I feel more Minnesotan

photo[1]While channel surfing this morning, I stumbled across an episode of Man Vs. Food Nation set in St. Paul. The challenge, set at The Tin Cup, involved eating two huge Juicy Lucys and two pounds of fries.

And it occurred to me. Damn. I could go for a Juicy Lucy.

As a guy who’s spent most of his adult life in Minnesota, I’m really kind of ashamed to admit it but, I’ve only ever had one of these signature Minnesota burgers. If you’re not familiar, a Juicy Lucy involves taking two carefully seasoned burger patties, putting a small stack of cheese in between them, mushing them together into one amazing burger, and grilling.

The result is a hamburger with a pocket stuffed with molten cheese. And it’s amazing. This is my first attempt at making them at home. I think true Juicy Lucy aficionados would say I did something wrong because the cheese ended up with more the consistency of a fine nacho cheese dip. Most Juicy Lucys seem to be more runny and messy. This is an error I’m pretty happy with.

Beautiful Minnesota evening – a Grain Belt Nordeast in a Minnesota Wild glass, a true Minnesota burger and a hungry swarm of mosquitoes. Feels like home!

No, YOU’RE out of order!

 

subpoenaThe wheels of justice in America spin slowly, but they DO keep on rolling. So I was served with this the other day.

Evidently I’ve been called to testify in the state’s prosecution of the gentleman who allegedly launched his alleged car over an alleged snowbank and into my alleged yard, allegedly knocking the big electrical box off it’s alleged concrete slab. Oh, and he was allegedly stumbling drunk.

As neighborhood relationships go, I’m not looking forward to this. But, as I figure it, all I’ve got to do is tell the truth. And, given my memory, I’m glad I wrote about it here at the time, so I can remember the truth (even if it might have been slightly modified in my blog for dramatic effect).

I’m also a bit apprehensive (that’s euphemistic for “scared as hell”) because I haven’t been an active participant in a courtroom since I was 18. (And THAT’s a story I was sure I’d told here on this blog. But I just searched for it and can’t find it. So I guess I know what I’ll be writing about later!)

But it’s fine. I’m not on trial. Just keep it quick, stick to the facts, get in and get out. No problem!

Just a boy and his layered-over turtleneck…and his snake. Don’t forget the snake.

awkward family photoIn the process of helping me search through old photo albums for a bike photo for yesterday’s post, Corinne stumbled on this.

It’s tough to know where to begin mocking this fantastically awkward cry for help. Mom’s perm? DAD’s perm? Christine’s dress that somehow springs from two disparate worlds – Holly Hobby and Princess Bride – and doesn’t fit into either of them? And why is Mom holding a cat who, to his credit, is frantically looking for a way out of this photo?

Yes, it’s tough to know where to begin mocking this, but there’s no question where to end. Yes, that’s me holding my pet boa constrictor. Feather.

Let the mockery begin.

As long as we’re laughing at Christine…

dreamstimefree_36326I love my little sister.

And, of course, when I say, “I love my little sister,” what I mean is, “I love to give my little sister crap.” So as long as our recent jaunt down memory lane was so well received, I figured we might as well set the timer on the WayBack Machine a little farther back.

Years and years ago, right around the time I turned 16, my family and I went on our very last family bike ride.

If I’d known at the time it was going to be our last family bike ride, I’m not sure that would have made it any weirder. I was already too weirded out by the fact that it was our first family bike ride.

(Okay, I’m willing to concede that this might be an exaggeration. But I honestly can’t remember any family bike outings before this. And I honestly can remember wondering what the hell we were doing biking as a family.)

We weren’t going anywhere, we were just slowly rolling along the bike paths of Apple Valley, Minn. The bonding couldn’t have felt more forced if they’d dipped us in Elmer’s and squeezed us together with wood clamps. It was just awkward and I couldn’t figure out why we were doing it.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It wasn’t bad awkward. Looking back, that must have been one of the last times my dad was on a two-wheeled bike before the MS took too much of his balance. I should have savored that a little more. And I wasn’t a hateful or rebellious kid, so it’s not that I minded spending the time with my family. It was just weird.

I’m sure Dad did some grumbling. I’m sure Christine veered back and forth along the path, resulting in several near-misses. And I think it’s a safe bet that at some point my mom said at least one of the following things:

  • “Oh, my, those are lovely hydrangeas.”
  • “Kids, did you see the way that tree trunk has grown around the fencepost? Isn’t that neat?”
  • “Tom, where was it that we saw that couple with the fellow who used to make those cute chainsaw lawn sculptures like that? Was that North Carolina?”

And that’s the way it went. For almost exactly an hour. At that point, Dad, struggling to look nonchalant, glanced at his watch and mused, “Well. I suppose we might as well start heading home.”

“Why?” asked Christine. “Are they done setting up for Greg’s surprise party?”

(sigh) I don’t even remember the party. I’m sure it was a dud, since I was something of a friendless troll. But I do remember the hoops my family jumped through to pull it off and the fantastic way my sister wrecked the surprise. In the end, that’s the much better memory. Thanks Christine!

 

How my dad died almost 30 years ago (which totally explains the zombie walk he’s got going now)

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I don’t tell this story all that often because, honestly, it’s pretty old and I don’t think it’s THAT funny. But my mom and my sister love it. It’s one of Christine’s go-to stories. In fact, if you’ve known my sister for more than 45 minutes and she hasn’t told you this story yet, she doesn’t like you much. Sorry. I don’t mean to be blunt about it, but she’s just not that into you. Better you hear it from me here on my blog than somewhere out on the street though, right?

Anyway, the story takes place my freshman year in college. That puts us somewhere back in the late fall of 1985. Maybe the winter of 1986? Somewhere in there. There was snow on the ground, that’s all I remember. That part’s important. Reagan was into his second term, The Cosby Show was well into its second season and a little group called Wham! had us all waking them up before we went-went.

I was in my dorm room (Tommy 341) and got a phone call. (Back in those days, each dorm room came equipped with a telephone. They don’t bother doing that anymore. And each of those phones came equipped with a great big curly cord that would stretch to any corner of the dorm room or, if your roommate was in the room and you wanted some quiet or privacy, out into the hall.)

The phone call was from Christine. She would have been 12 or 13 at the time. She was clearly upset, bordering on hysterical, so I took the phone out into the hallway to try and interpret her nonsensical rantings.

C:   “Greg? Something bad happened. Daddy died.”

That one rocked me a little bit. I reeled and leaned back against the wall. I must have looked pretty bad because a passing friend looked concerned and asked if I was alright. “My dad died,” I mouthed absently as I struggled to keep the hallway from spinning and continued to try and process what my sister was saying. She went on.

C: “Mom hit him with the car.”

Oh, that’s terrible, I remember thinking. Poor Mom and the guilt she’s going to go through. (Assuming it was accidental. I’m just saying. Really, would a jury of her peers have convicted her?) Meanwhile word of my situation had started spreading like wildfire down the hallway. Conversations stopped. Concerned faces peeked out of doorways. The only sounds were a few nervous whispers and the mournful wailing that continued to stream from the phone.

C: “She was backing out of the garage and she didn’t see him behind the car.”

It struck me at that point that she couldn’t have been going THAT fast. She must have just clipped him good. Who knows. These things happen, you know.

C: “She hit him and then she saw him in her mirror. He hopped two or three times and then just fell down and died.”

Holy shit, what a grizzly scene that must have been! This is terrible. By this point I had slumped down to the floor.

C: “We put him in the freezer. We’re going to wait till springtime to bury him.”

Wait. What?

It wasn’t until that point that an important question finally occurred to me. Why was this information coming to me from my 12-year-old sister?

G: “What the hell?! Christine, put Mom on the phone.”

It’s probably worth noting here that, at the time, my family had (key word there, “had”) a white cat. His given name was Dinsdale. But since, like many cats, he lacked willpower and impulse control, he was a rather heavy cat and earned the nickname Fatty. (Which – see where I’m going with this? – sounds a lot like “Daddy” when it’s being bawled across a long-distance phone line. And these were real phone lines back then. We weren’t even fiber optic in 1985. This was just mournful vibrations traveling across 1,500 miles of copper wire.)

What my mother was able to explain to me calmly was that someone had let the cat out and she had hit the poor thing with her car. She felt terrible about it, but Christine really wasn’t handling it very well (clearly) and insisted that she needed to call me and let me know the news.

The end. (I don’t have a neat way to wrap this one up. I’m out of practice. I haven’t been blogging in awhile.)

Stuff gets lonesome

I’m still endeavoring to make the world a better place (without having to try too hard or spend a lot of money). And this week’s suggestion just might be the easiest one yet.

Give something away.

Okay, that’s a pretty broad directive and you can feel free to interpret it in any way that moves you. Because – other than venereal diseases and pieces of your mind – giving something to someone is just about always a good thing. But, just so we’re clear, let me define what I’m talking about when I suggest you give something away.

This definitely does not have to be charity. There’s certainly nothing wrong if it is, but the two examples I’m thinking of are most certainly not charity cases.

I’m talking about finding that sweet spot where you have something you’ve loved, but just can’t use anymore, and you pair it up with a friend who wants a thing just like that … but, for one reason or another, has been reluctant to go purchase one.

The FrogThere’s a very special bike in this world. It’s an ’80s-era Peugeot – black, with the signature yellow/orange/red banding.

It’s the first road bike I ever “bought” as an adult when I started racing triathlons. I paid $250 for it. I had Eric Nacey help me trick it out with what could be confused with aero bars if you squint and look at the bike from out of the corner of your eye. (They’re old, awkward and excruciatingly painful.)

I thought they were so f’ing cool.

I loved that bike. And I raced it with a chip on my shoulder. Every douchebag poseur I passed felt the mocking sting of The Black Frog.

But eventually, in one of history’s most profound acts of love and folly, Corinne found an insane deal and bought me the frame of a 2004 Felt B2. I had Eric build it up for me, and the Frog’s racing days seemed done.

My sister raced it a few times. I loaned it to the in-from-out-of-town friend of a friend once. But, for the most part, it was collecting dust in the rafters of my sister’s garage. And it broke my heart. Because stuff gets lonesome.

So when I started seeing my neighbor crank his way out of the cul-de-sac and down the road on a big, heavy mountain bike, I knew what I wanted to do. I staged a rescue operation and liberated the Frog from Christine’s rafters. I brought it home. I cleaned it. I lubed it. I put on some new tubes, tires and grip tape. Then I pushed it across the street and knocked on my neighbor’s door.

“Here,” I said. “Just use this. It’s so much lighter and faster than what you’re riding. And it needs to be ridden. That’s all I want is to see this bike flying past my window the way it deserves to. Bring it back when you’re sick of it – or don’t – pass it on. I just want it ridden.”

And it is. He rides it. He races it. He keeps it maintained and in good working order. I see that his son now has a similarly ghetto 10-speed and the two of them will take off for rides together. Perfect. In fact, the way this story played out, I probably should have named the bike Black Beauty. (Huh? What? No. I never read that stupid book. Pfft. That’s for chicks. Totally.)

Now, I know that my neighbor could have afforded $250 to go find himself a classic old road bike if he had wanted. And I never implied that he couldn’t. This wasn’t a charity thing. This was strictly about me wanting to help out a neighbor … and find a good home for a friend.

So what have you loved that’s lying around right now? Corinne had a moment at work yesterday where a friend was talking about how expensive the rent-to-own program is for a flute for her middle schooler. “If he changes his mind,” Corinne suggested, “we’ve got a clarinet at home,”

“I’ve got a trumpet,” chimed in another co-worker.

clarinetHappy ending is, tonight a clarinet that was once a big part of Claudia’s life, but isn’t anymore (she plays the bass clarinet now), wound up in the hands of a fifth grader so it can start the whole cycle over again. And I think that makes clarinets happy – because stuff gets lonesome.

So what is it? A lawn mower? A computer? A pair of skis? What’s sitting around your place? And who would love it? A relative? A friend? A wonderful charity?

Just a suggestion!

When it comes to projects, this one includes two of my favorite words

Little-Free-LibraryAlthough I think I’ve been hoodwinked on this one and the “little” and “free” are both intended to describe the “library” rather than the “project.”

No matter, I’m still kind of excited about this one. The Little Free Library movement is a wonderful story and we’ve got a stack of books, for kids and adults, just sitting in the basement right now, so stocking it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Stacks of books sitting on the floor in the basement. I blame Christine for stealing our 6-foot table to sell cheesecake on all summer. It’s a damned good thing that’s good cheesecake.

I am going to need your help holding me accountable on this one though. I told Corinne last night that I needed a topic for my series of low-impact ways to make the world better. This is what she sent me. (Thanks a lot, Gina.)

This project stretches the definition of our challenge here, because this one could almost be considered a lot of work. It will, however, become significantly less work if Corinne manages to talk her recently retired father into building the little library. THEN all I would have to do is be the steward and keep an eye on it. THAT sounds like “spreading literacy” without having to actually go teach anybody anything. And THEREIN lies the true objective of this challenge.

So wish me luck on the delegated labor thing. And if that falls through, hold Corinne and I to this – we’re locked in now cuz it’s on the blog!