Category Archives: Life

You know, life.


hairThe barber shop my dad took me to when I was growing up in Moorhead was downtown. It was one of those witch hazel smelling bastions of maleness that are becoming extinct these days, complete with a magazine selection that included Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, Sport, and Esquire, which in my 10 year old brain was practically pornographic. A few blocks from the river, between the bridges, next to the railroad tracks. Google Earth tells me it’s a travel agency or a coffee shop now. The shop had three chairs. I can remember the guy on the right and the guy in the middle, but I can’s summon up the third barber in my mind. The guy in the middle stands out in my memory because he had bright red, actually orange, hair and pale blue eyes. I thought he was a pretty cool guy, if fact they all had a knack with kids and a trip to the barbershop was a treat in my mind. When I was about 12 years old the redhead had a mild stroke. His chair sat empty for a couple of months and then he came back to work. As I remember it he had some barely noticeable impairments of motion and speech, but seemed to be well recovered.

We never made an appointment, it was a walk-in arrangement and you took the barber that had the first open chair. After Red returned, my parents decided he had lost his touch and was giving bad haircuts. They instructed me to request one of the other barbers. I was an empathetic lad, I could not bear the thought of rejecting the guy simply because he’d been slightly impaired by his health. But I was also an obedient child and so I was torn between following my parents instructions and hurting the feelings of a redheaded barber. I chose the barber and got the bad haircut. I don’t know how bad it could have been though, I think my hairstyle in those days was a military buzz.

The other memory I have of my youthful haircuts was when one of the barbers remarked how thick my hair was. “You’ll never have to worry about going bald.” he said. Now I’ve always thought that guys freaking out about losing their hair was laughably vain. The comb overs, the god-awful rugs and the industry of hair replacement quackery were easy targets for mockery. I certainly would face impending baldness with equanimity. But that was a comfortable outlook to have considering the tonsorial augury of my youth. But the profit was false! I’ve been shocked lately at how thin my hair is getting, how much scalp is showing through on top. And even more shocked at the anxiety it’s causing. I fret in front of the mirror, twisting myself into odd postures to try to assess the losses on top of my head. I try to comb my hair in a manner that conceals takes attention away from my expanding forehead. I lay awake at night wondering what I’d look like with a shaved head. An aging Walter White? I ponder why I’m losing hair on top of my head and it’s growing like never before in my nose and ears. And I whine to my wife about the encroaching cataclysm. Talk about your First World problems.

This is how bad it is. I just discovered that a side effect of one of the meds I take for Crohn’s disease is hair loss. Never mind that one of the ingredients is a potential carcinogen, this is a real problem. I’ve actually considered quitting taking them. Now that’s what I call vanity.



I have Crohn’s disease. I take pills. Twelve a day. Really expensive pills. Thank God for insurance. Specifically, I take Asacol, which is Mesalamine wrapped up in a plastic tablet that’s designed to keep it from releasing the good stuff before it gets to the target area in my poop pipe. It works, kind of. I have long periods of remission punctuated by some very long periods of, let’s just say, discomfort. When that happens I get to take a course of Prednisone , which is similar to making a pact with the devil. Fortunately I’ve been in a fairly long period of remission (knock wood) I think partially due to some diet changes and some supplements that my doctor probably would view as the product of witchcraft, but that’s another story.

This story is about some flat out weirdness in the world of pharmaceuticals. Recently I got a letter from my mail order pharmacy telling me that the FDA was taking Asacol off the market and that I should contact my doc to get a substitute prescription, some alternative that the name of which I can’t remember. Naturally I went right to Google to find out the reason for the ban. It turns out that the coating on the tablets contains Dibutyl Phthalate. It’s a plasticizer. It’s used in nail polish as a solvent of dyes and to prevent the polish from becoming brittle. There’s a lot of controversy about it getting into to environment. And I’ve been putting it in my body on a regular basis FOR YEARS.

So I call the doc and inform them of the situation, which they seemed to be vaguely aware of. They agreed to give me a new prescription. When I saw the prescription I was shocked to see that rather than the alternative medication, it was for 400 mg Asacol tablets, six a day. So same dosage, just bigger pills. At first I thought that the 400s had a different coating, but some research quickly revealed that wasn’t the case. The FDA banned the 200 mg pills and not the 400 mg. WTF?!?

6296890907_abb66440a3Now I realize that taking the bigger pills means I get more bang for my DBP buck (math wizards out there, I’d love to see how one calculates this ratio) but in my mind, poison is poison. The stuff is associated with some forms of cancer, two headed frogs, obesity and the galloping never-get-overs. On the flip side, the research isn’t conclusive and the dose I’m taking is so small that it might kill me in fifty years. Plus the drug itself, contributes to hair loss. Now that’s something to worry about.

Given all that and the fact that I’ve been doing really well since I started taking magic potions from the patent medicine quacks, I quit taking the stuff this week. That lasted a couple of days and then I started feeling the tell tale cramps in my gut that sometimes warn of an approaching flare up. I’m back on it. On the advice of Dr. Faustus.

I have , although, stopped drinking Becky’s nail polish.

I’m that guy.

bkgrnd color fill (linear burn) background copy (darken)Recently, Becky and I were out for a walk around the neighborhood when we got into a conversation with one of the neighbors who was out in his yard. They have one of those Dutch Colonial houses that are reminiscent of a barn and were in the midst of putting on new red siding. Becky had given the color selection a minor eye-roll, but I thought it was a big improvement over the faded blue that came before. We stopped to introduce ourselves and I complimented him on the new look. I mentioned that someone had told me he was a musician and we talked about that a bit, it turns out he plays the vibraphone and teaches a McPhail, so he’s got some serious cred.

He asked where we lived and I gave him my standard answer, if you are driving north on Zealand and cross 40th you will hit my house. It didn’t seem like that painted a crystal clear picture for him so he asked, “Is that by the guy with the weird rocks?”

“Do you mean the people who did the stonework on their exterior?”

“Yeah some kind of weird rocks, he turned half his yard into a garden.”

“Oh… That’s us.” I said with a chuckle, not wanting him to think I was offended. But he didn’t even seem to notice, and after a few more comments about the strange guy with the rocks the subject changed.

When we got back to the house I looked at my garden and it is indeed unconventional, at least for the burbs. The border is limestone slabs that I scavenged (with permission of course) from a neighbors collapsing retaining wall. The slabs next to the curb have been pulverized by cars and snowplow blades. I’ve used a random selection of rocks and bricks and concrete border thingys to landscape, well really mark plantings. The plants look a bit like they’ve been planted by random chance rather than design. A couple of falls ago I spread some cone flower seeds in the front garden. Now there’s a very healthy stand of cone flowers that look great, except that they’re right in front of the fancy day lilies that I planted, crowding them out and blocking them from view. Whether it’s laziness, ADD, or lack of care the weeds are threatening to overpower the plants. Another factor is that things come up in the spring and I can’t remember if I planted them or they’re just some new weed.

And then you get to the lawn. To paraphrase the old blues tune, if it wasn’t for crabgrass, I wouldn’t have no grass at all. I think the U of M Horticulture Department should tour my yard so they can identify every noxious weed known in the state. I did Chemlawn for awhile and it worked but I didn’t like the environmental problems, it was expensive, and I didn’t trust their applicators to not spray my plants. I was going to do it myself (no help for the environment there) but that requires remembering to do it on a regular schedule, which has never been one of my skills.

I try to rationalize that the garden style is informal, that the style I’m going for is “eccentric old folks next door.” And as far as the lawn goes I tell myself it’s because Americans obsession with lawns is crazy and that mine isn’t so bad, it’s just that the next door neighbor’s looks like a velvet carpet.

Yup, I’m that guy. The guy who’s yard is dragging down property values, who’s inept at the basic skills of home ownership. The guy that folks shake their heads when they walk by and wonder what form of mental illness leads to such degradation. About the guy down the street that called my rocks weird, cripes, he makes his living playing the xylophone!


It’s a beautiful sunny day. Clear and sunny and 3 degrees. Yes, it’s Minnesota where hell does freeze over. I know you hearty folks who love to get out and snowmobile and ski and snowshoe and winter camp and ice fish and all those other forms of winter insanity will say that it’s a fabulous winter, plenty of snow to play in, but to me it’s just COLD. Yesterday I think Rebecca got the paper and brought in the mail so I didn’t even go outside all day. Someone said that April is the cruelest month. For that honor, I’ll give my vote to February.

My office is in what we fondly call the mudroom. Long and narrow behind the family room with the door to the garage on one end, it sits on a concrete slab, which means that as well as freezing me it’s probably dosing me with radon as well. The thermostat is on the floor above me, in a sunny, south facing room that warms up around noon and shuts down the heat. “Just toasty here boss, shut ‘er down.” So here in my north facing studio there is no heat. I did recently get a space heater, but it can only do so much. Some days by three o’clock it’s so cold down here that I just give up and go upstairs and kick back in the Barcalounger with a good book and a blanket. I don’t read the book, I just nap.

Here’s another thing to hate about February. Valentine’s Day. I pretty much hate all “Hallmark Holidays,” however, Lucia and Quinn if you are reading this, please feel free to shower me with tokens of your affection on Father’s day. I think my grudge against Valentine’s Day started in fifth grade, when I gave the girl who I thought was my girlfriend a card that I bought because I like the way it looked, without reading the text. I still don’t know what it said, but it seemed to inspire a lot of derision when she showed passed it around to her buddies. This year as Rebecca and I were drifting off to sleep on that special day I said, “Thanks for not getting me anything for Valentine’s Day.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“Hell no. That way I don’t have to feel guilty for not getting you anything either.”

Now that’s what I call true love.

Back by Popular Demand

Horizontal Ambition… what’s that all about? Damned if I can remember. And I’m not sure how you quantify “popular demand,” but I have had a couple of folks ask me if I was still blogging and mention that they read the thing. Plus out of nowhere the other day I got a tweet telling me that I’d been added to the Pioneer Press’s twitter group “Blogs We Follow.” How the heck that happened is a mystery to me, since the last post was over a year ago. But if they want to follow me, I guess I better put down some tracks.

So why the long absence? Writer’s block? I’m not even sure I’d call myself a writer so I don’t know if that’s what it is. Over the last few years I’ve been doing the behind the scenes work for and that’s kind of distracted me from my own blog, but that’s a lame excuse, because it certainly wasn’t overwhelming me with work. The main thing that was keeping me from writing was the fact that the stuff that was front and center in my mind was stuff I didn’t really want to share with the world. I’ve been turning into a curmudgeonly old hermit.

That’s got to stop. So here I am back in the saddle, ready once again to fascinate you with everything Bob.


I’m Tired.

New heights of putzdom were reached today. You may remember that I recently put snow tires on the car. I got steel rims and cheap plastic wheel covers, one of which quickly fell off and was never seen again. I’ve been driving around looking like a hillbilly. So I bought 4 new cheap plastic wheel covers (I don’t think you can buy just one) and went to the hardware store and bought a rubber mallet for putting them on.

I removed the old covers (the new ones don’t match) replace them and as I was putting the tools away I saw that there was a rubber mallet on the workbench. I’d already bought one with this job in mind.

So I headed back to the hardware store to return the mallet. When I returned to my car I saw that one of the new hubcaps had already fallen off. Retracing my tire tracks, I saw it laying out in the middle of Winnetka Avenue. I parked in the cemetery and braved the traffic to pick it up. Of course it had been already run over and was toast. So now I have six usable hubcaps, no four of which match and I’m going with the bare steel wheel look. I think it fits my hardcore sensibilities.

One of My Encounters with a Giant

I’ve been meaning to start Horizontal Ambition up again, and although there’s been plenty of things going on in my life to write about, but I guess I’ve been blocked. By who knows what. So, in hopes of having a laxative effect on my writing, I’m going to tell you a story from way back in the past. 1975 to be exact. Or fairly exact, the time blends together. I spent the early years of my adult life supporting my self with a wide variety of jobs, seasonal and part time, in order to have blocks of time to work on my art. They way that worked out is another story. I have lot’s of stories, this one’s a bartending story.

The bar was the Black Forest Inn, a German Restaurant that’s still going on 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. I’m going to say it was the spring of 1975 when he first started showing up at the bar. Some of you may remember Ben Davidson who played defensive end for the Oakland Raiders in the late sixties and early seventies. A huge man, 6’8″ tall and 275 pounds, with a fu-manchu mustache and a mean look that got him a few movie parts after he retired. This guy was a dead ringer. Just as big and a little bit meaner looking. This was a man on a downward spiral, drinking heavily and getting mean when he was drunk. Not a good combination, huge, drunk and mean. One morning after spending the night playing after hours backgammon I came blinking out to the parking lot and found him sleeping in his beat up black Linc0ln Continental. He was obviously living in his car.

In those days we had an amazingly diverse clientele. Swells from Kenwood and mumblers from the halfway houses along Blaisdale. The Children’s Theater, Art Institute crowd and people from the neighborhood. We were pretty tolerant of our patrons and you had to really mess up to get thrown out. So even though Big Ben had caused some trouble, he hadn’t gotten the permanent 86 yet, but he was walking a fine line. He was one of those guys who would come in early and drink until they were almost falling down, leave for a few hours to sober up and then come back to drink until closing. Like I said, downhill spiral.

Finally one night he was acting threatening, yelling incoherent, obscenity filled blather— not really good for business. I’d kicked him out before and given him the last chance ultimatum. I read him the riot act and told him he was permanently eighty-sixed. Something like, “Get the hell out of here, and don’t EVER come back.” He objected to that. Seemed to be of the opinion the “No one eighty-sixes me.”

“Sir, I just did. Now leave.”

We didn’t have bouncers. The bartenders were pretty much it. Sometimes if Stubby the cook caught wind of trouble he’d come out and stand by the kitchen door holding a giant chef’s knife and crossing his arms to display a very impressive set of biceps.

Some have you may know that I have what is known as the Keller temper. I share it with my siblings and my father, my mother was much more effective with her passive aggressive anger, but the four of us all have been known to completely blow up. It’s a little bit like an out of body experience. I seem to hover above the situation and watch this wild eyed, red faced person cursing a blue streak, sending spittle flying through clenched teeth. One of my triggers is when someone doesn’t seem to take me seriously.  Apparently I didn’t think he was taking me seriously. I’m really not much of a fighter, but when the bolt pops, I lose all sense and fear. So when he told me he was going out to his car and get his gun and come back and shoot me, I only got more aggressive and sent him out of the door behind a string of colorful language that I’d picked up in my youth hanging around the stockyards with my dad.

The adrenalin was just starting to settle down when I saw him coming through the outside door with his hand tucked in his trench coat as if reaching for a gun.  I was standing there exposed, nothing between me and him but 20 feet of smokey air. A smart guy would have run through the kitchen and out of the back door at that point. Or maybe tried to crawl under the dishwasher. But as I said, the Keller rage blocks all fear and good sense. I looked him in they eye. I pointed my finger at him. I advanced toward him yelling, “I said get the fuck out of here. Now get the fuck out of here!”

He got a beaten look on his face, slumped and skulked out the door, never to come back. Luckily for me he was bluffing, I think he just wanted to see me shit in my pants. But that’s another story.


My brief career as a runner.

Not quite sure why I’m writing about this now, except for the fact that it somehow came to mind while I was showering this morning. I get a lot of blog ideas in the shower, but please don’t assume that the dearth of posts lately correlates to a dearth of showers. I’m still maintaining a respectable level of personal hygiene.

This all happened in the distant past, Junior High, so the events may not be quite as dramatic as I remember them, but what fun are memories if you can’t embellish them. In the spring of the yea, still hanging on to hopes of having an athletic career of some kind I was out for the track team. The summer before I had discovered I had a smooth easy stride and since I didn’t have much weight to carry, I could run pretty much forever. Because I was ridiculously skinny and had absolutely no appetite for contact, my last venture into football had been very unpleasant that fall. The words “Keller, what the hell was that?” coming from the coach after a particularly half hearted tackle attempt in practice, are burned deeply in my memory. I tried out for basketball. They didn’t cut many people in ninth grade, but I was one of them. I remember during one scrimmage there was a turnover in my offensive end and the other team got out on a one on none fast break. I ran the guy down and blocked his shot from behind. I thought surely that would put me on the team. But when I looked over at the coaches they were in deep conversation and hadn’t seen it. I made a lot of excuses for getting cut, I thought I was better than some of the players kept, but that they’re families were more prominent in the community. But looking back on it now, given my well deserved reputation as a disruptive influence in the classroom and inveterate goof off (today I think the call it ADHD), if I were the coach I wouldn’t have wanted me on the team either. So I pinned all my hopes for athletic glory (and a cool black and orange jacket with an “M” on it) on becoming a middle distance runner.

My race became the quarter mile (the sixties equivalent of 400 meters) and all though today it’s a sprint, in those days for a ninth grader it kind of qualified as middle distance. I was the third best runner in the event and had some good races where I used my long stride to float the backstretch and then sprint around the last turn, finishing strong and leaving nothing on the track. The coaches took notice. During a pep talk the coach who cut me from basketball deemed me the “most improved athlete” on the team. I was feeling pretty high about myself, even if I hadn’t cracked the top slots on the team.

The final meet of the season was the Fargo-Moorhead Junior High championships, held at the Moorhead State stadium. I don’t know how much the college, now university, has grown up around there now, but in those days the stadium was on the eastern edge of the town, exposed to the viscous prairie weather. I was slotted to run the anchor leg of the sprint medley, a relay consisting of a 110, then a 220 and then another 110 followed by the 440, the last event of the meet. The meet was in the evening, under the lights and the weather just kept getting nastier and nastier. By the time they started calling the medley, the wind had picked up and freezing rain had turned to sleet blowing horizontally down the backstretch. We needed to finish at least second in order to win the championship. There shouldn’t have been much pressure because we were a team loaded with speed and I figured to have a lead going into the anchor lap. But I think most runners will tell you that pre-race jitters well up to the point of nausea, and then disappear as soon as the gun goes off. I was almost double over with stomach cramps by the time the race started. Not to mention that, clad in nothing but my track uniform, I was in danger of frostbite.

The race started and true to form, we opened up a huge lead, smooth handoffs and our superior speed opened up about a 20 yard gap by the time the third runner came around to me. I was thinking, piece of cake, even though Jim Henry, by far the best quarter miler in the area was running the anchor for North Jr. High, our arch rivals. He’d beaten me by twenty yards and more several times already that year, but I knew I only had to finish second to win the meet, and beating them would just be frosting on the cake. Then, disaster. I can’t remember the details of how it happened but I either started too soon or too late as by teammate approached for the handoff. We completely botched it, I think I may have actually dropped it and had to come to a full stop instead of the running start you’re supposed to get in a relay. Henry had passed me, but two other runners had as well. Adrenalin took over.

I realized that there would be no floating down the backstretch, no conserving energy to blow by people coming out of the turn, I had to run like hell just to get back in the race. I started out at a full sprint and passed one runner in the turn, but Henry had opened up a big lead and the second place runner was half way between us, ten yards ahead. Coming out of the turn I hit the wind, and sleet. I put my head down and tried to push through it, the frozen rain was stinging every exposed inch of skin, but I was gaining on both of them. Over the length of the backstretch I reeled them in, catching the number two runner at the head of the turn, passing him as we went around. We came out of the turn and I thought I had a chance to catch Henry. The wind was at my back and I tried to start my kick. But I had nothing. I broke form, started to stagger. Henry had just been playing, he turned on his far greater speed an was pulling away. And the third place runner was catching me. I was at the point where I wasn’t even sure I was going to finish, I wanted to collapse into the infield. I wanted to be home if front of the fireplace with milk and cookies. I wanted to go back to being the know it all nerd that was the laughing stock of the football team. And then I  heard the cheering from the crowd. I bore down, I forced my feet to plant themselves one in front of the other and tried to maintain balance and I made it to the finish line, taking second place. We won the meet. I collapsed on the side of the track. I was spent and puking unable to do anything but sit with my head between my knees as the sweat froze on my body. Then I heard that we’d been disqualified for going out of the hand off box. I remember vividly that I started sobbing, right there in front of everyone. After a short delay we found out that the officials ruled that it was a legal exchange and the meet was ours. I don’t remember much else.

The following summer, I came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome spent a couple weeks in the hospital and came out with very weakened legs. I went out for cross country in the fall, but I couldn’t get my easy stride back and couldn’t psychologically overcome that first little pain you get before you’re really running. I had a very bad relationship with the coach on a lot of levels, I’m surprised he didn’t just kick me off the team. He was a fundamentalist Christian and a survivalist, he had a fallout shelter and was training his kids to survive the nuclear attack that was always hanging over our heads in those days, so they could continue the fight against the godless commies.  Surprisingly we didn’t see eye to eye and we argued a lot. I continued to go out for track and cross country, but I didn’t make much of an effort and I may have been the only person ever to go out for a sport all three years and not get a letter. I never got to wear that cool black jacket with the orange “M”.

Myth Busted

This morning I got up late after a little run in with insomnia last night. Nothing like a good game of Peggle at 2 am. I decided to hit Caribou for my morning caffeine fix so I headed out in baggy sweatpants, loafers, my hair covered with a cap, bleary eyed and unshaven. Of course I ran into a local businessman that I’ve been trying to snag as a client. I’m sure I’ve been written off as a total goofball. But I guess that’s obvious no matter whether I’m buffed and polished or looking like I slept under a bridge.

So the dime off the drink trivia question was “True or false, Lemmings commit mass suicide?” Well of course it’s true, why do you think they call them Lemmings. But the young whippersnapper behind the counter, the manager of the establishment, informed me that I was wrong. I expressed doubt and said that I’d have to look it up. He started rummaging around under the counter apparently for the corporate trivia question guide and I felt the burn of the collective stink-eye focused on me by the dozen people waiting in line for their morning fixes. I think if I had a smart phone and pulled it out to google it and prove him wrong I would have been brutally beaten by the caffeine deprived mob. “Dude, it’s OK, I believe you, really.”

But of course I didn’t. So as soon as I got home I googled it and found out that yes in fact it’s a myth that lemmings, when there population explodes go nuts and stampede over cliffs into the ocean. I also found out that they don’t fall from the sky either, which was a great relief.

This realization, beyond my regret of losing a dime, is causing a strange dissonance. Once I thought that you could say, “Lemmings literally commit mass suicide by stampeding over cliffs into the ocean.” And you could say that followers of Jim Jones or [your favorite political leader to hate] were metaphorically lemmings. Now it seemed in a metaphorical sense, lemmings literally are not lemmings. This is literally a metaphorical mobius strip. I believe that if too many people start thinking about this the universe might implode.

You know what I wish? I wish that boxelder bugs would commit mass suicide due to overpopulation.

Road Trip Randomness

1300 miles on the car in 10 days. From Minneapolis to Chicago to Traverse City Michigan on the way up, with an overnight stay at Lucia’s on the way up and then straight through via Chicago on the way back, thirteen and a half hours in the car. About an hour in the car had a nice mixture of fragrance, B.O. and ripe melon, which only intensified as the hours passed.

We stayed in a mid-nineteenth century farm house on Old Mission Peninsula courtesy of our friends Charlie and Barb. It’s a big house, still much the same as it was when it was built, with added conveniences like a fairly modern kitchen and indoor plumbing, it’s an incredibly charming place. In front is a stand of giant white pines and then the orchard, first cherries and closer to the lake, apples. And then there’s Lake Michigan and an incredible stretch of beach which we had to ourselves.

Any trip to the Traverse City area turns out to be all about food. Here’s a few highlights.

Ribs at the farmhouse, we improvised an amazing sauce from the braising liquid and some plum jam that had just been cooked up. Barb whipped up a couple of pies, cherry (what else, it is after all the cherry capitol of the world) and cherry raspberry.

Dr. Mary Clemens, my friend and client came out to the farmhouse and made us a great vegetarian meal, shredded beet and parsnip salad, and whole wheat pasta with fresh tomato soup. And Barb came through with another pie.

Dinner with David and Lucia at Blu in Glen Arbor. Amazing space, with floor to ceiling glass looking out over the lake, and on this night five foot waves rolling onto the shore. We had braised pork belly for an appetizer and I had the duck confit.

Lunch at Cook’s House, a tiny place in downtown Traverse City that seats twenty people at most. I had a ham sandwich with fig compote. Remember on my last trip I had the world’s greatest ham sandwich at Frenchie’s? This was the world’s greatest ham sandwich.

Then back to the other side of the Leelanau Peninsula to Burdickville (you won’t find it on the map) and La Becasse, a restaurant specializing in French country cuisine. Another amazing meal, we split a plate of amazing risotto and I had the rack of lamb, maybe the best I’ve ever had.

On our last day Reb and I drove out to Onema to visit the Tamarack Gallery a wonderful little gallery with an eclectic collection of work by artists all over the country.