Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 08, 2005

Twins start cleaning house

Joe Mays is gone, mercifully. Matt LeCroy was cut yesterday, an unfortunate but necessary move. Luis Rivas is gone, which had to happen due to his inability to improve and make better use of his considerable abilities.

Coach Al Newman is gone, too. Newman is popular with Twins' fans, but I suspect he was a little bit too intent upon doing his own managing while in the third base box. The best case scenario is that Paul Molitor will become hitting coach and Scott Ullger will become the third base coach. Molitor is a stickler for fundamental baseball. He doesn't any longer want to become a manager because he doesn't want the glare of publicity--there's something going on with a divorce, blah, blah, blah, that has caused him to turn down a couple of manager jobs. Molitor's in the Hall of Fame, so he should have the respect of the young players.

Apparently, Justin Morneau is a bit of a pill. I didn't realize that. He isn't handling his wealth and fame all that well. Gardenhire has committed to him for next season, which is good, but one hopes that somebody like Molitor could come in and shape the kid up. He's so loaded with talent that he probably doesn't like listening to coaches. To his credit, Morneau's first base play improved vastly this season.

Somebody needs to tell Torii Hunter to quit criticizing his teammates in the press. I suspect Hunter isn't nearly as popular with the rest of the team as he is with the fans.

Jacque Jones needs to be cut loose. His offense isn't quite up to par, even on the weak-hitting Twins. I could do without watching him swing and miss at low, inside curveballs in the dirt.

And last but not least, the Twins should trade J. C. Romero to the Yankees. They deserve him. He is full of talent, but he has never really grown up. He pouts. He whines. He is more interested in his own record than in the team statistics. He's been this way for years. Romero's older than Santana but less grown up. Get a hitter for him if you can.

And Kyle Lohse? He appears to be on the trading block, too. I think they should put him in long relief and keep him, unless they can get a good hitting third baseman by packaging he and Romero.

October 07, 2005

Downtown Grand Forks

The setting sun sets off the sign of a law office in an old building while causing one of the new buildings built after the flood of 1997 to glow.

Cold snap

It froze the past couple of nights. Some sort of storm came through. There was a little dusting of snow here yesterday morning, but nothing which stayed past morning coffee.

Apparently things were worse out in Dakota. The storm was big enough for the Grand Forks Herald to name it "Zach."

Zach needs a public relations consultant. He's not getting nearly the attention of Rita or Katrina. He's probably just as bad, but when you have people so widely scattered as they are in North Dakota, you just don't have the compelling pictures of jam-packed freeways.

So, it is too wet and cold outside to cut wood or anything much else. I devoted my time to getting things in order in the house. It takes twice as long for me because I have to do it wrong first, undo it, then do it right.

For example, putting together a new tool drawer last night. I twisted on 16 bolts on the base, bolts designed to hold the brackets for the casters in place--without having one crucial part, the bottom of the tool drawer, in place. So I had to take the bolts off. I did it again, only I forgot the brackets for the wheels this time, so off the bolts came a second time. But I got it done. And the garage is looking a whole lot neater with all those tools put away.

Then, I went inside to vacuum stairs with the shop vac, something I have been putting off for a month. That was fine until I ventured out the door to a real dusty rug in the garage--a mud rug I use for the worst stuff on my feet--and I sucked up all that mud with such vigor, not realizing that back in the house a the other end of the twenty-foot long vacuum hose, the machine was operating without a filter and was pumping out puffs of dust.

Two steps forward, three back. I opened the windows, got the dust out, dusted the kitchen, fixed the vacuum, and then called it a night.

YESTERDAY, Brother Joe took Aunt Olla down to her apartment in the morning and I picked her up later in the day. When I arrived, she was seated on a stool inside the front door, arms limp at her side, obviously pooped. She was waiting for Cousin Ilene to finish with a circle meeting down the hall in another apartment. Olla became convinced that the women were extending the meeting way, way past the usual time just to irritate her. They never go that long, for crying out loud. I tried to talk her out of that line of reasoning, without much success, so I changed the subject to the writing of a classified ad for the sale. That settled things down a bit.

Eventually, the circle meeting broke up, Cousin Ilene came by for a box of things, and Olla and I headed back to the Fertile Hilton, as she calls the nursing home.

October 06, 2005

Internet research

After writing about the Pine Tar Incident, I looked on the internet for more details. Billy Martin, it turns out, didn't notice Brett's bat. Graig Nettles, his third baseman, did, and alerted Martin. Nettles was well aware of the rules on doctoring bats as he was always trying to get by with such things himself.

In the furor which erupted following McClellan's signal that Brett was out, old Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry, another notorious rule-breaker, saw the bat on the ground, grabbed it and tried to sneak it away into the Royals clubhouse. Yankee Stadium security stopped him and confiscated the bat, which was then examined by league officials. The bat is now in the possession of the Hall of Fame.

George Brett, one of the great hitters of the modern era, was asked later about the incident. His take: three years earlier, he had the misfortune to miss a game in the 1980 World Series with a well-publicized case of hemmoroids. For the next three years, all he heard from the media and fans was teasing about the problem. The Pine Tar Incident erased the hemmoroids from the nation's collective memory. "It was the best thing to happen to me," Brett added.

Grand Forks

Here is a panorama shot Lance took of the bridge over the Red River between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. It is looking towards the Minnesota side. You can see the everpresent steam trail of the beet plant on the upper right. Lance and a friend crawled through some elevator shaft in an old building to reach the roof and sneak a few photos.

October 05, 2005

More Billy

I can't resist passing on another Billy Martin story concerning one of baseball's most controversial incidents, the Pine Tar Controversy of 1983. It wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Billy.

The Yankees and the Royals had a tremendous rivalry at the time, having faced each other in the league championship three times. With two outs in the top of the ninth and the Royals trailing by 4-3, Royals great George Brett came to bat with a runner on. He hit a home run, putting the Royals in the lead 5-4.

But not quite. Billy had a trick up his sleeve. Earlier in the year, he had noticed that George Brett had pine tar, the sticky stuff which is used for grip, running way up the bat. The rule book states that pine tar can't be any higher than 18 inches from the bottom of the bat; Brett's pine tar was way higher. Actually, he stored the pine tar there so he could rub some on his hands during his at-bats.

Well, Billy also knew that if you use an illegal bat to get a hit and the illegality is discovered before the next hitter hits, the batter who used the illegal bat will be called out. Billy hoarded this information for much of the season, until he really needed it.

When Brett hit his home run, the moment was right. Billy ran out and got the bat before the bat boy could retrieve it. He handed it to umpire Tim McClellan and calmly explained the rule. I am sure McClellan knew he was in trouble as soon as he saw it. McClellan consulted with his fellow umpires, measured the pine tar using home plate as a guide, and called Brett out and threw him out of the game for cheating. No home run. Game over. Yanks win. Billy triumphed through sheer cussedness. And Brett went nuts.

Well, a few days later the league overruled the umpires and said that the call wasn't fair, even though the umpires were technically in the right. The two teams were ordered to meet six weeks later to finish the game with Kansas City in the lead.

But Billy wasn't done. When the time came six weeks later to finish the inning, there was a different umpiring crew on hand. The game resumed with the next batter coming to the plate. Instead of pitching to the batter, the Yanks pitcher threw to third base. It was an appeal move. Martin claimed Brett hadn't touched third base six weeks earlier, and how was this umpiring crew to know what happened?

Fortunately for the umpires, one of them had thought of the problem ahead of time. He arranged for the four umpires from the original game to sign and notarize affidavits that declared that Brett had touched all four bases. There's a great picture of Billy staring at the affidavits right near third base. Thus stymied, Martin flew into a rage and was thrown out of the game. After a six-week hiatus, the game ended twelve minutes later with the Yankees losing--but not before Martin deployed several players to abnormal positions (starting pitcher Ron Guidry was playing center field) to protest the whole farce, a farce which wouldn't have happened without him.


On this miserable day, a pickup pulled into the nursery. I happened to be in the office. It was Arnold, a retired local farmer. He wanted rhubarb roots and he was none too happy to find out that we hadn't dug them yet. He quickly got to the real reason he was chagrined: He and his wife have moved to town, and he is sick of sitting around and he wanted to dig in the dirt, even on this miserable day. He's not used to going to the cafe and he doesn't sit in the bar, so he's sort of out of sorts living in town.

I was shocked to find out that Arnold is 87. He looks 65. I asked if he liked to go to Arizona. No, he's done that and it's just too busy there. I agreed. We moved into my office where I have a huge map of Arizona on the wall, and Arnold started telling about his travels in Arizona in the 1950s.

Turns out, Arnold, like many quiet farmers around here, has had a more interesting life than you would suspect.

He was the right age to be drafted for service in World War II, but since he was the only son left on the farm, he was expected to stay home. The draft boards were told to leave one son on the farm because it was vitally important for the crops to be harvested.

I once studied hundreds of letters from North Dakota farmers to their senator Wild Bill Langer during WWII, letters which gave details of the difficulties of farming during the war. One big problem was tires. Some farmers didn't have enough good rubber to get their crops to town.

Arnold perked up and told about two tired the rationing board gave him because he had a trailer, not a truck. He got the crops to town on those two tires, although he seemed to think he had gotten by with something.

Arnold has always felt guilty about not going to the war. If he had it to do over again, he would have gone, he said. After the war, there was some hint that you hadn't done your duty if you stayed home, for whatever reason.

He told about some locals who fought in the war. I know some of the stories, but there is one man who survived a shipwreck in the Pacific. The ship went down quick, but he escaped and swam to an island occupied by the Japanese. He was trying to go for help when he came under heavy fire. He laid down flat and was soon covered in dirt from the explosions nearby. He stayed perfectly still, mostly obscured by the dirt, until nightfall.

And we think we had a rough day.

Anyway, after the war Arnold came down with two years of severe health problems, including a long bout of strep. He couldn't work hard physically, so he and his family moved to California where he started selling insurance. He did well, despite what he termed as his "greenhorn farmer" background. But it was clear that California, even in the 1950s, wasn't the place to raise kids, so they ended up back in Minnesota where he got back into farming.

Since then, he and his wife have traveled extensively, including a trip to Norway this spring. He encouraged me to keep traveling while I was young, as it doesn't get any easier when you get old.

Anyway, it was a nice way to spend a fairly miserable late afternoon. Our visit was interrupted by a call inviting me to supper over at my friend Garth and Colleen's. My buddy, their six-year-old son Grant, is always agitating to have me over, which is awfully nice of him...and nice of his mother to go along. After supper, Grant and Cynthia decided I should be a bull that the were going to try to tame. I terrorized them as best I could--until I felt the supper pressing upwards. Enough snorting, bucking, mooing and carrying on for the night.

GOT GOOD NEWS TODAY when employee Ken called from home. I didn't expect him to be out of the hospital. However, they sent him home with an IV in his arm which he will use to pump a bag full of antibiotics into himself three times per day. The staph infection seems under control, his temperature is normal, and now he just needs to undergo a regimen of antibiotics which may last months.

He had a close call. I don't think he even remembers much of what went on those first two days after he was struck by the pneumonia. We went over the past two months of his back pain--what clues were there that it was staph? None that we could think of. His cough didn't develop until the morning of the day he ended up in intensive care with lungs that were nearly full. We were still dickering with the workman's comp bureaucracy that day, thinking it might have been a work injury.

So, that is a big relief. Now it is to keep him from coming back to work before he should. That will be hard. Ken doesn't like to be on his back for long.

I HEAR RAIN on the roof. It is supposed to turn to snow by morning. What a cruel joke on us all here in the northland, snow in early October.


This swan, part of an entire family which has spent the summer on the roadside of Polk County 12 about five miles northeast of Fertile, was the only one of the bunch who would pose decently for me. The signets were asleep on the shoulder of the road and looked like grey piles of feathers with their heads tucked under their wings.

My All Star team

While driving today, I got to dreaming about my ultimate baseball team. I went position by position and selected players using the following criteria: 1) I had to remember seeing them play. 2) they had to be good players 3) their name had to have a magic ring to it and 4) they had to play with a unique panache.

So, here it is, as if anybody cares:

CATCHER: Carlton Fisk. An ardent grower of orchids, Fisk played the game like a crusty New Englander should. He was equally likely to punch out a teammate or an opponent for the sin of not playing the game right. Ever dignified, Fisk caused nearly every game he caught to go on an extra half-hour due to his refusal to throw the ball back to the pitcher until he was good and ready. Plus, he would take frequent slow walks to the mound to berate his pitchers, who he regarded as dimwits. Johnny Bench was probably the best catcher ever, but Fisk isn't far behind--and he is my favorite.

FIRST BASE: Willie Stargell. Played his entire career for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Had a pot belly. Swung his bat around in a rhythmic windmill fashion while waiting for the pitch. Hit some of the longest home runs known to man. Once played for a minor league team in Grand Forks, ND. A long, tall first baseman in the old mold.

SECOND BASE: Rod Carew. I didn't like him much early on, but his unique batting talent and elegant style--both at the bat and while running the bases--make him my favorite second baseman. Pouty early on in his career, Carew developed into a team player. He was a genius with the bat, and one of the best bunters ever. He moved to first base about 1/2 way through his career, but he will always be a second baseman in my mind.

SHORTSTOP: Ozzie Smith. Did backflips on the field, to the consternation of team officials worried about his health. Greatest defensive shortstop since TV. Once dove for a ball, only to have it hit a rock on its last hop and bouce up wildly while Smith was mid-dive. Undeterred, Smith reached behind his back with his throwing hand, caught the ball, fell on his face, got up and threw the runner out. Probably the greatest infield defensive play on tape.

THIRD BASE: Brooks Robinson. The human vacuum cleaner. There are no great third basemen right now, guys you can depend upon to steal potential doubles hit down the line. Third basemen also need to hit, unlike shortstops who can earn their pay with their glove alone. Robinson's batting statistics weren't the greatest, but when the game was on the line, he was lethal. He killed the Twins, even when he was at the end of his career.

LEFT FIELD: Carl Yazstremski. Played over twenty years with one team, the Boston Red Sox. Only five-foot-nine and barely 170 pounds, Yazstremski became a feared power hitter through sheer determination. He was deadly in the clutch. He constantly experimented with odd batting stances. He practiced constantly. Despite being a chain-smoker, Yazstremski played well into his forties.

CENTER FIELD: Kirby Puckett. Despite personal problems which came to light after his career was cut short by glaucoma, problems which cast an unfavorable light on his character, Puckett was a joy to watch. Only five-feet-eight, Puckett was well over 200 lbs. Yet, he was able to climb fences and beat out slow ground balls. He was a killer in the clutch, too.

RIGHT FIELD: Reggie Jackson. With an ego as large as the arc of his majestic home runs, Reggie dominated any ballpark he entered. Mr. October turned it on when it counted and infuriated his managers with his lack of effort at other times. I once saw him hit a home run which was such a low laser shot that I swear the second basemen jumped for it. It ended up going 440 feet after barely making it over the centerfield fence. I also have fond memories of Reggie's three home runs on three consecutive pitches in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series. He was bigger than life, a true entertainer.


1) Luis Tiant. Potbellied, cigar smoking Cuban with bizarre mannerisms on the mound. He would shake, rattle and roll in a different way before each pitch. You never knew whether he was going to throw a big looping curve or a mid-90s fastball. Nobody, including Taint himself, knew his actual age. He probably pitched until he was in his mid-40s. He got fatter each year.

2) Bert Blyleven. A childhood hero, one of my fondest baseball memories is of the day he was traded back to the Twins in 1986. Old-timers say Blyleven had the greatest curveball in baseball history. It broke over three feet. Blyleven was also fond of lighting the shoelaces of his manager or anybody else on fire during games. Most of his practical jokes, however, are unsuitable for a family-oriented weblog.

3) Roger Clemens or Nolan Ryan. I can only reserve one spot for a hard-throwing, ultra-competitive Texan who still knocked batters out with speed well into his forties. So take your pick. I saw Ryan pitch--made a special trip down--and it was worth it. Clemens is 43 and was still the best pitcher in the National League this year by a long shot.

4) Johan Santana. Twins fans are privileged. He isn't yet one of the all-time greats, but he has done some things pitchers only dream of.

SHORT RELIEVER: I never liked him, but Dennis Eckersley was the best ever. He had a decent career as a starting pitcher and then followed it with a stellar career as a closer. He had fire in his eyes. Opponents hated and feared him, and that is as it should be.

MIDDLE RELIEVER: Sparkly Lyle, lefthander for the New York Yankees. Wrote a good book about what it was like to play for the 1978 New York Yankees. I believe it was called The Bronx Zoo.

PINCH HITTER: Jose Morales. Played for several teams, including the Twins. Had a genius for pinch hitting. Put him in the entire game and he would do very little. Put him in for one at bat with the game on the line, he was poison. Pinch hitting is a lost art. Each team used to carry a wily old pinch-hitter. Now they carry a third catcher instead. A real waste.

MANAGER: Tom Kelly. He never made a dumb move that I know of, and often he was simply brilliant. He wasn't the best with young players, but he had a great knowledge of the game and a strong gut instinct, which he had the courage to follow. I'll never forget the time in the playoffs when he pulled Scott Erickson out of the game with two outs in the fourth inning and two strikes on the batter Joe Carter. The announcers were incredulous, but those two strikes were monstrous foul balls, and Kelly knew that when Erickson lost it, he was only batting practice caliber. Nonetheless, it is a move Gardenhire or most other managers, except for the one below, would never have made.

The other manager I have in mind is Billy Martin. I'll keep him in reserve for when the team needs a kick. Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner was smarter than he looked for hiring and firing Billy four times. Martin was at his best coming in like a tornado and squeezing the potential out of an underperforming team. He did it over and over, with Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, New York and Oakland. Everywhere he went, he won. For one year. Then he wore out his welcome, got in a fight at a bar, or angered his bosses with his constant whopping lies. Long-time Twins owner Calvin Griffith always regretted firing Billy Martin, saying at the end of his life that it was his biggest mistake.

And there was no greater entertainment than watching Billy Martin argue with the umpires. Oh, he was an angry man. And he was an entertainer. In many ways, he was the opposite of Kelly, who rarely argued with the umps and depended upon the players to motivate themselves.

My favorite Billy Martin moment came after Reggie loafed going after a base hit to right field in Fenway Park in Boston. Martin sent out a replacement for Jackson in the middle of the inning, something which just isn't done. After jogging in from his postion in humiliation, Jackson took after Martin in the dugout. The pint-sized Martin took after Reggie. Teammates tried to keep them apart, and finally somebody threw a towel over the camera to deprive the national TV audience of further fun.

October 04, 2005

Rainy fall day

I picked up Aunt Olla at 9:30 this morning to take her back to her apartment in Twin Valley where she will spend the day getting ready for her sale. It has been a dreary, cold morning--but I couldn't help but notice the Amur maple. Amur maple came over from the Amur region of China, probably in the late 1890s as part of many expeditions led by a Professor Hanson of South Dakota State University.

At the time, it was considered important to bring in more species from areas of the world with similar soil and temperature conditions to increase the number of trees which grow here. Now, of course, native plants are the big deal and there is even a push in Minnesota to ban the sale of Amur maple.

Well, we'll enjoy them while we can. These are growing in a hedge in Twin Valley where the old drive-in movie theater used be.

Ah, the memories of going down to a movie and not seeing the movie but instead running around from car to car, struggling to see who you were talking to, drinking beer out of kegs in the trunk. The whole thing was illegal and unsafe, but having made it through it alive, the memories are harmless enough.

The Amur above is more a maroon--a few feet away is the one pictured below. Part of the charm of the Amur is the genetic variation which creates many different shades of fall color in each row.

Later on my drive home, closer to the nursery, I passed this combination of cattails, yellow-leaved aspen and native red oak. The sun poked through for a few seconds--the only time I have seen it today--so I got a good shot of the pin oak leaves up close. Pin oak are native, but rare. They don't like alkaline soils, so they tend to grow only in the lakes region where there are some soils which aren't so high in Ph.

Finally, some dogwood leaves and berries in a woods about two miles from the nursery.

October 03, 2005

A little energy burst

I cleaned off my desk at the office today and then did some cleaning at the house. I spent this evening in my garage putting together Ikea stuff. I feel like such a carpenter, although Ikea's directions are designed for those with Mechanical Deficit Disorder, so I shouldn't get to pompous.

For the first time since Cassio left, I have felt like getting something done around the house. Since I moved in, I have been quite overwhelmed. Now I am enjoying looking at some of the corners and trying to figure out what to do with them.

I also hung a nice picture given me by Aunt Olla today. It is of a trail past some large trees. It is similar to the picture I took for the cover of my last book.

Aunt Olla isn't wasting any time. Ede got her settled in the home today, labeled all her clothing and put everything away. The nursing home staff had to do the check-in. It involved dozens of questions about her living arrangements and preferences. For example, would she ever want to be resident-of-the-month? Does she like to have her picture taken?

Ha, you can imagine Olla's response to those questions. "No way! Never! I will die!"

She also put the nix on some kids program that was this afternoon. No way is she going to suffer through some sixth graders massacring songs only to have to lie to their mothers and say they were wonderful.

Tomorrow, Olla wants to head back to Twin Valley to work on getting ready for the sale. I will bring her down in the morning and Aunt Ede will pick her up to get her back by supper. Ede will also help put prices on things.

Olla thinks this sale is just a blast. We are going to have donut holes and coffee at the apartment, and it will be my job to take the women who are helping with the sale up town for lunch, two-by-two. She has it all planned out.

We will also be going to the hardware store uptown in Fertile to get a new radio. Olla wants to start patronizing the local businesses now that she is a Fertile resident.

Apparently the attitude of the nursing home inspectors towards vitamins and supplements has changed a great deal since Grandpa was in the home and had to hide his pills in a special spot to keep them away from snoops. The nurse even reminded me today that Olla needs to bring her vitamins.

I will enjoy getting a chance to visit with the nursing home residents more often than usual. Outside the side door we used to haul in Olla's stuff sat a couple of men, having a smoke. I came barreling through the door without pushing the button high up--which set off the alarm. The men got a kick out of that. "Now they'll just come a swarmin out here!" said Knute. They did. I apologized, and then did the same thing five minutes later. More swarming.

Knute was swearing at the damn deer which were eating the apple trees outside the home. He had a mind to knock off a few of them.

Poor Olga has Alzheimer's. I shook her hand and then ended up holding it for a while as she tried to say something. She was confused, and finally managed to say, "I had better behave." I assured her she was behaving just fine.

Oh, how one hopes never to have to be in such a troubled fog. A benign fog would be fine, but perpetual agitation would amount to a pretty tough sentence.

Pretty morning

This is what I awoke to this morning. The sun warmed up the inside of the house with beautiful orange rays. As the sun rises later and later in the morning, I am out of bed soon enough to catch this scene more often.

Went downstair to start the coffee and saw this group of does outside the dining room window. Notice, too, how nice the grass is looking which Dad seeded less than a month ago.

When we kids left for the first day of school in elementary, it was a tradition to take a picture on the front step. Well, this was Aunt Olla's first day at the nursing home, so here she is this morning on her front step with Aunt Ede.

The move went quite easily. Olla is quite excited. Her room is nice and big. The staff started checking her in right away. Olla figures she is moving into a pretty nice resort. No more cooking coffee herself.

Troubles, changes and endings

Sunday night, can't sleep. A common dilemma. Sunday nights are always a bit on the downside. I had a busy and somewhat difficult week.

Our long-time employee Ken fell very ill with a fast-moving staph pneumonia last Monday. He is out of the woods now, but it has been a tough haul for him, and it will be some time before he is back in the saddle. He has been hurting for two months with a mysterious back pain, and this is sort of a cruel resolution to a long round of inconclusive trips to doctors.

There is nobody who works harder than Ken. He is my age, yet if we are working on a project and need a wrench, he gets it on a full run. He is always reluctant to take vacation. Now, his main job is breathing. Ken is a gem. He'll pull through, but in the meantime I will be worrying about him a lot.

I attended a funeral this past week. I was just the singer, and I didn't know the lady real well, but funerals are still events which cause one to think about endings, changes and mortality.

Aunt Olla is moving to the home tomorrow. She's all hepped up and ready to go, but it is still a change and another ending. I hope she takes hold there and is able to enjoy her freedom from household chores.

The baseball season ended. Of course, the Twins season was disappointing--so much so that I stopped listening a while back, choosing instead to follow them on the internet. But still, the end of the baseball season means that one possible diversion is now subtracted from the mix.

I performed twice this week. I do enjoy performing. The performances were well-received. And yet, oddly, performing can be followed by a hang-over no matter how well it goes. You get pumped up, and then it is over. It is ephemeral. Poof. It is gone.

Part of successful entertainment is pushing the edge. Humor is the product of pushing people's buttons, but not too hard--so gently, in fact, that all they feel is tickled. Making people laugh requires you to put yourself out there, "be yourself hard," as my uncle says, and take a chance on the results. If you don't put yourself into the performance, it will flop. If you put yourself into a performance, there is a better chance of success, but there still isn't a feeling of safety. In fact, there is a greater feeling of risk.

Afterwards, you are left to dissect what went wrong even if most things went right. For instance, I gambled at the social worker meeting on one particular line of humor. I thought it might not fly, but it worked. In the car on the way home, I realized that I should have really let fly and gone with that thought for a while more. I came up with many brilliant things I could have said but didn't. Thus, if you aren't careful, you can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Another line of humor, which I had also never tried before but which I was confident would work, was greeted with somewhat puzzled stares. Clearly, it didn't work. I was left to figure out why. Perhaps I will just throw it out. Or perhaps it was a good line of humor which just wasn't timed right.

It is much easier giving talks on nursery stuff. You can always hide behind the materiel. Occasional humor is just a bonus. But when you are advertised as a funnyman, you start the show with two strikes against you and the pitch on a-way.

October 02, 2005

Birthday party, Ikea raid

Lance and I headed to the Cities this weekend to attend a birthday party for my dear cousin Laine. Laine is an editor for the Utne Reader, so her party was an interesting mix of writers, editors and artsy types. Conversation was good, and there was a karaoke machine to boot. The beautiful weather meant that we could sit around a fire in the back yard in north Minneapolis.

This morning, we ate breakfast at Ikea and then I collected some more furniture. I didn't think I needed that much, but by the end of the visit the back of the pickup was full.

Had some thoughts of attending the last Twins game of the year this afternoon. Santana was pitching. But I have attended the last game of the year before--and it was too sad. Santana won today, but it was a lackluster game--I do not regret missing it.

Instead, we went to the Mall of America and the Apple store, where I purchased a laptop in July. The printer they sold me with the laptop refused to print, so we went in for technical support. Lance is the Apple computer whiz, so he kept after them until they finally got to the root of the problem. The clerks were overworked and distracted, so they were eager to shove us aside. Finally, a delightful young woman tackled the problem to Lance's satisfaction and we were able to head back north.

The trip home was beautiful. There aren't many fall colors in the Cities, but they are starting on Highway 10. No pictures, but I sure would urge any of you going south to chose 10 over Interstate 94 for at least the next two weeks. It is worth the hassle of slowing down for the small towns.

Trips to the Cities, where most people in the state my age live, always stir philosophical thoughts. Have I missed out by not being where the fast action is? I don't think so, but you always wonder. Lately, my questions center around the hustle and bustle and the rows of characterless houses--who would willingly choose to submit to such claptrap? In contrast, my situation is almost unfairly idyllic.

Tomorrow, Aunt Olla moves into Fair Meadow nursing home in Fertile. Aunt Ede and I are going to be at her place at 9 a.m. to pick up her things and give her a ride north to her new home. She is still planning a sale for mid-October, so we'll have to make some return trips to her apartment.

SEPTEMBER marked the first month this weblog enjoyed an average of over 300 visitors per day. Thank you all for providing me impetus to write. I know who about 15 of you are--the rest of you remain a mystery.