Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A life in murals

I've been working on a few Flash-related projects lately. I'm not particularly proficient at Flash, although I'm better than I was last year and better than the year before that. By the time, I retire, I'm hoping to warm up to average.

I did one for MPR the other day on a Cooperstown exhibit, and I finished one today about a gentleman out in Moorhead (on the North Dakota border), who spent much of his life painting murals at Concordia College.

He died in May at a young age and left a legacy behind. Not bad. Of course, you'll need Flash installed to see it. Also you will not see it if you're using Firefox. Use Internet Explorer; just this once.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What I did on Thanksgiving

Baseball as America
I made this for a piece that ran this morning on MPR. You'll need at least Flash 8 to see it. Click on the image. Baseball season is coming. Indians tickets went on sale this morning. BTW, I bought a brick at the new Heritage Park.

There was a game back in 2001 in which the Tribe was trailing 12-0 after just a few innings. Carolie and I went to bed and Patrick, being a real fan, stayed up. After couple of minutes he popped into the bedroom announcing the Indians had scored a run. "That's nice," we'd say, and roll over and put a pillow over our heads.

Patrick kept coming, only he got more excited. "Now they're only down by 6!," he'd shout. That's nice.

This went on for some time until he came in announcing, "they're only down by 1 and Lofton just hit a triple with nobody out."

We got up to watch the end of a game the Indians would win over Seattle 15-14.

So the brick will say,

"'Dad, now they're only
down by 6!'
8/1/05 CLE 15 SEA 14
Patrick Collins kept the faith."

We'll be traveling to Jacob's Field next year to find our brick.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey echoes

OK, so it's Thanksgiving and the Collins family is getting a taste of its own medicine. We won't have the whole family for dinner today. Bummer.

Patrick had a ride-along last night with the ambulance folks in Arden Hills, and he's working at his regular gig today since he's not exactly senior in command. (He works for Allina Health Care's transportation folks, taking people to and from the hospital. I guess they need an EMT for that sort of thing).

Sean is coming over later, but we don't know when. You may recall last summer at Patrick's party, we invited the Carter sons over for Thanksgiving since their parents were moving back to Boston. But Carolie hasn't been able to get ahold of them all week. So we presume the sound of a full house is going to be replaced today by the sound of an empty nest. This, of course, takes some getting used to.

A few years ago -- well, many years ago now, I guess -- we vowed one year (even with a full house), to get out of here for Thanksgiving, and the next year I took everyone to DisneyWorld, which was great fun since we stayed in one of the nice on-park hotels (Boardwalk).

Carolie and I, in our youth, always worked Thanksgiving. It wasn't until we moved out here, I think, that I pretty much stopped. It was a little easier to take when I worked at the RKO Network since it was located at 1440 Broadway and there was some sort of parade going right by the building.

At the station where Carolie and I first met -- WBEC in Pittsfield, Ma. -- there was a man who lived in the house across the street who always used to make a full Thanksgiving dinner for the announcers and newscasters who had to work each year.

We've had varying amounts of success every year in trying to get more people to our Thanksgivings. When we lived in Belmont, Ma., Carolie invited a woman she worked with to our home for dinner. And after she cooked, we waited and waited and waited and she never showed up. A day or so later, at work, she admitted to Carolie that being African-American, she felt uncomfortable coming the mostly-white Belmont. Right. And using a telephone's a real stretch too, right?

We had a friend who lived nearby who we called to see if he wanted to come over for dinner. In fact, he got several such last-minute phone calls; a testament to our inability to pull in a crowd.

I wish he lived nearby now.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On funerals

I've been to two funerals in the last week. I go to more funerals now than I do weddings or baptisms. Such is life... and death.

Yesterday, Carolie, Patrick, and I went to the funeral for former Rep. Jeff Hansen, whose son, Adam, has been a friend of Pat's since kindergarten days. Adam is one of the Twins batboys and graduated from Woodbury High School in June, as did Patrick. And he's a darned nice kid.

Eighteen is too young an age to be burying your father and it was hard watching Adams watching his father for the last time.

I find funerals, however, fascinating. The religious part of it, of course, is always worthy of thought and consideration but I also feel at times that funerals are the last great act of theater. I can't go to a funeral anymore without leaving thinking the person must've been the greatest person that ever walked the face of the earth; and perhaps they are. If they were as described, they were and are all better people than I'll ever be; not that I set the bar particularly high for that sort of thing.

Tell the truth, though. Do you ever sit at a funeral and think, "I wonder how many people will come to mine?" Or, "what will they say about me?" I kind of think I'd rather have a eulogy that says something like, "he really tried to be good at what he did, but what made him such a schmuck?"

Also yesterday, they had the funeral for Ed Bradley in New York and, as expected, it was a jazz funeral. Bradley, apparently, really was as good as they say he was and the funeral appeared to be a party, which is what funerals should be.

At Jeff's funeral yesterday, I half expected "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to be on the list of hymns since he was such a big baseball fan, but no.... it was pretty standard stuff.

It better be at mine. How cool would it be to have a huge pipe organ in a church belting out Take Me Out to the Ballgame?

The only other request I have just for the record -- is for a small band of some sort that can play decent Greatful Dead music to play "Ripple."

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they're better left unsung
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air


Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone


You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

Here, listen to it. (RealAudio required)

If funerals are a celebration, why don't we actually celebrate?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The picket fence syndrome

As I remember it, my mother came into my room on the day -- or pretty near the day -- I turned 16. Since I was a teen, I was sleeping late. She said it was time for me to get a job, or paint the white picket fence that surrounded our house. I chose the picket fence. About 20 pickets later, I was working at McDonald's, and with a few minor exceptions, I've been working every day since.

Looking back, I'm going to guess that the announcement of my employment future that morning came after severe parental projection. Parental projection occurs late at night when you sit and try to figure out where your kids are heading. You project the future and then you try your darndest to prevent it. Oddly enough, I find most parents project the worst-case scenario, which is odd considering you start out projecting them as future presidents. When they get their first hit in T-ball, you suddenly see scholarship opportunities. Sometime between then and, say, 16, it all goes south.

I'm very bad at this. I spend considerable time trying to figure out where my kids are going to end up. I'm not any better at it this week because Sean told me over lunch the other day that he's down to one class at school while working fulltime. "Are you going to take classes next semester," I asked. "Probably not," he said. In my house "probably not" translates as "no."

He doesn't feel he's learning anything at school and he's probably right. Sean is pretty much a genius and he needs a real challenging class -- or classes -- that will help him get "his certs," which I think has something to do with what computer geeks need to have a comfortable life with, umm, computers.

I tried to explain that he has to look at things "long term," and that at 21, working at MPR -- even as an intern -- with some tremendously talented people who can teach him, and the possibility of a full-time gig someday -- maybe -- is a good place to be, especially since he likes it so much.

"Keep your options open," I tell him, trying to get the message through that continuing studies is a long-term solution, not a short-term one. But I don't think it's going to work out that way and I hope he knows what he's doing, and doesn't end up selling pencils on the street.

But kids don't look long-term sometimes. They look at what they're making now and what the quick payoff could be. I have a hard time relating to that because I got in the radio business working 6 days a week for $105 a week because it's the price I had to pay in the business. Survive for a few years, and things start opening up.

And things did. The folks that didn't want to make $105 a week dropped out of the business and, suddenly, paths started opening and I've done, well, OK. Nonetheless, I think about how I'm going to stay employed, until I retire 12 years, 6 months, and 13 days from now.

Smart, eh? Long-term thinking. Except that from time to time I remember that from the day I started painting a picket fence to right now, I've gone to work in the radio or news business each day, and I often think if I were to do it again, I'd go be a bush pilot in Alaska when I got out of school ... or work with Special Olympics... or build Habitat for Humanity houses ... or fly LifeFlight helicopters for next-to-nothing, and worry about the future... later.

I don't regret what I've done, but I also recognize what I didn't do.

Tonight, my oldest son, is sleeping on a sidewalk outside of the Best Buy in Oakdale, because tomorrow on Friday morning they'll sell Playstation Wii'ss to the first 20 people in line for a couple hundred dollars and he knows he can immediately turn it into $2,000 on E*Bay.

I hope he uses the money for classes, but maybe he'll buy some flight lessons and a ticket to Alaska instead.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Accentuate the negative

I've been working on covering the campaign of 2006 since January of 2005. I'm glad it's over. It's taken a lot of work, 7 days a week at ridiculous hours of the day and what do I have to show for it? A bunch of other people got new high-paying gigs and get to drive shiny black Escalades. Well, good for them.

Sen.-elect Amy Klobuchar was in yesterday so I introduced myself. "Oh, you're Polinaut," she said. Nice. I introduced her to Sean who noted that he worked backstage Sunday night at the MPR Senate debate, and then -- being my son -- he told her he thought she was better at the State Fair debate. The two then engaged in a wonderful exchange of tactical analysis of the campaign, and the one thing I noticed is that Sen. Klobuchar kept focused on Sean and what he was saying, where a lot of politicians would've blown him off and focused on some, oh I don't know... blog writer. That was cool. And it told me a lot.

I like covering politics, it's people who like politics that drive me crazy. By the end of the campaign, the rabid element of the electorate is foaming at the mouth, ready to kill anything, not for the sport of it, but because their brains are sparking from the wrong neurons.

We had a Democratic wave in our corner of the universe too, with the exception of our congressional race, which was won by a woman who is far right wing, and goes to church on Sunday and apparently listens to God, but not the 44% of the voters who don't like her.

Her opponents said she was a crazy, out-of-control rabid, God squadding, gay hating, Pope killing monster. "Just listen to her," they said. They're pretty upset with the media because the media didn't report every day "Crazy, out-of-control rabid, God squadding, gay hating, Pope killing monster still in race for Congress." Neither did her opponent. "It's not the opponent's job," they said,showing a fairly sizeable ignorance of the democratic process.

So the morning after Election Day, one of the calm, well-reasoned, logicians sent me an email, "Fuck you, Collins. Good riddance." I'm guessing he doesn't get the concept of irony.

I wrote my last post on Polinaut Tuesday night and by Wednesday morning, several had admonished me for being cynical and negative, although -- as near as I could tell -- they didn't explain why Polinaut's readers had made it the most read page on the MPR Web site in just a few months.

What the detractors have done is what a lot of us do during the political season. They assume that democracy hinges on people doing things their way. They insist that there is one right belief, and it is theirs.

This is the true source of their irritation, since there are now 300 million people in America and at any given time, 4 of them will need months to come up with a proper date for a picnic.

This "negative" thing on the other hand, is one that has dogged me for some time. I happen to like being known as "the idealistic cynic" (that should've been the name of the blog), for while the people who call other people "cynical," mean it in the negative, it betrays their ignorance of who the cynics were... and are. They believed that perfection was possible and, if nothing else, one should strive for it.

That's a difficult concept for Minnesotans to understand, for they will gladly forfeit perfection -- or the drive for it -- in exchange for the perception of warm civility.

It's called passive aggressive. In Minnesota, a person might smile and say to someone else, "have a nice day," when they really mean, "you should die."

The other person will say "thank-you," and then walk away, and both will think "what did he mean by that?" They will then substitute reality for the answer to that question.

In a world where you only have so much time and energy to expend, far too much of it here is spent trying to figure out what the words that are used really mean. Communication in the upper Midwest is an entirely fraudulent exercise, something that frustrates just about everyone who has ever moved here, especially those from the East, which has become the mover-and-shaker capital of the world because the time not spent trying to figure out what someone else really meant is used to move and shake.

It is not everyday I quote Harvard professors. But Phillip Greenspun has a tremendous treatise on "the negative people" today. Many Minnesotans won't understand it, but maybe some will:

The true pessimists are those who never complain.

And they are the ones who can make a difference