How to take action? That is the question.

To actWe’re now beyond “To act, or not to act”. While it appears that “wait-and-see” continues as the modus operandi for most of those who voted for the person who currently holds the office of President, (although the Trumpcare proposal is causing a few cracks to appear) I think it’s safe to say that nearly all of us who voted against him have seen enough, and that there’s no more time for waiting.

Not since the Viet Nam War have the actions and words of a President produced such a polarized and angry climate.  I don’t think the degree of pissoffedness (or is it pissedoffness?) is not really measured by the public opinion polls. The latest poll has Mr. T at a 37% approval rating vs. 58% disapproval.  What I have observed is this — the 37% has been pretty quiet lately, and the 58% are mad as hell.

We are mad about this madness in Washington (and not just the White House)  and many of us want to be more involved in this fight — this “resistance”.  But we don’t really know where to direct all our new-found energy.

Karen and I were talking to someone at a coffee shop on Friday and “the situation” came up, as it often does these days. The woman we’d just met told us she was going to an event the next day, and that perhaps we might be interested as well.  It was the annual state meeting of TakeActionMinnesota.org, a political action and lobbying group that has been around for 10 years.

So we went.  It turned out to be a very good way to spend 3 hours.

I went to a breakout session on communicating with elected officials, where a large group was divided into tables of about a dozen people, each discussion facilitated by a TakeActionMN leader. Karen went to the health care session.

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My table included (L-R: John Lesch, MN State Representative, Nick Faber, St. Paul Federation of Teachers, a note-taker, and Stephanie Gasca, Minneapolis City Council candidate)

Nick Faber, Vice President of the St. Paul teachers union, led my group’s discussion. Also at my table were a candidate for Minneapolis City Council, a candidate for Mayor of St. Paul, and a State Representative.

State Representative Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, the first Somali-American elected to statewide office in the the nation addressed the larger group. After lunch, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, who recently finished second in the quest for the chair of the Democratic National Committee, mingled and chatted with anyone who was interested, and then got up and gave a rousing call-to-action speech.  I feel good about living in a city that elected both of these people — especially in these strange and turbulent times.

The energy level in the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building was high, and the message mostly hopeful and positive.  There’s much work to be done, but it feels like a lot of us are willing to be more informed and more engaged than we have in the past. What will that be for me? I’m not entirely sure yet. It will start with sending a check to TakeAction Minnesota.  Then I will move through the menu of options for involvement and decide what other things I’m willing to do.

Let’s keep in mind that this fight is not about one person. While he’s big and and obnoxious and scary, he’s a symptom, not the disease.

I will, no doubt, continue to complain.  But I have to do more than than. We all have to do more than that. Thanks to Cathy at the coffee shop, we at least got started.

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We even had a little march through some of the streets of West St. Paul after the meeting — in support of the diverse neighborhood that will be hit hard by the current administration’s choices and policies.

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Looking through my Photo-of-the-Day choices, I realized that the theme for last week was “getting together with groups of people” — some friends, some new acquaintances, and a couple of krazy kids. I began and ended the week with new groups doing things that were (mostly) new to me — good bookends for the week.

Here are my photos for Week #11 of 2017.

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(3/12/17) John Trepp is a writer of screenplays. Maureen and John invited us to join his group on Sunday morning for a reading of one of the scripts he’s been working on.  I got to play two parts — “Old Man #2” and a juicy role called “Gardener”.  After our reading of his 100-page screenplay, we gave John feedback about his story and character development. John can be seen sitting in the lower right of this photo, listening to us read his work.

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(3/13/17) One of the great old apartment buildings along the west side of the 4800 block of Chicago Ave. So. in Minneapolis

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(3/14/17) “Ten more minutes, you two! Then you can have lunch — IF there’s any left.”

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(3/15/17) This week’s version of our  weekly Wednesday Happy Hour group.  This week we met at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. We’re doing our best to hold it together through the winter until our founder and fearless leader, Mary Livingston, comes back to Minnesota and brings the other snowbirds back with her.

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(3/16/17) Modern Times Cafe on 32nd and Chicago brightens up a gray winter day.

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(3/17/17) Guess which holiday? (Don’t get thrown off by the bunny sweater.)

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(3/18/17) U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (Minnesota 5th District) takes a silly group selfie with some of the attendees at the TakeAction Minnesota annual meeting in St. Paul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All about Aaron

I’m in the middle of making a documentary film about Aaron Westendorp. I’m saying that up front, because I’m sure that Aaron is starting to doubt that I’ll ever finish it. (Watch a 3-minute clip at the bottom of this page.)

I met Aaron about two years ago.  Aaron’s parents, Krista and Doug, are part of a loosely organized weekly Happy Hour group that Karen and I hang out with. They’d told me a bit about their (now) 31 year old son — how he was quite a character, and how he had overcome a lot of stuff in his childhood — specifically some physical ailments and disabilities.

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KFAI News Director Dale Connelly giving Aaron a little help with his newsbreak. Aaron reads the news on-air with a text-to-voice program.

I was especially intrigued by the “quite a character” part. They told me he did some announcing and interviewing at a radio station (even though he doesn’t speak vocally), how he was smart, funny, sarcastic, fiercely independent, how he had a penchant for connecting with certain types of people, such as celebrities he admired, and political movers and shakers. They also told me he was very social justice-minded and identified with people who found themselves on the fringes of society for whatever reason.  To top it off, he was a music freak — especially older and offbeat stuff — AND a percussionist himself.  I decided I wanted to meet this guy and I asked them if they thought he might be interested in letting me make a documentary film about him.  Krista advised me to give it a shot, and gave me his email address.

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Here’s Aaron, characteristically in the front of the pack at a Black Lives Matter march in the Twin Cities.

In my first email to Aaron, I was a little unsure how to describe why I wanted to make a film about him (without having met him) without it sounding like the only reason I was interested was because he has some disabilities. Then I realized that if I was honest with myself, that the disability angle WAS, in fact, a big part of why I was initially interested.  This kid wasn’t just any funny, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, assertive, musical, smartass radio announcer —  but he was all that without the ability to talk, most of the time using a wheelchair, and with limitations in the use of his hands and arms.  But when you meet Aaron, you quickly realize that the physical limitations are noticeable at first, but they are far from the most important things about him.

Here’s Aaron’s response to my first note to him asking if he’d like to meet me and let me make a film about him, “I trust my mom has good judgement about these things, so as long as you don’t ask me to take off my clothes, we’re good.”

I literally LOL-ed, and knew immediately that we were going to get along.

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Aaron and bandleader Johnny Holm having a great time making music together at Neison’s Bar in Savage, Minnesota.

I’ve recorded quite a bit of video with Aaron.  He usually sets up the shoot — at an event or place that is important to him. He’s invited me to his apartment to meet his nurse, to several gigs when he’s played with the Johnny Holm Band, to the Minneapolis May Day parade that he’s in every year, to a St. Paul Saints baseball game, to his birthday party at his sisters’ house. One day he texted to invite me to stop in at a brew pub where he was DJ-ing. For me, the most fun one he set up was getting me backstage after a Prairie Home Companion show and interviewing his long-time friend Garrison Keillor and several of the people in the show.

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Aaron and good friend Garrison Keillor trade sarcastic barbs backstage at Macalester College in St. Paul following the 4th of July Prairie Home Companion Show last year.

I’ve also visited Aaron when he was hospitalized for some potentially serious stuff.  He monitors his own health and lets people know when he’s having problems.  His parents raised him to be independent and advocate for himself.  He makes it clear to his Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) that they work for him — he calls the shots, and they are there to help with the relatively few things he’s not physically able to completely do by himself.

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Doug, Krista and sister Jill join Aaron a St. Paul Saints baseball game.

I’ll be finishing a rough cut of his film soon and hope to have the whole thing done later this spring. Aaron and I have had an agreement from the beginning that it will be a film that he can feel good about. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want it to be a “feel sorry for the cripple” kind of thing.  Nor does he want a teary-eyed “inspirational” piece.  At first it seemed like a tricky line to walk, but the more I got to know him, the more I realized that Aaron just being Aaron is going to be story enough. But if if there’s not at least a little inspiration and maybe a tear or two in the story of Aaron and his family, it will be my fault as a filmmaker, because everyone who knows Aaron is both inspired and full of admiration for this wacky guy.

Yes, Aaron . . . there will be a film.  And no, I won’t ask you to take your clothes off.

Here’s a 4:26 clip of Aaron and some of his friends and family that will give you a little idea of who he is. (This is an expanded and re-edited version of the video clip in the original posting.)

 

 

We hold these truths to be alternative

The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another.  The Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

“How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look. Aren’t they becoming!” He heard on all sides, “That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit.

It’s been only 9 days since his coronation.  We’ve all been watching him perform self-proclaimed amazing and alarming feats of strength each day.  His opponents have been vocal, and his supporters have been oddly quiet (at least my Facebook friends who supported him, anyway).  In a way, I get it — there’s no need to stick your neck out right now in support of his impetuous actions and crazy words, because he doesn’t need you anymore. He is now the king, and he will rule. He’s going to do what he said he was going to do for as long as he can do it, and none of us can feign surprise. He’s what we thought he would be.

Many voted for him because they wanted a “strongman” — someone who would put a stop to all this compassion, fairness, and unalienable rights nonsense.  Most wanted him in power because he said he would shake up the status quo and “drain the swamp”.  But many Americans didn’t bother to vote at all.  Others chose a third candidate who had no chance of winning. Did they do that because they didn’t mind the idea of being ruled by a narcissistic bully?  Because  now we have one. We have a president that fancies himself as an emperor. To those of you who didn’t try to prevent this, aren’t his new clothes magnificent?  To those of us who see him for what he is, and find nothing but the world’s yugest ego, we need to keep calling out what we see, as loudly as we can, for as long as it takes.

And in alternative news  . . . . it’s been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon.

Continuing my photo-a-day project, here’s week #4 . . . . . of 1984!

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(1/22/17) This is what some people on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis are doing to avoid hearing about what’s been going on in Washington this week.  But if you ask them, they claim to be trying to catch fish.

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(1/23/17) The Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul is home to one of 4 great old water towers in the Twin Cities.  Shown here is the top section of Architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington’s design, constructed in 1928. Wigington, an African American, was a renowned midwestern architect at time when there were few black architects anywhere. His tower, covered in Kasota and Bedford stone, rises 127 feet from its hilltop location. The 151-stair climb to the observation deck is only open to the public a couple of days each year.

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(1/24/17) Any day I get to spend time with these two knuckleheads, it’s going to be hard for me to think a photo of anything or anybody else could be more noteworthy. Today, Dr. Svea said, “This is a special stethoscope.  I can hear your heart AND look at it at the same time.” Meanwhile, Nurse Otto took great pleasure in giving me several injections of an unnamed substance.

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(1/25/17)  We were driving down West River Road, it was starting to get dark, and I didn’t have a photo yet.  Karen said, “look at that orange kayak”.  I whipped into the parking lot and met a young man named Cassidy who had just been out kayaking in the frigid Mississippi River.  “It’s still fun when it’s this cold”, he said, “but you have to be really careful, and let somebody know what you’re going to be doing”.  Thanks, Cassidy, I’ll try to remember to do that the next time I go kayaking in January.

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(1/26/17) One of the things I’m very grateful for in the the neighborhood where I live, is that I can walk a few minutes in one direction and go to coffee shop or restaurant, or walk a couple of blocks in another direction and be in a place as quiet and natural as this.

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(1/27/17) Joel Beck is an old friend and a great carpenter.  He built a beautiful deck for us last year.  Today he stopped over to talk with me about possibly remodeling this old side entry porch into the world smallest bathroom. It would be a dream come true to be able to take a leak without going upstairs.

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(1/28/17) We went to the Minnesota Opera’s production of “Diana’s Garden”, an almost unknown (but delightful) work by Vicente Martin y Soler. Soler was a contemporary of Mozart, and his musical style is similar to Wolfie’s.  Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart’s favorite collaborator, wrote the libretto.  This photo is at the preview session in the lobby an hour before the show.  I love these pre-show shows — some history, some background, some musical theme stuff, and a couple of up-close arias from the show. Out the window is Rice Park, with its trees all lit up for the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s ice sculpture competition.  What a great night in downtown St. Paul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February golf in Minnesota – not all of our domes have collapsed, and we’re grateful for that

Winter golf in Minnesota is a bit of a challenge. But there are a few options:

1. Watch golf on TV. (most popular)

2. Go outdoors and try to actually play a version of the game of golf.

The Chilly Open, Wayzata, Minnesota

An example of this is the “The Chilly Open”, which takes place today in Wayzata, Minnesota on Lake Minnetonka. Unfortunately, all their tee times are sold out, so if you didn’t plan ahead, you can only go out and be part of the gallery. The event looks like it could be fun — at least the eating and drinking afterward.

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3. Head to one of Minnesota’s luxurious golf domes. This is what I do occasionally with friends Roger and Bob.

This is what I call a winter get-away

Go through the airlock revolving door and you are instantly transported to another world — one where nothing is natural, nothing real. It’s a place you can — you must — let your imagination run wild. It can be Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, or the crappy muni in your town. It can be anything you want it to be if you just close your eyes and swing away.

Is it a balcony seat at Radio City Music Hall? The Hollywood Bowl, perhaps? No, it's the 100 yards your ball gets to fly before hitting the plastic tarp and falling to the floor.

But don’t think it’s all about whacking drivers or hitting fat iron shot off mats that fly just as well as crisply hit ones. There are places to hone the short game, too. The putting and chipping areas are easily as good as many mini-golf courses – without the pesky windmill, dinosaur or pirate getting in the way.

This guy understands that putting on astroturf is better than nothing. Or he thinks that's true anyway. The jury is out on that one.

So a good time was had by all on Friday afternoon. Did we improve our swings? Probably not. Did we get sore backs? Yes. Did we do anything that vaguely resembled golf? That’s unclear.

But we Minnesotans are a grateful people, and it was worth a few bucks to get out — then get in — and hang out, use our imaginations and think about real grass and warm sunshine. And just like real golf, sometimes it’s not about the golf.

So those those are pretty much all of the Minnesota winter golf options.

4. Actually, there is an option #4, which is the one Roger is choosing. Get on an airplane on Tuesday and fly to Palm Springs.

Good for Roger and his airplane. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Roger is practicing with the idea that he will actually be playing golf soon. Whoa -- It's hard for me to wrap my head around that one, but do what you must, Roger.

Starbase Minnesota is a good use of defense funds

My fifth-grade students and I just finished a week at Starbase Minnesota, a math, science, engineering and technology program in the Twin Cities. This is my third year taking students there and I’m very impressed with it. Starbase is funded by the Department of Defense, with the National Guard providing “classroom space, access to aviation resources, expertise and support, and volunteers from the Guard serve as guest speakers at graduation.”

U.S. Marine Corporal Carr answers questions from Minneapolis students

Starbase is great because it’s a week of very motivating hands-on science and math activities that focus on the standards we teach. The instructors are excellent — all are licensed teachers and they do a wonderful job with our students.

The Starbase instructors all take on science-related names. Here "Igneous", our teacher, demonstrates heat conductivity of a material used by NASA. Later, our students tested a variety of materials to determine which would be the best one for a heat shield on a Mars lander.

Starbase’s mission and purpose is to work with inner-city 4th-6th graders. Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools can apply for the program. If accepted, the tuition for the week is free — the school only has to pay for transportation to and from the facility near Fort Snelling and the MSP International Airport.

Two of my students program a robotic "Mars rover" to do missions on the surface of that planet.

The week is high-energy, high-learning, and lots of fun. My students learned more about math and science during the Starbase week than any other week of the school year — without a doubt.

Igneous teaches the science behind the air pressure experiment we just did.

We are lucky to have been able to spend a week here. Thank you to all the great Starbase teachers and thanks to the Department of Defense, the National Guard and the Marines for sponsoring this wonderful learning experience for Minneapolis and St. Paul students.

I feel kind of bad for the poor suburban kids who don’t get to do this.

Cosmoline is my first attempt at recording a live performance

I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at a live music recording for a while now, ever since I saw my friend John Kurtis Dehn’s band Cosmoline last June. (see June 8 post). I finally got around to catching them again on Friday night at the Wild Tymes Bar and Grill in St. Paul. My friend Becky was on a second camera and we got one song were we both had enough decent shots to piece together a video.

I’d like to try again some time. It’s not great, but I learned a lot and had fun doing it. One thing I learned it that this sort of video is harder to do than it looks.

So here’s “Coal Black Love” by Cosmoline from their album “Give Me Back My Pride”.

Bury my heart at Keller Golf Course

“Don’t try to cut the corner on #1.”

Monrad Peterson, golf coach of the Spring Lake Park High School golf team in the late ’60s was a man of few words when it came to actually giving advice about golf. But whenever I tee up on the first hole at Keller Golf Course in St. Paul, I always hear his voice — and his words still ring true more than 40 years later.

Friday was a magnificent, sunny, last-70-degree-day-of-the-year kind of a day. If you’re a golfer in Minnesota, this means you either get yourself to a golf course or regret if for six months. Friends Roger Buoen, Bob Jansen and Bob Whereatt joined me for a nice last-gasp round.

13th hole (old #4) is a short but tricky par 3 over a deep valley (photo by Steve Date)

I play Keller infrequently these days, but decided yesterday that I have to change that next year. I’ve played a lot of courses over the years, but Keller is my hands down favorite.

My love for this place comes from a mixture of beauty, golf course design, history and personal experiences.

1. Beauty
This place is gorgeous. You don’t have to be a golfer to see that the clubhouse and views of the lake off to the west, the trees, the rolling hills, interesting holes all add up to a visual feast. The fact that it’s a moderately-priced public course — a Ramsey County course — makes all of that even more amazing.

View of the 12th green - old #3 (photo by Steve Date)

2. Golf Course Design
The original layout, completed in 1929, was done by Paul Coates, the Chief Engineer of Ramsey County (!?!) How was this possible? Imagine that happening today. Hiring a county engineer to design a golf course of any kind, let alone one that would host PGA tournaments — impossible. According to a Golf Digest article, Coates, at his own expense, traveled to many of the great courses of his day for ideas. He also spent a lot of time with legendary golf course architect Donald Ross and picked his brain. I think Paul Coates should get some sort of award for rising to a challenge way above and beyond the call of duty — not to mention his expertise — and knocking this project out of the park.

There are so many interesting — even quirky — holes that it’s the kind of course you could play every day and not get tired of it. By the 1960s, Keller had become a lower-echelon course on the tour, lacking the length and amenities the PGA had become accustomed to, but it was still Minnesota’s chance to host a big-league golf event and we loved it.

An aerial view of Keller from the 1960s hangs in the clubhouse


3. History
No other golf course in Minnesota has the sheer amount of history as Keller (sorry, Hazeltine — you’re still too young and you only host a few major tournaments).
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Keller began hosting a PGA tour stop, The St. Paul Open, in 1930 — its second year of operation. This tournament continued until 1968. Keller was also the site of 2 PGA Championships (again, !?!), a Western Open, 11 LPGA events and a U.S. Publinks Championship.

Keller's hilltop clubhouse and parking lot in the 1930s (photo from Keller clubhouse)

All of the great professionals of the ’30s through the ’60s played there. Back in the days when most of the top players played most of the tournaments, you had a chance to see them all at a relatively minor stop like St. Paul. One could get misty-eyed just reciting the names as you walk around the place — Hagen, Hogan, Snead, Sarazen, Nicklaus, Palmer — and on and on.

A signed photo of Arnold Palmer putting on the 13th (then 4th) green in the 1965 St. Paul Open hangs in the Keller clubhouse

My favorite photo in the Keller clubhouse. Ben Hogan (bottom right corner carrying his hat) leads a group of spectators on the narrow, elevated path in front of the tee on the 16th (then the 7th) hole in the 1940 St. Paul Open.


Keller certainly has its share of stories. I’m not sure how true they all are, but it’s fun to think about them.

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Gene Sarazen supposedly once took 12 strokes on the short par-3 13th (now the 4th) hole, withdrew from the tournament and vowed never to return. That hole does have a funky big tree right in front of the green, but I’ve always liked it.

John McIntyre looks on as Bob Jansen hits a shot over the inconveniently placed oak tree on the 4th hole (#13 in the old days), site of Gene Sarazen's emotional blow up. But a 12? Come on, Gene -- a few of those must have been your fault. (August, 2007 photo by Steve Date)

Notorious gangsters of the ’20s and ’30s often came to St. Paul to get away from the authorities in Chicago. Legend has it that John Dillinger quickly dropped his clubs and jumped a train next to the 3rd (now the 12th) hole when he saw FBI agents coming.

Bob Whereatt does his impression of John Dillinger hitting a shot on the hole where he allegedly hopped a train to escape from the Feds. I didn't know Dillinger was a lefty. (photo by Steve Date)

Roger told me the other day that “Champagne Tony” Lema wrote in his book, Golfer’s Gold, that in the evening after a drink or two, the guys would hit balls from the old 3rd tee across Highway 61 into Keller Lake.

The PGA tour has changed.

Drunk PGA pros sometimes used Hwy 61 and Keller Lake as a driving range (photo by Steve Date)

A few years after the PGA left, the LPGA arrived with the Patty Berg Classic, which ran from 1973 – 1980, named after our local legend who helped found the women’s tour and grew up a few blocks from where I live. It kept Keller alive as a professional venue for a while longer and provided more memories for those of us in the galleries. It was a great course for the women and it was sad when the tournament left for bigger and more modern suburban courses.

4. Personal Experiences
I don’t remember much about that first visit to Keller with my golf team other than Mr. Peterson’s advice and feeling really pumped up about playing a course that the pros played.

Later that summer I went with my friend Steve Erickson to watch the St. Paul Open (by then renamed the Minnesota Golf Classic). I remember walking up to the clubhouse when we got there and the first player I saw was Tom Weiskopf, one of the top pros of that era, standing at the top of the stairs that led down to the locker room. It was the first time I ever saw a pro golfer in person and it was exciting. In those days it was much easier to get close to the players and I remember standing right next to him for a few minutes as he talked with somebody. Then we walked a few yards over to the practice green and listened to Chi Chi Rodriguez cracking wise. It was all very cool.

Roger Buoen also has a lot of memories of watching St. Paul Open/Minnesota Golf Classic as a teen and we always talk about that when we play at Keller together. My favorite story of his also involves Tom Weiskopf. Roger was sitting next to a green when Weiskopf’s group came through. While he was waiting for his turn to putt, he walked over to Roger and made eye contact with him. Roger was, of course, thrilled that this star golfer was going to speak to him. “Can’t putt these shitty greens”, big Tom said. That cracks me up every time I think about it.

Roger and I have a memory for just about every hole at Keller, whether it’s from a St. Paul Open or from playing there in high school ourselves. I vividly recall missing a 6-foot putt on the 2nd hole of a playoff in the regional tournament in 1971, my senior year. That putt kept me out of the state tournament. It was the same green as Weiskopf’s remark to Roger. I guess I couldn’t putt those greens either, shitty or not.

I remember Dan Sikes driving the green on the 1st hole, a dogleg par 4, on his way to a victory in the final PGA tournament at Keller in 1968. He “cut the corner on #1” and it paid off for him.

On Friday, I heard Mr. Peterson’s voice, as usual, and aimed a little farther left. But the ball didn’t obey and headed right over the corner toward the green.

It ended up behind a tree and I made a bogey.

Keller's modest but classic clubhouse where I got my first up-close look at the pros back in the '60s. It was designed by Clarence Wigington, a prominent midwestern architect of the time and one the few Black architects of that era. (photo by Steve Date)


I’ve been thinking about the fact that Keller Golf Course was less than 40 years old when I played it for the first time, but it seemed old to us then. It’s now 81. It’s been a part of me for more than half its life and most of mine.

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When the time comes, I hope somebody scatters some of my ashes around this place so I can become a tiny part of it.