Sunday, January 19th, 2020

I had a hankering this morning for a plate of scrambled eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs in the fridge so I did what I usually do when I’m trying to figure out where to eat: whipped out my phone and began to virtually search the city for a place that looked like it served a satisfyingly big plate of eggs with their usual breakfast.

Google maps is simultaneously very good and very bad for this task. Very good because it knows where a lot of the best places to eat are, drops a pin on them in their map, and provides all the links you need to see their menu, reviews from customers, photos of pretty much everything they serve, and so on. Very bad for much the same reasons. I don’t want to see hundreds of photos of scrambled eggs. Just tell me they have scrambled eggs, thank you. Also, I don’t need to know where McDonald’s is. That should be a setting in Google maps: Chain restaurants on/off.

But on this particular morning, my search reminded me of one of the best breakfast restaurants in the city: Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room, situated right next to the flight line of the Dane County Airport and only a fifteen-minute drive from our little red house. I jumped into the car (after it had been given a fair amount of time to warm up on this fourteen-degree day) and headed north.

One critically important thing I’d forgotten about the Jet Room: How friggin popular it is. The lobby of the Wisconsin Aviation building was crowded with people waiting to get in, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I could almost taste those eggs so I went in anyway to see how long the wait was. Forty-five minutes, it turned out, but only if you don’t answer “yes” to the question “would you be willing to take a seat at the counter?” I was so very willing that I was seated immediately at the number-one spot next to the wait staff’s station — the pole position!

The service was awesome: I got a glass of water and a hot cup of coffee within minutes of sitting down, they took my order not more than five minutes later, and I was digging in to a big plate of eggs (and hash browns, and bacon) no more than ten minutes after I set foot in the place! How do you beat that? I just don’t see how. Bonus points to the wait staff for keeping my coffee mug full. And I don’t know why, but I have to mention how much I love that the mugs and plates have the name of the restaurant on them. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it does.

a big delicious breakfast at the Jet Room

And here’s what my sufficiency looks like after it’s been serensified:

sufficiency serensified

jet setter | 2:08 pm CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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Thursday, January 16th, 2020

This is too much fun:

And this is just plain cool:

See more of Laura Kampf’s work here!

beer bike | 6:41 am CST
Category: beer, entertainment, food & drink, play | Tags:
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Saturday, January 4th, 2020

I’m having trouble finishing “Marjorie Morningstar.” I found a copy of it in a second-hand store shortly after the author, Herman Wouk, died last summer. So many people said their favorite book by Wouk was “Marjorie Morningstar,” so I looked for it in the book stores I haunted to see if I could snag a copy, and did within weeks of Wouk’s passing. I’m about three-quarters of the way through it, but I’m finding it very difficult to pick it up to read that last quarter because so far most of the book has focused on Marjorie nursing an enduring crush on a songwriter she met while she was acting in summer stock who is such a cad that if she doesn’t stick a steak knife through his heart before the last chapter I will be so pissed off.

I haven’t read a lot of Herman Wouk; just three of his novels, in total: “The Winds of War,” “War and Rememberance,” and “The Caine Muntiny.” I thought the first two were pretty good, but I think “The Caine Mutiny” is one of the best books I have ever read. I didn’t think so the first time I read it. I thought it was pretty bad, to be honest. The biggest part of the book focuses on Willie Keith, a rich kid who tries to use his privilege to squeak out of serving in the second world war by securing a cushy spot in the Navy; he ends up on the titular destroyer Caine where he takes part in a mutiny. I thought the parts of the book describing the mutiny were superb, but I wasn’t much interested in Keith until I picked up the book a second time to re-read the part about the mutiny and even then I was a lot more interested in Maryk, the executive officer of the Caine, so I re-read the parts that dealt with him. Keith was in almost every scene, so naturally enough, I became interested in him. In the end, I re-read the book several times and damned if Wouk doesn’t make Keith out to be a decent guy in spite of his service.

So it’s not unusual for me to dislike what’s going on it a Wouk novel the first time I read through it. I expect that, even if I dislike the way “Marjorie Morningstar” ends, I’ll like it eventually. But I’m having a devil of a time getting to the end.

Marjorie Morningstar | 5:06 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

I thought I would have to fire up the snow blower for the first time in 2019 when I woke up in the morning of the very last day of that year to a fresh snowfall. My snow blower’s gasoline engine is reluctant to start after it’s been sitting unused all summer, so I dressed up in my warmest winter coat, knowing I could be out in the subfreezing weather for a while. As it turned out, I didn’t so much as lay a hand on my snow blower. There was less than a half-inch of snow on the driveway; if I had wheeled out the snow blower to remove that, it would have seemed to me at least like the most egregious misuse of a power tool imaginable. It was a preposterously simple matter to clear the driveway in just five minutes using the snow shovel. I wasn’t even winded when I finished. I probably could have used a push broom.

One of my neighbors, who owns one of the largest snow blowers I have ever seen, does not have the same reservations about how and when to use it that I had about mine. He’s one of those “I paid a lot of money for this power tool and I’m going to use it” kind of guys. His snow blower is taller than he is, and has a mouth wide enough to clear half his driveway in a single pass. After a heavy snowfall, witnessing it make short work of waist-high drifts of snow is an impressive sight to behold. Seeing him use it to clear a half-inch of snow is another thing entirely. I was at the end of my drive, clearing away the inch-high ridge of snow left behind by the city snow plow crew after they cleared our street, when I heard the roar of his snow blower coming to life. I stopped what I was doing and used my shovel as a prop to rest my arm on while I watched him follow his behemoth to the end of his driveway, maneuver it through a 180-degree turn, then follow it back up to his house, all the while wreathed by the faintest haze of snow thrown into the air as a thin, insubstantial whisp that blew apart in the breeze the moment it exited the chute off the top of his snow blower. He tried to make a bigger production of it by spending some extra time at the end of the driveway making sure he got all the snow left behind by the city plow, but it hardly took him five minutes to do the whole thing. I bet the engine on his snow blower didn’t even get warm.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered to shovel so little snow off the driveway because I’m pretty lazy when it comes to yard work, to be frank. I should probably hire some of the more enterprising neighborhood teenagers to cut the grass and shovel the driveway, but as well as being lazy I’m also a skinflint, so to this day I still do my own mowing and shoveling and other yard work, but only when I feel I absolutely have to. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. Our good friends, Becky and John, were coming over later in the afternoon to go out to dinner with us, then come back to our little red house to spend new year’s eve playing games, and I didn’t want them to have to trudge through even as little as a half-inch of snow, because who would do that to their good friends?

We had a very casual dinner at a popular local pizza parlor not far from our house. We figured we’d have a quick dinner there, then return to play games while we noshed on some snacky foods and finally toast the new year, not necessarily at midnight because none of us are spring chickens any more. We ended up spending a bit more time at the pizza parlor than we had planned, about three and a half hours! I can’t account for this. It’s normally a popular place but there didn’t seem to be any more customers than we usually saw; in fact, I spotted empty tables and stools at the bar from time to time, but the wait staff were obviously running their legs off. We didn’t even see our waitress until about fifteen minutes after we were seated when she paused briefly — and I mean very briefly — to apologize for then wait, then add she’d be back in just two more minutes before she dashed away again. She didn’t give us enough time to ask for water. And she wasn’t back in two minutes.

When she did come back, ten minutes later, she stayed only long enough to get our drinks order before rushing off again. We managed to slip in a request for some fried cheese curds, too, but just barely. She swooped in to dive-bomb the table with John’s beer minutes later, explaining his order was easiest to fill because it came in a bottle. Becky got her cocktail about five minutes later, while Barb’s sat at the end of the bar at least ten minutes, for some reason. I got my beer last, many more minutes after B’s cocktail was delivered. If I recall correctly, the cheese curds arrived after we all raised our glasses to toast the new year, but the waitress didn’t take our dinner order until we were burping contentedly after finishing off all of the cheese curds and had nearly made our way to the bottoms of all of our drinks.

So you get the idea: service was slow and the main courses didn’t arrive until well past the time we thought we’d be on our way home. We weren’t in a terribly big hurry, though, so it’s not like we felt like complaining about it, but damned if we wouldn’t make fun of it a little bit.

Back at our little red house, I popped open a bottle of bubbly, poured a glass for everyone and we shared a toast to the new year, again. Then we played a very silly card game that required us to shout out words and phrases that were improbable under any other circumstances that didn’t involve prosecco, and had a pretty good time doing it.

new years eve | 1:01 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , ,
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Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Everyone drinks coffee to kickstart their morning, so why doesn’t everyone drink it straight, dark, bitter? I don’t understand why anybody puts stuff in coffee. Milk, sugar, syrup — it all takes the edge off, so what’s the point? If you want a frou-frou drink with frou-frou smells first thing in the morning, drink tea.

coffee vs tea | 9:43 am CST
Category: coffee, food & drink, yet another rant
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Saturday, December 28th, 2019

I didn’t have enough vacation time this year to take last Thursday and Friday off, which a lot of people did, so I was in the office, bleary-eyed and not especially bushy-tailed, before the sun came up on Thursday morning.

The office was silent as a graveyard. I debated with myself over whether or not to make coffee. I myself was going to drink tea that morning, and I figured that the few people who were in to work that morning would be Keurig-users. The people who drink from the pot seem to be mostly management types, and I figured they wouldn’t be around. But, what the heck, I brewed a pot anyway and made it strong, just in case there was anyone in the office who needed a kick in the pants that morning.

Lucky thing, because there was more than one. I went back to the kitchen at about nine-thirty to make myself another cuppa and saw the pot was almost empty. Must have been more than a few people who needed a jolt that morning. Brewed another strong pot that was almost gone before lunch time.

Same thing happened Friday morning. There must have been a lot more people working the in-between days than I thought, and apparently they didn’t get much sleep.

Making coffee at work | 4:48 pm CST
Category: coffee, coworkers, daily drivel, food & drink, office work, work
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Monday, December 16th, 2019

We spent most of our second day in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry, but before that we had to find a place to get some breakfast, which I thought would be relatively easy because there is no shortage of places to eat in Chicago if you’re okay with waiting for an hour or more. We ended up at the counter of the Pittsfield Cafe, not the trendiest of places but even so more popular than the chic tea shop next door. We had to wait in a long line that thankfully moved very quickly, and we were seated in under twenty minutes. The food was hot and delicious and they served mimosas, so quite a successful breakfast after all.

An MTA double-decker commuter train whisked us south to 57th Street where we walked a couple blocks to get to the museum, where My Darling B was looking forward to seeing exhibits of Christmas around the world, mostly dozens of Christmas trees decorated with ornaments they said were most popular in each of the represented countries. B liked the tree representing Japan the best. I was there for the scienc-y stuff, so while she snapped photos of the ornaments, I ducked into the exhibit halls to watch avalanches form and pendulums swing and, while she was resting her feet near the end of our visit, I took a quick side trip to the space center to say hi to Apollo 8, the first crewed spacecraft to leave earth and fly to the moon. The gumdrop-shaped command module sits behind a high wall of plexiglass but I managed to snap a few photos over the top of the wall without dropping my phone. Might have been embarrassing.

Back in Chicago we stopped at the Adams Street Brewery for some cold suds and a pretzel before heading to a comedy show. I unreservedly recommend the Imperial Stout they brew on the premises.

Chicago day two | 10:12 pm CST
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Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Got back this afternoon from a weekend trip to The Windy City with My Darling B. We’ve been talking for years about visiting the Christmas market they have there every year, and this year we finally stopped talking and did it. B did all the hard work of planning the trip and booking the rooms; I did the easy part: driving. We drove down Friday morning, arriving around one o’clock to check in at our hotel, and left at about eleven o’clock this morning. Short trip, but we got a lot done.

First thing we did after checking in at the hotel was walk down to Daley Plaza where the Christmas market takes place. It was not exactly like the Christmas markets we remembered from Berlin, but it was pretty close. The vendors sold a lot of the same ornaments and other Christmas trinkets, they served the spiced wine known as gluhwein, and there were so many people jammed into the market it was almost impossible to move.

Wandered around at the market for an hour or so before walking a few blocks north to see the sights along the Magnificent Mile. The idea is we would walk from store to store, taking in the Christmas sights and maybe doing a little shopping. Spoiler: It’s all high-end shopping. Macy’s. Saks. Tiffany’s. Not the kind of places we would be stopping to pick up a stocking-stuffer. So we finished our walk up the Magnificent Mile a lot sooner than we thought we would.

We were supposed to join up with a guided tour of the Christmas lights but it wasn’t scheduled to depart until five-thirty so to avoid getting there very early we backtracked just a bit and ended up at an Irish pub called Pippin’s where we could grab a beer while we passed the time until we could meet the bus. It was one of those buses that’s made to look like a trolley and it went out to Wrigleyville where there was another Christmas market we wandered around in for about a half-hour, then looped back to stop at Lincoln Zoo where they had draped the trees and wrapped the bushes in lots and lots of colored lights, and they gave us special glasses that made us see elves and reindeer floating around the lights like some trippy holiday hallucination.

We didn’t get to bed until ten-thirty that night. I must have been beat because I slept until seven-thirty the next morning.

windy city | 6:59 pm CST
Category: My Darling B, travel | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

We were wondering the other day if there’s a word or phrase to describe songs you’re done with. I mean, other than the phrase I just used. I was thinking maybe there’s an already-established phrase, or one of those mile-long Latin words. That’s what we were wondering about. But “songs you’re done with” will work just fine, too.

I don’t remember which song came on the radio to make us think about this, but for instance: “Another One Bites The Dust” is a song I’m done with. I still think it’s a perfectly good song and I’m not suggesting it should be banned from the airwaves or anything like that; all I’m saying is that I’ve heard it approximately forty-two million times, so I’m done hearing it. If I’m flipping through radio stations and I hear it, I don’t even pause. There is no desire to stop. I’m done hearing it. The audio teleomere in my brain that marked the number of times I would ever want to hear that song (among others) has been set to zero.

Oh, I remember the song that started this conversation: Frank Sinatra’s recording of “My Way.” In a story on NPR yesterday morning they claimed that this was the most-requested song at karaoke bars and funerals, just one more good reason to avoid both, in my opinion.

songs you’re done with | 6:05 am CST
Category: entertainment, music, random idiocy
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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

I spent the weekend with My Darling B doing pretty much nothing, and apparently we needed a weekend just like that because we slept like bears in hibernation.

We didn’t do exactly nothing. We did, in fact, travel to Lake Mills, Wisconsin, to attend the twentieth anniversary party of the Tyranena Brewery (long may they continue to brew the most delicious beer in Jefferson County!), an event where we mostly sat quietly sampling various wonderful brews and noshing on noshies. Low-impact events are our lifestyle now.

The beers that Tyranena makes, though, tend to be very boozy, so we didn’t drink very many of them before we had to lie down go night-night.

We spent all day Sunday just reading or watching TV, and were both in bed by eight. Lights-out for me was eight-thirty or nine, and I slept like the dead until four o’clock Monday morning, at which point my brain said AWAKEN, so I had no choice but to go make a pot of coffee and bimble about the house.

not much how about you | 6:14 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, play, sleeplessness, travel
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Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

The dream I was having this morning right before I woke up: Copying the names of all the people who had been turned into zombies and pasting them into a spreadsheet.

We watched “Zombieland” last night before lights out. After I go to bed I usually dream about work, which often involves trawling through spreadsheet after spreadsheet, so this must have been a mash-up of the two.

copypaste | 3:14 pm CST
Category: movies, work
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Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

I am never going to eat fried food again. And when I say “never,” I mean that I will, on occasion, eat certain fried foods, because there are some worth suffering for, like the tater tots they serve at the Vintage Brewing Company over on Whitney Way. I don’t know how they do it, but their tots are exactly the right kind of crispy-crunchy I will always say “yes” to.

But other than a few special exceptions like those tots, I have unfortunately advanced to the age where my gastrointestinal mechanism no longer produces whatever chemicals or enzymes it used to make to deal with deep-fat-fryer grease. I used to be able to eat all the french fries. Really, *all* of them. Now that I’m apparently becoming a decrepit old geezer, I can safely eat only about half a dozen without any ill effects; any more and I feel as though I’m carrying around a bowling-ball-sized lump of lard in my belly for the next twenty-four hours. It’s not a good feeling, particularly when I make the mistake of ordering a side of fries with my dinner, thinking “It’ll be all right, I haven’t had fries in a week,” and then I have to try to sleep with that bowling ball in my stomach. Doesn’t happen. Easier to sleep with a pile of bricks on top of me.

No fried foods means that most of the food at the brewpubs we like to visit is off limits to me: it’s not just fries that bloat me up, the chicken tenders that I love at most places do the same, and I’ll probably never enjoy another Friday night fish fry, although a Friday afternoon fish fry isn’t entirely out of the question; so long as I have time to walk it off, I’m good. But other than that I’ll be eating lots of wraps and salads from here on in. So long, french fries, and thanks for the fun times!

fried | 1:22 pm CST
Category: falling apart, food & drink
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Monday, October 14th, 2019

I was today years old when I learned that the game where you throw beanbags at a board with a hole in it is called “cornhole.” That is not a word I have heard used in polite company before. My father sometimes used that word, not in public, to refer to an act of sexual intercourse that was not allowed by law when he was a younger man.

But I found out today that this is a fairly common name for the game I have always called “beanbag toss” or just “beanbags.” I found out from an email I got at work for an annual fundraiser called “Partners in Giving.” The email subject was “Partners in Giving cornhole tournament.”

“Partners in giving cornhole” was not a phrase I ever expected to see in an inter-office email.

All but one of my coworkers refer to the game as “cornhole” so they didn’t think it was as odd as I thought, but they got a good laugh out of the surprise I got from the email, which means I’m not wrong about the name meaning something else. And after visiting several web pages to see if I could figure out how this game went from being named something as innocent as “beanbag toss” to being referred to as “cornhole,” I learned that a beanbag left on the board is called a “woody,” while tossing a beanbag so it rolls over a blocking beanbag to go into the hole is called “going through the back door.” So it seems more than likely to me the game was renamed with a sly wink, and maybe some alcohol was involved.

beanbag | 5:53 pm CST
Category: entertainment, games, random idiocy
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Friday, September 27th, 2019

What is the cheesiest song ever written? I nominate “Afternoon Delight” as the cheesiest song in the history of cheesy pop songs. It was already so very cheesy back in the late 70s and it hasn’t gotten any less cheesy after 40+ years.

And yes, I am going to keep repeating “cheesy” until it makes you cross-eyed. The shoe fits.

What makes this song so cheesy? I am so very happy to answer this rhetorical question that absolutely nobody has ever asked me. Almost every pop song I listened to in the 70s was salted with at least a few thinly-veiled references to sex, and very occasionally a not-so-veiled reference. “Afternoon Delight” was a solid three minutes of a songwriter declaring he was in the mood for a nooner. Or an afternooner, as the case may be. Is an “afternooner” a thing? Let’s say it is, just for the sake of argument.

Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight

Ah, the 70s when we described our significant others as “my baby,” “my old lady,” or (gag) “my lover.”

I don’t know if “afternoon delight” meant something else before this song became a hit, but it’s pretty funny to me that you can’t say it now unless you’re talking about boinking, and even then you can use it only with a smirk on your face. It’s just that cliched. Funnily enough, it felt like a cliche back then, too.

My motto’s always been when it’s right, it’s right
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night

It’s almost like this song was written for horny teenage boys who are trying to sound smooth.

When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be here any way

I like boinking in the day time, you like boinking at night, let’s split the difference and boink around the clock.

Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
and the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting

Right. Well. Where to start.

First of all, you don’t rub sticks and stones together to make sparks or start a fire. You rub just sticks together, or just stones (if flint is a stone, which I’m not sure of, but I am sure it’s definitely not a stick). Not sticks and stones. That doesn’t do a thing. I hate to … no, I love to be that guy. Who am I kidding?

But leaving out the nit-picking and getting back to the smarm:

Back when I couldn’t look up pop lyrics on the internet and mostly listened to pop music on an AM radio while driving at speed down county highways in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down, what I thought I heard in the last line was “the thought of lovin’ you is gettin’ so exciting,” which made enough sense in the context of the song that I never questioned it. (Funnier version — not mine: “the bottom part of you is getting so excited.” Check out Misheard Lyrics for more laugh-out-loud versions.)

When I looked up the lyrics today to find specific examples of how cornball this song is, I was pretty sure “the thought of rubbin’ you” had to be a mistake, so I watched the music video on YouTube BECAUSE I’LL TAKE A BULLET SO NOBODY ELSE HAS TO. Tragically, I learned they are indeed clearly saying “rubbin’ you.”

So now I’m trying to imagine a situation, any situation at all, where uttering the phrase “the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting” would spark feelings of desire in the heart of even the most willing significant other, or even in a person desperate to get laid. I’m not saying it absolutely wouldn’t, but my feeling is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’d be more likely to get reactions ranging from a puzzled look at best to, at worst, being left leaning on the bar alone, muttering to yourself.

But I’m afraid I have to tell you those aren’t even the smarmiest lyrics.

Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn’t bite

Wow, that’s an impressive triple negative. I guess that’s, what, something Aunt Polly used to say back on the farm?

But you’ve got some bait a-waitin’ and I think I might
Like nibbling a little afternoon delight

It’s time for me to talk about fish and bait. I really, really don’t want to, but I feel as though I must.

I know this is a figure of speech. I remember the fishing reference.

BUT.

“You’ve got some bait a-waitin'” is a wrong turn down a bad road, if you ask me. Fishing is fun only for the one with the bait. The fish doesn’t get any fun out of it, if fish can be said to ever have any fun at all. Even when the fish doesn’t meet a gruesome end (death by suffocation, then feasted upon after being skinned and fried in oil), it still has to endure being dragged through the water with a barbed hook stuck in its mouth, then having its jaw torn off when the hook gets pulled out. Doesn’t sound as super-cute as “nibbling a little afternoon delight,” does it?

And the fish itself is a problem for me: cold, wet, slimy fish; dead-eyed animals that flop around with all the self-control of grenade exploding. If I was writing a playful pop song about sex and wanted to compare it with animals I’m pretty sure I’d go with puppies or kittens, something cute and cuddly and smarmy as all get-out. Fish would not even be on my list of choices, first or last.

Finally, comparing sex to bait is all kinds of awkward. Bait is part of a trap. Why would you want to flirt with an idea like that?

Again I GET THAT IT’S A FIGURE OF SPEECH, but it seems to me that a significant part of writing lyrics for a song like this really has to be conjuring up an image in the listener’s mind that doesn’t involve stabbing, pain, bloodshed, and betrayal.

And now, the chorus:

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight!

Skyrockets in flight! Volcanoes erupting! Jackhammers pounding! Popcorn popping! Yeah. So subtle.

Just in case you haven’t had the honor of listening to this Grammy-winning song, here it is as sung by the Starland Vocal Band, the group to originally record it. (The guy in the glasses wrote the song.)

Afternoon Delight | 6:09 am CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags: ,
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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 CST
Category: entertainment, play | Tags:
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Sunday, July 28th, 2019

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 CST
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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 CST
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 CST
Category: business travel, sleeplessness, travel, weather, work
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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 CST
Category: entertainment, music, vacation | 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 CST
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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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 CST
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Sunday, February 24th, 2019

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 CST
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Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Fare thee well, Opportunity, and we thank you.

#thanksoppy | 6:12 am CST
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Monday, January 21st, 2019

It was so cold this morning that the thermometer didn’t register a temperature at all. It showed zero degrees. My Darling B doesn’t know how to process information like that other than to bunch herself up into a tiny little ball covered in flannel and quilts and repeat, “BRRR! IT’S COLD!” She felt a little better after I brought her a cup of coffee, though.

After we’d had a little time to get used to the fact that there was no temperature, we bundled up and ventured out into the world in our trusty O-Mobile, which took us first to the coffee shop down the road so we could brunch on breakfast sandwiches, and thence to Half Price Books, where B was hoping to score a copy of “Of Mice And Men.” She did. In all likelihood we now have two copies in the house, one we know the location of, and one that’s “somewhere around here.” B tried to find that other copy last night but gave up after an intensive search of all the places she could think of.

I wandered the stacks, focusing special attention on my favorite sections of the book store but couldn’t find a single copy of any book I had to have. Science fiction? Nothing caught my eye. Ships and trains? No joy. Mishmash of old hardcover titles scooped up from estate sales? Couldn’t find a copy of “Principles of the Steam Engine” anywhere. I could’ve grabbed the hundred-pound unabridged dictionary in near-perfect condition but, honestly, I have enough dictionaries big enough to escape a flood if I stood on them. I should be shedding one or two myself. So I left the bookstore without a stack of books in the crook of my arm, feeling very strange indeed.

Before she joined me in the bookstore, B stopped by Penzy’s Spices to pick up a big bag o’ spices. She needed just one jar but bought twenty because she read that Penzy’s donated money to the city of Memphis to make up for the money the state legislature took from the city because the city removed statutes of Confederates and klansmen.

zero degrees | 2:28 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, food & drink, weather
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When I Was But A Wee Lad: Tales From My Dimmest Memory

One of the cheap meals my mother would make to stretch the family budget as far as it would go was hash: she’d get a cheap cut of meat from the butcher, a bag of potatoes from the store, and I think maybe some onions or celery were in there, too. She boiled and quartered the potatoes, sliced up the meat into chunks and fed every bit of it into one of those meat grinders you only see in antique stores these days, the kind you clamp to the edge of a kitchen counter and turn with a big crank. Potato, potato skins, meat, fat, gristle, whatever — it all went in. I used to help her turn the crank on the meat grinder and, if I whined a lot and promised not to stick my fingers down the chute, she would let me drop a potato or chunk of meat in the hopper.

In later years, we didn’t eat hash much. I don’t recall eating it at all after we made our final move as a family to Waupaca county, and it was more or less lost in my memory for many years until one day when I was talking to Mom as she was preparing dinner. Our dinners were almost always a meat-and-potatoes affair; I think Mom usually made an effort to include veggies of some kind, too, but I hated veggies with a passion stereotypical of adolescents, so that didn’t make any kind of impression on me. But the meat and potatoes definitely did, and what she was making that day must have triggered a memory. “Why don’t you ever make hash for dinner any more?” I asked her, seemingly out of the blue.

She stopped what she was doing and gave me a look that said, ‘You gotta be kiddin’ me.’ For just a moment, I thought she was going to be very angry with me about something.

Finally, she asked, “You … you want hash?” Now it was apparent that she wasn’t angry or hurt, she was just puzzled.

“Uh, yeah?” I answered.

“Really?”

I think I even laughed at this point. “Yeah. I thought it was good.”

She was still looking at me with genuine befuddlement, but I didn’t know what to say beyond that. Obviously, she did not like hash: not eating it, not making it. I don’t remember how that particular conversation ended, but we never spoke of hash again, and she never made it again that I know of.

Weirdly, I saw this very scene played out in a Gregory Peck movie many years later. It was “The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit,” and the scene was between Peck, playing a GI in Europe, and Marisa Pavan, playing an Italian woman Peck’s GI met during the war. Peck’s GI goes back to the Italian woman’s apartment for some *ahem* companionship, and later the woman asks Peck if he could get her some Spam. Peck looks at Pavan with the same bewilderment I saw in my mother’s face that day. “You want Spam?” he asks, after a pause, and she cheerily answers Yes, Spam or C-rations, whatever. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw that.

Hash | 6:00 am CST
Category: food & drink, Mom, O'Folks, story time
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Sunday, January 20th, 2019

My Darling B and I went to the Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed ourselves just fine, but the event seemed to both of us to lean a lot more heavily toward the beer and a lot less toward the cheese than it had in years past. Not that more beer is a bad thing, especially when they’re new beers. Seems like every town in Wisconsin has a brewery now, and there were a lot from towns I never heard of. If I didn’t have such a delicate constitution I could have sampled nothing but new beers all afternoon and still probably not come anywhere near close to sampling half of them. But that’s not why I cheated by asking for some of the beers on offer that I already knew I’d had before; when Sierra Nevada shows up with the latest batch of Bigfoot, it’s not something I would pass up, and I didn’t.

As it was, I had a taste of just seventeen beers during the four-hour festival; I had to cut myself off the last half-hour or so we were there, filling my taster glass with water every time I passed a bubbler. And when I say a “taste,” I mean most vendors poured an ounce or two into the complimentary glass they gave each of us at the door, but some filled the glass all the way to the brim of a glass that held maybe three ounces of beer, and I poured out one, maybe two glasses of the beers that made me go “ewww,” but drank all the rest. So conservatively speaking, I “tasted” about thirty-four ounce of beer, but realistically I “drank” closer to forty-five ounces of beer, or just short of four pints, probably more than a lightweight like me should drink in an afternoon, even spreading it out over four hours. Drank many pints of water after I got home.

beer me | 10:07 am CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Isthmus Beer & Cheese Fest
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Friday, January 18th, 2019

It took something like two and a half hours to get from the Hill Farms office building back to Our Humble O’Bode this evening, owing to the inch or so of snow on the ground. I have never been so embarrassed to be a cheesehead. One inch of snow and traffic all over Madison is hopelessly snarled. In Waupaca County they wouldn’t call school for less than a foot of snow, and even then most of the businesses in downtown Manawa would be open, after they spent all morning digging out. But, still.

Halfway home, we stopped at the Giant Jones brewery to pick up a couple pint bottles of their scotch ale, which is fast becoming my favorite. Then, just a couple hundred yards from our very own doorstep, we pulled up to Fraboni’s to pick up sandwiches, which we ate in front of the television while the snow continued to fall. Ah, Friday.

bon voyage | 8:41 pm CST
Category: beer, damn kids!, random idiocy, weather
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Friday, November 9th, 2018

As we were coming home from work the other day, the 70s pop song “I’d Really Like to See You Tonight” by England Dan & John Ford Coley started to play on the radio. We were already talking back to the radio, so I took a shot at this song, saying something like, “What ever happened to these one-hit wonders?”

“Oh, they must have had more than one hit song,” My Darling B answered.

Arching my eyebrows at her, I leveled the challenge, “You really think so? Name one.”

When she couldn’t, she asked The Google, which actually came up with three more songs we both recognized by the titles alone: The first was “Nights Are Forever Without You” and the second was “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again.” We thought that was all we would recognize, because none of the other titles sounded familiar, and when B played them on her phone we both shook our heads and she went on to the next one.

Then she played the third song we both knew. I don’t remember B reading the title of it before she played it, but as soon as I heard the piano playing the opening I recognized “Gone Too Far,” and as soon as they started to sing I even recalled most of the words. I remember liking this song quite a lot when I was a kid. Still like it now, as it turns out, but I hadn’t heard it since probably the 1970s. I don’t think it got a lot of play back then; it was one of those songs that would get me to pounce on the volume to turn it up.

So I was unnecessarily harsh on England Dan and John Ford Coley: They weren’t one-hit wonders at all. They wrote at least four songs that both B and I remembered and, according to the Wikipedia article I called up while I was writing up this drivel, they released 11 albums in ten years, hardly the work of slackers. That’ll teach me to watch my mouth in the future.

gone too far | 4:50 am CST
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Prewitt loved the songs because they gave him something, an understanding, a first hint that pain might not be pointless if you could only turn it into something.

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

pain | 6:22 pm CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books
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Few people in the history of written advice have actually been qualified to give it.  There’s no Ph.D. program or certification course or license for the role.  Which means that nobody is ineligible to give advice, either.  … Take Ann Landers and Dear Abby.  Those columns were written by a pair of twins whose parents named them Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther, which establishes off the bat that good judgment isn’t hereditary.  Initially the twins answered letters together under the Ann Landers name before Pauline went rogue and pitched her own advice column to The San Francisco Chronicle.  … For decades the sisters competed viciously, tracking the number of newspapers syndicating their columns and sniping publicly about one sister’s nose job and the other’s writing abilities.  Isn’t it funny to think that decades of Americans relied for behavioral guidance on a single pair of unsportsmanlike twins with inverse names?

— Molly Young, reviewing Asking For a Friend, Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money and Other Burning Questions From a Nation Obsessed, by Jessica Weisberg

advice | 8:39 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, entertainment, play
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Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Fare thee well, Alan Bean, and thank you. 

It has been, and continues to be, a heartbreak to lose people who have dared to do great things.

With Alan Bean’s passing, there are just four living people who have walked on the moon:

Dave Scott & Jim Irwin, Apollo 15: July 30 to August 2, 1971

Charlie Duke, Apollo 16: April 21-24, 1972

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17: December 11-14, 1972

Alan Bean | 5:03 pm CST
Category: space geekery | Tags: ,
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Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Every Step You Take was released thirty-five years ago today and almost instantly pulled in a shit-ton of money for The Police.  It was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, the UK Singles Chart for four weeks, and the Billboard Top Tracks chart for nine weeks.  It won a Grammy for Song of the Year, and for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.  It was voted Song Of The Year in the 1983 Rolling Stone critics and readers poll.  It was the best-selling single of 1983 in the United States, and the fifth-best-selling single of the decade.

And, in an interview with BBC 2 in 2009, Sting, the song’s writer, characterized it as “… very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite. One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.'” I loved the vibe of the song when I was a kid, probably because I was a creepy little fuck then, and only later came to realize how skeevy it sounds.

Anyway, happy birthday to song about spending way too much time thinking about, watching, following and otherwise unhealthily obsessing on an ex.

… aaannnddd now it’s stuck in my head.  Dammit.

Another Song Bites The Dust | 5:01 pm CST
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Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Outdoor hugging starts today! (reference to the JoCo song First Of May, the clean version, in which he replaces the word “fuck” with the word “hug” and inserts ad-libs to explain lines such as, “taking each other’s pants off – becauseit’shotoutside”.  He said he made the change when his own kids grew old enough to ask embarrassing questions about his songs, and because there are an increasing number of kids on his fan cruise. The first time I heard him sing this version was on the cruise last year, but when I looked for a recording of it on YouTube I discovered he’s been singing this version since 2004!  

outdoor hugging | 7:16 am CST
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Saturday, April 14th, 2018

For years, I’ve wanted to see the science fiction film “Solaris” by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky because I’ve heard so many good things about it and because I love the book it’s based on, a sci-fi classic by Stanislaw Lem. Last night I finally got the chance, thanks to Cinematheque, a program at the University of Wisconsin that screens out-of-the-ordinary films and does it for free. The guys who chose the movies are the same guys who program the Wisconsin Film Festival. And while they were making announcements the last night or two at the WFF, they mentioned that they would be showing Solaris on Friday night. B and I stopped by last night after dinner to catch the show.

I have rarely been so disappointed by such an eagerly-awaited show. Drab and boring, one scene after another drags on for way too long. I was willing to put up with that in the opening scenes when the main character, Kris Kelvin, was wandering around the countryside to take a last look around before blasting off into space, but what was I meant to learn from watching a long, lingering shot of traffic moving through the ramps and tunnels of a sprawling megacity, followed by another long, lingering shot of traffic moving through tunnels and ramps of a sprawling megacity, followed by another long, lingering shot of traffic moving through the tunnels and ramps of a sprawling megacity, followed by another … I could do that a hundred more times and it wouldn’t be as awful as having to sit through it was.

Reviews of this movie are overwhelmingly positive, I think. I’m not entirely sure, because most reviews tend to sound like word salad:  “Tartovsky examines what it means to be human by emphasizing the interconnectedness of humanity, while simultaneously contradicting the same interconnectedness by highlighting the passive ennui and lugubriousness of modern life.”  That’s not a verbatim quote, but it’s not too unlike what I read afterwards, trying to figure out what people like about this movie. Just FYI, I still don’t know. Or rather, I did find a few reviews that weren’t totally incomprehensible, but I didn’t see the amazing and wonderful things they saw.

In plain English, Solaris is not poetry in cinematic form. Overall it is drab.  The writing is not bad but the pace is dreadfully slow. The acting was wooden and failed to get me to feel any sort of empathy for the characters.  I sat through all 166 minutes of it, hated a lot of it, resented the rest of it for wasting my time, and after sleeping on these thoughts I would only add that I never want to see it again.  In short, Tarkovsky’s Solaris is BORING and I’ve never been so relieved to get up from my seat and bolt from the theater. For the cherry on top, My Darling B agrees with me, and she’s never been wrong.  

Solaris (Tartovsky) | 9:07 am CST
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Friday, April 13th, 2018

Yesterday was the closing day of the Wisconsin Film Festival, and the only day we saw not one, not two, but three really good movies. I’ve never rated so many films five or of five. Must be getting soft.

“Celebrating Sacred Twins In Africa” 6-minute documentary that showed some highlights of an annual celebration of twins and their mothers. 3 out of Five

“I Am Not A Witch” Shula is accused of being a witch, so she’s sent to a government-sponsored farm where witches are kept and exploited by a corrupt official. Describing it makes it sound more interesting than the experience of watching it.  One out of Five

“More Worlds Of Tomorrow” was a collection of animated shorts so quirky that My Darling B made a daring escape from the theater in the middle of one of them. “My Burden” featured dancing animals singing about how happy they will be after the burden of the futility of life is lifted from their shoulders. “The Amazing Neckbeard” showed how a cape-wearing nerd can be a hero.  “Obscurer” is a lot like a fever dream I had when I was sick in bed for three days with the flu, complete with creepy dolls, murmuring voices and unreadable graffiti. (This is the on B escaped from.) “The Tesla World Light” is a supposed letter from Tesla begging J.P. Morgan to fund Tesla’s work because he’s in live with a bird. “A Woman Apart” examines the thoughts of a sheriff who is wavering momentarily as he is poised to carry out the hanging of his friend, accused of being a witch. In “165708” a young woman gazes out across lily pads – that’s all I got from this film. “The Servant” wonders whether a frustrated artist is a cockroach and vice-versa. And in “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden Of Other People’s Thoughts” a girl faces her future with the confidence only youth can bring after she’s confronted by her emergency backup clone.

“The Guilty” A 911 operator works against time to save a woman abducted by her ex-husband. Smart, tense movie with an unexpected twist. Five out of Five

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”  I know I’ll be stating the obvious when I say this documentary about how Fred Rogers developed his TV show is one of the most heartwarming films you could ever hope to see, but what else could I say? It’s Fred Rogers! Five out of Five

“Hearts Beat Loud” Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a record shop owner who decides to close his store the summer before his daughter Sam is due to go to college. He and his daughter, played with a lot of life by Kiersey Clemons, not only have a great relationship, they also make good music together. When Frank suggests that Sam take a year off to write music and perform with him, just like he and Sam’s mother used to do, Sam has to yank him back to reality. An unexpected pleasure and a great film to end the fest on. Five out of five

WFF Day 8 | 5:32 am CST
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Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Beautiful weather again this morning: sunny and clear, 42 degrees on the thermometer, same as yesterday morning. And once again I’ll spend the day in a darkened room staring at a flickering screen. How crazy is that?

On the other hand, I’m not going to the office.

Yesterday’s films:

“Amarillo Ramp” was twenty-four minutes of abstract scenes shown while discordant music blared and garbage cans rattled in the background. I watched maybe seven minutes of it, just the opening scenes of faded store signs and desert vegetation trembling in the wind, then closed my eyes and dozed off. One out of Five.

“Rodents of Unusual Size” Nutria are an invasive species of rodent that weigh up to 20 pounds. This documentary film does an excellent job of explaining how they infest and destroy the wetlands of Louisiana, how people have gotten used to the nutria and how they deal with them, from the people who shoot every nutria they see to the people who keep nutria as pets. Apparently they’re pretty good in stew, too, if you can get past the idea that they look like big rats.  Four out of Five

“Western” A drama about the clash between rural eastern European culture and modern western European culture.    Meinhard is a German working on an infrastructure project in Bulgaria. He has no family, no friends, and is trying to work out some trauma he experienced in war.  Despite a language barrier, he strikes up a friendship with Adrian, one of the villagers. Three out of Five.

“Life and Nothing More” Regina is a single mother struggling to raise a three year old and a fourteen year old, Andrew, who’s going through a rocky, rebellious phase. This was a well-made drama that was only improved by the spectacular debut performance of the woman playing the lead role.  Four out of Five.

“Joe Frank – Somewhere Out There” Before I watched this documentary I had never heard of Joe Frank. All I know about his much-loved and celebrated radio shows I learned through this documentary. I would probably be reviled for saying this, but his odd style of ruminations about life, death, time and space reminded me of the quirky observations of Jack Handy, but without the funny punchlines. Three out of Five.

WFF Day 7 | 8:43 am CST
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Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

We saw just three films yesterday, and they were not our favorite films.  That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

I think probably “Hitler’s Hollywood” was made for people who are so hardcore about film they study it the way biologists study rats or fruit flies. As an exhaustive catalogue of films, directors, and actors from the years of the Third Reich, it seemed to be a pretty good film, but the total significance of it was lost on me. Three out of Five.

“First Reformed” Ethan Hawke as a priest suffering a crisis of faith, Amanda Seyfried as the good woman who saves him with a kiss. I mean honestly, does a story get more contrived than that? One out of Five.  

“You Were Never Really Here” Joaquin Phoenix hits lots of people in the head with a hammer while trying to forget something awful that happened to him while he was a kid and also he loves his mother but she’s a little weird and he suffocates himself with plastic bags as a coping mechanism but he’s really good at hitting people in the head with a hammer and there’s lots of loud edgy music and so much blood if you like blood this is your movie and did I mention the fake suicide?  Sorry if I spoiled that but it was just more gratuitous blood and gore and didn’t mean anything, you’ll get over it. One out of Five.

WFF Day 6 | 7:49 am CST
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Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

This morning I learned I’m a man of very poor taste.  Here’s how I know: I accidentally boiled a pot of coffee this morning.  I walked away, I got distracted, and when I remembered and ran back to the kitchen, I found the pot boiling furiously.  “Well, that’ll never be drinkable,” I said to myself, and set it aside to cool while I brewed some more. When I was done brewing the new batch, I wondered to myself, “Self, don’t you wonder what that tastes like?” And I answered, “You know, Self, I kind of do.”  So I poured a bit of it into a cup, slurped it up, swished it around on my tongue, and what do you know, I liked it. Straight, black, boiled coffee. Filled up the cup and enjoyed it. I wonder how the barista at Java Cat would react if I asked her for a cup of black coffee, and added: Would you please boil it for a couple minutes?

poor taste | 8:04 am CST
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We’ve upped our game!  4 movies yesterday, starting with “Saving Brinton,” about Mike Zahs, an Iowa farmer who finds a treasure trove of silent films, magic lantern shows and other bricabrac from the era of silent movies in the basement of an Iowa farmhouse. Zahs tries to get someone to preserve them, but when no one is interested, he moves the whole collection into his house (“my wife was not too interested in having it in our house”) and bits and pieces of it on the road to put on shows across the county.  Finally he gets help from the University of Iowa, and ultimately ends up in Bologna Italy, showing one of his films, thought to be lost forever, to an appreciative crowd. Four out of Five.

“Don’t Forget Me”  An anorexic girl meets a psychotic boy. I’m not quite sure what happened after that. I liked many scenes but felt lost in others, especially in the final scenes. I liked the boy quite a lot, but the girl was churlish and bigoted and there wasn’t much at all to like about her. If she had one good quality, it was that she spoke to him honestly about her eating disorder, telling him he would just have to accept that she would always have it and would probably die from it. In the closing scene of the movie, she is planning their wedding banquet: nothing but food that is white, and lots of ice. He listens passively to her, looking trapped. Good acting, anyway, and beautifully shot. Three out of five.  

“World of Facts” I really liked this one a whole lot but I’m not sure how to explain why, even after sleeping on it.  I was fascinated by the way it used film to tell a story in a way I’ve never seen before. Lots of shots that lingered on faces or minute details that almost, but not quite, went on for too long, and many were very abstract, the kind of camera shots used in “experimental” movies that have annoyed or bored me to the point that I walked out, but in this movie they were compelling.  Dialogue was sparse – no, concise would be a better word. And there was a bar scene that every man in America should watch if they want to learn why women think men are creepy jerks. Five out of Five.

“American Animals” was a caper movie with an interesting twist: It really happened.  Not exactly a documentary, although all four of the college students who were involved in the caper were interviewed. Their motivation: they did it just for the thrill of it, which would have been typical for teenagers if they had TP’d a house, but in this case they stole rare books worth millions of dollars, with the ultimate goal of selling them to a buyer in Amsterdam.  Spoiler alert: they get caught because, duh, they’re kids. The heist is reenacted in a devastatingly comic manner that I couldn’t help liking even while I knew they were doing Bad Things . Five out of Five.

WFF Day 5 | 7:46 am CST
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Monday, April 9th, 2018

Take Richard Pryor near the peak of his career, put him in a caper movie with Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto, and what have you got? Well, in the case of “Blue Collar” you have probably the most tragic waste of time and talent of 1978. This movie is a manic-depressive roller-coaster that rolls from the whacky comic antics of three zany buddies to the gritty portrayal of union corruption on a factory assembly line, and like a roller coaster it never really gets anywhere. And I really DID NOT need to see Harvey Keitel in tighty-whities. One out of Five.

“Wisconsin’s Own By The Dozen” was a mixed bag of twelve short films by Wisconsin directors. You never know what you’re going to see at one of these, but there’s usually at least one film that makes attending worthwhile. In this case, I thought it was “She’s Marrying Steve,” about a woman going to the wedding of her ex. Although it was maybe just a little too quippy in one or two places, overall it was well-done and the ending was heartwarming. Among the other films, “A Voicemail” was as emotionally honest a rendering of a phone message left to say “I miss you” as you could ever hope to see. “Experiencing OCD” is a simple and declarative depiction of how one woman experiences her affliction. I’d give each of these Four out of Five. “Marieke,” a straightforward look at a Wisconsin cheesemaker, and “Outrun The Night,” an animated short that illustrated the scariness of nightfall, Three out of Five.

“Three Identical Strangers” This was a documentary so extraordinarily convoluted, you literally wouldn’t get away with making it up if you were writing fiction. Triplets separated at birth are reunited nineteen years later when one of them shows up for his first day of school at the same small technical college his brother attended the year before. A buddy puts them in touch with one another, their story makes the local paper, then a national paper picks it up, and the third brother sees the story. But that’s not the most outrageous part. Their happy reunion takes a dark turn when they learn more about the reasons the adoption agency that placed them separated them at birth in the first place. Five out of Five.

We had planned to see “Vanishing Point” as the final film of the day, but we were still suffering a 70s movie hangover headache from “Blue Collar” that was so bad we just didn’t feel we could take a chance on another one, so after “Three Identical Strangers” we hit the road, stopping at Salvatore’s pizzeria for a pie and some beer.

WFF Day 4 | 7:58 am CST
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Sunday, April 8th, 2018

We watched only four films yesterday.  It’s like we’ve already given up trying to squish as many film as we can into each day.   What kind of losers are we, eh?

The amazing Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the subject of our first documentary film of the day, “RBG.”  My Darling B had probably the most concise review: “They didn’t hit one wrong note in that whole movie.” And B had probably the most endearing reaction: she cried tears of joy through almost all of it, so heartwarming and inspiring was the story.  For myself, I can’t wait until we can buy it on DVD to watch it again. B doesn’t want to wait that long; she wants to watch it when the film fest shows it again on Wednesday. Five out of five.

“The Blood Is On The Doorstep”  In 2014, Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney shot Dontre Hamilton to death in front of more than a hundred witnesses.  Manney was apparently walking a beat when he found Hamilton sleeping on the pavement in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee. Two pairs of officers had already spoken to Hamilton that morning; the second pair to be called to the scene asked the woman who called them to stop because Hamilton wasn’t doing anything wrong.  When Manney found Hamilton he asked him to get up off the ground and began to frisk him. Hamilton turned, Manney grappled him, and when the officer raised his billy club, Hamilton grabbed it and twisted it from the officer’s hand. Manney later said Hamilton struck him in the head. In his frantic radio call for help after the shooting, Manney said he didn’t know whether or not he’d been hit, and asked an officer at the scene if his brains were coming out of his head.  In photos taken of him immediately after the shooting, there were no signs of injury to Manney, other than a scratch on his thumb. Manny shot Hamilton 14 times. Four out of Five.

“Dinner With A Murderer” was everything a humorous short should be: tightly-written, well-acted, and beautifully filmed.  Four out of Five.

“Ironwood” was a comedy buddy movie sort of like “Harold and Kumar go to Whitecastle,” in which a mismatched pair of college buddies go to interview for the same job and try to outdo one another while they simultaneously try to sabotage each other’s chances.  Hilarity should have ensued, but the humorous vibe of the movie never connected with me, which felt odd because virtually everyone else in the movie theater, including My Darling B, thought it was lots of laughs. Two out of Five.

“Brewmaster” was about people who love beer: love to drink it, love to talk about it, love to brew it, and love to use their enthusiasm to encourage other people to enjoy beer.  Four out of five, and not just because I’m a beer-lover.

WFF Day 3 | 7:56 am CST
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Saturday, April 7th, 2018

“12 Days” was a somber, repetitive, and apparently pointless film that gets its title from the period of time a person can be held against their will in a psychiatric ward before they must be allowed a hearing before a judge to determine if they were rightfully interred. The film opened on a scene of a slow walk down the corridor of a psych ward that went on way too long.  I mean, we were watching a full three, four minutes of an empty hallway. Maybe to establish the mood? Then they showed the first interview with no explanation and no follow-up, and then several more minutes of the slow walk down the corridor. Then the next hearing, and more hallway. Several of the people clearly needed help, such as the guy who heard voices, but the woman who wanted to die was very reasonable and the soccer star appeared to be tranquilized to the point that he was barely conscious; how is that a fair hearing?  A little more expository material would have been helpful. Although to be fair, the last fifteen or twenty minutes may have been devoted to a detailed reveal of the point of the film, but I walked out to get some fresh air. The film is over when I’ve had enough. Two out of Five.

“Under The Tree” was billed as a very dark comedy and it was SOOO DARK and a little comic so I suppose they weren’t being wilfully misleading, but I had to stretch my imagination to see the comic stuff.  I mean, I chuckled a couple of times in a “what the hell?” kind of way, but there were scenes other people in the audience were laughing at that I felt like crying over. This much tragedy is normally found only in Russian films.  A very short synopsis (spoiler warning): Two houses, alike in dignity, in fair Reykjavik where our story is set. In the one house, a recent death in the family that the matriarch is drinking her way through while the patriarch watches helplessly.  In the other, divorce and remarriage. The wine-swilling matriarch of the first house resents the new bride, apparently for no reason other than she resents everybody’s happiness, and from that resentment a series of unfortunate escalations grows until everybody lies dead in pools of their own blood.  As I said, very, VERY dark. Four out of Five.

“Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle”  Woman gets everything she ever wanted, loses everything but the kids in the economic crisis, spends the rest of her days sleeping in the library of one kid’s house among hundred of shoeboxes filled with the bricabrac of her life, pining for death and an end to her suffering.  One of her kids makes a film about how great her life was. It was billed as a film about a “mischievous” “hilarious” woman, and maybe she was, but what I got from this film was that she was a packrat with kids who put up with way too much of her nonsense. I’d let my mother in my library if that’s what it came to, but all those shoeboxes would’ve ended up piled in the yard, doused with gasoline and turned into the biggest pyre ever. Two our of five.

“Cold November” Good acting, bad cinematography, and a weak story about a life lost and coming of age.  The film focuses on Florence’s coming of age, a story told entirely in the context of her first deer hunt, which is as central to the lives of families in the Midwest as high school football is to people in Texas.  There’s another story about how her family is dealing with the death of Florence’s cousin, Sweeny, but it’s so disjointed that I never did work out how they were related until after the film when I could talk about it with others.  Way too many of the film’s scenes were shot in hand-held shakey-cam. Bring your Dramamine. Two out of Five.

“A Woman Captured” A fascinating documentary about Marish, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship by Eta, a woman who forces Marish to work day and night in her house through the simple expediency of belittling her, beating her, and making sure Marish has no money and nowhere to go.  It’s not institutional slavery, but it’s something like it. The filmmaker spent a year and a half documenting Marish’s miserable life with Eta, but also Marish’s escape and her very happy reunion with her daughter. Five out of Five.

WFF Day Two | 9:55 am CST
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