Michael Johnson Concert

on Saturday, December 29, 2007

I went to see Michael Johnson in concert at the Pioneer Place on Fifth last night -- what a thrill! I remember seeing him for the first time in the Stewart Hall Auditorium back in the mid 80s and sitting a mile away, last night I was in the front row.

He hasn't lost a thing, although his voice was a little weak at times, but that's understandable seeing as he just had quadruple bypass surgery only 4 1/2 months ago. His guitar playing, on the other hand, is still up to snuff, in fact it's beyond snuff, he's one of the best guitarists I've ever seen.

He played an Irving Berlin song that I simply must learn, but I forgot the title (grrr!). Berlin wrote it for the woman he loved, but back in those days it was unthinkable for a Jewish man to marry a Catholic woman. It's something like "That'll Do" or "It'll Have To Do," I just can't remember -- I even asked him after the concert, but it was gone by the time I got home. Sometimes it really sucks being ADD.

He'll be back again next year, maybe I can find out then.

At one point I was in the bathroom washing my hands and the guy next to me asked what I thought of the concert, I told him I was thrilled because I am such a fan of Michael Johnson.

"What did you think of the opening act?" he asked.

I told him I didn't really like them. It was a husband and wife team from Duluth, I didn't catch their names, and they did cutsie folk. One of their songs was "Matching Baggage" and it told the story of how they met. I found it way too cute and walked out after it in order to wait in the bar until the main act started.

It's just a matter of personal taste, he used simple chords and simple melodies and both their singing voices were very weak and thready. But he was very entertaining to the crowd and very engaging to them.

It just wasn't my cup of tea, I told him.

"That other fellow can sure play the guitar," he said and I agreed, "but I'll bet he can't fish." That was such a non sequiter I had no response.

Later I saw that fellow talking with the opening artists, his body language told me he was a close friend or possibly family. I didn't feel bad, though, I didn't diss the guy, I just said it wasn't for me.

Now, to figure out that Irving Berlin song…

Powered by ScribeFire.

Dakota Xmas Show

on Monday, December 24, 2007

It took us 2-1/2 hours to get to downtown Minneapolis last night for our gig at the Dakota Jazz Club. As usual, Jeff & I meet at the Clearwater Travel Plaza and travel the rest of the way together. When we were about a mile and a half from the Hasty, MN exit traffic slowed down to 5 mph. We crawled along, looking at all the four-wheel drive vehicles in the ditch (those people are idiots, they think because they have four-wheel drive that they can drive normally when there's 2 inches of snow on the ground) with a plan: we'd take the Hasty exit (I know, I know) and take as many back roads as we could. We must have passed 100 cars or more!

We rolled into downtown Minneapolis, late for a meeting we were going to have with a guy who wants to rep my coffee in the twin cities (keep your fingers crossed), but on time for our gig. We played from 7 until 11 pm... and made $100. That fits in perfectly with what we call the "Engholm Corollary" (yes, we know it's not really a corollary): The more they're listening to you, the less you get paid."

We have played "wallpaper" gigs in a room full of conventioneers and gotten paid ridiculous amounts of money, but when we play one of the premiere jazz clubs in the nation, we get $100. And half price drinks, to be fair.

All in all, though, it was a very fun night, but a little long. I would have been happier playing only two sets instead of three. But it's such an honor to play that stage. The piano is signed on the inside by a veritable "who's who" of famous jazz players, I never feel worthy of being there.

That was the last holiday show of 2007. Now onto New Year's Eve...

Powered by ScribeFire.

Cats of My Life

on Friday, December 21, 2007

The new addition of Frank to my life has given me a chance to think back on the cats I've had in my life. I never thought I'd be a cat owner... well, that's not true, I thought I would probably, eventually own a cat, but I didn't know when that might happen.

I wish I could remember the exact year… it had to have been around 1990 that Tristram came into my life. I was musical director for the dreaded boy orphan musical, Oliver, in Elk River, MN, I was living with Kim. One night, I needed a rehearsal pianist to fill in for a night, so I asked my friend Linda to help out (that woman could sight-read a Chinese newspaper), I offered to drive here there and back and stopped by as she was just finishing up doing the dishes. She asked me to make myself at home, I sat down and this little gray streak darted out of the living room onto my lap. There sat a stripey gray kitten, only a few weeks old, he rolled onto his back, looked into my eyes and started purring.

It's an odd feeling knowing you've just been picked, I can't explain it, but I knew at that moment he'd be with me for a while. I sat there dumbstruck, simply knowing that I had to have that cat for my own. I don't remember when I said it, but I told Linda that if she wanted to "get rid of the gray kitten" I would take it off her hands. I suppose that was the most nonchalant way I could think of to let her know I needed to have him.

She explained that her daughter had picked that cat out of the litter of barn cats in their, er, barn to be her house cat. I said I understood and wondered if I would be separated from this wonderful little fuzzball.

A couple of days (weeks?) later Linda called and said that since her daughter was going away for college anyway, and that she, herself, really didn't want a house cat, I could come out and pick up that gray kitten if I wanted to. I enlisted the help of my good friend, Eric, and he and I grabbed a cardboard box and left immediately

Tristram came to me with an upper-respiratory disease, I poked a pill down his throat every day for a couple of months (how he could "ack" it up 20 minutes later -- still dry -- is totally beyond me) while he sneezed vile green goo on me every morning. He got healthy while his mother and siblings all died of it. So he became my little orphan boy.

He and I had a relationship that was beyond owner/pet, I called him my familiar. Mages, wizards and witches have familiars, they are connected to them in a magical, spiritual way, that's the way it was with he and I. I could merely think about him and he would appear. He was such a constant companion that I would not even notice, I'd look down and he would be sleeping on my lap and I would have no recollection of when he got there, it was just normal.

He was with me for only ten years, and he got very sick, very fast. When I got him to the vet, it was too late, his liver and kidneys had already shut down and it was just a matter of time before he would either die on his own, or let me know it was time. He picked the latter. I came home from work today, there were puddles of clear vomit everywhere and he said, meekly, "now."

I took him to the vet and had him put down. I breathed his last breath into me, kissed him and said goodbye. He is buried up at my friend Russel's beneath a cairn of stones.

Callie poo came into my life rather accidentally, my girlfriend brought home a stray that she found behind Cub Foods, where she worked. Turns out that cat was pregnant and it wasn't too much later that we had a batch of five kittens in our back room.

We had another cat at the time named Zodie. She was a gray and white long-hair who hated everybody but Christy and me. She got along rather well with Tristram, but nobody got along with the mother cat, Billie. After the kittens were born she would have screaming fights with Tristram and Zodie, I guess she was just protecting her own, but it made for some rather nasty times. Callie was one of the kittens, we kept her even after giving her mother to away to some friends.

Callie grew up to be a very sweet cat, but very aloof. She would find the highest point in a room that she could and view the world from there -- the top shelf of the closet was her favorite hiding place.

She would hide, it is true, but when she wanted lovin' she would make it very obvious, I called it "okay, you may pet me now" time. When she was really content she would show me "Miss Happy Hand," a presentation of her paw and claws as stretched and spread as she could make them. Some cats "cush," kneading whatever is under their feet as kittens do when they are drawing forth milk from their mother, Callie would "cush" the air. And drool, when she was happy she could leave wet spots.

She was a hider, and not likely to show up unless it suited her. I didn't notice until it was too late that she was sick. She died in November of 2007 aged around 12 years or so.

I didn't have the connection with her that I had with Tristram, but I loved her dearly. She is buried at Jeff & Stacie's near Kimball. I miss her.

Frank is my new cat, I got him at the Humane Society last Sunday. He is everything I've wanted in a cat since Tristam died, he is friendly, cuddly, inquisitive and a complete love! I don't want to compare personalities, but he is almost like a reincarnation of Tristram. I believe in love at first site! I got picked again! I am so thrilled to have another cat that I can totally connect with.

He likes to sit on my lap and he sleeps with me at night. He's teething right now, so he tends to chew on my fingertips, he also may be looking for milk, but nipples my fingers ain't. He's a very sweet boy and I look forward to many years together.

And his name is going to stay Frank... like Sinatra. Ol' blue eyes is here to stay.

Powered by ScribeFire.

New Kitty!!

on Sunday, December 16, 2007

Here's my new baby! I picked him up today at the Tri-County Humane Society. He's 4-1/2 months old and very friendly.

I know I said I wanted an older orange cat, but he kind of picked me. The minute I took him out of the cage for a "test drive" he started purring and butted his head into my beard. That did it. Tristram used to do that.

He's got blue eyes, so he has some Siamese in him, and a pink nose. He's cream colored with orange on his ears, tail and the backside of his rear legs. He'll need to be neutered in February.

I brought him into the house and introduced him to Rusty. There was a little low meowing and a couple of hisses at first, but they were running around the house playing about an hour later.

His name is Frank, but that will probably change. I usually let my cats pick their own names. Frank does seem to fit, though. We'll see.

I'm pretty happy! This is my Xmas present to myself.

Holly Ball 2007

on Tuesday, December 4, 2007

This was the first year the St. Cloud's Holly Ball was held somewhere other than the Holiday Inn. Aparently it got too big and they we're turning thousands away. I'm not sure what the Holly Ball is all about, a friend of mine called it the Old People Prom. All I know for sure is the St. Cloud's "Movers and Shakers" are there (I remember seeing Stearns County Prosecuting Attorney Janelle Kendal -- she's a babe!). the mayor was probably there, too. Anyway, there's a whole lot of money floating around in that room, tables go for over $2000 and there were a lot of tables!

We were hired to perform in various forms, the end of the evening featured the George Maurer Variety Group trading off sets with Bella Diva. We're a good match, GMG does 50s, 60s & 70s rock and Motown, Bella Diva, a group fronted by three women, features more 70s, 80s & 90s with a strong emphasis on disco and other high-energy dance stuff. The early part of the evening had us split up, George playing solo piano at the front of the room and Jeff, Scott & I playing trio at the back of the room. It's a big room, 105 x 265 feet.

The problem was, they also asked some of the players in Bella Diva to also play trio music, and another pianist, too. They put us all on the same end of the room about 30 feet from each other, meaning we were about 60 feet from the other trio with the pianist in the middle. I could hear the other drummer, and I really feel sorry for the piano guy who had to try to concentrate on his own music while hearing two different jazz trios play different songs -- all seven of us playing simultaneously! I can only image what it sounded like in the middle of the room. Cacophony! We won't let that happen again.

Anyway, the gig, apart from that little nastiness, went over like gangbusters and we've already been asked back for next year! It's nice to know I'm booked in December of 2008!!

Powered by ScribeFire.

Ladysmith, Wisconsin

on Friday, November 30, 2007

Yesterday we traveled to Ladysmith, Wisconsin. We left Minneapolis at 8:30 am so that we could give a short performance for the students at the high school at 1 pm. There were about 400 teenagers in the auditorium and they were surprisingly well behaved, quiet, as attentive as teenagers can be and inquisitive. We took questions from the audience, and as expected, my Minnesota Vikings jacket drew some fire.

"Who's the Vikings fan?" asked one of the younger ones, "You know the Packers play the Cowboys tonight, don't you?"

"Yes, yes," I replied, "I know the Packers are better than the Vikings this year," (wild applause), "all I care about is that they beat Dallas, because I hate the Cowboys." (more wild applause).

Afterwards one of the teachers was talking to me, "Not many of these kids will come to tonight's concert. The Packers play the Cowboys tonight, so most of them will stay home to watch it."

We spent the afternoon at the motel resting and cleaning up. We went to dinner at the local pizza place, Grandpa's Pizza.

As we were chatting about the set list a lady in the next booth asked if we were the musicians who were playing at the high school tonight. It turns out that her daughter and George went to high school together in Sun Prairie, WI and she remembered his name, that drew her and her husband to the concert.

"Well, you know," said her husband, "there's a Packers/Cowboys game tonight, but we're coming anyway!"

A few minutes later another patron of the pizza place came over to us and asked if we were the entertainers for the evening, "You picked kind of a bad night. There's a Packers/Cowboys game tonight, you know."

At the concert, the emcee referred to intermission as "halftime."

The gig was alright, but the piano, sad to say, had seen better days. We tried spot-tuning it in the afternoon and again right before the concert, but it was just too far gone. George and I spent the night staying out of each other's way because the piano was so flat and just plain out of whack that all our chords clashed.

My favorite moment of the evening was after the concert when a little girl of about 8 walked up to us and said, "Thank you for singing and playing for me tonight! I really enjoyed it!"

I'm glad she did, that made the whole night worthwhile.

Sadly, the Packers were defeated by the Cowboys 37-27.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Cat Addict

on Saturday, November 24, 2007

I've come to the conclusion that I am addicted to cats. I have felt so empty since Callie died. I've had cats since the late 80's when I first got my dear, dear boy Tristram. This is the first time I've been without a little furry for around 20 years!

Rusty wants a cat, too. Poor little bastard has been carrying around an old boot lace like Linus van Pelt with his blanket and he follows me from room to room, or he meows mournfully as if he's looking for either Callie or Minky (she died one year ago today).

I want to get an orange male, but I don't want a kitten. Kittens go through what I call the 'tween years, which is somewhat similar to teen age years in humans. They go crazy, they git into shit they shouldn't and they're generally annoying for a month or two and I just don't want to deal with that. So I'd like to find a boy who's a year or more old. Orange boys have always been my favorite kind of cat, I've never met one who wasn't a complete lover.

I am going to get myself a cat for Xmas.

Powered by ScribeFire.

RIP Callie

on Sunday, November 18, 2007

I found my poor little sweet poot today. She's dead.

I knew she'd been sick lately, she'd lost so much weight and gotten that ratty, sick cat fur. I knew she was going and the vet would only cost me money I don't really have. I can't spend hundreds of dollars keeping a cat alive like my sister could.

I saw her the other night and she was so weak and wobbly. I told her how much I loved her and what a great cat she'd been. I told her it was okay to die. I watched her not much later gingerly walk to one of her favorite living room spaces, under the end table -- she would sleep there for hours. And that's where I found her.

She was such a sweet, sweet girl. I keep thinking about our lives together.

My girlfriend at the time, Christy, brought home a stray cat one night that turned out to be a pregnant female, Callie was one of five kittens who were born a couple of weeks later.

We kept them in the back room of our apartment, a three-season porch that you had to walk down a couple of steps to enter. I would lay on the floor of that room and Callie and her siblings, Owange, Sunshine Face, Petite Guillame and Dottie, would crawl all over me and play with my hair and clothes. It was such fun! The day they figured out how to climb the couple of steps was they day the apartment got infested with kittens! We gave all the others away, including the mother, but kept Callie. She was with me for over 10 years.

She wasn't much for being held, instead she had what I called "ok, you may pet me now" time. When it was time for lovin' she'd jump up on my lap and purr. When she got happy she'd lift one of her front paws and flex her claws in the air and when she got really happy she'd start to drool from the corner of her mouth.

She wasn't the most social cat in the world, she'd hide for days without me seeing her. That's why I didn't notice anything wrong with her until it was too late. I was used to not seeing her, so not seeing her didn't seem odd.

My poor, poor baby lasted a couple of weeks, which was far longer than I thought.

I am so sad. I loved her so much. My poor, sweet baby...

Powered by ScribeFire.

Equipment Malfunction

on Friday, November 16, 2007

My packaging machine started malfunctioning this week. Normal operation is as follows:
  • Pour roasted beans or grounds into the hopper.
  • Set the code for the weight needed
  • Start operation
  • Beans or grounds flow into weigh bucket
  • Weigh bucket stops when correct weight is reached
  • Place bag under spout
  • Press foot-switch to open hopper
  • Operation continues automatically
Everything still works like it should, but the foot-switch is operating as if someone were standing on it, that means it fills and dumps, fills and dumps, fills and dumps just as fast as the machine will go.

The other day we had 25 cases of 36 to fill -- that's 900 bags. Normally one person can fill one box in about 5 minutes. The machine was working so fast that two of us had to work in tandem, one person filling, the other sealing, and we were completing boxes in about 3-1/2 minutes (our record was 2:55)!!

I had an electrician come in and look at the machine, he said it's not the foot-switch, it's probably a circuit board in the machine. I looked at the manual, in 1998 that part was $275. I wonder what it's going to cost in 2007?

Ah, life's an adventure. Good thing we made the work fun because it could have easily sucked.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Playing Hooky From Work

on Thursday, November 8, 2007

I played hooky yesterday. I just didn't feel like coming to this big, dark, cement building for a change. Most people go out and do fun stuff when they play hooky, they go shopping or fishing or to see a movie. Not me, I spent the day in front of my computer playing with Illustrator & Photoshop, making web graphics and buttons. Still, it felt good.

In the last week I've spent a bunch of time on a project that could turn into something big for my business. I can't go into too many details because I promised the people involved that I wouldn't, but here's the gist.

I received samples of roasted beans from this company and my task was to match the colors so that they could see if I could work for them. It wasn't very easy and I learned something about roasting that I had never noticed before, a 10 lb. batch of beans roasts differently than a 25 lb. batch. Everything happens quicker with a small batch, that's obvious because it takes less time, but it also gets to color at a much faster rate. I figured it out, but it took a few tries. Funny, that sort of thing used to be child's play to me, but I've been doing my own thing for so long I found it to be a challenge.

So I finally got the colors as close as I could get them (there's also the fact that I wasn't using the exact same beans as they sent me and different beans act differently) and sent them off on Tuesday afternoon. That's when the worrying started.

I can see them opening the box I sent them, looking at the beans and saying, "What the fuck was he thinking?!" I'm worried that my colors aren't close enough -- certainly I can see the difference, but they're really, really close. My only hope is that "close" is good enough and I can land this account.

The other half of the problem is that we had to figure out what it costs to produce a pound of beans, without factoring in the beans themselves. We had to look at power consumption, overhead and labor and then come up with a number. I hope the one we came up with is realistic and competitive.

If we land this account it could mean around $2000 a week! I have been running this business for about a year and a half and I still haven't paid myself. I want to be able to pay my monthly nut (rent, gas & electric, etc.) and be able to pay Jeff the money the business owes him and have a little to take home myself.

Papa needs a new car!

So that's why I played hooky yesterday, I needed a day to hide out from the world and worry about my future. I think fishing would have been more fun.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Trick or Treat

on Thursday, November 1, 2007

My door got knocked on all of four times last night and only three of those times it was little kids in costumes (and one very cute mommy).

Next year when the group of teen-agers who aren't in costume come up to my door I am going to say, "What? Is this 'No costume-candy-give-away-day'? No, it isn't. Come
back on 'No-costume-candy-give-away day' and we'll do business then!"

Powered by ScribeFire.

The Ruining of Stella Maris

on Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On the shores of beautiful Lake Sagatagan, on the land owned by St. John's University in Collegeville, stands a quaint little chapel originally built around 1915 and lovingly restored around 1945. It is very small, only around 500 square feet and is made of field stone and mortar. Inside is a floor made of a locally quarried dark granite. In the center of the floor is a white, six-pointed star set in a circle of reddish stone. It is not used regularly, not officially anyway, but there is a path that circles around the lake that leads to this pretty little house of God and it has been open to the public for as long as I can remember.

When you looked at that chapel, with its uneven fieldstone walls, you could see the work and sweat that went into building it. The stones came from the surrounding fields, gathered by local farmers as they plowed in the spring, and were somehow transported across the lake where they were used by local laborers and monks to build a small testament to their faith. The whole structure was built as a labor of love using all local materials, from the ornate floor to the cross on the bell tower.

All that changed this summer when St. John's decided to renovate
again. The result is an eyesore. They completely covered the field
stone with burnt orange stucco and covered the floor with Italian
marble tile. They built a wall where the main door was and replaced it
with a large, circular window and they added iron frames to all the
windows where I assume stained glass is going to go. Italian marble and stained glass windows suggest one thing to me: a future lock on the door.

What was once a unique landmark now resembles a strip mall. The character and personality of the place has been covered up by an ugly, bland fa├žade. What a shame!

The next time I go to those woods, I won't be walking to the Stella Maris chapel. There's no point anymore.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Big Wheel Keep on Turnin'

on Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The reality of losing the Meeting Grounds in Sartell is really starting to set in this week. Tuesdays were the days that they would call and place their order and I would roast it. Yet here I sit not roasting coffee for them… or for anyone else.

I seem to do better when someone else is running the show. In the music world it's George or Jeff, they book the gigs and organize the shows, I show up, do my part, collect my pay and go and wait for the next phone call. I am horrible at pimping myself.

The world of business is weighing heavily on my shoulders these days. I know I have a great product, I know that people who drink my coffee for the first time are surprised that coffee can taste so good, but I don't know how to get out there and "sell, sell, sell!"

Today I found out that I am in a bidding war with Bernick's Pepsi to do a fund raiser for Cathedral High School. I have to outbid someone who can bury me in their deep, deep pockets. They're offering shit at bargain basement prices, I am offering far superior gourmet coffee at the lowest price I can afford, but I'm afraid that won't be enough. When organizations are ruled by committee, this is the result. I wish they'd consider who really needs the business in their calculations.

But then on the other hand I got a call from the coffee shop in Apollo High School and they are sending a new convert over to buy a pound or two from me. Maybe I should have opened a specialty coffee retail shop, I seem to do pretty okay business with walk-in customers.

I am reminding myself these days, as my mood darkens, that I am on the Wheel of Life and that sometimes you're on top of the wheel and sometimes you're crushed beneath it. I feel like I'm either there or headed there soon. But the Wheel keeps on turning and Xmas is a-comin', hopefully things will get better by then.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Jumpin' Punkins!

on Monday, October 22, 2007

I am so doing this for Halloween!

Powered by ScribeFire.

Amateur Jazz Night

on Saturday, October 20, 2007

We played in Brainerd last night for a Halloween costume dance -- a little early, if you ask me, but there you go. We were contracted by a guy named Dave, he plays the trombone a little and he sings a little, but he's not that good at either.

Jeff, Scott & I got paid to sit there and read charts of mostly jazz standards, with a few 50s rock songs thrown in. 15 couples in costume danced. My favorite costume was a young lady who was about 7 or 8 months pregnant in a form-fitting red evening gown with devil's horns. I really wanted to ask her if she got pregnant just for the costume -- that really shows some Halloween dedication!

Dave is a very amateur performer, but his heart is in the right place and he's very enthusiastic! All night he kept saying that we were "the best in the world!" and that we had played everywhere, from coast to coast. I felt a little like Shinola.

But I digress...

I really felt like a music whore last night. We played such a cheesy gig strictly for the money. And the thing is, I'd do it again! Ultimately, it's like being paid to practice, or maybe it's exactly what it is: a "pick-up gig." I'm a hired gun, paid to go and do the bidding of the guy who holds the wallet.

It's hard to not like Dave, though, he's so gracious and kind throughout, he must have thanked each of us a hundred times and said that he "learned a lot" playing with us. He will never make the "big time" -- neither will I, but he has heart and guts, that's for sure.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Not Really Good News

on Thursday, October 18, 2007

I got a call on Monday from one of my best customers telling me that she was being forced to close her doors and give up the business. The Meeting Grounds in Sartell is no more as of Tuesday last.

Certainly, this sucks for me because that store was good for around $1000 a month and kissing $12,000 goodbye is no easy thing. But I am more concerned about Joyce, the owner of that particular store.

She's a very nice lady. I always enjoyed talking "small business" with her. We were both very open and honest about how things were going, and I know she was constantly struggling to make ends meet. Yet she always managed to pay her bills and her employees. As usual, it is the business owner who is the last one to get paid and I know that was a source of hardship for her.

I'm really going to miss her.

Band Adventures: Getting Lost & Running Out of Gas

on Monday, October 15, 2007

The variety band I play guitar in had a wedding gig at the Calhoun Beach Club in Minneapolis. The last time I played there was when I was in a college jazz combo back in the 1980s. It was a very nice reception, beautifully decorated with hundreds of votive candles. We even had some crashers from another reception in the same building, I guess they got tired of the DJ. The bride & groom let us quit about 15 minutes early and even tipped us.

"Cool," I thought, "I'll get home earlier than I thought," which was great because my girlfriend was waiting for me back at my house and since our time together is somewhat rare, every minute is valued.

Jeff drove, "I'm pretty sure there's an exit for Excelsior on highway 100, so if we head west we should get there." So off we went. Apparently he got a little confused because we got to France Avenue and he said, "I'm sure there's an exit for France on 100," and he turned left. I'm not very familiar with that part of Minneapolis, so I didn't think anything of his choice.

When we crossed highway 62, the "Crosstown," we realized that something was wrong, it runs east-west and we should have been running parallel to it. We had to backtrack a bit and got on 62 heading west. The next choice was to take highway 100 or go a little farther west and get onto 169, we chose 100 because it was "more fun." I didn't realize until I looked at the map above that highway 100 veers to the northeast before it gets to I-94.

We finally got back on track, but there went our extra time from getting out of the gig early. "No problem," I thought, "I'll still get back before 2 AM," which was when I told Kate I'd be home.

A while later Jeff looked at the gas gauge and said, "Shit! We better stop for gas! Where the hell are we, I haven't been paying attention."

"We just went past Monticello," I said.

"Crap, this gas gauge reads wrong, we might not make it to St. Cloud."

Sure enough, we ran out of gas about two miles out of Hasty. We were able to coast the last mile and at the last minute we all jumped out and pushed the van another few hundred feet to the exit ramp -- within sight of the Marathon station.

Jeff ran off into the dark and came back about fifteen minutes later with a couple of gallons. Richard & I sat waited by the van and agreed that it could have been worse, the van could have been on fire.

We left the cities at midnight. I got home at 2:30 AM.

Hemp for the Future

on Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Recently I was listening to Science Friday on Minnesota Public Radio and heard a show titled "Fuels for the Future." It concentrated on ways to get ethanol from various sources such as corn, switch grass and even algae. Ethanol-based fuels are one possible way to lessen our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, and should be researched and developed by those of us in the US and throughout the world.

Corn is, in my opinion, just about the worst source for ethanol, even if it is the most researched. In 2007 the US farmed 92.9 million acres of corn, which is the highest it has been since the height of WWII in 1944 when we farmed 95.5 million acres. The best way to grow corn these days is with tons of nitrogen-based fertilizers, what is not used by the plant is washed away by rainfall and irrigation. A majority of that fertilizer makes it way to the Gulf of Mexico and is a direct cause of a 6-7,000 mile square zone that has formed where nothing grows, a "dead zone" roughly the size of New Jersey.

Switchgrass is another alternative mentioned as a source of ethanol, and should be given more attention than corn-based ethanol. Switchgrass requires little or no fertilization and produces ethanol which burns cleaner than corn. I believe that corn is given more attention than switchgrass because of the saturation of corn in the American diet and the fact that major agricultural and chemical companies have invested millions of dollars into research and development of corn that will produce the largest yields. These are the same companies that have very strong financial connections to members of government. Corn seems to be the quickest and easiest road to energy independence, but I believe the environmental cost is far too high.

One logical alternative is continuously overlooked: industrial hemp.

Hemp can produce 10 tons of cellulose per acre every four months. Switchgrass produces 6-8 tons and corn a mere 4 tons, and corn only produces one crop per year. (Source) Refining the hemp biomass brings forth butane, methanol and fuel oil as well as tar and charcoal. Methanol, or "wood alcohol," can be used to power cars and trucks, so can the fuel oil. In fact, the Diesel engine was originally designed to run on lower grade fuel oils, including hemp seed oil - which is mentioned specifically in Rudolph Diesel's papers.

There are other grasses that can be used to produce cellulose-based ethanol, such as poplar, willow, sweetgum and cottonwood, so I am not saying that hemp is the only answer, but no other alternative could produce the amount of energy that hemp could. If you add the fact that hemp can produce much more than just biomass energy, products such as cloth, paper, plastics and even food, and the argument for hemp gets even stronger.

Yet in all my searching, there is no government organization which even mentions hemp, not the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, nor US Department of Energy. The only thing I could find was a US Department of Agriculture report on its possible textile uses.

The only serious consideration of hemp as an energy source I could find was a study published in the UK which I was, unfortunately, unable to access. Reviews and quotes from the source, however, showed it to be in depth and balanced. Its conclusion was that energy from hemp is cheaper to produce than oil, nuclear, wind, solar or even wave technologies.

It is the antiquated anti-marijuana laws originally put in place by Harry Anslinger in the 1930's which are to blame for our ignorance concerning hemp. Although many of his most outrageous claims of violent, murderous drug lust, and his racist propaganda have been discredited, the undertones remain firmly imbedded in American culture.

In the mainstream media marijuana users are portrayed as either Rastafarians or slackers who are too buzzed up to remember their own names, e.g. the "Jeff Spicoli" character played by Sean Penn in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. For some reason we seem to be unable to separate our perception of "pot" from industrial hemp.

It is possible to grow a cannabis plant which produces little or no THC -- less than 1%, which wouldn't get anyone high! There are other useful products which can come from the cultivation of hemp and it could be a tremendous source of biomass energy. It should be at least brought to the same table as corn, switchgrass and the rest, to continue to ignore it is truly an insult to such a versatile and useful plant.

Current Trends in Coffee & Commerce

on Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Well, I've had some time to calm down since my last post. I still don't like the guy in Little Falls, but I'm not sweating losing a small account, despite the fact that they were the ones who called me first (that still bugs me), and as Kate put it, "At least you're not working for a bitch."

I am obviously going to have to reconsider my business plan. Originally we wanted to contact every "mom & pop" coffee shop we could and become their roaster. Unfortunately, things aren't working out like that. It seems to me that the locally-owned coffee shop is becoming more and more rare.

People sure like building new strip malls, instead of finding older buildings. American consumers like things convenient, they want to go to one place and get everything. That's why places like Wal-Mart exist. But even the people who don't want to shop there still want everything centrally located.

So we keep building places where you can shop at many stores, but only park once. Places like that used to be called "downtown," but are now located any place that used to be a vacant lot. Then they charge rent based on the square foot, just like a mall would. Your basic mom & pop shop can't afford that kind of rent so they get a Caribou or a Dunn Brothers or a Starfucks. Locally-owned coffee shops are disappearing like locally-owned hamburger shops did. They won't become completely extinct, but they will become more and more rare.

The result is a different market than I have been dealing with for the the past 15 years and I have to adapt if I'm going to survive.

Fucking Bastards!

on Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The goddamn quilt shop I was romancing decided to go with the roaster in Little Falls. Fuck! I am so mad right now I can hardly see straight.

"They were more convenient," was the excuse.

What could be more fucking convenient than a roastery that's only three blocks away?

Linda, the lady I was working with, got removed from the project by the bitchy owner of the building, then bitchy owner of the building decided to go with that goddamn fucker from Little Falls. God, I hate that asshole and I've never even met him.

I hate this shit. I feel like I was stabbed in the fucking back and it sucks!

I want to just fucking cry. How the fuck am I supposed to make it in this goddamn business? If it isn't a fucking Caribou or Dunn Brothers going into all the fucking strip malls that keep getting built, it's that fucker from Little Falls trying to take my business away from me.

It just makes me want to fucking quit. But, of course, I can't because I owe too many people too much money.

200,000 Miles!

on Friday, September 21, 2007

My little 1996 Ford Aspire crossed over 200,000 miles tonight!

Every time I turn the key to start that thing I think it's going to be the last, but she continues to surprise me. One of these days she will give up the ghost, but for now she seems to be doing just fine.

I hope we make it to 240,000 miles, that's the distance to the moon.

RIP Seth Parent

on Friday, September 14, 2007

Wow. I'm just stunned. Anyone who has had anything to do with community theater in St. Cloud in the past 20 years has worked in some capacity with Seth Parent. And I am sure there are many people who drive around here who saw him riding around on his custom 3-wheel motorcycle with the quarter-barrel beer kegs as gas tanks.

Seth always got the bad guy roles. Well, just look at him, the dark eyes, the goatee, the dark hair... he also had a love of medieval weaponry and a penchant for magic. He made a great bad guy. But he also had a funny, intelligent part that we all got to see in rehearsal and read in his writing.

When he wasn't acting he worked. When I first met him he was working as a skinner at the Long Prairie slaughterhouse. He had to quit when his wrists just couldn't stand the strain anymore, I don't think anyone had thought of carpel tunnel syndrome back in those days. So he left the glamorous world of the abattoir for the bindery at Quebecor. I didn't know that he also judged high school speech competitions, I learned that by reading his obituary.

He died in his sleep last Friday, the 7th of September at the age of 50. That's only 7 years older than me. I guess we'd all like to go quietly in our sleep (well, most of us, anyway). I'm in a state of shock, that happens anytime someone I know dies, especially someone who was a colleague.

I wouldn't call Seth a friend, we were in some shows together and we attended a lot of the same cast parties, but we didn't hang out and we weren't buds. But that doesn't mean that his death doesn't have an effect me. We had a very good working relationship based on trust and reliability, we each knew that the other knew his job and would do it to the best of their ability. You never had to worry about Seth, he was a professional.

Seth D. A. Parent, 50
Gallatin, TN
formerly of Little Falls
July 10, 1957 - Sept. 7, 2007

Seth D. A. Parent previously of Little Falls Minnesota, passed unexpectedly in his sleep September 7th 2007. Seth was born July 10th 1957 in Foley Minnesota to Mary Joan Parent and Murray Xavier Parent. He graduated from Foley High School and attended St. Cloud State University. He was employed by Quebecor in St. Cloud until his recent move to Gallatin, TN. Seth was actively involved as a performer in St. Cloud Community theatre, and served on the board of directors for Troupe Theatre Company, and County Stearns Theatrical Company. He was an active and respected judge of High School Speech throughout the state of Minnesota. Seth also enjoyed participating in the annual March of Dimes Haunted House fundraiser.
Seth is preceded in death by his father Murray Xavier Parent.
Seth is survived by his wife, Chas (Gallatin, TN); son, Murray Jerome (St. Cloud); step children, Justin and Jolene (Little Falls); Additionally survived by his mother, Joan (Foley); sister, Joellen (Minneapolis); brothers, Sean (Foley) and Sam (Winona); numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews. He will be dearly missed.
Memorial services will be announced at a later date.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Rah! Rah!

on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I had a dream last night I was in a band that was hired to play nothing but college rousers.

The lady who hired us said, "I don't care how you play 'em, but just don't fuck with Illinois!"

Performance Anxiety

on Sunday, September 9, 2007

I had another one of those dreams where I am in a play, but something bad happens. Usually it is being suddenly thrust upon the stage with no idea what the play is or what my lines are. This time I was "fully prepared" but was unable to get to the stage.

Here's the part I remember... I was standing on the stage with the director, who also was a member of my ex-boss' family and we were talking as the audience was just starting to trickle in. He made some comment about how some actors will work for almost nothing and I was about to make some sort of dirty joke when we both slipped and started sliding down the rather severe rake the stage had toward the orchestra pit. I remember thinking "protect your hands and wrists," because I need them to play guitar. We both fell in, it wasn't as deep as you'd expect an orchestra pit in a dream to be, I came out unscathed, but my knee had connected with his chin and he was in some pain. I helped him out of the pit and he motioned for me to go get ready.

I love the lack of logic in dreams, the dressing room was in a completely different building. As I got to my dressing area I found the director's wife sitting there. While I changed out of my hiking boots and into my dress shoes, I told her the story of falling into the orchestra pit and apologized for hurting her husband, she said it was no big deal and offered to drive me back to the theater. I accepted and we headed for her car, me wearing one boot and one shoe and carrying the other.

She didn't bring me straight to the theater, she brought me to a house where she was going to pick up the rest of her family. I didn't recognize the place and I asked someone where we were, explaining that the play was about to start and that I didn't have time to wait around.

"The theater is just 5 or 6 blocks in that direction," I was told.

So I started off, starting to panic. "Fuck! I don't have time to walk 6 blocks!" I recognized the area as being the South side of St. Cloud near the SCSU campus. As I got closer I had to work my way through a crowd, "Why do they hate me?" I muttered to myself and a passing girl asked what I meant. I tried to explain about the accident and the family as I continued my way through the crowd, but we had to part ways, "Well, thanks for listening, anyway..."

When I finally got to the building the theater was in it turned out to be my old high school, I found one of the nearest doors and asked the first person I saw how to get to the theater. "Just go down this hall, second door on the left," he replied, but when I got to the end of the hallway there was a weight room, not a theater.

I started asking everyone I saw "Where's the theater? I have to find the theater!!" and was met with "I don't know," "I won't tell you," and "Me no speaky English," among others. My stress level at this point was extremely high and I was desperate to find the theater! Finally someone agreed to tell me, but he had to look it up on the computer and print out a map. Oh! the anxiety!!

I woke up with a groan of frustration and lay there for a good long time while my heart rate returned to normal.

I'm willing to bet that anyone who appears on stage as part of their life, as I do, has had dreams like this. It's a familiar theme, I remember a "bad radio dream" about getting locked out of the building the studio was in while I was on the air (it actually happened once with only a short amount of dead air), I have had dreams of being in a band but not knowing the song, being in a play and not knowing the lines and now this. Funny thing is I haven't been in a play for over 10 years.

I guess some anxieties never go away.

SOMS Weekend

on Thursday, August 30, 2007

This weekend is one of the few weekends in the year that I look forward to with much anticipation: Sons of Munich! The others are Maibock and Trivia.

Sure, it's just a glorified kegger wrapped in all sorts of pomp & circumstance with a variety show in the middle, but it the best party I've ever been to. Everything about it is magical, from the land to the lake, up the hill at the Schwartzwald and down to the main gate, but it is especially about the people. This party has been happening annually for over 30 years, we call it "post doctoral" partying. Our friend Pete, who had his rookie year last year, said it best when he said, "Every party I've ever been to is a piece of shit compared to this."

The rules are simple: only those who have been attending for four years can bring anyone new (a "rookie") to the party, once you're there you don't leave - all food & drink is provided, if you see someone who needs help, help them, if you see someone who doesn't want help leave them alone, remember to pay your Poobah and most importantly: safety first!

We play music, we dance like fools, we play around in and on the lake and we eat like royalty!

We leave in about 24 hours!! I can't wait!

Jimmy John's Downtown

on Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I can't fucking believe it! Downtown St. Cloud -- specifically 5th Ave in downtown St. Cloud -- is getting another fucking sub shop! Jimmy John's is going into the former Meeting Grounds/Waldo's spot between D.B. Searle's and the Radisson.

Now if you want a sub sandwich and you're on 5th Ave you can go to Hemsing's, Milio's, Jimmy John's or Erbert's & Gerbert's, and they're all located within a block and a half of each other. The order goes like this, south to north: Hemsing's, the Electric Fetus, Milio's, Pioneer Place, D.B. Searle's, Jimmy John's, the Radisson, M&H Appliance, Erbert's & Gerbert's.

The reason this merits more than a mere eye-rolling from me is the fact that Jeff & Stacie (my business partner and his wife) looked into taking the former Meeting Grounds/Waldo's space and turning it into a locally-owned vegetarian coffee house/restaurant. The article I read today in BusinessCentral magazine which is sent to me monthly as a part of my membership in the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, said that they finalized the deal with Jimmy John's back in June, which means they were jerking my friends around when they said they were considering their proposal. Add the fact that the space is still sitting empty, whereas Jeff & Stacie had an opening date set for August 1st and my eyes can't roll far enough nor fast enough!

The final straw for me is the fact that both Milio's and Jimmy John's were formed by former Erbert's & Gerbert's partners and they all make EXACTLY THE SAME SANDWICH!

So, way to go Jim Graves, owner of the Radisson building, you passed up a locally-owned and operated, unique restaurant for a fucking cookie-cutter sub sandwich chain. Way to support the small business owner, dude.

Leaving Myspace in Favor of Facebook

on Monday, August 27, 2007

Myspace was fun for a while, but I am moving to Facebook.

With Myspace I was able to connect with some people I hadn't seen in years, but mostly I "friended" people I already knew. Most of the time, however, you run across teens who have no concept of what is and what isn't good design. There is no shortage of web sites that can help you customize your Myspace page, but it seems that most of them allow the user to add animated glitter to the background and change the colors some. Animated glitter should be banned from the internet forever! Personally I used CSS to edit my page and my blog, the design is clean and there isn't an animated GIF anywhere on my page, but the code is u-g-l-y!

Customization is about the only thing that I like about Myspace over Facebook. Facebook uses a proprietary coding language that makes it difficult, but not impossible to customize your page. All I have found so far gives you the ability to customize only parts of your Facebook page, not the overall look. That would be nice. But then that's why I have my own web site, I can change the look daily if I so choose.

Ultimately I got tired of the copious amounts of spam that are part and parcel of the Myspace world. Every day my inbox has friend requests from web cam hotties who want me to subscribe to their little hobby and from bands that suck. (Because I have "jazz" listed as one of my favorite styles of music I get spam from sucky "smooth jazz" players. Smooth jazz is crap.)

I have heard from my PC using friends that if you use Myspace you have to religiously sweep your computer for viruses and spyware. Fortunately as a Mac user I am spared that delightful aspect.

To its credit, Myspace has gotten me in touch with people from my past with whom I would have ordinarily lost contact. But I am making this move very public so if they want to keep in touch they can follow me.

I don't think I'll really miss Myspace.

Long-ass Weddings

on Saturday, August 25, 2007

This is the second time this summer I will have had to play a wedding gig that lasts more than 6 hours. In the past we have maybe had to show up early to set up (you don't want a bunch of road-weary musicians dragging equipment through your wedding reception), but we only played for 3 or 4 hours at the end of the night. The wedding earlier this summer, and the one today, are 9 hours long.

I don't think people realize that playing a musical instrument is a physical activity and that it takes a lot out of the players. Certainly a trumpet player can't play for 9 hours without getting seriously fried by the end of the night. As a guitar player I get pretty shot after about 4 hours. My fingers start to hurt from the knuckle out to the tips and it gets harder and harder to play.

I know I shouldn't complain, as I am being more than adequately compensated, but I don't like these long-ass gigs. And to top it all off I will be in a tuxedo all fucking day. I hate wearing a tuxedo, the jacket and shoes are very uncomfortable, and George (my boss) won't let us shed the jackets later in the evening -- like all the wedding party men do.

At the first long-ass wedding of the year the couple was very nice and it was very relaxed, I only hope the couple today is. We've worked for some very uptight people in the past -- one couple had their wedding itinerary planned out to the minute! If these people are uptight it will make today suck, suck, suck!