Category Archives: retirement

Humor Snob

I never wanted to see anybody die, but there are a few obituaries I have read with pleasure.
—Clarence Darrow

Either he’s dead or my watch has stopped.
—Groucho Marx

They say such nice things about people at funerals that it makes me sad I am going to miss mine by just a few days.
—Garrison Keillor

My uncle Sammy was an angry man. He had printed on his tombstone: What are you looking at?
—Margaret Smith

As one of the few remaining newspaper subscribers, I feel a civic duty to start the day with the news of the night before. I feign surprise and pretend I do not own an iPad. Besides, events are not real until I have seen them in print. My routine has been the same for years. First the sport section, littered with DUIs, assaults, and occasional ball scores. Next the front section, currently featuring the antics of contestants vying for the office once held by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

I have only recently become an avid reader of the obituaries. I read not just about the famous, but ordinary citizens. Obits of the well-known often have a bit of “Behind the Music” quality to them. The hint of graft, plagiarism, or sexual dalliance is included because their transgressions were too public and may be the main reason they are remembered. Note of their passing may offer a “perspective” on the deceased’s penchant for other peoples’ pensions.

Those of us who are less newsworthy have to buy our own space. The loving tributes suggest that in many cases either the will has not been read yet or the prime heir has the responsibility for crafting the final words. An obituary is clearly not the place for a roast or for settling old scores. I have met many dour, petty and dislikable people who, if the paper is to be believed, led a secret life of philanthropy, warmth and kindness.

I may have obit envy after reading about the great accomplishments and sterling lives of those around me. Please consider the following with a grain of salt: My quarrel with most obituaries is they will mention the deceased’s great sense of humor.

I was a not-too-successful stand-up comedian, public speaker and writer on the subject of humor. I admit to being a humor snob. Many alleged humorists are merely exchanging old bromides about Ole and Lena, making fun at the expense of others, or passing on “jokes” that unfairly target a group of people. Their anecdotes are formulaic, and older than they are, some tracing to Homer.

A humorist’s best subject is one’s own misadventures.guy2 by Tom Cassidy Self deprecatory humor is funny because we have all had a similar thought or experience. Another type, observational humor, features the weaving of seemingly unrelated events together. First there is a glint of recognition and then the satisfaction as we “solve” the joke and arrive at the punchline together.

Those clumsily clever Toastmasters and Rotarians with snappy lines like “Cold enough for you?” and “Did you get a haircut or just have your ears lowered?” are not really funny.

As scary as death may be, I believe I am more fearful of being lumped in with everyone else who is said to have a good sense of humor.

Tom H. Cook is a former neighbor who, unlike Rhoda Morganstern, has decided that he will keep better in southern California.

“The Glitch”

Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.                                                                     ––Freidrich Nietzsche

If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.                                                                       —Edgar Allan Poe

Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I have forgotten this before.

—Steven Wright

 I am not perfect. As an opening line this is not up there with Dickens’ “It was the best of times,” Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” or even “It was a dark and stormy night,” but it did get your attention. My follies, foibles and slothful habits are well documented (see HLP 1985-present) or have a brief conversation with JoAnne (wife/editor) or any of the dwindling number of people who grudgingly admit to some shared level of friendship.

Around the house I have always considered myself a gazelle, frolicking from room to room, not creating a stir or upsetting the order of things. In my mind I put the top back on the toothpaste, refold the newspaper after reading, and place my empty tea cup in the dishwasher.   I see myself as a good person because my religion preaches that while we are all God’s children, He/She grades on a curve. As long as I can stay ahead of the troubled people who appear on reality television or hold political office, I am fine. I do, however, have a quirk known as “The Glitch.”

“The Glitch” is a lifetime malady not related to being in the prime of my senility. It is this: clearly imagine myself completing a simple task, such as making a peanut butter sandwich. I picture myself replacing the lid on the jar. I have done this literally thousands of times. (I am old and I really like peanut butter.) When someone, usually the editor, finds the open jar, I am baffled and at a loss to explain why it is missing.

Sitting at my desk, I see a wadded up Visa bill under a chair on the other side of the room. I distinctly remember the shot I launched with 00:04 seconds left in the half (a rainbow sky hook from 9 feet out) that nestled into the wastepaper basket. The crowd went wild, and then I returned to bill paying. However, there on the floor is the balled up paper mocking me. I also imagine and remember putting dirty clothes found under the bed into the hanmper, shutting open cupboards, and turning off lights before bed. The Glitch tells me I have done these things because on countless occasions I have.

Never mind my carbon footprint, someone is leaving muddy ones on the living room carpet although I distinctly remember checking my shoes before coming in. My “come to Jesus” moment came a few weeks ago when the editor was in Minneapolis for a weaving conference.   With no one to blame, I began to notice how many jobs were partially completed despite my clear recollection to the contrary. Dinner dishes I washed carefully took on grease and chunks of food overnight!

The Internet, a fairly good resource for many questions, is strangely silent on “The Glitch.”   After ruling out that I am distracted, lazy, careless, or preoccupied, what remains is a mystery.

guy4Tom H. Cook still feels like a Minnesotan. If everyone who visits him in southern California brings the TSA-permitted three ounces of liquid, his lawn will still die.

Tom at the loom

Weaving

This would have been a great column twenty years ago.  Much like my breathless exhortation on the world of podcasting (HLP May 2011), I am late to the dance with this revelation (to me only) of the puzzle-solving power of Internet communities.  Other than bemusement at Lindsay Lohan’s multiple escapes from justice, I do not follow any topic closely enough to grasp the full force of the axiom that everyone is smarter than any one.  That changed when JoAnne was stumped by a weaving problem.

I have watched her chase the two sirens Curiosity and Creativity for four decades.  As a serious artist and president-elect of the Southern California Hand Weavers Guild, and even with decades of experience, she continually seeks challenges.   Being temporarily over her head attempting to refine the weave structure on a project is a normal state of  affairs.  The goal is creation not extension.  Following a pattern is merely replication.  The art and anxiety comes from bringing together your own vision with the wisdom of other artists.  Being a “fiddler on the roof” at times is the price of originality.

When she is off in her own world, a bobbing, riffing, weaving John Coltrane, I usually grab a good book and the nearest dog and retreat.  But, her latest caper intrigued me.  She had a copy of the not totally obscure 1926 text How To Weave Linens by Edward F. Worst.  Using Worst’s instructions, charts, and black and white photos, JoAnne used her weaving software to digitally represent one of the cloth designs. Her computer program revealed the same weave structure except it came out sideways.  Analyzing 17 other weave drafts in that chapter, she discovered all were inexplicably a quarter turn off.

Rather than just rotate the patterns 90 degrees, JoAnne wanted to know what had gone wrong.  She needed to understand Edward Francis Worst (1869-1949), unfortunate name and all.  Worst was a manual arts teacher, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and the author of four books on weaving.  By 1926 Edward Worst was America’s foremost authority on hand weaving. Surely the man knew what he was doing. JoAnne, after blaming her own reading of the instructions, the software, and briefly me for hovering, turned to WeaveTech, an international 2,000 member Yahoo group, for answers.

A WeaveTech member from Sweden solved the mystery.  The photos in Worst’s chapter were lifted directly from Nina Engestrom’s book Prastik Vavbok, published in Sweden in 1896.  Nina or a careless typesetter had turned the fabric photos 90 degrees in her book, and Worst had included them (unattributed and still sideways) along with instructions in How To Weave Linens.

I was ready to write an expose on “Fast Eddie’s” grab for the gold when I began to read other posts and articles.  Worst, a Chicago, Illinois native, looked like Daniel Day Lewis looking like Lincoln.  Rather than a quick-buck plagiarist, he was more of a saint, committed to reversing the divorce between the hand and the brain.  He was a school principal and early advocate for nascent programs in occupational and physical therapy.  He taught weaving and other arts that emphasized the therapeutic value of handcraft to staff at state mental institutions.  He pioneered handweaving as a resource for low income people suffering the effects of The Great Depression.

Worst was so taken by the early efforts to establish a weaving cooperative in North Carolina that a feel-good made for television movie could be made from what happened next.

Worst, the Yankee school principal, traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Penland, North Carolina to teach weaving in the summer of 1928.  His classes were so popular the community committed to building a studio.  A visionary local woman, Lucy Morgan, “borrowed all the money they would let me have” and led grass roots efforts to finance and construct the log “mansion in the sky.”  In May 1935 the locals came  together like an Amish barn raising (but with liquor).  They cut logs and used their mules to drag them into place.  The women cooked the noon meals, which became a community event.  In August of 1935 the last nail went into the roof of the four-story 50 X 80 foot Edward F. Worst Craft House the day before Worst’s arrival.

If this is a movie, the locals will be lining the streets of Penland as a deeply moved Edward Worst (Tommy Lee Jones if Mr. Lewis is unavailable), and his wife Evangeline (Holly Hunter?) slowly motor into town.  Prominent in the crowd would be Lucy Morgan (Meryl Streep?), the driving force behind the school.  The closing credits reveal The Penland School of Craft has become internationally recognized, and the Edward F. Worst Craft House and particularly the Chicago Room is a cornerstone of the campus.  The next to last visual would state “Edward Worst began teaching summers in North Carolina in 1927, and returned every year until his death in 1949.”  Then the last screen: “During his more than twenty years of teaching at Penland, he never accepted compensation.”  There will not be a dry eye in the house, and I am misting up as I write this.  It is amazing what you can learn on the Internet.

 Tom H. Cook is an adept blogger and the host of four sites dedicated to Philadelphia Athletics left fielder Gus Zernial.    

 JoAnne adds: You can read more about  Penland, Lucy Morgan and Edward Worst at http://www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CraftRevival/people/edwardworst.html     

By the way, my handwoven linens came out beautifully.  Still sideways, but lovely.  

    

 

 

Know Thyself

Know thyself.                –Ancient Greek aphorism

This above all: to thine own self be true.             –(from Hamlet) William Shakespeare

 We are sure to be losers when we quarrel with ourselves; it is civil war.             –Charles Caleb Colton

 

Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.             –Emile Coue

 

I have never been able to psych myself into believing that I am a child of the universe and locked inside me is the potential to be a mountain-moving, charismatic, chronically positive life force.  I am not quaking with untapped energy, brimming with the milk of human kindness, or overflowing with love for others.  I do not hold the key to anyone’s happiness, least of all mine.  I rarely leap out of bed (I have weak ankles) eager to face the day’s challenges, turn over new leaves, make a friend of Dale Carnegie, let a smile be my umbrella, keep my sunny side up, or even direct my feet to the sunny side of the street.

Despite my rather meager credentials, twisted wretch that I am, I have stumbled onto a way to accomplish tasks that would have bedeviled me years ago.  I still rely on my twin defenses (delegation and denial), but there are errands, chores, and obligations that simply cannot be weaseled out of.  Many of you already practice this surefire technique, but I have the zeal of a convert and feel I must share it with my fellow procrastinators.

 

Disclaimer: This strategy is unnecessary, simplistic, and laughable for inner directed, Type A, self-motivated, goal oriented, list makers.  Stop reading. Go back to Stephen Covey and your iPad.

 All right it’s just us now, and I am ready to reveal the secret.  (Don’t worry, I don’t want money. I have no idea how to set up a PayPal account, and you’d never get it together to send it to me anyway.)  Here it is: Talk honestly to your future self.  For decades I held the mistaken notion that in time I would improve, have better posture, floss regularly, listen to Rosetta Stone, and generally be more competent and responsible.  It was the oil slick on the highway, ever over the next rise.

America has been built on the premise of perspiration/inspiration, bootstraps, hard work, luck and pluck, evolution, or divine intervention.  I must have felt my future self would be more willing and able to do my book reports, take out the trash, and write thank you notes. I bought thick books I planned to read and Guthrie season tickets for when I became more sophisticated.  I could go on.  Everything was based on the premise of my forthcoming maturation.

Greater insight, intellectual curiosity, and work ethic … they never came!  Age has not brought wisdom, only liver spots.  Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.  It is sobering but also liberating to know I am unlikely to become any better.  I now have brutally frank conversations with my future self.  “When am I/you going to want to clean the yard, pull the tax stuff together, or wash the dogs?”  Future Me’s short answer is “Never.”  Present Self replies, “In that case, I might as well do it now.”

This also cuts down on misplacing checkbooks, and car keys.  I ask myself, “Will Future Me remember to look in the candy dish for my wallet when I am racing out the door in the morning?”  For years I tortured Future Self with my unfounded faith in his abilities.   Now I take pity on my poor future self and do him favors like returning phone calls and working on my column before the deadline.


Tom H. Cook is a writer of sorts.  It is Day 24 since Keith Olbermann left MSNBC.

Ben and Tom Hiking

The Road Not Taken

There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.
–Erich Fromm

I am from Iowa.  I lived there until I was 24…  I didn’t know you were allowed to leave.
–Jake Johannsen (San Francisco comic)

I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn’t
–Marge Simpson

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both                                  —Robert Frost   (The Road Not Taken) 

Free will is a terrifying notion especially when you exercise it.  I hesitate to broach the subject because the odds are astronomically high that I will come off sounding clueless and self serving, a departure from my petty and ingracious nature.  Coming back to Minnesota brings out deeply conflicted feelings I harbor about leaving my adopted home.  When I talk with friends whose families made huge life changing moves, there were usually Cossacks involved in the decision.  For JoAnne and me, it was a heart wrenching choice that was not influenced by the Ninth District Court of Appeals.  My new life (eight years already) is filled with friends, activities, and as much meaning as I am likely to find in southern California.

I make it harder by visiting in early October (note to self, come back in February).  There is nothing more enjoyable than wandering the streets of Minneapolis on a beautiful fall day. I walked Lake of the Isles, the Greenway, and the newest incarnation of Calhoun Square.  For those who take HLP land for granted as I once did, the bustle of young people, the abundance of dogs, and the leaves beginning to turn can’t help but imbued one with a sense of optimism.

Even my friends with little interest in sports have been to the new Twins stadium.  Their joy and civic pride is so evident that I couldn’t help but smile.   Minnesotans look for ways to build community, and Target Field is a good example.  After I went to a game (a 13-2 drubbing by Toronto) I was so in awe of the experience, I happily leaped on the bandwagon.  Still challenges abound.  Which highway entrances and exits are not under construction?  How do you get across town without Crosstown?  There are many, many houses for sale, yet coming from bankrupt California, the local economy looks fairly healthy.

I sense I am avoiding the existential question.  Should a decision of the magnitude of where to live be left to someone so quixotic, and ill informed?  I was a (very) young Republican.  I attended a Mamas and Papas concert.  I bought Circuit City stock at 42.   I wore bell bottoms for goodness sake.  I didn’t install it, but I lived with orange shag carpeting.  What would suggest that I am an informed decision maker?

The more I consider it, the question is not happiness or fulfillment.  JoAnne and I love our life in California while we miss our old house, friends, and the spirit of the neighborhood.  I am occasionally (all right daily) dwarfed by the decision.  I am not suggesting a Politburo, or even a 5.2 computer software update to guide our major life choices, comrade.  It is just difficult having no one to blame.  Moving states doesn’t compare to religious conversion, changing genders, launching a new career, or enlisting in the military. Where do people with options find the strength to roll the dice and commit to a new life?  After eight years I am still whining about missing the fall colors.

 

  Tom H. Cook was disappointed to see the Twins season end so ignobly.  After eight years he is still whining about missing the fall colors.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

House Finish Man Die

You must never stop building the house.  If you continue to build you will live forever.  But if you stop, then you will die too.                                –The Boston Medium

 

It was on the advice of her psychic that Sarah Winchester contacted The Boston Medium. Winchester had lost both her young daughter and husband.  The medium suggested that the souls of those killed by her husband’s rifles were angry and that she seek a way to appease them. Rather than establish a relief fund or a charity for the victims’ families she abandoned the comforts of New Haven, Connecticut in 1844.  Armed (no pun intended) with a mere $20,500,000 and half ownership in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, the plucky if delusional widow moved west to San Jose, California.

The mansion she built is renowned for its size and utter lack of a master building plan.  Begun on her arrival, it has approximately 160 rooms (ample quarters for the spirits of the dead), 10,000 window panes, 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces and doors and stairways that lead nowhere.  A paint job required 20,500 gallons of paint and could never be finished because the early work would need re-doing before the last portion could be completed.  Crews needed to work around the clock to forestall Mrs. Winchester’s death.  The second ballroom was under construction when the aged and arthritic matron passed away in 1922.

I do not believe I have the same quest for immortality.  I have not even added a bird feeder in the seven years I have been in California or adopted an exercise regime that will extend my life, but I have no other explanation for my growing collections.  Like Mrs. Winchester, I can not see dying before I have read all of the books that line my walls.  I have hundreds of CDs, many that I have yet to listen to because the cover art does not look as good as the twelve I play for all occasions.  Still I plan to enjoy each and every one of them someday.

I am currently 306 podcasts or one week and 37 hours of non-stop This American Life and The Dan Patrick Show behind on my iPod, with more being downloaded everyday.  I will listen to them.  My DVR is set to record everything from old Bob Newhart episodes to Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I watch just enough to keep the recorder at 90 % of capacity, but not overflowing. I rarely play any of my 500+ DVDs that I plan to watch, as the Netflix shipments cut into my available viewing time.

At this point you may be thinking Sure, he has a lot of books, music, and videos, but he has not crossed that all important line that separates the collector/hobbyist from the obsessive pack rat.  You are probably thinking nothing of the sort and I am being easy on myself. But if that were the extent of my “collections” I could rationalize it as a remnant of misplaced 1960s reverence for the media.

What catapults me over the line and into a world of delusion is my shirt collection.  I am ready to come out of the closet and admit to owning over 300 shirts.  I worry that I will spill things on my shirt…things that will not come out. (You would think I lived on grape juice.)  Or I will have another laundry mishap (see HLP May, 1999).  Consequently, when I am at a garage sale, I feel the need for backup, so I browse the men’s shirts.  I am a very common size, and too often there are shirts just calling me.  I have tried raising the bar and buying only all cotton, linen, or silk, freshly dry cleaned shirts selling for $1.00 a piece or less.  Still they find me.  Something comes over me, and I cannot walk away.

It will be handy to have dress shirts if I ever get a job again.  The dark silk ones are for my next (first) ultra swanky cocktail party.  These shirts are not to be confused with my “clubbing wardrobe” where Bianca or Simone may accidentally spill a drink on my clearly expensive outfit and I can laugh it off.  I have fancy golf shirts (I don’t play) and yacht party attire which I would undoubtedly ruin as I get seasick in the harbor.  If I am invited to a luau or a surprise party for Don Ho I have about 25 Hawaiian shirts to choose from. Don’t even get me started on my Scottish wool lumberjack shirts for ski trips and hikes in the great north woods with my chums that look like they star in beer commercials.

I have shirts for almost all occasions.  Shirts I plan not only to wear, but to wear out in my lifetime!  This will take a while because I currently keep them safely ensconced in my closet.  I tend to wear the same weather- and peanut butter-beaten T-shirts every day because I spend most of my waking hours with dogs who are notoriously forgiving of my attire.

I cannot wait for the occasion so special that I put on my silk shirt, pack the unread book I have been hoarding, throw some new CDs on my car stereo and head up the coast for a rockin’ weekend.  In the meantime I’ll be at a garage sale building up inventory or else at the dog park.

 

Tom H. Cook is an ex-HLP loiterer.  He will miss the editorship and friendship of Jane Johnson who is returning to England.

 

 

 

Retirement Pursuits

Well-meaning folks who barely know me seem to think I would be happiest playing golf every waking moment of my retirement.  Many seem disappointed almost to the point of belligerence—and that’s without me launching into a PC rant about the geo-ecological water and land resource usurpation that the game requires.  I could claim that moral high ground, but the real reason is more mundane.  It is too clichéd a solution for what to do now that I retired for the third and probably final time this past February.

I have good friends who golf, and a few that may even have the patience to play with me, but aside from their company there is little that draws me to becoming a links man.  And just a look at me tells all but the most obtuse observer that I am no Mark Trail.  I would rather watch an entire golf match on a grainy black and white 7” television while standing up than to hunt or fish.  Most of my inquisitors are well-intended and simply curious as to how loitering, reading, and wandering around with my dogs can provide me with sufficient stimulation to sustain life.

I was not on a quest for fulfillment, and long ago gave up the notion of an examined life, but I have stumbled onto two things I enjoy.  One is my version of gardening or, more specifically, plant rescue.  Since Monday is Trash Day, Sunday is Trash Eve, and a good opportunity to adopt plants, pots, hoses and brooms, as well as umbrellas, lawn furniture, fountains, and so forth.  I do not have a green thumb or know the plant name of anything that is not a rose, but I enjoy picking up discarded plants and nursing them back to health.  JoAnne often accompanies me on this Sunday sleuthing.  Our back yard, while not yet old people scary jungle eccentric, does show promise.  We take much of the furniture and other goods of value to the local Salvation Army, forestalling its date with the landfill.  I am now on a first name basis with some of the intake workers, and while none have ventured to ask where all of this stuff is coming from, the consensus seems to be that I am a conscience-stricken cat burglar with very bad taste.

The other role that I am growing into is neighborhood anchor.  In 1977 JoAnne and I moved to the East Calhoun neighborhood of south Minneapolis from Naples, Florida.  Knowing no one, we were clearly in need of good neighbors.  The two families right out our back door were wonderful to us.  They were each Austin, Minnesota natives and only a bit older than we were, but wiser, and more established professionally than JoAnne and me.  Jay and Joy Dean had two young angelic children, Mike and Margo, and Linda and Lance LaVine had the equally sweet Nicky and Natasha.

We resisted the impulse to alliteration, but started our own family in part because of the happiness we observed in these helpful, mentoring families.  When our kids came we were often too busy to take full advantage of the guidance and acceptance they offered to us.  I owe my career choice to Jay.  Regardless of how frazzled we would be, Lance had the remedy: “Come on over for a cup of tea.” Many times we declined, begging off due to this imagined crisis or that.  Lance was wiser but knew we had to chase our own windmill.

We now have neighbors with two very young children and high stress jobs.  One is an attorney, the other a corporate recruiter.  I am not smart or worldly, and I have never been a head hunter for a Fortune 500 company, but I have made lots of mistakes, and I have time to listen. He is generally gone and she is running here and there.  Frequently they are too busy, as we were twenty five years ago, but in the spirit of Linda and Lance LaVine, I have extended to them a standing invitation for a cup of tea.

 

Tom H. Cook hopes that you will say hello to the LaVines and Deans for him.  Thank you for the great response to Keith Oldemann.  I am glad to see he has so many fans.  Please add the work of film-maker Robert Greenwald.  He is also able to cut through our national political pea soup in an entertaining manner.  His four documentaries (Out Foxed:  Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, Uncovered: The War On Iraq, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices) are sobering and informative.  He validates our greatest fears, but does it in a manner that is pointed without being pedantic.    

On Leaving Minneapolis

I warned the editors that I was not a good choice to write a sappy, bittersweet, folksy, sorry you’re leaving article.  I feared they would want a heartwarming piece about a plucky Kenwood couple who after 57 years of making molasses fudge brownies for block parties, hand sewing little league uniforms, and spaying hamsters, were being shuffled off to Happy Acres, or to live in their grand-nephew’s basement in Femur, Arizona.  I imagined having to include their homespun reminiscences about a cow getting loose on Colfax Avenue, or how the couple once ran breathless to the police station because they were sure they saw Kaiser Wilhelm at a gas station on Lake Street, or the hilarious tale of the time they pretended to be guests at Theodore Wirth’s wedding.

I had all of my excuses in line until I heard the name.  Kim and Harley (Toby) Toberman of 24th and Girard, neighbors and friends for sixteen years.  How could I not write about this vibrant and unique couple?  Kim’s lush garden has name tags for all of her flowers and  plants so the children can learn them.  She provides a bench in front of  the house so lovers can smooch, the footsore can rest, and kids can wait for the school bus.  Toby’s imaginative and terrifying Halloween haunted house has long been a magnet, drawing kids from all over the neighborhood and beyond.

What do you say about people who use a wood burning stove, have a gorgeous three story antique-filled Victorian home complete with a very modern two-person  Jacuzzi, and a movie theater?  These are very unusual folks.  Kim has brought high culture to the prairie with her annual ladies’ tea complete with harp music.  Toby (owner of Toby’s Tunes) once made and marketed a video for dogs.

Long before suburbanites discovered great rooms and plasma TVs, Kim and Toby had a full screen theater complete with projection booth and hundreds of movies.  Their bi-monthly wintertime special, dubbed “Movies in the Parlor”, treated as many as forty lucky souls to a lineup of obscure shorts and feature films “that no one else would have the nerve to show.”  Kim and Toby, in formal attire, hosted an annual awards night with a prize in the categories of  best homemade munchies and perfect attendance.  People planned their winter vacations to not miss a Friday night at Toby’s.

I had to find out how they could give up their breathtaking home and the garden they have nurtured for twenty five years.  What follows is my inaccurate recollection of our long and silly phone conversation.

Hill and Lake Press (really just me) Talk about the decision to leave.

Toby:  We have been looking for a home in a warm climate for a number of years.  We quickly decided Florida was too tame, and began to explore an island a year:  Jamaica, Barbados, and then in 1998 we went to Costa Rica and fell in love with it.  We bought property and have seen it greatly increase in value, although that was not our motivation.  The people there are wonderful and there is a huge ex-patriot community with many Russians, Europeans, and Canadians.

HLP:    Maintaining two residences so far apart must be a strain.

Kim:  We went back to Costa Rica last winter sure that we had to make one a permanent home.  A decision we thought might take a month was answered in two days.  Our Minnesota home is up for sale.  Toby has sold his film and record collection on E-bay, and we have had sales of our antiques.

Toby:  I find I don’t miss the stuff when I am down there.  We are shipping a car, which is an unbelievable labyrinth of certifications, notaries, consulates, and foreign relations ministers.

HLP:  Is your leaving at all political?

Toby:  We were going anyway, but the change in the gun laws…let’s just say it is a different Minnesota.

HLP:  Tell about some of your community work.

(I am editing out twenty minutes of credit to others, and minimization of her accomplishments)

Kim:  I was on the board at Neighborhood Involvement Program for a number of years.  N.I.P. is a wonderful resource, right on Hennepin Avenue.  They provide healthcare, counseling, and other services for people who do not have insurance.

Toby:  What about the garden club and your two terms as president, and the Spring Tea?

Kim:  The Kenwood Garden Club has about 35 members and still does tours.  It is designed to promote neighborhood pride.  Blooming Boulevards is a CUE (Committee for Urban Environments) volunteer organization that recognizes neighbors that go out of there way to make boulevard common space attractive…

Toby:  The city cut the funding for it even though it’s all volunteer and the only cost is postage.

Kim:  The Spring Tea was not just for women who lived in the neighborhood, but for those who work here…GJs, Walgreen’s, and all of the local businesses.  It was an opportunity for the women of the community to network…

Toby:  And have great desserts.

HLP:  Since you do not want me to mention the illegal stop sign you installed on 24th Street, I’ll ask what will happen to Toby’s Tunes, one of the premiere sound recording studios in the Twin Cities and located above your garage?

Toby:  It is a good time to close out.  Jerry Horvath, who has worked for me, has Buzz Cuts Audio downtown, but I chose not to continue the name.

HLP:  All I know about Costa Rica is that San Jose is the capital.  Are you near there?

Toby:  (laughs)  We are in the mountains, six hours by car, four hours by foot.  We have a swimming pool that is currently filled with frogs.   We have been hand carrying all the equipment necessary for a movie theater.  Since many of our neighbors have never seen a movie, they are most impressed.  We are mostly showing old comedies and films that don’t require a lot of translation.

HLP:  Does this enterprise have a name?

Kim:  Yes, it’s “Movies in the Jungle”  We have huge pot luck dinners and watch movies.  Toby is in his glory.

HLP:  It sounds as if your new life is already in progress.  What will you miss?

Kim:  I’ll miss mail order catalogues–I get tons of them–plus pizza delivered to the door.

Toby:  Best Buy, and my music partner Gregg Kubera.  Every Tuesday night for the last twenty two years we would write and play music together.  Hundreds of songs…(pause) we are called “The Client Brothers”, and we are as close as brothers.

HLP:  You both have brought creative community building activities to us and had fun doing it.  Kim and Toby, you have made the city a smaller and friendlier place.  Because of your own contentment you have always been ready to help new arrivals or those in need.  You will be profoundly missed.

 

Tom H. Cook is a sentimental L.A. resident with a deep love for the old neighborhood.  He has no current plans to run for governor of his adopted state.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naps

To sleep, perchance to dream…                 –Shakespeare

 

…I’m dreaming my life away…                –Bobby Darin (“Dream Lover” 1959)

Winter is the season for sleep.  For years I worried that I was missing something.  Life changing events seemed to be happening just beyond my grasp.   This is not to suggest I aspired to be a social butterfly, the life of the party, or mystically enlightened.  Whether opting out of attending a concert or sporting event, or deciding not to hear a provocative speaker, or not showing up to schmooze at a social gathering, I would generally feel guilty for not going and losing out on yet another opportunity to broaden my horizons.

The process of becoming self-actualized can be particularly challenging if you do not have four wheel drive.  Generally the events I ruminated upon were too costly, too far away, or I was not invited in the first place.  Still it gnawed at me that a potentially mind-altering occurrence was just beyond my wallet, my navigational skills (Coon Rapids/New Brighton), or my social connections.

I have never regarded myself as a hedonist, an intellectual, or a thrill seeker.  Nor am I a seeker of truth through Zen, crystals, pyramids, or pyramid schemes.  I am not a ‘foodie’ (“You have to try the new place in the warehouse district, and you must order the Szechwan duck; it is unbelievable…”).  In essence, on a cold winter’s night in Minnesota (pardon the redundancy) there is not a duck, an economist speaking on the Euro, or a reunion and resurrection of the Jethro Tull band that can lure me from a night of relative warmth (62 degrees) and domestic tranquility.

So what has changed?   I no longer miss the life I never really led.  I am resigned to being a somewhat slow-witted, easily amused, left-leaning, minimally consumptive taxpayer. On a cold night, when the wind howls, I consider how blessed I am to be indoors, in a mostly paid-for house, watching my neighbors trudge or skid by.  They are hurrying to aerobics classes, secret trysts, community education offerings on how to enliven Power Point presentations, or meeting with Walter Mondale to ask his opinion on the future of Burma.

Winter in Minnesota is like the Taliban.  If we give in and alter our lifestyle, they win.  For years I believed that not only was I missing great things, but I was somehow letting the state down.  Our jewel of a city somehow shone a little less brightly because people like me were not out driving around on glare ice to patronize experimental theater.

Now, on a winter evening, unless “West Wing” or a new “Frasier” is on television, I am probably reading, hanging around, or trying in vain to keep Stella (our insane, allergic boxer) from licking her spots off.  If not engaged in one of the aforementioned activities, I am probably taking a pre-bedtime nap.  Yes, I am out of the closet and on the couch. I nap and I am proud.  My motto is less guilt, more sleep.

Cocooning has been in for years.  As the post WWII generation ages, it has become fashionable to have a ‘great room’ and a home theater system to help pass the savage winter.  What I have is more of a ‘fairly good room’ and a decent video collection, but many nights even staying up for a movie is too strenuous.

My wife has suggested a more biological basis for napping.  Older bodies may wear down, of course, but she believes, (with kudos to Charles Darwin) in a Shared Space Theory.  Simply stated, we as a community need to cohabit finite resources.  If we were all out ‘burning the midnight oil’ there would be too much congestion on the roads, competition for parking, and overcrowding in Chino Latino and other evening venues.

As Marlin Perkins would suggest, an influx of older people could dangerously pollute a habitat.  Given they have more resources, sophistication, and connections, if the 50-something crowd wanted to take over, say, First Avenue, they could throw off the balance of nature. Young people need to find each other, engage and spawn in order to keep things going.  A bunch of ‘forever young’ baby boomers with face lifts and hair plugs would disturb the natural order of things.  Young people seem to come awake after 10:00 PM, and the city becomes theirs.  As we age, we cede the nighttime to another generation.

My job–and I am ready to begin it immediately–is to pull myself out of circulation and take a nap.

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Tom H. Cook is a local writer and social critic.  He is not clinically depressed.  In fact, he is rather delighted at the prospect of his next nap.  He is still ‘about’ wishing people a Happy New Year.