Monday, September 16th, 2019

I have spent the past week watching the most fascinating series of videos of a sailor and boat builder named Leo who is restoring a hundred-year-old wooden boat named Tally Ho. It was a beautiful boat when it was new but it was a rotten old scow when Leo first laid eyes on it; he could literally pull chunks of wood from it with his hands without much effort, as you can see in the first video.

Leo decided to restore it anyway. Now, when a boat builder uses the word “restore” it apparently means something completely different from what I have typically understood it to mean and I say that because, as far as I can tell, Leo is building a new boat. He’s building it inside the husk of the old boat one piece at a time, but I’ve watched 55 episodes and so far he’s replaced the keel, the stern assembly, the stem assembly, and all the ribs. The only original parts of the boat left in the spot where he parked it are a couple dozen planks clamped to the ribs.

He reckons he’s restoring it because, he says, in the normal life of a wooden boat you’d have to replace parts damaged from normal wear and tear or from extraordinary circumstances. If you replaced the mast you wouldn’t say it was a new boat or a different boat, you’d say it was the same boat. Same goes if you ran up on a reef and had to replace most of the planks along one side. Well, he says, his restoration of Tally Ho is merely the maintenance it should have had over the course of its life, compressed into a couple of years. And I suppose there’s something to that, but it still looks to me as though he’s building a new boat inside the old boat.

Regardless of the semantics, it’s an amazing series of videos, not least because in the beginning Leo was working mostly on his own. I was gobsmacked to watch him build a shed over the boat by himself, then tear off a few planks along the bottom of the boat so he could get the cement ballast out of the bilge, which he had to zap with a jackhammer until it was gravel.

The videos are also amazing because Leo has a talent for explaining things that are incredibly complicated in a way that’s not only understandable but genuinely interesting. Videos like these would be a terrible bore if he didn’t have that talent, yet they weren’t; I eagerly looked forward to each video. To make it even sweeter, he’s even got an amazing eye for framing a shot, then editing them into an entertaining video. I was smiling and laughing as often as I was staring intently.

All this to day, I recommend the series all the way to the end, or really the middle because he’s only halfway through at this point.

Tally Ho | 6:16 am CDT
Category: entertainment, play | Tags:
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Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Back problems persist today, but are not as bad as yesterday when I could barely get up out of my seat without shooting pain. I can get get up and sit down without much trouble today but am mindful that one wrong move can bring on the lightning bolts, so I’m moving very gingerly. There is no painkiller in our considerable stash I can use to fend off this monster. Only time and some stretching exercises, executed very slowly and carefully, will bring about its ending. There is a lot of relief in simply bending over and hanging in the position that yoga teachers call “rag doll,” which I do at every opportunity even though it makes me look a little odd when I do it in the middle of the day at the office. Thank goodness I’m used to looking odd.

persist | 6:06 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, July 28th, 2019

I made a little road trip to the village of North Freedom to visit the Mid-Continent Railway Museum. I’ve been living in Madison, just an hour’s drive from North Freedom, for almost fifteen years but this is the first time I’ve visited the museum. About an hour’s drive from our little red house, North Freedom reminded me of the very small town in Waupaca County where I grew up.

The museum is just outside the village proper. It’s mostly an open-air museum with a half-dozen or so examples of rolling stock in a small yard next to a railway depot. There were a couple steam locomotives that obviously hadn’t raised steam in years and were just for display, coaches and freight cars fading in the sun, and a rotary snow plow that was slowly falling apart where it stood. Across the road there was a train shed which held maybe a half-dozen coaches and a caboose, all of which had been restored to like-new condition but the doors on all of them were all locked up; there was no way to get inside and I couldn’t see much through the windows because most of them were dark inside.

There was a small diesel switching locomotive pulling a couple sun-bleached coaches into the yard when I got there and a volunteer in the depot told me I could get a ride on it at one o’clock, but I didn’t stay that long.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum | 3:00 pm CDT
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One of my favorite pop songs from back in the day is “Fantasy Girl” by 38 Special. I liked it because I could learn most of the words just by listening to the song on a shitty AM radio (the only way to do it back when there was no internet to look up the words) and because it was one of those songs that got better the louder you cranked up the volume.

The lyrics were fairly simple and there weren’t a lot of them:

Lately I’m learning that so many yearnings are never to be
Childhood illusions, merely delusions of a girl that I see
In my mind’s eye I see clearly a vision of how it could be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free

Now I’ve had my share and sometimes I swear that I’ve had me enough
You end up in sorrow, broken tomorrows, love can be tough
But my mind’s eye sees a vision of true love and how it should be
Me and my fantasy girl
Hold on to me
Be my fantasy girl
Don’t set me free

That’s it! That’s the whole song. I got a girl, she’s a fantasy girl, she’s only in my mind and I know she’s not only not real, she’s not even very realistic but I will never let go of my fantasy of true love because real live relationships mostly suck. At least, I think that’s the message they’re trying to get across. Like most pop songs, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about the words too much.

Fantasy Girl | 9:04 am CDT
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Saturday, July 27th, 2019

We got a letter in the mail last week, an actual hand-written letter which My Darling B opened because who even writes letters any more? The only handwritten mail we get now is the occasional birthday card from close family. We get a lot of letters soliciting donations that appear to be handwritten but at second glance are obviously printed using a font that looks like handwriting. Not the case with this letter we got last week: The handwriting was cramped and our last name was crunched up against the edge of the envelope.

The letter itself was written on blue card paper and read in its entirety:

Hello – our names are Mike & Rose – We really like the location of your house on (name of street). If you have any interest in selling please give us a call. Thanks!

It’s not unusual for us to get offers from realtors who want to buy our house. We probably get one a month. The housing market in Madison seems pretty hot and many of houses in our neighborhood have new owners. What’s unusual is that this particular letter was addressed by hand instead of printed and the envelope was affixed with a real first-class postage stamp, not one of those fake-looking bulk rate stamps.

My Darling B and I talked it over and decided the best possible reply to this letter would be:

We accept your kind offer on the following conditions:
1. We will vacate the house in 1 week.
2. You take possession of the house & everything in it.
3. Price of the house is not negotiable: $500,000.00 cash, paid in twenties.
4. By accepting this deal you waive all rights of rescission.
5. No questions asked.

If you accept these conditions, leave the cash in a green canvas duffel bag on our doorstep Monday morning at 6:00 am. We will vacate the house by the next Monday & leave the keys on the kitchen counter.

If you attempt to contact us in any way other than leaving the cash in the duffel bag, the deal is off.

It was so much fun to come up with this offer that, if we weren’t fairly certain we’d have the police at our door, we’d answer them just to see what else might happen.

offer accepted with conditions | 11:07 am CDT
Category: entertainment, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, this modern world
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Three o’clock in the morning is too goddamn early to start my day, and yet here I am, banging out some more of this drivel after lying awake for an hour, reading several magazine articles, and catching up on some of my favorite Twitter and Instagram follows before making a pot of tea and sitting down at the keyboard. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

My best night’s sleep this week was in a hotel in Wisconsin Rapids where I tried and failed to stay awake long enough to watch all of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. Sorry, Sam! I caught most of it, so I hope I get at least partial credit. I’m just not the night owl I would like to be, which is why I normally watch the show on YouTube, but hotels haven’t cut the cable and moved to the streaming era yet, and that’s why I was trying (and failing) not to doze off during one of my favorite shows. When I finally caved, turned off the television set and surrendered to the enveloping darkness, I slept the sleep of the just until my phone bleeped at around six-thirty. My Darling B sent me a “Good Morning!” text.

I was in Wisconsin Rapids because it’s the time of year when I drive in seemingly random circles around the state, stopping occasionally to pop into a DMV office and audit them. It’s as bureaucratically awkward as it sounds but I’m an awkward kind of guy so it’s a job that suits me, unfortunately. Some of us aspire to do great things and some of us pop into the DMV office where you are waiting to renew your driver’s license, grab the DMV employee who was just about to call your ticket number and drag him into a darkened back room for an indeterminate amount of time. All in the name of improving customer service, I assure you.

Wisconsin Rapids was littered with the branches of trees that were shattered by a line of storms that blew through the area last weekend, and I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say “shattered.” I saw oak trees that must’ve been hundreds of years old reduced to broken boughs and splintered stumps. Freshly cut-up branches were stacked along the curb of every road we drove down. I’ll bet the city lost at least a quarter and maybe as much as a third of their old-growth trees. One of the guys I talked to said in his yard alone he lost fourteen trees. He must have a pretty big yard, but still, wow. As if cleaning up all that wasn’t bad enough, the storm knocked the power out for days so a whole lot of people lost all the food in their fridges and freezers.

I left Madison with a coworker at six-thirty on Wednesday morning and drove in a big 350-mile-long circle that wound through northeastern Wisconsin, then across the midsection of the state, and finally down the middle back to Madison, where we arrived at about three-thirty Thursday afternoon. This was my first overnight trip but not my last. It’s surprising how many people I talk to believe I’m living the high life on these business trips. I can’t figure it out how they get that idea. We spend hours and hours behind the wheel of a compact car marked with The Scarlet Letter of government plates, which means we have to drive exactly the speed limit: any faster and our supervisor gets phone calls about how we drive like maniacs; any slower and she gets calls about how we’re a hazard to traffic. We have to book hotel rooms that have the cheapest rate, so we’re always next to an Interstate off-ramp where I’m jolted awake every twenty minutes or so by the explosive flatulence of a downshifting semi truck as it exits the highway. And don’t even try to make hotel breakfasts sound like a perk. I tend to go for the watery powdered eggs and heartburn in a sausage patty, but only because the bananas are usually ripe enough to attract fruit flies.

From The Ground Up coffee shop in Wisconsin RapidsWe do get to pick the restaurants we eat at, thank goodness, and we can even find a pretty good one wherever we go. In Wisconsin Rapids, for instance, we ate lunch at a cozy coffee shop called From The Ground Up. Not only did it have delicious food at a reasonable price and friendly staff who jumped to help us, it had a genuine Volkswagen bus parked on top of the rest rooms. When I asked how they even got it in there, the young woman who took my order explained they cut it in half so it would fit through the front door.

If there’s anything about these trips I might consider a perk, it’s that we frequently see something that is remarkable. On the first day of this last trip, after we’d been on the road an hour and a half or so, we passed by a farmer’s field which was apparently playing host to a meet-up of parasailers. The sky over our car was filled with dozens and dozens of wedges of multicolored nylon turning lazy circles over our heads, and more were taking off. It was magical.

on the road again | 6:51 am CDT
Category: business travel, sleeplessness, travel, weather, work
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Trump’s bigoted rants aren’t going to stop. He’s going to keep on ranting and he’s going to get more offensively racist with each rant. How much longer are we going to put up with a blatantly racist president?

DRT rants about Cummings 7-27-29

infested | 4:30 am CDT
Category: current events, random idiocy, yet another rant | Tags:
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Sunday, July 14th, 2019

As we were driving home from work last Friday night, we saw a police car flip a yooey on a main road where u-turns are illegal.

“You know, at a bare minimum the police should have to obey traffic laws,” My Darling B said.

“I hate to disagree with you,” I answered, “but, at a bare minumum, the police should not be allowed to kill anyone and, if they do, they should suffer the most dire consequences for it. At least, that’s what I’m going to ask for if I ever get my hands on the monkey’s paw.”

monkey’s paw | 2:28 pm CDT
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The president of the United States ranting at brown and black people, telling them to go back to where they came from, is so cartoonishly racist that I never thought I’d live to see it, and yet here you go:

racist POTUS tweet 7-14-19

back where you came from | 10:55 am CDT
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Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The best part of the JoCo Cruise, in my very subjective opinion, will always be the great talent they somehow manage to gather together in one spot for a whole week. For example, the delightful Molly Lewis has been on every JoCo Cruise we’ve been on (and every JoCo Cruise that’s ever been, I think), and to date she has never failed to make us feel as though we made the right decision to spend our vacation time and a shit-ton of money on this cruise.

In the clip above, she teams up with the amazing Jim Boggia, who lost his voice for almost the entirety of this cruise for reasons that medical science wasn’t able to explain, so he had to express himself largely through whatever musical instrument was in his hands — in this case, a ukulele (if the JoCo Cruise had an designated official musical instrument, I’m pretty sure it would be the ukulele). Boggia is perhaps best known on the cruise for insisting that other musicians tune their instruments before each song, sometimes calling out sharp or flat from his chair in the audience; such is the curse of having perfect pitch.

I love this clip because it brings together two of my favorite musicians doing my favorite thing: having a good time. Not only do they have a good time, their good time gets the audience to have a good time, too. I love how, after the tune-up, Molly baits Boggia into playing a riff from Powerhouse, then Boggia turns it back on Molly by sucking her into playing Dueling Banjos. “This is my set! What are you doing?” Molly deadpans while Boggia is still bouncing around the stage. At this point, they haven’t even begun to play the song Molly called Boggia on stage to play.

Here’s Molly when she was first asked to join Jonathan Coulton (known among fans as JoCo, hence the name of the cruise) and Grammy award-winning artist Amee Mann on stage. They’re performing one of Molly’s original songs, Pantsuit Sasquatch, “based on a true story” as Molly says. I love how jazzed Molly is about Mann and Coulton singing her song; you can easily tell this is one of the best days of her life.

And in the clip above, Molly asks the multi-talented Jean Grey to sing another of Molly’s original songs, “All My Teeth,” much to the delight of everyone in the audience.

All these videos are the work of the doggedly determined Angela Brett, who is more or less the official videographer of the JoCo Cruise.

molly lewis | 3:08 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, music, vacation | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

I went on a business trip to Racine today and used Google maps to navigate. I used to use Siri but the last time I did that she steered me into a construction project that sprawled over half of Milwaukee and I spent twenty minutes trying to get out of that, so Siri can go suck eggs now. Google maps hasn’t done anything like that yet. In fact, yesterday as we were cruising down the highway the voice of Google maps (why doesn’t she have a name?) warned us, “There’s a speed trap ahead,” and sure enough we spotted a state trooper in the weeds about five seconds later. As we passed, my phone went *ding* and a pop-up appeared: “Is it still there?” ZOMG, Google is stickin’ it to The Man now!

Fighting The Man | 8:25 am CDT
Category: business travel, this modern world
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Monday, July 1st, 2019

A congressional delegation inspected facilities operated by the Customs and Border Patrol agency where asylum-seekers were being held in inhumane conditions. The delegation included Pete Aguilar (CA31), Joaquin Castro (TX20), Judy Chu (CA27), Madeleine Dean (PA4), Veronica Escobar (TX16), Sylvia Garcia (TX29), Joe Kennedy (MA4) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY14), Ayanna Pressley (MA7), Rashida Tlaib (MI13), Norma Torrez (CA35), Greg Stanton (AZ9), Lori Trahan (MA3), and Marc Veasey (TX33).

Joaquin Castro: “At the El Paso Border Patrol Station #1, women from Cuba, some grandmothers, crammed into a prison-like cell with one toilet, but no running water to drink from or wash their hands with. Concrete floors, cinder-block walls, steel toilets. Many said they had not bathed for 15 days. Some had been separated from children, some had been held for more than 50 days. Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy. They asked us to take down their names and let everyone know they need help. They also feared retribution. We then went to the Clint Border Patrol Station that warehouses children and some parents. The tents outside, used during the surge recently, were dark and surrounded by chain link fences. The showers — mobile units — were dank, dirty and only too small in number for the hundreds of people there just a few weeks ago. And a boy, perhaps three years old, pressed his face against the dirty glass of a locked steel door. He smiled big and tried to talk to us through the thick glass. His family — or another — ate Ramen on the floor a few feet away.”

Judy Chu: “We just left the El Paso border patrol station … what we saw was appalling and disgusting. We talked to a group of women, detainees who said that they didn’t have running water, that one was an epileptic and she couldn’t get her medication. They were separated from their children. They’d been there over 50 days. One woman said that the border patrol agent told her if she wanted water, just to drink from a toilet … There seriously has to be some change.”

Madeleine Dean: “Just left the first CBP facility. The conditions are far worse than we ever could have imagined. 15 women in their 50s- 60s sleeping in a small concrete cell, no running water. Weeks without showers. All of them separated from their families. This is a human rights crisis. We were met with hostility from the guards, but this is nothing compared to their treatment of the people being held.
The detainees are constantly abused and verbally harassed with no cause. Deprived physically and dehumanized mentally – everyday. This is a human rights issue.”

Joe Kennedy: “Spent the morning in TX at Clint and El Paso detention facilities. Big takeaways — 1) CBP was very resistant to Congressional oversight. They tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video. Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative. 2) Facilities are wholly inadequate. Cells maxed to capacity, concrete floors … It felt jail-like. No way to keep a child or innocent human being. Group of 13 women from Cuba were in tears when we spoke with them.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “Just left the 1st CBP facility. I see why CBP officers were being so physically &sexually threatening towards me. Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress. After I forced myself into a cell w/ women & began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as “psychological warfare” — waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc. Tell me what about that is due to a “lack of funding?” Now I’m on my way to Clint, where the Trump admin was denying children toothpaste and soap. This has been horrifying so far. It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem. We’re talking systemic cruelty w/ a dehumanizing culture that treats them like animals. What’s haunting is that the women I met with today told me in no uncertain terms that they would experience retribution for telling us what they shared. They all began sobbing — out of fear of being punished, out of sickness, out of desperation, lack of sleep, trauma, despair.”

Rashida Tlaib: “We can’t just focus on the children anymore. I met grandmothers, mothers and fathers who are suffering. This is devastating. The look in one father’s eyes broke me. I can’t look away. A little boy not more than 4 years old asked me where his Papa was through a glass door. An Abuela hasn’t seen her grandson in 40 days & has no idea where he is. A woman, pregnant w/ her first child, just wants to be w/ her family in FL. A father teared up telling me that his wife, 8 yr old daughter & 14 yr old son have been sleeping on concrete floors in a tent for 4 days. They haven’t been able to shower, no real food (chips & juice boxes) & so scared of being separated.”

concentration | 8:39 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 30th, 2019

When I left home on a bike ride around the city this morning, the sun was shining, there was a warm if somewhat muggy breeze blowing, and I had every intention of making a big circle around the city and getting home again within an hour and a half.

By the time I returned home the sun was *not* shining, the wind was lashing a spray of rain across my face and the air was more than a little muggy, although I have to say it was still relatively warm, and a lucky thing it was.

I rode my normal route through the Waunona Woods neighborhood to Olbrich Park, where I turned onto a bike trail I could take all the way to the arboretum. I got to the arboretum early enough in the morning that there were almost no cars at all along the road, a big plus when it comes to enjoying a quiet bike ride through the woods. Also a big plus: spotting a doe and her fawn running through the woods. That sorta made my day.

At the other end of the arboretum, I ride through the Nakoma neighborhood to Midvale Road where I can get on the Southwest Commuter Path, a bike trail I can take straight back into town that drops me at the shore of Lake Monona. From there, I can ride north around the shore of the lake to the Capitol City Trail, which I can ride almost all the way to Monona. It’s a ride of about eighteen or nineteen miles; I can’t tell for sure because although my phone is usually pretty good at tracking me wherever I go, it frequently throws a zig or a zag into my route that adds miles to the total.

I had just come off the Capitol City Trail and was in the home stretch along Monona Drive when the first few drops of rain warned me to get off the road and under an overhang if I wanted to stay dry. Luckily, I was not far from our favorite cafe and I had worked up a decent hunger, so I pulled in and ordered a breakfast of blueberry oat cakes, which I ate while watching the rain pour down. It was not a small storm, either. I had plenty of time after breakfast to order a cup of coffee and drink it at leisure before the rain eased up enough for me to get back on my bike and ride home, and even then I still got plenty wet.

a morning ride | 3:41 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, June 29th, 2019

I can hear again, and it is quite a relief.

About three weeks ago, I went to the clinic for a checkup. When the doc looked in my ears, he said something like, “I bet you can’t hear much right now.” I mentioned my increasingly irritating tinnitus, but he said what he meant was I had a shit-ton of wax in my ears (I’m paraphrasing; I can’t remember how he described it but a “shit-ton” it was, so that’s what I’m going with). He called in a tech who loaded a big-barrel syringe with warm tap water and flushed out my ears while I held a small plastic basin under the ear she was flushing to catch the water and little flecks of wax that came out.

Afterwards, the doc took another look in each of my ears, then reached into my right ear with a little plastic tool that looked sort of like a dentist’s pick and fished out a chunk of earwax about the size of a pea. He said there was one just like it in my left ear, too, but he couldn’t manage to snag it with the pick, so he told me to get some ear wax softener from the pharmacy, use that for about a week, then come back.

The first time I dribbled some ear wax softener into my left ear it bubbled and frothed and some wax came out, but it left me half-deaf like I had water stuck in my ear after swimming. I squirted some more of the softener into my ear the next day and again that night, but I didn’t get any more wax out and it still felt and sounded plugged up, so I didn’t add any more softener. Later the next day I could hear a little better, but when I laid down to sleep at night it plugged up again and didn’t unplug until late in the morning the next day. It slowly got better until I thought I could hear just fine so I didn’t used the softener again.

Then day before yesterday my ear blocked up and I couldn’t hear much out of it, not like I had water in my ear but like I had one of those foam ear plugs in it. I squirted the softener into my ear and it bubbled and frothed again but nothing came out and it didn’t unplug. I squirted some more in the next day with the same result, so this morning I stopped at the pharmacy and got one of those little plastic bulbs to squirt water into my ears. First shot of water flushed a pea-sized gob of wax and all sorts of little flecks, too. Second shot of water brought out a couple more, slightly smaller chunks, and the third shot of water flushed out another pea-sized gob. There was enough wax in my ear to sculpt a life-sized cockroach! No wonder the doc was surprised I could hear anything!

pump up the volume | 1:03 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, June 15th, 2019

It began on a sunny afternoon at our local city park along the scenic Little Wolf River. My dad had recently purchased a canoe and talked me into taking a short paddle with him down a stretch of the river to a park on the opposite end of town, a trip of maybe three miles. We hadn’t paddled far when the deer flies zeroed in on us and began to attack in twos and threes. We had a spray can of Off! with us and covered ourselves liberally with it, but whatever they used to make it out of back then, it didn’t work on deer flies. If anything, it made them bite us harder just to spite is for daring the attempt to repel them.

The further we went down the river, the more deer flies found us until at one point we sighted a swarm of them rising off the water’s surface and heading our way. They enveloped us like a scene from a cheesy nature-gone-wild horror flick and attacked us relentlessly. This is when I was reduced to a blubbering sack of bleeding meat. I dropped the paddle in the bottom of the canoe and spent most of the rest of the trip slapping myself silly, wailing and crying. When we took out at the downstream park, the bottom of the canoe under my seat was a carpet of dead, bloody deer flies.

I’m pretty sure we never paddled that particular stretch of the river again.

dear fly | 11:53 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Saturday, June 1st, 2019

I’ve always thought a dystopian future was most likely, but in my most optimistic moments, and I did have a few of those, here’s what I thought the future of America might be like, best-case scenario:

I thought we’d get a handle on the pollution thing. I honestly don’t know how “reduce, reuse, recycle” is optional, or that anyone believes dumping garbage into anything but a carefully controlled disposal system is anything but A Very Bad Idea. How is there any question we should keep the thin, narrow layer of habitable ground we live on clean? I really thought we’d not only stop polluting and dispose of our garbage properly, I also thought we’d have cleaned up all the messes we made.

I thought we’d have stopped burning fossil fuels by now. When I was much younger, I figured we would eventually get all our power from nuclear reactors. It was a common belief then. I still think going nuclear would be preferable to burning fossil fuels, but now I think the better power source is the sun, which dumps so much power on our planet that you can feel it, even though it’s ninety-three million miles away. With our current technology, we can meet all our needs using only a fraction of the energy the sun dumps on us every day, yet we continue to burn fossil fuels because, I guess, it’s easier, or at least we think it is.

I really, really thought we’d all use mass transit a lot more than we do. By “mass transit,” I mean a transportation system that everybody uses most of the time. I was pretty sure that, by this time, I wouldn’t have to walk more than fifteen or twenty minutes to get anywhere in the United States. It honestly didn’t seem impossible way back when, but I obviously underestimated how much Americans love their cars by a long shot, and now virtually all of the roads in every city in the country are laid out for cars, not walking. I’ve been in a lot of cities where it’s not quite impossible to walk from a hotel to a store or a restaurant, but they’re almost there. The fact that Americans are virtually forced to drive everywhere is so disappointing.

I haven’t said “I thought we’d treat each other like equals” because I have been so monumentally naive as to think we were almost there years and years ago. I have only recently come to realize how far we have to go to reach the point where we treat each other like equals that I’m not confident at all we ever will.

my dystopian future | 8:12 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

I showed up for my medical appointment yesterday afternoon, gave the clerk at the front desk my name and the time of my appointment. She scanned her computer monitor for a moment, then asked, “What was the name again?”

I repeated my name slowly and clearly. She scanned her screen again.

“And who were you seeing?”

I gave her the name of my physician’s assistant.

More scanning. Then: “Hm. Next Wednesday?” She looked up at me. “Do you want an appointment card?”

Ah. No. I think I’ll remember it now.

early bird | 6:14 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Sunday, April 28th, 2019

the great Paris accord
how is Paris doing lately?
how is Paris?
how is Paris doing?

send all the money to countries that the people never heard of
and raise their taxes

I ended that one, too

I thought I was going to take a lot of heat on that one

a lot of heat | 11:02 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, random idiocy, this modern world | Tags: ,
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Saturday, April 27th, 2019

It’s four o’clock in the morning here in beautiful Madison, Wisconsin, and it’s not snowing yet, although the National Weather Service has put us under a winter storm warning all day and we’re forecast to get anywhere from two to nine inches of snow. In April. Barely. I mean, it’s practically May!

If anybody needs me, I’ll just be in a corner under a blanket sucking my thumb.

not snowing yet | 4:08 am CDT
Category: random idiocy, weather | Tags:
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Monday, April 22nd, 2019

First bike ride of the season yesterday — cycled the long route around Lake Monona and Monona Bay. Also a first: I was wearing nothing but my cycling shorts and a t-shirt (and a helmet, of course). I’ve always been way too self-conscious to wear those skin-tight shorts in public; too much like being naked. Always had to put a pair of regular baggy shorts on over them, but it was so nice yesterday that I said fuck it and went out naked.

First paddle around Squaw Bay on Saturday in the afternoon. The weather wasn’t warm enough in the morning to go out; I took a walk in the morning and had to bundle up in a winter coat, but by noon it was in the high fifties, and out on the water in the sunshine I was comfortable enough to bare my arms. Doing lots of naked stuff last weekend.

Firsts | 5:45 am CDT
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
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Thursday, April 18th, 2019

I don’t know if I was subconsciously looking forward to the Mueller report today — consciously, I don’t care much — but last night I dreamed I was yelling at Trump. Not only was I yelling at him, I was able to express perfectly every kind of disgust I felt towards him and his ilk. It was so satisfying.

mueller day | 5:58 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” played like a boss!

This is why it sounds familiar:

Powerhouse | 6:35 am CDT
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Monday, April 15th, 2019

My Darling B has been on leave from work since Thursday before last, when the film festival started. The fest ended last Thursday, but she stayed home on Friday to do the taxes while I went back to work. So she’s been away from the office for eleven days, and is not exactly ready and raring to go back this morning.

ready and raring to go | 6:03 am CDT
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Saturday, April 13th, 2019

My Darling B texted me as I was wandering the aisles of the grocery store yesterday evening: “OMG it’s five o’clock! I thought it was four! Where did that hour go?” Well, I found that lost hour this morning.

When Boo scratched at our bedroom door and I rolled over to glance at the time, my phone said it was six-thirty, which was about what I expected. Sparky and Scooter scramble to scarf down the food that’s doled out to them at five-thirty by an automatic feeder, but Boo doesn’t scramble for anything; she’s too old, and even when she was young she was a little too full of herself to want to seem needy. She usually waits until about an hour after the boys have eaten before she starts nagging me.

I’m such a light sleeper than I can’t ignore her, so I usually roll out of bed right away, dole out some kibble, then crawl back into bed, and that’s what I did. A minute or two after I curled up under the quilts, I heard the automatic feeders whirr and thought, “That’s weird. How did their timers lose an hour?” But then I looked at my phone and saw that it wasn’t six-thirty; it was in fact five-thirty! The lost hour was back!

return of the lost hour | 3:56 pm CDT
Category: random idiocy
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Friday, April 12th, 2019

We ran into another WFF movie-goer while waiting to get into “Pause,” a movie which My Darling B described as “a menopausal woman fantasizes about killing her asshole husband.” Without hesitating a moment, our fellow movie-goer nodded and said, “Been there, been there.”

been there | 6:48 pm CDT
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Thursday, April 11th, 2019

There are few real joys to middle age. The only perk I can see is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room. “If you prefer a shower or a tub, I can put you upstairs in the second guest room.” I hear these words coming from my puppet-lined mouth and shiver with middle-aged satisfaction. Yes, my hair is gray and thinning. Yes, the washer on my penis has worn out, leaving me to dribble urine long after I’ve zipped my trousers back up. But I have two guest rooms.

David Sedaris, Calypso

middle age | 9:25 am CDT
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It was a very good day for documentaries! Not so much for the one drama we saw.

“Hotel By The River” – A Korean poet meets his sons at a hotel. A young woman meets her sister or mother or friend (it’s not that clear and I was nodding off, to be honest) at the same hotel. The hotel is really heaven or death and the women are angels, maybe? Meh, I didn’t care much. Two out of five.

“Midnight Traveler” – A film maker flees his native Afghanistan with his family when he finds out ISIS has issued a death warrant for him. Using cell phones, he documents his family’s hardships on their long trek through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia. When the film ended, they were living in a relocation camp made of shipping containers, which they were not allowed to leave. Five out of five.

“Who Will Write Our History?” – Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto decide to preserve a narrative of their confinement and eventual extermination by the Nazis, writing diaries of their daily lives as well as collecting photographs, handbills and other paraphernalia, then burying it in steel boxes and milk cans. Five out of five.

“Screwball” – a documentary about the baseball doping scandal so outrageous, it could only be filmed as a comedy. Five out of five.

WFF2019 – day 7 | 8:07 am CDT
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Spring was nice while it lasted.

On Monday, temps were in the 70s. I went for a long walk in a t-shirt and flip-flops. I could’ve worn shorts but I don’t like to tempt the gods.

On Tuesday, temps were in the 60s, still warm enough that My Darling B and I sat outside to read in the sun while we were between shows.

Snow started to fall yesterday at about eleven o’clock. It was sticking to the ground by one o’clock. I don’t know when it stopped, but there was still about an inch of snow on the ground when we left the movies to go home at about ten o’clock. Spotty snow is still sticking to the ground this morning at seven, and the temps are near-freezing. According to the five-day forecast, temps won’t get up to 50 until Monday.

Now that I’m talking about it, this is a pretty typical spring in Wisconsin. Temps warm up, snow melts, people start walking about in shorts and flip-flops, daring to believe not only that winter is over but summer is here, and then WHAM! One last snow.

The film festival was prepared for this. They had an alternate cut of the short trailer they play before the show. The original cut ended with an inside joke about how many years they would continue to use the same song for the trailer, but yesterday the ending was different: one of the characters frowned and asked, “Did she say something about spring?” and there was a fluffy snowfall superimposed over the credits. Nicely done.

snowy | 7:41 am CDT
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Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

“Pause” is a look at the inner life of a woman repressed by her asshole husband, who is so emotionally abusive toward her that the minute he opened his mouth I thought, “If she doesn’t murder this rat bastard before the end of the film, I’m going to be very disappointed.” She didn’t, but I was still satisfied. Four out of five.

“Maya” A war correspondent returns to his family home in India, reunites with his mother and godfather, hooks up with his godfather’s barely-legal daughter, then goes back to work. Three out of five.

“Mr. Jimmy” A man obsessed by what he called “the magic of Jimmy Page’s music” devotes his life to reproducing every detail of Page’s performances down to the duration of each note played and the stitches in every scrap of clothing worn.

WFF2019 – day 6 | 8:16 am CDT
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“Making Montgomery Clift” was a fascinating deep dive into how the public image of Clift as a man tortured by his homosexuality was fashioned over the years by misleading biographies and television programs. Five out of five.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” – Katherine Hepburn was deliciously evil, playing the role of the batshit coo-coo matriarch. Montgomery Clift was nicely understated and pensive as the brilliant neurosurgeon who dabbles in psychology in his off hours. Elizabeth Taylor was … overwrought. The film was chock full o’ homophobia and racism. I get it that homophobia was a plot point, but the racism was gratuitous. Three out of five.

“Light From Light” – a ghost story, not my favorite kind of movie, but a pleasantly heartwarming ghost story, which was unexpected. Four out of five.

And now, as is my wont, I’m going off on a few tangents:

One of the main characters in “Light From Light” is a ghost hunter who’s asked to find out if a man’s dead wife is haunting the old farm house the widowed husband still lives in. The ghost hunter attempts to find out by wandering through the halls of the dark house at night, sweeping a flashlight back and forth chanting, “If anyone is here, let yourself be known.”

Assuming for the moment that ghosts are real: Why do “paranormal investigators” leave all the lights off when they wander through old houses looking for ghosts? And I’m not looking for the movie answer (“Because it builds tension and looks spooky”) but the real answer. Why would it be easier to discover ghosts at night in the dark, than during the day with the windows open? The ghost in this film made itself known by moving things around, as many ghosts do. You’d think the investigator would want to keep the lights on for that.

If ghosts are spiritual beings unencumbered by a physical body, how do they hear people talking, and how do they move things? This is the most problematic unanswered question I have about ghosts. To hear noise and to move stuff, you have to be able to physically touch solid matter. And if a non-corporeal spirit can move stuff solely by using the power of their spirit, why do they use an awesome ability like that on ambiguous demonstrations like moving car keys or slamming doors? Why don’t they fix a delicious breakfast of bacon & eggs with a side of toast and a glass of orange juice and leave it waiting on the kitchen table with a little handwritten note that says, “Good morning! Thinking of you! (smiley face)” How would that fail to convince the most hardened skeptic, to say nothing of how nice a gift it would be?

The widowed husband makes the remark to the ghost hunter, “I think it would be wonderful if ghosts were real.” Would it really? I have a hard time believing that, because after all these thousands of years of human existence, I’m pretty sure ghosts would outnumber the living. I don’t know exactly how many billions of them there would be, but it seems likely we’d be shoulder-to-shoulder with them by now. You wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting a ghost. Far from being wonderful, I’d think that would get old real fast, for the ghosts as well as for the living.

WFF2019 – day 5 | 7:55 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

It’s been a long, cold winter full of ice and snow
Now the spring has come and it’s time to go
Back to the movies, turn the lights down low
Turn your cell phones off and we’ll start the show

Go to Union South, grab a slice and a beer
You can walk to your seat with a volunteer
From the Capitol Theater to the library mall
Chazen, Elvehjem, Sundance, and Vilas Hall

Turn the lights down low, turn the lights down low

Turn the lights down low
Wisconsin
Turn the lights down low
Film festival
Turn the lights down low
Get out there!

Time for a film festival!

As we have done in years past, My Darling B and I took a week off from work so we could go to as many of the films at the 2019 Wisconsin Film Fest as we possibly could. Here’s a roundup of what we’ve seen so far:

Thursday
“Woman at War” – five out of five! This is one of those foreign movies that might misleadingly be called “quirky” and while it’s got a few quirks, those are features, not bugs. The story centers on Halla, who meets her cousin while she’s out hiking the countryside of Iceland and incidentally sabotaging the electrical grid.

Friday
“Good Morning” – four out of five. A look at a Japanese neighborhood in the 1960s.
“Lonelyhearts” – four out of five. A well-crafted film that centers on the writer of a newspaper advice column, played by Montgomery Clift, who can out-Shatner any actor alive, even Bill.
“Betty White: First Lady of Television” – five out of five.
“The Trouble With You” – four out of five. A police officer’s widow tries to put things right after she finds out her husband was a crooked cop. We’ve seen a lot of French cop movies at the fest, and they’ve all been goofy sendups of the genre. I don’t know if that’s how the French like them, or if the programmers at the fest only pick the wild and crazy ones.
“Vultures” – four out of five. An especially dark movie about drug trafficking. No happy ending for anybody. Still a well-crafted movie.

Saturday
“Cold Case Hammarskjold” – two out of five. Mads Brugger put a pretty zany spin on his documentary about North Korea (no, really!), and I thought he was doing the same thing here until he gave the last twenty minutes of camera time to some rando who babbled on and on about a hush-hush paramilitary organization, turning the film into a YouTube conspiracy channel. So disappointing.
“Knock Down the House” – five out of five. A documentary that follows the grassroots campaigns of working-class people trying to unseat entrenched career politicians.
“The Swimmer” – two out of five. A surreal fever dream about a rich white guy who thinks he can charm the pants off anybody but what he calls charm is mostly just cringeworthy. The dialogue is crazy and disconnected, the musical score is florid and overblown, and the acting is so over the top I couldn’t sit still.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” – five out of five. Steve Young discovers the phenomenon of “industrial musicals” and finds his tribe at the same time. Manages to be hilarious and heartwarming at the same time.

Sunday
“Hail Satan?” – three out of five. How The Satanic Temple grew into one of the biggest trolls of state and federal government.
“Meeting Gorbachev” – two out of five. The most disappointing documentary of the festival so far. Werner Herzog sat down to chat with Mikhail Gorbachev, but we didn’t get to see much of that. Gorby was on screen for maybe twenty minutes. The rest of the film was Herzog reading the Wikipedia article out loud, as My Darling B so succinctly put it.
“Little Woods” – three out of five. Two young women in a North Dakota boomtown struggle to make ends meet.
“Styx” – five out of five. A doctor learns how cheap human life is to people who are not doctors.

long cold winter | 7:38 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Here’s the reason we don’t answer the doorbell any more: Two guys, dressed in matching blue sweatshirts and blue knit caps, were on our porch the other day to let me know they were going to do an inspection of our house.

“We’re just checking homes in the neighborhood for storm damage, hail damage, that sort of thing,” one of the guys, the one who held a clipboard, told me. He handed me a color brochure that he clearly felt not only completely explained his presence there, but gave him some kind of authority to do an inspection of our house.

“Okay, but who sent you?” I asked him, a little bluntly but reasonably, I thought.

He looked at me as if I’d just fixed him with a smokey gaze and asked, “Vood you care to tango vit me?”

“Uh, I did, I guess?”

Well, at this point I had questions, as you may well imagine, the first of which was: Did you just wake up this morning and think to yourself, Hey self, let’s go see if that red house down the street has sustained any damage from weather, age or other normal wear and tear. ‘Cause that’s not a thing that ever happens to me, so I wonder why it happens to you.

Are you, I also wanted to ask, empowered by the local municipality to conduct seemingly random home inspections? Because that would at least make me tend to believe you weren’t some rando casing the joint to see if there was anything worth stealing around here.

Finally, I wanted to ask, would you please get the hell off my lawn before I call the cops?

“Well, thanks, but no thanks,” I said, and began to back into my house.

“If I may ask, why not?” And he asked this, I’d like to point out, as if he were just a little bit hurt that I didn’t want him to barge into my hearth and home unannounced.

Yeah, why wouldn’t I want two strange guys to wander around my yard, scope out my house real good and make notes about what they saw? What’s weird about that? Too bad I wasn’t feeling snarky enough to say that out loud.

“Because I didn’t ask for it,” was what I eventually said, followed by “thanks anyway,” because I didn’t want to be rude, I guess. And I tried to smile in a friendly way as I closed the door. On the two strangers. Who said they decided to just come to my house today to check things out. As you do.

inspectors | 6:00 am CDT
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Monday, April 1st, 2019

WARNING: SYSTEM OVERLOAD. VENTING IN PROGRESS.

Oh My God I don’t effing care how Kellyanne Conway and George Conway make their marriage work! How do garbage people like these keep getting headlines? It’s no wonder I gave up watching television news years ago!

It’s really not such a puzzle! Maybe they still love each other! Maybe the fact that George can’t stand Kellyanne’s boss is a turn-on that spices up their marriage! People have kinks that seem stranger to me! Although not as revolting, I have to say.

Or, maybe they hate each other! Lots of married people hate each other but stay married anyway! It’s so common as to be not remarkable at all!

Or, maybe they’re ambivalent and too lazy to pack it in. That’s not really so far-fetched.

See? Mystery solved! NOW STOP WASTING AIRTIME AND WRITING CLICKBAIT STORIES ABOUT THE CONWAYS!

no puzzle | 6:24 am CDT
Category: current events, random idiocy, yet another rant | Tags:
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The bad news is, I’m of an age when apparently I need only six hours of sleep a night, and I need to go to bed at nine o’clock. Sometimes my eyes start slamming shut even earlier.

The good news is, it’s finally spring and the sun is rising earlier every day. Not too many days from now, the sky will be bright enough at this time of day that I’ll be able to go for a walk. Maybe I’ll even take that walk, who knows?

early worm | 5:13 am CDT
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Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Ran into a panhandler yesterday with a technique I hadn’t experienced before: shouting. It might not even have been a bad technique, if used correctly. Shouting at me triggers my fight or flight response, compelling me to either punch you in the face or get away from you as fast as I can. I have never in my life punched anyone in the face. I’ve never even been in a fight. My fight or flight response has pretty much always been default-set to “flight.” I suspect that most people would rather flee than fisticuff, and I suspect that Shouty knew that.

The panhandling officially began when she walked up to my car and knocked on the window. I was illegally parked, so my first impulse was to roll down the window and explain that My Darling B was in the store returning something and would be back in just a minute. This wasn’t a bullshit line; I really was waiting outside a local Amazon store for B to drop off some stuff she bought that didn’t fit. But after noticing that she was not wearing the uniform of the parking enforcement unit, my next impulse was to ignore her.

She knocked on the window again. I frowned at her. She pointed down. I rolled the window down.

“What’s up?” I said, in what I hoped was a tone of voice that wouldn’t invite too much discussion, but was still respectfully dismissive if it turned out she was parking enforcement after all.

“Spare change?” she asked me.

Oh. I dug maybe a buck and a half in quarters out of the cupholder and held it out for her. In the past, this has resulted in the panhandler saying “thank you,” or some variation thereof, and departing.

Shouty did no such thing. She made the change disappear into a pocket and launched into her schtick: “I’M DOWN TWENTY BUCKS ON MY ROOM! I’M BEGGING YOU! I JUST NEED A ROOM TO SLEEP!”

I frowned at her. “I just gave you –”

“I’M BEGGING YOU! I’M DOWN TWENTY BUCKS ON MY ROOM!”

“– and I just gave you –”

“I’M BEGGING YOU! I’M BEGGING YOU! I’M DOWN TWENTY BUCKS ON MY ROOM! I JUST NEED TWENTY BUCKS!”

I don’t know if she meant I was supposed to give her the whole twenty bucks? If so, it was a badly calculated tactic. I’m sympathetic, generally speaking, but shouting at me is not the way to get my sympathy. In this particular situation, however, it did make me want to throw some more money at her to get her to go away.

Quickly digging my wallet out of my jacket pocket, I riffed through the bills looking for a fiver. No joy. Three ones, a ten and a twenty. Shouty wasn’t getting the twenty. On the other hand, three bucks didn’t seem like it was going to get her to bug out.

“I’M BEGGING YOU! I’M BEGGING YOU!”

I pulled the tenner out and handed it over. She quickly made it disappear.

“I’M DOWN TWENTY BUCKS! I’M FUCKING TIRED! I JUST NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP!”

I made a “WTF?” face. “I just gave you ten bucks!”

“I’M DOWN TWENTY BUCKS! I’M BEGGING YOU!”

I looked around. The parking lot was filled with people. “There’s lots of other people around you can ask!”

“I’VE BEEN ASKING AROUND ALL DAY! I’M FUCKING TIRED! I NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP AND I’M DOWN TWENTY DOLLARS!”

I locked eyes with her. “Go away now.”

“I’M BEGGING YOU! I’M BEGGING YOU!”

Not trying to tell anyone how to do her job, but I think a really good panhandler would have noticed that I was deeply, sincerely pissed at this point, as well as realized she had me backed into a corner. Pissed and cornered are not the feelings a good panhandler should inspire in her mark, in my opinion.

“Go. Away. NOW.”

She went away without another word, apparently satisfied with what she got out of me. Walked across the parking lot to the next occupied car and knocked on the window. The driver didn’t roll it down.

Reviewing the encounter in my head, I was surprised at how quickly she’d been able to get eleven bucks and change out of me by triggering a basic response buried in my lizard brain. Really very clever. Only works once, though.

begging | 8:45 am CDT
Category: random idiocy
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Thursday, March 28th, 2019

“What are you looking for?” My Darling B asked me as I rummaged through the closet in the bathroom.

“Hair ties,” I answered.

She pointed at a little tin in the corner. “I put them in there. Remember? I showed you.”

“I’m sure you did,” I said, “but I don’t remember.”

“I showed you,” she repeated, even though both she and I often forget why we got up out of our chairs most days. Between the two of us, we barely have a functioning memory.

hair ties | 9:33 pm CDT
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Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Crusing with the Sea Monkeys on the OosterdamMy Darling B and I spent a week in the Carribean aboard the MV Oosterdam with the Sea Monkeys on a JoCo Cruise! Here’s what that means:

The Carribean: Specifically, we spent a day in Tortola, an island of the British Virgin Islands, and a day in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Tortola was no great shakes, I have to say. We went ashore for maybe an hour or two, wandered around in the town just outside the cruise port, but didn’t sign up for any “excursions,” which are activities arranged by the cruise line like hiking, riding horses, scuba diving, that sort of thing. Since we didn’t go on any excursions and there wasn’t anything to see in town, we went back to the ship after about an hour and lounged by the pool in the sun with fruity drinks the rest of the day.

San Juan was pretty great. Very touristy, but not so touristy that it was insufferable. We stuck to wandering around in old San Juan, which was all Hispanic-style buildings along cobblestone streets connecting green plazas with fountains and markets. After wandering around for a couple hours in the hot sun, B wanted to sit in the shade with a cold drink and maybe get a bite to eat, so we ducked into a restaurant and passed a very pleasant half-hour refreshing ourselves.

We wandered around old San Juan just a bit more after that, but it was really hot and we wanted to clean up before the concert that night (I’ll explain in a minute), so we headed back to the ship about mid-afternoon. It wasn’t until we got back to the ship that I realized I left my backpack in the restaurant and had to run back up the hill through the streets of San Juan to see if I could find it. Luckily the staff at the restaurant found it before anyone else did and set it aside. As soon as I walked in the door, they spotted me and told me to claim my pack at the bar.

This is a themed cruise (that’s the “Sea Monkeys” part; I’ll get to that later) which featured lots of very talented musicians who played in an evening concert in a park on the waterfront not far from the ship. After cleaning up, we wandered over there to check it out. The first hour or so of the concert was just great, and really the rest of the concert was probably great, too, but after about an hour the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, and then the drizzle became rain, and pretty soon the rain turned into a full-blown downpour. Before we got soaked through we squeezed in with the crowd under the cover of the shelter where they were selling beer, then walked back to the boat to change into dry clothes during a break.

It wasn’t raining when we walked back, but that didn’t last long. I ran back to the shelter and B stuck it out in the rain a while longer (she had a raincoat), but it wasn’t long before she joined me. We stayed long enough to realize the rain wasn’t going to let up, gave up and trudged back to the boat through a steady, soaking downpour.

And that was all we saw of the Carribean! Well, of the islands in the Carribean, anyway. We saw quite a lot of the Carribean sea. Didn’t see any dolphins chasing the boat this time, though.

The MV Oosterdam is a ship run by the Holland America cruise line. It seems like a pretty big ship to me, even when it’s tied up alongside other cruise ships, which are usually at least twice as big as the Oosterdam. In Tortola, we were tied up alongside one of the Disney cruise liners, and that thing was insanely huge. The Oosterdam doesn’t have all the water slides and rock climbing walls and roller coasters that the bigger cruise ships have. There are a couple of pools on the weather deck, one on the fantail and one amidships; the one in the middle has a cover they can open during sunny weather. Other than that, most of the other entertainment is belowdecks in lounges with stages, or conference rooms, or in the main stage at the front of the ship. And there are something like forty-two dozen bars serving liquor, wine and beer. This was our second time sailing on the Oosterdam and I don’t believe we’ve seen all the bars, but not for want of trying.

[explanation of “Sea Monkeys” and “JoCo Cruise” to follow]

cruising | 6:22 am CDT
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Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

Can we talk about “Sister Golden Hair” for just a couple of minutes? And by “talk about,” I mean “I’m going to ponder it in written form,” not, “we’re going to have a conversation about it,” because although this is a blog on a website on the internet, I’m under no delusions that anybody ever reads it or would comment on it. But I have thoughts, and this is how I organize them sometimes. Okay, this is getting way too meta. Let’s start over:

“Sister Golden Hair” is an old favorite from way back, maybe even from the time it was released in 1975 when I was getting into pop music so hard. It seemed like such a romantic song to my adolescent ears and for many years after, but parsing the words now it’s hard to see much romance in it at all:

Well, I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damned depressed
That I set my sights on Monday, and I got myself undressed
I ain’t ready for the altar, but I do agree there’s times
When a woman sure can be a friend of mine

Here’s a song about a person who had a date to meet someone, possibly a special someone, possibly even a wedding date, that the person broke off at the last minute, maybe without notifying the person they were meeting on the aforementioned date, on the excuse that they felt depressed, likely about the date itself because they use the excuse they “ain’t ready for the altar.”

First things first: I don’t think this is a song about depression. I think the first line ends “I got so damned depressed” because it scans better than “I felt so sorta down” or “the prospect made me bummed.” I think this one particular meet-up brought him down for some reason (*cough* commitment issues *cough*) and he’s begging off on the excuse that he had the sads that day. I don’t think it was clinical.

Next thing: I parsed the first verse in a gender neutral way even though I’m pretty sure it’s a guy talking about a date with a gal, because a guy wrote it and a guy sang it and he says “a woman sure can be a friend of mine,” as if that’s a far-out concept. Whether or not he jilted her at the altar is up for interpretation – I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, say he used the phrase “ready for the altar” to contrast more starkly with the “friend of mine” line, and “only” stood her up, leaving her waiting at the coffee shop or wine bar or wherever she whiled away an hour or so waiting for him.

The next verse seems to be an attempt to smooth over standing her up by a) flattering her, and b) dumping on her a little bit:

Well, I keep on thinking ’bout you, sister golden hair, surprise
And I just can’t live without you, can’t you see it in my eyes
I’ve been one poor correspondent, I’ve been too, too hard to find
But that doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind

“Hey, baby, even though I’m avoiding you and I don’t write to you, I’m always thinking about you and I can’t live without you.” Also, she should know this just by looking into his eyes, like telepathy is a real thing; it’s on her if she can’t see that.

This is a soft-rock version of the irrepressible pop-music genre “guys can’t be tied down by a one-woman relationship because they’re guys and guys are just like that, okay?” Or at least that’s how it sounds to me. Before I wrote this post I looked up other interpretations of the lyrics, which I ordinarily try not to do to avoid contaminating my thoughts, but this time around I wasn’t thinking of writing anything about “Sister Golden Hair” until I read those other interpretations because none of them came close to what I was thinking myself. “Sister Golden Hair” means she’s a nun? She’s a Christian and she’s saving herself for marriage? And he specifically mentioned golden hair because (actual comment) “the carpet matched the drapes?”

I guess everybody’s entitled to their own interpretations, even when they come from left field. I mean, mine are probably deep into left field, too, as anybody’s would very likely be when they try to find meaning in a 1970s pop music lyric. Ultimately, I’m sure the most likely explanation for any pop-music lyric is that it doesn’t mean all that much, other than the song writer was trying to paint a feeling that was, according to many song writers, very likely influenced by drugs or alcohol or both.

Sister Golden Hair | 12:20 pm CDT
Category: entertainment, music | Tags:
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Sunday, February 24th, 2019

A few random thoughts about climate change, in no particular order:

I don’t “believe in” climate change. I’m not entirely sure what the phrase “believe in” means. It’s most often used in the context of “believing in” god or supernatural phenomena or something for which there is no hard evidence. Until I see some hard evidence, I don’t believe phenomena that are supposed to be supernatural. (You know what they call supernatural phenomena that is supported by hard evidence? Natural phenomena.) (I wish I could say I came up with that myself, but I didn’t. I believe Tim Minchin did, but I can’t find the quote right now.)

Which is why I don’t “believe in” climate change. Climate is not a supernatural phenomenon, and the changes which have been described by thousands of people who have been studying climate their entire lives are supported by hard evidence. I believe the evidence and I believe the warnings that our industrial activity has changed the climate, and I also believe that if we continue to be as active industrially as we have been, we will continue to change the climate in ways that will make our planet inhospitable to human life.

It really isn’t a hard concept to understand. Humans have been polluting the earth, air, sky and water we need to survive for as long as we have been walking the earth. When we were doing that in the ways that every other creature walking the earth did it, this wasn’t a problem, but when we started doing it on an industrial scale and the pollution started to mount up faster than it could decompose, then it became a problem. And because we have done, and continue to do, almost nothing to mitigate the problem, it has grown into a bigger problem year after year.

Those are facts. That is really happening.

And now, some things I believe should be happening to reduce the effects of climate change, but aren’t happening and, sadly, probably won’t happen:

I believe America should lead the world in converting to energy production that produces no carbon dioxide. I believe this is not only possible, and that it can be done in the near future, I believe this is the easiest thing we could do. It wouldn’t even be our “moon-shot” to mitigate climate change. The technology to do it has already been developed and proven, we only have to scale it up. I also believe this will not happen any time soon, if it happens at all, because narrow-minded greedheads like Trump are going to be in high office for the foreseeable future. No, I don’t have a time machine and I can’t foretell the future, but most countries in the world are being run by narrow-minded greedheads these days. It seems to be a trend.

I believe America should lead the world in converting to mass transit that produces no carbon dioxide. I believe this is also possible. I believe it could be done almost as quickly as converting to zero-emission energy production. And I also believe this will never happen because everybody likes their goddamn cars and trucks too much. Honestly, how does anybody justify driving to work by themselves in a truck the size of Nebraska? That ought to be criminal.

I believe American politicians should be engaged every single day with politicians from countries around the globe to find ways to lessen the effects of climate change. And obviously this will not happen because politicians are not really representatives of the citizens of the United States. Politicians do what lobbyists pay them to do, and the lobbyists with the biggest bucks are generally in favor of doing things that cause climate change. Oh shit, I stepped up onto my cynical soapbox. So sorry.

climate change | 11:44 am CDT
Category: current events, Life & Death, random idiocy, this modern world, yet another rant | Tags:
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I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” and I have to give it A+++ on the chilling dystopia story about a United States falling in to anarchy and chaos, not too hard to imagine right now, honestly.

Written as the journal of Lauren, a young woman living in a walled neighborhood in suburban Los Angeles, I was swept up in the story of society falling apart and the urgency with which Lauren had to find a solution to her situation. Lauren turned out to be a very practical, very capable young woman who not only saved herself, but helped many others save themselves, and that made “Parable of the Sower” an excellent story, in my mind.

Quite a lot of the story was devoted to Lauren’s musings about god, and I have to give that part of the story maybe a D. Disclaimer: I’ve rarely read anything about god that made any sense to me, so I’m going to own this. Maybe it’s just me. Although I have read books about god that made some kind of sense within the context of the text. When Lauren talked about god, though, she seemed to be talking in circles.

Still looking forward to “Parable of the Talents,” though!

Parable of the Sower | 9:12 am CDT
Category: books, entertainment
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Just a few words while I’m waiting for my chance to use the bathroom. Nobody’s in there, but I need to wait until I’m ready, if you know what I mean. I’ve never been what you’d call regular. It happens when it happens, y’know? And if that’s more than you wanted to know about me ever, I’m going to use the excuse that I’m woozie from being sick since last Thursday. Finally succumbed to the nasty coughing crud that’s been plaguing My Darling B for the past two weeks. Slept all day yesterday. Well, not all day. I got up to totter off to the bathroom, or to stuff some bananas down my neck and guzzle some water, or to take medicine that made my headache go away and dried up my sopping-wet sinuses. And while I was in bed I spent a lot of time hacking up crud from my lungs. It’s not easy to sleep when you’re doing that. Well, this has been fun but my eyes are starting to cross. I’ll type some more drivel later when I can focus.

argle barble dribble burble | 8:32 am CDT
Category: falling apart
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Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Fare thee well, Opportunity, and we thank you.

#thanksoppy | 6:12 am CDT
Category: current events, space geekery
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Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Relaxing in our front room Thursday night after a long day at work, we heard what sounded like something about the size and weight of a brick hitting the end of the house. I looked around the room: three cats, all accounted for, so it wasn’t one of them knocking a book off a shelf or some equally random cat-like mischief. I might’ve gone outside to look around, but the thermometer was pointed stubbornly at zero and the wind was gusting hard enough to shake all the trees outside the window, so no way was I dressing up in all my heavy coats and mittens just to look for some brat throwing rocks at the house.

About ten or fifteen minutes later, though, we both heard it again, this time from the other side of the house. And about twenty minutes later, we heard it again, but from somewhere far away.

That kept going on through the night and into the next morning. And when I described this weirdness to someone at work the next day, she told me she and her husband heard the same thing at their house last night. After work, My Darling B mentioned that several people in her office were talking about it, too.

What I thought it was: The frame of the house sometimes pops when the outside temperatures get very cold and stay there for a couple days. This was a lot louder than the usual popping house frame, but we had just gone from almost a week of below-zero temperatures, followed by nearly a week of above-freezing temperatures, and then on the night of the brick-banging, the temperature plummeted from freezing to zero. My thought was, that had to stress out the wooden frames of the house a lot more than usual.

What it probably really was: Turns out there’s such a thing as an ice quake, when water freezing in the ground makes a banging sound that can be heard for quite some distance. We got a lot of rain during that warm hiatus between the sub-freezing temperatures and it had all day to freeze solid as temps dropped to zero. Then BANG BANG BANG all night long. Wait, that came out wrong. Pretend I didn’t say it that way.

ice quakes | 7:27 am CDT
Category: daily drivel
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Monday, February 4th, 2019

Somebody wants to cuddle.

Scooter cuddles | 7:15 pm CDT
Category: O'Folks | Tags:
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Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

So we somehow survived the polar vortex that sent the temps in the Great Lakes region spiraling down as low as twenty-seven below zero, low enough that, with the high winds swirling around the city, frostbite could kill unprotected skin in as little as five minutes. My Darling B and I avoided that by not going outside unless duty called. It was easy enough to do on Wednesday, when the state government shut down all offices to the public and told employees they could take leave if they so chose. We did so choose. On Thursday, though, we woke up to temps of only twenty-four below zero and a forecast of five degrees above zero by the end of the day, so state offices reopened to the public and our bosses told us to get our butts back to work. Which we did. And Friday was a nearly normal winter day in Wisconsin, temps rising to twelve degrees, which seemed almost miraculous after the deep-freeze we had been in.

Today, we woke up to a temperature of thirty-two degrees and a forecasted temperature in the forties. Naturally, this being Wisconsin, people are out and about in baggy shorts and t-shirts. I wish I had photos, but I was laughing too hard to think of that.

unfrozen | 2:59 pm CDT
Category: weather
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Saturday, January 26th, 2019

human trafficking a phenomena that
has been going on for
a thousand years or more
and that you’d think
ah
was something modern society wouldn’t have and
hate to tell you that
because of the internet
it’s worse than ever before
human trafficking
it’s a horrible thing
and much of it comes
it’s a world problem
not a U.S. problem only
and
they come across the border
and it’s a
it’s a bad thing
and they drive
they just go where there’s no
security
where you don’t even know the difference
between Mexico and the United States
there’s no line of demarcation
they just go out
and where there’s no
fencing
or
walls
of any kind
they just make a left into the United States
and they come in
and they have
women tied up
they have tape over their mouths
electrical tape
usually blue tape
as they call it
it’s powerful stuff
not good
and
they have
three
four
five of them
in vans
or
three of them
in back seats
of cars
and they just drive right in
they don’t go through your points of entry
they go right through
and
if we had a
a barrier
of any kind
a powerful barrier
whether it’s steel
or concrete
if we had a barrier
they wouldn’t be able to
make that turn
they wouldn’t even bother trying
because they can’t go through the points with people
so
we would stop that cold
we would stop it cold
and
they can’t fly in
obviously
for obvious reasons
so
we’d stop human trafficking
in this
section of the world
I think we’d stop it
ninety
ninety-five percent
a tremendous percentage
would stop

EDITOR’S NOTE: #Trumpoems are one-hundred percent verbatim quotes straight from Donald’s mouth, faithfully transcribed from video by yours truly. I do not change a word, I just make them look like free-verse poetry by adding line breaks, usually where Donald takes a breath or pauses for dramatic effect, or just stops talking because probably he saw something shiny out of the corner of his eye. I could just as easily make each quote one long run-on sentence, because these are the ramblings of a deranged person.

This #Trumpoem, for instance: I won’t deny that human trafficking exists, or that it’s terrible, and of course I believe we should put a stop to it, but Donald’s fantasy of women being smuggled into the U.S. in the backs of cars with tape over their mouths is demented, not because it’s never happened, but because he tells the story like a fever dream he scribbled in a notebook in the middle of the night. “There were five women, all tied up, crammed into the back seat of the car, they had tape over their mouths, blue tape, powerful blue tape, and the car just drove right in, after it made a left turn. It’s usually a left turn, not a right.” If that “left turn” thing doesn’t make him certifiably demented, then there’s no such thing as dementia.

And his claim that ninety-five percent of human trafficking would be stopped by building a wall along the southern border is a lie so huge it can probably be seen by the naked eye from the surface of the moon. Just had to get that in here.

usually blue tape | 10:05 am CDT
Category: current events, random idiocy | Tags:
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It’s three trillion degrees below zero this morning in southern Wisconsin. It’s really only seventeen degrees below zero, but after the little needle on the thermometer swings past ten below, the number is essentially meaningless as far as I’m concerned.

frost line | 8:51 am CDT
Category: weather
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Thursday, January 24th, 2019

When I was a younger lad with stripes on my sleeve, I used to work at a specialized computer that was especially intimidating to new trainees. I wish I could tell you why, but I’d be clapped in irons and sent to the gulag if I did. What this computer did was not exactly a secret. If you had made your home in the Denver metro area when I did, and you paid any attention at all to what was going on at the air base just east of town, you’d know pretty much all the interesting things there was to know. But I can’t tell you, now or ever, because I don’t like leg irons. Or the gulag. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that this computer was terribly important, and that hitting the “enter” key could be just a tad intimidating.

Trainees usually started out confident because they sat beside me for about a week and watched me point and click and tappity-tap-tap the keys. I wasn’t trying to make it look easy, or hard. It looked like a video game. A really nerdy video game, but not too different from any arcade game you’d pay a quarter for ten or fifteen minutes’ worth of fun.

So after a week of watching me play the video game and reading a training manual that was obviously written by someone with expository skills not much more advanced than they themselves possessed (everyone I’ve ever met thinks, “I could write that”), the trainees felt pretty confident about their ability to do this thing … and then I stepped aside and said it’s time for them to sit down and actually do it.

The first time they hit the execute button and it didn’t do what they thought it would do, they’d quietly mumble a clipped phrase under their breath, usually something like, “What the —?” before cutting themselves off. This is an important first step, but only a first step, because they were depriving themselves of the relief offered by a truly heartfelt cussing.

The next step I watched for to see if they were progressing was when they asked the computer a point-blank question. They’d bark out something like, “What’s the problem? There’s nothing wrong with that!” And then a light bulb would come on over their head and they’d start typing again.

The final step was when they just cussed outright, usually a good, soul-cleansing “FUCK YOU!” and it did exactly what they told it to, but they realized the moment they hit the “execute” button they did it wrong. I knew they were doing even better if they slapped the desk as they cussed. The louder, the better. If it sounded like a big-bore shotgun going off, they were ready to fly on their own.

My boss used the same yardstick to evaluate trainees. She would visit my desk from time to time when I had a new trainee to see how things were going. If she asked and I answered, “Pretty good, he’s starting to talk back to the computer,” she walked away pretty satisfied.

talking back | 6:26 am CDT
Category: coworkers, My Glorious Air Force Career, office work, work
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Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

How many times has this happened to you: After you wish a good morning to maybe a half-dozen people in a crowded coffee shop where you stopped to pick up a steaming cuppa joe, and said hello to maybe another two or three at the news stand where you picked up a morning paper, you began to wonder why, as you said happy Monday to all the good people in your office walking down the hall to your desk, it has started to seem as though every other person has looked at your a little funny.

Then, after shedding your coat and going to the bathroom to freshen up for the rest of the morning, you glance into the mirror while washing your hands and discover, to your horror, that you’ve got a dried booger the size of a horsefly stuck to the end of your nose.

boogie oogie oogie | 6:36 am CDT
Category: random idiocy
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I learned from the radio news yesterday morning on the way to work that southern Wisconsin was under a winter storm warning until the next day and that our part of the state was forecast to get hit with six to ten inches of snow. It’s all anyone could talk about at work. Snow started falling in a fine mist at about nine o’clock and by twelve, people were bailing out early to beat the traffic jams that would inevitably snarl the city’s roads.

My boss gave us the option to get out early. B’s boss did, too, so we bailed out at about twelve-thirty and worked from home. Funny thing is, the snow pretty much stopped by the time we got home and there wasn’t any more snowfall until after dark. More snow apparently fell during the night because I had to fire up the snow blower to clear the driveway of about five, maybe six inches of snow, which is nothing to sniff at, but it wasn’t the snowmageddon everybody was apoplectic about.

never mind | 6:21 am CDT
Category: commuting, weather, work | Tags: , ,
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