The Incredible Hulk, or why I spend so much time alone

There’s something I’ve been wanting to share with you for a long time but couldn’t find the words. I feel so strongly, though, that I can hold it in no longer, for amidst life’s challenges, my guiding light, rock of strength, and unfailing paragon of purity, is the Incredible Hulk. There’s almost never a time I don’t wish I were talking about the Incredible Hulk, but, thanks to Ang Lee, most of my potential listeners won’t believe he can be more than a side-character in any remotely watchable film. This is totally false, and I would like to explain why.

Like all superheroes, the Incredible Hulk has an alter ego: genius physicist Dr. Bruce Banner. But unlike most superheroes, Dr. Banner’s psyche is almost entirely exiled  when the Hulk takes control. Not only does Dr. Banner disappear, but with each bout of rage the Hulk gains an even stronger grip on the will and body the two personalities share. This conflict for the possession of mind and flesh perpetuates a cycle of self-denial and sacrifice in Dr. Banner. He can’t get too close to the people he loves, especially Betty Ross, because any strong emotion could trigger a transformation into his nightmarish alter ego. But he daren’t leave entirely because when threats arise, Dr. Banner knows the Hulk is the only force strong enough to protect humanity. This means he is constantly near those he cares about without being able to enter any kind of satisfying relationships.

Betty Ross has an impressive amount of spunk and street smarts!

Betty Ross has an impressive amount of spunk and street smarts!

Where Dr. Banner differs most starkly from other superheroes is that he never gets to experience the perks of his superpower. Of course Stan Lee reminds us frequently that superpowers have their downsides, but Thor still gets to fly his women wherever he wants, and Dr. Xavier can occasionally read socially convenient information from others’ thoughts. But Dr. Banner’s mind is entirely gone when his superpower expresses itself. In fact, each time he gives into his alter ego, Dr. Banner’s not sure the Hulk won’t maintain hold forever. The beauty is that when the world needs him, Dr. Banner still risks everything and changes.

Many superheroes’ personal drama stems from temporary, self-created dilemmas. Spiderman either gets cocky or keeps secrets. Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl can’t keep their romantic drama to themselves. But even when everyone is entirely up front with each other, Dr. Banner’s relationships will always be tenuous because sometimes he turns into a violent Hulk. It’s just the nature of the beast. Literally.

In the 1962 original, Bruce Banner became the Hulk when he saved Rick Jones from a gamma bomb.

In the 1962 original, Bruce Banner became the Hulk when he saved Rick Jones from a gamma bomb.

The emotional aspect of the Incredible Hulk could easily carry a film if people could stop fixating on the Hulk’s penchant for smashing. Yes, he smashes things. And yes it is cool. But we all know that smashing, as a superpower, isn’t cool enough to sell when its competition is the alter-ego-transcending snarky genius of Tony Stark/Iron Man or the well-butlered fury of Bruce Wayne/Batman. While the Hulk’s personality is defined by raw might, Dr. Banner’s defining characteristic is raw goodness. Dr. Banner’s willingness to sacrifice until there’s nothing left is the real superpower, and the difference between the Incredible Hulk and other superheroes is that his most remarkable trait is expressed by his alter ego. I challenge you to find a more trenchant example of nobility or a more heart wrenching drama. You will find none.

I love the Incredible Hulk because I’m inspired by Dr. Banner’s consistent will to risk everything to protect the people he loves. The Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner persona is, in my estimation, the noblest of the Marvel Universe, and a beacon for youth in our troubled times. The Incredible Hulk is a heartbreaking tale of agonizing self sacrifice. I’d encourage everyone to heed Dr. Banner’s example and then face all decisions by asking, “What would Bruce Banner do?

Thanks so much for reading my propaganda. If you’re still craving more, I wrote you a song. Also, click here to see some of the most beautiful Hulk story telling I’ve ever seen.

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A Prairie Home Companion – September 24

Sound guy Tom Keith, and voice actors Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Garrison Keillor on set of A Prairie Home Companion

Seeing A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor live was the fulfillment of my childhood dreams. Growing up, we did a lot of driving between my mom’s house (Centerville) and my dad’s house (Salina). My dad wasn’t a big fan of our favorite roadtrip pastimes (Such as this game where you replace one of the words on a billboard with the wordbooger. For example, the McDonald’s slogan would be transformed from “I’m lovin’ it” to “I’m lovin’ boogers.” Endless fun.), so he would turn on NPR to shut us up. Hence, Garrison Keillor became something of a non-interactive, third parent who was present on all road trips.

We even had tales from Lake Wobegon cassettes. I remember countless afternoons in the hammock on the back patio, eating fudge sickles and listening to stories about the rhubarb pie, the Sidetrack Tap, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, et al. I’ll admit that Garrison Keillor was a factor that made my move to Minnesotan tundra far more palatable. A state inhabited by good natured people like the hot-dish-giving Krebsbachs couldn’t be too bad.

The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band with Nick Lowe

With all this anticipation, hearing Garrison start a story with, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…” and interrupting his story every so often with his soft nasal wheezing, well, it was probably like it would be for some other member of my generation to finally see The Spice Girls live or something. Basically, it was incredible. The set is designed to look like a Midwestern porch front. The sound effects are all one guy. The voices are all done by three people, plus a few guest stars. The Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band really are all stars! I couldn’t stop being impressed by how few people were involved in making this thing happen. Talent!

I’m not going to go into detail about the particulars of the actual show because I won’t do it justice, and the whole thing will be far more enjoyable if you simply give it a listen here or on iTunes. Suffice it to say, the evening was every bit as delightful as is this three minute clip:

Up to Date – September 20

Okay guys, I intended to write individual and detailed blog posts for a whole bunch of really great experiences I had this summer. But I’m sick, which always leads me to make rash decisions. Luckily for me, when I’m sick and online, the repercussions are only the cyber kind. So, decision: I refuse to put in the up front time it would take to get myself current, so I’m going to give you a nice little digest of the rest of my summer. Then we’re all going to agree to feel satisfied with my life and times up to the present. All in favor?

Quick succession of posts:

A train: throwback fun!

May: I went to the Spiral Jetty for my first time ever. The water was candy pink. My legs got salt-encrusted. Thanks for playing photo shoot, Mike! We also saw a train.

Me at the Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake.

Such an adorable party animal!

July 15: I went to the birthday party of this really adorable baby. For the record, Arjun throws the best parties!

I made this.

 

July 21: I participated in a Relief Society Cupcake War activity. I’d been eating leftover aristocrat heads all week, so I donated my cupcakes to charity (i.e., Desiree).

July 27: Lauren and I had been apartment hunting our brains out. We took a break at Cupcake, and it was exactly like every other cupcake boutique, except that the porch was all construction rubble.

August sometime: I ate at Acadia Cafe. They have these cookies that are baked with rays of heavenly glory and delivered fresh on an hourly basis by angels from on high. So melted-chocolatey good.

August 10: My little brother Steven got a cell phone. We texted a lot, and he even took my call while he was air softing. That’s love.

August 13: I attended Shabbot at the Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul. It’s a reformed congregation, and the services there are a party! Judaism is all about celebrating that you even get to be alive, and that’s fun to do through hymns that you clap along to! Also, a little boy got to be Bar Mitzvah. His voice was changing even as he sang the Torah. And people threw candy at him to signify the sweetness of the occasion! In a church!

August 13: I ate at Spoon River, and it was sorta chintzy. It was my first experience with mock duck, and I liked it. I also had this crazy salted ice cream called Nicollet Avenue Pot Hole at Sebastian Joe’s which I’d suggest, but which Michael thought went overboard on the sodium. Hypertension!

Also sometime in August: I ate a lot of Vietnamese food in Frogtown (my neck of the woods in St. Paul), all of which was pretty good. I haven’t decided, but I might prefer mock duck to tofu. I’ll let you know.

August 14: I made some molasses bread that was not very good (Megan ate it and said nice things, anyway!), and I watched the movie Hitch for the first time, and it was very good. Laughs!

August 15: I ate at Birchwood Cafe (hipster paradise) and reunited with Marla, with whom I spent Thanksgiving in Scotland in 2004.

August 18: I attended another Talmud class as the Temple of Aaron. The main things I learned were that several favorite Old Testament books are literary fiction and historically impossible: Esther! I also learned that Jews believe the Sabbath is the holiest of holy days. So much so that you shouldn’t even ask for anything (except for health) in prayers on the Sabbath because the Lord is resting, too.

August 19: I ate at Mango Thai in St. Paul… I think I ate mock duck then, too. Both the food and the service were great! Super prompt. I also had some sweet sticky rice dessert; I want to say it was the coconut one, but I don’t want to lie to you.

August 20: I went to Shabbat at the Temple of Aaron. Larry, the ritual director who teaches my Talmud classes, asked me to read the prayer for country, which was especially sweet. It was one of the only prayers in English!

August 20: I saw Captain America. Pretty good! I agree with this review.

Lanterns at Como Park

August 21: I went to the Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival at the Como Park Conservatory! The botanical gardens were cool; people in anime costumes were cool; floating lanterns all about the lake in honor of the dead was cool. Win!

August 23: I saw HMS Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It wasn’t quite as good as the Sideshow Bob rendition, but I understood the plot this time! I enjoyed the view of the city from the Guthrie’s poorly named “endless bridge.”

August 25: I attended another Talmud class at Temple of Aaron. Larry was kind enough to tailor the lesson to my ignorant needs by focusing on the prayers of the Shabbat service. My favorite thing I learned was that one of the first things read in a Jewish service is Psalm 96:1: “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth.” This is seen as a command to daily say something new in thanks to the God. We ought to never take His bounty lightly nor forget the splendor of our very existence.

August 26: I attended a Bassordion concert at Corner Coffee in Minneapolis. Guys, if you ever get a chance to see them play, go! Well worth it. You’ll wish you’d brought your polka shoes.

August 29-September 3: I camped in the Boundary Waters. So super beautiful/relaxing/gruelling! Kayaking, canoeing, portaging, camping, relaxing. I was with an ideal group (Thanks Shanna, Mark, Eric, and Jason!). Because I have spent approximately the same amount of my waking hours watching movies as not, the experience was very LOTR-reminiscent, and we have a reunion planned in which we will watch all three extended movies in one intense 12-hour day. You can see the camping photos here.

September 5: I moved to Prospect Park! I live at the highest spot in the Twin Cities, and in the shadow of this fun Witch’s Hat Water Tower, which, unfortunately, is open only one day per year. See you there next Memorial Day weekend! Also, my room was two inches too narrow for my bed frame the way I wanted to arrange it. Fortuitously, Ranell needed a bed frame. I bartered it to her for her bike, and the trade benefited all parties. Capitalism! Later, I decided I wanted my desk to be 9 inches narrower. Mark brought over a power saw, and we made short work of it.

September 6: School started. I’m now a second year MPH student. Debt!

September 7-11: My beloved Emily came to visit clear from Salt Lake City! We did many enjoyable things together. Among which were

  • Lunch at the Wienery,
  • Finally, a heat resistant waist band. All my problems are solved!

    A visit to the Minnesota History Center specifically for the very underwhelming Underwear: A Brief History exhibit (You will not learn about Egyptian or medieval underwear, only about a few specific lines of undergarments made by the Munsingwear company of Minneapolis.).

  • We ate at Franklin Freeze in Minneapolis, which is almost exactly the same as Conny’s Creamy Cone in St. Paul. They have 24+ flavors of soft serve ice cream! I have tried three of them. They do it by taking plain soft serve, mixing it with a flavored syrup in a little shake-cup, and then pressing it through a funnel-like contraption into a cone. At first I couldn’t figure out how they fit 24 soft serve machines in that tiny place (like how fro yo places each use separate machines). These people are geniuses, and their product is delicious! Also, each ice cream cone size (small/medium/large) comes in an actually different sized cake cone! I didn’t know they made actual cones  in different sizes! But they do!
  • Dinner at Black Sheep Pizza in St. Paul. It’s a coal fired pizza place that I feel corrects everything that was wrong about Punch Pizza‘s thin crust.
  • A visit to Fort Snelling and its associated memorial chapel. We couldn’t go into the chapel on account of a wedding happening right then, but the exterior aesthetics implied an internal continuity of such.
  • A visit to the Mall of America and Paciugo Gelato.
  • Shabbot at the Temple of Aaron.
  • A rendition of Handel’s Alcina put on by Mixed Precipitation theater company at the Skidmore Community Garden in St. Paul. Guys! Go see these people perform. They are a perfect mix of delicious food samples, opera, comedy, and all around good times! These people were so incredibly talented. I wish I weren’t sick and had the temperament to write a full review of this play. Suffice it to say that Laura Hynes Smith, Jameson Jon Baxter, and Molly Pan were fabulous as the leads (respectively Alcina, Ruggiero, and Bradamante the warrior maid), and I still giggle when I think of Lauren Drasler’s part as Morgana and Walter Gies as an enchanted fountain/violinist.
  • Crowd all ablaze.

    We went to a September 11 memorial concert at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. So many religions, so homogenized. But they trusted us all with candles!

September 14: I went to a class about the history of Rosh Hashanah at the Temple of Aaron. Initially, the big deal about Rosh Hashanah was that a loud blast would be made on a trump on that day. Now the big deal is that it’s 10 days before Yom Kippur, so it signifies a time to get introspective about how you want to start afresh.

September 16-18: I went to Nauvoo, Illinois for my first time ever. This place is like Epcot for Mormons. The Nauvoo Temple is the Disney Castle of all temples: super-bright-shiny-white on the outside and super bright colors on the inside. The historical sites were all informative and interesting, and the Trail of Hope was touching.

Carthage Jail, except it was raining like it does when sad things happen in movies.

My favorite thing about the visit was Carthage Jail. We got there two hours before it opened on Sunday, and an adorable missionary couple just happened to have shown up two hours early for their shift. They didn’t have keys, and it was raining. But, undaunted, they gave us a tour from the outside of the jail. Then someone showed up with keys and we got the regular treatment – movie and inside tour. I was touched by their devotion. I was also touched by the sacrifice Joseph and Hyrum made for their beliefs, and the kindness they showed others in their time of greatest duress. I only hope I can follow their example.

Weekend o’ Fun: Duluth, Trampled by Turtles, Willie Nelson, Lake Superior – August 6 & 7

Ranell with a bag+mouthlul of hot tamales.

As with all road trips, the fun began before we’d even got out of town. Mike offered us some enormous hot tamales which were the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten and which only one man has has ever managed to eat more than two consecutively, and it burned a searing hot hole not just through his tongue, but straight out the bottom of his jaw. So we decided to have a feat of taste bud strength and each hold one in our mouth, without chewing, as long as we could. The winner would get a prize to the equivalent of ten dollars. Well, turns out if you don’t chew them, they’re not very hot at all. But they do make you talk hilariously, quite a bit like in this memorable scene from My Fair Lady.

About an hour and a half into our drive, we saw a sign for a place called Wacky Yakky’s Magical Soda Shop and Emporium of Treasures. Of course we took the next exit and went straight there. We were delighted to find that the place promised more than we’d dared hope. The signs on the exterior read as follows:

  • Wacky Yacky's

    Italian Charms

  • Wind Chimes
  • Sign Designs by L.M. Redlin
  • Body Jewelry
  • Cement Art
  • Water Fall MOtion Pictures
  • Knives
  • Crafts
  • Gifts
  • Metal Signs by Lazor
  • Chainsaw Carvings
  • Live Theater
  • DJ
  • Magician
  • Dance Teacher
  • Clown

Unfortunately, the place left a bit to be desired. It mainly had a lot of used VHS tapes and some locally made soy wickless candles (I felt a bit guilty after handling all their goods, so I bought some Oakmoss & Amber wickless candle wax, and it has actually been quite lovely).

We stopped off again in Moose Lake, which I was very excited about after having heard it repeatedly referenced in VeggieTales. Lunch at the Lazy Moose and a really delicious piece of lemon crisp pie. Recommended!

Blue Bear (the short-lived band and candy) at one of Canal Park's many high end candy boutiques

Lazy Moose Grille & Coffee House, Moose Lake, MN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we got to Duluth, we checked out the shops at Canal Park, ate some high end chocolates, looked at books, and talked to a very nice lady about local fiddle festivals.

We also drove over the famous Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. In 1871, a canal was built that turned a residential peninsula into an island. Since it was on the other side of a canal where boats needed to cross often, it would be really inconvenient to put a bridge there. So they held a contest to figure out a solution.

Duluth's Famous Aerial Bridge

John Alexander Low Waddell came up with the winning Aerial Lift solution, but the War Department decided to do what they always do: change the rules of the game and do whatever they wanted anyway! America! So, people used ferries for a long time, until everybody realized this was inefficient and inconvenient. So, about 40 years later, they decided to do what Waddell had suggested originally and built this lift bridge that can move up and down to get out of boats’ ways.

Willie times onboard the Nelsonmobile

Then we went to Goodwill to buy rain jackets because it had been raining vengefully all day. The woman at Goodwill was convinced we were going to get on Willie Nelson’s bus and be on the news. She was SO excited for us. Some other people told us if we’d give Willie a rose he’d give us his bandana. I did a lot of Googling but couldn’t substantiate this rumor.

 

We ate dinner at Fitgers Brewery and Grille. Root beer from a tap! While I appreciate the novelty, it was less flavorful than I prefer. Also, as an FYI, the service was really quite slow, so, if you go there, make sure you have plenty of time or ask for your check as soon as your food comes (that’s what we did). Also, I had a veggie pub burger which I would eat it again. ALSO, and most significantly, the brewery is in the very building is where a 17-year old Bob Dylan stood just three feet from Buddy Holly in concert. Cool!

Then to the concert. Amazing. Trampled by Turtles gave an awesome show for their home town. Beautiful Lake Superior was the backdrop. Willie played almost nonstop for two hours. Good stories; he’s the kind of guy I’d like to go on vacation with. Vacation to Duluth. We did not get on the bus, unfortunately. And he did not give us a bandana. I am also proud to say that my folk-square dancing made a few people’s home videos. At one point, a couple were running through the crowd and stopped to dance, Julia-style, as they passed me. Win!

From above Gooseberry Falls

Next day, we saw Gooseberry Falls, which were lovely but very crowd-packed. The “hike” to them was paved and more of a stroll, but the view from there was lovely. I realized afterward that I think I would have been blown away by the falls if I’d hiked seven miles to get to them. Utah is all about making you work for your scenery. If a person in a wheelchair can access it, it’s probably not worth seeing.

Then we went to Lake Superior. Everyone said it would be too cold to swim, but I doffed my duds and ran straighway into the water, undaunted. Everyone else eventually joined in, and we had a wonderful time. Also, the rumors are true: looking out at Lake Superior was like looking out at the ocean. Not the tropical kind, but what I imagine the British Columbia coast is like. Trees and rocks and water. The maritime effect evinced itself even more in that I kept marveling that I didn’t have a salty taste in my mouth. Lake Superior!

To close, enjoy these videos of Willie Nelson:

 

and Trampled by Turtles:

Independence Day

Independence Day was very nice. After taking the train back to NYC, we got some food at the Shake Shack. There’s something you need to understand about Shumways, and it is this: We love food. I was in college before I learned to consistently stop eating before making myself sick. “Full” is a relative term, and when there’s good food around, a Shumway will stretch the limits of satiation and belly elasticity. So, we each got a sandwich, and then an extra hot dog to share, and then several orders of fries, and diet cokes, and two shakes. It was America’s birthday, after all! Overeating of the highest degree was requisite!

Then we saw the movie Super 8 which will be its own post.

On our way back to buy chocolate and cookies at some chocolate and cookie boutique, we stopped to watch a trombone band performing under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Whenever I’m walking on cobblestones, I feel like I’m back in time. A group of some 10 men playing jazz trombone in matching white suits made me feel even more like I was in the Roaring 20’s. So that was a nice little anachronism.

Then, we went home and threw some shish kabobs on the barbeque, and enjoyed a lovely evening on my sis’s balcony.

The fireworks were blasted from six barges on Hudson River, which was totally unfair – allegedly they switch between the Hudson and Manhattan rivers every year, except they didn’t switch this time. Luckily, we could see them quite well going off on the other side of Manhattan Island, and when they were too low to see over the buildings, we just glanced in at the TV (which was in perfect view and was playing the music that was synced up with the display). So posh.

Afterward, Greg read the Declaration of Independence aloud, in what I assume is his best lawyer voice, and Charity played patriotic songs on her mouth trumpet (i.e., buzzed her lips into her hand, which she held conic like a loudspeaker).

All in all it was a gorgeous day, and I’d definitely sock it to any Englishman who got in the way of my having more like it. Patriotism!