Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Year in the Life of MCPB

1975 was quite a year. Mood rings competed with Pet Rocks and Rubik’s Cubes for our attention. We wore hip-huggers, bellbottoms and leisure suits and weren’t embarrassed by our appearance. We munched on PEZ candy and had Magic 8-Balls tell our future. We listened to eight-track tapes and the latest in Disco and…oh, you get the idea!

By 1975 Sharon and I had been three years into what would become a five-year stint at MCPB. By the fall of 1977 I had moved on to another job and we returned to Minnesota. Camelot was no longer a part of our lives but it has always held a special place in my mind. As one of my favorite songs goes ‘There are Places We Remember’…

Of course, time has that ability to wash over the not-so-good times and sunlight-silhouette the good times. But even a non-partisan evaluation of that time couldn’t temper the good things that happened to us in Maryland.

As a struggling writer, it was for me taking those first tentative steps in novel writing and story-telling. Sharon began a lifetime of fund-raising and event organizing. I ran, or at least attempted to run, the JFK 50 miler. Our son, Brian, was born there and we made some lasting friendships that endure to this day. We grew as a couple and individually as did the station.

By 1975 the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting had moved up the ranks of public television stations around the country that was producing outstanding local and national programming. It was on an accelerated curve of creativity and innovation for everyone involved.

We really believed that ‘Love will keep us together’ (Captain and Tennille) and that it might not be safe to swim in the ocean (‘Jaws.’) ‘A Chorus Line’ was playing on Broadway and we couldn’t get enough of our favorite curmudgeon in ‘All in the family.’

For me it was acting the role of entrepreneur under the protective umbrella of MCPB. Sharon had a great job with the Baltimore County school system. Our lives were being enriched with a wealth of experiences that only the east coast could provide. It was a taste of what happens when good people get together for a common goal and shared vision of producing great television and expanding friendships.

Public broadcasting was born in Maryland in 1966 when the state’s Public Broadcasting Commission was formed. By 1975 Maryland’s public television outreach was impressive. The Maryland State Department of Education produced programs which were used by almost a half million youngsters across the state. Nearly two thousand Maryland students earned college credit through the Center’s College of the Air. Hundreds of company employees registered in the Center’s business training courses.

One of the highlights of the year was the activation of the Center’s fourth television station in Annapolis. WAPB had one of the two most powerful transmitters in the U.S at that time. Its signal doubled the population within the reach of MCPB’s signal.

1975 also marked the first full year of the operation of the Center’s Office of Tele-communications, one of the nation’s first efforts to catalog all of the telecommunications activities within the entire state.

There were other innovations I was only vaguely aware of at the time. For example, the FRU (field recording unit) expanded the possibilities of production far beyond the confines of the studio and in turn took audiences ‘in the field’ for pre-recorded as well as ‘live’ programming.

Membership week sought to acquire supporting members for the Center even though it was a state-funded entity. A full third of the Maryland public television programming schedule was produced by Center staff, either in the studios in Owings Mills or ‘on location’ through the FRU.

My own department of Program Distribution sought to expand the reach of our television programming to a much broader audience. By its second year of operation we had our own program catalog that attracted clients from colleges and universities, library systems, hospitals, and business and industry.

Some folks in the office were dabbling with their own Altair home computer kits and making their own personalized computers. Only the select among us had the newest Home videotape systems (VCRs) which freed them from only going to the movies in a theater. Two guys in California were making the news with something they called their ‘Apple 1 prototype.’

In retrospect it was a wonderful couple of years filling with new adventures.

We were young and free and the world was our playground. I left a great group of friends back there but meet new ones along the way. Our lives expanded and grew and were enriched by new friendships, our daughter being born and more travels. It was as the cliché goes ‘all good.’

Now with the benefit of time, reflective wisdom garnered over the years and wonderful hindsight I can look back at 1975 as a watershed period in our lives and the height of Camelot for the station. Memories are what often prompts a smile in one’s mind. MCPB did and still does that for me.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

People Who Disappoint

It sounds terribly harsh, haughty and perhaps even cruel. People in your past life who disappointed you. Past friends or acquaintances whose actions didn’t live up to your expectations; real or otherwise. People who didn’t follow through or fell short of what you expected from them.

Of course, it’s terribly subjective and handicapped by a less than thorough knowledge of their motives. Were there extraneous factors, whether recognized or not, that contributed to the demise of that friendship? Was it something you did or didn’t do? Was it something you said, even in honesty, that was taken the wrong way?

No matter what the contributing factors might have been you’ve come to the conclusion that whatever you once had with these folks has now’ left the station.’ On one hand it’s sad. On the other it’s just life giving you a poke on the backside and reminding us all that nothing and no one is perfect.

Some folks can be brutally honest in terms of their relationships. They separate family (with all those obligatory ties) from friends and acquaintances (where they get to decide whom they want to be associated with.) They pick and choose their friends based on connections, associations and tie-ins all for their own self-benefit and satisfaction. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ as my boss used to say, ‘it’s just business.’

Friendships and relationships can be by their very nature a very vapid and elusive bond to attain and hold on to. Fleeting friendships based on circumstance are easy to recognize. A partnership in the Armed Forces evaporates as soon as discharge papers are served. That’s understood, accepted and welcomed for a return to civilian life. A close relationship in school can wither away and die when outstate jobs or opportunities beckon. Neighbors and neighborhoods fade from memory after the moving van has arrived. It’s all part and parcel of the ebb and flow of normal life.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

But what about those friendships that you thought were meant for greater things. Something special you wanted to hold on to but couldn’t…her fault or yours, it doesn’t matter anymore. The clichés are rampant when describing what happened or might have happened. ‘There were promises not met or kept.’ ‘We were moving along in life.’ ‘People change.’ ‘They/she just wasn’t that into you.’ And the one that best describes them all because it tells us nothing: ‘Things happen.’ Whatever once was had become vaporous and vague. Then like the morning mist wrapping itself around a tree trunk it slowly slipped away.

It seems to me that some folks go through life on auto-pilot. They never stop to question anything that life throws at them. Instead of designing their life as they would want it or like it or wish for it to be they simply accept what is lying there on top of the morning covers. I think that’s what happens to a lot of friendships. They’re taken for granted until those innocuous bonds that held it together have slowly unraveled and broken apart, leaving nothing but memories where a welcoming smile used to be.

A mental-meandering trip back in time usually reveals little. So what happened to those folks?
Did they change or did you? Whose expectations weren’t met? Was it your baggage or theirs? Did they move on or did you move on with your life and in the process leave behind what once was or might have been. Did they disappoint you or did you screw up and lose what might have been a wonderful friendship or relationship?

Like most mysteries of life, there are no easy answers…if any at all. What once was is no longer relevant and if that bothers you then the onus is on you to make it better the next time around.
As the saying goes: “To have a friend you must first be a friend.” They’re still out there…those wonderful folks who could be your friend. You just have to be generous in kindness and spirit.

I guess we (or perhaps just I) have to make the effort and accept the fact that we might be disappointed. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sleeping with Sage

To tell her story as honestly as I could it was imperative that I know Sage intimately. If that meant sleeping with her I was willing to make the sacrifice…to go the distance.

The genesis for writing a play or a novel or a screenplay is to understand your characters better than anyone else. Why not? You created them so you should shoulder the responsibility for understanding their actions, motivations, thoughts, fears, aspirations and even their darkest of secrets.

My goal was to get to know Sage better than anyone else ever had. I needed to get inside her mind, thoughts, personality, fears, phobias, cares and concerns. I had to understand what lay behind that rainbow façade she so prominently displayed as a fixture of her past. She was a fascinating woman unlike any I had encountered before and yet an enigma in my mind.

If I had to (figuratively) sleep with her to get to where I was going, then I was willing to do that. My wife knows I’m a writer and as such I sometimes have to take desperate measures to reach my goal. All in the name of art…or in my case, simple story-telling.  Still even for a wannabe hippie sleeping with a fictional one proved to be a real challenge.

Constructing a story, or in this case writing a play and then producing it, turned out to be a lesson in perseverance, patience and fortitude. It became a journey into the minds, motives, emotions and back-stories of a lot of folks. It was taking all the personal information and then sharing it with the world or in this case, an audience full of expectant participants.

The first step was to write the play which is simply story-telling in its most stripped down, naked form. I wrote ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ as a spec play for the Second Act Players, a part of RAAC, the Rosemount Area Arts Council. I did so without any idea if it would work or be accepted by RAAC once it was completed.

First titled ‘Riot at Sunny Acres’ the play slowly evolved into its present-day form. There were dueling protagonists with Sage on one side and Margaret Maple, her arch-enemy and the other. There was a mysterious man nick-named ‘The General’ and enough underlying tension to blow the place apart at any moment.

After its acceptance by RAAC the really hard work began. That meant finding a common vision with the director and the producers. It meant traveling inside our collective heads and coming to an agreement on what we found there.

The second step was to find the right actors to portray my characters. Auditions were critical to find the right personalities for your fictional characters. Then rehearsals are meant to stir up the storyline, flesh out the characters, and give humanity to the pretenders on stage.

After weeks of intensive practice on and off stage, the dress rehearsal put all of our collective effort to the test. It was where all the kinks were (hopefully) worked out.

Finally, it was time for the performance where the audience hopefully will enjoy all our collective efforts at storytelling.

August 25th and 26th are the performance dates. The cast is ready. The crew is ready. Margaret is posed to stamp out problems with that aging hippie once and for all. Sage is ready to blow her mind; literally and figuratively.

Thursday and Friday at the Steeple Center in Rosemount. Tickets on line or at the door. Seating is limited. The ‘Riot’ starts at 7:00 pm.

Let the storytelling begin.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Liquid Lightning

Alcohol painting is an acid-free, highly-pigmented, and fast drying medium used on non-porous surfaces. By mixing alcohol inks an artist can create a vibrant marbled effect. For many enthusiasts, it’s a new way of artistic self-expression. It means discovering the almost magical ethereal mutations that take place when alcohol colors mix and integrate into themselves. It’s layering colors, mixing tones and textures, morphing shapes and sizes into a kaleidoscope of  bastardized offsprings of color. For its many disciples the process is full of constant discovery and, often times, pure amazement at the results. It’s like trying to cup liquid lightning in your hands.


Sharon is finding her muse once again with alcohol painting. A couple of years ago it was welding and metal art. Then it was making art out of old National Geographic magazines.  Now it seems to be alcohol painting. The particular arts and crafts exercise doesn’t really matter as long as they suit her fancy…if even for the moment.

Sharon became a metal head and a blowtorch Nana post retirement. After a career in academia and business, she learned to pinch metal around stone like Giacometti and apply torching like Motherwell. She’s comfortable with heavy metal in her hands and blue-yellow flames framing her face. And she’s not alone.

Artist Doris Loes

Artist Doris Loes

Sharon is once again hanging out in the new bohemia with other artists of a similar ilk and age. Doris is an incredibly talented artist who attends some classes with Sharon. Many of Doris’s paintings can’t be distinguished from photographs…they are that good.


Sharon got into metal work as a hobby right after we were first married. She did exceptionally well until demands on the job and a move to another state curtailed that activity. A couple of years ago she took classes from Vesper College located in the heart of Nordeast. Vesper is one of those non-profit schools offering classes in such esoteric areas as metal bending, torching, welding and stone sculpturing. Sharon loved it…and I love the fact that she’s found a new outlet for her creative juices.

Sharon is finding her creative expression and whatever form that takes is less important than the act or process that she goes through to get there. She’s taking classes on alcohol painting at the old NKB (Northrup King Building) in Norde East Minneapolis. Little has changed there since I was camped out just south of there near the University of Minnesota.

It’s the same old neighborhood just 55 years later. Millennials are rediscovering the place where they can be urban and ‘in the city.’ With establishments like Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge and Fried Bologna Vintage, how could they go wrong? For me it’s the same kind of exploring but with a different mindset and near the end of the road for me. It’s been a good trip, being accountable to no one but myself.

I have my hangout across the street from the music studio where I helped create the song for my ‘Love in the A Shau’ web site. “Can Love Hold On,” the song for my book trailer, was created at The Library Recording Studio. Those studios are located in the Grain Belt Warehouse and bottling building. So far, my favorite coffee house is across the street in the Keg House Arts building. I think you get the flavor.

Fifty years after the West Bank of the University of Minnesota harbored the disenfranchised, the hippies and other malcontents of a similar ilk that population or their decedents have now moved to the Northeast part of Minneapolis. In an unplanned, almost organic metamorphosis of a cityscape, this unwashed morass of creativity has moved west. Old Nordeast, an eclectic enclave of blue-collar Eastern European nationalities, has become the new West Bank.

Early in the 70s, the West Bank lost its soul.  It was a community until it wasn’t any more. It imploded with the demise of the hippie culture and developers who snuck in under the cover of HRA redevelopment. Many of those artists moved to Lowertown in Saint Paul. That lasted for a decade or two until that area also started to become gentrified. So Nordeast has become the new enclave for artists.

But instead of hippies, now people of color, Hispanics, artists of every variety, house flippers, yoga gurus, craft beer specialists, software developers and other creative types are flocking to the area. A new variety of business has also sprung up whose main purpose is to breathe life into the arts for a whole new generation, young and not so young. These include art classes of every type, including metal sculpting.

Now that Sharon is taking classes there, I’ll probably seek out coffee houses, cheap eats and libraries to hang my hat when she is under the torch or feeding her liquid lightning. For a part of me this feeding frenzy of creativity will ring true once again.

The roughhewn, anti-fashion, individualistic, truth-seeking individuals whom I find so fascinating all hang out there. Only now the freaks hang out at McDonalds instead of the corner drug store. It’s not as compact as Dinky town but the atmosphere is much the same. The haunts of past lives have come alive again in that charged arena. It’s almost as if inquiring minds once again scream for an exploration of life’s truths in that modern version of old Bohemia.

Traveling up north may seem like old times again and yet it won’t be same. I know I can’t go back and I don’t want to. There’s been a learning process dogging my heels since the beginning of time. The mantra of artists of every ilk is to imitate, assimilate, and then innovate. Sometimes I feel like I’ve finally reach the third tier only to fall back to second or first on other days. After my lost years, I began that long slow inevitable slide toward normalcy. Fortunately, I didn’t make it all the way.

Yet when I’m back in that other part of the world, I’d like to contribute even if I’m not willing to camp on hard wood floors or eat from a can of beans anymore. My Bob Dylan days are over… for whatever they were worth. Inspiration still comes in all kinds of strange packages even in a casket shop in the middle of a confused dreamland called eternal youth.

So while I’m there I want to soak up the atmosphere and perhaps build a nest someplace where I can just write to my heart’s content. It seems like a good place to explore the recesses of one’s mind, mining whatever thoughts and ideas might be lingering there. I’ve got a lot of hard miles on that gray matter of mine. Time to go exploring again. There’s got to be a Triangle Bar here someplace.

Strange how after fifty years plus, some things change and yet many things remain the same.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Waiter with Attitude

I was admonished by my wife to be a team player from the very start. As a card-carrying introvert and self-professed’ uncomfortable in crowds’-kind of person, it was a challenge to rise to the task. But I did so and soon found myself as an obnoxious waiter at the L’Ambrosia Luncheria. It seemed a small price to pay for the generous opportunity that RAAC (Rosemount Area ArtsCouncil) had given me in agreeing to produce my play ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ in the near future. So I accepted their offer of the role and agreed to became a waiter…albeit one with attitude. I wanted to have a little fun with the role.

My first taste of the theater was a little community theater in my old neighborhood of Highland Park. It was called the Edith Bush Little Theater. I have vague memories of some date nights there and the thrill of the story-telling experience.

Years later, in the 70’s, I earned my acting chops at the Chattanooga Little Theater in Tennessee. That seemed like small potatoes compared to what I had to agree to now. I would be working with a bunch of seniors who hadn’t been on stage since their high school or college years if ever at all. Fortunately for all of us what they lacked in experience was more than made up for with their unbridled enthusiasm.

Back in high school, my real world experience in the restaurant business lasted all of three weeks. I thought it would be easy work after school to waiter at a small restaurant in Saint Paul. It was hard work and quickly began to cut into my paper route schedule and homework. It also meant being nice to smart-ass kids who piled into the restaurant just lounge around and harass the wait staff.

Now I found myself back in black pants and a white shirt and dealing with some old matrons and ditzy women who couldn’t distinguish a salad fork from a soup spoon. We had a condensed three weeks of rehearsals and then the performance. Unfortunately, our venue hadn’t had its air-conditioning installed yet. So it was the heat not nerves that soiled our clothes and ran beads of sweat down our cheeks. But it was all good. Everyone had a great time performing and the audience was very supportive and appreciative.

The other seniors like myself took their roles very seriously. We all felt a collective love of the theater and the whole theatrical experience; abet a small one, but one nonetheless. It took a lot of courage for some of these women to get up in front of an audience of strangers to perform a role so unlike their real life one. It was a lot of fun and a real privilege to work alongside of them in the storytelling process.

Maya, my eldest granddaughter was visiting us for a week and she was in the audience.

At the end of our play I was asked to talk about my own upcoming production of ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ which is set for performance on August 25th and 26th. I won’t be acting in that play but I’ll certainly be cheering the actors on and wondering what I’ve gotten into on the other side of the spoken word.