Friday, February 27, 2009

My Love Triangle with Oprah Winfrey


When I was about 20 years old, I went to visit my mom in Chicago. My then-boyfriend (now ex-husband) and a good gal pal went with me. We decided we really, really wanted to go to the Oprah show. Well, what were three enterprising 20-somethings to do when there were no tickets available? That’s right, answer the call that appeared at the end of the show that said, “Are you in a love triangle and only two of you know it? Call the Oprah Winfrey Show!”

I made up a long, involved story…I seem to recall it involved the secretarial pool, a pound of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the Russian mob. It worked – we were in. We were specially seated on an aisle, and right before the show started a producer came over and asked me surreptiously, “You guys are the triangle, right?” I nodded knowingly as she put gaffers’ tape on the backs of our chairs. When the show began, we dutifully cheered and watched as the dregs of humanity were put on display. (This was before the Pope-rah of today, back when she used to have pretty sordid talk show fare.)

Ms. Winfrey looked smaller than I’d have thought, and slightly tired.

The first and second segments went well, then on the break, a different producer came over to me and said, “You guys are up next. We want you to stand and reveal the truth after this break.” I replied, “Ummm…yeah…I don’t really feel like doing this now.” She was pretty angry but I held my ground. Okay, I toyed with idea of standing up and proclaiming myself to be the other woman, but hey, it just didn’t feel right. She stormed away and we watched the rest of the show unbothered by the camera crew.

When we left the studio, Oprah was perched on a high stool over to the side of the exit, saying goodbye to all. As we drew close to the once-and-future queen of daytime, I noticed how drawn and almost desiccated she looked. Later we would learn that she was three weeks into the liquid diet that led to her 67-pound weight loss, and the famed show where she pulled a wagon filled with fat onto the set.

Our love triangle dissolved that very day. We were on TV oh so briefly, not unlike Oprah’s skinny jeans. Some things just aren’t meant to last, Lone Reader.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Iceman Cometh?

Lone Reader, I am so happy that Tuesday is over…aren’t you? I was up bright and early to get the kids to school, then off to the capitol to advocate for the arts with over 800 arts advocates, organized by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. After, I was off to Sweeney’s for a quick quaff with other artsy types, pick up kids, run to piano lessons, home for a fast dinner, off to play rehearsal, then board meeting, then home. Dang. It was a surprisingly art-filled, chaotic day.

Now it’s Wednesday, the day before THE STORM. Some media outlets are predicting 6 – 8”, so who knows how much snow we’ll get tomorrow. I do know that tomorrow night is the opening night of my daughter’s play. Believe me, LR, the show will go on. I need this beast to end…rehearsals three times a week for the past month and this week every night for 3 hours. It’s killing us.

A few things that caught my eye recently:

From LarripinLabs on etsy:
Cross-stitch patterns for portraits of famous physicists.
(This is Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate, bomb-builder and generally goofy guy.)

Tilt-Shift Photos made easy:
Now you can manipulate your own pictures of real scenes to look like model photographs. Super fun. I wanted to mess around with my own pictures, but since my computer crashed they’re all in a folder called ‘Canon’ and are a bloody mess. It’s too depressing to open.

Iwasaki has all the amazing fake food you can imagine, beautifully detailed.
Mmmm that bacon looks good…

From Komodokat
Kawaii toast charms

And lastly, I bought a book for a Christmas present. Okay, it was on the Urban Outfitters clearance shelf. Still, it was wildly adorable and I thought I’d give it to a friend’s daughter. It was Kawaii Not by Meghan Murphy.

I learned about kawaii, the phenomenon of wide-eyed cuteness that is so celebrated in Japan. I also learned that this was not a book to give a friend’s child. Still, it was pretty dang good.

Happy snow day, Lone Reader!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mr. Jiggs and the Cold Hard Truth

This photo of Mr. Jiggs is by Michael Nichols from Brutal Kinship, a book by Nichols and Jane Goodall.

So the news story about the pet chimpanzee that attacked a woman in Connecticut has me thinking about my ol’ pal Mr. Jiggs.

Mr. Jiggs was a very famous chimp. He starred in many, many commercials, movies and bar mitzvahs in his 30+ years as a performer. He was written about by no less than Jane Goodall in her heartbreaking book Visions of Caliban (co-authored with Dale Peterson.) He had a lovely profile in the New Yorker in the mid-80s.

My paternal grandparents lived in Park Ridge, New Jersey. I spent months each summer there and every Christmas break, as the Velma family made its Ma & Pa Kettle journey cross-country to go to the place my parents always called “home.” (As a child I wondered what to call our ever-changing residences, since they were clearly not “home.”)

Park Ridge defies what most non-Easterners think of as New Jersey…it’s non-industrial, mall-free, treed and fairly affluent. Not only are my unhinged parents products of this environ, but also The Roches and Karen Duffy. More notably, the borough of Park Ridge had two august neighbors in the form of Richard Nixon (who lived in Saddle River) and Mr. Jiggs of Hillsdale. As a child, I was infinitely more interested in Mr. Jiggs, although my parents would occasionally drive by Nixon’s estate and command us kids to glare.

When we would go see my Aunt Marge (who was not an aunt…discuss) we would sometimes see Mr. Jiggs outside his house. He was a 190-lb. chimpanzee who lived in Hillsdale with his trainer, Ron Winter. He had a swing in the yard, and would sometimes sit on the porch and wave. The very best was when we would see him riding around on his custom motorcycle.

In reading about the chimp attack in Connecticut, I did a little research, or what passes for research in the days of Google, on Mr. Jiggs. He had a truly remarkable career and seemed to be deeply loved by his owner. Ms. Goodall and Mr. Peterson describe his life as apparently joyous, albeit profoundly artificial. Some disturbing facts, however: Mr. Jiggs was actually Ms. Jiggs. (Apparently girl chimps just aren’t as funny, i.e. Michelle Bachman.) Mr. Jiggs had had his front teeth pulled. And most upsetting, Mr. Jiggs lived each and every day in a metal vest and collar that could deliver electric shocks from Mr. Winter, should the need arise. Mr. Jiggs, for all his gleeful appearance, lived a life of gender dysphoria with cold metal and a swift jolt at the ready, should his true nature emerge.

It’s like when you get close to a college cheerleader – what seems so fresh-faced and innocent at a distance is actually a half-inch layer of suntan Max Factor covering cystic acne and sweat.

The seamy verities of owning wild animals ain’t cute, Lone Reader.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Better to have blogged and lost, than to kill a tech sales dude

Things I've lost in the past 10 days:
my address book (not that big a deal)
all my digital photos (feels devasting...trying to get a grip)
all of my iTunes (very upsetting)
my false sense of tech bravada

Things I've lost in the past 10 years:
a dog (found)
a sauté pan (found)
untold numbers of socks and shoes
30 pounds
a car key
my innocence (quit laughing, Lone Reader)

Things I've gained recently:
a sexy new computer
a credit card to pay for said computer
a Time Capsule back up system
8 pounds (still ahead of the game!)
many, many new friends
tremendous love
you, Lone Reader, you sly bastard

I guess I'm doing okay, after all.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


SIGH. Lone Reader, I know the world is full of woes that so surpass mine. Darfur, Gaza, all square states in the US, etc. but I have to say, having your computer die really, really sucks.

"But Velma", you ask, "how are you blogging at this very moment?" It's my stripped down, word processing-only lap top. All my music, my pictures and oh yeah, MY WORK is on the main computer. I won't bore you with the details of the slow-motion crash, but it has made me realize how very much of my life revolves around that damn machine.

The second weird thing is that my ex-husband is kinda hacker-like. I tried everything I knew to get the computer working again. (Let's be real here - she unplugged and then restarted holding down various keys. - Ed.) Eventually I called him for advice. He very, very kindly came over to help. and worked on it for 9 hours. There's something very tender and sweet about that, you know we were together since I was 19. We grew up together and all. It's also a little weird to be sitting on the couch, watching Top Chef (which is so damn good I can't stand it) while the ex is toiling away at the computer. It's deja vu all over again, and that's more than a little freaky and sad. sigh.

Now my task is to begin extricating files from the dying beast. For some reason they've all jumbled into about 5 folders - so I'm going through documents one at a time, to see what must be saved. Some of the applications won't open, so I have to rely on the file name or sometimes the very small picture. (Do I have that picture of my dog somewhere else? Eh, prolly...) I can't currently get my music, which is a pretty big time and financial commitment to have up in the air.

I'll get things sorted out, I'll get all my super important files off the beast, strip down all three hard drives, install a new system and move on. But will I be the same? Nah. It's like Katherine said in Judy Blume's Forever - you can't go back to holding hands. Does that quote fit this situation? I'm not sure, but I like it anyway.

Pray to the computer gods for me and enjoy the thaw, Lone Reader!

Love, Velma

Friday, February 6, 2009

Holy cabin fever, Batman!

Tonight my dear friend Toddy-Boy Harper is performing the sixth year of Keys Please - a collaboration with Paul Cantrell and Carei Thomas. They're a bunch of lunatic hep cats and I love the Harper family to the core of my being. It's $10 and students are free. See you there? 8:00pm - 10:00pm at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Macalester College.

MPR article re. Keys Please is here.

Tomorrow I'm going to Shanty it up on Medicine Lake. The Art Shanty Projects are a group of artists reclaiming the normally liquid MN landscape in the name of art. Plus it's wild*ss fun. See you there!

Oh and one non-weekend thing: the inventor of Playmobil, Hans Beck, has died. I love me some Playmobil, man - it still plays a large role in the nativity scene and xmas decorations in my house. (For those of you who've seen it, sadly the pimp chicken who always played the heavenly host lost a leg this year and had to be put down.) There's a nice obit in the Guardian. For Mr. Beck, not the pimp chicken.

John Cameron Mitchell and the Talkies

Review of John Cameron Mitchell and the Talkies, a live commentary on Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Heights Theatre 2/5/09

Hmmm…I love Hedwig. I mean I really love Hedwig. That said, I wasn’t totally feelin’ the love last night. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it was a little, umm…unfocused. JCM had a bad cold and didn’t seem to have a sense of how it would work to speak over a film. I had imagined it would be kind of like watching someone record the ‘director’s comments’ feature for a DVD, with scene-by-scene info and tidbits about specific shots and funny anecdotes. There was definitely some of that, finding out what the tomatoes meant at the end, noting that the East German mother’s dress and sheets were made from the same fabric, etc. There was also a lot of “What do you guys want to know?” and rambling references to Short Bus, JCM’s sophomore effort. As the funny and profane director slowly lost his voice, it felt a little like the worst of both worlds – we couldn’t watch the film and we couldn’t hear the commentary.

The highlight for me was watching JCM interact with the fans in the audience, including a 15-year-old girl who had been a fan since second grade, a gigantically tall blonde man about to play Hedwig in an Eau Claire stage show, and a hetero couple that had the tattoos of the two pieces from the animation sequence to “Origins of Love.” The feedback from the audience seemed to energize and animate JCM and there was definitely a lotta love in the room. And oh yeah, hearing Karl Eilers play “Wicked Little Town” on that magnificent mighty Wurlitzer in the gorgeous Heights Theatre – that was awesome.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You know you want to look away, but it's too late

Here’s a NYT article about the facebook meme I referred to yesterday (Thanks KGH!)

I’m a goo goo muck over the fact that Lux Interior, lead singer of the Cramps, died yesterday at the age of 60.

Thank you for the cornbread. I am also stealing your jacket. link

bacon explosion on YouTube

Etta James’ still got it, man – 71 years old and smackin’ down on BeyoncĂ©.

In other non-news:
I bought Springsteen tickets…May 11. I’m not thrilled about being in seats as opposed to general admission, but it is what it is. I’m still excited and I won’t be mocked by the likes of you.

I read the book What is the What by Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng, I highly recommend it as a gripping, sort-of-fictional narrative written by Eggers and one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.

I’m off to see John Cameron Mitchell tonight at the Heights Theater. It’s “The Talkies” a new series of directors commenting on their seminal works. There’s a showing of the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then Mitchell will narrate. I LOVE Hedwig, but I’ll not be wearing my big foam wig. (Too rude to those seated behind me.)

I am science-fair-free for another year – holla!

Happy warm up, Lone Reader!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

25 Things I learned since my last blog.

Lone Reader, Lone Reader…what can I say? I’m sorry baby, but why you gots to make so mad? Damn, baby, I promise I won’t do you wrong again.

I apologize, Lone Reader, for the long delay in writing. I wish I could give you a great excuse…I was called to be an election judge in Bora Bora, or the Coen Bros decided to make me an executive producer and I had to fly to Toronto for a month. The truth is so pedestrian…life intervened in unpleasant ways. I got sick again, and then had all kinds of crazy arrive on my stoop.

So, to catch you up to speed, here’s my version of the meme that’s caught facebook by storm: 25 things I’ve learned since the last post.

1. Rainy days and clinical depression always get me down.
2. Five days without your children can make you aimless, sad and giddy simultaneously.
3. Disney Cruises are not as bad as you might think.
4. I don’t like escargot.
5. I do like red wine. (okay, I already knew that one.)
6. No Name thick-sliced peppered bacon is really, really good.
7. An owl costume can be made in under 1 hour.
8. Ohana means family. And family means sometimes people are crazy and let you down with their lunatic rantings, but then you can turn to your intentional family and everything will be okay.
9. Netflix + free time = love
10. Even if you have a signed legal document, it don’t mean squat if no one enforces it.
11. Wife Swap is a very, very trashy show.
12. The site on my block with the most airborne particulate matter is along the alley.
13. If you’re judging a science fair and a student’s final sentence in his research paper is “It is our hope that our patients and clients find this information both informative and comforting at this time of stress” he probably didn’t write the paper himself. When you call him on it in a kind way and get a lot of ‘tude, I suggest asking him as I did, “So, who ARE your patients, Mr. Sixth Grader?”
14. Walnuts are tolerable on plain yogurt with blueberries.
15. Scramble on facebook is like crack.
16. The Ref is my favorite grown-up xmas movie.
17. A local supernatural investigation society has discovered high activity in the basement where I work.
18. Green tea steeped in Coke is palatable, if not enjoyable.
19. My autographed picture of Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey may be worth something, now that he’s Sir Whiplash.
20. Mickey Rourke?! Are you kidding me? Do I need to see Mickey Rourke ever again?
21. Funders are hurting, too.
22. If anyone could pull off that hat, Aretha could. (Now pull it off.)
23. I might be secretly a little bit Minnesotan since I took slight offense at the portrayal of Minnesotans in “New in Town”
24. Springsteen’s still got it.
25. I missed you, Lone Reader.