of him. Blood oranges, enchiladas, Hello Kitty.

Our lasts were, in most cases, also firsts. The last meal we shared was at our annual Easter party, which we thought would be the first of many he would attend. It was at that party, he told us, that he had his first-ever green bean casserole. Also his last.

The lasts hurt so much because they’re a reminder of the obliterated potential. You decide to let someone into your life as a friend, and you can imagine how things will be years on: the holidays and birthdays, the summers and winters, the drunken nights out, the drunken nights in.

We have the lasts to be grateful for, but we can’t help but feel robbed of an undiscovered future and memories we never had a chance to make. And then we remember that the future that’s gone is his. We still have ours, and that’s more to be grateful for.

Sometimes I think we don’t really lose anybody. We just find them somewhere else. I find Joey continuously in the friends we inherited from him.

Joey collected people, and he carried a whole world with him. His was an exuberant life that spilled over into everyone around him. Like all is other possessions, we are left behind to be redistributed or to be gathered closer. We have chosen the latter.

Last week would have been his birthday. We had cake and champagne in his honor. And I saw once again how lucky we were to know him, and how grateful we should be for the people he brought to our lives.

We are all so different, and we all knew him for different reasons, but we all fit together. And wherever we go, he goes.

Rest in peace, friend.

26
Aug
08

Thanks for the Memories — I Think.

    Hand holding.
If only I actually had this much hair on my arms.

You never know who will track you down on Facebook. An old “girlfriend,” we’ll call her “Judy,” just found me today. “I’m pretty sure we had an official thing going on for at least a week in junior high,” she said. “Do I have the right Eric? Ah the memories of junior high!”

Lord, why did that memory have to be the one to bridge these (oh my god) 18 years? I much prefer to think about my abysmal performance as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a production of My Fair Lady she staged with another girl in our 7th grade English class. It was a painful (but important) lesson in the need to project on stage. Sing out, Louise!

(Judy has video evidence of this staging — that none of you will ever see.)

“Official.” Heh. I “broke up” with her (oh god, I actually remember this) in biology class. It was eighth grade. My friend Paul talked me into it. She and I had never once done anything boyfriendy or girlfriendy, and it was kind of a joke for anyone to consider us to be “going out.” So I walked up to her during a break in class and told her “I don’t think either of us is taking this very seriously. So, why don’t we just stop it?”

She agreed, somewhat puzzled, “Um, OK,” and I spun on my heels and bee-lined back to my lab table.

It’s embarrassing to think of what passed for relationships in the eighth grade. At that age, I had a few very short-term girlfriends. My parents never knew, because they never lasted long enough to result in a chaperoned movie date or an invitation to a dance. I always went to dances with just friends. No need to kiss anyone or make out in the car afterward. Safe!

My record for shortest coupling is one day. It wasn’t even one day. It was barely overnight. I got a call one night from a group of friends (all girls). These things are always done in teams, aren’t they — one hand cupped over the receiver while nearly audible whispers are shared on the other end of the line. They told me roughly this: “So-and-so likes you. Do you want to go out with her?”

I stammered for a bit, and my back began to sweat. At first I didn’t believe them. This was a joke, I thought. But they assured me it was very real.

I had never considered going out with the girl. (We’ll call her “Sara.”) But there was nothing technically wrong with her. She was sort of unusual. She had unstylish, sort of frizzy hair. She made her own clothes (which I secretly and fiercely admired). But she was smart, and she was popular in my circle of friends. And I had no problem with her. Plus, I was flattered to think that she was even interested.

Well, I thought… why not?

When these arrangements are brokered through a third party, it’s always tricky to know how to behave the next day. A kiss? No, that would be absurd. Holding hands? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So I played it cool, shyly saying hi to the girl I was supposedly “going out” with and hurriedly passing by.

Sara approached me a little later that morning in orchestra class, a little bravely, I thought. She set her violin down. I looked around me, not knowing what to expect, what do to. “Um, I’m not exactly sure what so-and-so said to you last night, but, just for the record, I didn’t ask them to ask you out for me.”

“Oh,” I said. “So…”

So, we’re not really going out then.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” I said.

“So, uh. No hard feelings, right? I hope you’re not embarrassed.”

It was sweet of her to say, because I could tell that she was embarrassed — not about turning me down but rather, it seemed, about having to say anything in the first place. The whole episode must have seemed absurd to her, and I was mortified for having made myself a part of it.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I, er… I guess I didn’t want to either.”

And the truth is I didn’t. But I felt like I was supposed to. And now I wasn’t sure if I was being rejected, or it hadn’t ever really gotten far enough for anything to be rejected. We hadn’t signed anything. She wasn’t exactly reneging. And yet, something was over.

My feelings weren’t hurt. In fact, I kind of felt as if I’d just made a narrow escape. A free man, I found myself back on the 8th-grade market, and I ventured meekly back into the fray. (Which is to say, as a teenage boy, I did nothing.)

When Judy Facebooked me today, she said she wasn’t sure if I’d remember her. The truth is, I do remember a great deal of people. Clearly. Her included. Mostly because I spent so much of middle school observing and not participating. I never carried much teen angst with me. But I do think I channeled what might have been outrage and arrogance and stubbornness into an even stronger sense of fear. Fear of embarrassment, mainly. Fear of failure. Mustn’t draw attention to myself. I felt so invisible in school that I was shocked when I won two of the mock elections in my high school senior year book. (“Teacher’s Pet” and “Most Dependable.”)

Judy and I were never close. (Despite our torrid affair, of course.) How close was I to any one of those middle school kids? How close were any of us? I kinda hated those two years. It was like a cruel social experiment. What a ridiculous proposition to take elementary school kids, shuffle them like playing cards into packs of other kids, some to one new school, some to another, and then two years later, to do it all over again for high school.

Things only got better from there. (What alternative was there?) And now life is pretty good.

26
Jun
08

Shh! I Can’t See!

One of the finest examples of those things that make remember why you love New York City is the New York Philharmonic’s free Concerts in the Park series. (Other cool free stuff in parks includes Shakespeare in the Park, Broadway Under the Stars, Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and the River to River Festival.)

One could go for the performance alone. It is one of the world’s finest concert orchestras. But plunked down at one end of Central Park’s Great Lawn, and playing to a crowd in excess of 60,000 and relying on a speaker system distributed throughout 13 acres, the full range and power of the orchestra is lost. The music on Tuesday night was fine, a simple roster of crowd-pleasers, a little “1812 Overture,” a couple of standard-issue Sousa marches — nothing too challenging.

But what makes the event is the gathering of friends, the wine and cheese and chips and wine and baguettes and wine, the crossover of strangers from picnic blanket to picnic blanket. It’s a rare moment when we all stop fussing with our super-important lives, take a breather to appreciate some of the beauty we literally pass by every day, and come together like a real community. It’s when New York is New York. Thousands of us all there for one thing: each other. And, by extension, the other guy. And, by extension, the other guy…

I brought five bottles of wine with me, a nice mix of reds and chilled whites, including a nice soave my friend Jamie seemed particularly delighted by. So much picnicking! So much conversation! So many people wandering around on cell phones trying to find their friends!

Seriously — “What did we do before cell phones?” We arrived on time.

A star-filled night (as star-filled as you get in the City) overtook the dusk, and soon we were surrounded by citronella candles and miniature flashlights and glowing cell phones and those infernal multi-colored phosphorescent plastic whips parents are powerless against purchasing for their kids. The Philharmonic stopped, and the fireworks began.

Fireworks never fail to delight me. They are so pointless and wasteful … but they are so brilliant! It’s like, we’re so happy to be alive and to be there that all we can think to do is light stuff on fire and hurl it up into the sky and watch tiny bits of metal burn and fall back to the earth.

The funniest part about the fireworks was the silence in the crowd. All through the performance, there was a low roar of chatter. People were talking about the workday, their vacation, their friends and family, the performance. Laughing. Shouting, “I’m right here waving my arms. See? No. Next to the tree on the other side of the speaker. No, the one with the pink and blue balloons — yeah — see me n— Yeah. Yeah. I’m right here. See me?” into their bloody cell phones. We even saw some guy propose to his girlfriend. We presume she said yes. Or at least that she would consider it.

But as soon as the instrument cases were latched tight, and the Philharmonic loosened their neckties, and we all turned southward to face the fireworks, everyone shut up. It was as if we had to … so we could see.

It reminds me of that line line in Ghostbusters when Ray says, “Listen! Do you smell something?”

It makes the eventual “Oh!” and “Ooh!” stand out. It sounds funny. Like we’re surprised. Like we haven’t seen it all a hundred times before. So my drunk friends and I started saying other vowel sounds, just for the sake of variety. “Aye!” “Uuuuh!” “Eeee!” They seemed as legitimate as the old standbys.

Then we moved on to consonants. “Fffff!” “Kkkhhh!” (which sounds a lot like a sneeze.) “Mmmm!”

It quickly degenerated into animal sounds. “Baa-aa-aah!” “Rrreeow!” “Waak waak!” “Moooo!”

We had killed the silence with our own performance. And the people nearby could hear us more clearly than they could hear the orchestra. I secretly dared someone to shush me. “Why?” I would ask. “Can you not see over the noise?” Annoyance with us would seem hypocritical to me, following a performance that many of them hadn’t even really listened to.

But apparently they had not come to see us, and no one said a word about it. They just continued to gaze back up into the sky, their eyes and mouths wide open, holding each other or holding themselves in the chilly summer night air.

And then it was over.

14
Nov
07

Better Living Through Phrenology

Don’t be so quick to ice that head wound. Build up enough subdermal scar tissue, and you might just change your personality!

    Phrenologist bust
What I couldn’t do with some clippers and a Sharpie.
[ferris.edu]

My friend James would be quick to point out that this is actually a pretty lame misunderstanding of the lost medical science of which he is a practitioner. James is a bona fide Phrenologist. That means he can measure the bumps and indentations in your skull and, based on the readings, make certain educated guesses about your personality.

The motto of Phrenologists: “Know Yourself.” A worthy pursuit, yes? Better be honest, though. The only way to cheat this test is to hit yourself in the head — and that’s no fun for anyone. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing.) I hesitate to think of the revelations that would result.

As one intrepid reporter from Twin Cities alternative weekly The Rake recently discovered, all the benefits of craniometric examination are yours to be had at the Science Museum of Minnesota in sleepy St. Paul.

You can see James giving this guy’s dome a good once-over.

(Those benefits, we learn, incidentally, do not directly include improved sexual prowess. But of course one must always ask, mustn’t one?)

The device James uses, a psychograph, is one of hundreds of items acquired by the formidable museum when it absorbed Minneapolis’ Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, where James gave demonstrations, in 2002. (Why should Minneapolis have all the fun, right?)

As one of the few experts in the discipline, James was rightfully retained by the science museum.

Some call it quackery, some call it a pseudoscience (James calls it a weekend pastime), but phrenology still has its proponents. If not phrenology, this site certainly believes very strongly in itself.

So, the next time someone tells you that you ought to get your head examined, rest assured you have nothing to fear. James is a very nice guy. (And kinda cute.) And he handles his instrument with a gentle and expert hand.

Put down that mallet. No cheating!

20
Mar
07

Put ‘Em on Me

Hand    
Empty and untouched
[fantasy arts resource project]

When I had a chance to touch Cyndi Lauper recently, I turned it down.

When she walked out onto the peninsula of stage projecting out into the masses assembled on the floor of the club, she reached down to the frantic hands grasping at her knees. She briefly clasped fingers, slapped palm to palm, butted fist to fist.

My friend pulled me closer and shouted into my ear. “Do you want to go up there and touch her hand? I’ll go up there with you.”

I hemmed and hawed and eventually decided no. No, I won’t.

“OK,” she said, “but if you change your mind, let me know. I’ll go up there with you.”

I wanted to go up there. No I didn’t. Yes I did. I looked at the bouncing crowd at her feet. It was packed. I’d have to be pretty aggressive to get up there. Rude, even. But I might never be so close again. And why shouldn’t they share her with me? Oh, why didn’t I start out closer to the stage before the show started, when there was plenty of room to stake out a spot?

    Cyndi Lauper
I couldn’t get a good snapshot, but memories “R” Good Enough.
[dnamagazine.com.au]

Lauper retreated, and the hands came down. My moment, my chance, had passed. Much more importantly, I could stop fussing and wimbling and concentrate on the show.

I looked over at my friend. What have I done? (What have I not done?) She sort of shrugged, as if to say, Well, that’s that. I asked you.

Cyndi Lauper was performing with Soul Asylum, Lifehouse and Mint Condition in a benefit concert for Wain McFarlane, a friend of mine. He needs a new kidney, and with the inadequate health insurance of a man who makes a living as a musician, Wain can’t afford the procedure and, more importantly, the anti-rejection drugs he’ll have to take the rest of his life. Thankfully, his brother is donating the organ, and it’s a good match. Things could be worse. But he’s still got to pay for it.

All the performers have a professional and personal connection to Wain, and agreed early on to do the show. Jeff and I flew back to Minneapolis for the show to support our friend — and, I’m not ashamed to say, to see Cyndi Lauper.

Before long, she was back on the peninsula, and my friend was elbowing me in the ribs.

I was reminded of a guy I met online whose cowboy hat Madonna took off his head at a concert last year. She wore it through a song and threw it back out into the crowd. He was apoplectic with joy. (His friends strongarmed the poor person who caught the hat into returning it.) Oh, why can’t I be like that guy?

As it was, I was embarrassed even to be standing there with my cellphone pointed upward trying to snap a few photo. My real camera had been barred at the door, but it didn’t stop us from flipping open our phones, the constellation of those tiny video displays glowing blue and shifting shape for the hour-long set.

It felt so lame and ineffectual. Every time Lauper looked in my direction, possibly even making eye contact a couple of times (which was thrill enough for me), I could feel her disappointment. You’re missing the point, idiot. This is music. This is a party. You’re trying so hard to capture the moment that you’re missing it.

She had enough to contend with, including a band that seemed unable or unwilling to keep up with her and some sound techs who just couldn’t seem to get it right. The diva — cold, raised voice, and forceful gestures (Move. There. Now.) — came out a couple of times. She is the boss and in total control. But she is not without flaws herself. When she dusted off “When You Were Mine,” an apparent gesture to local-boy-made-good Prince, she had forgotten many of the lyrics and couldn’t seem to read them very well from the back of a flyer where they had been scribbled. Eventually, she dropped the paper and rocked the chorus out instead.

None of the images I took turned out, by the way.

I had a friend in college who was a Tori Amos groupie and had a picture of herself with Amos from every concert she had attended. The dedication of waiting at the stage doors after each show, the consistency and Amos’ eventual recognition of her, was impressive to me. I was jealous, but also alarmed. It seemed obsessive. Why the need to do it more than once?

A group of three women pushed past me toward the stage, annoying the enormous man standing next to me. The one in front would gently displace someone and then her friends would rush through. It was a nuisance. There was no room for them. I hated them. I wanted to be them. No, I didn’t.

I don’t think less of people for wanting to make that contact. They were fulfilling a “need” that Lauper was willing to accommodate. Unlike my friend with the Tori Amos fetish, I suppose I just didn’t feel that need strongly enough to act on it. Unlike these women, I didn’t want to interfere with other people’s experience for an ultimately empty gesture.

It struck me that this may not have been about me. By refusing to push forward, I was keeping my friend from getting closer, too. All the emotion around my devision was instantly transferred to guilt. I should do it for her, not me. Though I guess her boyfriend could have taken her up there if she really wanted to go.

It’s enough for me to consider that I am only a degree away from Cyndi Lauper. I felt like an insider just being there. I had the hubris to think that maybe Wain would introduce us after the show. It would be just weird to touch her hand like everyone else. She talked about her upcoming True Colors Tour (which won’t stop in Minneapolis), days before the official announcement. But even that is meaningless. I don’t know her. I have nothing to say except as a one of millions of distant fans.

Cyndi Lauper is a formidably talented musician, not a faith healer. I would love to meet her and tell her I admire her and thank her for helping me friend. But I don’t want to reduce her to a fetish. What would I get out of touching her hand? The transferance of greatness? A palm full of sweat? Maybe the human touch would be just enough to assure them that she is as real as they are. Or that they are as real as she is.

Dammit, I should have just gone up there and done it.

26
Jan
07

Kidney Tones (with apologies to Jeff)

   
From the cover art of Wain’s 2001 release That Was Then, This is Now
[myspace.com/wainmcfarlane]

These days, my good friend Wain sticks mainly to cranberry juice. He jokes now about his bar tab. Not long ago, he’d drop a twenty at the most on a night out, because so many people would buy him drinks and the bartenders would do him favors. But no one gets anyone a cranberry juice, even good friends. He has to buy his own. And at a bar they charge you like it’s a cocktail. So now he spends much more not drinking than he ever did drinking.

He’s no alcoholic, and this is no 12-step program. Trust me, if he had his druthers, Wain would be back to the booze — free or not. But he’s got a problem with his kidneys that makes alcohol highly … um … disagreeable to his system. He’s on doctor’s orders. (And when that doctor is from the Mayo Clinic, one doesn’t argue.)

Wain’s kidneys are functioning at roughly 6 percent capacity. He needs a new one pretty badly. And as a musician, he doesn’t have heaps of disposable income and he doesn’t have great health insurance. He does have three things, however, in abundance: luck, friends and connections.

The luck came in at a bar in Walker, Minnesota, out in the north woods. He plays up there sometimes. At this bar, by chance, he met a doctor. That doctor knew a kidney specialist at Mayo. And suddenly there was Wain’s golden opportunity. Introductions made … 87 miles each way between Minneapolis and Rochester, Minnesota … tests taken … and voilà! We have a surgeon and we have a donor (one of Wain’s brothers).

The friends came in shortly thereafter. A bunch of musicians decided to get together to produce a benefit concert on March 10. Wain fronted a funk/reggae band in the ’80s and ’90s called Ipso Facto, and he’s been around the block a few times, having played with Prince’s band, Dave Pirner, Jonny Lang, UB40, Tracy Chapman and scores of others. This is where connections come in.

A few years back, Wain’s brother was Cyndi Lauper’s tour manager, and she became friendly with the family. Wain tells me he once saw her at a party in a gorilla costume. A musician he mentored toured with her. When she performed at the Minnesota State Fair in 2004, she let Wain sing “Time After Time” with her, letting him ad lib a verse dedicated to his late sister. She brought him back out on stage for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Wain and her bass player spun into an impromptu reggae jam.

A connection.

   
[cyndilauper.com]

So, we are told, Ms. Lauper has graciously agreed to lend some of her time and abundant talent to the cause. And many other people he’s worked with are helping out, too: Lifehouse, Mint Condition, Soul Asylum. You can read about it on her Web site.

Wain was our neighbor for more than three years. His wife Catherine, another good friend, was our landlady. He sang at our wedding. We planted vegetable gardens and herb gardens together. They babysat our cat. We’ve had Easters and Thanksgivings. We’ve dined on curried goat. We’ve toasted aquavit. He once gave us 15 lbs. of crab legs (there wasn’t enough room in his freezer for 30 lbs.) because the parents of a kid he tutored are fishmongers and they paid Wain in fish.

We just saw Wain right before Christmas. And I guess we’ll be back in March. Apparently he thinks we don’t visit enough, so he’s hauling out the heavy ammunition. I’ll take any excuse to go back to my adopted home for a visit. Even in a month as c-c-cold as March. But it’s not Cyndi Lauper who’s luring us back. It’s the prospect of being part of a concert full of people who are there to give their love to my friend.

(Truth be told, having Cyndi Lauper there, too, doesn’t hurt.)

To all my Minnesotans: Please buy tickets!




the untallied hours