this is drivel

Sunday, November 1, 2009

We had a grand total of maybe two dozen costumed visitors to give candy away to last night. My Darling B usually buys way too much candy, but this year one bag would have been too much.

I can only guess what kept the little beggars away. The night was pretty cold, but that usually doesn’t keep kids away from free candy. I really don’t think they were all home with swine flu, either, for the same reason.

Oh, well. More candy for the office.

Next year, My Darling B and I were thinking of powdering our hair, dressing up as old people and giving away dollops of mashed potatoes and wet naps. Would that be wrong?

image of yours truly and his windows

Today’s Plan: Tear out two old windows and install two new ones. Oh yeah, and it has to be done by three-thirty, when my helper has to leave to meet a prior obligation.

So I started at about noon, if memory serves, and luckily for me almost nothing went horribly awry. The old windows came out fairly easily. The dining room window, the one on your right in this photo, wasn’t nailed in at all, just held in place by the molding, so it practically fell out when I pried all the molding off. The big window in the rear entry, the one on your left, was custom-built in-place. The glass had to be rather gingerly removed before I hacked the frame into pieces with power tools.

image of dining room window

Here’s what we started with, a combination plate-glass window with an awning window across the bottom for ventilation. The awning window didn’t have a screen, so I stapled one over the frame so we could actually use it during the summer without inviting every mosquito in Dane County over for an all-night dinner. This half-assed adaptation, along with the fact that fifty Wisconsin winters had kicked the crap out of it, made me think it was about time to replace it with a window that would shut out the cold weather a little better.

image of me framing up the dining room window

And here’s yours truly working on the gaping hole left after we tipped the old window out of the rough opening onto the back deck. It was a lot heavier that I thought it would be. Maybe they used to make the frames out of lead back in the fifties, I don’t know, but I managed to tip it out of the opening and lower it to the deck with the able help of My Darling B, who stood in the dining room and held onto the bottom of the window as I slowly let it down.

Then I had to resize the rough opening a bit for the new window, which was just a bit smaller than the old one. I found two chunks of two by four lumber in the basement to build up the sill, and whacked these quarter-inch pieces of pine up along the sides so the window would be snug in its new home.

image of me hacking an old window apart with a sawszall

I would not have been able to replace both these windows in such a short time without the help of power tools. My uncle Jim was good enough to lend me his sawzall, thank goodness, which made short work of the frame in the back entrance and came in handy when we tried to fit the new window in place but couldn’t because the overhead was just a quarter-inch too tight. Out came the sawzall to save the day, shaving a quarter-inch off the overhead and cleaning up the rough opening so the new window slid right into place.

image of Tim holding onto the window

Besides the swazall, I had a lot of help from My Darling B and from Tim, who donated his afternoon to help me demolish the window in the rear entry and get the new window into place. His most significant contribution was covering the plate-glass in the back window with duct tape so we could tip it out of its frame and safely carry it onto the back deck, where it’s waiting for me to figure out how to dispose of it. I’m thinking of putting it it a great big manila envelope and mailing it to China.

image of tonight’s sumptuous repast

Dinner tonight was pumpkin and black bean soup, served in actual hollowed-out pumpkins that we bought at the farmer’s market yesterday morning. Nobody does holidays with quite as much enthusiasm as My Darling B.

She used the pumpkin that she roasted in the oven a couple nights back and some black beans from the co-op, and simmered them on the stovetop for a couple hours this afternoon while I was knocking windows out of the walls. I don’t know what all else she added; you’ll have to check with her blog to see if she posts a recipe (if and when she ever does, I’ll link to it here).

She served tonight’s dinner with a white wine from Ponzi vinyard, which went exceptionally well with the soup.

image of B preparing tonight’s sumptuous repast

Here’s a gratuitous snapshot of My Darling B in the last stage of preparing the evening dinner, ladling pumpkin and black bean soup into the pumpkin shells. So good!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Did I tell you that My Darling B took me out to a biker bar last Friday? The kind of bar where each customer walks through the door with a look in his eye that tells you he’s picking out the first person to pick a fight with? No? Hmmmmm. Must have slipped my mind somehow.

B works with a guy who plays guitar in a blues band and lets everyone in the workplace know when and where he’s going to play. He tries especially hard to get everyone out when his band’s playing in the Madison area, and last weekend they were playing at a bar we never heard of but it was on the East Side, where we live, instead of on the West Side, or in Middleton or freaking Blue Mound, which might as well be South Dakota. Seeing as how this was only a fifteen-minute drive, and his band is actually pretty good, we decided to head out there and see who else showed up.

First of all, because all we knew was that it was at the intersection of two major highways, Stoughton Road and East Washington Avenue, we consulted The Great Google to find out exactly where this bar was so we wouldn’t end up on the wrong side of the road or turning and heading in the wrong direction from the intersection. It was one of those stretches of road where we’d have to drive at least a mile before we could turn around and try the approach again.

The Google very authoritatively pinpointed the bar’s position west of the intersection, even though it also put the Williamson Bicycle Works over there and I knew for a fact that it was east of the intersection. Probably. You know how, when somebody asks you, "Are you sure?" that suddenly you’re not so sure anymore? I’ve driven past the Williamson Bicycle Works shop dozens of times and yet, now that I was looking at a map made by The All-Knowing Google, I wasn’t so sure where it was any more. So that’s why, when we made our plans to drive up there, we planned as if The Google was right.

Just for the record, it is so wrong. You hear that, Google? WRONG! The bar, the bike shop and everything in between is east of the intersection. Luckily for us, it didn’t matter. We started out west of the intersection, so we were on the correct side of the road. So we got there with almost no problem at all, found a parking spot right away, and we were at the bar almost spot-on time to see the band play its first set.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so out of place in a bar. I don’t dress in what anyone would call a stylish fashion, but I stood out like a preppy in a club full of goth kids. Everyone in there was wearing the words "Harley Davidson" emblazoned on some part of their clothing. Some of them had the same two words tattooed on visible portions of their bodies. Every one of them had that careworn expression that said they’d just put in ten hours of work on a construction job and were looking forward to getting really hammered. Especially the women.

My Darling B bought me a beer and we settled in at a table right between the bar and the dance floor. The band was in the far corner of the room. They warmed up with a number I didn’t know, which is not at all odd as I don’t know a lot of blues numbers. As they played I noticed that the only people in the room who weren’t into Harley Davidson gear, besides yours truly, were the big guys wearing blue jackets with "SECURITY" written in huge, white block letters across the front and the back.

In the middle of the band’s second or third song, a couple seated at the front of the room got up on the dance floor and tried every way they could think of to have sex with their clothes on. Well, she barely had any clothes on. Hey, music and a show!

The guys finished their first set at about ten o’clock, which was coincidentally about the time I finished my beer and, also just as coincidentally, the time we got up to leave. I don’t know how we got out of there without having to get into at least one fight. Just dumb luck, I guess.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I was awakened at about three-thirty last night when I was hit by a falling cat.

When the weather gets cold, the cats sleep where the warmth is, and now that our bed is the only warm spot in the house at night they both climb up there and snuggle up to us. Unfortunately they won’t both sleep in the middle or on one side. They pick one of the warm lumps and bracket it, stretching out along either side.

Last night, they tried to pin down My Darling B, but she wasn’t having it. She woke up in the middle of the night, tried to move them gently into the middle and, when they wouldn’t respond to her urging, she grabbed a fistful of quilt and rolled over, snapping one of them, I think it was Bonkers, into the air. He came down right on top of me.

And it didn’t even bother him. He rearranged himself a little bit, to find the most comfortable position in the spot he landed, but I don’t think he woke up much.

Friday, November 6, 2009

For guy night I made omelets, because I can.

My Darling B is an artist in the kitchen. She spends hours in there, chopping, mixing, baking, something else that describes cooking, and when she’s all done she brings marvelously delicious and beautifully-presented foodstuffs to the table.

Omelets, however, seem to be something she’s doomed never to be able to make. Or rather, omelets are determined not to let her make them entirely correct.

I’m not even sure what an omelet is, to be honest. I know it’s eggs folded over a mess of chopped-up veggies and maybe a little ham or bacon, which is what we had last night. I think it’s the folding part that makes it an omelet, and that’s the part that B can’t quite figure out how to do. She even has a special pan to cook them in that’s supposed to perfectly form the eggs to make them foldable, but when folding time comes, it doesn’t quite work out.

I just give the edge a flip and it’s folded.

Well, most of the time. Last night’s omelets looked a little wonky. And mine was somehow enormous. I only scrambled four eggs, poured what looked like half of them into the pan to make B’s, then poured the rest to make mine. Hers looked like an omelet a person could eat, mine looked like an omelet big enough to feed the starving masses. I saved half for lunch.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

image of beer

I’m going to lead with the beer. That seemed to work out okay last time.

This is an imperial stout I bought at Star Liquor Friday before last on Adam’s recommendation. I usually like the beers and wines he recommends and I was looking for a porter or stout, so I brought a 22-ounce bottle of this home. It’s been cooling in the fridge ever since. After an afternoon spent nailing lumber to the side of the house in an attempt to keep the winter’s merry little breezes, I thought i could use a little liquid refreshment, so I finally popped it open.

This brew is not local. It comes from the Smuttynose Brewing Company in New Hampshire. I don’t know anything about them, but I can tell you their imperial stout is pretty damned tasty. It’s got a slightly sweet flavor, a not-too-heavy body, and My Darling B says that she smells fruit when she holds the glass to her nose. I don’t get that, but she’s got a much more sensitive sniffer than I do, so I trust her. You should, too.

I spent practically the whole afternoon hacking away at the side of our house with a circular saw. You don’t often hear people say that over morning coffee, or in the break room after you ask them, "So, what did you do this weekend?" Not normal people, anyway. And I am not claiming to be, by any stretch of the imagination, what most people would call normal, but I wouldn’t hack the siding off our house with a power saw unless I had a reason. I did. I don’t know how good it was, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Last weekend I replaced a couple of windows on the back wall of our house. The original windows were drafty and cold and I wanted to put in modern windows that would keep out the cold and exclude the draft, but I’m too cheap to pay professionals to install them. It’s a curse. You’d think I would know better, but I don’t, so I knocked out the old windows, slid new windows into the holes and acted as if it had all gone according to plan, when in fact I had no plan and wouldn’t have been able to draw one for you on a napkin with a pencil if you’d asked me.

Having done that, though, I had to follow through: The new windows weren’t the same size as the old windows. One was slightly bigger, the other was slightly smaller, so I had to jam lots of foam insulation into the gaps and replace the molding, the lumber around the outside of the window that looks like a big, white picture frame, before winter set in and wind as cold as a blown kiss from a witch’s lips came whistling through the cracks.

Hey, that was a damned inspired metaphor.

And that’s what I spent this afternoon doing. Mostly I spent it figuring out how to make room for the molding, because the gap between the new window and the siding wasn’t wide enough in most places. I spent a couple hours trying to figure out how to make it wider, which wouldn’t ordinarily have been a problem because there’s a tool for everything, or almost everything. It turns out there’s no tool for this.

I used a circular saw to cut away some of the siding, but the saw was too freaking big to fit into the space between the window and the eaves. I could cut a wide enough swath up one side of the window, but not across the top or the side where the electrical service conduit crowded me out, so I had to find another way. A trip to the store was no help, surprising the hell out of me. I thought I’d be able to buy a power tool that would let me finish the job quickly. Instead, I bought a packet of sharp blades for an old workshop standby: the craft knife.

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I could cut through siding with a craft knife, but I was desperate, and I discovered that, if I scored a deep enough cut through the siding with the knife, I could finish off the job with a chisel and hammer. Hitting things with a hammer always makes sense, and is hugely satisfying, especially when it’s late in the afternoon and I’m growing more desperate by the minute.

I had the molding around the dining room window framed up by three o’clock, and the molding around the back entrance windows framed up as the light was fading and it was time to go in. And thank goodness. There was a beer in the fridge that had been calling my name since lunch, and I had felt ready to answer it way back when I couldn’t quite figure out how I was going to cut into the siding. Good thing I waited; I would have never figured it out after finishing a bottle of the imperial stout from Smuttynose.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

image of window replacement project

No matter how long I stand here and look at it, it’s just not getting any closer to being done unless I change out of my pajamas into some work clothes, grab a hammer and get out there.


LATER: It’s done. I could’ve taken some photos for a separate post but they would have looked just like the last batch of photos I took of the windows unless I stuck the lens right into the caulky goop I slathered in all the gaps to keep the Merry Little Breezes out of my house. And I’m not going to do that, sorry. You’ll just have to take my word for it: I finished the job. I pretty much had to, this being the last weekend with temps in the sixties we’re likely to have until May or June. If I had blown off the rest of the repair job and done what I really wanted to do, take a long bike ride in the sunshine, then it really wouldn’t have mattered if I’d put the windows in the walls or just left the huge gaping holes there for the winter winds to blow through the house. That’s life.

My Darling B spent most of the day making up a stew after reading about a French dish, the name of which escapes me now, not that it matters. She substituted chicken for duck and adouille sausage for some other kind of sausage and changed just about everything else, too. The recipe, as always, was good for the inspiration to start working from, and then she just ran from there.

The rest of her day was spent pulling weeds up in the garden to get it ready for the long winter. She apparently got a snoot full of something that set off her histamines because she hasn’t stopped sneezing since she finished up and came in to shower off. I don’t know how she’s going to get a wink of sleep tonight. Me either, now that I think of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

image of hockey game crowd

I took My Darling B to a Badger hockey game on Friday. I’m pretty sure it’s not the first hockey game I’ve ever attended in person, but it’s the only one I remember.

And the way I remember us deciding to go to this one, B said she’d like to go to a hockey game, so I said I knew someone at work who goes to every single home game she possibly can, and I’d find out from her how to get tickets. And then we went.

The way B remembers it, I said I wanted to go to a hockey game, she said okay, and then we went.

Pick your favorite version. I’ll start from there.

Getting tickets to the game turned out to be stupidly easy. You could do what we did, go online and order them, but I should tell you that, no matter which section of the stadium you point your mouse cursor at, after you click on "Buy Tickets" and get the little pop-up that says, "Wait a minute while we find THE VERY BEST tickets closest to the section of your choice," the computer is going to give you tickets in Section 309 Upper. We tried for a half-hour to trick the computer into giving us something else, but we couldn’t do it.

The other way you can get tickets is to wait until game day, have a nice dinner downtown, then buy them from one of the dozens of scalpers who stand along the sidewalks on every street within a four-block radius of the stadium. They couldn’t possibly be selling tickets to seats any farther away from the ice than Section 309 Upper. I didn’t try to find out what they try to charge for their tickets and I apologize for that. The next time there’s a game I’ll go downtown, haggle with a few of them and update this post.

We had dinner at Husnu’s, the Turkish restaurant on State Street, about a block up from the library mall, pretty much a perfect location to eat before the game because it’s close enough that you don’t have to walk more than four blocks, but you need to walk at least four blocks after trying to finish the huge portions they serve you at Husnu’s. I knew I didn’t have to finish my portion, but it wasn’t cold enough to keep any leftovers in the car and I ordered a seafood dish, so I was determined not to leave behind any shrimp, salmon or haddock. And I didn’t. Yay, me.

If you like Mediterranean food, this is a great place to eat. They have an encyclopedic menu, the food is delicious, and as I said there’s plenty for leftovers. When you visit the bathroom, though, don’t go too far into the back of the shop. You don’t ever want to see what goes on in the kitchen of a restaurant, any restaurant, and you just might if you go past the rest rooms and take a wrong turn. Please be careful.

Our seats were close to the end of the stadium where the students sat. I don’t know if they get their seats cheap or free, but it must be a pretty good deal because it looks like just about all of them come out for the game, and they’re charged up. The marching band’s brass section sits in a section down on the ground floor and plays pep band numbers, to which the students sing their new, improved lyrics, usually always liberally peppered with cuss words. If I’d heard anything but the cuss words I’d repeat a few of them here.

I did eventually catch on to a few of their antics, though. When they spotted a Minnesota fan in their midst, they would all point at him, all of them, a sea of waving arms pointing at one student, while they all took up the chant, "Asshole! Asshole!" They pointed out about a half-dozen Minnesota fans this way.

When the Gophers took to the ice — the Minnesota mascot is a Gopher, not as fierce an animal as a Badger but about as goofy-looking — the band struck up, "On, Wisconsin!" while the students sang along by replacing every single word of the song with "shame" and pointing again.

They took up a variation of this every time the Badgers scored a point. After the pandemonium died down, which took several minutes, the student body chanted three times, "It’s all your FAULT! SHAME!" while pointing at the goalie. They like to point a lot.

When the Badgers took to the ice there was a three-minute rock and roll show with spotlights and flames and topless dancers and I don’t know what all else. Clearly these guys don’t lack for attention.

Every time the Badgers scored a point, an air horn, of the kind previously heard blowing only from the stacks of passenger ships, blew with the gale force of a thousand raging hurricanes as everyone in the audience rose to their feet and screamed wildly. You must have heard it and wondered. Now you know.

My Darling B sat right next to a guy with a three-year-old sitting in his lap, and the little tyke was apparently infected with everything from a snotty nose to H1N1 to tuberculosis and ebola, and he was coughing and hacking and sneezing constantly, so when you hear that there was a wave of flu-related deaths coupled with the ever-pervasive "underlying health causes," and then months later it turns out they all just happened to be seated in Section 309 Upper, you’ll be able to come back to this blog post to give the health authorities the clue they need to solve the puzzle. You won’t be able to call me, of course, because I’ll be pushing up daisies with the rest of them. But it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When I get home from work and shuck my shoes, Bonkers likes nothing better than to have full-body sex with them.

image of bonkers the cat and my shoe

(Now there’s a phrase that’s going to exponentially increase the number of hits on my blog overnight.)

image of bonkers the cat and my shoe

I don’t know what it is about shoes. My Darling B thinks it’s the smell of the leather, but he does the same thing with my ratty old nylon running shoes, too. I think it’s just the smell.

image of bonkers the cat and my shoe

Whatever it is, he sure loves it.

What I’m reading:

I was on a jury recently, and got to say something I thought I’d never get to say. It was during the preliminary process known as voir dire, French for "Interminable process that makes you regret ever having registered to vote."

The judge was asking us a series of questions to determine our suitability to serve. He asked if any of us knew anyone in the intelligence agencies. Not wanting to share the particulars of my answer with a packed courtroom, I meekly stuck my hand in the air and asked, "Your honor, may I approach the bench?"

"Approach," he said. I approached, feeling very puffed up and important.

The next day I recounted my thrill to my friend Geoff Norman, who happened to serve with Special Forces in Vietnam. He shared my excitement: "It’s like the first time I got to say, ’Cover me.’" This rather put my big rhetorical moment in perspective.

For most of us, life is less dramatic than the movies. Few of us will get to deliver the really cool lines, like "Charge!" or "Sponge, clamp, sutures," or "I’d like to thank the Academy."

I have gotten to say some of the big lines ... I’ve said, from the top of a ship’s mast after crossing an ocean, "Land ho!" Melodramatic I admit, but it sounded better than, "Yo, Spain!" ... I’ve said, on my knees, "Will you marry me?" A few years later, I said until I was hoarse, "It’s a girl!" A few years after that, "It’s a boy!" So I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten to say the best of it.

— Christopher Buckley, Wry Martinis

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Is there any smell in the world that makes you as hungry as frying bacon?" My Darling B asked me as I slaved over a hot skillet, preparing the B in the BLTs we would be eating for dinner tonight.

It was the first guy night in a long time that she not only expressed a preference for what I would be serving, but expressly asked for Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwiches. For most of recorded time she wouldn’t so much as answer yes or no to my inquiries. Hamburgers or hot dogs? Scrambled or sunny side up? "I don’t want to think about it," she would answer. "That’s the whole point of Guy Night."

But she was asking for BLTs all week, we had all the ingredients, and they’re stupid easy to make. Well, except for the bacon. If you want to do the bacon right, you have to take your time. One of my favorite writers, Joe Haldeman, says that the way to make perfect bacon is to cook it naked. That way, you won’t be tempted to turn up the heat too high because the grease will spatter if you do.

I didn’t cook it naked. But I didn’t rush it, either. Took thirty or forty minutes for me to fry up a mess of bacon. Washing the lettuce and slicing up the tomatoes took a lot less time.

We had all the ingredients but one: B wanted a bag of potato chips to go along with the sandwiches. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have needed a stop at the co-op on the way home. Wait, yes, we would have. She pick up a jar of mayonnaise, too. Can’t have a BLT without mayonnaise. I guess some people try to, but that’s not a real BLT.


I supposed I might have made it clearer from the beginning of last post was a quotation from the Christopher Buckley book I’ve been reading, like perhaps I could have said, "Hey, I’ve been reading this book by Christopher Buckley that’s really very funny. Here’s a quotation from it." With a lead-in like that, I would have ensured that nobody would get the idea that I had written anything quite so witty and funny as the prose that Christopher Buckley can turn out, and that implied I might have had a daughter I never told anyone about. I do apologize.

Christopher Buckley’s a lot of fun to read. Really. I figure everyone’s read Thank You For Smoking by now, but if you haven’t picked up any more of his stuff, you’re missing out. I’ve got a copy of Boomsday around here somewhere, if you want to borrow it.

I was never in the merchant marine either. Just wanted to make sure that was clear.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I had this dream that I was back in Misawa, on the beach, looking at a windsurf board, which was more like a little windsurf catamaran because it had two boards and one great big sail on a stationary mast. I was trying to figure out how it worked when a girl got on it, the sail filled with wind, and the whole thing took off straight up into the air. Cool.

As it headed out to sea, I noticed a pair of gymnast’s rings dangling from the tail of the boards. I grabbed hold and it pulled me out to sea. I was skiing barefoot on the waves. Very cool!

I didn’t realize I could stop and stand on the surface of the sea water until I tried to get through the door, where I had to let go of the rings because, obviously, the tether got caught on the top of the door. Yeah, a doorway to the sea. I don’t know why. I stood in the open door while the girl on the surfboards kept going. Then I kept on jogging out to sea across the tops of the waves. The surface was a little mushy but as long as I kept moving I didn’t sink.

I thought I was going pretty fast until a pair of girls came running out from the shore, zipped past me, and kept going until they caught up with the girl on the surfboard.

I was thinking about turning back after that, until I spotted the Ford Mustang, a white one, sitting in the trough between two waves. I just had to check that out. It was a Mach 1, one of the later models, and it was fitted with a leather interior that seemed to get darker the longer I looked at it. And then I realized that it wasn’t the leather getting darker, it was the sun being blotted out by the waves. I looked up.

The waves on either side of the Mustang had gotten huge. It was like being on a city street with skyscrapers towering over me. When they began to crest I started to get a little worried, but I had heard, as you so often do when you talk to other people about being crushed by towering walls of water, that if you dive into the base of the wave you just pop out the other side, so I did.

That didn’t work out so well. The wave beat the shit out of me, but the Mustang took the brunt of the wave’s weight so I came out feeling just a little tired. After it passed, I pulled myself up, trotted back to the breakwater and climbed up onto the pier where I could walk back to shore.

There was something at the end of the dream about taking photos of blue sea shells that had been made into parking bricks, but that part doesn’t make much sense now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

image of our last dinner at Peppino’s

We went to what will probably be our last Friday the 13th Dinner at Peppino’s, not because we don’t plan to keep up the tradition, or because we don’t like Peppino’s any longer — we do, and we do, on both counts — but because Peppino’s will be closing in December, and there is no Friday the 13th in December.

We could go there for one final dinner next month, of course, but that just wouldn’t feel right.

So we went with the idea that this would be the last time we would eat there, and to capture the memory I imposed on the waitress to take our photo so that I’ll always remember this as the night I perfected my zombie stare.

We started with cocktails and crab cakes. I don’t drink cocktails, so I don’t know what any of them taste like. I picked the one with the coolest name, a Stromboli or a Bambino, something like that. It tasted lemony and the edge of the glass was crusted with sugar. To finish it, I had to sip at it for an hour. My Darling B had something with chocolate and cream that filled the glass all the way to the brim and the waitress almost, but not quite, brought all the way to the table without spilling.

The crab cakes are the appetizer we always order, part of the tradition. Served with onions and capers, they’re absolutely fabulous. You may think you’ve eaten good crab cakes, but unless you’ve had the crab cakes at Peppino’s, you have no idea.

Our waitress came back to the table to recite the evening’s specials at precisely the same time that another waitress came back to the table right next to ours to do the same thing. It turns out it’s impossible for them to do it literally back to back, so our waitress stepped aside, the other waitress, turned so we could all hear her, and that worked out well.

There were three entrees on special, and I’m pretty sure we’ve tried them all. I know I’ve eaten the trout almondine and the lobster tail. I forget what the third one was, but I’m sure I’ve been tempted by it before. But I didn’t want any of the specials anyway after I spotted a dish of tenderloin beef and jumbo shrimp in olive oil and white wine sauce. It was impossible to resist ordering that, and a good thing, too. It was served with baked whole tomatoes and served with a side of asparagus spears. The beef was so tender it almost melted in my mouth, and the shrimp were fat as my thumbs and perfectly cooked.

My Darling B ordered ravioli. They were stuffed with cheese so I didn’t ask for a taste of hers, but she was very happy to try a bite or two of mine. Then we both hunkered down and concentrated on demolishing our meals. Neither of us could finish and didn’t even try, although I was determined to eat all the jumbo shrimp because they just don’t reheat well at all, and because we planned to save room for dessert.

B left it up to me to choose from the dessert tray, so naturally we had a slice of chocolate walnut cake, because it was big and thick and the only chocolate thing on the tray. Served with coffee, it was delicious. What else can I say that would make chocolate sound wonderful?

After we got home, B asked me to walk her around the block. Even a half-portion was a little too much for her.

image of a messy model railroad layout

Honestly, how can I even live with myself when I let my model railroad layout get this ganked up? There’s shit everywhere!

Well, I’ve been a little busy. But now that the approach of winter is a foregone conclusion, what with the farmer’s market moving indoors, darkness descending on us at four o’clock in the evening, and waking up to find everything covered in frost every day, I’ll maybe get more time to finish the last stretch of the Lost Continent Railroad.

image of a much neater model railroad layout

Here’s the same spot on the layout after I put away some of the cars, hung up my tools and threw away the crap.

The pink blocks in the foreground are slabs of extruded foam that will be the foundation of the LoCo’s passenger station, overlooking the end of the tracks. A city street will run down the side of the right side of the layout into the distance. Someday.

image of my desk here at Drivel HQ

And here’s the station I want to put there. That’s the Sioux City Union Station on the computer screen, where passengers boarded cars to head north on either the Chicago & Northwestern railroad or the Chicago, Milwaukee, Saint Paul & Pacific railroad, otherwise known as The Milwaukee Road. I’ve been sketching out the proportions of the building so I can model it in HO scale, where a person is just under an inch tall. The tower of the station will be just over a foot tall, about ninety feet, and the station is about a hundred twenty feet wide, about a foot and a half in HO.

Which is strictly a guess I based entirely on this one photograph I swiped off a post card I found for sale on e-bay. I couldn’t find any other photos of it (so you can’t find everything on the internet, you have to settle) and, even though there’s a photographic database on the Chicago & Northwestern Historical Society web site so extensive it would make your head ache, with photos of every bridge and night watchman’s shack on the whole railroad, they have no photos of this particular passenger station. The Milwaukee Road’s web site, similarly chock full o’ goodies, gives this station a miss, too. Go figure.

So all I have to work from is this one photo. And in it, there’s a guy standing next to the side entrance. I started with him. Guessing that he’s about six feet tall, I SWAGged all the rest. SWAG is short for Scientific Wild-Assed Guess. Sometimes you just have to WAG it, but I was using a ruler to WAG this, so I think it counts as a SWAG.

Once I have all the dimensions sketched out, and I hope it won’t take me much longer than another hour, I’ll cut a mock-up out of cardboard and see if I can figure out how to make the pieces fit together. That’ll be the end of Step One. In Step Two, I each supper, then take a nap to let the ideas percolate in my head.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is there any way to make weekends longer? Other than the time-honored tradition of calling in sick. This year, calling in with swine flu would be a pretty much foolproof excuse for staying home on Monday to play hooky, but the way things are going I might actually catch swine flu so I don’t want to use that one up if I might need it later. Then again, I could just say I’ve got non-specific flu-like symptoms and let them infer the rest.

This weekend was spent doing just about nothing. We went to the farmer’s market on Saturday, where I saw the guy dressed in a tiger suit. I want one of those for myself so much. I’d wear them like pajamas to make B wonder if I’d finally gone over the edge. Nothing says crazy like waking up next to a guy in a tiger suit.

On the way back from the farmer’s market we stopped at Emian’s, the bakery in Monona that we thought had gone out of business. It had, sort of. The former owner had packed up and gone but one of the other guys in the shop bought the place, hired most of the employees and reopened the place as El Bollilo. They sold most of the same things: pastries and cakes and sandwiches for lunch. So good to find them open again.

The rest of Saturday was entirely misspent and desperately needed to be so. The past couple weeks run down my batteries. I needed to read, nap, play. I put away my toys, or most of them, anyway. Just about all the power tools are hung up to get them off the floor so I wasn’t tripping over them. Now I’m only tripping over the cords. Maybe I’ll figure that out next weekend.

I frittered away a good part of the afternoon alternately dozing and reading about a hundred pages of Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux’s latest book in which he travels from Cairo to Cape Town. I wish I’d thought of being a travel writer when I was young enough to ride in a truck across the African desert. Not that you necessarily have to be young. Theroux is in his sixties now and still felt he could take this jaunt across a continent. I guess I’m just not as comfortable being shot at as he is. I’d have to be an entirely different kind of travel writer, the kind that stays in comfy hotels and reviews restaurants.

But what a great way to earn a paycheck! Make an itinerary, look around, talk to people, write it all down, maybe add a little personal opinion to liven things up and throw in some history for color, then convince the editor of a magazine that they ought to publish your ramblings or, if you’ve done it for a while, put it all in a book. Beats working.

The only other thing I did Saturday was give a little attention to my choo-choos, which don’t need a little attention, they need a lot. A tiny little railroad goes to hell a lot faster in six months with no maintenance than a full-size railroad does, I think. Mine certainly does, anyway.

Saturday night’s sumptuous repast was home-made tomato soup. My Darling B saves all the butt ends and shavings left over when she’s slicing up tomatoes for sandwiches and whatnot, puts them in a plastic bag that goes in the freezer and when it’s full, mashes them up, throws them in a big pot and makes soup. So good. You really can’t beat this on a chilly day in November.

On Sunday we made a visit to Mad Cat, the pet shop on Willy Street, looking for a way to feed our cats. We already feed them the usual way. They have dishes and it’s not like we don’t put food in them, but sometimes we don’t get home until late in the evening and they get kind of pissed when we do that. Also, it can’t be all that good for them to eat at seven in the morning, then have to wait until five-thirty or six in the evening for their next meal.

So we’re looking for one of those feeders with a big hopper that you dump a bag of food in and it poops out a cupful of food at a set time of the day. That way they get fed regularly, we know how much they’re eating, and it’ll be hilarious watching them trot over to be fed by the machine after they’re trained to eat at a certain time of day. Also, it would be great to not have to get up at five o’clock in the morning to shut up the hungry cats. You just don’t know how great that would be.

They didn’t have any of those feeders at Mad Cat, though, so, much as it pained us to depart our local merchant and go to the big box store, we wanted to see what was on the market, so we drove over to Stoughton Road to check out the inventory at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse.

Wow. Has there every been a more descriptive name for a big box chain store? It’s not just a pet food warehouse, it’s MOUNDS of food in a warehouse! It’s gargantu-incred-o-mountainous! Bring your truck.

Amazingly, Mounds Pet Food Warehouse had just one automatic feeder. What the hell’s up with that? I can find thirty-two different automatic feeders in 0.2 seconds if I ask the Google. So I’m thinking what we might do is, find the automatic feeder that we like, then stop at Mad Cat and ask them if they can order it for us. You know, give them the chance to make a little money off our inability to properly care for our pets. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always

Sunday’s lunch was my leftovers from our dinner at Peppino’s. Yum.

Sunday afternoon I read another hundred or so pages of Dark Star Safari, dozed, washed dishes, and dozed some more. This was one nap-tastic weekend.

B spent all afternoon making a bison and veal meat sauce with tomatoes, onions, carrots, garlic and I don’t know what all else, that she served for dinner over heaps of freshly-made pasta from RP’s Pasta Company. Over pasta or scooped up with a crust of bread, the sauce was sooooo yummy. And, as an added bonus, it gave us the toots. We had to take a turn around the block just to walk it off.

Finally, in the evening, we curled up on the sofa to watch Towelhead after our temperamental DVD player decided it would play the disk after all. It didn’t want to play for us on Saturday no matter how many times we tried reloading the disk. All I could get was "ERR" on the digital readout and "Wrong Disk" on the television screen, as if it knew what I wanted to watch more than I did. But on Sunday night I popped it in and got the movie start-up menu right away. The farther technology advances, the more machines are like cantankerous cats.

Towelhead was so not the movie I thought it was going to be. The title would lead you to believe it’s about racism. The cover illustration would further lead you to believe it’s about how a young girl of Middle Eastern descent deals with racism. And the synopsis on the back of the cover would pretty much confirm that you were going to watch an hour and fifty-six minutes of racism, racism, racism. Turns out it’s about teen sex. They touch on racism, but they mostly touch each other and the girl touches herself.

Not that it isn’t a good movie, it is. Strange, but pretty good.

After the movie, I was all in. A whole weekend of reading, napping and riding around looking for cat food dispensers had seriously worn me out. I turned it shortly after nine and slept the sleep of the just, and my alarm clock began to signal the end of the weekend far too soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Darling B was right in the middle of telling me about a call from one of her customers as I pulled into the parking lot of the co-op, one of our usual stops on the commute home. We easily found a place to park, thank goodness. That doesn’t happen often. B grabbed the bags from the back seat as she continued her story. I locked up the car, and we went in.

"Why’d we stop here?" she asked, once we were inside and she’d finished her story.

I had to stop and think. I really didn’t know. "Didn’t you say we had to stop?"


What a sight we were, standing right at the front of the store, laughing like idiots at ourselves. It’s become so automatic for us to stop at the co-op on the way home from work that I turn into the parking lot without even realizing I’m doing it.

"There’s a few things I could pick up," B said, and headed for the dairy case. I headed for the back of the store to bag some coffee. We could always use more coffee.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

image of plant in dire distress

We had a whole bunch of these philodendrons in our office, and about once a week a lady used to come around to water them. I suspect she was feeding them something like Miracle-Gro to give them a little extra to grow on, too, because when she stopped coming around as the first round of cost-cutting measures took effect in our workplace, the plants not only stopped thriving, they started to do a little cost-cutting themselves. Most of their leaves turned yellow and fell off, leaving behind vines many feet long with just a few leaves pitifully holding on. We tried watering them but, whatever we were giving them, it wasn’t as good as what they were getting before. Without the secret formula, they weren’t able to survive.

This poor fellah is the worst example. He just didn’t have the heart to go on. The guys at the front desk did their level best to keep him going, but in the end all that was left was this poor Auschwitz-like stick.

The plant on top of the file cabinet in my cubicle has fared a little better, hanging on long enough for me to take some cuttings and start them in juice bottles filled with water after I emptied them. It’s possible the front desk crew were ribbing me a little with their twig, because there are bottles with cuttings all over my office now, but I’d like to point out that mine are green and leafy, while theirs is dead dead dead.

image of yours truly and soup

Thursday it guy night, as you know, so it was incumbent upon me to dish up something to eat. Seeing as how the last two days have been cold and rainy, I felt most like eating a steaming hot bowl full of soup for dinner tonight, but eating soup from a can is like licking a block of salt. When I told My Darling B what I wanted and mentioned my prejudice, she said, "Make it yourself."

"What, from scratch? I don’t know how to do that," I protested.

"Yes, you do," she answered. "You know what you like. You like carrots, onions, garlic. Start with that. Taste it. Then add some thyme, or some pepper, or whatever tastes good. Keep tasting it until you like it."

Gosh. Make it sound easy, why don’t you?

So on the way home we stopped at the store to pick up some vegetable broth and some beans, the only items we needed to make soup that we didn’t have ready at home. B picked up a bag of chips, too, because she was really hungry and knew that soup wouldn’t be ready for hours.

Then, as soon as we got home and I cleared the counter top of empty glasses and bottles, I set to work chopping up vegetables. I chopped a whole onion into teensy little bits and scraped it all into the pot to simmer while I went to work on some carrots. Then I sliced about a half-dozen cloves of garlic as thin as I could. I opened two cans of cannellini beans and scooped them into the pot, the only thing that came from a can (the broth came from a carton, so it was almost, but not quite, cheating). Then I left it to simmer a while.

I kept tasting it, just like B told me to do, but I really don’t have the sensitive palate she has. I did add herbs and spices, just because it was a little bland at first, plenty of pepper and Italian seasoning, and just a little bit of salt, but mostly I left it to simmer long enough for all the ingredients to combine in their own juices.

Just before I served it, I added a cup of pasta, tiny little O’s that just disappeared into the broth so I added another cup. Big mistake. One cup would have been more than enough. After they simmered about twenty minutes they blew up so big that they turned my soup into a stew. Not bad, but not what I expected. Next time I stop at a cup of noodles.

B wants to open a restaurant where she gets people to bring what they like and shows them they can make dishes just as easily as this. It’d be a lot of fun but I’m not sure there’d be much profit in it, other than the pleasure of watching people make something tasty that they didn’t think they could make.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You know what you should never do? You should never drink a cup of caffeinated tea an hour before you plan to go to bed, no matter how much you love the smell of Earl Grey. I figured the week had burned me out to the point that no jolt of caffeine was going to keep me up last night. WRONG! I didn’t even sleep long enough to have nightmares, just dozed on and off through a night that felt like it was about a million years long. Should’ve had another beer.

We stopped off at The Roman Candle after work, to celebrate the end of the week. There were lots of people there doing the same thing, I believe. My Darling B called me in the afternoon to tell me she’d been thinking about pizza all day and asked me to go out with her. How could I refuse?

We had The Supreme with mushrooms on one half — B doesn’t care for mushrooms — and I washed mine down with a glass of Scotch Ale from the Lake Louie brewery.

And we stopped at Star Liquor when we saw they were hosting a beer tasting. We sort of had to, after B scared the hell out of me by yelling, "OH MY GOD!" when she saw the sign in the window advertising a free beer tasting as we drove past on the way to work this morning. I was sort of on autopilot so I tapped the brakes, annoying the guy tailgating me. B got a great big laugh out of that.

Great Lakes Brewing had their Christmas Ale on offer, a tasty brew flavored with cinnamon that I liked but B seemed unsure about. I loved it. I tried some of their Nosferatu dark brew, too, and then we picked up a six-pack and headed home.

But even after a long week, and with a belly full of beer and pizza, a single cup of Earl Grey kept me up at night. So, my warning to you is, just don’t do it.

image of the mural on the wall at Mother Fool’s coffee shop

We don’t see this often enough: A mural, instead of an incomprehensible tangle of graffiti, on the north wall outside Mother Fool’s coffee shop on Willy Street. Thanks, ddgutkowski, whoever you are (not even The Google seems to know).

(Here’s what the wall usually looks like.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

image of spray-on tanning

I swear I’ve never heard of this before: This woman is getting a tan painted on with an airbrush.

I’ve heard of a fake tan in a bottle, and if I’d thought about it for more than a second I supposed it would have occurred to me that you could apply a fake tan like this with a lot more control if you used an airbrush, but it didn’t occur to me because I’m not that into getting a tan and even if I was the kind of person who wanted to be a different color every week, or every day for that matter, I simply would not have hit on the idea of looking in the yellow pages for a place like an auto body shop that offered paint jobs on an industrial scale.

For thirty bucks you can get yourself tanned from head to toe, as this young woman is doing (although not the way she’s doing it; this is a special mobile tanning booth that costs a lot more), but for just ten bucks you can get only your face spray-painted, so if you lived in a cold climate where you weren’t going to be revealing much skin anyway, you could save yourself some money in the winter.

I wonder if the shops that do this offer only tan colors? I mean, if I had a setup like this and a client asked to be green, I’d mix up some green as fast as I could and make him whatever shade of green he liked. But I’ve never seen green people walking the streets and, now that I know there are shops catering to a market for spray-painting people, I’m wondering why. I’d pay forty bucks to be green, just for fun. Probably not more than once. And I’d probably take a week or two off from work before I tried it, just in case I couldn’t get it off when I needed to go back to my day job.

image of sunlight

Seated in the living room, I looked up from my book just in time to see how the setting sun painted this frame of orange around the Japanese mask and throw pillow on the opposite wall of the room.

I tripped over my own legs running through the house to find my camera. Twice. Didn’t break anything, although I might have pulled a muscle. Let you know for sure in the morning.


Aaaannnnd ... the weekend’s over. Dammit. I hate it when that happens.

Although I take some comfort in anticipation of a three-day work week. I asked my supervisor for Friday off, just joking, and he said okay. And then I told him I was just joking, and he laughed, even though it wasn’t what you’d call a funny joke, and then he said, no, go ahead and take Friday off. Okay, I said, also laughing, because I expected him to say, Ha, ha, just joking, but he didn’t, and now I have Friday off.

So even though tomorrow’s Monday, the day we all dread, except for the people who get to blow things up for a living because what’s bad about that, I know I only have to go to the office three days this week and that’s a work week to look forward to, even if it doesn’t involve explosives.

I was all set to completely blow off doing anything constructive today, but My Darling B announced that if she had to look out her kitchen window all winter long at the partially-painted front of the garden shed she’d need antidepressants before the spring thaw, and I’d hate to feel I had a part in that, so we each grabbed a paint brush and marched out to the shed with a leftover bucket of house paint.

It was a beautiful day to paint, if ever there was one. I’d argue there’s never a day so beautiful that you should waste it by painting anything except maybe a watercolor portrait of nude dancing girls, but that’s just me talking crazy talk. Don’t listen to me.

We had sunshine and temps in the sixties, and a good thing, too, because we really couldn’t have painted the shed if it were raining and forty degrees, or snowing and twenty degrees. Paint sticks much better when the thing you’re painting is warm and dry. It certainly stuck to us. We were painting so energetically that we were getting a little sloppy, especially toward the end, but we managed to finish in about an hour, and now I won’t have to worry about the copay for Prozac or whatever the most popular antidepressant is these days.

And then I screwed around all day. I played in the basement with some of my toys, in particular the airbrush I had hoped I could learn to paint model trains with, but either it’s defective or I am. I can’t figure out how to make it do anything but spit paint blobs all over the place, so I think I might just have to fall back on using my collection of brushes. Barbaric, I know, but nowhere near as frustrating.

I took a long walk through the neighborhoods of Monona, ending up in the library when I noticed that it was open and I remembered a book I’ve been looking for at the thrift shop but never see. The library didn’t have it, either, but I did find a new book by John Scalzi that I hadn’t seen before, and after reading the first chapter and liking it I headed for the check-out counter with it.

"Would you like to pay your fines?" the lady behind the counter asked me ever so nicely. Holy crap, I owed the library a lot of money! And since April, too! I’m surprised they didn’t send the ninjas after me. On the way home I realized that I could have bought the book for that much.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening devouring Zoe’s Tale, a brisk read, pausing just long enough to post this drivel, turn out the lights, and go to bed.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The gal who checked me out at the library the other day ... checked out my books, not me. I just thought I’d better disambiguate that last statement. Wait, I’ll start again:

When I found a book at the library yesterday that I wanted to check out, I flipped open my library to get my card and found that it wasn’t in there. I spent a full, useless minute staring at my wallet, trying to remember when I took the card out and where it might be. Useless because, if I had remembered where it was, then what? Maybe fly home like Superman and get it? No.

Then I snapped out of it, walked up to the desk and informed the young lady there of my predicament. She was all smiles and understandingness. "Do you have your driver’s license?" she asked. I did, and after I produced it she punched a few keys on her computer and pulled up my library account with a record of all the books I’d checked out and my fines totaled up all nice and neat, which made me wonder: Why do I even need a library card cluttering up my wallet if they can do that?

She turned her computer screen around so I could read it and asked, "Do you want to pay your fines now?" I squinted at the screen and let my mouth hang open, the universal sign language meaning, Huh? I wasn’t aware I had any fines, and I certainly didn’t remember checking out any of the books that were up on the screen. An impostor was checking out books as me! Oh, wait. I remember that first one. Oh, and the next two or three ... wait, they were all mine. I checked them out months ago and had them out forever. Maybe the fines were legit after all. Okay, so how much did I owe?

"Twenty-four eighty-five," the pleasant young lady behind the counter informed me, still smiling brightly.

Y’know, I didn’t even plan to go to the library yesterday. I was just out for a walk because it was such a nice day, sixty degrees and sunny, hardly what you’d expect in the last weeks of November in Wisconsin. My walk happened to take me past the library and, looking up at it, I thought of a book I’ve been wanting to read forever, Eight Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter by Bruce Cameron, so I ducked in and checked the shelves. They didn’t have the book I was looking for, but they had a book by another author I liked, John Scalzi, and I was feeling like reading something light so I decided to take it home ...

... only to discover that I owed almost twenty-five dollars to the library. I’m not stingy when it comes to the public library. When I owe them money for overdue books, I pay up. Fair’s fair. If I bring them back on time, I don’t have to pay. But dammit, I didn’t expect I’d have to pay now.

Okay, well, never mind. I flipped open my wallet, extracted the bills, and handed them over. One of the books that was late came from the Monona library, and the rest came from the Madison library, and they have to divvy up the fines so that each library gets their money, so she rang me up but, oops, she did it wrong. She had to talk to the head librarian to fix it.

The head librarian was talking to someone who was interested in checking out all the episodes of the first season of Xena, Warrior Princess. He was very happy to find out the library did in fact have the series on disk, but only the first eight episodes.

"What?" he asked her, his voice peaking to indicate he couldn’t believe, he just could not believe that anybody who would pay for the first season of Xena, Warrior Princess would get only the first eight disks and stop there.

"You don’t have Xena gets a hickey?" he asked, incredulous. That wasn’t the actual title. I made that up. Obviously. Because I’m not a Xena nerd. I haven’t memorized the titles and plots and the names of the cast of every episode. But that guy sure did. "You don’t have the incredible battle with the Hydra? You don’t have that one?"

The head librarian patiently listened to his every entreaty and had to admit that, no, they didn’t have that one, but kept trying to distract him with the list of the episodes that they did have. And he’d look at the list, see another episode that was missing, and go off on that. This went on forever. Hours, at least.

The young lady assisting me was helpless to correct the error she’d made without the head librarian’s aid. "Maybe it won’t be too much longer," she said, smiling. Maybe. There were only so many episodes of Xena, Warrior Princess, after all. Although he was starting to repeat himself.

Eventually I suggested I’d go sit in that big, comfy chair over there and read my book until the head librarian was free to help the young lady, and she heartily agreed with me that that would probably be the best thing, really. I got through almost a whole chapter before Mister Xena Nerd finished with the head librarian, checked out every disk he could get his hands on, and headed out the door, muttering.

And then I paid my fines, which were as much as the cost of the book I was checking out. New. In hardback. But I don’t begrudge the library, as I said. And it was a pretty good book.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

image of people bathing in wine -- awesome!

A Japanese onsen, a hot spring bath, is already one of the most relaxing experiences you can have anywhere on earth, but an onsen that serves wine? AWESOME!

I don’t think they’re bathing in wine. That’d turn you blue, and most people don’t want to be blue. It’d be a pretty expensive way to color the water, too. Then again, that’d be even more awesome if they were bathing in wine, or just a splash of wine to tint the water and give it some aroma.

This photo courtesy the Seattle Post-Intelligencer photo gallery.

The cats have worms. Oh, I’m sorry, were you eating? Go ahead and finish. I’ll wait.

My Darling B took them to the vet this weekend for their annual check-ups. They were a little on the fat side of plump, but otherwise healthy cats until she came home and found a message waiting on the answering machine announcing the results of their "fecal float." That sounds like something I would only expect to hear about in a pornographic internet chat room.

"How the hell did the cats get worms?" I asked My Darling B, when she told me the news. "They’re indoor cats. They sniff each other’s butts and nobody else’s."

"I asked the vet the same thing," she told me, "and their answer was, ’Do your cats eat bugs and mice?’"


When cats have worms, you have to de-worm them. Well, I supposed you don’t have to. You could just let the worms be. But yuck.

To de-worm them, the vet gave us a couple syringes filled with a creamy-looking goo and told us to shoot that stuff right down their throats. Oh, thank you, doc. Ever tried to get into a cat’s mouth when he doesn’t particularly want you in there? Of course you have, you’ve done it a couple thousand times, so you know it’s about as easy as shaving a porcupine. While I’m at it, why don’t I save the world from Socialism and cure cancer, too?

So after supper, when Bonkers jumped up into my lap for his nightly pet, I scratched his ears until he was purring like an expensive Italian sports car, then casually tipped his head back, poked the end of the syringe into the corner of his mouth, and squirt! He swallowed it without hardly thinking about it, then stretched out on my lap and started purring again. Bonkers is a poster child for obliviousness.

B had it just a little harder with Boo, who must’ve gotten a little down the wrong pipe and went staggering across the floor, coughing like a TB patient. Boo wouldn’t even look at B for a while after that.

Did it get rid of the worms? I don’t know. The only way we would ever really know is if we took another little baggie filled with cat poop to the vet and let him charge us another hundred bucks to float those little fecals. I don’t even want to know what that entails. I’ll bet what he really does is throws the crap in a dumpster and flips a coin. Heads, it’s worms. Tails, the cats are clean. That’s what I’d do if I were a vet. Remember that if you’re ever at the vet and he looks suspiciously like me.

image of a fucking Asian beetle

The Asian beetles have moved indoors. That’s how you know it’s winter in Wisconsin now. It used to be that it snowed a lot and got so cold that the hairs in your nose stuck together. Now it means that Asian beetles bap into your face while you’re trying to eat dinner.

I hate these things. Hate ’em with the white-hot fury of a thousand exploding suns. Asian beetles are not lady bugs. Lady bugs are cute and shy and don’t land in my orange juice while I’m drinking it. Asian beetles think the very best place to set down after a long haul across the living room is right in the middle of my beard or on the back of my neck, which they bite, so they don’t escape my fury by way of being cute. If it was within my power I would happily immerse all of Wisconsin chest-deep in DDT for a month to bring an end to Asian beetles.

And while we’re at it, fruit flies can go, too. They’re freaking everywhere in our house this fall. At first they were just in the kitchen, but I’ve killed three of them in my chilly basement lair in the time it took me to write this drivel. How are all these bugs even alive still in November? Used to be winter was at least good for that: The bugs were all dead. Not anymore.

I’ll bet it has something to do with global climate change. All those glaciers melting and ice burgs floating around New Zealand. It just isn’t natural.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Bruce Cameron before. I’ve heard of the television show 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, and I think I knew it was a book before or after, and maybe even during the television show, but I didn’t know who wrote it or how funny he was.

A couple weeks back, though, I ran across How to Remodel a Man in the thrift shop, read the first couple pages, and knew I had to take it home because it was that funny. And even if only the first couple pages were all that were funny and the rest were paralyzingly stupid, it was only a buck, so what did I have to lose?

It was worth a lot more than a buck. I read it in about twenty-four hours and began prowling the internet for more, and found his syndicated column pretty easily, but it took me a while to dig up a copy of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter at the library. See, it is a book!

There’s so much in here that any parent who’s raised teenagers will nod and smile at. You wouldn’t have had raise daughters in particular to enjoy these stories, although it’s got one of the best protective-dad stories I think I’ve ever read:

"David," I say to my daughter’s date, "may I have a word with you?"

"It’s Derek, Bruce," he responds jovially. As he reluctantly removes his hand from my daughter’s bare shoulder I realize I’ve developed a facial tic.

"It’s Mr. Cameron, Derek," I agree kindly. Assuming a warm, fatherly expression, my arm across his shoulder, I get directly to the matter on my mind. "Derek, do you know what an autopsy is?"

He blinks. "Uh, I think."

"What is an autopsy, Derek?" I encourage.

"Is it where they determine the cause of death?" he responds, looking a little worried at the direction the conversation is taking.

"Right! Now, Derek, let me ask you this: do you want to have an autopsy?"

"No?" he guesses.

"Of course not," I agree. "Because if you lay a hand on my daughter, we already know what your cause of death will be, don’t we?"

He glances miserably back at his date, who isn’t paying attention.

"So what are we not going to do, Derek?" I prod.

"Lay your daughter," he mumbles.

"Lay a hand on my daughter," I correct sternly.

"Oh. Yeah."

I can see by his unhappiness that he’s gotten the message. I clap him on the shoulder and am gratified at the way he flinches. "You kids go on and have fun, now."

Yesterday, I did one of the most despicable things a human being can do: I messed up somebody’s morning coffee. Please don’t hate me. I feel awful enough already.

For about a week now there’s been a drip coffee maker sitting on the desk of one of the vacant cubicles at the office. I thought it had to be broken. It was never actually making coffee, or keeping any already-made coffee warm, nor should it have been. Our management had decreed some time ago, shortly after a burning bagel set off the fire alarm, that we would all be safer if there were no toasters, space heaters or coffee makers allowed in the office.

Taking away the toasters I can see. Nobody’s life depends on whether or not they get their morning bagel. But for safety’s sake I would’ve thought they’d want to make sure we were all properly caffeinated first thing in the morning. Surely that’s worth the slim chance of burning down the building, right? But no.

Well, the other day as I was walking from my desk to the copier I passed the coffee maker that I thought was waiting for its trip for the dumpster and happened to notice, out of the corner of my eye, that it was dribbling freshly-brewed coffee into the pot. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared. What the hell?

I went to my supervisor’s office and interrupted whatever he was doing. It couldn’t have been more important than this. "Are we allowed to have coffee makers now? Because if we are, I’m going to take my morning break right now and go get one."

He didn’t think the rule had been changed, and why was I asking? When I began to tell him about the coffee maker in the vacant cubicle, he stopped me and said he thought he knew who that belonged to, and that it was probably broken and the owner just hadn’t taken it home yet. I don’t know what makes a coffee maker look broke, but that one was expertly camouflaged with whatever it was.

"It’s not broke," I told him, "it’s making coffee right now!"

Did you see it? Did you see where I did the despicable thing? I could have turned a blind eye, pretended I had never seen the coffee maker making coffee, maybe even accidentally poured myself a cup later on, but I had to go blab it all over the office, and who did I blab it to first? Man, am I stupid.

So the coffee maker disappeared, and when I found out whose coffee maker it was, I went over and apologized. My coworker told me not worry about it and even pretended everything was all right, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find myself in the crosshairs of her Uzi on Monday morning. You Took My Coffee! BBBBRRRAPPPP!

I wasn’t my intention to report the pirate coffee machine to the authorities, I only wanted what most cubicle-farm office workers want: To have a ten-cup coffee maker right next to my keyboard, maybe with one of those long bendy straws stuck right in the pot so all I’d have to do is turn my head slightly to get a sip of its life-sustaining ambrosia. Well, damn.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It’s the Thanksgiving Post! Here’s what I’m thankful for:

For twenty years I’ve been lucky enough to remind myself, Hey! I’m married! every day. I always suspected I might be, but by about the time I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine I was starting to doubt it would happen, and then BAM! I met The Girl.

Both our boys grew up healthy and I think mostly happy, found gainful employment and are living on their own, and neither one of them had to enlist in the army to do it. It’s not that I’ve got anything against enlisting. I did it myself, several times. It’s just that I’m impressed as hell that they could get out on their own without even thinking about going that route. Mazel tov, guys!

Inexplicably, we both still have our day jobs despite the words of doom and gloom that pour morning, noon and night from the radio, and we’re still healthy in spite of all the government says they’re trying to do to help us stay that way.

Oh shit, my apologies for that moment of cynicism. I so wanted this to be a sincere note of thanks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tim came by for Thanksgiving dinner. We baited him with a prime rib roast, mashed potatoes and stuffing, all food that used to make him stampede to the table. These days, not so much, but today he made sure to come by and we sat down to have a delightful dinner with sparkling conversation.

Prime rib is not, alas, what he’s used to eating any longer. His breakfast today was chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts, and he had a bowl of Ramen instant noodles for lunch, and I expect that’s about the same thing, more or less, that he’s been plugging into his system for the past couple weeks, so when the prime rib hit his system it went, Whoa! What the hell’s this? and went all rumbly on him.

I wish I could recap the conversation we had, but our dinner-time conversations with Tim could most accurately be described as "inappropriate for mixed company," which is probably why we have rarely had anyone over for dinner in years.

image of toy train

It’s coming along, in fits and starts, but it’s coming along.

This kind of steam locomotive, with two small wheels jutting out front, three big wheels driving the beast, and trailing one small wheel, is called a Pacific. I wish I could remember why. There is a locomotive known as an Atlantic with two driving wheels in the middle, which isn’t really germane to the topic so I don’t know why I mentioned it other than to clutter it up with trivia.

A Pacific is a steam engine made to pull trains very fast. Locomotives with smaller wheels, say no more than fifty or sixty inches in diameter, are made to pull really heavy trains. Big wheels, like the sixty-nine inchers on this Pacific, pull the train farther down the track each time they roll over, so they were well-suited to pull passenger trains.

I’m all about passenger trains. That’s why this loco is getting a coat of maroon paint. It looks a lot more like chocolate brown, though, doesn’t it? That’s okay, I like chocolate, too. Chocolate or maroon, whatever, is the livery of the Lost Continent Railway, which never existed but, maybe someday, will have a terminal and a servicing yard and a circle of track in our basement. Maybe.

The sides of the tender will eventually receive a coat of maroon, too. The top of the tender, and the locomotive smokebox (the front end), will be black. The firebox will remain silver. They usually were a sooty silverish color.

I was going to finish the locomotive before I started to put the tender together, but sharp eyes in the crowd will notice that the main connecting rod isn’t connected, and that the trailing wheel under the cab seems a little wonky. I’ve found that a few screws critical to construction are missing from the kit, and I wanted to find out if I would have to order any more parts, so I started the tender this week.

Whenever my eyes got tired from squinting at teensy-tiny parts, I would get out a brush and paint for a while.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Calm yourself with a glass of Malbec. Spread butter on some freshly-made bread. Add a layer of cheese slices.

image of panini being made

Top each piece of bread with thinly-sliced prime rib, grilled the night before.

image of panini being made

Squash the hell out of each sandwich with a heavy piece of iron.

image of panini being made

Serve with your favorite home-brewed beer!

image of panini being made  

Friday night we ate another Thanksgiving dinner at the invitation of my aunt Sue and uncle Jim. We were glad to accept, partly because they know how to put on a huge spread of delicious food, but mostly because their son Mikey and daughter Carrie were going to be there, and Mikey brought his friend Cody, and Carrie brought her husband Darren and their toddling sons Gray and Mac. It was quite the family gathering. My mother was also invited to join but couldn’t make it when her friend came down sick and she stayed up in the frozen north to be with him.

It was the traditional dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes, with a side of corn and another of squash, although the turkey was cooked in a plastic bag, something I’d heard of but never seen before. When Jim took the bird out of the oven it was so tender it fell apart. He hardly had to carve any of it at all. I don’t know if the bag did that or it was just a very tender bird to start with.

The dinner was delicious and we finished up with pie. There were two to choose from. I told you they know how to put on a spectacular spread. I had a generously wide slice of apple pie that Carrie brought, if memory serves. I just love apple pie, and Carrie’s didn’t disappoint.

And then, after sharing many stories and so much good food, My Darling B and I headed home to throw ourselves on the sofa and burp.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

image of typewriter with Cyrillic alphabet

FOUND at the estate auction today: This typewriter.

I’m sort of a nut for old typewriters so my Aunt Susan, who spotted it first, alerted me to its presence as soon as she saw me in the crowd and I ran, not walked, over to check it out. Finding an old typewriter was cool enough, but finding one with a Cyrillic alphabet (click on the photo to get a closer look) got me excited enough to squeal like a little girl.

Hours of waiting for them to get around to selling it quickly took care of my excitement. We had to hang around until about five o’clock, after they sold off just about everything else in the place.

Although I ended up paying a bit more than I’d thought I would have to, I am really jazzed to report I won the bidding and brought it home to join the rest of my collection. Bliss!

image of squirrels stuffed and mounted

I really wanted to bring these guys home from the estate auction we visited today, but I’m not sure My Darling B would have let me.

I could have had them for about five dollars, no more than ten, and I think they would have looked great hanging over the writing desk in the living room, maybe with a little spotlight shining on them.

I suppose if the living-room location hadn’t worked out I could always have brought them down to my basement lair for display, but I didn’t get them so now we’ll never know.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Even thought I snapped this photo as I was driving down the highway at forty-five miles an hour (What? People do it all the time!), I hoped it would turn out a little better than this. My apologies. I’ll try my best to describe it to you, although you might not believe me.

There’s a truck stop between Madison and DeForest that we pass on the way to the place they hold the estate sale we went to last weekend. One of the gas stations went out of business a while back and sat idle for a while before becoming Naughty Novelties, one of those bakeries where you can buy cupcakes and candies shaped like parts of your anatomy, and not the parts that everyone can ordinarily see all the time.

For a while they just had "Naughty Novelties" painted on the outside wall of the gas station, until they got hold of a derelict trailer, painted it yellow, and added "Naughty Novelties" to the side of that.

Then, last summer, they got a second trailer, painted it yellow, too, and added the somewhat cryptic message, "Home Of The Beer Lube." I say somewhat cryptic because, even though I’m sure there are some people out there who know what a "beer lube" is, I don’t. And frankly, I’d like it to remain somewhat cryptic.


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