Monthly Archives: January 2016

Playing The Game The Right Way

Jarvis lifetime award

Sunday around bedtime I received a Facebook post from friend Jon Anderson.  His dad, Jarvis Anderson, had been honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission for 49 years of teaching and coaching baseball to thousands of kids and young adults in and around Plainview, MN.  I was one of those kids. Starting as a 7-year-old in T-ball in the summer of ’68, through 12 springs and summers of Peewees, Midgets,  high school and American Legion baseball, there was one constant…a single coach and teacher, Jarvis Anderson. I doubt there’s any kid anywhere who has played 12 years of baseball for a single coach, except of course the hundreds of Plainview kids over nearly five decades who all learned the game from Jarvis.

 

Jarvis pee wee

I was on many teams with outstanding players, and we won more than we lost.  Jon Marshman made hitting, running and playing shortstop look effortless.  Mark Bodurtha showed me you win as many games with your head as you do your arms and legs.  Twins Bill and Bruce Kruger grew up maybe 200 yards from the ball field. They could run, hit, field and throw with the best, but were even better leaders.  David Arnett brought style, sass and speed.  Ed Jacobs brought heart.  And Brent Wohlers was simply the best athlete and competitor I ever played with.  There were also guys like my best buddy Jerry Anderson, Steve Mueller, Roger Timm, and me, who had more moxy than skills.  There were many more, too many to name, but what we ALL had in common was knowledge of the game of baseball.  Regardless of skill level, we and countless players over 49 years all learned to play the game the “right way” from one man, Jarvis Anderson.

Jarvis color state champJarvis state roster

I was a minimally talented member of Jarvis’ 1978 PHS State Champions. We were a long-haired, high energy and rebellious bunch, and I think we tested his patience and tolerance more than we should have. I suspect both we and he were going through a lot of changes that year, and not necessarily in the same direction.  However, we found common ground and pulled it together.  The summer of ’79 we had another kind of team all together. We had one real player (Dan Moore, a splendid athlete from Elgin), some scrappers playing our last months of organized ball, and a bunch of kids not old enough to shave.  We lost a lot, and often big.  But we kept digging, and somehow caught fire in the tournament upsetting teams a lot better than us, and winning our Sub District playing Jarvis’ brand of “small ball”.

 

There were other teams before and after my meager tenure that won more than they lost.  Through it all was one guy who taught us all how to play the game the right way, and along the way how to play life the right way. All those great players, and the many not-so-great players like me, owe Jarvis a lot.  None of us ended up perfect, but we won more than we lost.

jarvis ed jacobsJarvis Brent Dan LJarvis larry fix

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Happy Birthday To Us

Thursday, January 21 is my birthday.  I’ve been doing “life math” the last couple of months, and doing double-takes counting the  years. Things like how long  Joan and I have been married (28 year last October), how many years its been since my first radio show (1978, 38 years ago), etc. Tomorrow I turn 55.  I can’t compare where I’m at against where I thought I’d be at 55 because I never thought that far ahead.  I’ve already experienced and survived  (so far) a number of the events which are common as one ages, and the fear that can accompany them (the loss of a parent, cancer, surgically repaired joints, the start of arthritis).  55 also has an upside, as I now qualify for another level of senior citizen discounts, including an extra 5% off at some of my favorite junkin’ spots.  As  Eric Idle sang at the end of “Life of Brian”, “Always look on the bright side of life!”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlBiLNN1NhQ

My mother said something to me a few years back that has stuck with me. I now use it every time I talk about a birthday.  It’s really not just MY birthday, it’s OUR birthday.  We were both involved, and Mom did most of the work.  I won’t bore you with being born details, but I’ve been told it was quite the adventure.  It involved a 1960 black VW Beetle, navigating 25 miles from the farm to Mitchell in a full-blown South Dakota blizzard, me entering the world backwards butt first  (poetic), and my usually calm, reserved and diplomatic Dad going ballistic when the folks at the hospital weren’t showing any sense of urgency.

I like the idea of it being “Our Birthday”, and we celebrated Tuesday with lunch and talking over her current dried flower art.  She’s the talented one.  I am but a small “muse”, providing her with found items which sometimes serve as objects for her to build upon. If you’ve gone to Admissions at Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls any time in the last 16 years or so you’ve seen my Mom’s work.  In fact yesterday she brought in some fresh creations. Check’em ouf if you’re in that neighborhood.  I took some photos yesterday of a few of the items up or in progress at her place. Mom’s modest, but I and most people who see it know it’s art.  And yes, she either grew it or harvested it in the wild, and dried everything herself.

I’ve promised to make my blog posts shorter, so I’ll end with saying thanks to Mom for putting in all the serious work to make sure I was born.  I am proud of her, and I think she’s proud of me.  Hopefully we’ll get to share Our Birthday together for many years to come.

JoeBaby

(Note If you’re moved in some way by my Mom’s artistry, 1960 VW Bugs or the visual of me being born butt-first, I’d encourage you to share this blog with friends. If you want every post delivered just as it’s being born, click the “follow” button below.  Plus, all my Mom wants on Our Birthday is to see me working again, so keep those gig tips comin’…)

 

 

Some of My Best Friends Are Super Creeps

Tuesday evening I wrote the blog post, “Is That Seat Taken”, where I used the new Star Wars movie as basis to discuss the bumpy road traveled by innovators and those considered “different”.  After reading the post, a friend of mine suggested I write about ground-breaking musician and artist David Bowie, who passed away this week from liver cancer at age 69.

While  I probably know more about music and musicians of the 20th century than the average guy on the street, I am far from an authority on Bowie’s life and career.  There are hundreds of better places one can go to discover the facts and figures of his unique life and talent.  What I can write about is how his talent, creative output and complete belief in himself influenced me. He showed me that being weird, different, smart and experimental was cool, and approval by others, while nice, doesn’t define you or your creativity.

While I was born in South Dakota an d returned here in 2007, I grew up in Plainview, MN, a small, prosperous farm town/bedroom community some 20 miles north and east of Rochester.  Just as life in a small rural town in the 1960’s and ‘70’s was very different from life there a generation earlier, life in that small town today is very different than it was in the 70’s.  Historical epochs are generally measured in years BC and AD.  I like to measure 20th century life in the rural Midwest in terms of BC (Before Cable) and AC (After Cable).  The world was smaller in a small town before cable TV came in and exposed kids to the much larger world.  That’s not to say growing up BC was inferior to life AC.  Life AC showed you what was possible, but was also prone to imitation rather than innovation, and while it broadened a person’s life in general it also made it more generic. Being smaller, BC gave you time to focus and experiment,  make it up as you go, invent, and  be original.  Some of the smartest,  artistically talented and skilled problem solvers I’ve ever met, such as Peter Pretzer, Tom and Peter Harlan, Jerry Anderson, Joel Dean House, my bother Mike Tlustos, Cullen and Neil Senska, Leigh Talley, Paul Talley, Pat and Tim Carter, Bob Rice, David Mussell and Greg Gentling just to name a few, are friends who grew up in small towns and farms BC.

David Bowie was smart, innovative and without fear.  Every few years he’s junk it all and invent a whole new original brand of “out there’.  It’s hard to know what goes on in a person’s head, but it was easy to see Bowie was fearless, cared little about what RCA Records, producers, critics and even fans thought of his changes and made it big on his own terms.

Radio had the strongest influence on how I discovered music and musicians pre 1979.  Since little of Bowie made it to mainstream radio until the mid-70’s, I totally missed the whole Zingy Stardust era, which was probably as “out there” as music (and stage performance) got up until the early days of punk. Or George Clinton, but that’s a story for another day.  Bowie hit my radar when songs like “Fame”, “Golden Years” and “Young Americans”…and a re-release of  1969’s “Space Oddity”…became Top 40 hits, and we heard them all, over and over.  Since it was BC, however, we never SAW Bowie until the earl 80’s.  And SEEING David Bowie was just as much if not more of an influence than only hearing his music.

For me, EVERYTHING changed in 1980-81 with the release of Bowie’s album, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). More specifically, it changed the first time I SAW Bowie’s video for “Ashes to Ashes” on MTV.  Visually it blew my doors off, and the music was other-worldly.  This was long before on-demand video.  In fact, boys and girls, it was SO long ago that MTV spent nearly all day every day playing music videos!  “Ashes to Ashes”, was about the coolest thing I had ever experienced. It was more than just songs.  It was Art.  It was the future right now.

From there I backtracked to the Ziggy days, and the cocaine addicted “Thin White Duke” of the mid-late 70’s.  Not too long after came mega-stardom with “Let’s Dance”, some fun with Mick Jagger on “Harlem Shuffle”, and much more.  But for me, my life changed…REALLY changed…when I saw and listened to a morose, surreal and other-worldly white clown with two different colored eyes,  surrounded by four…mourners?  witches?…playing the part of a heroin-addicted astronaut who is never coming home?  This wasn’t just rock and roll.  It was painful and crazy and desperate… and beautiful.  It was art, and it talked to ME.

Fans didn’t always like it when Bowie totally re-invented himself.  Most wanted what most fans want…the familiar, more of the things they knew.  Had he “given the fans what they wanted”, kept playing the same songs over and over, not ruffling feathers, not taking chances, and just “doing what I did last year”, David Bowie might have gone the way of Gary Glitter, squeezing himself into a silver jump suit every night, playing his “hit”, then fading away.  But Bowie didn’t care about what he was “expected” to do.  He followed inspiration, then challenged the audience to peddle faster and catch up.  No research, or  focus groups or song testing.

I don’t love every piece of music or video David Bowie created.  If his biographers are correct Bowie was not an easy person to be around for chunks of his life, and may have stepped on a lot of people on his way to the top. However, he was fearless, confident, immensely talented and utterly unique. There won’t be a “next Bowie”, but finding him cemented for me the importance of always keeping my eyes, ears and mind open for the unexpected and unusual that inevitably comes along.

Is That Seat Taken???

Last weekend my wife, daughter and I finally went to see the new Star Wars movie (“The Force Awakens”).  My wife and daughter absolutely loved the film.  I felt the movie was only good, and I thought I without question got my $9.50 worth.  The new characters, especially Han Solo and Princess Leah’s daughter Rey (played by Daisey Ridley) was a strong female lead character and Ridley had both the acting chops and physicality to put it all together.  The visual effects were also top-rate.  However, I earned the wrath of both wife and daughter when I dared state that I’d felt like I’d seen this movie before, and not once but twice.  To me, there were far too many parallels between this movie (let’s call it #7) and two of the three first Star Wars movies (#4 and #6):

-Otherwise ordinary young adults living mundane lives on an out-of-the-way planet suddenly find themselves in the middle of a war-like conflict with the universe at stake

-These young people discover they have extraordinary powers, which they are unfairly asked to master right now to save their civilization.

– A big round extraordinarily large weapon in the hands of the bad guys is destroyed by a brave ragtag bunch of good-guy young people.

– The older, wizened hero (Han Solo, played again by Harrison Ford),who has already saved the good guys any number of times in his younger days, is called upon again to save the good guys. He succeeds, but in the process is sacrificed by the powerful but cold-hearted bad guys (Obiwan, #4).

-Cute droid is both comic relief and vessel carrying information which is the difference between life and death for the good guys.

It’s exactly the kind of Star Wars movie you would expect the new owner of the franchise (Disney) to deliver:   Lots of action, spectacular effects, true to the canon of the franchise, entertaining, sets up the next sequel and is absolutely licensed to the extreme.  You can purchase hundreds of Star Wars-related stuff, from the common (toys, DVDs) to mascara and diamond jewelry.  What it isn’t:  Innovative, risky, ground-breaking or mind-blowing. Which are the very things that made the first movie in 1977 life-changing for people like me.

In America, we love to think of ourselves as risk-takers and innovators, and tell ourselves we celebrate ground-breakers, mad geniuses, envelope-pushers, rebels.  It all fits a very American image. We celebrate the myth of a person who stands up honestly for what’s right, who bucks the odds bravely fighting the status quo, or authentically shines light on injustice and unfairness.  Mr. Smith goes to Washington.   In reality, however, those who stand up, speak out or dare to be different are more often feared than loved, avoided more than embraced, and just plain a hassle to have around.    Our country is still prosperous enough that if you’ve “got yours”, all you have to do is go with the flow and do things the way they’ve always been done and a reserved seat on the Gravy Train is all yours.

Of course it’s when you understand these realities but STILL insist on taking chances on people and ideas that your seat on the Gravy Train jumps the track.  In the end, I guess, it comes down to whether it’s most important to keep your seat, or worth the risk to try to add more cars on the train even if it means you lose yours in the end.  Over the years I’ve not been one to play it safe.  I’ve pushed envelopes, exceeded expectations, took chances that worked, and took chanced that failed.  I’ve had people believe in me, and I’ve tried to pay forward that belief helping others.  I’ve tried to help others who found themselves on a rough path.   I hit my own rough patches, but instead of getting a helping hand I found my seat had been taken away and my bags and I tossed off the train all together

I was reflecting on all this Monday night, swaying back and forth between anger and disappointment  when I came across the following poem. It was all that was left by former NFL Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III as he cleaned out his locker in Washington for likely the last time.  After a sensational rookie season where he seemed to have it all, RG3 lost his starting job in year 2, and didn’t even dress for games this season. “The Paradoxical Commandments” was written in 1968 by then college student Dr. Kent M. Keith:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you’ll win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

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I read it a second time, then a third.  And I suddenly realized that while the pain, disappointment and anger were real, they weren’t what was important or lasting.  At the end of the day, its about driving past what you perceive as your limits.  It’s about doing something regardless of consequence because its right.  It wasn’t about others, it’s about me and what I believe.  I’m going to build even if others try to tear down.  I’m going to keep helping people the best I can.  I’m going to be frank and honest even if its not popular.  I’m going to champion the underdog, the long shot and the remarkably brilliant because that’s where new greatness come from.  And I’ll continue to think big.

I just saw a TV commercial for another new movie:  “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (I’m not making this up), which somehow combines the renewed interest in the Jane Austin classic and the gravy train that are zombies.  Just checked: from 2001 to 2011 there were nearly 400 zombie movies made…and that’s BEFORE AMC’s top-rated “Walking Dead” series. Profitable?  Could be. Safe? You bet.  Innovative?  Risk-taking?  Revolutionary?  Ha!  JT

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If you’re the type to champion the underdog and his blog, please share it with a friend.  If you’d like to never again miss a post, you can click on “FOLLOW” at the bottom of the blog page.  Go big, or go home!  JT

 

All You Have To Do Is…

Last Saturday, the Melon Mafia gathered in Sanborn County to renew an annual event we call “The Greatest Hits Tour”.  It’s literally a “last blast” pheasant hunt as the New Year begins and the pheasant hunting season ends.  The “Greatest Hits” part refers to walking our favorite hunting spots one more time together before we call it a season.  This year’s GHT did not disappoint.  It was a crisp but pleasant day with lots of sunshine and a minimum of wind.  Some snow drifts were a bit deeper than our old-ish legs would prefer, but we’ve certainly experienced worse.

Hunting in the late season usually means less shooting and more awe-inspiring views of hundreds of pheasant getting up well out of shooting range.  If you’ve never experienced a couple hundred pheasants all taking flight at the same time, you really should.  It’s a sight you’ll never forget.  This year we were able to mix in some excellent shooting opportunities with the usual panorama. True to form, I somehow overcame my embarrassingly poor shooting of the early season to finish with some fancy trick shootin’ and decent success at the end. My motto:  I’d rather be lucky than good.

One of the simple pleasures of chasing pheasants around on a nice day is the ability to forget the world’s problems for a few hours.  I like to think that shutting out the rest of the world and focusing entirely on the moment is one of the characteristics of a great hobby.  It was surprising then that as we gathered at the end of the day for our annual GHT photos, I was hit with some unusually “big thoughts”.   As I looked around at our group of very close family and friends, a question popped into my mind:  If you added them all together, how many firearms does this group own?  I don’t know the exact number, but I’m quite sure if we added them up the total would generate panic strong enough to send  half of New York City running away in a frothy panic fearing for their lives. I also know there are very few places on the globe where any of those millions of total strangers would be safer from gun violence than with us in my brother’s farm yard.

There is one phrase in the English language which can send me running as fast a possible away from  the speaker:  “Well, ALL you have to do to solve this problem is…”  It’s a surprisingly ecumenical phrase, just as likely to come from both the ignorant and the “expert”, and from the earnest and the opportunist.  It permeates the halls of government, the coffee shop, places of worship and what passes for “electronic news” these days.  It comes from both the Right and the Left.  It comes from every race and ethnicity, and from the learned and the uneducated.  Life is complicated.  We don’t live in an “all” or “nothing” world, although there are plenty of hacks, thieves and opportunists who will tell you otherwise. School shootings, racial unrest, poverty, K-12 education, public corruption, etc.  Problems are complex and didn’t become problems overnight. The same goes for solutions.

The New Year brings with it the new session of the South Dakota Legislature.  Our “best and brightest” return to Congress in Washington.  Work is underway crafting the sensational/lurid/scary/fearful stories for the February TV ratings “sweeps”.  Oh, and there’s (ugh) a Presidential campaign and election.  As these and other influential types begin the new year and make choices on how they will use that influence, I humbly suggest the following New Year’s resolutions:

-For those in office or positions of power:  Spend real time and attention with people who DON’T see the world just like you do.  Don’t wait until tragedy visits you or your family to imagine life in someone else’s shoes.  For a moment don’t assume you have all the answers. Be open to the fact that the best answers might come from those who don’t look like you, think like you, or were born in a different country or century. Don’t be anybody’s rubber stamp.  Questions authority, especially if YOU are the authority.  Avoid the temptation to surround yourself with “Yes Men”, and have at least one person in your life who has 100% freedom to call bullshit on you when you have it coming.

-For the rest of us:  Be open to the possibility you don’t have it all figured out.  Be discriminating when choosing your sources for accurate information, whether  in your home town or around the world.  Don’t assume those in positions of power are particularly smarter or better informed that you are, or particularly care about you beyond your ability to give them what they want.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone at least once a month.  If you have the means, travel to a place where you stick out like a sore thumb. If you don’t have the means, travel to a part of town where you stick out like a sore thumb.

Like it or not, we are all flawed, and like it or not we are all in this thing together.  Tell you what:  If you promise to do your best this year, I promise to fight the overwhelming urge and opportunity to be a wise-cracking cynic in 2016 (which is a tall order, because there is a level of twisted fun and endless opportunity being a wise-cracking cynic).  Here’s to us, and here’s to hope for a better year in 2016.

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PS…I’d love you to post your favorite pheasant recipe, and your thoughts on these musings.   I’d also love to have you share this post with others who might find it worthy of a read.  If you find some kind of redeeming quality in these musings, click on “Follow” and they’ll come automatically to your inbox.  I’m also seeking gainful employment, so if you hear of or have an opening from someone of my limited skills, shady experience and questionable fashion sense, please give me a holla.  JT