Sunday, September 10th, 2017

Am feeling much better today, thank you. The only remaining symptom of my week-long sickness, whatever it was, is that my sinuses still continue to decongest, a process which takes the form of me soaking one Kleenex after another by filling my lungs with as much air as they can hold, then blowing for as long as I can. The stuff that comes out of my nose when I do this is as dark and slimy and scary as a Stephen King novel.

Hey, you came here to read this. I just write the stuff.

I have been not writing much in my blog these days because the stuff I’ve been thinking about is not the kind of stuff I can write in an offhanded, flip and funny way, the way I like to write stuff that goes in this blog. I don’t know why that should stop me, but it does. And it’s not for lack of trying to write about it in a funny way. I know it can be done. I see people doing it. But either because of my demeanor, or my age, or because I just don’t think it’s funny that our country is governed by politicians who are determined to bend us to their fucked-up vision of how they think we ought to behave, I simply can’t find it in myself to write funny commentary about it. It’s not funny, it’s tragic. I weep for the days when I believed politicians were merely ham-fisted instead of malevolent.

That said, I have to tell you that, for my money, the stable of writers at Seth Meyers’ late-night talk show are unquestionably the most hilarious when it comes to lampooning Trump, hitting just the right note time and time again. I still think what’s going on is tragic in the extreme, but those guys can always get me to laugh at the worst of it, and god dammit I need that every so often. Okay, every night. Also, I think Meyers himself does the best Trump impression. The others are pretty good, but Seth’s combination of voice, face, and gestures makes me chuckle the most often.

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, driving hours and hours to the farthest reaches of our great state for reasons that are, honestly, too boring to get into even in the rolls of a blog titled “This Is Drivel,” and you can believe me when I say that sets the bar for what makes things boring. Maybe I’ll explain it later, with a spoiler warning so you can bail out before you get to it, but for now I want to talk about the hours and hours on the road, which are sometimes boring and sometimes not, depending on where I’m going and who I’m going with. I should very quickly add that none of the coworkers I travel with bore me; I truly believe that everyone has a story to tell, and in the hours we’ve spent criss-crossing the state they have told me things that are right up there with the most interesting stories I’ve ever heard. Even so, if I put you in a car with the most interesting person on earth and set you on a course up the interstate from Madison to Superior with only occasional stops at a Kwik-Trip here and there to break the monotony, I guarantee that by the time you caught sight of Eau Claire through your windshield, you’d be so numb that you’d be perfectly happy to sit in silence for the next two hours. There’s a reason they call non-stop trips “deadheading.”

Most of our trips are not that long, thank goodness, and usually about half of most trips are not on the interestate, but on the much more interesting country roads that wind through countryside I can’t help but describe using words such as pleasing, picturesque, quaint, cozy, homey, or just plain old pretty. There are also places that are run-down and awful, but not many. Having mentioned that, I can’t help but add there are places that are not run-down but still godawful. There’s a stretch of road through Oshkosh that has to be the ugliest part of Wisconsin I’ve ever seen; for the better part of a mile you have to drive through a gauntlet of billboards that look like the montage of messages flashing past the eyes of some poor bastard who’s being brainwashed by a grinning evil genius. I avoid it whenever I can because it gives me nightmares.

When we’re not admiring the pretty stretches of countryside, or we’re not being numbed by the interminable stretches of interstate, we pass the time by picking a topic ripped from the day’s news, exploring the edges of it at first if it was maybe a little controversial, and what news story these days isn’t? Even the weather, a topic that was once so safe and boring that it was a staple of every conversation between strangers and family alike, has become controversial. I stay away from it these days not because it’s political, but because I’m so militant when it comes to the subject of human-influenced climate change that I know I’ll end up ranting, and nobody wants to see that.

Somewhat surprisingly, the latest stupid thing our president has done or said is often a topic of conversation, surprising because I’ve long been led to believe that you should avoid talking about politics in mixed company if you can help it, and Trump is nothing if not a politically-charged topic, but he’s always in the news and he’s always saying or doing something monumentally stupid. And it just occurred to me that some day, someone’s going to put a monument to Trump in a city park somewhere, and when that happens, I will drive for hours and hours cross-country just to see pigeons shit on his head. I’ll post a selfie here when I do. Watch this space.

Even more surprisingly, I was asked on one of these long road trips for my opinion on the second amendment. If that’s not a politically-charged topic to stay away from, I don’t know what is. But my coworker wanted to know what I thought, and I’ve got some pretty strong opinions on the subject, so I took a deep breath and let fly. Then, just to show her that I was as willing as she was to listen to other people’s opinions on a controversial subject, I asked her whether or not she believed that NASA landed men on the moon. When she said no, I had to admit to myself that I was not as willing to listen to controversial opinions as I thought I was. Actually, when she said no I thought at first she was messing with me and waited several seconds for her to laugh and shout, “Gotcha!” When she didn’t do that, I asked her why she didn’t believe it and we had a long conversation about conspiracies and the cold war and in the end I think I got her to believe it, or maybe ninety-five percent of it.

I’ve known for a long time that people say the moon landings were faked but even so, the first time I met a couple of them I was absolutely gobsmacked by their steadfast determination to disbelieve that it was even possible, much less that it happened. Those first two were of the “Well, you weren’t there, so you don’t really know” school of thought, which made me want to drag them up in front of all nine (at the time) of the surviving moon walkers to see what kind of doofishness they would continue to spew in front of the very people they would have to consider to be credible witnesses. If I could have just one super-power, by the way, it would be a bloodhound-like tracking sense that would allow me to find those people, a steely grip that I could use to grab them by the back of the neck and the seat of their pants, and the ability to leap far enough to give them a bum’s rush all the way to the moon, where I would give them a tour of each and every one of the six landing sites. My super-power would also have to include some way for both of us to hold our breath for a long time, and not freeze to death in the icy vacuum of space, or the whole exercise would be sort of pointless.

on the road | 7:45 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, September 3rd, 2017


I’m sick. I’m not sure what kind of sick it is. The kind that makes me cough up chunks of my lungs. Not literally, mind you, but it sure feels that way.

I’m going to go out on a limb and blame this sickness on the coworker who came to work sick. I feel I can confidently put the blame squarely on her because I was locked up in a car with her for eight hours on Tuesday and another eight hours on Wednesday, and she was hacking and coughing the whole time. I’m not a virologist or whatever kind of scientist studies the spread of Coughing Up Lungs Sick, but the transmission of this bug seems like a no-brainer to me.

I was feeling fine when we left Tuesday morning, but by the time we got home Wednesday night, I had a cough that was starting to sound a lot like hers. I called in sick on Thursday and went in Friday for about an hour to finish my time sheet and clean up a couple things. I spent a lot of time flat on my back sleeping both days, and again on Saturday. It’s that kind of sick. I haven’t feel nauseated or even very tired, I’ve just never felt as though I was ever fully awake.

I’m still a little under the weather today. Still hacking, although it sounds a bit drier than it did before, not like I’m trying to bring up bits of tissue from the depths of my soul. I’m beginning to allow myself to feel optimistic that I might be over this by tomorrow. I hope so, anyway. Tim’s going to come over to burn some burgers with us and I don’t want to give it to him.

My Darling B has somehow avoided catching the bug, or if she has, she’s showing no symptoms yet. She has a very strange constitution when it comes to these things. Allergies kick her ass all the time, but a virus comes along and she’s just, Eh, I don’t think so.

sicko | 1:02 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Our president is a bullshit artist. Not the greatest. He seems to prefer quantity over quality, but in that respect, he sure knows how to crank it out:

“The first order I gave to my generals … my first order was, I want this our nuclear arsenal to be the biggest and the finest in the world. And we spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of effort, and it’s in tip top shape, and getting better, and getting stronger.”

“What have you actually done? Experts say it takes years to modernize the nuclear arsenal.”

“We’ve done a lot of modernization, but we’ve done a lot of renovation. And we have it now in very, very good shape. And it will be in much better shape over the next six months to a year. It’s a very important thing. Actually, it was the first – military’s very important to me. As you know, I did extremely well with the military vote, Mike and I, but we are, my first order was, we have to do the military, but before we do the military per se, we’re going to do the nuclear.”

On second thought, maybe “artist” is giving him too much credit. I’d like to amend “bullshit artist” to “straight-up bullshitter,” please. Thank you, and have a great weekend.

bullshitter | 7:31 am CDT
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Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Did you know that most bees nest on the ground? Me, neither. And I never would have found that out if I hadn’t mowed the lawn last weekend. I should’ve skipped it and gone paddling instead, like I wanted, but nnooOOOoo. I had to be a responsible homeowner.

I must’ve mowed the lawn a couple hundred times in the past twelve years we’ve lived in our little red house, but this has never happened before. I was plodding across the front yard, pushing the mower along, about halfway through the job when I felt someone or something stick a hot needle in my foot, just above my left ankle. I jumped and grabbed at it, expecting to find something roughly arrow-shaped and about six feet long sticking out of my foot, but nothing.

At about the time I was looking at my left foot, another hot needle jabbed me through the right calf. That one felt like it went in so deep that I spun around and danced all the way across the lawn to the driveway before I came to a stop. I would’ve won the trophy on Dancing With The Stars. Honest, you would’ve been impressed. When I stopped, yet another hot needle jabbed my right calf. This time I looked down in time to see the bee, a big, fat bumbler, jabbing away at me with his butt. Smacked the shit out of him.

My dance must’ve gotten me far enough away from wherever they were bedded down in the grass, because I didn’t get stung any more. I didn’t know they were in the grass then. I was looking up in the tree like a dummy, expecting to see a swarm among the branches, like mowing the lawn would’ve pissed them off way up there. It wasn’t until later when I told My Darling B about getting stung that she googled bees and told me that something like seventy percent of all bee species make their nests in the ground. I don’t think they were nesting, because I went back much later and finished mowing the lawn without getting stung again. I think maybe they were resting somewhere in the grass when I mowed over them and pissed them off. Next time I mow, I’m going to use B’s flamethrower.

stung | 9:55 pm CDT
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Monday, August 7th, 2017

I made my first road trip with the kayak on Saturday, to take it for a paddle on Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells. It’s only about an hour away from Our Humble O’Bode if you take the interstate, which I did on the way up, an experience I wouldn’t care to repeat. All three lanes were virtually bumper-to-bumper with every kind of recreational vehicle, as well as cars and trucks piled high with bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and camping supplies, all fighting for the honor of the front of the line like it was a Nascar race. If I ever go anywhere with a kayak strapped to the roof of my car again, and I’m pretty sure I will, I’m going on state highways. They may be narrow and some are in bad repair, but I won’t have to fight the constant backwash of one big-bodied vehicle after another blowing past me at eighty miles an hour.

Mirror Lake is beautiful, if maybe just a tad too popular. There’s a pretty little state park right next to it with two neat little campgrounds that I might have to check into one of these days. The park rents kayaks, canoes and those stand-up paddle boards that are so popular right now even though they don’t go anywhere at a speed faster than a lazy amble no matter how hard you paddle, so the south end of the lake by the campground is absolutely lousy with campers having fun splashing and tipping each other over. The farther I went from the campground, though, the quieter it got, so I kept to the shore and paddled off into every inlet and river I could find.

And there were a few of them. None of them were much longer than a hundred yards or so, but there was something to see in every one of them: muskrats, log cabins, a fawn wading in the weeds along the shore. The last one I went down turned out to be a river that connected to another lake after meandering for about a quarter mile through a picturesque sandstone gorge where the rock walls towered over my head. I didn’t have enough time to go further than about halfway down the river, though, so I’ll have to find another weekend to go back and get a better look.

After packing up and hitting the road, I made a wrong turn and my one-hour trip home turned into three hours because I thought highway 113 went straight through to Madison, and it does, sort of, but there’s a significant gap in it that I missed the first time I looked at the map. The gap first made its presence known to me when I got to Merrimac and turned south as the road signs directed. The road went directly into the lake. That can’t be right, I thought as I turned around and consulted my map. I went all the way through Merrimac looking for the highway before I noticed my map mentioned something about a ferry. Going back to the road that went down to the lake, I saw many cars lined up, and signs that also mentioned a ferry.

Ordinarily I would be totally down with a ride on a ferry, but this one could only take fifteen cars at a time, and there were at least thirty cars in front of me. My stomach was growling and I was already going to be late getting home, so I pored over the map for an alternate route. From what I could tell, though, the options for getting around the lake were limited. Essentially, I would’ve had to drive almost all the way back to Wisconsin Dells. Bowing to the inevitable, I got in line and waited.

As a consolation prize, there’s an ice cream stand on the Merrimac side of the crossing, and as I had to wait at least ten minutes for the ferry to cross over and come back, I took the opportunity to ask them to dish up a scoop of butter pecan for me. No more growling stomach after that.

When I finally drove aboard, thirty minutes or so later, the trip across was quick, maybe a little more than five minutes, and I was headed south again as fast as a county highway would let me go. Forty or fifty miles an hour, mostly, slowing down for the tight turns and to pass through the little burgs along the way. Didn’t pull into the driveway at home until just after seven o’clock where the rest of the O-Folk were patiently waiting for me to light the barbeque and grill the pork tenderloins we had for dinner that night.

Mirror Lake | 12:01 am CDT
Category: kayaking
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Sunday, August 6th, 2017

I bought a kayak. This may turn out to be my latest fad buy. I’m not training for an intense plunge down a raging river of whitewater. That’s not something that has ever been on my bucket list. My ideal of paddling is very sedate. I put the kayak in the water at the boat launch down the road or at the park down the other end of the road and I paddle it in a big circle around the lake. That’s pretty much me in a nutshell: Buy a boat that most people use to shoot between boulders on the Colorado River at high water. Paddle it placidly in circles on a lake. I’m a low-impact kind of guy.

I’ve been thinking I would like a canoe, but My Darling B is not someone who cares to paddle a canoe with any regularity (once or twice a year would be about it), and canoes are too heavy for me to carry by myself. I’d need help getting it down to the water, let alone lifting it high enough to put it on a cartop roof rack. A canoe would probably spend more time in our back yard than on the lake.

One-person kayaks have never had much appeal to me because the ones I was most familar with were the plastic twelve-footers you can rent. They’re fat across the middle and flat on the bottom, which is great if your plan is to slowly drift down a quiet stream with the current, but whenever I’ve tried to get them to go anywhere, they were about as easy for me to steer as your average dairy cow.

About three weeks ago I was talking with a guy from the office who’s so into outdoorsy stuff, he and his wife have his and hers matching kayaks. The way he talked about the trips they’ve taken got me thinking about paddling again, and a few days later I found myself haunting the bargain racks at Rutabaga, a local store that specializes in canoes and kayaks. Unfortunately for me, the kayaks that are considered a bargain at Rutabaga had price tags that started at nine hundred dollars and went up from there. That’s practically as much as a new kayak and about five hundred dollars more than I was willing to spend for any boat, used or new. When I checked the used kayaks for sale on-line, they were no more of a bargain.

After two weeks of looking I started to think that, if I wasn’t willing to pay a thousand dollars for a kayak, maybe this wasn’t the hobby for me. As it turns out I didn’t have to.

Round about the end of June, I was browsing the used kayaks at Rutabaga when I found one for just $350.00. I strongly suspected that had to be a mistake, but I hunted down a salesperson anyway to ask if I could take it for a test drive. Rutabaga has a pond out back of the store where they teach classes in how to paddle, send customers off in rentals, and let potential buyers test the canoe or kayak of their dreams by paddling it around. As the salesperson helped me take the kayak down from the rack I asked about the price. No, that’s not a mistake, she said; that was the correct price.

“Well, then, I have to ask: What’s wrong with it?” I didn’t mean to be insulting, but if it was a fixer-upper, like maybe it had a hole in it somewhere that I couldn’t see, then I’d probably have to take a pass. But she said nothing was wrong with it. It was old, so it didn’t have the appeal the other kayaks had: the finish had lost its shine, the bungees and straps were frayed, but the hull was sound and the rudder worked. She helped me carry it down to the water, scrounged up a life jacket and a paddle, and after adjusting the foot rests and settling in, I took it for a spin, so to speak.

I knew I wanted it before I’d gone more than ten yards. It’s seventeen feet long and almost as skinny as I am (full disclosure: I’m not as skinny as I used to be), but the cockpit is almost as easy to get in and out of as the gaping cockpits of rental kayaks. It’s got a sharp keel fore and aft and it’s fitted with a rudder I can steer with my feet to keep it lined up straight as an arrow even when I lean hard on the paddle, which I’m not inclined to do most of the time, but it’s nice to know I can if I should have to. And there’s a big hatch behind the cockpit where I can stow a small trolley I use to move it from the car to the shore, or when I walk it down to the lake, leading it by the bow like it’s a puppy. The only thing it doesn’t have that would make it better is a wet bar, and I could probably improvise something for that.

I took it for a paddle the very night I bought it, making a big, slow circuit of the bay and didn’t fall in the water once, even thought I’ve had no training. (I’ve haven’t ever fallen out of a canoe, either, and I think there should be a medal or a patch for that, but so far I haven’t heard of one). And I’ve taken it out on one lake or another every weekend since. Luckily for me I can walk to two lakes from my house and paddle to three more that I can return from in just a few hours, a nice day out. I could paddle even further if I took food and a tent, but I haven’t decided whether I want to make this a lifestyle change yet or not. I haven’t gone camping in so many years that I’m not sure whether or not my body would remember how.

kayak | 10:45 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, August 5th, 2017

The dealership we bought our car from fixed a cracked window for free. Now there’s something you don’t expect to happen.

Our car has a sunroof. I have mixed feelings about sunroofs. I owned a VW bug with a sunroof, which gave the car a wide-open feel I liked, but I also had a Mitsubishi van with a sunroof that leaked like a seive when it rained, and I never want to have that happen again. But in the top ten list of things I hate to do, shopping for a car is way up there, so when we found a car that had just about everything we liked, the sunroof wasn’t a deal-breaker.
And then the sunroof cracked. I’m not sure how. I noticed the crack about a week after I put a kayak on the roof, but the kayak weighs just sixty pounds or so, and it was sitting on a couple of foam pads, only one of which rested on the sunroof, so only half the weight of the kayak was on it, cradled in foam.

The guy at the dealership said the crack looked like something heavy fell on it, and that it wouldn’t be covered by the warranty. I figured as much, but it never hurts to ask, you know? Then he said he’d take some photos and see what he could do, and a couple days later he called me and said they would replace it free of charge, what they called a “goodwill repair.”

I’ve never heard of a “goodwill repair” before, but I was all for that instead of the $500 deductable we would have to pay if we got our insurance to fix it. So I took the day off from work yesterday and waited in the lobby of Don Miller Subaru while they fixed our sunroof. Good as new! So if you’re thinking of buying a car, I can recommend a good dealership.

After they fixed the sunroof, I had to stop at Half-Price Books to patrol the shelves because I was in the neighborhood. Picked up a collection of short stories by James Tiptree Jr. and a three-volume set called The History of Physics or something like that.

Then, back at the ranch with the rest of the day all to myself, I did a little light cleaning, because we mammals are messy animals, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. Mostly all I did was sweep, vacuum, and take out the trash, but the bathroom needed a bit more attention and I needed a hot shower afterwards.

The weather was cold and blustery with lots of dark clouds overhead, so I curled up on the sofa with my books and read about molecules and the electromagnetic spectrum and stuff. And I had a short nap, because I could.

At the end of the day I had to venture out again across town to pick up My Darling B from work, and we stopped halfway home in a neighborhood called Schenck’s Corners to grab a bite to eat and wash it down with some sudsy stuff at the Alchemy Cafe. The weather still wasn’t quite nice enough for us to consider eating outside.

cracked | 8:38 am CDT
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Saturday, April 15th, 2017

For whatever reason, all the cats see me as The Chosen One when it comes time to feed them. There are two hairless apes in this house and we both have working, opposable thumbs, but I’m the one the cats circle and paw at when they’re hungry. The only time they bother My Darling B is when she’s here and I’m not.

Add to that, when they come begging for food first thing in the morning, I’m the one who feeds them by default because I’m the light sleeper. I can’t just sleep through their crying and pawing at the door the way My Darling B can. I wish I had that super power, but I don’t. They’re outside the bedroom door, whining and scratching, a noise I can’t block out even if I wrap my head up in both my pillows. Meanwhile, B is blissfully snoring away. Is it possible to hate the one you love for just one thing they do? Because if it is, this would be that thing.

So this morning at oh dark thirty they gathered in the hallway outside our bedroom door to start crying and pawing, and once again I got up to feed them because it’s either that or lay in bed in the dark, imagining Rube Goldberg devices that will drop anvils from the ceiling on their heads with the pull of a string.

The youngest little troublemaker can’t keep his face out of the other cats’ food, which makes them really grumpy, so he gets fed by himself in a separate room where we can dish out his kibble and lock the little glutton in. I let him into his room, grabbed the Tupperware with his kibble in it off the shelf, scooped out a breakfast-sized portion, and I must’ve bumped the Tupperware when I turned to put the scoop back in because it tipped over and fell to the floor before my groggy brain could even think about grabbing it.

Luckily for me it landed on an improvised cat bed, really a laundry basket with a pillow and a bath towel in it. If it had hit the floor, the kibble would have exploded all over the room. Instead, the bath towel caught most of the kibble so I could scoop it back into the Tupperware, but about a cup of it was scattered across the floor. For a couple of minutes, the kitten ran around like a kid in the front room on Christmas morning, snorfling up kibble. He’s probably going to remember this as one of the greatest days of his life for years to come.

snorfle | 7:24 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Woman goes into a big, dark house with creaky wooden floors and heavy doors that go boom when she closes them. Just your basic soul-eating house. Woman slowly wanders through every room of the house, doesn’t turn on any of the lights. Ghost appears. Of course it does. I mean, what did you think was going to happen? Woman doesn’t see the ghost at first, because it always materializes in the air behind her somewhere, then fades away. Then, when it’s time to really scare the piss out of her, it … turns on a faucet. Yeah. Ghosts have the awesome power to disappear, float in the air, walk through walls, make spooky noises. This one can turn on faucets.

This was the ghost in a movie we saw at the Wisconsin Film Fest. The movie was “Personal Shopper,” and the woman was kind of pointlessly looking for the ghost of her brother, who died earlier that year. The woman says she’s a medium, and she eventually sees the ghost in the spooky house, but she’s the kind of medium who gets her information about ghosts from, just to name two sources, a movie about a seance, and the internet. Because where would you possibly get better information about the realm of spirits?

The first time the ghost turns on the faucet, it was kind of scary because I didn’t know what that noise was at first. The woman had to wander through most of the rooms in the house to find the tap that was running, because it was just a thin trickle and a bit hard to hear. Then the ghost opened the bathtub spigot all the way, and I was thinking, “Okay, he’s really good at turning on the water. What else can he do?” I mean, it’s not an especially malevolent activity, is it? It’s not even scary, after the first time. First time was, Oooo, what’s that noise? And the second time, meh.

It turned out the ghost did have a few other tricks up his sleeve: he could scratch the table, and he could tear up a piece of paper. Really scary stuff. (Full disclosure: I walked out halfway through the movie, so maybe it got a whole lot better after that. My Darling B stayed; she said it didn’t get any better. I trust her.)

all wet | 7:31 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Monday, April 10th, 2017

I read Ann Leckie’s debut novel “Ancillary Justice” about a year ago, which means I don’t remember how long ago it was. In the bible, they would’ve said “forty days and forty nights.” It was a long time ago. So long that I don’t remember all the details of the story now, but I do remember that I liked it and wanted to read more of Leckie’s work.

Luckily for me, “Ancillary Justice” is the first volume of a story Leckie eventually expanded into three volumes, the seemingly-standard trilogy of the fantasy and science fiction genre. She called the second volume “Ancillary Sword” and the third “Ancillary Mercy,” which is better than Roman numerals but still just confusing enough to my tiny little brain to make me stop and carefully look over all three volumes to make sure I was buying the right one. It doesn’t help that all three volumes have cover art that looks more or less the same: needle-nosed jet aircraft with razor-like wings painted in bright, primary colors.

After flipping through the first dozen pages or so and feeling certain that I knew which was the first and which was the second, I took my purchase to the check-out counter. It wasn’t until I was outside the store, headed back to the office, that I realized I’d put the wrong book back on the shelf and checked out with “Ancillary Justice,” the first book in the series, the one I’d already read. *facepalm* Too late at that point to turn around and ask them to swap it; I had just enough time to get back to my desk, no more.

I swung by the book store right after work, found the copy of “Ancillary Sword” that I meant to buy, tucked them both under my arm and headed for the checkout. Halfway there, I remembered the receipt that I’d tucked into the pages of “Ancillary Justice,” which I’d probably need to return the book, so I riffed through it, expecting the receipt to pop right out. It did not. Slowing my brisk walk to a slow amble, I started flipping through the pages a bit more slowly. Still couldn’t find it, so I flipped through it again, even more slowly this time. No joy.

By then, I was at the counter. “Hi,” I said to the young lady waiting there. “I bought this book —” holding up book “— earlier today, but I meant to buy this book —” holding up other book “— which is the second in a three-book series. I’d like to exchange one for the other, if that’s okay?” She said that would be no problem, so I began flipping through the pages again, explaining as I did that I was looking for the receipt. She waited patiently but, when I failed for the third time to find it, I asked her if we could just swap.

Apparently she couldn’t do that, not exactly, but she could process the first book as a return, give me store credit, and I could use the credit to buy the second one. Seemed needlessly complicated to me, but whatever. So she did all the hocus-pocus she had to do with the register, I signed a credit slip, she put the credit on a card, then charged the second book against the credit, and somehow I ended up with a couple bucks on the card. Don’t know how, but it was okay with me. I thanked her, scooped up the book, and headed out to the car.

Went to tuck the book into my backpack: It was “Ancillary Justice.”

Back into the book store. She looked at me sideways while she was finishing up with another customer. I smiled and waggled my fingers at her. When it was my turn, I flashed the cover of the book. She didn’t get it. Of course she didn’t. It looked just like the other book. “We got the books mixed up,” I explained, sliding it across the counter toward her. “I need the other one.” She gave it to me reluctantly, as if i was pulling a fast one on her. She didn’t seem entirely convinced I knew what I was talking about. But I finally got the right book. At least, I think I did.

Ancillary Mixup | 7:26 pm CDT
Category: books, entertainment, play
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Sunday, April 9th, 2017

The Freddie Fender ballad “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” has been playing on a fucking loop in my head for the past 48 hours. I loathe this song in capital letters: LOATHE. I can’t say why; it’s one of those gut reactions that makes me instantly change the radio station. I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I have loathed this song since it was released in 1975. I would’ve been fifteen years old then, growing up in a tiny rural town that was smack in the middle of Wisconsin. The local radio station played just about anything, but music by the likes of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash were featured prominently. I remember hearing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights” what seemed like every fucking day, although I’m sure now that’s an exaggeration. Although maybe not.

I have just learned that Freddie Fender was born with the name Baldemar Garza Huerta. That’s about the coolest name I’ve heard in my life. I can’t imagine why he wanted to change it. I want to have a son right now just so I can name him Baldemar. Also, Fender was in a band called Los Super Seven, another very cool name, and another band named Texas Tornados, which is a cool name but not as cool as Los Super Seven.

“Before The Next Teardrop Falls” is stuck in my head because I watched a documentary film about a guy with Aspberger’s who sang through his nose in that atonal way just about all of us do when we want to sing but there are a lot of people around so we try to make it look like we’re not singing by not moving our lips and by looking out the window pretending to be interested in the clouds. This guy wasn’t pretending not to sing, though. That’s just the way he sang. He knew all the words to “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” even the ones in Spanish, and he sang them with such deep, emotional feeling that I couldn’t help but be touched by it.

I still hate that song, though.

That’s not the only song that’s been stuck in my head this weekend. Another is “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France, and it’s because of another film I saw this week (I was at the Wisconsin Film Fest with My Darling B last week, so I saw a lot of films; bear with me) called “Frantz,” about a young French soldier who travels to Germany to meet the family of the German soldier he killed during The Great War. It was “great” in the sense that it was really big, not in the sense that everybody thought it was a lot of fun and we should have another one again as soon as possible, even though we ended up doing just that. This is why choosing the right name is so important. “Baldemar” — good choice. “The Great War” — not such a good choice.

Back to the film: One of the principal characters of the film, a young German woman who was engaged to the German soldier who was shot by the French soldier I mentioned earlier, travels to Paris to find the French soldier because … it’s complicated. Anyway, she’s in a cafe in Paris when a couple of French soldiers come in for coffee and everyone stands up and sings “La Marseillaise” because what else would you do, right?

If you’ve seen “Casablanca,” you saw almost the same scene: Victor Laslo leads the customers of Rick’s Cafe in a rousing verse of “La Marseillaise” to flip the bird at the Germans who are after him. What they didn’t do in “Casablanca” was subtitle the words to the song, I guess because they figured everybody knew what it meant back then. I didn’t, and I never looked it up, either, thinking it was the usual stuff of national anthems: “We’re the best, you guys suck, our country is better than your country.”

But the version of “Frantz” we saw was subtitled, and they went on subtitling the words to the anthem during the cafe scene, so this is the first time I’ve heard it and known what they were singing about:

Arise, children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood soak our fields!

The camera kept flitting from the puffed-up French people singing their yoo-rah-rah song to the uncomfortable face of the German woman, who spoke fluent French and knew just what they were saying. And there were a few disgusted-looking women in the crowd who did not stand up and did not sing; I assumed they were mothers of French soldiers who didn’t go for all that yoo-rah-rah crap.

“Kind of a different effect when you know the words to the song, don’t you think?” I whispered to B, who agreed.

While I’m on the musical theme, the last song I want to tell you about isn’t a song at all. It’s a kind of music: jazz, sort of. One of the duds we saw at the film fest was a musical review called “The King Of Jazz,” featuring the Paul Whiteman band. The final number was how they imagined jazz was created: a whole bunch of white people from Russia, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, and every other northern European country sang ethnic theme music (“Every laddie has his lassie” for the Irish people, that sort of thing) as they descended into a melting pot. Paul Whiteman gave the pot a stir, the sides of the pot swung open, and for one terrifying moment I thought the musicians and dancers were all going to come out in blackface singing “Mammie”! Instead, they sang what I guessed was supposed to be a jazz number, which was about as jazzy as any song can be when there isn’t a single African-American involved.

musical | 10:11 am CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, music, play, Wisc Film Fest | Tags:
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Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

I was on the sofa with a book this morning, curling up into a ball, tighter and tighter, for more than two hours before I realized why the house was so goddamned cold: It’s Tuesday. I’m not normally in the house on Tuesday morning. I’m usually at the office, more’s the pity, so the smart thermostat at home is programmed to turn the temperature down to sixty-seven degrees after seven o’clock and keep it there until four, when it cranks the heat back up in anticipation of our return home. I’d forgotten to turn the thermostat up when I got out of bed and that’s why I was curling up into a ball so tight that I would’ve collapsed into my own gravity well if I hadn’t figured it out when I did.

I’m at home — well, not right now; right now, I’m in the library writing this drivel because they’ve got a damn computer that works and I don’t — because it’s day six of the Wisconsin Film Festival, so instead of going out into the world to be a productive member of American society, I’ve been slouched in the chairs (benches, medieval torture devices) of various darkened movie theaters around town, watching more movies in one week than I’ll probably watch the rest of the year. We’re shooting for thirty this year (B counts it as thirty, but it’s really more if, like me, you count the shorts separately, because they’re stand-alone films, right?), a slightly less ambitious schedule than last year when we saw something like thirty-five films, even by the weird way of counting that B uses. We used to arrange our schedule so that we crammed in as many movies in a day as we possibly could; this year, we’re taking it easy and today, like yesterday, we’re seeing just four films, when we could have probably squeezed in five or six a day if we wrestled with the schedule for hours. We didn’t feel like pulling our hair and gnashing our teeth this year, hence our more relaxed schedule.

We were at the Sundance Cinema from eleven in the morning until ten at night yesterday, which is nice inasmuch as we didn’t have to dash across town, hunt for a parking space, trudge through the rain or go without food or beer (Sundance has a concession stand that sells hot sandwiches and several brands of beers from local breweries; the downside is that the prices are just this side of extortion), although I have to say that being cooped up in one theater all day long leaves my head foggy at the end of the day. When I have to run from one theater to the next, at least it gets my legs moving, my blood pumping, and I have to blink at the sunlight a little more often, which is not a bad thing.

This has been a good week to stay inside all day. We’ve had rain for three, maybe four days *shrug*? So we’ve been invoking our head of the line privileges, a benefit of buying the all-festival pass instead of getting individual tickets for each showing, which is a royal pain in the neck when you’re trying to buy tickets to thirty-plus films. Actually, it’s typically a pain in the neck to buy tickets to just a handful of shows, because the on-line ticket-selling vendor is almost always instantly overwhelmed by the volume of people trying to log in and buy tickets the day they go on sale. We had pretty good luck the first year we did it that way, not so much the next year, and the year after that we threw our arms in the air and got the all-festival passes. It turned out that cost less than buying the individual tickets anyway. We found out about head-of-line privileges later but only invoked them when the line captains all but twisted our arms to take us to the front of the line, leading us past dozens of grumbling ticket-holders who’d been waiting to get in. But this year, waiting in line outside the Barrymore, I watched as people butted in line ahead of us, clustering around others who held a place for them, or crowding in behind friends who waved them over, shouting, “YOOO-HOOO! Join us!” After seeing at least a dozen people do that shit, I went up to the line captain, showed her my pass, and asked her how that head-of-line privilege worked. And we’ve been jumping to the head of the queue ever since, which came in especially handing last night because all the films we wanted to see were in theaters where the line was outside. We were warm and dry even as the rain fell all through the day.

Another plus to the Sundance theaters is their seating: big, plush chairs with so much leg room that you don’t have to stand up to let people get by and you can stretch out during the movie, a sharp contrast to, for instance, the clamshell seats in the Chazen Theater where my knees are firmly butted up against the back of the chair in the next row in front of me. God help you if you have to excuse yourself to the washroom from a seat in the middle of the row during the show. At Sundance, there’s enough room to walk past them without turning to one side and standing tippy-toe. There’s even a tier of seats in the middle of the theater with a handrail you can put your feet up on; the competition to snag those is fierce, with many a harsh word spoken between people who seek them and others who “reserve” seats for friends who aren’t actually present in the theater yet. I’ve never had the moxie to try that. A woman at one of the showings last night was holding at least half a dozen seats (I couldn’t tell exactly how many she was laying claim to with her outspread arms) and had to absorb more verbal punishment to do it than I could have withstood in a year; the resentful glares alone would have reduced me to a withered husk.

in the dark | 10:01 am CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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