I am at a food show in St. Paul. The Landmark Center is full of restaurant and hospitality people filing down long rows of vendor’s booths in order to see and sample the latest and greatest things the food industry has to offer. Attendees to these wonderful events vary to extremes. A pair of luxury-hotel executives join me in line at the first booth where two vendors share a table featuring fried chicken tenders and plastic cutlery.
I am the quintessential Twins fan. I have evolved appropriately, slowly, like a deep-sea diver who has been rising to the surface since 1961, decompressing a little at a time so my head doesn’t explode. I am resilient. Scar tissue, formed from enduring thousands of losses, covers me like protective platelets. I have become immune to mediocrity, impervious to putrid and un-phased by three consecutive seasons of sucking. But I am not a pessimist. Of course, I’m no optimist, either.
At this time of year, I always find myself stuck in a column conundrum. Should I gripe (again) about our silly habit of moving the clock forward every March? Or should I attempt to wax philosophically about the ribald, drunken holiday waiting just around the corner — you know, the one we’ve so brazenly concocted in the name of a saint?
I have always wanted to work in a grocery store. I think it’s in my blood. My father began his career in the grocery business during the Great Depression. He worked for free at first, and was paid in castoff fruit and vegetables and damaged cans that had a 50-50 chance of containing either sustenance or salmonella. But then the store owner, H.E. Butts, noticed how alert, adept and aggressive my father was (was I adopted?) and put him on the payroll. Dad soon became the manager and eventually owned his own store, O.P. Skaggs, in Worthington.
Valentine’s Day has always been represented by the symbol of a heart. Not a real heart, mind you — the human heart is basically a muscle that circulates blood through the body. For some reason, emotions such as love and sorrow are associated with the heart. I find this to be somewhat deceiving. If you gave a human heart to someone you love on Feb. 14, it would be quite messy. In fact, your loved one would no doubt run screaming from the room and you would probably end up in jail. If one replaced one’s heart with a Valentine heart, one would die — and rather quickly.
It goes without saying — Sunday is a very special day. Millions of households across the continent — mine included — will spend the day preparing for the big event that takes place that evening. It is an event that some folks consider to be the “greatest show on earth.” For the next few days we’ll prepare and plan. How many people will come to the party? What’s the weather going to be like? Will Uncle Phil like the dip? Will the dip like Uncle Phil? I know I don’t.
The wrath of January is only half-endured, yet that last cold spell seemed like a long prison sentence to the most frigid place on Earth — a.k.a. my driveway. The hard snow beneath my feet sounds like squeaky Styrofoam as I walk to my car, unprotected from the elements because the garage-door is frozen shut. Even the sliver of a moon looks oppressively cold, frozen in the middle of an early morning sky.
On New Year’s Day in 1956, my cousin, Vernon Hallbeck, a fullback for the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, scored two touchdowns against Rice in the prestigious Cotton Bowl. The other three bowl games — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl — were also played that day. All in all, eight great teams played and four were crowned bowl champions. That was the extent of it and it was extra special for football fans.
The holiday season arrives early and stays late, like a boorish and inconsiderate uncle who hangs around until the last minute, picking at the scraps of a decimated party buffet. I should know — I’m that uncle. And since it “‘tis the season”—regardless of whether you’re yawning or looking down at your watch, I think I’ll hang around for awhile and ramble off a few random holiday thoughts—just after I ask: “Is there any more turkey? There’s nothing left but bones, here.”
I have always been a poor excuse for a hunter. Growing up in northern Minnesota, this is not a good thing. It’s akin to being a member of the Andretti racing family and not knowing how to drive a stick shift. I flunked out of hunting school as a teenager and never went back.