Earl

Ginny & I were terribly saddened to learn of the passing of Earl Williams today, one of WDAY Radio’s best and brightest.  Earl is probably best known as one half of the Earl & Don Show on WDAY, Don being Don Dresser.

Even as a snarky teenager, more into rock music rather than ‘DAY’s middle of the road format, the Earl & Don were “must” listening for me.  Listening to them I remember thinking that is how you do that.

Ginny & I got to know Earl only recently at a couple of WDAY alum lunches in Fargo.  His Queen Elizabeth “pull my finger” story had me nearly on the floor.

Visitation will be from 9 – 10 am Friday, followed by a memorial service at 10 am at Hope Lutheran Church – South Campus in Fargo.

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Talking About Myself

Not everybody gets to spend an hour talking about himself in front of a roomful of strangers.  But every year, I get to.

Each week second-year medical students at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Grand Forks break into teams to study a different medical condition. The students themselves are responsible for much of the research that goes into their education.  It must be a very interesting way to learn.

Fridays a physician and a patient join them to answer student questions. Yesterday Altru Health System urologist Dr. R Tony Highshaw and I talked about prostate cancer.  Clearly the students appreciated Dr. Highshaw’s energy and enthusiasm.  I tried to keep  up.

After the “wrap-up” session,  one of the students said to me, this is the time of year when he gets a little weary of the books.  My heart melted when he said “But you reminded me why I went into medicine in the first place.  It’s about helping people.”

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On Thin Ice

So, we’re doing this thing. It’s called “Guys on Ice.” It’s a fairly new musical comedy about ice fishing in Wisconsin. It has some great scenes and songs in it.

Not being an actor/singer/dancer-type, the nice people at the Fire Hall Theatre in Grand Forks created a role for me that doesn’t require any singing or dancing. It’s doesn’t require much acting on my part, either.

I “play” the emcee of the “Guys on Ice Half-Time Show,” a post-intermission audience participation game show. My character is sort of like Alex Trebek, only shorter. My only “acting,” aside from attempting a very questionable northern Wisconsin accent, is to affect a kind of world-weary attitude. (Come to think of it, not much of a stretch for me there, either.)

The show lends itself to a certain amount of improvisation, especially my part. So, in addition to playing the game with the audience, I like to work in some comments about what’s happening around me.

Here’s a partial listing so far.  My former employer, television in general, the city of Fargo, the Fire Hall Theatre, Brian Williams, Leinenkugel’s Beer, the state of Wisconsin, Valentine’s Day, a seemingly very nice, follically-challenged gentleman in the front row, pianist Karen Braaten, hockey, a guy in the front row from Cando, 50 Shades of Grey, a guy in the front row from Stephen, Cost-Cutters, professional football and character Ernie the Moocher played by Dave Whitcomb.

And, we’re really just getting started.  I suspect future talking points will include hockey, the Oscars and more about my former employer.

We’ve had four great audiences so far. Remaining “Guys on Ice” performances are February 19 – 21 and February 26 – 28 at 7:30 pm. There’s one more matinee February 22 at 2 pm.   Tickets are available by calling (701) 777-4090. They are going fast. They really are.

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Meditation and Me

With the Lenten season almost upon us, I’m reminded again how terribly bad I’ve been lately at sacrificing or “giving up” things for Lent.  (Never mind New Year’s resolutions which are pretty much out of the question. Forgetaboutit.)

But about this time last year I heard some theologian say it’s perfectly consistent with Lenten spirituality to “add” something positive in one’s life, in place of giving something up. Lent can be considered a time of self-improvement.

So in February last year, instead spending 40 days trying to surrender chocolate or alcohol from my life or something else just as much fun,  I decided to seriously do something healthy for myself every day. I decided to give meditation another try.

I say another try because I was first exposed to it back in the Dark Ages, college in the late 1960’s.  As an elective, I took a religion course on Mysticism taught by a rabbi from Winnipeg. I remember the class was hugely popular and terribly hard to get into. Again, this was the 60’s.  Anyway, we would spend the first 20 minutes of class time in meditation.

I didn’t stick with it, however.  One thing or another got in the way.  Being drafted into the Army among them.

Fast forward forty-plus years.

As it turns out, last year I had just read Dan Harris’ wonderfully down-to-earth book 10% Happier. I also talked with him about it on television via satellite, as they say.

You may know that Dan Harris as one of the weekend anchors of ABC’s Good Morning America. For years he has covered religion and spirituality for the network. He’s done a bang-up job doing it, by the way.

After reporting on it, Mr. Harris himself became attracted to meditation and a convert. One reason for that he gives in the book is that today meditation is practiced regularly not just by granola-eating, sandal-wearing “hippy”-types, but also by people from all walks of life, including Navy Seals. Nowadays it’s part of their training.

The health benefits of meditation have been well-documented for years.  It can lower blood pressure. All kinds of things.

Mr. Harris was convinced.  Mr. Harris convinced me.

Early one morning he even tweeted me his encouragement from the set of Good Morning America suggesting I start with just five minutes a day, which I did.

Today I meditate for twenty to twenty-five minutes first thing in the morning in our sun room. I haven’t missed a day in almost a year. Sometimes Desi joins me on my lap.  (Desi is Desi Arnaz, our cat named after a Cuban bandleader who married well.) I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, but Desi seems to enjoy it, usually sitting perfectly still with me.

The idea of meditation is to try to clear the mind and turn off “the voices” that are  constantly in our heads. I’m here to tell you it’s incredibly hard to try not to think of anything, but there is something about the process of trying to think of nothing that is beneficial.

For me at first, nothing happened.  After awhile, nothing happened either.

But eventually little things at work started to bother me less.  Tailgating drivers behind me on the road started to bother me a little less. It’s funny. The benefits of meditation seem to kick in when I need them most, when I the most stressed.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been life-changing or anything.  I still get mad to be sure, but less often and with far less intensity.

Anyway, I never expected miracles.  These things take time.  But for me, it beats giving up chocolate.

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My Acting Career (So Far)

Opening night is coming up.  The Fire Hall Theatre’s production of Guys on Ice opens February 12 in Grand Forks.  Foolishly enough perhaps, the theatre people have asked me to be a part of it.

Without giving away too much, I’ll be in the Guys on Ice “half time show.” I hope you’ll call 777-4090 and support the Fire Hall Theatre by reserving a fistful of tickets.  It runs weekends through February 28.

Last year I was one of about a dozen of the usual suspects from around town who were asked to die in the opening scene of Dearly Departed at he Fire Hall Theatre.  Chuck Haga, UND President Robert Kelley and others gave their lives as well one night only.

But actually, my acting career may have peaked several years ago when I appeared on an episode of the ABC soap opera General Hospital. The networks call them daytime dramas.  Somewhere there’s tape to prove it.

If you work for an ABC television station and you’re going to be in the Los Angeles area, as they say, sometimes the producers will have you written into their show.  That’s what they did with me.

Angela Cary, WDAZ’s promotion director at the time, set it up.  One day (while I was in the shower) General Hospital’s casting director called me at home.  After a short, rather odd conversation with her on the phone she said “I’m looking at your head shot.  I think we’ll make you the manager of an upscale, European casino.”

OK.

As instructed, I dragged a blue suit and a grey suit with me to California, only to learn at the last minute I’d be dressed by the show in a tuxedo.

The script arrived in Grand Forks after we’d left for the coast, so the writers a copy delivered by currier to our hotel (at some expense).  I would have one line, four words. “Urgent call, Mr. Jax.”

My scene would be with Jasper “Jax” Jacks, the character played by hunky Australian actor Ingo Rademacher.  (Ingo also came in 5th in the 16th season of Dancing with the Stars in 2012.)

Fairly long story short, arriving at the appointed hour, they “blocked” the (rather complicated) scene, rehearsed it once and shot it in one take.

Then somebody told me to be sure to check in at the business office before leaving “or you won’t get paid.”  I told them I didn’t expect to get paid, that I was doing it to show our view our news viewers what it’s like to be on a soap opera, I mean daytime drama. I was told “You don’t understand. You have to get paid.  It’s a union thing.”

Back at home a few weeks later in the mail I got a check with a full-color image of Mickey Mouse in the corner for three hundred and thirty-some dollars. Not bad at all for about an hour’s “work.” Ginny and I used the money to buy a set of bookcases. A couple weeks later I got another “residual” check in the mail for something like eighteen dollars.  A couple weeks after that, another check arrived, for fifty cents, a little more than the postage.  What’s more, about half of that amount had been taken out.  Some of it went to the union.  (I’m not making any of this up.)

I couldn’t bring myself to cash the check.  Eventually, I framed it.  But first, when tax season rolled around that year, I insisted that our tax guy declare it as income.  He showed it to everybody in the office.  They all agreed it was the smallest check any of them had ever seen.

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Ruttger’s @100

A letter arrived in our snail mail the other day.  It was from Randy and Tina Ruttger, the third generation owners and operators of Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge on Lake Bemidji.  It was not unexpected.  We get one every year.  So do hundreds, maybe thousands, of other of Ruttger’s visitors.  The thick of winter must be a good time to get potential patrons thinking about their summer vacations and laying down deposit money.

This letter was a little different, though.  It recalled some of the resort’s now 100 year history, starting with its humble beginnings back in 1915.  Good times, but also bad, like a disasterous fire that destroyed three of the resort’s main buildings in September of 1920.  Somehow Ruttger’s reopened the following July.

Ginny and I have spent a few days at Ruttger’s almost every summer since we were first married in 1977.  Usually just a couple of nights at a time.  But they are nights away from most of our usual distractions.  We leave the laptops at home and use our cell phones only in moderation.  In exchange, we’re rewarded with lake sights and sounds, loons in the water and kids playing in the sand.  Neither ever changes and neither ever gets old.

We usually land at Ruttger’s early in the afternoon. We unpack in time for a nice long nap. Before we know it, it’s time for a cocktail and then dinner somewhere. In the morning we’ll read or put the top down on the car and drive around the lake to Bemidji, hitting a thrift shop or two along the way.  Pretty soon it’s time for lunch and nap time again, maybe a swim in the pool or a sauna and then dinner. If it sounds boring, bore me.

We don’t usually go in or on the lake much, but there’s just something about being near the water that’s unlike anything else.

We live in, maybe not constant, but occasional fear that Ruttger’s will be taken down and replaced with luxury condos or something.  If that ever happens, God forbid, a little bit of our souls would go with it.

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Escape or Die

One of the more interesting people I’ve been introduced to through my work in television is escape artist Dean Gunnarson.  Also, one of the nicest.

I met Dean in his hometown of Winnipeg on the Halloween anniversary of his first big escape.  It was a Houdini-like stunt in which he attempted to free himself from a box lowered into the muddy Red River in front of 10,000 people in downtown Winnipeg. The escape failed. In fact, it nearly took his life.

Rather than being lowered horizontally into the water as planned, the trunk hit the water at too much of an angle, allowing too much water to rush into the box too soon. (There was probably a meeting with the crew later.)

One over-riding thought ran through my mind during my interview with Dean and during the trip back across the border that day.  This guy is a little crazy. But it’s a craziness that has taken him around the world more than a time or two.

This past December Dean successfully recreated the 1983 Winnipeg escape.  This time in shark-infested waters, as they say, of the Bahamas.

Dean and his Winnipeg crew are in the middle of production of a new reality series for Canadian television called Escape or Die.

Just last night Dean performed another outrageously  dangerous escape above the famed Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.  Again, the Escape or Die cameras were rolling.

The first of twelve episodes are to be seen beginning this spring on the OLN network.  I can’t wait.

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Guys on Ice

Going to be part of Guys on Ice next month, they tell me.  Guys on Ice is a “cheesy little musical” about ice fishing in Wisconsin.

Guys on Ice runs February 12 – 15, 19 – 21 and 26 – 28.  Reserve your tickets at TicketMaster and we’ll see you there.  You betcha!

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Je Suis Charlie

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Save the Date

We’re going to be emceeing the annual Raise Your Paws for Pets banquet for the Circle of Friends Humane Society Thursday evening, April 2, at Alerus Center in Grand Forks. We have done it several years now and it’s always fun.

Usually there’s a big live and silent auction and lots of fun, food and games. Much more information about it to come.  For now, hope you’ll save the date, April 2, and join us.

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