Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Avalanches Make Me Want to Visit Australia

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Have a Rockin' Saturday!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bessie McCoy Hopes You Had a Good Hump Day and Know the Weekend Is Near

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Warning Signs

(Another Magpie Tale. We hope no one relates too much to this one.)

"Do you feel like a bit player in your own life story? Are you blind to the signs that tell you that your life is seriously off course?"
"Do you stare into the mirror and make jokes about the old troll or hag looking back at you? Are you blind to the warning signs in front of you?"
"Are you finding it difficult to make it through your 12-step meetings without a few drinks before and after? Do you find yourself falling asleep when your inner voices tell you that there is danger ahead?"
"As you reach out to reconcile with all the friends you have alienated through the years and get a 'number disconnected' message do you feel relieved or does it remind you that you were let go at your last five jobs because you could not distinguish the number 2 from the number 7 on a key pad?""Did your mother return her Mother's Day card with red ink noting the misused punctuation and the correct spelling of her name triple underscored?"
"When you tell your dog 'I love you with my entire heart and soul, you're the only creature on the face of the earth that has not betrayed me,' does it sigh, roll its eyes and seem to be saying 'Whatever.'?"
"If you answered 'yes' to one or more of the following questions, you are showing signs of needing serious help. Please enclose $5,000 and mail to the address below. DO NOT call the 800 customer service number at any time of day. Operators are not standing by and will not return your call."

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Fever and Yellow Lights

Magnitude and solitude and cramped quarters a mile below.

A lonely gramophone pierced through the darkness and illuminated the dance. Anything could surely ease the shock of malaria and malice from some long lost mania imported on a fruit crate that danced all the way across the seven seas.

Sea salt and unskilled mules walking on gravel mixed with broken goblets. Anything you want so long as you never make a second trip to that lumpy buffet of so many mysterious platters.

Sister Ally is on the Silver Chief somewhere east of Winslow, snug in her berth with no thoughts of home or the idle menfolk she so gladly abandoned for a one way ticket west where she then planned to take the first ship she found upon arrival.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Miss Sophie Tucker Is Here to Get Your Week Off to a Great Start

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why Look, It's Joe Cook!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

It Just Wouldn't Be Friday without Joey Heatherton and Pies


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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ethel as Miss Zip


Lighten your load with five digits!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Tale of the Wild and Woolly West

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Our Winter of Joy

Welcome to our latest installment of The Magpie Tales

"The Morozovas are Chekhov's Three Sisters" the ads for the Princess Theatre's production proudly claimed. In all of Duluth's theatrical history, there had never been an event quite this exciting. After years away all three of the Morozovas were returning for what promised to be a thrilling event.
Some questioned if the relatively modest Princess was the appropriate venue for such a monumental event, but the Morozovas expressly requested it. There certainly were sentimental reasons since it was here that their last appearance together on stage happened in November of 1902 in a somewhat shabby summer stock production of Sherlock Holmes in which they played a trio of London street urchins with Moscow-tinged cockney accents. All that had happened in the five years hence was a whirlwind. Zoya had won acclaim for her portrayal of Hedda Gabler in Chicago and toured the west, receiving a queen's welcome in Boulder and was showered with rose petals along Market Street in San Francisco where she crossed paths with Caruso who was arriving last April just as she departed, miraculously avoiding the great earthquake and fire by a mere 27 hours.
Oksana's hasty marriage to Herbert Arveston, Duluth's eccentric but successful inventor -- sometimes called the Edison of the Upper Midwest -- cut short her brilliant run with George Melies in Paris and three short features with the Edison Company itself. Things went sour when Herbert set up the rival Arveston Silver Magic Lantern and Cine Arts Company with a promise of bringing the classics to this new medium. A tragic fire during a filming of The Tempest nearly cost Oksana her life and left her widow. Only the boldest dared to repeat the rumors that there was trouble between the two before the fire and that Oksana might have started it. Regardless, she relocated west to California and set up shop in Edendale, the precursor to Hollywood and the hotbed of west coast Bohemia.
Gulnara had chosen the most traditional path of the three sisters and settled not far from home in St. Paul where she established a theater devoted to producing mostly Chekhov and other Russian masters. It was bitter, ironic fate that she too would soon become a young widow and chose to head west to join Oksana with her infant son whom she defiantly gave the New World name of "Bob".
Rehearsals began in early December with a January 8 opening scheduled. Some thought it madness to stage such a major cultural event in the dead of winter, and in predictable fashion 17 inches of snow hit the night of the 7th. This could not deter the stalwart theater-goers of Duluth who shoveled all morning on the 8th and were out in their finery by 4 p.m. to make sure they arrived in time for the standing room only opening.
Mildred O'Leary, who had been rumored to be bedridden for the past three years and no one had seen even at mass since 1903, ventured out with her daughter Irene, opera glasses and a tiny flask in her beaded handbag as she headed down Oak Street to the Princess Theatre. She was the first one on her feet for the standing ovation that is said to have lasted nearly half an hour.The production was a glittering success, and every performance of its sadly brief two-week run was sold out. Gasps, tears and thundering applause greeted each show. The Morozovas took the show to New York and eventually London and Moscow. But most agreed none of these quite equaled the magic of those two weeks in Duluth.
Sadly too, the Morozovas would never appear again on stage as a trio again. Gulnara chose to step back from the stage and eventually became an accomplished poet whose Milk Thistle Mourning was often called a "Great Plains immigrant classic." In the 1920s, Oksana and Zoya appeared together in Our Winter of Joy by R. Louis Hergvov, a play that many considered to be far too light-weight for a pair of such talents.
Zoya outlived all of the sisters, eventually settling in Jacksonville, Florida, where she lived until her death in 1971 and established The Palm Arbor Theatrical Guild that financed its Chekhov productions through a summer season of musicals and Abie's Irish Rose. Much to everyone's amazement, Zoya chose to spend the entire month of January each year back in Duluth, where she and her cousin Zeldar would often just sit and stare out the window of the Alderson Hotel. The snow, Zoya said, was like looking at the blank canvas of the rest of her life, giving her inspiration to start the year anew. But it also likely recalled that magical January when the three sister brought Chekhov to Duluth,

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The Nightmare of the Beaver

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ich habe am gern Hildegarde zu betrachten

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Siittin' Around, Hangin' Out, Doin' Our Thing

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Siittin' Around, Hangin' Out, Doin' Our Thing

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Better Than That

We are all better than that. We are better than that impulse to lash out.

We are all better than where we may end this day. If only we can go back to that moment in the grass by the viaduct. The water was so calm, the grass that seemed cut by hand. There was something and someone always under the porch.

The porch fell down years ago, but on days like this going back is essential. In the moment the impulse to respond to the worst action of others, the porch can save us. The porch is still there as well as well as the enthusiasm of peering through the shop window at the bicycle that seemed to hold all the promise of the world. The bike never received rusted and was committed to scrap 90 years ago. The promise it held is still out there, revealed with the squeak of squeegie or the gentle call of Bobwhite quails somewhere beyond the flagstone patio, nestled between the Periwinkle and lilac bushes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: Dropping and Freeing the Note

Another entry in the Magpie Tales.
Could it be, could it be, that all those notes are lost forever, freed from the confines of the lined page?
Whole notes were always far beyond Cousin Herschel's cornbread budget. He stole a few broken half notes and quarter notes that took him all the way to Winslow.
The women he left behind came together to write a lively foxtrot in tribute of his many raids of the hen house and the back porch where last night he loved them best of all.
The Evelyn Q. Sydeen Music Society was oblivious to such feral rhythms and even a ukulele was as scandalous as an exposed ankle, yet those new syncopation could not be suppressed.
Spring was finally breaking down the frost, and music was taking to the woods, the brooks and serenading the raccoons and robins.
Music was everywhere, little of it committed to the page or acetate. Could it embed itself in the elms, the bloodlines and the hairline thread to reach the next 50 generations?

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Penny Thoughts of Blue

Lately I've been trying to stop doing something and just sit there. That's always the hardest thing.

Many of my friends complain of blue demons, the most frightening kind since they are cruel and cool, ever creeping into the afternoon.

Blue is never a forgiving color. It wants something, something you don't have and it will try to take it even though you don't have it.

Someone is always peering around the corner in those moments, or your certain of it and busy yourself to avoid looking into the Siamese eyes of tiny bear.

The light behind a drawn window shade dramatizes the silhouette of a Burmese cat, not directly visible but hiding no secrets as it stretches and knows we are watching. Stillness frightens most of us, so we avoid it, our minds racing even when we sleep. Still water longs to rest in our brain, the penny floating above our thoughts as we contemplate whether it is less authentic because it is made of wood.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ralphie and Mildred

Linde was always there to greet us with Ralphie on a chain. When we challenged her about that cold metal around the neck of her "baby" she would chortle and say that even the sweetest baby needed a certain amount of discipline.

After five years together, Ralphie ran away and was found strolling the streets of Egbertshire, narrowly escaping being hit by lorries and push carts that sped around the round about.

What a stroke of luck it was that Ralphie knew to scratch on that green door near the end of Periwinkle Lane after three days without anything besides stale scraps of bread outside the croissant shop.

Mildred Crohn was at first intimidated by this creature that, when properly fed, weighed more than three quarters her weight. But he suddenly crouched on the ground and whimpered tragically. She closed the door and took a deep breath. Mildred did not believe in omens, but she suspected it was destiny scratching at her door and soon returned with sausages and porcelain bowl painted with purple pansies filled with water.

An eight year partnership had begun. And more than once on their walks they actually passed Linde in the public market who made no eye contact with Ralphie and he made no move until there was a healthy distance when he looked back and snarled.

Both Ralphie and Mildred lot most of the use of their eyesight with the passage of years. Mildred, whose early years had been dedicated to animal portraits let her canvases and brushes gather dusts, sometimes stroking Ralphie's tail that reminded her of the many bristles that she had once dipped into pallets of magenta and amber.

They never knew exactly how long Mildred had been dead when they found her clutching a copy of Collier's on her bed. Ralphie's head rested on her ankles, as if to protect her soul until it safely left the room. He lived only another week and a half as Mildred's family began organizing her modest estate. Though he surely could not see it, Ralphie spent his waking hours with his head pointed upwards towards a photo of a young Mildred with a painting of one of her subjects all those years ago.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Where to Go at 3 a.m. to Cash Your Paycheck

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

They Never Knew His Name

We knew nothing about him. Our day had been perfectly normal until there was a loud crash on the street.

A woman's scream, the sound of men's heavy wingtips racing in one direction. Voices talking and yelling over one another. The sound of sirens and muffled voices rumbled as a response was organized.
Looking up, the awnings were still wavering on a perfectly still day. The rip on the one above the bedroom window of apartment 14D was definitely not there at the beginning of the day. Could he have grabbed it during his fall, having change his mind?It happened in a second. He stepped from behind the hotel's bright red sign.
And the descent began, his legs and arms flying like those of a dancer. Could there be actual grace in such a tragic, crushing final rite?
Alvin Mortersen was checking his pocket watch wondering why Eldridge T. Brooks was seven minutes late, bewildered to be sensing a dark cloud hovering above his head on a day that the Tribune-Herald had predicted would be filled with spotless skies.
The West Jefferson line was just pulling up as passengers looked up to see flailing arms rushing to the pavement, a spider whose web had been cut with the sharpest of knives.
By 10:30 the street was back to its regular routine. Many would speculate and gossip for hours and weeks to come. "And where were you that morning?" But few ever heard his name. His body was headed south on a 3 p.m. train to Louisville to be greeted by his grieving mother and widow whom he abandoned six months earlier. They never came to claim his belongings, and they were eventually dispersed among the maintenance staff. Holmes prized the fine leather shaving case, and Stermboern wore that handsome fedora well into the 1940s when he retired. Hattie Juleberg claimed the elegant suitcase with the monogram of H.R.J, never admitting that her middle name was actually Louise.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Niche Accounting


Here in the Mission we even have a service specializing in sin tax. Just ask for Richard.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Sepia Saturday: My Daddy Made All of That!


My dad was a master of many trades. Though a CPA, he was also a farmer, auto-mechanic, carpenter, welder, blacksmith, roofer, plumber,mason, painter, backyard griller, and a list of another dozen trades. He couldn't carry a tune and had two left feet, but that's beside the point.

That's the house I grew up in, and he built every bit of it, including the flagstone chimney and fireplace. He also built the playhouse for my sister out of the remains of an airplane engine box he brought home from Douglas Aircraft when he worked there and he felt it was a waste to discard it. It later served as my tree house where I held court with my secret club and stored my personal childhood library.

That's my sister Nanette in the middle, cousin Glen on the right, me in the sock cap and glasses, and my grandfather's dog Buddy, probably around 1959 or 1960.

Learn more about Sepia Saturday here.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

"Who do you think you are, Miss Philadelphia?" Mom always asked Bop and Zizi.

This wouldn't have burned so much, except Mom had been Miss Philadelphia. She would tell Bop and Zizi that if they were good she just might drive them down in the Wagoneer down to Van der Kamp's The windmill frightened Zizi, and she was always certain that one of those paddles would reach down and spank her or pull her up and swing her around for circles.

Bop, however, was fascinated by it, thinking of it as a symbol of flight, like the propeller of a Pan Am clipper, and she dreamed of one day becoming a stewardess, staffing the first class section -- non-stop from New York's Idlewild Airport to Paris. The very name of the airport evoked glamor and abandon -- running both idle and wild. Bop would pull out a Fiestaware platter from the kitchen and would walk down the hall with a Dixie cup on her had and pretending that her flannel robe was a tailored blue wool uniform. "More coffee, sir? Why it would be my pleasure. And how about an almond wafer? They baked exclusively for Pan Am by Van der Kamp. What, oh, you're going to Amsterdam after Paris? How fitting."

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