Preaching to the choir

I get news releases with Gov. Pawlenty’s public events schedule. Since he released his budget, he’s visited what seems like every chamber of commerce in the state, but I can’t remember one visit to a less friendly or hostile organization or event.

It seems he’s comfortable among those who think like him. He needs to make his case to the rest of us.

Angel is a centerfold

There’s a song I hear the high school band play at nearly every sporting event I go to. It has a great melody riff that must be blast to play: Na na na na-na-na, na-na-na na-na na-na-na.

I recognize the tune from my youth: Angel is a Centerfold by the J. Geils band.

Here are the lyrics.

Does she walk? Does she talk?
Does she come complete?
My homeroom homeroom angel
Always pulled me from my seat

She was pure like snowflakes
No one could ever stain
The memory of my angel
Could never cause me pain

Years go by I’m lookin’ through a girly magazine
And there’s my homeroom angel on the pages in-between

My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold
Angel is the centerfold

Slipped me notes under the desk
While I was thinkin’ about her dress
I was shy I turned away
Before she caught my eye

I was shakin’ in my shoes
Whenever she flashed those baby-blues
Something had a hold on me
When angel passed close by

Those soft and fuzzy sweaters
Too magical to touch
Too see her in that negligee
Is really just too much


It’s okay I understand
This ain’t no never-never land
I hope that when this issue’s gone
I’ll see you when your clothes are on

Take you car, Yes we will
We’ll take your car and drive it
We’ll take it to a motel room
And take ’em off in private

A part of me has just been ripped
The pages from my mind are stripped
Oh no, I can’t deny it
Oh yea, I guess I gotta buy it!

First time I heard a band play it, I was shocked. Even more inappropriate than Tequila, another high school band favorite.

I wonder how many people know the song. I mentioned this fact to my publisher, Kevin, and his wife, and they weren’t aware of what it was.

Waking up

Every year about this time I start training to run the St. Cloud Earth Day Half Marathon very slowly to get me out of my pattern of winter laziness and overeating. Today I ran four miles and it felt good. It was almost not cold, and it felt like winter may end eventually.

This year I’m considering training for a full marathon over the summer. We’ll see how the next couple months go.

Marbles and war

As the war in Afghanistan appears to be on Obama’s front burner, here’s a column I wrote back in 2003:

Ever since I read about a missile attack by U.S. forces on a village in Afghanistan, I’ve been thinking about marbles and my childhood friend Khalid.

When I was nine years old, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand, and went to school with kids from all over the world: Gadi Plotnik from Israel, Ashim Segal from India, Sung-un Kim from Korea, and many others whose names I’ve forgotten. Khalid, who was from Afghanistan, was the captain of my soccer team.

Marbles were our favorite pastime on the athletic fields during recess. We didn’t play the official way, where you try to knock each other’s marbles out of the ring using a “shooter.” We had our own game. One of us would toss a marble into the grass, and the other would try to hit it. We took turns until someone hit the other boy’s marble. If you hit it, you got to keep it. Little boys with little missiles, in winner-take-all combat.

On Dec. 6, in an Afghan village, some boys were playing marbles when they were killed by rockets and gunfire from American planes. The attack was intended for an Al-Qaeda suspect, but our troops learned later that he hadn’t been in the village for weeks. It didn’t matter, because they missed his house. Locals say he was a motorcycle importer.

Nine children were killed in the attack. One of them was nine years old, the age Khalid was when I knew him.

When journalists and U.S. troops arrived to investigate, villagers were huddled around a pile of little hats and shoes. Marbles were scattered around the area. A 25-year-old man was killed, too. He had been in Iran digging wells and was getting married in a few days.

A Web site called “” says at least 7,935 civilians have been killed in Iraq since the war began last spring. That’s a low-ball estimate based on a fairly thorough survey of world press accounts. In Afghanistan, the estimate was 3,000 to 3,400 civilians during the first few months of that war. The methodology of such body counts has been questioned and criticized, but there’s no better alternative out there. The Pentagon, which has the resources to make the best estimates, has said over and over again, “We don’t do body counts.” Why? Well, you figure it out.

It’s true that the Afghans are probably better off without the Taliban, and the Iraqis are probably better off without Hussein — or they will be eventually. But do the ends justify the means? Is Saddam’s head worth 7,000 civilian deaths? Will an unprecedented pre-emptive war cow the world into submission or make our enemies more dangerous than they were before?

The apparent murder of one young woman has some of our neighbors ready to execute every sex offender in the state. Imagine the outrage if a missile from a foreign power hit a schoolyard in Isle, killing nine children. And if 7,000 of our countrymen died in attacks by a foreign power, however well intentioned, would we welcome the invaders with open arms, accepting the sacrifice of our sons and daughters for a higher cause?

I saw the movie “Master and Commander” recently and was struck by how a graphic war movie can still leave you with the feeling that war is fun, like football, full of bravery and glory and male bonding.

Yesterday the whole world checked Saddam Hussein for head lice and peered into his mouth. Few people in history have been more deserving of such dehumanization, but as I watched, I couldn’t help thinking we’ve taken warfare from the gridiron to the wrestling ring, with the kind of taunting we might expect from our former governor.

It’s tempting to join in, but that pile of shoes and broken marbles reminds us that war is never worth celebrating, especially during this time of year. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. What a fantasy that was.

Issue date: December 17, 2003. ©Mille Lacs Messenger Inc.

Life is way too easy

An old Messenger column

I called my buddy Jigs on my cell phone the other day. I was stuck in traffic down in Minneapolis.
“Where are you?” he said. “It sounds like you’re in a wind tunnel.”
“I’m in Minneapolis. I’m on my cell.”
“I thought I’d check in.”
“You used to come and see me when you wanted to check in.”
He hung up. I stopped at his trailer on the way home.
“Life is way too easy,” he said, opening the door.
“Cell phones, the Internet. There’s no waiting anymore. There’s something to be said for waiting.”
I wondered if he would invite me in. He left me standing on the doorstep. “What do you mean?” I should know better. Asking Jigs what he means is inviting a 20-minute lecture.
“When was the last time you went to library?”
I couldn’t remember the last time, so I told him so.
“Used to be, when someone wanted to know something, they went to the library. When I was a kid and I asked my dad a question, he said, ‘Look it up in the World Book.’ If it wasn’t in the World Book, we’d have to wait until we got to the library. During the summer, that might be week or two. Even during the school year, it might take a few days. And do you know what we did in the mean time?”
“No,” I said.
“We wondered. We thought about it. We made up all kinds of possible answers.” He paused and just looked at me, like he was daring me to respond. I knew better. He went on. “The imagination is obsolete,” he said.
I thought he was exaggerating. “You’re exaggerating,” I said.
“No. Think about ice hockey.” I didn’t see the connection. He could tell. “The other day, they played the first outdoor hockey game in Minnesota history.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said.
He clarified. “The first girls’ ice hockey game in Minnesota history.” I stared at him blankly. “Where does ice come from?” he asked.
I was still on the porch, waiting for him to invite me in. “From cold weather,” I said.
“Exactly. Life is way too easy. There wouldn’t even be hockey if there wasn’t cold weather. Yet nowadays, cold weather isn’t even necessary. There’s no need to suffer.”
“Suffering is good?” I asked.
“Of course suffering is good. What would you know if you had never suffered?” I stared at him. Blankly. Again. “Suffering is good, waiting is good, and wondering is good. But nowadays, with cell phones and Internets and indoor ice rinks, there’s no need to suffer. No need to freeze, to hunger, to wonder, to wait. I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder,” he said.
“It’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The beat poet.”
“You know. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti.” He held a hand up to the ceiling of his double wide and looked over my head, focusing on a star somewhere. “I am perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder.”
“Look it up on the Internet,” he said, closing the door gently in my face.