Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WHILE I CLEANED OUT THE LITTER BOX...

Not so long ago—July 6th, to be precise—I compared the gay dating scene to a litter box filled with cat turds. I declared that I was stepping away from it all. It seemed like the obvious option, a self-policing sort of thing. Step away from the litter box. Comparing dates to cat shit seemed like a clear sign that I was not in a dating mindset. How could anything blossom from manure? (Okay, yeah, the analogy is flawed. This is why I’m not meant to live in a rural setting and proof I’d have sucked as a farmer.) Still, after deep reflection and complex thinking, I’d come to the conclusion that dating is poopy. Time to wash my hands of the whole stinky charade.

But, of course, I didn’t. There was unfinished business.

You see, online dating can be glitchy. Sometimes things get postponed due to technicalities. Like when the guy replying to a message is on vacation in New York City. And as I waited for Daniel to return, I got a message from Jack. With less than a week before my extended summer vacation, I had two coffee dates to get through, two guys to cross off my dance card.

First up was Jack. I knew in an instant that he was a nice guy to the core. It only took a few more minutes for me to realize he was an open book, sharing very personal parts of his life in a natural way that never felt like Too Much Information. He talked with warmth, welcoming me as he would a good friend. Everything was easy.

We left the café and strolled along the seawall. Jack and I didn’t have much in common. I sensed his school teachers would have used the term hyperactive regularly in parent conferences. Jack worked as a bus driver, had no interest in reading for pleasure and talked passionately about his new pastime, skydiving. Where was the connection? There didn’t seem to be one but maybe this was a case of opposites attract. Something felt right.

Early into the walk, Jack said, “I have a confession. As I was looking for parking, I saw you standing there and I thought, please let that be him. I’m so glad it was.” His unguardedness caught me off-guard. He had me. If a heart could melt, mine had instantly become a slush puddle. My legs wobbled. I needed a bench but there was none. Somehow I managed to walk on, outwardly giddy, trying to imagine letting Jack in.

After a half hour, we shared a bench and gazed out at a couple of kayakers on the water. Once again, Jack’s words jolted me. “Yes. I can see us being friends. I’d like that.”

Friends?! I had the wherewithal to say, “Me, too” but I was baffled. Clearly, Jack liked what he saw at first glance. Somehow, through one conversation, I’d blown it. What had I said or done to put us on the let’s-just-be-friends track? Ten minutes later he warmly hugged me and I walked home alone, the whole way asking the unanswerable: What the fuck? I rarely swear, but the f-word fit perfectly in the situation.

I turned my thoughts to Daniel, back from the Big Apple. We met for coffee two days later. As I joined him at the table he’d staked out at a café two blocks from my home, I immediately sensed his attraction. It came off as nervousness, a slight tremor in his voice, eyes darting away. I know more than anyone how difficult dating can be; to my surprise, I was two-for-two with men finding me attractive. How rare. I wondered if this was some sort of full moon phenomenon. Maybe an eclipse. Stars colliding. A distant planet exploding.

This time I was determined not to lose the guy. I fully invested in the conversation. Yes, I’d done the same with Jack, but I kept seeking to know Daniel, never bracing for the “just friends” knockout jab to the gut. I learned that Jack was a university professor, an American quite happy to have found a home in Canada, an avid tennis player and fan, a man well-read. He shared deeply personal facts about his family, the kind of unintended revelation that comes in the natural flow of good conversation. I connected. We clicked.

Fast forward to the present. Almost three months later, Jack and Daniel are both still in the picture. Online dating yielded back-to-back success stories—a friend and a boyfriend. I’d moved back to Vancouver to reconnect with old friends, but my time was been filled by two newbies. It’s affirming that this old dog can still navigate social situations, at least when they are one-one-one.

Still, a change is coming. I’ve always felt that early connections when you’re the new kid in town serve as important introductions but often don’t last. They are convenient but not necessarily long-term fits. One relationship continues to grow; the other has run its course. As summer evolves into fall, one will last, the other will fade. Two-for-two becomes fifty-fifty.  Good people, good odds. But goodbyes are always tough.

Monday, September 28, 2015

CHASING MARY--Final Thoughts

Kids do it easily. They blur fantasy and reality, fact and fiction.

“Let’s be dogs.”

“No, I want to be a cat.”

“Okay, you’re a cat; I’m a dog.”

“ ’K.”

And so for the next five minutes—make that two—they are their favorite pet. Pets that talk between woofs and meows. But then a new idea comes.

“I’m Malibu Barbie.”

“Ew. I’m Superman.”

“Then I’m Batman.”

“You can’t be Batman. You’re a girl. You’re Catwoman.”

“Blech. I’m Robin. Robin can be a boy or girl.”

“ ’K.”

Round two. The imaginative play is fluid. They can revert to earlier rounds. They can have long intermissions for when, say, Superman needs a tissue and a Band-aid. (Perhaps the cape has a defect.) The rounds can go on until there’s a TKO—“Johnny! Dinner!”

Game over.

Maybe next time there will be elephants and Martians. Or ninjas and train engineers hauling fourteen thousand ka-billion jillion boxcars of kryptonite.

“That’s not a real number.”

“It is now.”

“ ‘K.”

To the participants, the play is real. They know an octopus can’t fly and Santa doesn’t make deliveries in August but they go with it. It’s fun. It feels right.

Adults need this, too. I’m not saying we need time to be talking dogs or creepy Martians, but we can gain something from letting down our guard and believing in fantasy. Think of the Sheldons and the Leonards who talk endlessly about comic book characters and ponder the Stars—“-Trek” versus “-Wars”. These people are easy for the rest of us to dismiss. Dungeons & Dragons geeks. But fantasy is healthy. We all need heroes. Gandhi and our grandfather may be the beauty pageant answers, but sometimes we need more. Yes, I’m talking superheroes.

It doesn’t have to be Luke Skywalker or Captain America. It can be Katniss Everdeen. It can be Christian Grey, I suppose. I’ve identified with many fictional characters. Jan Brady. Hermey the Elf. Chandler Bing. Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbes. Many more, no doubt. But Mary Richards is the one fictional character who feels the most real. She is flawed and yet an enduring role model. Even when she comes undone, she seems together. Mary is normalcy in an unpredictable world. And, to me, that is the ultimate. Mary is gosh-golly super.

Our fantasy characters, whoever they may be, help us cope. My Mary may be more realistic in terms of her humanness but who am I to dismiss someone’s connection to Captain Kirk? Find your beacons, caped, polyester space-suited or otherwise. Mine just happens to look amazing in slim-fitting sweaters and bell bottoms.

I am pretty sure I can convince my therapist that I know Mary Richards is not real. I can tell him that she is not a part of me, sitting alongside My Inner Voice. In fact, I’m astute enough to know not to bring up Mary. (Therapists were the play naysayers growing up. They never got past dogs-don’t-fly. We left them in the sandbox alone while we took to the trees as gibbons and those dreadful flying monkeys.) The truth is I can’t part with Mary. She is as real as anyone I know. Just better dressed, friendlier and a reminder that sometimes the best people don’t get exactly what they wish for.

I drove 12,000 during my summer road trip. Chasing Mary was the impetus but her adopted town was not my final destination. I left Minneapolis without buying Mary’s house. (Damn mortgage calculator!) And it’s true that I wilted when the time came to triumphantly toss my hat in the air. The moment wasn’t right. Looking back, it seems that the toss was not meant to be. Minneapolis was Mary’s town, not mine. Truth is, I’m still not sure I’ve found my Minneapolis and I certainly don’t feel I’ve reached the point where I can say with any certainty say that I’m gonna make it after all. I don’t quite know how to handle all the situations that come my way, comic and otherwise.

Still, I’ll keep searching and I’ll keep trying. It’s what Mary would do.

Friday, September 25, 2015

CHASING MARY: Hats Off

I felt so comfortable in Mary’s ’hood. Still, I had another location to explore. The most iconic scene accompanying the “Love Is All Around” theme is the end of the opening credits. Mary spins amongst pedestrians on a busy street and tosses her hat in the air. Naturally, I had to re-enact that. It would be my way to show I was going to make it, too. Just like Mary. (Never mind that she got fired in the series finale.)

If I’d only had a vague inkling of one day following Mary Richards to Minneapolis as I watched original episodes on Saturday nights in the ’70s, the notion stuck with me. After I moved to Los Angeles, I confided in my dear friend Robert (whom I’d meet on Saturday nights in West Hollywood only after I’d watched the latest episode of “The Golden Girls”) that my one true love was Mary Richards. He neither frowned nor flinched. He nodded and then smiled. “Yep. That’s so you.” And after five years of struggling to make it in L.A., I piled all I could in my Honda Accord and drove north to Vancouver. On the day I left, Robert stopped by and dropped off a gift, a black beret. His only words: “You’re gonna make it after all.” My mission was obvious. Once I got to Vancouver, I was to find a busy intersection and throw my cap in the air, a sign of exhilaration, comfort and triumph.

But I didn’t do that. Not right away. I wanted to be true to Mary. I wanted to segue from that shaky Season One lyric, “You might just make it” to the more assured line in subsequent seasons, “You’re gonna make it.” It took a couple of years, but I finally felt ready to toss my hat. I searched through the closet of my fourth apartment since the move back to Canada, but the beret was nowhere to be found. No worries, I thought. I never throw anything away. It would turn up. But it never did.

In the weeks leading up to my road trip to Minneapolis, I began hat shopping. I decided to splurge and pick something that would be my own fashion statement. The problem was that I have never liked hats. They are perfectly fine on other people, but I don’t look good in them. Hair has always been my best asset and covering that up only made all my facial flaws more glaring. Besides, hats make my scalp itchy. And I was reluctant to try one on after spending the entire school year futilely combating a lice epidemic at my school.

Still, I looked. I’d only have to wear the hat for thirty seconds before thrusting it skyward and hoping I wouldn’t make a “Rhoda” fumble. The frugal teachings of my father suddenly made an eighty-dollar expense for a half minute’s wear seem foolish. Instead I dug out a Gap baseball cap from the bottom of a drawer in my closet. Never worn. Denim blue with my first initial front and center. (A little like Mary’s “M” on her apartment wall.) I packed it in my suitcase; it would have to do.

With only two days left of my week-long stay in Minneapolis, I boarded a bus for downtown, cap in hand. I got on the bus, hat in hand. At 7th and Hennepin, I disembarked and then walked the block to the corner where Macy’s is. Much at the intersection was yellow-taped off as construction workers went about doing something. What exactly, I don’t know. They were not my focus.  As I approached, my only thought was, Please don’t let the Mary statue be blocked off. Please don’t let construction come between Mary and me.

I stood at the Macy’s corner, 7th and Nicollet, the corner I’d read online as being the site of the statue of Mary Richards and her hat. I spun around, perhaps like Mary did, only I was trying to spot the statue instead of doing some sort of exhilarating twirl. A Latino man in a neon yellow shirt standing on a Segway asked, “Can I help you find something?” He seemed to be an Information designate.

“I’m looking for the Mary Tyler Moore statue.”

“It’s gone,” he said. “It used to be right here.” He point at a framed square on the pavement. “They took it out last weekend.”

“Nooo!” There was no hiding my disappointment. I stood there clutching my lettered baseball cap, too stunned to move. How could the City of Minneapolis remove it? For how long? Permanently?!

There had been no tourists lurking outside Mary’s house—not on any of my visits there. And now the statue was gone. Had Minneapolitans finally turned their backs on America’s sweetheart, Mary Richards? Did “The Mary Tyler Moore” show mean nothing anymore? Is this why I could no longer find it in syndication? Who the hell decided that “Hogan’s Heroes” and “The Andy Griffith Show” were still relevant, but Mary wasn’t? The statue had to be here. I slowly 360ed once more. Alas, my search turned up nothing.

The man sensed by confusion. My head looked down again at the framed square on the pavement as if the statue would suddenly reappear. If I only I could have twitched my nose like Samantha on “Bewitched” or crossed my arms and blinked like Barbara Eden on “I Dream of Jeannie”. I was a pathetic curiosity. Mr. Bearer of Bad News did his best to show empathy. “A guy showed up as they were removing it. He came from Baltimore. They stopped so he could have his picture taken.”

“I came from Vancouver,” I said. And the man, for whom Mary Richards meant absolutely nothing, stayed by my side. He could see the devastation. He gave me a map of downtown with a number to call. “Maybe they can give you some information,” he said.

I couldn’t think clearly. Pedestrians passed, coming and going from all directions. I knew this man would take a picture of me throwing my cap in the air. All I had to do was ask. This was the same corner. The statue wasn’t part of the show. It didn’t matter. But somehow it did. It represented Mary Richards’ place in pop culture and her ongoing association with this city in Minnesota despite the fact the show was filmed in L.A.

I didn’t ask for a photo. I felt silly. Like Linus waiting for The Great Pumpkin, I was the only one who believed. I walked away, still stunned, not knowing what to do. I turned back and went into Macy’s. A shabby Macy’s it seemed, but perhaps the warm glow I’d gained visiting this city was gone, everything now tarnished. I wandered on the second floor where the menswear was and drifted across skybridge after skybridge into other buildings. There was nothing to do. I had hoped there would be a shopping experience calling to me, helping soothe my sense of loss.

F
or a while, I stood in the building across the street and looked up at Basil’s Restaurant, another site in the opening credits. I snapped a picture and told myself to go up. Get a coffee or something. But I’d lost interest. The City had lost interest in Mary Richards. Why should I care about Basil’s? Finally I found the elevator in the Marquette Hotel and pressed the third floor button for the restaurant. I stood where the host or maitre-d would assume his place but no one was there. I settled for a selfie and took the elevator down again.

I made it back to the corner of 7th and Nicollet. The Information guy was gone. I felt stupid holding my cap. Was it always this crumpled? People continued to stream by. I tried to muster up the will to try the hat toss. Without the statue near me, there was nothing I could point to in order to explain the odd behavior of repeatedly tossing a baseball cap in trying to capture a bizarre selfie. I lost any courage to ask someone to take my picture. I thought of just throwing the cap without a photo. It suddenly seemed complicated. I’d lost the will. I walked back toward Hennepin, ready to catch the next bus.

I felt empty and I wondered, What would Mary do? A silly question. A fictional personality, one that meant nothing anymore to her adopted city. Instead, I went with the old standby of What would I, James, do?

I got off the bus a block early and ordered a double scoop of ice cream—chocolate mint and raspberry chocolate chip—at Sebastian Joe’s, a signature spot in the city since the mid-80s. It still had its status. For now, at least.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CHASING MARY--Everywhere that Mary Went

This is yet another post from my summer road trip to Minneapolis, the old stomping grounds of Mary Richards from TV's "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".


I’ll admit I drove by Mary’s house more than once. Even biked by it. Wherever I wanted to go in Minneapolis, the house became part of my meandering scenic route to get there. I imagined Mary Richards in the neighborhood. Based on the opening and closing credits for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, everything made sense.

In the closing credits, for example, we see Mary with a grocery bag, following behind a line of schoolchildren. Well, Kenwood School was only a few blocks from the house. (A school! What are the chances?!) There’s also an image in the closing credits of Mary feeding ducks by a lake. Lake of the Isles was but a short walk from “home”. No ducks. But I saw the fowl at other Minneapolis lakes. Apparently, they’d moved on after Mary stopped feeding them.

I also found a charming block by the school with a quaint bookstore and a restaurant. Neither image appeared in the show’s opening or closing, but I felt certain these were regular stops for Mary. She’d have gone to Birch Bark, picking up books to read when there was no second date, after Rhoda had moved back to New York and Phyllis was busy attending to Lars.
Mary would have gone to The Kenwood on a few dates.  She’d have gotten the gulf shrimp with saffron risotto and sofrito—she’d ordered shrimp cocktail in one TV episode—or the healthy-sounding grilled chicken breast with chilled spring vegetables dressed in tahini. Mary Richards had a figure to watch, after all. I am certain Mary would have passed on the duck liver pate. Not the creatures she hand-fed by the lake!

Yes, this was Mary’s neighborhood. The fictitious Ms. Richards felt more real than ever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CHASING MARY--Two Million Short

When people asked about my summer plans and I mentioned spending a week in Minneapolis, most just nodded. The equivalent to “Hmm” or “I got nothing.” What do you say about Minneapolis? One or two dared to probe further: “Why Minneapolis?”

It would have been easy if I’d just said I had relatives there. Some second cousin, once removed. I’ve never understood the whole cousin removal business but it sounds like something real. People visit family all the time and, if I want to connect with some removed relatives, it sounds like a noble thing to do.

Of course I don’t have a second cousin, removed or otherwise, in Minneapolis or St. Paul or anywhere else in Minnesota. The cousin isn’t real. I’d be lying.

Never mind that the person I was searching for in Minneapolis wasn’t real either. Mary Richards is far more than any made up cousin. Still, I was sane enough not to mention Mary. I didn’t tell this to nosy friends and I certainly didn’t share this when crossing the U.S. border. No guns, no Canadian apricots, no hopes of connecting with a TV character. Instead, I volunteered some sort of babble like, “Minneapolis is supposed to be a progressive, healthy, bike crazy city. And someone once told me it’s the most Canadian city in the U.S., whatever that means. I’ve never been to Minnesota so…why not?”

Good enough.

I will admit that a part of me questioned the other part of me. What the hell is with you and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”? If you had to go on some trek to follow a TV show, why couldn’t it have been “Hawaii Five-0” or “Miami Vice” or “Downton Abbey”? Alas, the mind likes what it likes. So, yeah, Minneapolis.

As I had a week in the city, I decided to pace myself in pursuing Mary. Sure, I’d stumbled upon her neighborhood grocery store within hours of arriving, but the rest could wait. On my first full day, I did the kinds of things I’d do in any city. I explored art and ice cream. I walked in the local parks. I jogged around another lake. All good. All completely Mary-free. Proof that I still had some sanity.

By Day 2, I was ready. I needed to find Mary’s apartment or at least the large home that served as the exterior shot to show viewers a switch in setting from Mary’s work in the newsroom at WJM to the building where Mary and Rhoda and Phyllis (and Bess) lived. Before Rhoda left for New York and Phyllis (and Bess) headed for San Francisco.

Based on my research, I’d found an article from 2013 indicating that the house used in exterior shots as Mary Richards’ building was for sale. To my surprise, the house was still listed. Reduced! Only $1,995,000! For a good twenty-five seconds, I imagined buying it. I could be the owner of Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis’ home! Never mind the long immigration process. Never mind my complete lack of finances. It was a fleeting fantasy. The technicalities were insurmountable. I’d have to settle with just seeing the place like every other tourist.

And so I Google Mapped it. Or maybe I Mapquested it. (Which is better? I can never decide.) We were practically neighbors! I was only 1.4 miles away. Google Maps (or Mapquest) estimated it would be a twenty-two-minute walk or six-minute drive. Of course I drove. I was too excited. With only a few blocks to go, I was delayed by a construction zone. Then, I got stuck behind an elderly driver making a right hand turn at five miles an hour, maybe less. Everything seemed to move in slow motion when I felt such an urgency. Isn’t that always the case?

At last, I reached the intersection, 21st and Kenwood Parkway. I knew the house. Right on the corner.

And to my astonishment, parking was easy. There were no cars parked on either side of either street. There was no crowded jockeying for the best selfies. In fact, there was no one at all.

How could this be? The house had been so Google-able. Anyone could find it. And yet there I was standing across the street, alone, suddenly feeling dopey. I’d driven all this way from Vancouver to see this house. The place where Mary lived.

Being stunned gave way to feeling giddy. Mary’s house! I clicked away, getting shots from every possible angle. A ten-year-old boy passed, frowning at me as his golden retriever pulled him onward. Poor kid. He would know nothing of Mary Richards. Must’ve thought I was some random buyer, looking at a home with a price tag that was supposed to keep riffraff like me away.

There was a moment where I felt my eyes well up. I’d always wanted to connect with Mary. Here I was right outside her apartment. I knew from the real estate photos that the inside looked nothing like Mary’s apartment. No sunken living room. No “M” on the wall. It didn’t matter. For whatever reason, I’d always felt a connection with Mary Richards and I’d finally made the pilgrimage to her home. No more “some days”; I’d done it.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

CHASING MARY: Even When I Don't Know It

You’d think since Mary Richards was my main reason for going to Minneapolis that I’d have planned everything out before arriving—where to stay, what to see.

But I’m not a planner. Planning is impractical. If and when I plan, I go astray almost immediately.

Six months ago, I’d Googled some Minneapolis sites that linked with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” opening and closing theme sequences, pasted the info to a Word document and saved it on my laptop. I never referred to this information when booking accommodation. I figured I had a car and, if I could invest four days driving to the city, it certainly wouldn’t be a big issue if all the key locations wound up on the other side of town.
So it stunned me when I woke up to my first full day in Minneapolis, consulted my laptop and discovered that the grocery store I’d gone to the night before, Kowalski’s, was the place where Mary shopped and reacted to the price of a meat cutlet. Of all the grocery stores in Minneapolis, I’d inadvertently gone where Mary went! (Sorry, Mar-, as a vegetarian, there are limits to what I’ll replicate. I passed on the meat and contented myself with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Cracker Greek frozen yogurt, a more diet-conscious indulgence than Chunky Monkey ice cream. Mary would approve.)   

More than thirty-eight years after “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air I found myself hot on the trail of Mary Richards. You might say I was stalking her. And, lucky for me, fictional characters cannot get restraining orders.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

CHASING MARY--Finding My Legs in Minneapolis

Four days.

Well, four days and forty-three years. That’s how long it takes to get to Minneapolis. Mary Richards’ home. I will restate that I know she’s not real. Let her be my icon. Let this be my ComicCon.

If I went with the “facts” of the show, Mary would be 75 now. (Indeed, the woman who played her, Mary Tyler Moore, is 78.) But time is suspended in TV Land. Let Mary Richards forever be thirtysomething. (I'm blocking out that TV movie, “Mary and Rhoda” filmed in 2000, wherein we learn Mary is a widow living in New York City. Not part of the series; doesn’t count.)

Just as Mary was welcomed and shown an upper floor apartment during the pilot episode, I was greeted by Peter, my Airbnb host and ushered upstairs to the room where I’d be staying for the next week. There was no Rhoda vying for the same space; instead, there was a smoky gray cat curled up in the middle of the bed. Low purr translation: I called dibs.

“She’s friendly,” Peter said. Great. I’m not a cat guy. I just smiled politely and nodded. This was a mistake. A week in a stranger’s house. With a territorial cat. And there was that thing about Mary not being real.

Reality is overrated.

I hadn’t planned it, but the character home where I was staying resembled the place where Mary supposedly lived. Smaller, but the same style. I wasn’t trying to mimic Mary’s living arrangement. Didn’t even give it a thought. Booking a place in my price range had been tricky. One Airbnb host rejected me as my week-long stay dug into two Saturdays, prime booking days. I was just relieved to have a place that was affordable, at least before computing the costs in relation to my weakling Canadian dollar. Shrug. I’d live in denial until returning to Vancouver.

I set my things in the closet, away from the cat, and decided my Mary tour could wait. It was Saturday evening and my road weary legs needed a jog.

There is nothing like discovering a new place on foot. I make a point of jogging ASAP whenever I’m in a new city. Sometimes I can’t find my way back as my routes meander from Ooh-look-at-that to I-wonder-what’s-over-there, but getting lost is part of the adventure. I headed north—or, at least, that’s the direction I assumed I was going; I have a faulty internal compass—and assumed I’d soon come to one of the bike paths for which Minneapolis is known. I’d jogged less than ten minutes—really, five minutes of jogging and four minutes of waiting through red lights—when I stumbled on the other reason I’d come to Minneapolis. (It’s the reason I gave to my friends about my summer destination. Some people, I reasoned, might be a tad judgy about a Mary Richards pilgrimage.) Several months ago, I’d read about an international Pop Art exhibit at the Walker and I was eager to expand my conception of this movement beyond Warhol and Lichtenstein.

How fortuitous that the Walker was within walking distance of my temporary home! Even better, I stumbled upon an outdoor sculpture garden associated with the museum. I flitted from oversized “Spoonbridge and Cherry” to “Bronze Woman IV” to “Hare on Bell on Portland Stone Piers”, my jogging pace severely compromised but my heart rate increasing rapidly. Good public art makes you laugh, scrunch up your nose, tilt your head for a different perspective and/or want to go back for another look. Let’s just say I found the Walker’s sculpture garden very, very good!

I managed to move on and just a few blocks away found some wonderful cycling/jogging trails that took me around Cedar Lake. This is the place of 10,000 lakes—one down 9,999 to go!

I wound down again on the grounds around the Walker Art Museum. Away from the rest of the sculptures, three large boulders were arranged in a cluster, each of them partially coated in colorful metallic paint. Three men approached me to ask about the Walker building. “We are visiting from India,” they said. “What is that?”

What are the odds? It was the only question about the city that I could correctly answer. Then one of them asked about the big rocks. “Is that a grave? Did someone die there?” Okay, two questions, two bang-on answers. It seems I was an established Minneapolitan. That song from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” played in my head once again: “You’re gonna make it after all.”

And as the men went their way and I went mine—yes, in the right direction “home”—I looked up at the cloudy sky. There was one small clearing, and in that space of relative blue, my official welcome. Though it hadn’t rained, there was the band of a rainbow. The long trip, through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and a good chunk of Minnesota, was all worth it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

CHASING MARY--Hangin' with the Girls

It’s a stereotype that the gays love their groups of TV women. I suppose the current ones to watch on the tube are the Real Housewives of Orange County/New York City/Atlanta/New Jersey/Washington, D.C./Beverly Hills/Miami. Egad. I haven’t seen a single episode of any of these. And I’m glad. I might never leave the house.

Long before the Real Housewives, we had Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie. It was entirely normal for gay men to sit around asking each other who they were most like. (FYI, friends said I was Charlotte, yet I liked to think of myself as Miranda.) And before “Sex and the City” there was “The Golden Girls”. (I was more Rose than I wanted to admit. West Hollywood made me feel a long, long way from St. Olaf.) I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my personal favorites, "Designing Women".

But the original girl gang debuted on CBS on September 19, 1970 as Phyllis Lindstrom ushered Mary Richards into a studio apartment that Rhoda Morgenstern had called dibs on. There were iconic male characters on the show as well—Lou Grant, Ted Baxter, Murray Slaughter—but the show was groundbreaking for its women. It is a testament to these strong characters (and the spinoff nature of the ‘70s) that Rhoda and Phyllis drifted to their own shows. Sue Ann Nivens and Georgette Franklin kept the estrogen levels high. (One might make the argument that Sue Ann inspired Blanche Devereaux who evolved into Samantha Jones and Georgette was the model for Rose Nylund who evolved into Charlotte York. Mary Richards herself may have been the forerunner to Dorothy Zbornak and Carrie Bradshaw.)  

Mary was thirty and single. Thirty! Single! Shocking for the time. It’s not that she was anti-marriage. Quite the contrary. As we hear from Phyllis, Mary had just ended a relationship with a guy after “two long years”. No proposal in sight.

Mary’s status never changed over the course of the show. Here was a beautiful, personable, fashionable, successful woman going it alone, not out of some overt feminist stance, but due to the fact she had no other choice. She was the ultimate single lady. And so how fitting that the first song I heard—I swear!—as I crossed over from North Dakota to Minnesota should be “Single Ladies” by Beyonce. For three minutes, it made my four-day journey to Minneapolis seem entirely logical.

Assuming, of course, you buy into that notion that gays align with their single gal pals. Fictional ones, no less. Many times I questioned myself as I drove through Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Montana and North Dakota. Why travel so far to the fruitless dating grounds of TV’s original Single Lady? I can envision Mary Richards in a turtleneck sweater and bell-bottomed slacks shrugging her shoulders and saying, “Why not?”

Yes, why not.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

CHASING MARY...and Dodging Deer

I’m convinced Mary Richards killed a deer. Or maybe a possum. Are possums indigenous to Minnesota? Deer are. Or were. I know this from the drive to Minneapolis. It’s like something changed right after crossing the border from North Dakota to Minnesota. Suddenly I was immersed in roadkill.

I do my best to avert my eyes. After four days on the road, too much imagery of animal carnage can paralyze me. It happened on a cross-Canada trip I took several years ago. It’s why I don’t drive between dusk and dawn. Too risky. A car’s headlights must be as blinding as stage lights to a creature accustomed to prowling in darkness. An animal doesn’t stand a chance when faced with a light source that’s traveling 75 miles an hour. Especially when that source is a semi.

But even Mary in her Mustang, driving a tad under the speed limit in broad daylight, would have posed great danger to deer. She was probably distracted after her breakup. Any delay in braking or swerving and a deer goes down. Even a swerve can prove fatal if animal and driver react in the same direction. So, yeah, I’d want to inspect Mary’s fender. No free pass for America’s sweetheart.

It’s true that I made it without downing a deer. Maybe Mary managed, too. Maybe all the wildlife kept her alert and distracted her from the schmuck who couldn’t commit. (To Mary Richards, for gosh sake!) Maybe she had a special connection with animals. It’s not a stretch to compare her with Snow White. Not a stretch for me anyway. So let’s cross our fingers and at least make believe no deer suffered despite all that roadside evidence to the contrary.

There was other inevitable carnage. My windshield revealed a relentless siege from the sky. The splatter marks showed that the air raids were foolhardy but there was no cease-fire. It took driving in Minnesota for me to realize my new car had never been stocked with windshield wiper fluid. (Or maybe I was pressing all the wrong buttons.) I had to squint through a drying Jackson Pollock canvas, exploding insects standing in for paint. My photos, trying to emulate Mary’s drive to Minneapolis, as seen in the familiar opening of each “Mary Tyler Moore Show” episode, have cloudy spots in the frame. Nothing wrong with my phone cam lens. Just a mix of bug splatter and bird poop. Maybe even bird splatter. There was one rather noisy splotch. Hummingbird? Sparrow? Perhaps a Minnesota mosquito.

I drove on, wracked with guilt. I tried to console myself. No deer suffered on my account. I feel good about that. Relieved, at least. But I arrived in Minneapolis a mass murderer.

Just like Mary Richards.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

CHASING MARY--The Good with the Bad(lands)

Who knew that North Dakota would be such a welcome sight?! A mere half hour into my introduction to the state on I-94, I pulled into Painted Canyon Visitor Center and tried to ignore the heat as I jumped out of my car to take in the three-dimensional wonders in the canyon. For as far as I could see, buttes and mesas popped up from the canyon below. My phone camera failed to capture the 3-D spectacle; instead, the images collapsed in the lens, creating one sweeping, “flat” mass of browns, rusts and dark greens.

Sometimes you have to put the damn iPhone away. Sometimes you have to forget about your next Facebook or Instagram post and just experience your surroundings.

This is the kind of view I would expect farther south in New Mexico. As I’d done no research, this southern portion of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a glorious surprise. I was grateful I hadn’t pre-Googled my journey. The sense of wonder is exponentially greater when making such an unexpected “discovery”.

I retreated into the visitor center to take shelter from the heat and the midday sun and then noticed a path at an opening in the protective fencing. I dashed back to the car and undertook the ordeal of swathing myself in sunscreen. A trail trek awaited. The sign at the top indicated it was a one-mile loop and casually mentioned to let the bison be, should I encounter any. They can be dangerous. Hmm. Dangerous in what way? From the tourist lookout, all seemed quiet in the canyon but the sign and its lack of specificity alarmed me. Immediately I imagined a massive herd. Would they trample me? Gore me? Snack on me? Could they be hiding amongst sagebrush, waiting for a feast of Canadian bacon?

Would they come from behind? What sound does a bison make? Moo? Neigh? Did buffalo ever live in Buffalo? Clearly, I was unprepared. And unfocused.

I decided to push my lucky streak. I’d avoided Montana rattlers and couldn’t recall any gored-by-bison stories on Yahoo (that supremely reputable news source). The hike was on.

There is no suspense. Clearly I lived. No bison encounter. I did, however, suffer a mosquito bite to the neck. Very, very unpleasant.

During the first five minutes on the meandering path down the canyon, I came across two small groups ascending. Then, no one. The canyon was all mine to experience. It wasn’t long before the tourists lining the wooden fence above faded from view. How strange that they should be satisfied with their road stop selfies and rumble on. They’d driven for hours—likely, days—and still they hadn’t experienced the badlands at all. What a waste.

I took in the terrain as mesas seemed to change in perspective with each footstep. The hues subtly mutated as the intensity of the sun varied. I lingered on the canyon floor just as cloud cover offered needed shade. I mused as a couple of clouds hovered over a butte, offering a mirror image. So much to be gained when slowing down and letting nature speak.

Eventually, I hoofed it back up, more aware of the heat as a layer of sweat shellacked my skin and soaked my t-shirt. Sunscreen sweated into my eyes. (Always hate that.) I shifted my thinking to an air conditioned car and recalculated my E.T.A. for Bismarck, the resting stop on Mary’s Eve. I imagined returning here some summer, exploring the badlands further on a camping trip led by a bison-wary travel guide with the last name Doolittle.

Yes, next time. Isn’t that what we tell ourselves? “Next time” gives us permission to leave a place we shouldn’t. At least, not so soon. But the badlands were never the destination. An extraordinary pit stop, for sure. If not for Mary Richards, I’d have never had this experience. Alas, I cannot think of a circumstance that will bring me back to North Dakota.

“Next time” can be such a comedown.

Friday, September 4, 2015

CHASING MARY--Navigational Challenges

This summer seemed like the perfect opportunity for a road trip. My trusty old Civic feebly sputtered its way back from Seattle in early June but, alas, was DBA (Dead Before Arrival). I got it towed to a Richmond, B.C. car repair parking lot at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night and said my goodbyes to the vehicle that endured the upholstery beating from two miniature schnauzers, massive, untreated windshield cracks that mysteriously appeared during a café writing session two Olympics ago and severe tune-up neglect from a car owner whose obvious ignorance about all-things-auto always resulted in a trumped up repair bills.

I am convinced the Civic sensed I was giving Google-eyed glances at other cars. It must have known I’d visited a dealer. I’d even another vehicle for a test drive. Hell, I’d fully set my mind to getting a new car. The Civic died two days before I’d planned to trade it in. It would have been sooner but I’d spent three weeks waffling over the color of my next pretty new thing. That color indecision and the Civic’s keen senses about my wandering eye cost me dearly: a towing, a needless diagnostic assessment on repair costs ($8-10,000!) and no trade-in.

Life happens.

I shrugged off the bad timing and bought my Mini Cooper. British Racing Green (which sounds like a Benjamin Moore-rejected name for dark green). It suits the new downsized me. In April, I went from 2,000 square foot house to postage stamp condo. So long sedan; I’ve now got a car that can toot about alongside Little Jimmy’s Big Wheel.

The funny thing is that now that I’m back in Vancouver, I don’t actually need a car. I walk most places and take the bus or Skytrain when my foot blisters get fussy. But that’s where the road trip thing came in. I couldn’t let my shiny new toy sit in a parking garage.

I should have gotten a GPS system when I bought the car, but I’m not a gadget guy. Besides, I don’t like humanoids becoming my travel companion. I might fall in love if I choose a male Aussie voice. (That’s what happened to Joaquin Phoenix, isn’t it?)

Unfortunately, two days into my trip to Minneapolis, I lost all sense of direction. Each evening, I Google-mapped and Mapquested my next day’s route and somehow I’d get all turned around when I neared my stopping point for the night. Billings proved to be the worst. Having driven from Spokane and been spooked by rattlesnake warnings and a severe storm in Butte (complete with radio-interrupted warnings), I was thrilled to see the miles to Billings slim down on road signs. I took my Google Map exit and spun around and around on a series of overpasses, eventually stopping after fifteen minutes of searching for a hotel that was supposed to be three minutes from the freeway exit.

I consulted apps on my phone. First, I couldn’t get any connectivity. Then the trusty app stated it could not locate my whereabouts. I drove a little more through an industrial area and typed in the nearest cross streets. Still no recognition. I was in Billings hell. UnMapquest worthy. After several relocations, the app coughed up a lengthy series of directions. No “lefts” or “rights”, only norths, souths, easts and wests.

Not helpful. My inner compass has never worked and now I was further turned around. I guessed and, yes, guessed wrong. I should learn to go against my instincts, but I keep thinking I’ll guess right one day. It’s that faulty logic that makes me a lottery donor, too.

Sixty-seven minutes after pulling off the highway, I rolled into the hotel parking lot, in the thick of an urban nowhere with a “park” across the street, otherwise known as an abandoned, fenced in lot with untamed grass, a wildlife refuge no doubt to hundreds of rats. I skipped going out for dinner, too worried I would never make it back. Instead, I sat on the hotel bed and finished off my snack box of Triscuits while looking out the window at the unobstructed view of a tractor parts parking lot. Needless to say, I turned in early.

I realize that I need to buy a GPS system…or at least buy a collection of road maps. (Remember those massive paper things that rip in the creases and never fold back into their original state?) But Billings shall bear the brunt of my directionally-challenged frustration.

Sorry, Billings. I’ll always hate you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

CHASING MARY--Ignoring the Warning SIgns

The long road to the home of Mary Richards continues in this third post. I was in unfamiliar territory and, traveling solo, my mind was susceptible to odd detours.


Montana alone was enough to make me question the journey. Fourth largest state in terms of area. I hadn’t known. I hadn’t had reason to know. But Montana was getting monotonous. And then there was that odd sign at a rest area:

 

Well, that got me…rattled. How did the State of Montana train wild rattlesnakes to stay off the sidewalks? Was this accord still in effect? And why did the sign maker forego punctuation? (Personally, I’d have peppered it with exclamation marks.)

The sign seemed like a sign: Turn back now.

She’s not real. You’re driving four days to recall a theme song on YouTube.

But I was already many hours into Montana and I had no yearning to revisit what I’d already plowed through. Out of nowhere a minor John Denver song about the Wild Montana Skies popped in my head and cheered me on.

Surely there’d be no snake in the toilet when I checked into my hotel outside Billings. (There wasn’t. And you can bet I checked.)
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

CHASING MARY--First, Another Mary

This is part two in a series of posts about my quest to connect with my all-time favorite fictional character, Mary Richards from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show".


It’s a long, long way to Mary-land. Especially when my route requires a pit stop on the Oregon Coast first. It was summer, after all, and I figured the beaches along the Pacific might outshine any in Minneapolis. Just a hunch. Besides, going straight from Vancouver would have been too logical. This journey was about following whims and whimsy.  

Once I’d finished a seemingly obligatory cheese stop and an exploration of the coastal scenery in Oregon, I headed for Minneapolis. Still, Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota stood between Mary Richards and me.

For the first day of the trek, I planned a road stop in the middle of nowhere: Maryhill, Washington. How “nowhere” is Maryhill? As I one leaves the area, there is a sign indicating the next gas station is 82 miles away. Not that one can fill up in Maryhill. It is barely a blip, described on Wikipedia as a “census-designated place (CDP)”, population 98. (I think someone’s counting sheep.)

My obsession with Mary did not lead me there. The name is a mere coincidence. Maryhill is not the sort of place for a cosmopolitan Ms. Richards.

So why Maryhill? Its existence can be attributed to two sites: a winery and an art museum. (There’s also a Stonehenge replica, but it fails to contribute to the population. It’s about dead people, a memorial for World War I soldiers. Yes, folks, Stonehenge in Washington state. And, yes, I stopped there too for practical reasons. It’s a lot closer than England.)

I passed on the wine as I am far from a connoisseur. (I recall from another ‘70s show, “Laverne & Shirley” that one must “sip, swirl, suck, swallow.” No thanks. I’ll stick with coffee, especially on a long road trip.) Art was the main draw. Amidst desert heat and strong winds in this barren land high above the Columbia River, a fellow by the name of Sam Hill built what was to be his home. Presumably he named the area for his wife, Mary Hill Hill—yes, her maiden name matched his. She had no interest in the far, far out of the way mansion and chose to remain in—get ready for a Mary Richards connection after all—Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Good on you, Mary Hill Hill!

I first learned of the Maryhill Museum of Art a couple of years ago in Sunset magazine. This is not your typical off the beaten path museum, filled with fishing rods of the area’s founder and his son’s comic book collection. No, Sam Hill connected with Loie Fuller who in turn connected with Auguste Rodin. Oui, that Rodin. A collection of Rodin sculptures in remote Washington? I had to see it.

Normally, I’m not one-track minded when I go to an art museum. But I’d driven an awfully long way to see Rodin sculptures and I wasn’t having any of the ornate gold plates from Romania, the dolls dressed in early twentieth century Parisian fashion or the wood-cut naturalist paintings on exhibit. Might as well have been fishing poles. Show me Rodin!

Strangely, I found nary a sculpture on the first or second floor. I questioned how well I’d read that one-column magazine article. Had it been a touring exhibit? As I glimpsed a window showcasing some of the collection not technically on display, I wondered if Rodin was on vacation—some prominent exhibit in some place more logical…like Marseilles or Lyon. I did not want to appear shallow as an art patron, blatantly skipping over room after room, but I began to lose it as I viewed impressively beaded moccasins in a display case in the museum’s basement. I’d reached the end of the tour, covered the entire space.

But thankfully my sense of direction constantly fails me. I thought I was headed back upstairs only to discover one more wing in the basement. One large open room filled entirely with sculptures, sketches and watercolors by Auguste Rodin!

I hadn’t realized that modern sculptors create molds and often prepare plaster and bronze versions of any “one” piece. For instance, there are twenty-eight bronze castings of Rodin’s “The Thinker”. The Maryhill has a smaller plaster version of the iconic sculpture. It sits there just, you know, thinking. Out of all the museums in the world, how did I end up here? It is a decent museum actually and I’m so glad popped in. Still, I’ll continue to scratch my head as to why its Thinker and eighty-six other sculptures and sketches by Rodin got relegated to the back room of the basement.

Mary’s hill made for a lovely side show. After a briefer pit stop to take in the American Stonehenge, I continued on the meandering road, still days away from Mary Richards and the sites of Minneapolis.