Friday, February 29, 2008

My New Favorite Restaurant

Along the warehousy no-man's-land stretch where East Hennepin prepares to become Larpenteur Ave., and Minneapolis is almost St. Paul, lies the Caribbean Coffee Shack... about the size of my freshman year college dorm room.

Inside is the what must be the world's largest collection of hot sauces, including this apparent home brew:

Note the label: "Not for Children"

This is now my favorite restaurant on the planet. (Try the Jamaican samosas.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rake R.I.P.

Alas, the Twin Cities' best remaining magazine is no more. In a completely self-serving tribute to The Rake, I give you the 10 Conk! comic strips that friend and illustrator Troy Brandt and I created for the first year of issues. (I guess we fancied ourselves a Midwestern New Yorker...)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random (and Late) Oscar Musings

I've been flat on my back for two days with a killer virus, so this posting is about as un-Web 2.0 as you can get. My apologies.

* I'll still take Jon Stewart over anyone except Billy Crystal or Steve Martin. His best line went (fittingly) unappreciated, when he mused, "Before we spend the next four to five hours handing gold statuettes to each other, let's take a minute to congratulate ourselves."

* Even if you didn't like his comedy, you had to like the class move of bringing Marketa Irglova back out to speak. For that, I suspect that Jon Stewart is now the front runner to be the next Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, replacing this guy.

* I didn't see all the movies, but based on what I saw... "Juno," "Once," "No Country for Old Blood" and "There Will Be Old Men"... I thought the Academy got it exactly right. Which was vaguely disappointing.

* It's interesting how some winners are emotional and some are blase. And of those two groups, the emotional ones can seem either annoying or sincere, and the blase one can seem either cool or too cool. Personally, I liked Marrion Cotillard's speech. Sloppy and barely understandable, but earnest. The Coens... love their movies, but come on, step down to our level just once in a while.

* Diablo, your script was modern, but your dress was Prehistoric. "Wil-ma!"

* I'd like to party at George Clooney's Italian villa with Javier Bardem.

* I'd like Tilda Swinton to be as far away as possible.

* (A tilde has more body fat than a Tilda. ~ See?)

* No big dance number. Yeah!

* Loved the montage of people waking up from bad dreams. It should have gone on for another two minutes. (Have you ever actually woken up from a bad dream in that way?)

* Where is Cuba Gooding, Jr.?

* Why does Cameron Diaz get to present every year?

* Why does Nicole Kidman keep trying to look like the bride of Frankenstein?

* Why don't they just put a mic on Jack Nicholson? He's the most bantered-with audience member, and we can never hear his responses.

* It was a great night. America may not be good at much these days, but we still know how to tell stories, and then put on a show to tell the world how great the stories were. This is our sweet spot.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Defending "Juno": It's Not a Documentary

Ah yes, the Oscars are two days away, and the "Juno" backlash is in full swing. Yesterday, my father forwarded me a Chicago Tribune article by Nara Schoenberg:

The trouble with 'Juno'
Birth mothers debate Oscar-nominated movie's view of choices and consequences pregnant teens face

It's a great and timely topic for a newspaper. If I were the editor, I would have proposed the same idea. If I were the reporter, I would have jumped at the chance to write it. If I were the birth mothers interviewed, I likely would have felt the same way they did... that "Juno" is short-sighted at best and dangerous at worst, because it doesn't paint a complete picture of what it's like to give birth and give up your baby for adoption. 

And yet, it's all so horribly, horribly wrong. Because I'm not any of those things. I'm a writer, and this whole lens... this whole angle of criticism against a movie, a play, a book, a song, a painting, anything... this whole idea that a story is bad if it isn't told the way YOU want it to be told, is false, anti-intellectual, anti-artistic and ultimately more dangerous to society than the story in question.

Case in point, the article states the following:

"... But even [birth mother] Dixon is troubled by aspects of the movie, among them: it glosses over the difficulty of meeting prospective adoptive parents, doesn't show an adoption agency providing help and support, and portrays the heroine as wanting to sever all ties with her first-born child."

I don't know any simpler way to refute this line of criticism than to say this: "Juno" is not a documentary about teen pregnancy; it's a story, written by Diablo Cody, about one time in one fictional character's life, acted by Ellen Page, and directed by Jason Reitman. It's not about teen pregnancy; it's about Juno. It's not about the difficulties of social work; it's about Juno. It's not about the severe depression many birth mothers face after giving up their babies; it's about Juno.

And in that "Juno" the movie is about Juno the character, the movie is many other things. It's an unlikely, yet oddly effective, love story. Its main character is compelling because although she thinks she knows everything, she doesn't know everything. And the most disturbing thing she knows is that she doesn't know everything. Which is kind of like living as if you're immortal, even though you know you're mortal. Which creates the irony of living every day as if you don't know that one day you will no longer be living, even though you do know that. Which is called the human condition.

To state it a different way, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" should not prompt victims of bank robbery to criticize the movie's glorification of crime. And William Shakespeare should not face cross-examination for "romanticizing suicide in 'Romeo & Juliet.'"

These are topics for PhD dissertations and newspaper articles, and nothing more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wanted: Mentor

I've realized something recently, and I don't like it one teensy weensy little bit. I have Youngest Child Syndrome, and it doesn't work as you approach 40. You're used to always being around older people, observing what they do, and making decisions based on what worked or didn't work for them.

One day, you wake up and realize that not only is every professional athlete younger than you are, half the world is, too. At the same time, you realize that the people older than you don't really know as much as you thought they did. In fact, I'd say one's relationship with the outside world goes something like this:

Ages 0-10: Wah!
Teens: Where are the Cheetos?
20s: The world is so screwed. Why are people so stupid?
30s: Whoops. Things are complicated. There's a reason things are the way they are. I sympathize with people.
Your 40s: William Goldman was right. Nobody knows anything. What now?

This is why I've decided to advertise for a mentor. You learn in developing screenplays that every main character/hero must have one. Yoda. The dude in Karate Kid. The guiding force. Wisdom personified. I already have the "romantic interest." I have plenty of "drinking buddies." I suppose I have a few "antagonists."

I need to complete my character arc. Help me, Obi Wan. You're my only hope.

Monday, February 18, 2008


When the movie "Antz" was released, I remember reading about how the illustrators decided to draw the ants with six legs, not eight. Six can be cute, focus groups showed, but eight is creepy. I've since noticed that every cartoon depicting humans or anthropomorphized animals gives them a thumb and three fingers. Never four. Why is it that our own world is perceived by us as ugly when we portray it back to ourselves?

The phrase "at the the end of the day" has got to go. Watching Meet the Press on Sunday, Chuck Schumer used it no less than six times in 10 minutes. Russert: "But Senator, your candidate agreed to the rules; now she wants to break them." Schumer: "Look, Tim, what I can say is this: At the end of the day..." Russert: "So she wants to have it both ways. Are you okay with that?" Schumer: "Look, Tim, the bottom line is this: At the end of the day..." "Senator, here is video footage showing you hacking your wife to tiny bits with a steak knife. Your reaction?" "People will say different things, Tim, but look, at the end of the day..."

The members of U2 almost never smile when they perform.

The members of the E Street band almost never stop smiling.

The greatest band to never make it big was Iffy.

All the jokes about John McCain's age will ultimately create a backlash that will work in his favor. Note to Democrats: Don't make your opponent into a victim, especially when he actually has been a victim.

When little kids make up their own language, it almost always sounds African or Hawaiian.

I should have outgrown John Prine's song "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian" by now. I haven't. I still think it's funny. (Lyrics here.)

The iPhone makes all other phones and PDAs look cold and complicated.

"U23D" makes all other movies look flat and, well... two-dimensional. 

HBO makes most other TV stations look unoriginal. 

Kopplin's coffee makes all other coffee taste burnt.

Blogging tends to deplete one's billable hours.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Kid Is Not Normal

I started this blog thinking that it would be the ideal place to ruminate about music, movies, politics and the like. You know, intellectual crap. The last thing I thought I would do is bore the bejesus out of people with stories about my cute, schoopity doopity little offspring.

"Isn't Madison's midriff just adorable?" "Carter is studying Mandarin at his Montesori!" "Oh, Nate still watches Bob the Builder? McCartney is into nanotechnology..."

Not for me, right?

Wrong. I give up. My son is four years old, and he's a sports addict.

It started innocently enough. I watch a fair amount of football in the fall, especially the Flailin' Irish. This season, during a certain game in early September, he started chanting "Go Michigan!" Was he trying to write himself out of the will? No. He simply liked rooting for the winner. When we went to Iowa City to visit friends and watch the Hawkeyes dismantle the Gutless Gophers, I bought him a little football that shouts "Go Hawkeyes!" when you hit it. I didn't realize that it was like giving heroine to a methadone addict.

As the days shortened and football begat basketball, his obsession deepened. He became the only person in the Twin Cities who actually watches the lowly Timberwolves... even finding the team's fictional promotional personality, Sweetwater Jones, funny. During this period, he started dribbling a basketball during the games and doing the play-by-play: "Daddy, Timberwolves got a three pointer!" "Mommy, Miami Heat got a swisher!"

A few weeks ago, he got out of bed and stumbled in his blue footy pajamas to his seat at the dining room table. After bowing his head to shake out the cobwebs, he looked up at me with half-closed Garfield eyes and said, "Daddy, we have some scores to check."

To this day, I get the Star Tribune. I hand him the Sports section. He sees which basketball and hockey teams won and lost the previous day, starting with the Minnesota teams. He now explores divisional standings and individual stats. He knows the names, nicknames and logos of every team in the NFL, most of the NBA and part of the NHL. He knows that I hate any team from Dallas.

Now (call it his Cubist Period), the idea of rooting for a team touches on abstraction. While an actual game plays on television, he will dribble his basketball around the house and manage an entirely separate game in his head. "Daddy, who are you rooting for, Boston Celtics or New Jersey Nets?" Those teams aren't playing, James. (Oh yeah. That's the game in your brain.) Boston Celtics. "Well that's too bad. 'Cuz it's Boston Celtics 39, New Jersey Nets 62."

At night, I used to tell him to give me a certain number of kisses on the cheek. Now I'll say give me a touchdown minus a three-pointer minus an extra point, and he'll do the math and still kiss me twice (he knows that a touchdown is worth six, not seven).

And as of this past weekend, it's about any two set of numbers. Case in point: He sees that the Wild beat the Islanders. He asks me to call my sister, who lives in Manhattan (and couldn't care less about professional hockey). We get her voicemail. "Aunty Christy, Minnesota Wild 4, New York Islanders 3." He hands me the phone. I hit the end button. He looks at the LED screen and ponders something. After a few seconds, he turns to me and says, "Daddy, which team are you rooting for, New Calls or Old Calls?"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Democratic Candidates In Treatment

I imagine that the new HBO series, "In Treatment," is likely as polarizing among critics as Hillary Clinton is among the electorate. Some will say the show, which basically moves "My Dinner with Andre" from the restaurant to the psychoanalyst's office, is nothing more than a droll soap opera dressed up as a sophisticated HBO drama. Others will claim that it is riveting in its extreme blend of complex character and uber-simple format.

I'm in the latter camp. Though I haven't been in treatment (yet), I've always been a sucker for the Freudian peephole, and I simply can't stop watching this show. The acting is uneven (how many times can Gabriel Byrne rub his forehead and sigh?), and the show must be an editor's nightmare (how many ways can you cut between two sitting people?), but somehow, against all odds, because of good acting, a winning concept, fantastic script writing and deceptively adept direction, the show actually makes for great television.

Last night, I also realized that watching it gives you the psychoanalyst's lens in seeing current events. So in viewing yesterday's "60 Minutes" profiles of the Obama and Clinton campaigns, I couldn't help but realize that to run for president, one must have serious Daddy issues.

I knew vaguely about Obama's absent Kenyan father (I've read "The Audacity of Hope," but not the apparently superior "Dreams of my Father"), but I wasn't aware of Hillary's disease to please until Katie Couric--who now competes with Anderson Cooper for my I Can't Take You Seriously Award (do pearls give you instant gravitas?)--revealed the anecdote that when child Hillary would bring home an all-A report card to her father, his dry response would be, "That school must be too easy." Father is now dead. Say no more.

Bill Clinton? Alcoholic father. George W. Bush? Still trying to please the all-star academic, sports, military and political hero who is daddy-o. I suppose if I dug deep enough, I'd find out that Abraham Lincoln's dad used to beat him with a cat o' nine tails while drinking a fifth of rye.

What would we do without distant, absent, un-pleasable fathers? I don't know. But one thing is clear: We wouldn't have any presidential candidates. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Armageddon Arrogance

We live in a time when elements on both the Left and the Right believe in our imminent demise. Christ or Climate, take your pick.

When it comes to the rapture crowd, my main in-head response (assuming that bald logic and reasoning would never get me very far in a barroom argument with a Darwin Hater) has always been something like this:

Really. You think that after 200,000+ years of human history (check that... 6,000 for this crowd), NOW is the exact time of our demise? In your lifetime? How interesting. How inconvenient for us, but how convenient for you and your argument, and whatever you're trying to sell, which somehow leads to money going from my pocket to you, your church, or Mike Huckabee.

When it comes to the environmental crowd, the counter-argument on the Right is much the same:

Really. You think that after 4.5 billion years of earth's existence, NOW is the exact time of our demise? In your lifetime? How interesting. How inconvenient for us, but how convenient for you and your argument, and whatever you're trying to sell, which somehow leads to money going from my pocket to you, your nonprofit 401(c)3, or Hillary Clinton.

It's easy to write off both positions as extreme and irrational. Except for one thing. One of them is based on a degree of logic and reasoning. 

I recognize the inherit arrogance in any argument that claims NOW as the absolute best or worst of times. As far as religious belief, the arrogance is pure and complete. No one knows if God exists, and if God does exist, no one can talk to God. Your rapture B.S. is just that. And don't claim to base it on an oft-translated book of good stories that has been tinkered with by seriously flawed human beings for thousands of years (and which also advises selling your daughter into slavery).

But on the environmental alarmist side, consider these two facts:

1. There have never been this many human beings competing for resources on this planet.

2. There has never been this much carbon in the atmosphere while human beings have existed on this planet.

That doesn't prove anything, but the point is this: If you try to swat away global warming and environmental alarmism by thinking, "hey, we've been around a long time, it's a big planet, we always find a way to get through," that's not really very comforting. 

Each morning is a new experiment. There are more people than yesterday. It's just a little bit warmer than it should be. And both trends show no sign of dissipating. I'm not saying human beings are finished any time soon. But you have to admit, there is no model or manual for what we're doing right now. None whatsoever.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

LangAlert: False Contractions

(PREPOSITION FALLS, MN)... This just in from the Word Wildlife Federation: The contraction "there're," whose ranks have aggressively depleted over the past 10 years, has just been downgraded from "endangered" to "near extinct."

According to organization spokespersons, nearly 98 percent of Americans now use the singular to-be verb, "is," with the generic "there" in spoken sentences that contain a quantifiable noun. Examples of the false replacement include, "Is there any cookies left?" to the more common contraction form: "There's many reasons to be alarmed."

Word scientists suspect a hip-hopic link to the near extinction of the article "an," but that relationship is being described as "correlative, not causal." Some say a more likely suspect is U.S. President George W. Bush, who once set a shining example for America's youth by asking, "Is our children learning?"

"There's justifiable reason to be alarmed," said WWF spokespersons Dan Gling and Portis Ipples. "There're simply not many 'there'res' left to give."

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Brave New World

It's official. I'm on my own. I will soon be Conk Creative. And I'm doing this post using my new iPhone... which I've quickly learned is almost as good as having a computer. I'm calling myself a "mobile marketing coffee shop creative," so it's only fitting that this post is from my favorite Dunn Bros. on Grand and Snelling.

My cell number stays the same at 612.819.9796.

My email for now is

Here's to new beginnings.