Stranger in a Strange Land: October 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Finding Our Style

“Well Nick, we enjoy having you work for us but…”

“Uh oh,” I think, “the suspended ‘but’.” Like the blade of a guillotine it hangs in the air somewhere between the cutting of the rope and the slashing of the blade, offering a brief moment to reflect.

“But what?” My mind races through plausible answers. “But too much time on the internet? But not enough billable hours? But they know about my tendency to enjoy a beer over lunch on a Friday afternoon? But…”

“…We don’t like how you dress,” they continue in their Donald Trump tone.

The blade suddenly halts and I lift my head off the chopping block. “Huh?” This is not what I expected to hear at my annual review.

They then proceed to explain that I dress “too modern” or “GQ”. “It’s not professional,” they say. “After all, this is Dubuque.”

“This is Dubuque?” I think as I look across the table at a group of the most unlikely of fashion aficionados. Clearly not Project Runway, but instead an army of pastel polo shirts and wrinkle free khaki pants is judging me. Granted, Dubuque is no Milan, but it must have a sense of style that surpasses this.

To discover Dubuque’s style, I decide to consult the experts. My first stop is Graham’s Style Store for Men. Being in the style business for over seventy years, they are sure to be of help. Snaking between the clothing racks, I browse through a diverse selection of fashion options, everything from the basic suit to designer jeans and trendy caps. I spend a few minutes discussing style with Ben Graham as he meticulously tailors a pair of pants to meet a customer’s exact specifications. In his opinion, Dubuque is quite fashionable; it just sometimes “ takes a bit longer for new trends to trickle in.” Regardless, Graham’s stocks a wide variety of clothing to meet the diversity in individual styles found in Dubuque. According to Ben, a person’s clothes must match their personality because clothes are an extension of who we are. “When someone tries to dress as something they are not, it simply doesn’t work.”

My next stop is Hardin Phelps, Ltd., a downtown boutique men’s clothing shop. Focusing on designer brands typically found only in major metropolitan areas, Hardin Phelps offers a selection of dress, casual and everything in-between. In talking with Janice, an employee, I learn that if she were to dress Dubuque, she would add “more originality.” She says, “People should not be afraid to dress in accordance with their personality,” as this is how we let others understand who we are. A customer enters and I thank her for her time. As I leave we mutually agree that “men should wear more pink,” since brightly dressed individuals make for a more colorful community.

Strolling back towards the office I reflect on what I’ve learned from my fashion field trip. For one, style is an individual choice. It is an invitation for others to understand who we are. Since we are all different people, our style should express our diversity. What works for you is different from what works for me, yet together it works. It works because it is this gathering of individuality that ultimately creates a community. For a community is nothing more than a collection of mismatched individual tastes stitched together to give a city its style. In essence, this is Dubuque: a city of exciting, sometimes interesting and always evolving style.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

An Open Letter to Bob Seger

Dear Mr. Seger,

First off, congratulations on your new album. I have been waiting a long time to hear from you and let’s just say it was worth the wait. Well done.

My name is Nick Klenske and, like you, I’m a Midwesterner too. I’ve actually known you all my life. I first met you through the speakers of my family’s wood-paneled station wagon. We were driving uneventfully to visit my grandparents when Dad suddenly cranked up the volume and began keeping your old time rhythm on the vinyl steering wheel. It was love at first listen.

Even in high school, when all the cool-kids were listening to gangsta rap and music by bands with names like Butthole Surfers and Tool, I remained committed to you. While others were sipping gin and juice, I was out working on my night moves in the back of my ‘92 Chevy.

In college my friend Scott and I founded a fan club, the “Frick’n Seegs Club”. We got together on Wednesday nights, drank beer, and discussed the metacognitive theories behind your lyric “Ces’t la Vie”. We were on a mission to bring you to the University of Iowa for a concert. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered you were no longer touring, nor making music for that matter. “He’s retired,” we were told. This news may have wrecked our hearts, but we didn’t loose faith. After all, you are the “Frick’n Seegs”.

I cannot even describe my excitement when I heard rumor of a new album in the works. When the wait was finally over and I was listening to Face the Promise for the first time, I got to thinking, which brings me to the point of my letter. The point being, I want to personally invite you to come play in my hometown, Dubuque. You and Dubuque are destined to accompany each other. For starters, you would take Dubuque’s concert scene to the next level. Granted, Lover Boy had their share of hits, but not nearly enough to legitimately fill a greatest hits album (let alone two). Then there is Styx, who have not been the same since Cartman sailed away with the lead vocals gig. Although these bands sell out shows for a reason, neither are of the same caliber as you. Like Bob Dylan, who once graced this town with his rock and roll legacy, only you are a Hall of Famer and only you are still putting out hits. Your music is timeless and solid, just like a rock.

When planning your tour, you probably won’t even notice little old Dubuque. You’ll probably check Iowa off your to-do-list with a stop at Des Moines’ flashy Wells Fargo Arena. But I think you should think twice about Dubuque. You see, in Des Moines you’ll be confined to playing in a sterile venue alongside an impersonal interstate. In Dubuque, on the other hand, you will play to an intimate crowd at our Five Flags Theater located down on Main Street.

We here in Dubuque are like you in that we are both phoenixes experiencing a rebirth. We’re both turning the page in our respective stories. We can celebrate together. Dubuque will celebrate its revitalized downtown, influx of new residents and opportunities, its riverside tourism and increase in overall diversity. You can celebrate your new album and the resurrection of your rock ‘n roll soul. What better place to celebrate than here, together, in the heart of the great American Midwest? In your latest single you sing you’ll be around if we wait for you. Well, we’re waiting for you Mr. Seger. “Why,” you ask? Because you’re the Frick’n Seegs man. Frick’n Seegs.


Nick Klenske

Go West?

Sometime back in the lyrical nineties, the Pet Shop Boys sang:

“Go West, Life is peaceful there;
Go West, In the open air;
Go West, Where the skies are blue;
Go West, This is what we’re gonna do.”

Heeding their advice, I went west. Sort of. Literally, I moved east from Iowa City. But in the end I landed in Embassy West, a neighborhood located in Dubuque’s West End District. So figuratively, and for the sake of argument, I moved west.

I came looking for peacefulness and open spaces. I have a yard with wildflowers. I live in a neighborhood with kids riding big wheels. I can see cornfields from my front porch and hear crickets chirping outside my bedroom window. Out West the grass is always green and the sky always blue. Yes, life out here is most definitely better. Or at least it was. One morning that all changed. Instead of its typical cobalt blue, the sky was painted a phosphorescent yellow. Curious, I went to the window to investigate the cause of this change. As I opened the blinds, I dropped my mug of lukewarm coffee and I threw my hands to my eyes, trying in vain to shield them from the radiating glow of the newly erected golden arches. At this moment I realized I was no longer living out West. I was now an official resident of Suburbia.

Later, I sit outside my new Suburbia Starbucks, enjoying a pumpkin spiced latte topped with whipped cream. I relax and gaze out across the vast and restless concrete sea, polluted with the constant congestion of not-so-compact cars. Across the parking lot I see the illuminated light of the Hy-Vee Starbucks. I jokingly tell my wife with a nod of my head, “Seems about right…a Starbucks every block.” Unfortunately, she cannot hear me over the mechanical roar echoing from the now desolate country fields of Sam’s Land.

Granted, Suburbia isn’t all sprawl and S.U.V.’s. I must admit, having a grocery store on the way home from work is a pleasant convenience. The huge influx of name-brand stores has made family shopping trips to Davenport all but obsolete. With its great variety of restaurants, from seafood to a retro diner, no one goes hungry in Suburbia. And I will be the last to complain about living next to a state-of-the-art movie theater.

But fast forward to the weekend. I am wandering the disappointingly quiet streets of downtown Dubuque and cannot help but think how nice it would be if we took all the action occurring out west and moved it here. I imagine the scene: People shopping and eating dinner up and down Main Street, an indie-movie theater screening a show in the now fully developed Warehouse District and people actually living in the surrounding neighborhoods. I see myself sitting outside Starbucks, watching people doing the exact same across the street. Instead of cars and concrete, I envision the scenery of renovated buildings, natural bluffs, and people simply enjoying the soul of their city.

Bored, drunk, and too cheap to hire a cab, I make the brilliant decision to walk home. Over an hour into my walkabout and not even half way, I stop, catch my breath, and utter, “Man…those Pet Shop Boys are full of shit”.

I’m moving East.