Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ballpark Frank

Baseball should be played outside, on grass, in the sun.

Team owners, especially billionaires, should pay to build their own ballparks.

As a fan, I will happily go to the Twins' new ballpark (for which ground is being broken officially this evening). I have been lucky enough to attend games at the old Met Stadium, in old Comiskey, new Comiskey, Wrigley, Angels Stadium, Camden Yards, Fenway, Yankee Stadium, that new ballpark in Philadelphia named for a bank, and assorted college, amateur, and minor league parks from Cape Cod to Hawaii. I am excited about a modern, small ballpark in Minneapolis.

Still, I think Smilin' Carl Pohlad and his buddies (Selig, Opat, even Pawlenty) pulled a fast one. It's not an especially refined response or courageous or principled, but I just have to shrug. The process was unsavory, but I'll accept the outcome. Does that make me a hypocrite?

Play ball!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Twenty-Seven Posts (one out of sequence)

Out of town for a very long day yesterday, delivering youngest child to college. Very tired. A little sad. Looking for a respite in a simple, short verse. Finding instead a cascade of associations and musings.

Brautigan's poetry can be sneaky. It looks so simple, almost childlike. Then you look again and you start wondering what he saw, what he means, how this or that strange line came about. Here's an example:

From "Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork"




Yes, that is the entire poem. A trifle, you say? A little hippie weirdo bon bon?

Look again, my friend. Who can look at a line of crows and tell their proper order? How could it occur to anyone that there might even be a proper order? This poem, like a lot of great metaphysical poems or abstract paintings or modern sculpture, can be almost anything.

Some readers like me are sorely tempted to hang meaning on this poem like flys on a trout fisherman's vest. Lets, see....there are nine innings in a baseball game; nine black-robed justices on the Supreme Court; nine is a significant number in Icelandic lore; it is the final whole digit in the "base 10" system. Yet Brautigan most likely chose the number at random. The poem would be just as enigmatic with five crows or seven.

And crows! They are like ravens, which of course are mysterious and enchanted. Think Poe and Hitchcock and Native American totems, and.... OK, stop, deep breath. Though crows are a recurring image in this collection, wouldn't the poem work with bluebirds or cardinals or sparrows? No?

Anyway, you get the idea. The poem -- just this line of numbers -- is a window or a looking glass or a dream or an echoing well. It is so much more in the mind than on the page.

Damn you, Richard Brautigan.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Shortest Route...

Many years ago, I had a job interview with a consulting firm outside Washington, DC. The firm even paid my expenses to fly in from Columbus for the day. I took a taxi from what is now Reagan National Airport to the firm’s headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Tysons Corner is situated along the infamous Washington Beltway, home to a dizzying variety of contractors and consultants and research outfits, all feeding at the huge federal trough. These firms are collectively known as Beltway Bandits, but I was victimized that day by another sort of highwayman.

Imagine for a moment that the DC area is a clock face. National Airport is near the middle and Tysons Corner is at about 9:00. The minute hand (for purposes of this illustration) is on the nine, so the shortest route from the airport to Tysons Corner is straight across the minute hand (or I-66 if you’re looking at a map and not a clock). I did not know this at the time. The taxi driver took a route that was, shall we say, less than optimal. He made nearly a full circuit of the perimeter of the clock (the I-95/495 beltway) from about 6:00 counterclockwise to 9:00 -- about four times as long as the direct route. On arrival, I presented the taxi bill to my generous hosts, who knew immediately that I had really been taken for a ride.

Sometimes I feel that way about our elected leaders. There is an obvious route to a simple solution, yet we are subjected to a long dull ride through the political landscape. In some instances, like Charlie on the MTA, we never do arrive. Sometimes I feel more like a hostage than a citizen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Legends of the Backyard (a break from Brautigania)

Friday evening we had a little birthday party for a couple of friends. We stocked two pale ales: Sierra Nevada (from Chico, CA) and Schell's (from New Ulm, MN).

I've liked Sierra Nevada for several years now, and often drink it when Matt Garza is pitching for the Twins. He's from Chico, as if I really needed an excuse. I've always liked Schell's beer, too, and I was pleased to see the brewery is now making a pale ale. The front label says it's "A Legendary Ale." The back label reveals that it was first brewed in 1997. Pretty young for a legend.

We did a blind taste test and the Schell's won 5-1. It's cheaper than Sierra Nevada (at least around here), so I guess it'll be Schell's for a while at our house. Garza's on his own. I'm sure the legendary pitcher can handle it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Little Richard

Brautigan wrote thousands of very short poems. Some of his poem titles were longer than the poems. Here are couple of my favorites.

From"Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork" comes this little gem:

Attila at the Gates of the Telephone Company

They said that
my telephone
would be fixed
by 6.
They guaranteed

And from"The Pill Versus the Spring Hill Mine Disaster:"


With his hat on
he's about five inches taller
than a taxicab.

For some reason, I think of Niel Simon when I read these. If Niel Simon wrote poems instead of plays, these are the kinds of things that might appear in Simon's notebook. Nuggets that he might work into something bigger later on. But Brautigan liked these as they were. Shiny pebbles. Bowling trophies.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Richard III (not Richard the Third)

This is one part of a nine-poem series called The Galilee Hitchhiker, first published as a chap book in the early 1960's, then included in a collection called "The Pill Versus the Spring Hill Mine Disaster" in 1968.

A Baseball Game

Part 7

Baudelaire went
to a baseball game
and bought a hot dog
and lit up a pipe
of opium.
The New York Yankees
were playing
the Detroit Tigers.
In the fourth inning
an angel committed
suicide by jumping
off a low cloud.
The angel landed on second base,
causing the
whole infield
to crack like
a huge mirror.

The game was
called on
account of

The Yankees, I suspect, were winning and the angel could not abide another smug, arrogant Yankee victory and this was his unselfish, heroic way of changing the outcome. Yes, he told himself, it's just a game, it's just one game in a long season, but that sense of entitlement, that smirk, that swagger -- someone has to put a stop to it, send them a sign, restore some balance to the world if only for an afternoon.

Of course, I do not think Brautigan was a Yankee-hater, I think he was a Baudelaire-lover and the angel incident was a Baudelaire hallucination. But I do wish someone would wipe that smirk off the Yankees faces.

Come to think of it, the Red Sox are doing a fair job of that this year, as is the Yankees bullpen.

What a great closing line, though: The game was called on account of fear. Wouldn't you love to hear James Earl Jones say that?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Daily Richard (Part Two)

Here is a Brautigan poem from “June 30th, June 30th

Taking No Chances

I am part of it. No,
I am the total but there
is also a possibility
that I am only a fraction
of it.

I am that which begins
but has no beginning.
I am also full of shit
right up to my ears.

Tokyo / June 17, 1976

Brautigan, like so many of his contemporaries, played around with zen. I love the way he sniffs the rarefied air and then bangs hard against the reality of being human, all in eight and a half short lines.

The book isn't one of my favorites -- the stuff (with exceptions like the one above) doesn't have much of an edge to it. Most of the work in "June 30th, June 30th" feels monochromatic to me. The twinkle in Brautigan's eye is missing much of the time. Still a unique voice, though.

Tomorrow, Brautigan and baseball intersect. Right here!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Daily Richard (not Richard Daley)

After naming this blog in honor of Richard Brautigan, I have somehow managed to pretty much ignore him in every post so far.

Starting today, your humble servants at Trout Fishing in Minnesota will remedy that by posting a poem, essay, quote, or other tidbit of Brautigana each day. Some may be accompanied by commentary, some not.

Today's nugget: a little poem from "Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt"

The Memoirs of Jesse James

I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

I like that poem because of its almost musical rhythm and its combination of wistfulness, regret, and anger.

I also like it because Jesse James is a big deal in Northfield, this little town having been the site of Jesse's last bank robbery. There is some minor historical debate about whether Jesse was in fact part of that gang, but around these parts there is no doubt. The big community celebration, complete with a re-enactment of the famous raid (in front of the actual bank building, now a museum), is but a couple weeks away.

Northfield goes just a little nuts the week of The Defeat of Jesse James Days. I used to grumble at the traffic and the fried foods and the kitschy crafts booths, but I've decided that it's nice for a little town to party for a few days before winter. Dance in the streets, drink some cheap beer, watch the horsies on Division Street.

Brautigan would be bemused (as he was by most things) and he might play a little bingo, too.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Witness to History (Twins Baseball edition)

Yesterday, about 30,000 people were in the Dome to witness Johan Santana strike out 17 Texas batters in eight innings. Probably 20,000 of them have blogs and will write a breathless entry about it. I am one of them.

That was indeed something to see. I was there with my oldest son, who is a bigger Twins fan than me and who was keeping score. You can see the score sheet here. We started getting excited after the second inning. Even from our crappy seats (front row by the Twins bullpen -- they are crappy because it's hard to see the plate from there), we could tell Johan was dealing and the Texas batters had no idea how to handle those pitches (except -- damn you, Sammy Sosa). Redmond behind the plate was like a craps player who could do no wrong. Fastball, change-up. Change-up, fastball. Up. Down. In. Out. Simple.

After Cuddyer's solo homer in the second inning, I said to my son "That's probably all the run support Santana will get today." He said "That's probably all he'll need."

The crowd was getting into it, too. In the eighth, Neshek started warming up in the Twins 'pen. My son yelled "Sit down, Neshek!" Santana struck out the side in the eighth, sitting Neshek down.

For you non-Twins fans, you should know that no pitcher in Twins history, not even Aaron Fultz, had struck out more than 15 in a game. That it came in a one-run game made it all the more special.

Wow, Johan. Just wow.

Friday, August 17, 2007

John Gordon: loveable or laughable?

John Gordon is the radio play-by-play announcer for the Minnesota Twins. He has been doing this for many, many years and he apprenticed at the feet of the master, the late Herb Carneal. So why is John Gordon such a hack?

Gordon mispronounces players' names. Two examples: Ramon Ortiz became "Ray-Moan." Fortunately for the Twins and the Twins radio listeners, Ramon is gone. Lastings Milledge became "Lansing." Fortunately, Mr. Milledge plays for the Mets, whom the Twins rarely play. (Don't get me started on the silliness of inter-league games.) Every team provides the announcers with a media guide, which includes among many other things the phonetic pronunciation of every player's name. Gordon won't or can't use it.

Gordon says "the infield fly rule has been evoked." The infield fly rule doesn't come into play very often, but every time, Gordo says it's been "evoked."

Gordon looses track of the action. Honestly -- he forgets how many outs there are or where the runners are or what the count is. He is usually very quick to correct these mistakes, but he shouldn't have to self-correct quite so often. I know it's probably easier for a listener than it is for Mr. Gordon. Listeners don't have to worry about getting in those endless promotions ("That's another Cambria home run!") ("This call to the bullpen is brought to you by AT&T") or knowing when station breaks are coming, but Gordon is supposed to be able to juggle all that stuff and tell us what's going on in the game. He often can't. Here's one I remember: Two out, runner at first, Twins batter pops out on the fisrt pitch. Gordon says to Gladden "Why wasn't he going for the sac bunt there?" Long pause. Gladden says "Umm...with two outs, John?"

Gordon uses too many cliches and verbal crutches: "Race to the base!" "I'll tell you one thing, Dazzle..."

OK. That's enough. I just don't like the way Gordon works. Volunteer announcers might be no worse, and Mr. Pohlad could take Gordon's salary and use it for something else. A signing bonus for a college third baseman, maybe?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Big Island salute

Flossie, now considered a tropical storm and not a hurricane, is pounding the Big Island today. There is a large wind farm -- maybe 30 huge turbines -- near the southernmost tip of the Big island (which is the southernmost point in the good old US of A). I hope the storm doesn't blow the turbines over. Can they be folded up like an umbrella (since they can't be furled like the old-fashioned picturesque Dutch windmills)?

I like the Big Island because I have many memories of three different trips.

Sam Kawahara grew up there. I met Sam in San Francisco when he was a student in a training program and I was an instructor. He later hired my boss Charles Whitson and me to spend a couple weeks in Hawai'i doing some training for his staff. Sam very cleverly scheduled the training around a long weekend. He used that weekend to give me and Charles a wonderful tour of the island, generously including us in a huge family reunion that Sunday afternoon (he had married into the Lum clan). Somewhere, there is a picture of two grinning haoles surrounded by the extended Lum and Kawahara families. We drank a fair amount of Primo brand beer on that trip. It's no longer made, and I'm told by friends in Hawai'i that nobody mourned the demise of Primo.

Karin Whitson, Charles' wife, years later became a pastor in Hilo. My family visited Karin and Charles in 2001. Once again, we were treated royally. Charles and Karin became close friends with Sam Kawahara, who had by then retired. Fascinating circle of events and friendships against a backdrop of stunning beauty.

In between these two trips, my wife and I were there for a brief vacation (long ago, before children). We stumbled across a baseball game between the University of Hawaii-Hilo players and alumni. It was fun to see this relaxed game in such a relaxed place. Also on that trip I bought a tee-shirt from the Cane Haul Road company (still in business) with a picture of a box of manapua on it. Man, I liked that shirt. Manapua, not so much, but the shirt was still cool.

On all three trips, we visited the volcanoes, which have fascinated me since I was a kid.

So, Big Islanders, take this storm in stride as you do everything else.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Plate (non-tectonic)

Here's a plate I made. I like it because the glaze combination -- one I'd never used before -- turned out quite well. I know you are supposed to do test tiles before using a new glaze or combination of glazes on a finished piece, but I have many reasons for not doing so in this case:
1. In a hurry
2. Lazy
3. Enjoy serendipity
4. Carefree (or, what the heck, why not? (a variant of #3))
5. Procrastinator
6. Supremely confident in own ability to predict novel results
7. Thrill-seeker (corollary: test tiles are boooooring)

This plate was part of a commission, which is too bad in a way because it sure looks nice on our table.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Musical Devolution via MRI

Before undergoing a MRI this morning I was asked by the technician what genre of music I preferred to have piped into the headset. The question took me completely off guard, so I just blurted “jazz.” I am not a jazz aficionado, so I don't know why I said that. And I immediately had second thoughts. What if he meant ‘cool’ jazz or ‘soft’ jazz or some other innocuous and boring strain that doesn’t even deserve to be in the category? Jazz is an admittedly broad classification. By some definitions, it includes Kenny G and The Bad Plus; Thelonious Monk and the Crusaders. I sure as hell couldn’t take Kenny G. while lying confined in a dark tunnel! I should have said "zydeco" or "salsa" or "I'll just listen to the machine pounding and whirring, thanks."

Then the music started. It was Milt Jackson on the vibraphone, with some nice bass lines and an excellent piano. A straight-ahead 1950’s jazz trio.

This brought back some memories that had faded almost completely away. I used to love jazz. I subscribed to Down Beat magazine. I had records by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and of course Dave Brubeck. I idolized Joe Morello and Max Roach. Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton and Bill Evans. Yusef Latiff, Herbie Hancock. I saw Sun Ra and Joe Williams back-to-back at the Chicago Jazz festival; I saw Art Blakey one new year’s eve in Boston; I saw Lou Donaldson play a set in some dive in Dayton, Ohio. (Gilley's, I think it was. Not to be confused with the famous Texas honky-tonk.) I got to meet Quincy Jones and Billy Taylor at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in about 1968.

I really do not like nostalgia. I think nostalgia should be listed in the DSM-IV as a mental illness. Nostalgia is for old people. I am very glad my musical tastes have changed. But how had I forgotten all these great musicians and what they meant to me when I was young?

It really was kind of fun to listen to Milt Jackson (even though it had more or less been forced on me) and to think about all those jazz records and tapes and concerts. So, thank you, Modern Medicine. You don’t get earphones and your choice of musical genre with X-rays or barium enemas.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Por que te apuras?

Last night, the Twins infield got a little mixed up and let a pop fly drop in for a gift single. Mr. Gladden, one of the Twins' radio broadcasters, said that it was probably a language problem because the rookie 2nd baseman, Mr. Casilla, doesn't speak English very well.

I'm sorry, Danny (Dazzle), but that remark is just STOOPID! Yes, Mr. Casilla is young and his first language is Spanish. But he has played lots and lots of baseball and he has played with plenty of English-speaking teammates and even in the Latin American developmental leagues, the infielders -- regardless of their native tongue -- are all taught to wave their arms and yell "MINEMINEMINE!" or "MEMEME!" or "IGOTIT!" I'll bet Mr. Casilla learned this soon after he picked up a glove, or most certainly after his first infield collision. He is a freakin' major league baseball player, Danny!

I got to watch a couple of World Baseball Classic games in Los Angeles last year. Teams representing Japan and Canada and the US of A and Mexico, with players from all parts of the globe, some major leaguers on loan during spring training, some college players, an assortment. And they ALL knew how to call for a fly ball or popup. Even the Canadians.

Language problem, my ass.

The Twins like to brag that they play the game "the right way," as in doing the little things correctly and consistently. This year? Not not not.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Literary hooks

The title of this blog is an homage to Richard Brautigan, but if you're keeping score the literary references have been mostly to Tom Robbins. I don't know why.

Here's something for the Brautigan fans to look forward to: I may recruit someone to count the punctuation marks in this blog to date, then write a guest entry.

That, of course, is a reference to a chapter from "A Confederate General from Bug Sur" in which the narrator entertains himself by counting the punctuation marks in Ecclesiastes. That image has stayed with me for years.

Old Shed

It was about the size of a one-car garage, sitting alone in a corner of a large fallow field. An overhead door in front, a small window on one side. It was utterly forlorn, if a building can be said to be forlorn. Leaning, sagging, peeling. Layers of roofing material exposed like ancient rock strata.

Tom Robbins invented a character who stands on a busy city sidewalk and turns, but turns so slowly you can’t see him turning. Look away for a moment and when you look back he has turned; stare at him and you swear he doesn’t move. Like that strange man’s turning, this little shed was collapsing, but in slow motion. Passing by it almost daily for several years, I had been surprised that the panes of glass in the door and window were intact, because the frames had become so distorted by the steady relentless pull of time and gravity. The building was a cartoon – nothing square or plumb.

The shed offered a pleasant diversion on my morning commute. Who owned it, I wondered, and why would they let it sink slowly into the field? What, if anything, is in there? What were the hopes of the people who built it, and have those hopes suffered the same slow moldering?

Late last autumn, it finally caved in. A wet early-season snowfall was too much for the swayback roof. Ironically, this had been the warmest, driest November in anyone’s memory. The brief snowstorm that delivered the blow came and went without much notice around here – the snow had melted by noon. But it was enough.

And the shed was empty. I really did expect to see a rusty Farmall, some piles of discarded flower pots or building material, a few fruit crates -- something to show that the old shed had been useful and used. But nothing was in there except puny weeds that grew, slowly, in the dark.

I guess I was disappointed that there were no treasures or clues, but only a little. It was just an old empty shed.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Twins: Fading Fast (but maybe not fast enough)

Last season, the Twins tore up the division in the 2nd half of the season. They fell asleep in the post season, but the remarkable run gave us hope for 2007.

That hope is fading fast. They can't even win behind Johan -- letting Cleveland's portly one (Captain Cheeseburger) off the hook yesterday. The Twins have such a solid core of experienced players in Santana, Mauer, Hunter, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Bartlett, it seems a damned shame to pencil in the likes of Jason Tyner or Rondell White at designated hitter or -- consider the implications of the following statement -- to use Lew Ford as defensive substitute for Jason Kubel. It's so obvious to point out, as many have done since spring training, that the Twins have some big gaps; that their core of talent is surrounded by mediocrity. Just look at either end of the batting order or at the third through fifth starters.

At least Sir Sidney is gone and the over-the-hill Ortiz is now doing mop-up duty.

This team always seemed to have fun, what with Redmond's nose-touching and naked walks through the clubhouse, Torii's mummy impression after getting hit in the jaw by a pitch. But now the clubhouse hi-jinx have given way to carping by Torii and Johan.


At least Terry Ryan has so far avoided the word "rebuilding." If he ever says "rebuilding" in reference to the roster, he is really saying "Get ready for some crappy baseball." And at least Jeff Cirillo, who told Gardenhire he didn't want to play every day, has gotten his wish.

Go, Twins!