Saturday, March 31, 2007

Plugging Along

Joshua and I seem to be awfully busy, and the winter months seem to be flying by, although I cannot say that we have been doing anything notable or remarkable.

We have wound up our weekend errands, and in a short while we will go over to my parents' house to catch the two semi-final games and have dinner. We are keeping an eye on the Iowa coaching situation, and contradictory information seems to erupt every thirty seconds or so.

Tomorrow, after church, we will go with my parents to spend the day with my mother's relatives. My mother's relatives always spend Palm Sunday together.

Next weekend, my brothers and my older brother's family will be home for Easter, and we are looking forward to that very much.

Otherwise, I guess, we are just plugging along.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Sheriff In Town

Not having a television, Josh and I went over to my parents' house yesterday and again today to watch the tournament games.

My mother baked a ham for us for dinner last night, and tonight she stuffed and roasted chickens for us for dinner. We watched the games, and we ate well, and we all had a very nice time together.

All weekend we talked and talked and talked about Tubby Smith's hire at Minnesota and what it would mean for the Minnesota program, and we concluded that the hire was an exceptional move on the part of the University Of Minnesota Athletic Director.

Everyone here is still talking, nonstop, about Smith's assumption of the helm of the Minnesota program. It was the primary--no, it was the only--topic of conversation at church this morning, before and after the service. Opinion, from all quarters, was universally positive.

My father, a native of Iowa, is equally thrilled that Steve Alford was quietly shoved aside at the University Of Iowa--and without Iowa having to pay Alford the $2,000,000.00 buyout it would have owed him had Alford been discharged.

Iowa has a new Athletic Director, and the new Athletic Director clearly wanted to replace Alford. However, the University Of Iowa is between university presidents at the moment, so the new Iowa Athletic Director could not, from a political standpoint, discharge Alford at this time.

So what did he do? He gave a series of highly-publicized post-season interviews to the media outlets in the state, letting everyone know that he expected much, much better things from Alford next season.

When he read those interviews, my father said that the Iowa Athletic Director was letting Alford know that there was a new sheriff in town and, if Alford was smart, that Alford would find another job on his own before he was fired a year from now. And, as it turns out, Alford took the not-so-subtle hint, and left Iowa for a far less prestigious job in New Mexico.

My father is very pleased. Alford's eight years in Iowa City did near-irreparable harm to the program, a program in which Alford's predecessors had been Tom Davis, Lute Olson, and Ralph Miller, championship coaches all and gentlemen of the old school.

There is something wrong with Steve Alford. Everyone disliked him immensely in his previous job, at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri, and they still disliked him even after he took the school to the Sweet Sixteen for the first (and only) time in the school's history. Attendance declined sharply during Alford's years in Springfield, and fans in Springfield positively celebrated after he took the Iowa job and left town.

In Iowa, Alford was disliked even more than he was disliked in Springfield, and he was not disliked merely because he was a lousy coach--he was disliked as a human being. People in Iowa took a visceral and deep dislike to Alford after he had been there about a year, and that dislike only continued to swell as his tenure dragged on and on, far too long. Attendance in Iowa City collapsed, and the program lost its good will among the state's citizens.

Iowa fans are now doing cartwheels, celebrating Alford's departure as if it were an appearance in the Final Four. But why was Alford permitted to last in the job so long?

My Dad says it was because Iowa's former Athletic Director, Bob Bowlsby, now at Stanford, would not admit that he had made a mistake in hiring Alford. This was a blind spot that Bowlsby had, and nothing would make Bowlsby change his mind about Alford, even when university officials and major contributors would try to talk to Bowlsby about the situation.

A long-time friend of my Dad, a businessman from Des Moines and a diehard Hawkeye fan, assumed that Iowa was only keeping Alford in order not to have to pay him the millions of dollars owed, by contract, if Alford was fired. My Dad's friend offered to cough up the money Iowa would need to buy out Alford's contract, and he made his offer in 2003, 2004 and again in 2005. His offer was not accepted.

Fortunately, "the new sheriff in town" did his job, and he engineered Alford's departure from Iowa City. My father is relieved, and he would be doing cartwheels, too, except that my mother will not allow it.

Over the weekend, newpapers reported that the private plane carrying Alford from Iowa to New Mexico, where Alford was to be introduced as New Mexico's new coach later that day, was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff from Cedar Rapids.

Not a good omen, I believe.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Tubby Smith is leaving Kentucky to come to Minneapolis to become the new Minnesota basketball coach.

People here are in a state of disbelief--as well as in a state of excitement, and perhaps euphoria.

The announcement will be made tomorrow.

What extraordinary news!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The New Guthrie

Last evening Joshua and I attended a performance of "The Glass Menagerie" at the new Guthrie Theater.

It was the first time we had attended a performance in the new theater complex, but it was not the first Guthrie offering we have attended. Last year, at Easter, Josh and I attended a performance of "Hamlet", the final offering at the old Guthrie Theater. Josh had come home with me for Easter break last year, and on a lark we decided to go downtown and see the old Guthrie Theater and attend a performance there before it was abandoned.

The old theater was only forty years old, but the Guthrie claimed that it needed a new and larger facility, and somehow it succeeded in convincing substantial numbers of Minneapolis donors that a new building was justified.

When the new facility first opened last year, Josh and I walked through and examined the building one weekend, but last night was the first actual performance we attended in the new structure.

The best thing I can say about the new Guthrie Theater is that it did not cost a great deal of money. The new theater houses three stages--an 1100-seat thrust stage, a 700-seat proscenium stage, and a 250-seat studio theater--and the entire project came in at $125 million, about half what a large performing-arts complex generally costs these days.

Consequently, the final result was comparatively cheap.

And the building looks cheap.

The exterior is hideous. Its form mimics the surrounding grain mills and grain elevators, which is not an inherently bad idea, given the building's location. However, what architect Jean Nouvel came up with is an unmitigated architectural disaster: an ugly, misshapen blob, with an indigo cladding, featuring a now-infamous "bridge to nowhere" jutting out from the building. The overall aesthetic effect of the exterior is extremely unpleasant--it looks like nothing so much as a very, very bad office building of a corporation with a very, very peculiar CEO.

The interior, however, is even more of a disaster. The main lobby is four floors above street level, and patrons must ascend two long, long escalators to reach the main lobby. Once there, they are confronted with what has to be the ugliest theater lobby ever created, as well as a series of long, white, and amazingly boring hallways that, in jumbled and confusing fashion, lead to other parts of the building.

Who was responsible for approving this mess?

The new Guthrie Theater was Jean Nouvel's first American project. He is still best known for his first important building, the 1987 Institut Du Monde Arabe in Paris. That building is no deathless architectural masterpiece, inside or out, but it is light years better than the new Guthrie. Nouvel also designed the Cultural And Congress Center in Lucerne, including its concert hall. I happen not to like that particular building, but it nevertheless is nowhere near the meritless structure Nouvel devised for Minneapolis. (I have never visited Nouvel's new Musee De Quai Branly in Paris; I saw it many times during the construction phase, but scaffolding and plastic wrap prevented any serious examination of the exterior.)

I strongly suspect that the new Guthrie building will have an even shorter lifespan than the old Guthrie building, which was a typical example of 1960's concrete modernism that should never have been abandoned. In fact, I will be greatly surprised if the new Guthrie edifice is still standing when I am sixty years of age.

The Guthrie Theater, as a theatrical institution, is going through a very bad period right now, so it is only fitting that the institution occupy a bad building. The company has lost its way. It has departed from its original mission and it needs to find a way to return to that original mission.

When the Guthrie Theater opened, in 1963, it was America's first important regional theater, and the quality of its productions rivalled those of London. Only the finest directors and actors were engaged, and the chosen repertory was serious and elevated, with no concessions whatsoever to popular taste.

That particular state of affairs only lasted for about ten years, at which point the theater seemed to become less and less interested in producing theater at the highest possible level and more and more concerned with "audience development". Today the Guthrie Theater is a mere entertainment venue designed to appeal to a mass audience. The theater's decline from greatness to mediocrity has saddened and appalled many Minneapolis theater lovers, who cannot even talk about today's Guthrie without fighting back tears.

I have nothing against entertainment, and I have nothing against a mass audience, but tax-free institutions supported by tax-deductible donations are required, by law, to engage in educational and artistic pursuits, and not in the provision of mass-audience entertainment, which requires no government subsidy. I only wish that Senator Gassley's committee were paying as much attention to America's state-subsidized theaters as it is paying to America's state-subsidized museums. All of these institutions are in need of a good, hard, public shaking-up, and it cannot come soon enough.

And the Guthrie needs a good, hard, public shaking-up. The quality of its performances is no longer high, and its repertory is quite clearly chosen on the basis of commerical viability, not artistic merit. Minneapolis theater-goers are not experiencing the world's finest directors and actors, and Minneapolis theater-goers are not experiencing the best of world drama, ancient and modern.

Joshua was shocked when, almost a year ago, he and I went to see the Guthrie's "Hamlet". He was acquainted with the Guthrie's reputation, of course, but he had never before attended a Guthrie performance. (Last year's "Hamlet" was staged because an elaborate "Hamlet" had opened the old theater in 1963, and it was determined, with great fanfare, that an elaborate "Hamlet" should close the old theater in 2006.)

The reason Joshua was so shocked by that "Hamlet" was because the performance was so bad. And it WAS a terrible performance that we witnessed--a terrible performance of a terrible production. In fact, I was embarrassed, because it was the first performance of anything that Josh attended in my home town, and he was not seeing anything to make the Twin Cities proud. At the conclusion of the performance, Josh joked "I hope the actors do not quit their day jobs as supermarket check-out clerks"--and Josh was entirely justified to say that, as his sentiment applied to everyone appearing in that production, top to bottom, from the actor playing the title role down to the smallest bit player.

And I do not wish to single out the Guthrie for criticism, because I have seen far, far worse elsewhere. In Washington, the quality of the productions and performances at Arena Stage (not to speak of its lowest-common-denominator repertory) was indescribable--it is surely the worst theater company on the planet, bar none, and the one with the dumbest audience--and the Shakespeare Theater in Washington was not much better.

And I fully realize that America is not and has never been a nation with a rich theatrical culture. Nonetheless, institutions that have accepted the public's trust (and its tax-deductible dollars) to produce high-level theater should make at least a half-hearted effort to deliver on that promise. And the Guthrie--and the Guthrie has a lot of company elsewhere--has stopped doing so.

The only reason that Josh and I even attended last night's performance of "Menagerie" was because my parents had recommended it to us. The production had received good notices (which must always be taken with a grain of salt here in the Twin Cities) and we were sort of curious to see Harriet Harris and we knew that this was the last week of performances of the run and we were sort of curious to see the Guthrie building in use during an evening in which two or more of its theaters were in use. And we went, and we were glad that we went.

The perfomance was OK--and a hundred times better than that amateur "Hamlet" we suffered through a year ago (although the actors last night did not have to deal with iambic pentameter)--and we had a good time. Harriet Harris was fine. The director, Joe Dowling, an Irishman who is the Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater, had two different actors play the role of Tom--one to do the narrative parts, and one to do the interactions with the other characters--and this bit of nonsense did not seriously detract from the play or the performance.

However, both Josh and I found the play itself to be somewhat boring. Both of us have read the play and both of us have seen this particular Williams play staged a couple of times before, and "Menagerie" is not a play that can be seen over and over and over--it is not quite mature Williams, and it lacks the theatricality of "Streetcar" or "Cat", and its characters lack the complexity of Blanche DuBois, Williams' single greatest creation. "Menagerie" is a nice little play that can be seen once or twice, but after that its allure becomes less and less enticing. I doubt that either Josh or I would want to see this play again for twenty or thirty more years.

This production of "The Glass Menagerie" at the Guthrie has not sold well. In fact, this production has been conspicuous for its disappointing sales, and many persons in the theater community here have been scratching their heads about its lack of box-office appeal, especially since the production had been widely expected to sell out. My belief is that the production's poor sales have been the result of the fact that this play is over-familiar to audiences.

When will Josh and I next go to the Guthrie? We have no idea. We may want to attend one of the "Major Barbara" performances later this season--if, and only if, my parents strongly recommend the production. Otherwise, we will not return until next season, if then (except to see the visit by The Royal Shakespeare Company next season).

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mulling Things Over

This weekend we talked about travel plans.

In truth, none of us HAVE any travel plans--not my parents, not my brother, not Josh and me. Nonetheless, we discussed potential--VERY potential--trips abroad, and it seems that everyone is very keen to go somewhere, but that no one knows when it will be possible to go and what the destination should be.

My parents love to travel to Europe. However, they are at an age at which they no longer like to travel to Europe on their own. My parents are still very young (my mother is only in her very late fifties, and my father is only in his very early sixties) and they both are in excellent health, but nevertheless they no longer want to take "stimulation" vacations by themselves--they only want to take "relaxation" vacations by themselves now.

This accounts for the fact that they were perfectly content to spend a few days by themselves in San Diego ten days ago--San Diego was a "relaxation" vacation. This also accounts for the fact that, for their trip to Hamburg, they wanted to be joined by my brother and by Josh and me--Hamburg was a "stimulation" vacation.

My father probably will not retire for another five years or so but, after he is retired, I suspect that he and my mother will want to do some serious traveling--but I do not think that they will want to do that serious traveling on their own.

My older brother loves to travel in Europe, but he cannot do so at present, as he and his wife are raising an infant.

My middle brother also loves to travel in Europe, but he does not like to go to Europe by himself. Since my older brother is out of commission for the time being, my middle brother must now look to Josh and me as his prospective travel companions.

I love to travel to Europe, whether by myself, whether with my middle brother, whether with both of my brothers, whether with my parents, or whether with all of them.

Josh has been to Europe, but only with his Dad (except for last November's Hamburg trip), and he looks forward to some serious explorations of Europe with me. I promised Josh that our next trip to Europe would involve him and me alone, and no one else, and he and I had tentatively settled upon London as the ideal city for our first trip together.

However, my middle brother wants to go somewhere during the first two weeks in September, and he wants Josh and me to join him. He does not really care where we go, but he wants to go somewhere during that particular two-week period because it suits his work schedule.

My brother's favorite destination is London, and this is because there is so much to see and do in London. There is more to see and do in London than any other city, anywhere, and London's plethora of attractions is enhanced, for him, because it has so many military museums: the National Army Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the artillery museum, and the RAF museum near Cambridge, each of which he could move into and establish residence.

My brother also likes London because there is always something to do in the evenings. The main London museums--the National Gallery Of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Victoria And Albert Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern--all have specified late night openings, and my brother does not object to spending a couple of hours in art museums in the evenings. London also has theater, in English, and my brother enjoys going to the theater in the evening when he is in London (although he NEVER goes to the theater in the U.S. unless my parents or I initiate the outing). My brother has become a true fan of Britain's National Theatre, and he is always happy to see just about anything presented there--even plays I would not necessarily expect him to enjoy. He also does not mind spending the occasional evening at the Royal Opera House or at the Coliseum.

I love London, too, and for all of the same reasons that make London so appealing to my brother. London is hardly the most beautiful city in Europe, or the most charming, or the most intoxicating, or the most exotic. London is, however, never boring, and it IS possible to be bored, on occasion, in Paris or Vienna or Florence or Madrid or Prague, especially in the evenings, when everything interesting has closed for the day.

I have spent the equivalent of four months of my life in London, and yet there are many, many important London attractions I have still never visited. I have never been to the Dulwich Picture Gallery or Kenwood House or Leighton House or Spencer House or Kensington Palace or the Guildhall or The Royal Academy Of Art or the many small Christopher Wren churches in "The City". I have never bothered to explore the Victoria And Albert Museum, although I have gone inside, on three occasions, to sit down and examine The Raphael Cartoons for an hour at a time.

Josh and I have been talking, and we are now reconsidering whether our first trip, by ourselves, should be to London. Perhaps Josh and I should go to London with my brother, and go to Paris by ourselves. My brother much prefers London to Paris, and he will have a better time in London than Paris (or practically anywhere else). On the other hand, Josh and I will have a good time no matter where we go.

As for my parents, my mother has a hankering to visit Munich again, and my father wants to do a serious exploration of Spain.

My parents have been to Munich, but only briefly, and my mother fell in love with the idea of returning to Munich after my last trip there, in 2003. On that visit I spent a lot of time at the Alte Pinakothek, and upon my return I gave my mother a painting-by-painting description of the Alte Pinakothek's holdings, and she was entranced. The Alte Pinakothek has probably the greatest collection of Old Master paintings in the world--the Wittelsbachs were extraordinary collectors, much more astute than the Habsburgs or the Spanish and French royal families--and the gallery's holdings are equally strong in Italian, German, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch paintings. Only French paintings are under-represented at the Alte Pinakothek, but that under-representation may be forgiven in view of the rest of the holdings: 900 utterly top-drawer masterpieces, without any of the second- or third- or fourth-tier "filler" paintings that one must wade through at the Louvre or at the Prado. After my Munich trip, my mother made me promise that I would go with her and my father to Munich to show them the Alte Pinakothek (and the Neue Pinakothek and the Pinakothek Moderne and the Glyptothek--home of the Barbarini Faun--and the Residenz and the Nymphenburg Palace and the many magnificent Munich churches) and I would truly love to go back to Munich in my parents' company and see all of those things again through my parents' eyes.

My parents have been to Madrid (and did not even like it--in fact, they hated it), but my father wants to visit some of the other cities in Spain: Segovia, Avila, Salamanca, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, Bilbao, Compostela. Seeing all of those cities would be a wonderful experience, but it would involve a great deal of time and planning and preparation, and I very much doubt that my parents would want to go on such a complicated journey by themselves.

So Josh and I are mulling things over, and we will talk again with my brother on this subject over Easter, and we will talk again with my parents on this subject until we arrive at some conclusions.

Tournament Weekend

Our weekend was fun.

We did not spend as much time this weekend, glued to the television, as previous years, and this was because there were fewer genuinely interesting games this year than in the recent past. In fact, there were very few truly exciting games--and not a single absolutely riveting one--this weekend, which was somewhat of a surprise.

Personally, I was sorry to see all but one of the Big Ten teams eliminated this weekend, and Joshua was sorry to see all but two of the Big Twelve teams eliminated this weekend.

Josh and I both had to work on both Thursday and Friday, but my father took off Friday afternoon so that he could spend that time with my brother. Josh and I saw my brother on Thursday and Friday evenings, and again all day on Saturday and Sunday.

We had a wonderful time together, and I think we all spent more time playing scrabble and talking than actually watching the games.

Still, I do not think that we could have had a better weekend--and my brother will be back home, in three weeks, for Easter, so we shall all see him again soon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

One Of The Very Best Weekends Of The Year

My middle brother is going to come home this weekend, and I am very excited.

He is going to come home tomorrow, and he is going to come home in order to watch this weekend's NCAA tournament games with us.

It was a last-minute decision on his part--he did not say anything to anyone until this morning, when he called my mother to let her know he was coming--and we are all exceedingly pleased.

It will be wonderful, watching the first weekend of tournament games together. It will be just like old times. When we were kids, all three of us boys would watch the games with our father, and we loved it. The first weekend of the tournament was always one of the very best weekends of the year, or so we always thought, and we will get to experience that again this year. I only wish that my older brother could come and watch the games with us, too.

My brother will stay at our parents' house, of course, and not with Josh and me, but Josh and I will go over to my parents' house on Thursday evening and again on Friday evening after work, and we will spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday over at my parents' house, too.

My mother will retrieve my brother at the airport tomorrow at mid-day, and he will already be home, watching games, several hours before my Dad will get home from work and several hours before Josh and I can make it over after work.

I know that my mother will take exceptionally good care of him tomorrow afternoon, while he is in her exclusive care. I also know that we will all have homemade butter noodles tomorrow night for dinner, one of my brother's very favorite foods, because my mother always makes the noodles for him the first night he is home. Whether my mother will serve the noodles with chicken or beef or ham or something else I do not know, but I do know that the noodles will definitely be on tomorrow night's dinner menu.

And my Dad and my brother and Josh and I will not be the only ones who will enjoy an entire weekend devoted to NCAA tournament basketball.

While my mother has no inherent interest in basketball per se, she always experiences her own excitement when we are watching games because she sees how much fun we are having, and it makes things fun for her, too.

My parents' kitchen is extremely large, and it serves, veritably, as kitchen, dining room and family room. The cooking area is at one end, with all sorts of counters and cabinets and utensils for preparing meals. At the opposite end is a television, with two small sofas and three rocking chairs clustered around the set. In between is a large dining table, three bookcases, a desk with my parents' computer, a day bed (the sole piece of furniture in my mother's house on which the dog is permitted to sit) and a sound system.

Everything my parents need is in the kitchen, and it would not be inaccurate to say that my parents almost live in their kitchen. One side of the kitchen is almost all windows, looking out upon the deck and the back yard, and it is a very bright and very welcoming and very beautiful room.

While we will be watching games, my mother will sit with us, half paying attention to the action and half reading or doing crossword puzzles. Part of the time, she will be over in the cooking area, but she can talk to us and we can talk to her from across the room, and generally one of us will join her over in the cooking area and provide company and assistance while she works.

When the games get boring--and lulls invariably happen once or twice each day during the tournament--we will stop devoting our full attention to basketball. Then, we will talk, or go outside and play with the dog, or help my mother, or play scrabble, or play canasta, until a particular game heats up and starts to attract our attention once again.

It will be a great weekend, and everyone will have a swell time--my mother not least of all.

I am so happy to see my brother come home for this weekend. This weekend means a great deal to him--it is one of his favorite weekends of the entire year, too--and I am delighted that he will be spending it with us. I worry about him, living in Denver, all by himself. Although Denver is only two hours away by air, it is too far away for him to come home every weekend (although that would be nice).

I think he should move back to Minneapolis, and I keep telling him this.

I am working on him.

Minnesota Basketball

When it comes to universities with problems in the athletics department, the University Of Minnesota basketball program must surely compete for one of the top spots in the nation.

The program has been in disarray for my entire lifetime, going back at least a decade before I was born, and I believe that this disarray is the reason why my father--as well as my brothers and I--cannot be deemed to be among the program's more notable fans.

The 1970's was the decade of coach Bill Musselman, who left the program in disgrace amid NCAA sanctions. The 1980's was the decade of coach Jim Dutcher, who left the program in disgrace amid more NCAA sanctions. The 1990's was the decade of coach Clem Haskins, who left the program in disgrace amid still more NCAA sanctions. I am surprised, given the long history of problems with the Minnesota basketball program, that the NCAA did not impose the death penalty. The only reason that the program was not closed down entirely was, no doubt, because the University Of Minnesota is a large school affiliated with a very powerful conference, the Big Ten. If Minnesota had been a small school in a small conference lacking influence with the NCAA, the program probably would have been ordered to be scuttled for some reasonable period.

Of course, the university fired coach Dan Monson very early in the current basketball season and turned over the remainder of the season to an assistant coach. Monson was the first Minnesota basketball coach to be fired for actually losing games--as opposed to his predecessors, all of whom left on account of one kind of scandal or another--for decades. What is wrong with the program, and why cannot the program be fixed? No one seems to be able to come up with satisfactory answers to those questions.

The Minnesota football program also seems to be in a state of perpetual disappointment (and the football coach was dismissed at the end of the 2006 football season, around the same time that the basketball coach, mid-season, was notified that his services were no longer wanted). One would think that the university would get its act together in the field of athletics.

The two Big Ten schools nearest to the University Of Minnesota do not suffer from the same constant array of problems, ethical and otherwise, that crop up here, over and over. The University Of Wisconsin seems to have its athletics department operating on a high level. The University Of Iowa seems to have its athletics department operating on a high level (although Iowa seems unable to get rid of basketball coach Steve Alford, whose departure is long overdue in Iowa City). I believe it is reasonable to expect that the University Of Minnesota operate on the same high ethical and achievement levels as Wisconsin and Iowa.

Perhaps the problem is that there are too many sports teams in the Twin Cities. In addition to college sports, we have the full spectrum of professional sports franchises here, and the pro teams generally receive the lion's share of the public's attention. Wisconsin and Iowa do not have a full array of local pro teams ciphering attention away from the Big Ten schools.

Lots of sports fans here have simply thrown up their hands in disgust with basketball at the University Of Minnesota. For many, Clem Haskins was the final straw--he was the third consecutive basketball coach to bring the program into disrepute and, by that point, they had had enough.

Many persons believed that Dan Monson, from Gonzaga, was the perfect man to restore respect to the program, but Monson was never able to duplicate his Gonzaga success in Minneapolis. I was sorry to see Monson fired, at least during the course of the season. Firing a coach during a season is never a good idea unless criminal activity is involved. Monson was a nice guy who just did not work out, but he should not have been shoved aside while the season was in progress.

I remember vividly the 1997 Minnesota basketball season, when the Golden Gophers won the Big Ten title and went to the Final Four. I was 16 years old at the time, and I was thrilled, the entire season, as Minnesota wiped out its Big Ten opponents, one by one, and marched through the NCAA tournament with ease (but needing a big comeback in the second half against U.C.L.A. to win the Regional final).

That was the first year I was home alone--my middle brother was in his first year of college--and my Dad and I went to every home Minnesota game that season, and we watched every away game on television. Dynamite would not have prevented us from attending and watching those games.

When everything later unravelled, and Minnesota's 1997 Big Ten championship was declared null and void, and its NCAA victories invalidated, I was hurt and offended. My Dad and I had enjoyed and celebrated what turned out to be a fraud, and I never got over that. It still leaves an aftertaste, even ten years later, and I have never become emotionally involved with the Golden Gophers ever since.

Now, when my Dad and I attend or watch a Minnesota game, it is always with a degree of dispassion, of remoteness, of distance. The Golden Gophers are not "our" team anymore.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Big Twelve Conference Basketball Tournament

Joshua and I had a lot of fun in Oklahoma.

The Big Twelve Tournament was very, very good, with a satisfactory number of good games and not too many blow-outs.

The arena in Oklahoma City was a fine one. It is five years old and, even though it is a multi-use facility, it offers an excellent space for hosting and viewing basketball games.

The best games, we thought, were Oklahoma's narrow win over Iowa State (my middle brother's alma mater) in the first round, Oklahoma State's thrilling win over a very fine Texas A & M squad (the very best game of the tournament, or so both Josh and I thought), Texas's big come-back win over Baylor, and the title game, in which Kansas made its own big come-back against Texas, in overtime. I do not think that it would have been possible to view such a proliferation of excellent games elsewhere this year (certainly the 2007 Big Ten Tournament, by contrast, offered no drama whatsoever). We were very lucky to have experienced such a good tournament and we were very thankful that Josh's Dad invited us.

One pleasure of attending the tournament was the opportunity to see Bobby Knight again. When I was in high school, my Dad took me, twice, to see Minnesota host Indiana (this was, of course, before the Hoosiers gave Bobby Knight the axe) and I was, at the time, a big fan of Bobby Knight. For me, he exemplified college basketball. I still believe that Bobby Knight was treated poorly by Indiana at the end of his long tenure there, but I have since grown tired of Bobby Knight and I no longer admire him as I did, say, ten years ago. He now strikes me as a blowhard and as a one-dimensional person, and I say this despite all the fine things he has done for college basketball over the years and despite all the fine charitable work he has performed, for decades. Last night, over the telephone, my Dad asked me what I thought of Bobby Knight during this year's Big Twelve Tournament. I told my Dad that I thought that Bobby Knight looked old, and bloated, and out of place. Whoever would have believed, ten years ago, that Bobby Knight would ever look out of place in a basketball arena?

Other than watching basketball, Josh and I really did not do much else while we were in Oklahoma--there was not much time for other activities. We just spent time with Josh's Dad, mostly, and his younger brother, who joined us for the games on Saturday and Sunday. We saw very little of Josh's mother or sister, and I regret that.

My mother and father had a nice time in San Diego, and everyone is back home now from their short trips. None of us has anything important on the calendar until Easter, when we will all be together here in Minneapolis, including my brothers and my sister-in-law and my nephew.

On Thursday night, Josh and I will go over to my parents' house to watch the NCAA Tournament get underway. Neither Oklahoma nor Oklahoma State made the NCAA field, and Oklahoma State's exclusion surprised both of us. However, the tournament appears to be Florida's or Ohio State's or North Carolina's to lose, with Georgetown being the most likely dark horse. There is not a large number of teams with realistic title expectations this year, unlike some recent years.

My instinct tells me that Florida is likely to repeat as champion, and I hope that this does not come to pass. The Florida athletic department is not considered to be a "clean" athletic department, and I always hate to see schools without "clean" reputations in athletics take significant championships. I hope my instinct is wrong.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Oklahoma City And San Diego Await

Joshua and I are all set to leave for Oklahoma on Wednesday.

We got our stuff ready this weekend, and did our mail, and everything else that had to be done, and all we need to do now is to grab our bags and head out the door Wednesday morning.

After Friday night over at my parents' house, we stayed in all weekend, although we did go to church on Sunday (and our absences the previous two Sundays were noted by our minister, but he knew that we had been in New York one of those weekends, and he knew, too, about the previous Sunday's brutal snowfall, so I am sure he forgave our absences).

I talked to my mother today, and she told me that she had everything ready for the trip to San Diego. I told her that she and my father should come over for dinner Tuesday night, the last night before we go our separate ways, and she said that she and my father would be delighted to come over for dinner that night.

Josh and I are going to give my parents two main courses: broiled salmon with Hollandaise sauce, served with brown and white rice and steamed broccoli; and baked chicken breasts with an apple glaze, served with a special herb stuffing from an old Amish cookbook, red and yellow peppers, and snap peas. It will only take Josh and I thirty minutes to prepare everything.

For dessert, I am going to make an apple-walnut coffee cake, which I can make in my sleep, from scratch. It is one of my specialties.

It should be a nice way to send everyone on their journeys.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Long And Complicated Story

While Joshua and I will be in Oklahoma from Wednesday through the following Monday, my parents will be in San Diego.

It is a long and complicated story.

On Friday morning, when I rose at 5:00 a.m., it had snowed. It had snowed another eleven inches during the night.

I rose and I cleaned up--but not for work--and I went outside and I dug out our car so that Joshua would be able to drive to work in the late morning.

Then I went back inside, and I woke Josh, and I told him that I was going to drive over to my parents' house and clear their snow. I told Josh that I would be back at 8:30 a.m.

It was 6:30 a.m. when I pulled up at my parents' house. My father generally rises at 6:30 a.m.

He was already up, and in the garage, when I arrived. He was getting ready to leave the garage and start on the snow when he heard me pull up, and he opened one of the garage doors just as I was parking the car at the back of the house.

"Just in the nick of time" I told him, but he insisted that he was going to shovel, too.

I told my Dad that I had not had any coffee yet, and I asked him to go inside and make some coffee, and I told him that I would see what progress I could make in thirty minutes, and that I would join him for coffee in half an hour.

And I made good progress. I got the back driveway cleared, and the side of the house cleared, too, before I went inside.

When I entered the kitchen, I saw that my mother was up, and I told her that I hoped that I had not been the party responsible for waking her--but, if I was, that it had been for a good cause.

"I wish he [my father] would just use the shovel that came with the tractor" was her response. My mother was referring to an attachment that came with my father's garden tractor. The attachment is intended to be a satisfactory snow plow.

However, I hate the silly thing--it makes more of a mess than anything, and the tractor's tracks pack down the snow, making the whole project even more difficult--and my father hates it, too. Further, it is a complicated job to attach the plow head in the Winter and then to un-attach it in the Spring and, frankly, it is not worth all the trouble.

"That plow head is a joke" I told my mother. "I wouldn't use it, either."

"It's too bad the services are unreliable" my mother said. "We tried them, and they never showed up until 11:00 a.m., or even later. Once, they didn't show up until after 3:00 p.m. And, once, they didn't show up at all."

My mother was referring to snow removal services, which some families here use. My parents tried these services when I first went to college, and they were very dissatisfied with the two different services with which they contracted. Of course, one of the problems with the services is that they do not begin their work until the snowfall has actually ended, which is quite sensible, as the services are obliged to remove snow only once after each snowfall.

"At least I'm punctual" I said to my Mom. "Sometimes, you need punctual."

And I drank some coffee, and then I went outside and I finished the job, clearing the driveway all the way to the street. My Dad stayed inside, because he saw that it would not take me long to finish things up.

When I was done, I went back inside, and I had a little more coffee, and I asked my Dad if I could catch a ride downtown with him this morning.

Of course, he was more than happy to give me a ride to work, as he drives right past my building anyway and as he enjoys the company, and I asked him to give me half an hour before he swung by my place to pick me up.

And I went home, and Josh was up, and he and I had a quick bowl of cereal together, and then I got cleaned up for work. My Dad came by, and I rode to work with him (which was a lot faster than public transport).

He asked me whether he could give me a ride home, too, in the late afternoon, and I accepted his offer.

On late Friday afternoon, on our ride back home, my Dad asked me whether Josh and I wanted to come over for dinner. He told me that my mother wanted to cook steaks for us as a way of saying "Thank You" for shoveling their snow that morning.

I told my Dad that I would ask Josh when Josh got home.

When he got home, I asked Josh, and Josh said that he would be happy to eat one of my mother's steaks tonight, so I called my Mom and Dad, and I told them that we would be over shortly.

And we went over to my parents' house, where we truly had not planned to spend any time this weekend.

While my Mom was preparing dinner, she and my Dad talked, half-heartedly, about going somewhere while Josh and I were in Oklahoma.

I was the last son to leave home for college, of course, and, the first year I was away at college, my parents went away for a week, in January, and they chose a warm location: Florida. They went to Saint Petersburg, and they spent a week at the Vinoy, and they absolutely loved it.

They loved it so much that they went back to the Vinoy for the following six years, always spending a week or ten days there. This year was the first year they have not gone to the Vinoy in January since they started going, and I think that they did not feel a need to go this year because I was back home.

One year--the year I was a Senior in college--my parents had my brothers and my sister-in-law and me join them at the Vinoy for a long weekend.

The Vinoy is a very nice hotel, and it is a nice place to stay, I suppose, but, personally, I hate Florida. I also hate Saint Petersburg, and I also hate the Vinoy, and I was happy to go only once. The Vinoy has numerous tennis courts, and it was nice to play tennis out in the sunshine for two hours each day in the dead of winter--but there was little else other than tennis for me to do in Saint Petersburg or at the Vinoy. And who wants to play tennis for 16 hours a day?

The best thing about the Vinoy was its private dining room, reserved for guests of the hotel. It was the best restaurant I have ever experienced, anywhere. The food and the service were stupendous, and never have I enjoyed such a fine restaurant dinner. It must be better than Lucas Carton in Paris (not that I have ever been to Lucas Carton in Paris.) However, restaurants do not do much for me, as a general rule, since I much prefer eating at home, and the Vinoy private dining room--fine as it was--was hardly a sufficient reason to make such a long trip. (The regular dining room at the Vinoy, open to the public, is also very, very highly regarded, but I did not think that it was anything to write home about--probably because I have always been spoiled by my mother's cooking, to which nothing else ever seems to measure up.)

In sum, I was happy to experience the Vinoy, and I was even happier to depart.

My Dad always played golf when he visited the Vinoy, and my mother, who is not a golfer, would sit on one of the verandas and read, or visit the art museum, or watch a movie, or just stroll around the Vinoy grounds, which indeed are quite lovely.

When my parents invited the entire family to join them at the Vinoy that one year, my brothers played golf with my Dad every day.

I, however, despise golf, and I did not play golf with them. Instead, I visited the Saint Petersburg Museum Of Art with my mother and my sister-in-law (the museum is in the block directly across from the front entrance of the Vinoy, although one has to walk through a pretty good-sized park to get there) and I played tennis and I went swimming and I did some reading.

Whenever my Dad and my brothers golf, my father and I go through this little Vaudeville routine, which never varies.

DAD: Would you like to join us today?

ANDREW: Gosh, I'd love to, but my white shoes and plaid trousers are in the repair shop. They get such heavy use, you know.

DAD: You might enjoy it--get some sunshine, get some fresh air, get some exercise.

ANDREW: Yes, shifting gears on that golf cart is a real workout.

DAD: I have never understood why you hate this sport so much.

ANDREW: Golf is a game, not a sport.

DAD: Golf requires physical coordination and mental concentration.

ANDREW: So does knitting. Is knitting a sport?

DAD: You are incorrigible.

At this point, my Dad always grabs me and he gives me a huge bear hug and he won't let go, tussling my hair and nuzzling me. Finally, he kisses me and he releases me, and he tells me, again, that I am incorrigible, but that he loves me anyway.

So, Friday night, while she was preparing dinner, my mother asked my father whether they should go somewhere while Josh and I will be in Oklahoma.

"Do you want to go back to Saint Petersburg?" my father asked.

A look of disappointment crept across my mother's face. "I'm sort of tired of the Vinoy" she said, after a long pause. "I was thinking perhaps we might go somewhere else, for a change."

"Finally!" I said. I had to say that--it was an entirely involuntary utterance on my part.

"Do you want to go to Denver?" my father asked. He was thinking, obviously, of a visit with my middle brother.

"It should REALLY be nice and warm in Denver" I said. "And you might want to swing by another hotspot, Winnipeg, on your way back home."

"So do you have any better ideas?" my Dad asked me.

And I told him that he and my mother should go to Los Angeles, where it was sure to be warm. I told him that they might enjoy six days there, and that they could visit the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art and that they could visit the Getty Museums and that they could visit the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and that they could visit the Huntington Library in San Marino.

I thought that my idea was a good one.

However, it was not.

"Your father is not looking for a museum trip" my mother said. "He is looking for sunshine, and for some golf, and for some pure relaxation."

"Go to San Diego, then" I said.

And my parents seemed to like the idea, and they seemed to like the idea very much.

They have not been to San Diego for years and years--not since they took my brothers and me there, many, many years ago, to see the zoos--and, the more they thought about the idea, the more it seemed to appeal to them.

So, after dinner, Josh and I washed and dried the dinner dishes while my parents searched online for a hotel in San Diego that would please them. Once they found one, they stayed online to check air reservations, and they found that they could indeed get the flights they wanted--and they booked a trip to San Diego!

The last thing on their minds, I am sure, when they awoke Friday morning, was to plan a trip to San Diego. This will be a purely serendipitous vacation for them, and I hope they have an utterly wonderful time, which I suspect they will.

And six days is about the right length of time for them to spend in San Diego, I think--they will arrive in San Diego late Wednesday afternoon, and have all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to enjoy some warm weather, and then head for the airport for their flight home late Monday morning.

Good for them!

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Quiet Weekend At Home

I think that Joshua and I will just stay home this weekend, and get some rest, and get our things ready for Oklahoma, and do some reading, and catch up on other things.

I think we may invite my parents over for dinner on Tuesday night--the night before we fly to Oklahoma City--but otherwise we will only see them in church on Sunday morning.

After the last two weekends, I think we just want a quiet weekend at home, especially since the following weekend will be spent away from home, too.