The Beautiful & The Damned

Nick Vlcek

One thing you need to know about Budd Rugg right up front: I love you, Kim Insley. Every hour and every minute of the day I could put the name of another Twin Cities media superstar after that comma, and it would be the God's honest truth. My dear mother always told me there were two types of people in this world, the givers and the takers. The Ruggs are givers. We greet the world with open arms, and is it our fault if the world too often winces and runs from our embrace? No, it's not our fault, and it's not our problem. The rest of the world has issues, as my mother says. The Ruggs have only love.

I have a checkered past, I'll be the first to admit it, but for as long as I can remember--since the day my mother dragged me through Hennepin Avenue traffic to accost a very nervous Bud Kraeling (my namesake) outside the Shinder's downtown--I've had an almost terrifying radar for the media personalities of the Twin Cities. I hate the word stalker--it demeans my affection--but I'm sure I've frightened some of my heroes from time to time. I mean, yes, I have followed people in grocery stores and snooped in their carts, and I've occasionally shrieked at media celebrities in public and followed them home. I've done plenty of things, I'm afraid, that have left me feeling both wildly exhilarated and queasy at the same time. What can I say? I have a purer, more pitched obsession than the average fan. And I like to think I'm just more honest than most people; of course I've imagined many of our local media superstars naked. Who hasn't? And, yes, I've had kidnapping fantasies now and then, but rest assured they're just that, fantasies. I'm not out to hurt anyone. In virtually every one of these admittedly delicious scenarios I do little more than take my media friends--victim is another terrible word--home and cook them dinner. Perhaps we play records and dance. That's it; it's harmless romance, plain and simple.

When I was just a little bedbug growing up in Falcon Heights my mother used to sing me a song as she tucked me in for the night. That song, which I still find myself singing at some point in almost every day, goes like this:

Love is like a magic penny;

Hold it close and you won't have any;

Lend and spend it and you'll have so many;

They'll roll all over the floor.

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away,

Love is something if you give it away,

You'll end up having more.

My mother and I lived alone, and we did everything together; during those lonely years people like Kraeling, Dave Moore, Bill Carlson, Jim Klobuchar, Barbara Flanagan, and Joyce Lamont were like our surrogate husbands and fathers, smothering aunts, and crazy uncles. Like a lot of other children who grow up with a powerful, domineering single mother, I crave attention, and throughout my school years teachers never failed to make note of this personality trait on my report cards, as if it were, in fact, some kind of defect. I make no apologies, even though I will admit that over the years--as I've been kicked around by life and generally ignored by the people I worship--I've made some adjustments. Psychologists would, I suppose, have something to say about this, but I learned early that I could generally make myself feel better if I chose to ignore the world's cold shoulder and instead focused my own attention like a laser of pure love on the Twin Cities' readily accessible and ever-expanding constellation of media celebrities. I mostly detest real stars--I can't live with the hopeless, unbreachable abyss that exists between mere unhappy mortals and true celebrities. Fat chance Budd Rugg is going to run into some Hollywood hotshot at the local SuperAmerica, pinch-faced Abercrombie and Fitch hunk-of-nothing Josh Hartnett notwithstanding. Movies depress me with their general unreality and their happy endings. If celebrity worship is like a lottery, Budd Rugg is willing to live with much shorter odds in exchange for a more frequent payoff for my devotion. My dear mother has always been strictly a big-game hunter; she worshiped anchorpeople and weatherfolk exclusively. I'll shoot anything--speaking metaphorically, of course; no byline or face is too obscure to get Budd Rugg's heart racing at full bag-breathing hyperventilation levels.

I'll be the first to admit that I had a traumatic adolescence. I've often felt that I should institute a class-action lawsuit against John Hughes and the entire pantheon of young adult novelists. If my life were anything like the lives of people on television and in the movies I wouldn't be sitting on my couch every night shoveling Fiddle Faddle into my face and listening to my old Bread and Janis Ian records. Since the day I dropped out of Evelyn Champagne King Junior College (not its real name), I've had a zillion mostly terrible and unsatisfying jobs. I tried for a time to write an advice column for the lovelorn for the Falcon Heights Messenger, but I mostly got letters from old people with questions about faulty smoke detectors. I've worked off and on at the Rosedale Orange Julius, labored with uncommon commitment in eldercare, been a part-time dance instructor at a senior citizen center, peddled honey-baked hams, and sold shoes at Herberger's in Apache Plaza. Every one of those jobs interfered with my obsession and only made my life more miserable. It's just not workable, I'm afraid, to try to hold down a "real job" while chasing around the Twin Cities hoping for even the briefest of glimpses or encounters with the giants of the local media. People say there are no real giants these days, but that's not precisely true. There are more giants than ever; they're just a whole lot smaller.  

I've made my bed, I know that, and I have no choice now but to toss and turn in it all night, dreaming of any one of the hundreds of wholly interchangeable beautiful people of the local media. I worship these people, and I now accept that I inherited this sometimes unseemly and helpless obsession from my mother, just as surely as I inherited her flair for drama and histrionics and her hypochondria and her love of the State Fair and her crippling dependence on the microwave oven and her problems with disproportion. I long for these people's company. I honestly can't explain it, because I virtually never read or hear a word any of them writes or speaks; I spy their byline or see their face or hear their voice and Budd Rugg is off to dreamland. I can imagine a million scenarios in which I could make them happy. I want to give each and every one of them Budd Rugg's magic penny, and I can't help believing that my adoring gaze is the missing piece that would make their lives complete. Maybe I'm projecting, but the older I get, and the more the distance seems to grow between my media heroes and me, the more I can't help worrying about them. Who are they, really? After all these years it kills me that I still don't know. I've been having this recurring dream, just before dawn, of all these people just sitting on the toilet and crying. It breaks my heart every time.

Because, as I said, and as I'll continue to say until I swell up like a balloon and float clean off the planet, I love these people. I love them more than pie. I love Randi Kaye and Diana Pierce and David Chanen and Kim Ode and Harris Faulkner and Esme Murphy and Laura Billings and Angela Hampton and Bob Sansevere--well, no, actually, I don't love Bob Sansevere, but I'd still run across the street to see him in a Starbucks, and I'd Rolf him in a heartbeat. I'd give my favorite pair of clogs for the opportunity to cut Tom Surowicz's hair--that's been a dream of mine forever. Tom can keep Brian Wilson's cast-off wardrobe, but that hair has to go.

That sort of thing, in a nutshell, is the stuff Budd Rugg's dreams are made of. I can amuse myself for hours with idle speculation. Sometimes my old friend and Orange Julius co-worker Triesse comes over and we make exotic drinks in the blender and amuse ourselves with what we call the "Shrinky Dink" game: If you could put any local media celebrity in your Shrinky Dink oven and keep him or her in a shoebox next to your bed, who would be your first choice? Triesse, of course, virtually always chooses Robyne Robinson or Ron Schara, but it's impossible for Budd Rugg to make up his mind. I want them all!

But things have changed, there's no getting around it. Budd Rugg's pursuit of even the most inconsequential media news and gossip is harder than ever. Let's face it, there didn't use to be so many places, or so many celebrities. There are now far too many places for these people to eat, shop, work out, and hide. I used to know where to find my media heroes, but these days I need your help. I'm just one man with a very limited budget and an unreliable Gremlin. If we're going to have a mutually satisfying and psychologically unhealthy relationship, you're going to have to run right to Budd Rugg the instant you stumble across some piece of gossip, no matter how seemingly mundane. If you see Dan Barreiro walking his dog or Jules Dyson buying underwear at Target, Budd Rugg needs to hear all about it. Rudeness is always fascinating, but I'd love to hear about behavior that's truly sordid and unseemly as well. Until next time, consider me ever your faithful friend, and send any and all media news and gossip to [email protected].  

See the Budd Rugg archive at the Twin Cities-based media criticism website Cursor.

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