A note written across my typed list of questions for KARE11’s Sven Sundgaard read: Lift him.
The video (startribune.com/video) of me trying to lift Sundgaard off the ground would go viral while I was in the hospital having back surgery.
“Don’t do that,” said Sundgaard, who is nothing but muscles. “A heavily intoxicated girl at Pride tried to do that and I’m like, ‘I really don’t think this is …’ and she was a big girl, tall. She fell right away and I was scared to death she was injured but she was fine. People are a little braver when they’ve been drinking.”
During our lunch at Victor’s 1959 Cafe, Sundgaard only hydrated the temple of his body with water. At my request, he brought along his Yorkie Dyna Rose, who slaked from water in a dog dish provided by a 1959 staffer. I brought along a surprise — Island Sven, the ornament anonymously mailed to me in January 2012 by one of Sundgaard’s fans.
I was worried about breaking Island Sven, normally kept in bubble wrap at the office, but I thought this was the time to take that risk.
“I think he looks better,” said Sundgaard, whose flawless body is like a brand-new pair of white bucks to me. Hear me out, now. Whenever I see a man in those shoes looking unspoiled, I fantasize about scuffing them. Of course, Sven has too many fans, some of whom were dining at the restaurant, for me to even contemplate marring the cuteness wrapped in handsomeness that is his huskiness.
Instead I informed him in advance that he would be eating carb-laden dessert. We shared the Pina Colada Cake and Xango Chango, aka, the fried cheesecake bites.
No physique was harmed in this consumption because it was accounted for on the spreadsheet Sundgaard uses to count calories! That kind of discipline means Sundgaard will be wedding cake top ready should he and the greatest love he’s ever had start feeling matrimonial.
Q: Do you get excited when there’s a tornado warning?
A: If I’m not working. It can be kind of stressful if you’re working. But I do enjoy a thunderstorm.
Q: Do you consider yourself what KFAN’s Dan Barreiro calls a weather terrorist?
A: Absolutely not. I consider myself the opposite. I like to be calm. I know what he’s getting at though. There are a lot of people who try to scare everybody with every snowstorm. I have to fight that at work, in fact, with some people. Producers. I don’t know what they teach journalists but let’s hype weather all the time.
Q: Are TV meteorologists overpaid considering how often they are not quite right?
A: Here’s my response. People always say, ‘Oh it must be nice getting paid for a job where you’re wrong half the time.’ I say, ‘How well does your doctor do? How about a lawyer, how often do they win?’ I think we do pretty [well] given what we are looking at.
Q: Do you believe in global warming?
A: Oh boy, that controversy, right? I don’t think there is a controversy. There is climate change. We know it’s warmer and humans are a significant part of it. The people who try to pretend there’s a controversy have some other agenda. Ninety-eight percent of scientists, that’s pretty good. The best analogy I heard once was: A scientist from NOAA said, If you live in Miami and you have a house on the beach and 98 percent of meteorologists tell you there’s a hurricane coming tomorrow, are you going to prepare or ignore it? There you go.
Q: With all the sensational media coverage when it comes to weather, are related deaths because viewers don’t take warnings seriously due to a boy crying wolf?
A: I think there is some of that. That’s where I worry about overhyping and over-warning. Minnesotans, especially, we deal with severe weather. We know we get snow. Most people know the precautions. There is a time and a place to get concerned and I hope people can read that in the way I explain something. I’ll be the first to tell you, ‘Hey, this is a nasty storm.’ The north Minneapolis tornado was one of the few times where I really was very, very concerned. You had a tornado in the city. Tornadoes touch down for 30 seconds in a cornfield all the time in western Minnesota. Not a reason to get all excited.
Q: I have so appreciated your outrage over the Confederate flag, especially when President Obama was greeted by the aggressive Sooners waving the flags. What does that flag say to you?
A: Hate and racism. That infuriates me when I see it on a car here, even. I don’t get it. I had a great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War in the 38th Iowa Infantry. Injured because those, what’s the word we should use, morons and racists in the South wanted to preserve their way of life. They lost. Actually what I’ve likened it to, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration, let’s pretend that Germany were a state in the U.S. and they still wanted to fly the Nazi flag. Get real.
Q: Is it just me or is there a disproportionate number of highly attractive gay meteorologists in the Twin Cities? And is that specific to meteorology or the Twin Cities?
A: There is a thing. I have a lot of friends who are meteorologists all over the country and we all kind of wonder what is it about meteorology. I mean, weather puts on a good show, I guess. Right? We like a good show.
Q: Remember long time ago when I e-mailed you this question: Does Grandma know? Is that the most subtle way you’ve been asked if you were out to your family?
A: Probably. I lost my both grandparents in the last seven months. My grandma was like a feminist before it was ever popular. Her mother-in-law, a Norwegian immigrant, very traditional, was infuriated that my grandma tried to balance working, raising kids. She thought her place was to be at home and have a meal ready for my grandpa when he came home from work. He fully supported her, my grandpa. I have occasionally a little feistiness in me that comes from her. She’s always been very forward thinking.
Q: What made Dodi the one, because you were a very busy fellow? You were having a good time before you found Robert.
A: Who doesn’t in their 20s, right? There are too many people, whether they are heterosexual or gay, who always have to be in a relationship. To me that’s something you need to figure out about you. RuPaul says you can’t love anybody else until you love yourself. It’s true. I was in a relationship for a couple of years, this was several years ago, before Robert came along. I have never gone looking for anything. To me fate will always hit you over the head. That’s just the way it works. If you look for it, if you force anything, it’s not going to work.
Q: How does he prefer to be identified?
A: Robert. Dodi is our pet name. It’s Hebrew for beloved.
Q: What is the most memorably homophobic e-mail you have gotten at KARE? I know you have gotten some because I still get N-word e-mails.
A: The day I get something like that or a Facebook comment, it makes me angry mostly because you are reminded of how much work there is to do still, in the world. I’ve gotten several. I can think of one within the last week because I posted something about climate change. They’re clearly somebody who thinks it’s a conspiracy and they somehow thought bringing the fact of me being gay into it would be appropriate, in a negative way. It just shows you how childish these people are.
Q: You rank No. 2, after Keanu Reeves, among personalities mothers have asked me, via phone calls or e-mails, to fix up their daughters on a date. What did you say to let moms down easy when they asked you themselves? Did you have a standard line to say you weren’t available?
A: [Laugh] Second to Keanu Reeves. Wow. I don’t know that I had a standard line. I would always try to find a way to say, usually through e-mail: I’m sure she’s very lovely but I’m sure she would be very embarrassed knowing what you’re trying to do right now. And that’s usually accurate, I think.
Q: What equipment do you use to get that chest?
A: I mostly use free weights and cables, for chest work. Any muscle group you always have to vary it up. Any of the standard things anybody uses, I use. You just have to change it up and be dedicated. I always make each year “The Year of the ... Whatever.” For the last year I’ve made it “The Year of the Chest.” So I’ve worked out chest three times a week and just tried to research all sorts of different things and focus on that. For a long time I’ve been happy with my arms. Chest was the next thing. I’ve run 11 marathons, so I’ve done that.
Q: Approximately how many shirtless selfies have you taken?
A: Oh, God. Countless. I’m sure a thousand. [Another diner started laughing. I trained my camera on her and said Wait, a minute, we’ve got the peanut gallery.] They turned away quickly.
Q: What do you wear when you teach Broadcast Meteorology classes at, is it, St. Cloud State?
A: Yeah. My alma mater. Sometimes whatever I wore to work that morning, if I didn’t have time to go home and change. Business casual. Not tank tops and shorts. First of all, it’s normally spring semester, which ends the first week of May, which in Minnesota is rarely tank top weather.
Q: Do you know about TBS’s new show starting in August to find the next meteorologist?
A: No — That would be fun. That’s kind of how I treat my class.
Q: How many times a year do you rip through a dress shirt everybody can see is too tight?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever ripped through a dress shirt. I’ve ripped through pants before. For some reason I wear out the crotch area of my dress pants. That’s the first thing to go on any outfit for me.
Q: If you could be a meteorologist any place on Earth, where would that be?
A: I separate the weather I like as a meteorologist vs. the weather I like, [as] anybody else does, nice and pleasant like days like this. If it were like this year round, I would probably go bored out of my mind. I think this is a pretty good place to forecast weather. It would have to be some place dynamic. There are dynamic places in the tropics, too. I think Miami would be fascinating because you have day-to-day convective activity, thunderstorms and hurricane season. I have never been in a hurricane. I would love to do that once. Be one of those idiots standing …
Q: Where will you be in 10 years?
A: I’ll be 44. Good question. Something I would really enjoy someday would be a travel show but there are so many of those. It would be something different. Something where I could use my knowledge as a meteorologist to explain why places are the way they are, the culture. It’s all influenced by weather. I love traveling, that’s my thing. That’s why I have a car with 203,000 miles on it.
Q: Where in the world haven’t you been?
A: Oh, a lot of places. There are a lot of places to go to yet. I still haven’t been to Australia or Antarctica [among the continents]. Australia I feel, to do it justice you have to go for a month and I don’t think they’ll give me that much time off, at once. I have to be OK with going more than once. My problem with Antarctica is the only time go is in our winter. It’s hard to get motivated to pack warm clothes to go on a winter trip. But I’ll get there.
Q: In 10 years will you have a potbelly?
A: I hope not. Maybe a potbelly pig. They’re cute. [“I’m sorry,” said diner laughing. We need the studio audience. “By the way, you’re our favorite weather forecaster.” Well, thank you. Feel free to laugh.]
Q: Do you love the name Sven as much as I do?
A: Of course.
Q: Let’s pretend you don’t like it, and you get to rename yourself?
A: Probably something else Scandinavian. Olaf is my middle name, maybe I’d take that. You know my initials are S.O.S.
Q: What is it about Judaism that spoke to your Scandinavian roots?
A: Nothing. Actually there is one parallel. Part of the process of conversion to Judaism is you have to go up in front of the Jewish community at the end of the entire process and talk about why you converted. You write a paper, first, for the rabbis and your jury, as it is. The way I kind of explained it is, so many religions, within Christianity and Islam, historically were forced upon people by the sword, rather than a free choice. The Norwegians were the last to be converted in Europe. It wasn’t until the 13th, 14th century that Christianity was fully established and it was done so by the sword. Olaf became a saint because he killed thousands of his own people in the name of religion. I guess I look at it as, in 2015 you have the opportunity to choose what you believe.
Q: What was your parents’ reaction to your becoming Jewish?
A: They didn’t care. My family was never really religious. We grew up Lutheran, like every other Scandinavian in Minnesota. My mom was the one who would drop us off to confirmation class or church on Sunday; take notes in her pajamas. “Why aren’t you going into church?” I’m already confirmed. That was her argument.
Q: One think I love about most Jewish parents, and I discussed this with Nate Berkus’ mom, Nancy Golden, is how they love their children no matter what they turn out to be. That’s a problem black folks have.
A: A lot of parents.
Q: Do you count calories?
A: Oh yeah, every day. I have a spreadsheet. Seriously, an Excel spreadsheet keeping track of calories, carbohydrates, protein. I am not kidding. I don’t always look at it but I do keep track of it. For me it’s just easier. Some people can just look and say I can eat that, I can’t eat that. That’s how you can have a treat every once in a while, when you can account for it. It’s all accounting.
Q: What are the elements of a romantic meal Sven would prepare for Robert?
A: I would order food. That would make it a lot better on everybody. Robert’s the cook. He can whip up anything. I make breakfast every Saturday morning, that’s my thing.
Q: And dog food for Dyna Rose?
A: No, he makes the dog food, even. I’d probably screw that up.
Q: What kind of books do you read for pleasure?
A: A lot of history. That’s what I don’t think we’ve learned enough of in this country — history. That’s part of why I’m glad I had my grandma to tell me the truth about a lot of history. I always tell people when I grew up, this was literally in the ’80s and I was taught Christopher Columbus founded America and was a great man. Luckily I had my grandma, to tell me the truth.
Q: Who is your TV weather idol?
A: Ken Barlow [formerly of KARE 11, now of KSTP-TV]. Really was. I interned at KARE. When I was watching weather in high school [he was] kind of my model for calm and conversational. He was my idol, still is. Of course, but he’s the competition.
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try firstname.lastname@example.org and the see her watch the Fox 9”Buzz.”