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Johanna

A MAKESH!T PRODUCTION written and directed by Jade Mac Townsend. My “Sleazy Bill Nye” schtick was impromptu, though deeply felt. Starring JoJo as herself. NSFW.

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Screen shot 2014-03-01 at 7.04.17 AMONE UNDENIABLE JOY of having kids is seeing them discover the things you love. Johanna has found her way to drawing, word games, Vietnamese food and tacos with only gentle nudges from her father. There may be more Nurture than Nature at play here, but it’s not like everything takes. She shows no inclination toward long walks or PBS Frontline.

In the case of music, my own most persistent passion, Jo’s ardor has been slower to form. There was a Michael Jackson phase, an Abba dalliance (Sarah’s doing) and a handful of tunes that get her dancing. But true fanaticism—that intense yearning to collect, listen, decipher and crank the volume—has eluded her.

Until she discovered the Beatles. It started in Johanna’s 2nd grade classroom with a unit called “Beatle Mania!” (one of so many reasons her school rocks). She was coming home full of Fab Four trivia (You know how Ringo got his name? Did you know they had Mop Tops before they got into uniforms?) and inquiring who we thought was cutest.

Things went quickly from Teeny Bopper curiosity to full-blown obsession. By the time of her class performance this month—100 seven year olds talk-singing Yellow Submarine and Let It Be with a live band—she was collecting MP3s, dissecting lyrics, tracing record covers and making Paul paper dolls. More than one morning we’ve awakened to “Back in the USSR” or “Come Together” blaring through her wall. “The White Album is probably my favorite. Except for Wild Honey Pie.” “Is this a John song?” “Why are there so many songs about Sun and Sunshine?” Our budding Beatlologist.

I went to New York for a (unrelated) conference during the 50th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America, remembered for their performance on Ed Sullivan, even booking the same hotel they stayed at by coincidence. Last week on George’s 71st birthday we gathered for an hour of Harrison deep cuts on Bop Street. Jo’s friend Rey got a homemade Yellow Submarine cake for his 8th birthday. Beatlemania enfolds us utterly. When hand-claps are called for in “8 Days a Week,” none of us can resist.

Any other wall-to-wall cultural phenomenon would make my eyes roll back in no time. But—and I’m only the hundred-millionth person to say this—the Beatles are different. Their catalog is so vast, their style so varied. Four months into Jo’s crazy love affair, I’m hearing it as if with virgin ears, finding new shading in familiar songs, even discovering stuff I overlooked. With the possible exception of “Hey Jude” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” it all feels strikingly fresh. I’m fan-boying out on the ultimate rock-and-roll cliché. For the sake of intergenerational harmony, I can’t stop.

For your (re)consideration:

… and a charming novelty track:

AN INVENTORY OF 7TH BIRTHDAY GIFTS.

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Luges? Lugos!

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Turns out “skitlls” are Johanna’s favorite candy. 

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We hope Mrimeum/Miriam will appreciate the cursive signature.

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More Skittles. The Mood Lamq is a vase filled with color-changing LEDs and liquid-filled plastic bubbles. Whatever’s in it is hazardous enough the package says, “do not dispose of bubbles in the sink or garbage.”

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The diary was scientifically designed to make 7-year-old girls flip out: velvety exterior with celestial patterns, a giant neon initial “J” on the front, a quill topped with a hot pink feather, and secured with a flinky lock and key.

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It took me a while to figure out this was a Fairy Crystal Light Catcher.

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Dear “No one” (a/k/a Nanni).

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“FurReal Friends” are a disturbing type of vibrating plush that startles when touched.

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You know what’s big? Oversized novelty stuff.

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Like a pencil the size of your forearm.

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The ultimate Thank You note cop out. Sorry, Clara.

JOHANNA WILL TALK TO HER GRANDPARENTS only if she can spend the conversation in a laundry basket. She’ll also ask me to carry the basket around the house while she chats, though this I decline to do. Peculiar demands are popping up daily as her Negotiator Gene manifests. I remember wearing my mom out with outlandish requests until she made concessions—things I surely didn’t desire beyond winning her permission—like mixing milk with orange juice or sleeping on the hallway floor.

I admire Jo’s pluck, though my life really needs fewer hoops to jump, not more. Aside from the usual, I’m dogged at the moment by IRS deadlines, mortgage lenders in need of data, and an unholy health care triad that turns every medical transaction into three-dimensional chess. Something as simple as switching to a credit union snarled my routine for weeks. Is this maturity? Entropy? Social decline?

No wonder we end up sick and tired. I awoke last Tuesday with strep throat. With no time or patience to seek treatment, I took some old antibiotics and worked from bed for a day. Just as I was rallying, I got a mysterious case of head-to-toe hives. They didn’t impair me physically or mentally but I looked like a leper (clients I met with were startled and concerned, not reactions I’m going for). I had narrowed the list of causes to synthetic shirts, green peppers or stress before my sister—who spends a large share of her waking hours catering to her own health issues, real and invented—diagnosed it as photosensitivity due to antibiotics.

Those hours spent in my backyard working in the unseasonable March warmth, so peaceful at the time, were inducing a massive auto-immune backlash. It’s mostly cleared up now. But which innocent action will vex me next?

As an enthusiast of obsolete technology, the fake-vintage Instagram photography thing was something I was ready to hate, like neo-antique furniture or retro Ts at Urban Outfitters. But given the lack of settings built into the iPhone camera, the ability to add some filters and flavor to your image is welcome, no matter how faux. Extra irony in these shots I took in Guttenberg, Iowa last weekend with Jo and my grandfather—the site of many childhood memories I know from faded Kodaks.

Scenes from a farm house outside Albert Lea, Minnesota. My pal Lucas’s grandparents, one recently deceased and the other in a nursing home, have left their home on the prairie. But every detail of their existence since 1970 has been immaculately preserved by their descendents down to the glass knickknacks and old-school tool calendars. We wandered the grounds and numerous out-buildings looking for treasure.

Like his grandpa’s vast trove of beer signage, full of bygone logos I drew while Jo embellished.

The Make Sh!t confab is doing paintings with projections in an abandoned gallery space. We clean the squat up at the end of each session and it’s workable for now. As our crew grows and the projects get more ambitious, it’s clear we need permanent space. Fortunately summer’s come a few months early and we can take the party outdoors for a while.

Craig Phillips never lifts a brush yet stays right up in this thing, dispensing sage praise over mugs of bourbon.

I made this poker cheat sheet years ago. Now it’s back for more laughs. In T we trust.

>> P.R.O.; The Identicals – Blacky Joe
>> Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Ballad of the Sin Eater 

RECENT MORNINGS I’M UP before sunrise for international conference calls, interviewing the people behind India’s Sesame Street. I’m 11 1/2 hours behind Delhi, so their day is as good as over when we start talking.

I struggle to understand it all (unfamiliar accents and Development-speak), but I grasp enough for the website I’m writing. Their stories are so far outside my frame, it’s startling. I talked to the country’s leading female puppeteer who performed at last year’s Cricket World Cup, like our Super Bowl with 10 times the audience. In her spare time, she teaches puppetry to war orphans in Kashmir. Another woman explained that the kids she helps are much more likely to reach their 5th birthdays if they just learn hand-washing. Many have never seen a radio or TV.

The calls end and I rush off with Johanna to school. We see people shuffling above downtown in heated tubes. Cyclists careening through the river valley in full-cover face masks. Buses disgorging a riot of puffy coats and colossal backpacks.

How weird and unknowable is my own enclave?

We’re spending Saturday mornings at the magnificent M.I.A. Jo takes a class while I wander the galleries alone (my fondest wish).

What appeal does my filthy beater VW hold that I don’t see? This is the second unsolicited offer this year.

Now that Jo can read, we aren’t wasting any time learning word games. They are her birthright.

She’s a ways off from joining my poker crowd.

All class.

Toy versions of full-sized things drawn back into the real world. There’s an idea here somewhere.

Thursday Nights at Craig’s security door; a common sight.

Jo and Lo model funky Chinese swag from Uncle Kirk.

My sister once set a leaf fire under this bridge and the D.M.F.D. had to come put it out. TRUE STORY.

Was I actually someplace this beautiful recently? Man, vacations fade fast.

Oh right, we were with Sarah’s folks. Some memorable quotes for the visit:

> “George Soros was Hitler’s understudy.”
> “Canada has the worst food in the world.”
> “How DO you spell Duluth?”
> “I made the processor that allowed them to broadcast the Sarajevo Olympics.” (this claim has been verified)
> “You know, Walgreens has the NICEST bathrooms.”

We snuck away to do a loop of the Superior Hiking Trail too strenuous for septuagenarians.

There’s a taco place we now love 10x more than our old standby. Three words: HOMEMADE SALSA BAR.

A touching moment with stay-at-home-dad Witt and soon-to-be-dad Paul, hanging out while they can.

Used to think wild turkey sightings were a special thing, but lately Minneapolis is lousy with them.

 

Sass and style to spare.

>> Ronnie Dawson – Action Packed
>> Desmond Dekker – Honour Your Mother and Father

MY MIND IS UNUSUALLY SERENE LATELY (hardly cause for complaint, except that I blog best under duress). I’m furnishing that surplus mental real estate with reading: most recently a 1000-page novel about proto-scientists in the age of Enlightenment (oof; thanks, Kev!), a gift subscription to the New York Review of Books (best eva, Marc!), and, just this week, the revelatory rock crit manifesto I might have written if I knew 100x more (thanks for getting the hint, sis!).

It’s not just me. Sarah’s mainlining Self Help and alternative health books as Johanna inches toward that moment where she can pick up and read stuff unaided. Betting we’re obsolete by February.

In other timesucks, I’m compiling an unscheduled mixtape for my club, “FOLK-HOP,” a set of alternating rap and folk tunes that’s sure to displease fans of both. I’m also closing shop next week to chill and ski with the in-laws while jumping on all Happy Hour invitations until January.

How much leisure can one man handle? Here, I’ll show you.

Jo and Sarah churn out ultra-vivid monoprints at the Highpoint Center. Mine suffered from a lack of ink and inspiration.

The great-granddaughter with our beloved Nassif Matriarch, still a formidable bridge player at 89.

Lo, Jo, Louis, and Two Dads In Loungewear.

No idea what inspired this, but I’m adopting it as my 2012 mantra.

Paul’s Ai Wei Wei rubylith design, a leftover Make Sh!t project to bookend our first full year.

With no ice or snow, we’re running all over.

Catching yellow-hued views at dusk from the Guthrie.

For months, Sarah’s been saving “special” bottles for kombucha (a more vile beverage I’ve never encountered), only to have every last one freeze and break. Repulsion averted!

A modest wishlist posted to the front door.

Allison, newly 34 with Beef Bourguignon, at her second birthday celebration of the night. Steady there, sister.

A panda inspects the work of beavers on the East Bank of the Mississippi River.

I sit here so contentedly.

>> Redd Kross – Look On Up At the Bottom
>> Dylan – Watching the River Flow

A MONTH AGO, MY FIRST MOMENTOUS INEVITABILITY as a parent came to pass. Johanna’s arrival in Kindergarten was a triumph. How was there any doubt? It seems obvious now, though we sweated it plenty (a symptom of the over-protective culture that defines me, much as I resist). As the youngest in her class, I’d half expected Johanna to run away screaming, if not burst into flames. Instead she blew me a kiss and started running the place.

For the first time since Johanna came along, I’m seeing her experiences through the lens of my own. I remember Day 1: walking past the crossing guards, taking seats on the colored tape, napping on a towel, meeting a boy named Carnell in his Aquaman Underoos.

Jo invited some new classmates to her 5th birthday party. I had the uncanny feeling not only that I knew them—the silent girl who draws well, the redheaded wild child—but that I would now know them forever. Their faces were lines connecting 30 years before and 30 years hence.

Something similar happened when I met their parents. It’s like by joining the school, we adults are suddenly on a team, knit together by the noisy, beautiful, tantrum-throwing things we care about most. These people want to like you. They are grateful for your effort. Your victories are theirs and vice-versa. Maybe others get this reception in their workplace or church. I wouldn’t know.

The school is in Northeast Minneapolis, an unbusable distance from us. True, I’m refueling my car more often. But the drive is almost absurdly scenic—five rolling miles of Mississippi River I share with rowers, runners and barges. Maybe I’ll buy Jo carbon offsets for her 6th birthday.

Back at home, there’s a palpable sense of relief. That Jo’s happy. That we made a smart decision. And that maybe we’re done with such decisions for a while.

It’s a nice feeling.

>> The Midnight EEz — Childhood Memories