Termagant Tuesday: “Dear Old Stockholm,” Eddie Higgins Trio

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On this day in 1520, Sten Sture the Younger (you remember him), the regent of Sweden, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bogesund and died on the ice of Lake Mälaren.  Sture’s big thing was independence from Denmark, which, while that’s clearly been taken care of by now, remains an amusing point of contention between these two countries.  Ikea (you remember Ikea), a Swedish company, has a puckish habit of naming their flooring after towns in Denmark.  “Oh ho ho!” you might say.  “How very puckish!”

Well, yeah, but if Burberry named their door mats “Boston,” “New York,” and “Philadelphia,” it might be a little annoying.  (Then again, Americans are narcissistic enough to think of it as a compliment, so IDK.)  Klaus Kjoller, of the University of Copenhagen, discovered that Ikea had named foot-wiping items after Danish towns, concluding this was an insult because, rationally, “Doormats and runners, as well as inexpensive wall-to-wall carpeting, are third-class, if not seventh-class, items when it comes to home furnishings.”  Burn!

Charlotte Lindgren, an Ikea spokesperson, responded by explaining that, even if this HAD been a thing Ikea had done intentionally, which it totally wasn’t so stop alleging it was, it’s a compliment!  “These critics appear to greatly underestimate the importance of floor coverings.  They are fundamental elements of furnishing. We draw worldwide attention to Danish place names with our products. That has to be a positive thing.”  Snap!

So, today, give thanks for Sten – for fighting for Sweden’s independence, and for insuring that one of the world’s largest, most confusing meatball-and-furniture companies can foment mild diplomatic spats with their rugs. Skål!

Modernism Monday: “Que Sera Sera,” Sly & The Family Stone

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I am white woman who grew up in a series of small, almost entirely white towns.  I attended a homogenous high school and a pretty homogenous college.  My childhood hero, Kirby Puckett, was black, but maybe because he was only about two inches tall on his baseball cards, it never occurred to me that he was a difference race.  I just didn’t see it.  This isn’t a case of charming “race blindness” that we all hope little kids have.  It was a stereotypical case of a small brain rationalizing new information in its own little limited context.

The first time I truly understood there were different people in the world wasn’t because I met them in person – that came later – but because I heard them.  Sly & The Family Stone’s calmly resigned, melancholy version of the Doris Day’s chipper “Que Sera Sera” was an undeniable clue that my worldview was an exception to the norm.  Doris’s “Que Sera Sera” was indefatigably hopeful because it was founded on the certainty that it was the way of her world for things to work out for the best.  As I was the white daughter of two upper middle class parents, living in a safe neighborhood, the “whatever” that “will be” in my life, too, was pretty much guaranteed to be one of a selection of good options.  I hated Doris’s song because it was too treacly, not because it wasn’t true.

Doris Day’s version came out in 1948, three years after America had emerged victorious from World War II with a strong economy.  Things were on the up and up.  1948 also marked two fundamental milestones for civil rights.  In February, Truman sent a letter to Congress on the issue of the rights of African Americans, the first sitting president in history to address the issue.  His letter recognized cracks in the social contract that had been there for centuries:

“Today, the American people enjoy more freedom and opportunity than ever before. Never in our history has there been better reason to hope for the complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.  We shall not, however, finally achieve the ideals for which this Nation was founded so long as any American suffers discrimination as a result of his race, or religion, or color, or the land of origin of his forefathers.  Unfortunately, there still are examples—flagrant examples—of discrimination which are utterly contrary to our ideals. Not all groups of our population are free from the fear of violence. Not all groups are free to live and work where they please or to improve their conditions of life by their own efforts. Not all groups enjoy the full privileges of citizenship and participation in the government under which they live.”

And, five months later, Truman  signed an executive order ending racial segregation in the armed forces – in the face of overwhelming criticism from the various service secretaries.

The following year, the number of lynchings went up.

In Doris Day’s America, there was already “complete realization of the ideals of liberty and equality.”  In the entire United States of America, however, not so much.  Twenty years and the birth of a movement later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated, riots would set major cities on fire throughout the country, and finally, public schools would begin to de-segregate.  So in 1973, when Sly & The Family Stone reinterpreted Day’s message, it really wasn’t all that clear what the future would hold for all Americans.  Would the country realize that it was fragmented into different pockets of affluence, poverty, and luck?  Would it care?  Who would help whom, and how?  Would Dr. King’s message reach anyone anymore, or would he become a sentimentalized figurehead wheeled out every year so white people could express politically correct devotion to the idea of equality?

In 2008 when America elected its first black president, many announced that we were now living in a “post-racial America.”  On the contrary: we have spent the last seven years grappling with why this still isn’t true.

In King’s words, “Whatever you do, you have to keep moving forwards.”  Given we truly do have the power to collectively change our environments, we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors to spend today in acts of service, yes, but also imagining what about the country we would want to change.  Consider how we would unify the country that still remains a loose collection of affluence, poverty, and luck.  And then, tomorrow, start moving forwards.

 

Sacred Sunday: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” The Fairfield Four

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One of the hardest things to reconcile is your own infinitesimal  insignificance in the grand scheme of the world with the pretty significant impact you can have on a group of people depending on how you choose to spend your time.  The flash-to-bang ratio of the thought process that goes from “Ooh that’s a nice sweater” to “Here, have $45” can also benefit someone else.

The water in Flint, Michigan, is now so contaminated with lead that, according to the EPA, it can be classified as toxic waste.  The water in Troy, Michigan, a town 45 minutes away, has lead levels of 1.1 parts per billion (ppb).  That’s pretty OK.  Flint’s water is up to at least 27 ppb; in some homes levels are as high as 5,000 ppb.  The highest discovered by a team from Virginia Tech was 13,000 ppb.  The water that pours out of fire hydrants and kitchen faucets is as brown as tea and smells to high heaven.  The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible.  Some children have started losing their hair.

Here is a link to Flint’s public schools: http://www.flintschools.org/  A pack of 35 water bottles on Amazon costs $20.  That’s a pretty cheap impulse buy.  This is where the impulse part of the brain kicks in: you know that there is a horrible happening to people in your country, and you realize that, if you were in their situation, how much you would want a bottle of water, and then it hits you that you can actually send that water yourself.  So I sent a school in Flint a box of water.

Doing something, just the simple act of standing up and showing up, is how any change happens.  As Dr. King said,”The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

 

 

Salubrious Saturday: “S.O.B.,” Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

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Your fearless heroine had a, shall we say, “wet” December.  The gauntlet that shoots one from Thanksgiving to New Years turned into a slip-n-slide of festive parties.  The moon rose on events and the sun rose on headaches.  It was a lot of fun.  Until it stopped being fun and started being kind of stupid.  There came a moment, around December 31st, when I woke up just felt generally unpleasant, like a washcloth that had been used too many times before being cleaned out.  So Mr. Yankette and I decided that we would have a “dry” January.  This means I haven’t had a single one of these drinks at all this month:

I also haven’t had any of these, which are of course in the liquor shelf in our kitchen:

  • Tanqueray 10
  • Green Hat
  • Green Hook
  • Oban Little Bay
  • Aultmore 12
  • Espolon
  • Santa Teresa
  • John Myer rye
  • Becherovka
  • Tito’s

I’m not here to preach the gospel of dryness.  Of course I feel great.  Obviously I feel great.  I am as clean and unblemished as a brand new window pane.  I’m squeaky and practically translucent.  And, this feeling is certainly nice enough to skip over what people who attempt this generally do after their dry month, which is plunge head first into a booze pool in February.  I’ll go back to my pre-holiday moderation, no problem.

But.  As a working professional in a busy, high-maintenance city, where networking happens around happy hours and drinks lubricate the awkward few minutes of conversation,  I hadn’t fully grasped the extent to which drinking punctuates daily life.  It’s the lingua franca of collegial complaints (“what a terrible meeting – is 11am too early to drink?”), and the liquid that forms the social cement (“We should get drinks sometime!”).  Substitute almost anything else in that sentence and you sound batty: “We should play tennis sometime!”  “We should paint landscapes sometime!”  “We should take a walk sometime!”  (That last one sounds suspiciously like a date.)     What to do?

Well the obvious answer, the best answer, is, order ginger ale at the bar when you meet your friends.  It’s not rocket science.  But that won’t protect you from good-natured ribbing, which is a curious phenomenon.  There is something of a wall between my friends and me that I didn’t notice until this month, and it’s entirely unexpected.  Friends feel very slightly awkward drinking around me.  They ask if I mind (I don’t).  They ask why I’m doing it (I say I felt gross and needed a break).  They consider this.  Time lumbers on.  It’s weird.  So I can’t deny that, once February comes around, I’ll feel a little more connected.

I also can’t deny that, while watching the GOP debate last night, I didn’t long for a dirty martini (or a hammer to the head, whichever is fastest).  A fun new parlor game is considering what my first drink will be on February 1st.  But a habit can turn into an identity, if left unchecked, and I’d much rather be more deliberative about drinking.  So my New Year’s Resolution is to only drink exquisitely delicious things, and to take my time about it, and savor it.  Chin-chin, y’all.

I’m baaaaack… (also: Funk Friday: “I’m Afraid of Americans,” David Bowie)

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Hello, friends!  It’s true – the rumors of this blog’s demise were premature.

I am back from my extended hiatus and THANK YOU for still hanging out while I was gone.  My trip to the store to get more ice took longer than I thought, but I came back, and the party is still going on in my house!  How cool is that!

Those of you who follow the news, or really wake up, exist, and go back to sleep at all, will probably agree with me that this has been a sucker punch of a week.  First, we lost David Bowie.  THEN, we lost Alan Rickman.  AND THEN, we had a GOP debate.  The only thing that’s been going through my head has been this song, from Bowie’s “Earthling” album, and it pretty well sums up all of my feelings about this whole stupid, awful, terrible week.  So sorry to deviate from the standard funky funk, but Bowie and Brian Eno nevertheless did come up with a pretty rockin’ beat.

 

TDTU: A Valentine’s Day Spectacular

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Hooray! It’s Valentine’s Day! Whatever your feelings on the day, the Tune-Up’s gotcha covered.

Choose your own adventure!

Pro-Love: “I Will Dare,” The Replacements

Love happens at any time and when it does, it’s really exciting.

Meh-Love: “Shape of my Heart,” Noah and the Whale

A song about being excited to love again but man, kind of totally not excited at all.

Anti-Love: “No Children,” Mountain Goats

This song is so horribly bleak that it’s really, really funny.

Funk Friday: “Sleazy” + “Closer,” DJ White Lotus (NB: Parental Advisory)

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In honor of the day before Fear Day (check out Valentine’s Day from the blog last year), and all of the single humans out there, here is one of the best pop mash-ups of all time. This is one awesomely twisted duet between a lecherous dude and a woman who couldn’t care less. Apologies (mostly) for the profanity and lewdness.

Modernism Monday: “Rise,” David Guetta feat. Skylar Grey

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So, most of last week was spent in what we call “an exercise.” It simulated an invasion scenario and my job was to monitor how the Blue team (aka “the good guys”) defended their country against the Red team (aka “those rat bastards”) – and then see whether there were ways to make it more interesting. It was about as much fun as you can ever get paid to have, and it was absolutely exhilarating, exhausting fun. The stress of the whole week, though, was also oddly exhilarating, and it served to remind me that, unfortunately, I am often the best captain of my ship in a gale.

Back when I worked on a boat for a summer, the single-most valuable thing I learned was that the only way to safely steer through rough water is to point the prow of the ship directly into the oncoming waves and hold steady. It turned out that, for some reason, of all the people working on that ship, I was the most skilled at this. We sailed through three major storms and I was at the helm for each. During one such time, the waves were so high that, as we crested them, the schooner’s wooden underbelly rose out of the water before gravity and momentum tipped the shrieking vessel downwards to meet the oncoming surge. The memory of the force with which that little 88′ schooner slammed into the waves remains in my bones. So, too, does the astonishment that we didn’t become a mass of floating splinters.

I don’t know if I’m necessarily a person of extremes, and I don’t think I actively look for rough waters. But as my spiritual advisor, Dorothy Parker, put is, “They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.” Fare forward, voyager.

Termagant Tuesday: “Sweet Home, Chicago,” The Blues Brothers

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Today in 1809, the 10th Congress (one of about seven that haven’t totally sucked) created the Territory of Illinois.  That being awesome, and Chicago being awesome, I give you the Blues Brothers.