Momentous Monday: You betcha

The state of Minnesota has been getting a lot of media attention lately, largely due to the impending trial of  the cop who killed George Floyd. The northernmost continental U.S. state, 22nd most populous, and 12th largest by area, there’s a lot more going on up there than people on the coasts might think.

I know that when a lot of people hear “Minnesota,” they think Coen Brothers, and while those two may be one of its most famous exports, the title of one of their more famous and acclaimed films (later, streaming show), Fargo, doesn’t even refer to a city in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

I have to admit that the closest I’ve ever gotten to Minnesota is passing through Iowa and Wisconsin on the way to visit Chicago, fart through Michigan, then dive via Indiana into Ohio and beyond.

If you visually combine Minnesota and Iowa on an outline map, it looks like a hungry boar trying to eat Wisconsin. Of course, since Wisconsin is made of cheese and men in flannel, who can blame the other two for being peckish? The snack also comes with a free chaser of Great Lakes Water.

Without having gone to the state, the closest I’ve actually gotten there has been the people from there I’ve met and known, and all I can say is that 3M (originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) must be secretly cloning armies of intelligent, creative, funny, friendly, good-looking people and exporting them. And I’ve met a lot of them over the years.

Given the Scandinavian background of the state, this might be a clue to how the Vikings really conquered everything. They didn’t come in as armed invaders killing people. Nah. They sailed in really polite and well-groomed and just sort of hung around. Eventually, they niced everyone into submission, but the conquered people were too embarrassed to admit that this was how it happened, so all of those “Vikings Invade and Take no Prisoners” stories came about.

By all reports, though, the Vikings did have amazing hair.

But, come on. Can you imagine any of the following people invading anywhere and violently kicking ass? Al Franken, Prince, Judy Garland, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Schulz, Bob Dylan, and so on? Not likely.

It’s been a popular setting for film and TV programs, with 1970s The Mary Tyler Moore Show being the first example of a series specifically set there, in Minneapolis. Wikipedia tells me that the earliest TV show probably set in the state is the 1959 series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, although that appears to be conjecture — the show is set in the fictitious Central City in the upper Midwest. Only the stories the series was based on were explicitly set in Minnesota.

TV returned to the state in 1974 (while MTM was still airing) with the show Little House on the Prairie, which took place a hundred years earlier, in Walnut Grove, a small town in the southwest corner of the state.

In fact, the town itself was drawn out in 1874 and incorporated in 1879.

And, of course, it’s really hard to ignore the multi-media juggernaut that was Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, partly set in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon. It aired on radio for over 40 years, finally ending in 2016.

As I’ve mentioned, Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but that happens to be a total, bald-faced lie. In fact, the state has at least 11,842 lakes if you go by the standard of a body of water of at least 10 acres.

Wisconsin claims to have more lakes — 15,074 — but their standard is 2.2 acres or more. If you apply Minnesota’s standard to Wisconsin, then the latter only has a mere 5,300 lakes.

And if you apply the U.S. Geological Survey standard, which combines ponds and lakes together as water body features, Minnesota has a staggering 124,522 of them. So 10,000 lakes, indeed. There’s that Minnesota modesty for you right there! Or is it duplicity? I’m not really sure right now.

Here’s another not-real thing related to the state: Minnesota Fats. In real life, he was a professional pool player and hustler, originally named Rudolf Wanderone. Beginning in the 1960s, he became one of the most well-known pool players in the world, eventually being inducted into the billiards hall of fame in the 1980s.

However… this Minnesota Fats was actually born in New York City to Swiss immigrants in 1913. He started playing pool early, managed pool-halls, and went by a series of “Fats” nicknames, none of which involved the name Minnesota. (And the Swiss, not being Scandinavian, were not part of the big influx into that state in the first place.)

Then, in 1959, the book The Hustler. by Walter Tevis, came out. It was soon adapted into a film of the same name starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason as the totally made-up character Minnesota Fats, who had absolutely nothing at all to do with Wanderone.

This didn’t stop Wanderone, though, who quickly adopted the name and claimed that the character was based on him, although both Tevis and the film’s technical advisor, Willie Mosconi, denied it.

Oh… the film itself was shot almost entirely on location in… New York City.

I mentioned at the beginning that I know a lot of people from Minnesota — living in L.A. entails knowing a lot of people from a lot of places — and I reached out to eight of them I could think of off of the top of my head via IM and email, asking for their thoughts and comments on having grown up in the state.

I heard from five, got promises from four… and then nothing. The closest I did get were the comments from a friend who shall remain nameless in accepting the request: “All I ask is that you tell the truth. However dirty, beautiful, or in-between it may be. The world needs to know the truth about Minnesota…

“There’s what you call dry humor and passive aggressiveness we have that you’ll need to absorb here…! Actually I don’t know if that’s a generalization. It could just be me, but there’s certainly something fishy in that ‘Minnesota Nice’ cover we have.”

Then… silence. Which maybe just confirms the short statement from the only one to ultimately respond.

So maybe Minnesota is more like the quiet, shy one you have to watch out for, maybe not. But there is one other detail: It was the next state accepted into the union after California, so in a sense we’re the Gopher State’s big brother. Maybe it’s our responsibility to keep reminding them that they’re supposed to be the nice ones.

Otherwise, people might figure out that it’s actually us, and we can’t have that!

Oh, by the way, that gopher nickname has nothing to do with the actual animal. It came from a political cartoon from 1858, which wasn’t complimentary. So maybe “Minnesota Nasty” is a thing after all.

Momentous Monday: Us and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been rough on everyone. It started with Australia on fire and the death of Kobe Bryant, and then just went pear-shaped from there.

We hadn’t even made it to the start of spring when everything went on hold. For me, “normal” started to leave my world in early March, when my improv company shut down — cutting me off from one job as well as a weekly chance to perform that I truly enjoyed.

It came to a full stop on March 20, when Los Angeles shut down a day after San Francisco did. In a lot of ways, I was fortunate because I’d had an unemployment claim from earlier in 2019 that was still active, so didn’t have the problems signing up for it that other people apparently did.

Although I didn’t get the full amount of unemployment because I hadn’t worked enough in the target periods they looked at, that extra $600 per week from the Federal government helped (thanks, Congressional Democrats!)

So, I stayed at home mostly, with weekly masked trips to the grocery store, and it was amazing to see how quickly the two places I regularly went to — RiteAid and Ralphs — adapted. At the same time, though, a lot of Americans acted like selfish little children.

Some states were slow to react if at all, the Federal government totally dropped the ball, and while places like New Zealand got a handle on it (it helps to be an island nation), the U.S., not so much, so that as of now over 200,000 people have died.

Every month seemed to bring something new. In April, we had rumors of “Murder Hornets,” which didn’t really pan out, but then May brought us the death of George Floyd. This on top of so many other murders of Black Americans at the hands of the police set off a wave of fury and protests, which had the side-effect of finally making White American racists reveal themselves.

The end of May brought us people who just couldn’t resist celebrating Memorial Day without masks or social distancing, boosting the plague numbers even more.

It wasn’t pretty. And natural disasters didn’t help. Puerto Rico was pounded by multiple earthquakes of greater than magnitude 5 at the beginning of the year when they still haven’t recovered from hurricane Maria in 2017.

June brought us a couple of gun-toting lawyers threatening protestors marching past their house, and July had more protests, violent counter-protests, and the like.

In August, wildfires started in the west and the Administration started fucking with the USPS. By September, the entire west coast was on fire, while the gulf coast and other points in the south were being slammed by one hurricane or tropical storm after another.

And, of course, 2020 also brought personal disasters to a lot of us. Back on May 1, I lost my beloved dog Sheeba, who was almost 16. She didn’t even start to show symptoms until Monday night, and was gone by Friday afternoon.

A lot of people I know have suffered similar losses. Maybe it’s just a matter of selective attention because I went through it, maybe not, but a lot of my friends seemed to lose dogs or cats this year. And many other lost people, friends and family, to diseases not necessarily COVID-related. There were a notable number of cancer deaths, too.

And then there are those friends of mine who suddenly have to deal with parents of a certain age and declining mental condition who are going to require either placement in a senior care center or some other professional care, and the need for the young to stay away from the elderly in the wake of this pandemic just complicates issues enormously — especially when the kids live in an entirely different city than their parent or parents.

But all of these things, every single damn one of them, pales in comparison to the biggest disaster that has befallen the U.S. yet this year, and has put us into unknown territory that we are going to have to navigate through very carefully.

I’m talking, of course, about the death last Friday of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She was the last bulwark protecting the Supreme Court from falling into fascist, reactionary hands for a generation, and the greatest hope of progressives was that she’d live until the inauguration, then announce her retirement as soon as Joe Biden was sworn in.

I won’t even get into the utter hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell saying he’ll ram through whomever Trump nominates when he refused the same courtesy to Barack Obama because “it was too close to the election” (eight months beforehand)  when this one comes up less than seven weeks before.

So… call your senators, especially if yours has an R after their name. Remind them of the 2016 “McConnell Doctrine,” and demand that they follow it. Let the Voters Decide!

And then damn well vote in November, and vote like the future of this country depends on it, because it does. Do we fully become Nazi Germany circa 1939, or pull back from the brink and return to sanity?

That choice is in your hands… for now. But if we fuck it up in November, we may lose that power forever, and this experiment in Democracy ends.

Sunday nibble #20: Estos tiempos raros en un mundo desconocido

Like most sites that generate daily content, I’m always working a bit ahead and pre-scheduling posts, and I don’t think that should be any big secret. Short of hosting a live podcast, there shouldn’t be any pretense that the content happened spontaneously.

Even a lot of what you see on broadcast news isn’t live, outside of the in-studio reporters introducing the pieces. Here’s a surprise: You know those “Live from…” stand-ups that reporters do? Unless they’re interacting directly with the on-air crew and answering questions, those aren’t quite live, either.

And, of course, there are occasional reruns, something that broadcast TV does regularly — although streaming has made it another on-demand feature. But this didn’t start with TV. It goes back at least to newspaper columnists having their “best-of” columns re-run when they went on vacation, and re-issues of books and albums are the same thing.

It also depends on whether there’s a particular theme or format, which I gave myself at the beginning of this year, although I’ve certainly stretched my own rules a few times. I’ve also allowed myself a couple of spots where I can go freeform, like Sundays.

But as I write this piece, we’re ending the seventh day of protests around the country over the murder of George Floyd. And yes, unlike the news outlets that won’t call something what it is, I’m not going to say “the death of George Floyd.”

I mean, I was upset about the deaths of both of my grandmothers, but they were old. I was also upset about the death of my dog a month ago as I write this, but she was also very old.

Death is something that just happens, and tends to come when time and health dictate it. Accidental death is a sudden incident, probably random and unforeseeable, that quickly leads to time and health dictating it, like a car skidding on black ice and crashing through a crowded bus kiosk.

Murder is a death that is imposed from outside with intent, and there is nothing random or unforeseeable about it.

George Floyd was murdered, the entire world is protesting it, and things don’t seem to be getting better here yet. Perspective: in 1992, the Rodney King riots and concomitant martial law, curfew, and shut-down lasted about a week.

Paradoxically, these protests are both more peaceful and more violent than 1992. It all depends on where you are and how your local police respond. They are also more organized, and it is quite obvious this time that the organized, peaceful protesters are also trying to stop the opportunistic looters from stealing and destroying property.

Pile all of this on top of an ongoing lockdown that, at least in L.A., had just started its eleventh week last Friday and pending retail re-openings may have been completely derailed, especially once we see whether and what effects the protests had in making the coronavirus spread faster.

I couldn’t have predicted this a week before it started, and from this point of view I certainly can’t predict what the world will be like when you read this on June 7th, or whenever you get to it. All I can say is that we are truly going through trying times, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before — and yet probably far milder than what anyone who has ever lived through an actual warzone has had to experience.

Outside where I am, it’s quiet. There was some looting and a fire a few miles northwest of here earlier today, on streets I’m very familiar with, and Hollywood (as usual) was another hotspot. The county has been on overnight curfews that started at 6 p.m., although at the last minute they cranked Monday’s back to start at 5 p.m.

Still different than 1992, when the initial curfews were 24/7, so there’s that. But we are indeed living through strange times in an unknown world.

Be safe, be well.

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