Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Here’s a weird confession, and it’s weird not because it’s going to shock anybody or change the history of the world; it’s weird because it’s hardly a confession at all. I really like the songs of KC and the Sunshine Band. I don’t like them so much that I ever bought any of their records, not even so much as a single, but I turn up the volume and sing along whenever one of their songs is played on the radio. I even do the disco-dance finger-pointing thing. It’s muscle memory at this point. Why fight it?

I’ve always known these were kinda cheesy songs, but you know what? They’re easy to dance to, even for a guy with two left feet like me, and girls loved to dance to them, so I got out there on the dance floor and danced my brains out. And now, forty years later (geeze Louise!), I can still get My Darling B to do a fun little disco-like jig in the kitchen when I’m Your Boogie Man comes up in my playlist, and my friends and I do a sing-along when Shake Your Booty comes on the car radio. After all this time, KC still inspires us to have fun. How great is that?

Random bit o’ trivia: When the song Get Down Tonight was popular (1975), the cheerleaders at our high school wanted to sing it at a rally before a game but were forbidden from uttering the line “make a little love.” The line was apparently considered way too scandalous as written, so they left out the word “love” to satisfy whoever was doing the forbidding, which to my mind was way more suggestive.

sunshine | 9:37 am CDT
Category: entertainment, music, play, story time
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We got rain today. I woke to the sound of great big sheets of rain drumming down on the roof of the house early this morning, and although the clouds are done dumping heavy rain on us, there’s still a steady fall of light rain this morning, so my plans to take my kayak out for a paddle around the lake are sunk, so to speak. I mean, I could still go. I’ve got foul-weather gear I could wear, and I could stop every so often to bail water from the bottom of the boat, but that’s not really the kind of experience I’m looking for when I go paddling, you know? I like to have the sun and clear skies above me and a gentle swell below, and I don’t necessarily shy away from a headwind but I’d rather not have to exert myself too much. One of the truly beautiful things I’ve discovered about paddling is there really isn’t any need for me to over-exert myself. The natural buoyancy of the boat does almost all the work; I just show up for the ride, and provide an occasional push. I’m not exaggerating here; I admit I oftentimes do that but honestly, if you knew how little upper-body strength I have, you’d believe me when I say paddling is not a pastime that requires great big guns of steel. I do not have those. My guns fire Minie balls. *rimshot* Sorry, gun nerd joke. Had to be done.

sunken plans | 9:04 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, hobby, kayaking, play, weather
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Saturday, October 21st, 2017

I’m going to ruin another pop song, buckle up!

The song is Aimie by Pure Prairie League, and before I get started I want to say that I’ve always loved this song, and I mean always, from the very first time I can remember hearing it. I sang along every time it came on the radio, I eagerly awaited the next time I would hear it on the radio, I turned up the volume on the radio every time I heard it, and I’m pretty sure I’ve bought copies in every format since vinyl records.

And I’m probably going to ruin it for you now. I don’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself, but I can’t help but think about the meaning behind the words every time I sing it, and I get more uncomfortable with the meaning every time I sing along. My discomfort starts with the very first two lines:

I can see why you think you belong to me
I never tried to make you think or let you see one thing for yourself

The only thing I can make of this is that he (I’m assuming it’s a he because I’m assuming Aimie is a she; I could be wrong, but let’s go with that for now) is a controlling asshole. I mean, there’s not a whole lot to go on here, but there sort of is. He never let her see a single thing for herself? That’s cretinous behavior.

The idea of women as possessions has always made me uncomfortable, too. I mean, I get it that “you belong to me” is sort of like saying “we belong together,” but it’s not, it’s absolutely not at all the same. “We belong together” is a sweet sentiment; “you belong to me” turns a sweet sentiment into a statement that sounds like I hold title to your body and soul. It’s kind of creepy. And I think that’s the meaning of the first line of the song. Why else would Aimie leave him? Oops, spoilers.

But now you’re off with someone else and I’m alone
You see, I thought that I might keep you for my own

The classic “BUT” of pop songs — she was in his life, he didn’t treat her right, she’s seeing someone else and now he’s feeling regret. Is it regret that he treated her wrong, or regret that she’s not with him any longer?

And there’s that creepy idea again of making her into one of his possessions. Not something like, “we could be so good together,” but “I might keep you for my own.” Squick.

Aimie, what you wanna do?
I think I could stay with you
For a while, maybe longer

I love singing along with the chorus of this song, but it’s not exactly the most rock-solid of commitments, is it? “I could stay with you — could happen, maybe, or maybe not. For a while, anyway. Maybe longer than a while. But I’m a guy, and we don’t like to hang around. That’s just how guys are.” I’m digging a lot more out of those lines than maybe the songwriter intended, but it was a common theme in pop songs of the 70s that guys don’t stick around much, so I don’t think I’m reaching here.

Don’t you think the time is right for us to find
All the things we thought weren’t proper could be right in time
And can you see which way we should turn, together or alone
I can never see what’s right and what is wrong

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here. I’m not even sure he knows what he’s trying to say. He wants to get back together with Aimie; that’s in there for sure. I’m a little bummed that he’s using the “I can never see what’s right and what is wrong” excuse to dodge responsibility for treating her badly. I’m alarmed he’s proposing that she might come to think the way he treated her before they broke up will be “proper,” given a little time. If it was wrong then, why wouldn’t it be wrong a year from now? There’s at least one good reason Aimee broke up with him, is what I’m saying. Probably more than one.

Also, just to be way too nitpicky (and I might as well, since I’m ruining the song already), none of those lines end in words that rhyme.

Now it’s come to what you want, you’ve had your way
And all the things you thought before just faded into gray
And can you see that I don’t know if it’s you or of it’s me
If it’s one of us, I’m sure we both will see

“So you’ve had your little fling; doesn’t that make everything that passed between us all right now?” Um. No? I love this song, but I hate this verse. Maybe it was just a fling, but I feel it’s really quite presumptuous of him to assume that’s all it was. Maybe she’s off with someone else better than him, and she knows it.

I keep fallin’ in and out of love with you,
Fallin’ in and out of love with you
Don’t know what I’m gonna do …

Again, the level of commitment here would not inspire a whole lot of confidence in me, if I were to put myself in Aimie’s shoes.

I haven’t enjoyed ruining this song. I still love singing it — I was singing it in the shower just this morning, but I’m never going to be able to stop thinking the guy in the song was a jerk to Aimie and that she’d be a fool to get together with him again. Stay true to yourself, Aimie!

another song bites the dust | 11:21 am CDT
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, music | Tags:
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Monday, October 16th, 2017

[This is one of my favorite passages from Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi. In it, Twain describes one of the earliest days of his training to become a riverboat pilot at the hands of Horace Bixby, a crack pilot and Twain’s teacher:]

Now and then Mr. Bixby called my attention to certain things. Said he, ‘This is Six-Mile Point.’ I assented. It was pleasant enough information, but I could not see the bearing of it. I was not conscious that it was a matter of any interest to me. Another time he said, ‘This is Nine-Mile Point.’ Later he said, ‘This is Twelve-Mile Point.’ They were all about level with the water’s edge; they all looked about alike to me; they were monotonously unpicturesque. I hoped Mr. Bixby would change the subject. But no; he would crowd up around a point, hugging the shore with affection, and then say: ‘The slack water ends here, abreast this bunch of China-trees; now we cross over.’ So he crossed over. He gave me the wheel once or twice, but I had no luck. I either came near chipping off the edge of a sugar plantation, or I yawed too far from shore, and so dropped back into disgrace again and got abused.

Presently he turned on me and said: ‘What’s the name of the first point above New Orleans?’

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.

‘Don’t know?

This manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a moment. But I had to say just what I had said before.

‘Well, you’re a smart one,’ said Mr. Bixby. ‘What’s the name of the next point?’

Once more I didn’t know.

‘Well, this beats anything. Tell me the name of any point or place I told you.’

I studied a while and decided that I couldn’t.

‘Look here! What do you start out from, above Twelve-Mile Point, to cross over?’

‘I — I — don’t know.’

‘You — you — don’t know?’ mimicking my drawling manner of speech. ‘What do you know?’

‘I — I — nothing, for certain.’

‘By the great Caesar’s ghost, I believe you! You’re the stupidest dunderhead I ever saw or ever heard of, so help me Moses! The idea of you being a pilot — you! Why, you don’t know enough to pilot a cow down a lane.’

Oh, but his wrath was up! He was a nervous man, and he shuffled from one side of his wheel to the other as if the floor was hot. He would boil a while to himself, and then overflow and scald me again.

‘Look here! What do you suppose I told you the names of those points for?’

I tremblingly considered a moment, and then the devil of temptation provoked me to say: ‘Well—to—to—be entertaining, I thought.’

This was a red rag to the bull. He raged and stormed so (he was crossing the river at the time) that I judge it made him blind, because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-scow. Of course the traders sent up a volley of red-hot profanity. Never was a man so grateful as Mr. Bixby was: because he was brim full, and here were subjects who would talk back. He threw open a window, thrust his head out, and such an irruption followed as I never had heard before. The fainter and farther away the scowmen’s curses drifted, the higher Mr. Bixby lifted his voice and the weightier his adjectives grew. When he closed the window he was empty. You could have drawn a seine through his system and not caught curses enough to disturb your mother with.

cub pilot | 5:00 am CDT
Category: books, entertainment, play
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Monday, August 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirror Lake | 12:01 am CDT
Category: kayaking
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Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still hate that song, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in the dark | 10:01 am CDT
Category: entertainment, festivals, movies, play, Wisc Film Fest
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Sunday, March 5th, 2017

If memory serves, I bought my first copy of The Caine Mutiny at a used book store in Lincoln, England, in 1999 or 2000. It was a pretty beat-up, water-damaged Penguin paperback edition and I read it as though I was possessed by it, all in one week. (400 pages in a week is pretty good for me.) Full disclosure: I didn’t read every word. The first time I read it I was put off by the love story, so I skipped over all that and only read the parts that had to do with MEN AT WAR, because that’s the kind of guy I was then. I’ve since read the novel from cover to cover many times and so far I appreciate it more every time (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t keep picking it up to re-read it).

Just in case you’re confused: The novel does, in fact, pivot around a mutiny aboard a naval vessel during the war in the Pacific, but the story is about the main character of the novel, who is not Humphrey Bogart, in spite of the movie you might have seen. (I kind of wish I’d never seen that movie. I still hear Bogart’s voice when I read the novel, and although Bogart did a fine job of playing Queeg, it’s the wrong voice for Queeg. John Fiedler’s voice would have been perfect; he may have been a better casting choice, too. But I digress.)

The book opens and closes on Willie Keith, who enters the story as a spoiled mama’s boy with little sense of direction but ends up as a confident, strong-willed young man who’s going places. The story is not told from Keith’s point of view, but he is present in almost every scene; events turn around him and their importance is impressed on him, building his character piece by piece. That I ever thought his story was boring enough to skip over should show you what I lack in the way of appreciation for good writing.

The Caine Mutiny is also amazing for being semi-autobiographical. Author Herman Wouk served as an officer aboard two destroyer minesweepers (one of them named the Zane) during the Pacific war. One of Wouk’s duties was as the ship’s communications officer, same as Keith and Thomas Keefer. Keefer was also an aspiring author who spent much of his off-time (and a bit more besides) writing a novel. It’s impossible to read the novel without imaging that many, if not most of the episodes in it are anecdotes from Wouk’s experience aboard ship during the war.

I still have that first Penguin paperback; it’s parked in a place of honor on the top shelf of my bedside bookcase and I’ve read it cover-to-cover at least three times, but still take it out now and again to read my favorite passages at bedtime when I’m not sure what to read. (The speech by Barney Greenwald at the end is one of the best.) I’ve since bought at least two hardbacked copies. I found the first one at a resale shop in Madison and read it several times before giving it away to a coworker who seemed interested in it, but I’m pretty sure he never read it. I went looking for the second copy at Powell’s bookstore while on vacation in Portland OR and found a first edition in its original dust jacket (squee!). This is the second or third time I’ve read it. I’ve read a couple other Herman Wouk novels (Winds Of War and War And Remembrance spring to mind), but haven’t enjoyed any of them more than The Caine Mutiny.

The Caine Mutiny | 12:58 pm CDT
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Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

I picked up a copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre the last time I was at the resale store. I’ve wanted to read it since I watched the recently-made movie with Gary Oldman, and I have to say I could follow the plot of the movie a lot more easily than the book, which is not surprising. A movies about two hours long, while the book is something like four hundred pages and took me a week and a half to read. I couldn’t have lost the thread of the movie if I’d tried, but there was so much going on in the book that I kept turning back the pages to figure out who the characters were talking about. So I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. And I’ve never read spy fiction before; I thought it would take to it easily, but that wasn’t the case. Maybe it’s an acquired taste.

spy world | 9:25 pm CDT
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Monday, February 27th, 2017

I ate a whole package of Oreos once, just to see if I could. Which was silly. Of course I could. Anybody could. The question is, should you? And the answer is, not unless you like feeling sick as a dog for the rest of the day.

I don’t, but it’s not like that’s the only time I’ve done something like that, sad to say. Do you remember those malted milk balls that came in a quart-sized milk carton? I don’t remember how much that thing weight, but I ate a whole carton of those once. I think that was before the Oreos incident. I ate the Oreos when I was on my first tour of duty in the Air Force. The malted milk balls were much earlier, probably when I was still in high school. I ate a lot of junk in high school. Everybody did, right?

And once I drank a six-pack of Mountain Dew in one afternoon, again just for the experience. I lived in a very small town. There wasn’t a lot to do. I remember finishing that first can and thinking, “Hey, I could go for another one.” And when I finished the second can I thought, “I could have one more.” After the third can, I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, other than maybe, “I feel stupid enough to drink the rest.” I can tell you that the buzz I got from drinking six cans of Mountain Dew is not something I ever want to experience again.

The stomach ache, though, apparently was something I wanted to experience over and over, because the malted milk balls and the Oreos came after. I haven’t repeated either of those experiences, but I was thinking about this today because I recently discovered that a nearby grocery store sells dark chocolate malted milk balls in the bulk aisle, and they are sooo good! I have to be careful to buy only a small handful at a time, because once I start eating them, I don’t stop until my stomach hurts, which is probably not the most healthy thing for me, or anybody else, for that matter.

insanity | 7:21 pm CDT
Category: food & drink, random idiocy, story time
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Sunday, February 26th, 2017

My Darling B and I went on a cruise about this time last year that went to the Bahamas from Florida. We had such a great time; it was the perfect time of year to get out of the frozen north for a week and relax in the sun on a cruise ship with a fruity drink. We’re really missing that now, partly because it’s been a year since we’ve had time off from work and the office has been a little crazy lately, but mostly because it’s a themed cruise that takes place every year, and they’re all headed off to San Diego right now. We know this because we joined their Facebook group last year, and we’re seeing all their posts as they get packed up, meet their planes and fly off to meet at the port. I think I have a pretty good idea now how the cats feel when I dangle a treat over their heads.

Coincidentally, that same themed cruise started taking reservations yesterday for next year’s cruise. My Darling B saw the announcement on Facebook at about the same time and sent it to me with the message, “We’ve got to talk about this tonight.”

I immediately went to talk to her about it.

“What’s there to talk about,” I asked, “besides how much we put in the piggy bank every month?” After a few quick calculations based on the amount of money we spent last year, we decided we could save enough to pay for the cruise, airfare and whatnot if we started saving up right now.

That’s if we could get a reservation. The cruise has become hugely popular. What started out as a couple hundred people turned into a group so large that this year they took over an entire cruise ship, the MV Westerdam, with room enough for 1,900 people to cruise in style. Next year they’re going to book the MV Oosterdam, a sister ship to the Westerdam, so I can only assume the cruise is as popular as ever.

Lucky for us, we’re on their mailing list, so we got invited as soon as their website was up and ready to accept reservations. I just happened to be sitting at my laptop, searching the website for any crumbs of information about next year’s cruise, when I got the email, which even came with a helpful link to the reservation page. Even so, the least expensive rooms were all gone when I got there. We got a reservation for a next-to-cheapest room, so come this time next year we’ll be off to San Diego!

booked | 7:47 am CDT
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Thursday, February 9th, 2017

I thought I would spend my lunch break today reading the latest book of fantasy and speculative fiction from Kameron Hurley, The Stars Are Legion. I ordered it last week, or thought I did, and when it didn’t show up on my doorstep and I didn’t get an email from Amazon about it, I checked the website last night and discovered I forgot to hit the “buy” button. D’OH! So I fixed that, but then I had to wait DAYS to get the book, which didn’t satisfy my desire to read it RIGHT NOW.

But wait … what’s this? A note at the bottom of my receipt that reads, “Would you like to read this book now?” I clicked on the “Hell, yes!” button and it was downloaded to my Kindle. Oh Happy Day! I read the first chapter right then, even though it was way past my bedtime.

Took the Kindle to work with me this morning. Flipped it open as I sat down with my microwaved leftovers. Tapped on the icon, turned the page, and … blank screen. Turned out that I’d been reading a “sample” of only the first chapter. No more.

Not that I’m complaining. I’m glad that I got to read as much as I did, but it was a GIANT BUMMER after looking forward all morning to reading another chapter or two. And now I gotta wait until tomorrow for the hardcover to arrive on my doorstep. *sigh* Well, if I gotta, then I spoze I gotta.

bummer | 9:59 pm CDT
Category: books, entertainment, play
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Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Did I tell you about the juicy cobra? No? I didn’t? I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE JUICY COBRA!

It’s a yoga pose, sort of. Try to contain your disappointment. The pose we were doing was really a baby cobra, and that’s what the instructor called it the first couple times we did it, but after we were warmed up and started working the flow a little faster, she said something like, “Plant your hands, step back into plank, lower all the way to the ground and then get that big juicy cobra.”

I almost choked on my tongue.

After that, she wouldn’t stop saying it. “Big, juicy cobra,” over and over again. Nobody else seemed to think this was unusual, so after class when it was just B and I in the car, I said to her, “Big Juicy Cobra is my porn name.”

“I knew you were thinking that!” she said. “I half-expected you to say something like that in class!”

So I wasn’t the only one thinking it.

juicy cobra | 9:38 pm CDT
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Monday, January 16th, 2017

Fair winds and following seas, Eugene Cernan.

Gene Cernan | 6:16 pm CDT
Category: space geekery | Tags: ,
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Sticking with our Friday the 13th tradition, we went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Last Friday we picked A Pig In A Fur Coat. (It’s apparently named for a dish from Kazakhstan, in case you’re wondering.) We’ve been there once before and liked it a lot. It’s got the kind of frou-frou foods that appeal to us: small plates of food so we can order a whole bunch of different things and share them. Last night we nibbled our way through a plate of olives with our cocktails, then ordered a charcuterie platter of three thinly-shaved meats, two cheeses (one hard, one soft), a dollop of foie gras, another dollop of mustard, and some jam, all with four slices of toasted baguette slices (I thought they could’ve added at least two more slices). After that, we split a raviolo, which is the singular of ravioli, which blew my mind because it never occurred to me before that there’s a singular form, but of course there is. Why just one? It was a big raviolo, about the size of a tea saucer. We sliced it in half and shared. And we finished off with a serving of duck-fat french fries, which we didn’t have enough room left in ourselves to finish eating even though they were astonishingly yummy.

pig in a fur coat | 10:23 am CDT
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Sunday, January 8th, 2017

B and I saw the musical La-La Land two weeks ago in Sun Prairie and she’s still singing songs from it. She’s already bought the soundtrack so we can play it over and over at home, and I think she wants to see it again, too. I’d gladly go see it again if she asked me. And I know we’ll buy a copy of it when it’s released on DVD. That means it’s probably pretty good, right?

The film is about the relationship between an aspiring actor, played by Emma Stone, and a musician who wants to open his own jazz club, played by Ryan Gosling. They meet while they’re pursuing their dreams in Hollywood and, because this is a musical, they frequently break out in song to explain what they’re doing and why.

I love musicals, but it took a while for me to warm up to this one, and I’ll quickly add that I believe the reason was mostly technical. The opening number, Another Day of Sun, is a fabulous overture performed by dozens of people on an on-ramp of a Los Angeles freeway. The camera slowly pans over backed-up traffic and stops at a car where a woman sings the opening lines, which I could barely hear. Her voice, and the voice of every other singer in that number, was drowned like a sack of kittens by the music. There are few things that infuriate me more than somebody trying to drown a sack of kittens, and infuriated is not a good emotion to start a musical with.

The next number, Someone In the Crowd, suffered from the same problem, as did many of the other numbers, so my infuriation with this technical problem never entirely went away. I’ve since heard the soundtrack (as noted above, B replays it obsessively on Spotify, trying to learn the words) and I have no trouble at all hearing what the singers are saying, which leads me to believe that the theater’s sound system was somehow fucking it up.

So I was not really digging this movie until the scene where Stone and Gosling are walking along a road overlooking LA looking for her car and Gosling tells Stone that he’s not attracted to her. Stone returns fire, telling Gosling she’s not only not attracted to him, she’s double-anti-attracted to him, so there. All sung in verse, naturally.

I’m such a sucker for scenes like this. Boy meets girl, boy tells girl they’re not made for each other, audience can clearly see that boy and girl have a chemistry that will inevitably draw them together but, first they have to dance around it. And dance they do. In wing tip shoes, no less. Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds flirted circles around each other just like this in Singing In The Rain.

After that scene, the movie had me. I even got all weepy-eyed for the ending. I’m a sap for romance, even if it doesn’t end the way I want it to (sometimes especially if it doesn’t end the way I want it to), so I couldn’t help myself. And there must be a lot of other people out there like me, because there was hardly a seat left at the screening we went to, and we had to check around at several theaters to get tickets for that. Glad we did. It was well worth the trip.

La-La Land | 9:49 am CDT
Category: entertainment, movies, play
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Saturday, January 7th, 2017

The yoga studio where we had a membership for more than a year closed a month or two ago, so now we’re trying out a new place. Nice place, lots of different classes, like the owner. We keep going back.

One very different thing about this studio than any other studio we’ve been to is that it has floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one wall, like a dance studio. In most of the classes we’ve been to, the mirrors were curtained off, which I thought was a good idea, because I don’t want to be staring into my own butt while I’m bent over in downward dog.

But in the class we went to this morning, the instructor asked us to line up along the blank wall so we could see ourselves in the mirror. “It’ll be good,” she said. “You’ll be able to check your alignment.”

I’ve been practicing yoga for almost three years now, long enough that I could dare to say I felt pretty good about the way I was aligning most of my poses, but after watching myself in the mirror today, I can say with confidence that I look like a bumpkin from Hicksville doing yoga for the first time. And I know it was probably a good thing for me to see what I was doing wrong so I could realign my poses, but deep down in the atomic bomb shelter of my soul I hope we don’t face those mirrors again any time soon.

reflection | 4:48 pm CDT
Category: yoga
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Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Netflix viewers of the movie Spectral gave it four and a half stars. I am now a Netflix viewer of the movie Spectral, and I say that’s at least four stars too many.

The setup seemed promising: wraithlike beings haunt a war-torn European city, killing heavily-armed and armored soldiers by merely running through them. Invisible to the naked eye, the soldiers are given the ability to see them through an advanced imaging system they wear attached to their helmets. Their weapons, however, are entirely ineffective against this deadly menace.

Enter Mark Clyne, one of the megaminds developing superweapons for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency; the only real government agency that sounds like something out of a comic book). Clyne invented the goggles that allow the soldiers to see the ghosts that are killing them. Now he joins a Delta force team to figure out what the ghosts are.

Here’s where the movie lost me: In a matter of a few hours, Clyne re-engineers a camera he brought with him, “reversing the polarity” so it projects a beam that makes the wraiths visible to the naked eye, even when he’s not pointing it at them. As long as the projector’s on, it seems to light up every wraith within eyeshot. Makes perfect sense.

The wraiths shamble like old-school zombies through the streets until a platoon of heavily-armed soldiers show up. Then they go turbo zombie and mow through every single soldier in a blur until, of course, only Clyne and his plucky group of Delta force commandos are left; then the wraiths hang back, moaning spookily, or jumping around like a pride of crazed chimpanzees, but not advancing until the soldiers make a break for it. And then the wraiths run just fast enough to appear to be fearsome, but not fast enough to actually catch anybody.

After the Delta force are evacuated to a mountaintop castle where they can crash headfirst into despair and squabble amongst themselves (“We can’t fight them! We don’t even know what they are!”), Clyne not only figures out what the wraiths are using no more evidence than the mighty thoughts in his mighty brain, he then goes full-blown Tony Stark and, overnight, finds enough electronic gadgetry stockpiled in the castle to cobble together a plasma cannon and hand-held plasma rifles for each and every soldier.

And then they go kill all the zombie-wraiths with untested weapons because of course Clyne was not only exactly right about the wraiths, he also flawlessly assembled every one of the plasma cannons in one sleepless night.

Well. *shrugs* OH-kay!

Spectral is on Netflix. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spectral | 12:01 am CDT
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Thursday, December 29th, 2016

In order to burn off every last hour of vacation I would have lost at the end of the year, I had to go to work three hours late this morning. It seems petty on the face of it, but I would rather chew on aluminum foil than give up unused vacation hours, so I went in three hours late.

The trick then was to come up with something I could do to occupy my time for three hours in the early hours of the day when almost no place is open outside the office building where I work. The first thing that occurred to me was, go to someplace that’s always open.

After dropping off My Darling B at the front door of the Hill Farms office building, I drove back the way we’d come, turned off the main road into the entrance to the arboretum, and had a walk around the grounds for thirty or forty minutes. At first, I just walked up the road. My goal was to go to the top of a hill to watch the sunrise, but when I got there I could see I was going to be waiting a while. It was too cold to just stand around and wait, so I stepped off the road onto a trailhead to wander around in the trees and bushes for a while. Turns out there are a lot of turkeys living on the grounds of the arboretum. Big ones. They roam the grounds in groups of three or four, and they’re big enough that they made me wonder if I should be worried about spooking them. No, it turned out. It’s a cliche, but they really were more scared of me than I was of them. They gave me the side-eye and slowly moved off to one side or another whenever I approached, never letting me get any closer than twenty yards, which was just fine with me.

I returned to the car just as the sun came up, throwing the trees into a bright golden light, a gorgeous sight I naturally tried to capture by taking a photo. Failed utterly. And I knew I was going to fail even as I took my camera out of my pocket. I’ve tried dozens of times to capture the beauty of a sunrise with a photo, often enough to get the feeling it can’t be done, but I did it anyway. Maybe I’ll get lucky one day.

After the arboretum I went to a locally-owned coffee shop, savored a danish covered in shaved almonds and nursed a cup of coffee for a little over an hour while I read about the latest garbage fires on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, most of them had something to do with Trump. I say “unsurprisingly” because there is no one who can set Twitter on fire like Trump can. My Twitter feed used to be mostly tweets from the people who use robots to explore Mars, Pluto and Saturn, or from my favorite comedians (if you’re not familiar with Hari Kondabolu, you really ought to do something about that right now), or from kittens and puppies. I get a real kick out of the idea that kittens and puppies can have their own Twitter feeds.

But lately, and again this does not seem surprising to me, all those people have been increasingly voicing their concerns about Trump, even the person who was tweeting sarcastically as the Mars Rover, and generally speaking, the kind of people who explore other planets are smart people. So are comedians (at least the funny ones are; how the unsmart, unfunny ones stay in business is a mystery to me). I’ve followed their arguments and I’ve read up on the ones that really worried me, and I’m going to have to stop doing that because it makes me want to emigrate to the Moon. If only there were a moon base.

The kittens and puppies that I follow have not yet weighed in on Trump. I figure it’s only a matter of time.

I felt that I may have hung out in the coffee shop probably a little longer than decorum would have normally allowed, although there was one guy with a laptop who was taking up a table for four with all the work he had spread out, and he wasn’t even drinking coffee, so maybe I’m still okay. The coffee shop I went to is right next door to a public library, so I ducked in there for the rest of the time I had left, batted out this drivel, and then wandered the stacks for a while, just to be with the books. You really can’t go wrong by just being with the books.

three hours | 9:51 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Weirdest thing that happened to me last weekend: I heard Barry Manilow on the radio. That never happens. Never. I listen to two stations that brag they play the best of the 70s, but they must be using a definition of “the best” that I’m not aware of. Either that, or the people who program their music didn’t do a minute’s research on what was considered the best of the 70s. I’m assuming they didn’t grow up in the 70s either, because if they had done either of those two things, then they would know they’d have to play Barry Manilow every single flippin day. And I know this because I was a teenager in the 70s who listened to a lot of pop music, as teenagers do, and I can tell you I heard Barry Manilow every single flippin day.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Barry Manilow fan. I never bought any of his albums or singles. But neither do I dislike his music. It was fun to listen to, it was easy for me to learn the words to the chorus so I could sing along, and I could even dance to it as much as I could dance to any music (which is to say, not so much dance as rhythmically twitch and jerk, usually in time to the music). I could listen to it again, while on the other hand I’ve had my fill of Peaceful Easy Feeling, or We Are The Champions. I think I’d be all right if I never heard either of those songs ever again. I guess I’d be all right with never hearing Mandy again, but I would get up out of my overstuffed chair and do the mambo if I ever heard Copacabana again. And I wouldn’t care who was watching.

Oh Barry | 1:34 pm CDT
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Monday, December 26th, 2016

I saw Rogue One last week because I am nothing if not a completest. I’ve seen every single one of the Star Wars movies, so at this point missing one would feel like missing church.

I’d like to say it was as good as Star Wars (or, if you’re going to get pedantic on me, “Star Wars: A New Hope”). I can’t say that, but only because Rogue One and Star Wars are not the same kind of movie. Comparing the two would be like comparing apples to asteroids that end all life on earth. Star Wars was good, rollicking fun, a movie in which the good guys won and the bad guys lost and it was all smiles and sunshine in the end. Nobody in Rogue One was doing any rollicking. The good guys beat the bad guys, but I would hesitate to say they won, exactly. And everything was not all sunshine and smiles in the end. Put in the context of war movies (my brain is full of war movies), Star Wars had the bounce and weight of Operation Petticoat, compared to Rogue One’s gritty Generation Kill vibe. And I think I have to make that distinction because Rogue One is not a movie I would have shown to my four-year-old, but we watched Star Wars together and had a great time.

Not to say I think Rogue One is a bad movie. I enjoyed it for what it was, a reboot of the Star Wars franchise with new characters (and a few old characters) in familiar settings. But I wasn’t completely won over by it, either. It went for realism, sacrificing swashbuckling, and didn’t get a firm grip on either. And I loved Star Wars for its swashbuckling. But I have a feeling this movie wasn’t made for fifty-six-year-old me, so maybe the target audience ate up the gritty rebootedness of Rogue One the same way I ate up the corny swashbuckledness of Star Wars.

A few other minor quibbles:

There were a lot of people coming and going in the first half-hour of this movie, so many that I honestly had more than a little trouble keeping track of them, but I figured out pretty early that almost everybody was talking about the Death Star, and after I twigged to that, I stopped trying to keep track of everyone and just waited for them to mass and attack, because that’s what the rebel forces do when a Death Star shows up.

Almost every character had a completely forgettable name. This is most likely my problem more than the movie’s, but it annoyed and distracted me. I wasn’t sure what the name of the woman was until almost the end of the movie. Sometimes it sounded like Jen, sometimes like Jid (it turned out to be Jyn), and I was sure her family name was Ursal until the credits rolled.

Because the events in Rogue One led up to, and then immediately connected with events in Star Wars: A New Hope, several characters that appeared in Star Wars reappeared in Rogue One. Some were just for fun: C-3P0 and R2D2 made a cameo appearance, and so did the rat-faced guy who bumps into Luke Skywalker in the cantina in Mos Eisley. The rat-faced guy was probably played by a look-alike, which wouldn’t have been hard to pull off because his face was mostly latex and putty. C-3P0 could’ve been played by anybody, for obvious reasons. But Moff Tarkin, the commander of the Death Star, played a major part in Rogue One, and as Peter Cushing is dead twenty-two years last August, the movie’s makers decided to go with a computer-generated Tarkin rather than a look-alike for Cushing.

I am amazed by CGI characters when they can be done convincingly. Rogue One’s Moff Tarkin was not. He hid in the shadows almost constantly, giving me the impression that not even the film’s makers had confidence in his performance, and when he stepped out into the light, he seemed flat and immobile. CGI Princess Leia was even less convincing than Tarkin; she might as well have been a cardboard cutout, and that’s why it made a difference to me. I’m used to seeing CGI characters in video games, but no amount of familiarity is going to make me accept them when they look like cartoons in a live-action movie. I thought that, if they were going for gritty realism, they should’ve found some look-alikes, but then this movie probably wasn’t made for fifty-six-year-old me. I’m guessing its target demographic was more satisfied than I was.

Rogue One | 12:01 am CDT
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Friday, December 9th, 2016

“I had no idea, until I became a war worker myself, how low wages actually were. When my skimpy little paycheck of $23 a week came to me, I wondered how on earth I could ever live on that in wartime Washington if I were forced to pay my own room, board, transportation, doctors’ bills and other necessities out of it. Then I would look around the shop and wonder how the married women and mothers – the majority there – could support their children and parents as well as themselves on these wages.

“Not only do the women start at a low wage – they stay at it. At the Washington yard and at the other navy yards in the East and West, there are no automatic raises. Raises were accorded on some indeterminate basis. Promotions to supervisory jobs seem to be unknown not only at Washington but elsewhere in navy yards. Equal pay and promotions for women are one of the government standards of employment supported in writing by the Navy Department and seven other federal agencies. The navy yards themselves seem to be unaware of the fact; nor do they observe other standards adhered to on paper by the Department.

“I quickly adapted myself to eating sandwiches held between grimy hands. The yard gave us 20 minutes for lunch, but at least five minutes were gone by the time you had raced and waited at the understaffed canteen for cold,k watery chocolate milk or cola drinks (no coffee except on the midnight shift). The government standard of 30-minute lunch periods, hot lunches and a decent place to eat them is ignored by the Washington yard, which is nearer being the rule than the exception.

“I had mistakenly thought before going to work at the yard that minutes were precious in production. Once on the job, personnel officers and posters proclaimed the need for punctuality and perfect attendance. I was naturally surprised to learn after one day’s work that the main method of disciplining these “precious” workers was to lay them off for as much as a week at a time.l If you were one minute late in the morning, you were made to stand idle for one hour and be docked accordingly. If you forgot to tag in upon arrival at work or at lunch time, after three offenses you were laid off for a day.

“The women whom I met at the yard would stand for practically anything – five months without sleeping in a bed, a solid year on the graveyard shift so as to be home with the kids during the day, the double job,k indigestible lunches, long hours and no promise of a future after the war – all for miserably low wages. The longer I worked side by side with them, the more I admired their endurance – but the more I seethed to see them organized in a union that would help solve their problems. And the more I saw the necessity for really planned production, planned community service, labor-utilization inspectors, planned community service, labor-utilization inspectors, labor-management committees that function and are recognized, and a program to educate the workers about the issues of the war abroad and at home. I admired the patience of the women who stuck by their jobs, day after day, though it was obvious that their usefulness to the war effort was cut in half by the very working conditions which they endured.”

— Susan B. Anthony II, writing in The New Republic, May 1, 1944

I just came home from a visit to Half Price Books, where I scored a copy of “Reporting World War II Part Two: American Journalism 1944 – 1946,” an edition from The Library of America. One of my many dreams would be to line the walls of my house with shelves, and to stock those shelves of all the books published by The Library of America. Each sturdy, clothbound volume, clad in The Library’s trademark black dust jacket, seems to be just the right size to hold in one hand. The text of each page is set in a compact, clear font, and each volume comes with a ribbon sewn into the binding which you can use to mark your place. They are designed to be, and indeed are, classy books for a home library.

I’m especially happy to have found this particular volume because the people of my generation tend to glorify the second world war in a way that borders on indecency, and reading the work of Ernie Pyle, Bill Mauldin, Lee Miller, Edward R. Murrow, John Hersey and their like is such a bracing antidote to the most romantic notions floating around out there.

Which is not to say the men and women of “The Greatest Generation” didn’t do amazing things; they did. But I’ve never read a first-hand report that made them out to be any more than ordinary people who were doing what they were more or less forced to do until the war was over, which wouldn’t be soon enough, as far as they were concerned. Life during the war years was very hard; nobody thought it was all that glorious or romantic, and they said so.

I’m glad The Library of America put this volume together, and I’m going to look for Part One.

“The Greatest Generation” | 3:16 pm CDT
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Monday, September 5th, 2016

Dammit, I did that thing again where I find a typewriter in a thrift shop, and then I buy it. I was getting pretty good at not doing that second part. And this was less than a week after I bought a typewriter from Goodwill. “I think there may be something wrong with you,” My Darling B observed as I tucked the typewriter in the back seat of the car, and she may not necessarily be wrong.

57 Royal Quiet De Luxe

There’s a resale shop next to the studio where we go for yoga on the weekends. It was open on Saturday morning after our class was finished and I haven’t been there in ages, so I told B, “I’ve just got to duck in here a minute, just to check things out,” and in I went. I don’t think she believed for a second that I was going to “just check things out,” but she went along with it anyway.

The shop sells stuff gathered at estate sales: furniture, china, books, tools for the work shop or the yard. They almost never have any typewriters, although a month ago, maybe two, I spotted an unusual Remington electric and wanted to see if it was still there. It was so broken that it would at best be a research project I would dissect and eventually throw away, so it would have to be marked down quite a bit for me to take it home, but I figured if it was still there, they might accept any offer, no matter how low, for me to take it off their hands.

As it turned out, they still had the Remington, but behind it was a greenish fiberglass carrying case that could only be holding a Royal portable. I cracked it open and, sure enough, I found a Royal Quiet De Luxe. It had a tan paint job and white key caps, the first one I’ve seen like that.

It was a bit dark in the corner of the shop where I found it, so I took it to the counter where there was some daylight, hauled it out of the case and got a good look. The poor thing was a mess. For one thing, it looked at first as though all the key caps had been painted white, or maybe all the letters had been rubbed off from heavy use, because they were all blank, but after I tapped one of the keys three or four times to see if the type bars moved freely, I could just make out the letter “G” on the key cap, and there was a gritty white residue on my finger. Every key had such a thick coating of this residue that they appeared to be blank.

The bail was sat cockeyed across the platen and I couldn’t straighten it out because a screw was missing and someone had rather flimsily repaired it by pushing a paper clip through the hole and bending it over to hold it together. It was not a repair that could have resulted in an enjoyable typing experience.

I already have two Royal QDLs at home: a 1951 QDL that appears to be the same model that my dad had on his desk, and a 1950, when they still put glass tops on the key caps. I didn’t need another typewriter. When you’re talking about need, one is the limit, two if you must have an emergency backup. I have more than two. In point of fact, the exact number of typewriters in my possession is not known, but it’s more than fifteen. So “need” is not a thing with me. I crossed the line into obsession long ago.

The typer was priced at twenty-five bucks. I offered the shop keeper ten, hoping he would counter with fifteen. Instead, he offered it to me for eighteen, still a pretty good deal. I took it home, spread newspapers on the dining room table, got some cleaning solvents from the basement and a pile of rags from the hall closet, and set to work.

rubbing the residue off the key caps

The white residue came off the keys very easily. I remember there was a similar-looking residue, although not as thick, on the keys of the Royal QDL that I’m going to call “Dad’s typewriter” from now on. I also read about it in the “My Old Typewriter” blog, where the blogger suggested removing it with Goo Gone. I used mineral spirits on half the keys, Goo Gone on the other half, and I have to say I think the Goo Gone worked a bit better. It also smells nicer. I don’t remember what I used to get the residue off the other QDL, but whatever I used, it hasn’t come back yet.

Almost all the type bars moved freely except for the “B” and the “K,” which wouldn’t fall back after striking the platen. I used a toothbrush to flush the segment with lots of mineral spirits while banging away at the keys, rapping out Quick Brown Fox and We, The People over and over until all the type bars rose and fell back freely.

While I was banging away at the keybank, I noticed that the ribbon failed to advance. I tried switching the ribbon direction, but it still wouldn’t advance and I couldn’t turn the spool with my finger in either direction. The mechanism seemed to be frozen. I lifted the Royal up so I could see it from underneath, shined a flashlight into the works so I could see what I was doing, and with a little experimentation learned that a piece of steel that was part of the bracket holding the advance wheel had been bent out of shape so it pressed against the wheel. I gently squeezed it with a needle nose pliers until I could turn the wheel with my finger. Presto! The ribbon advanced automatically once again.

After putting a new ribbon in the typer and rapping out a few more quick brown foxes, I could see that the key slugs needed a good cleaning. No matter how vigorously I scrubbed the slugs with a toothbrush or slathered them with mineral spirits, though, they remained stubbornly crudded up.

crudded-up type face

Turned out the filth clogging the key slugs was so old that I had to use a dental pick to get it out. The mineral spirits helped soften the collected crud, but the bristles of my toothbrush just weren’t stuff enough to dig it out of the tiny nooks and crannies in the type face. (Must remember to buy a brush with extra-hard bristles next time I’m in the store.) The dental pick was especially good at this, however. It was tedious work, but returning this crisp type face to the printed page was worth it.

type face on 57 Royal QDL

One of the last things I had to do before I called it a day was fix the bail. I could type on the machine all right, even with half the bail hanging at a wonky angle, but that bent paper clip was bugging the hell out of me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hardware store in town that had screws in stock that were small enough to do the job, so I had to “borrow” a screw that was holding down the cover of a junker Smith-Corona I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up yet. The screw was not quite as long as the one it replaced, but it was just long enough to do the job until I can source a replacement.

I haven’t cleaned the cover of the Royal QDL yet; that’ll be a project for another weekend.

57 Royal QDL | 9:02 am CDT
Category: hobby, typewriters
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Saturday, August 27th, 2016

When B asked where I wanted to go to dinner for our anniversary, I suggested Lombardino’s first thing. We hadn’t been there in months, probably in more than a year. They haven’t changed a thing, thank goodness. There are still pinups of Bridget Bardot and Gina Lollabrigida in the men’s room (B says there’s a movie poster and a potted plant in the ladies’ room; doesn’t seem fair) and they still bring you such a big pile of pasta and sauce when you order the spaghetti bolognese that you have plenty left over for lunch the next day. I wasn’t even tempted to try to finish it, not after our traditional appetizer of calamari.

The Cinemateque has reopened for the season, and they’re showcasing the work of Brian De Palma, starting with Dressed To Kill, which we went to see last night. I left the theater wondering if it was a film that used to be good but hasn’t aged well, or if it has always been a bad film. I’m leaning toward “always been bad.” Renowned film critic Roger Ebert praised Dressed to Kill for being “Hitchkockian,” but B and I described it with terms such as “cheeseball,” “unintentionally funny” and “laughably bad.” I saw Body Double when it came out in theaters and I remember just enough of it to think that maybe Brian De Palma has this one cheesy movie inside him that he keeps making over and over that brought audiences to the theater because it was chock full of sex and gore.

Even so, B wants to go see more of the De Palma movies they’re playing through the rest of the season (except Mission: Impossible, which I’m not a fan of, either; nobody makes Jim Phelps out to be the bad guy and gets away with it!). I’m willing, but only because they’re going to screen Carrie, which I’ve never seen all the way through before, and The Untouchables, which I’ve seen two or three times and I’m looking forward to seeing again. They’re also going to screen a documentary that appears to be a one-on-one interview with De Palma, and I always go for those behind-the-scenes films.

B wanted to stop at the Robin Room before the movie, where they were serving cubanos by special arrangement with a guest chef. We discovered at the last minute that they didn’t start serving until seven o’clock, the same time the movie started, so we had to fall back and regroup. We ended up at Buraka, an African restaurant on Willy Street. It used to be a place that served Jamaican food when it was called Jolly Bob’s, but it got new owners this summer and a complete makeover.

I can’t recall the dishes we ordered because they had native names; mine was something like “darowot” and B’s was maybe “tippi.” Both were spicy dishes, mine with chicken and hers with shrimp. I didn’t think they very spicy at the time so I wasn’t too worried that I might have trouble sleeping, but by the time we were headed home from the movie I was singing a different tune and even stopped at a drug store for some Pepto Bismol I could chug before bed time. I like spicy food, but most of it doesn’t like me very much.

The Pepto worked, but I woke anyway to the roar of pouring rain. It let up after a while, just before the cats went berserker crazy and started running back and forth through the house. After they got that out of their systems and I started to drift off to sleep again, I snored loudly enough to jolt myself awake not once, but several times. It was not a restful night, and was made less so because my back ached and there was a shooting pain from my right hip down the outside of my thigh. I hate getting old.

jumble | 1:44 pm CDT
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Thursday, June 30th, 2016

What was such a great big deal about The Revenant? I thought it was okay, but just okay. It really wasn’t that much different from any Clint Eastwood movie about the wild, wild west. Hard times. Mountain men. Betrayal. Death. Vengeance. Get me something with Lee Van Cleef and I’ll enjoy it a whole lot more.

I thought the bear attack looked great, but I honestly didn’t have the horrified visceral reaction that most people seemed to feel about that scene. Honestly, all I could think was, Wow, they made that look good. That looks really good. How did they do that without having an actual Grizzly bear maul Leonardo Cappucino? Because obviously they didn’t do that. And I knew it probably had something to do with cables and camera angles, but I knew that if I were to aspire to that level of technical photography, I would be dead of old age before I had it in the can. But I never once thought: Ouch. I’ll bet that hurt. Maybe I’m just a block of wood, as far as that’s concerned.

So three stars, just because it looked so good.

The Revenant | 7:56 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 5th, 2016

I see that A Room Of One’s Own is for sale. It’s one of the few remaining independent bookstores in Madison, and I hope it finds a buyer because I would hate for Madison to lose another bookstore. I would buy it myself, except that I would have to rename it Go Away, I’m Reading, which I realize isn’t very inviting but I gotta be me. I would sit in an overstuffed chair in the corner, always reading a book but always happy to take your payment for the book you wanted, and to hand you change from the dented gray metal box on the end table beside the chair, but if you asked me a question I would have to answer, “Hang on, I gotta finish this chapter.” Or, if I knew that finishing the chapter wasn’t going to be enough, “Go away, I’m reading.” So I have a pretty good feeling that I wouldn’t be in the bookstore business very long. Still, it’s a pleasant enough fantasy.

Go Away | 10:19 am CDT
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Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

We had ramen for dinner at the Robin Room, which is a cocktail bar on Johnson Street. Last night, though, they had two local chefs in their kitchen (they have a kitchen, even though they’re mostly about cocktails) whipping up bowls of some of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten.

The were planning to start serving ramen at seven, so we got there at about quarter till and the place was already pretty busy. Still, we managed to snag a couple stools at the bar and only had to wait maybe five or ten minutes for the bartender to get around to taking our drinks orders.

While the bartender was making our drinks, we noticed that the beginnings of a line was starting to form at the back of the bar. I suggested to B that she go get in line so she could pick up her ramen right away, and then I would get in line to get mine.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Just five minutes or so after she got in line, I looked up from my phone to see that there were now at least two dozen people in a line stretching from the kitchen at the back of the bar all the way to the front door. Even if B came back with her ramen right away, I wouldn’t get my bowl for quite some time. In fact, most of the people at the end of the line never got any ramen; they sold out in less than an hour.

B, however, did not leave me high and dry. When she was finally able to place her order, she asked for two bowls of ramen, and I went to get mine as soon as she brought hers back to her stool.

It was some of the most fabulously delicious ramen I’ve ever eaten. The noodles were just right, the broth was rich and buttery, and the pork roll was nice and fatty. I went to bed fat and happy. It all turned out to be a little too rich for me, though. Two hours after turning out the light, I woke up with a bloated belly and the feeling that my heart was somewhere beneath my stomach, thudding away. My constitution has become such a delicate little thing in my old age. I was up most of the night trying to get it to settle down. I will never regret eating that ramen, though.

constitutionally challenged | 3:12 am CDT
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I quite like this one, too.

SHOWTIME! | 7:58 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

I just can’t get enough of this video.

WORK! | 1:09 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 7th, 2016

For the first time in six years (seven?), B and I will not be going to the Great Taste of the Midwest. We got up early, got dressed, got in the car and, after several fuckups, got underway, but we were only a block from home when B thought to ask herself, out loud, whether the Great Taste feel on the same weekend as the Shakesperience, a three-day event in August we signed up for last week. A quick Google search proceed that it was, and that ea the end of our trip to buy tickets last weekend.

It wasn’t a snap decision. In fact, we drove all the way to Cork & Barrel, the liquor store where the tickets were sold, as we debated whether or not to go ahead and buy the tickets anyway. In the end, we knew that the Great Taste wouldn’t be much different this year than it was last year, that it would be there next year, and that there would be so many other beer fests going on this summer that we would not want for craft beer in an outdoor setting, if we should develop a sudden jonesing for one.

Just for yucks, we drove past Cork & Barrel and Star Liquor to see how long the lines were. The line to Cork & Barrel wrapped around the front of the block this year, instead of going around the back, so we were momentarily gobsmacked when we drove up and saw no line where we expected to see dozens and dozens of people. And oh, did they look miserable. A few had tents or umbrellas or some kind of cover, but quite a few only had blankets. It wasn’t raining hard, but it had been raining all night and temps were in the forties, so they all had to be chilled to the bone.

bailing out | 12:40 pm CDT
Category: festivals, Great Taste of the Midwest
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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. The day before, we had seen Isabelle Huppert in “Louder Than Bombs,” a movie where her character committed suicide. Although she’s a wonderful actor, I’m kinda apprehensive about seeing another Isabelle Huppert movie now.

Just before the son killed himself, he wrote a letter to each of his parents, beseeching them to visit one of several different tourist spots in Death Valley over a period of a week. If they did this, he promised that they would see him.

His mother seemed to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out didn’t and plainly said so, but went along with it, apparently to make his mother happy.

The first two-thirds of the movie painted a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of the mother and father as they tried to come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie, however, it turned into kind of a stupid ghost story, and everything that came before was pretty much ruined. We were so disappointed coming out of this movie. Three out of four.

We had about an hour and a half to while away between “Valley of Love” and our next movie, “Under the Sun”, so B and I walked across the street to have a beer on the patio at the Great Dane. Among the other things we talked about (what a beautiful day, isn’t this beer delicious, etc), I made sure that I told B, “You know what? If I ever off myself — and I’m not thinking about it, just so you know — and I leave a note or a letter behind, please just burn that shit. Don’t read it to find out why I did it or to find out if I had any last dying wishes. Just toss it.”

I wasn’t kidding. Because there’s no explanation for a suicide, and it seems to me that anybody who wants one is probably looking for assurance that they weren’t the one that tipped him over the edge. It’s the only way the question, “Did he leave a note?” makes sense to me. If you didn’t know a person well enough in life to know why he decided to kill himself, a note’s not going to bring you up to speed. The only way it’s going to help is if it says, “It’s all on me, not on you or anybody else. I love you. Good-bye.”

Valley Of Love | 7:00 am CDT
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Thursday, April 21st, 2016

“Sunset Song” was a period piece about the hard life of a young Scottish woman. That’s pretty much it. Looks great. Story’s well-written. Liked the acting. Gave it four out of five.

The documentary “In Transit” was interviews with several random people traveling cross-country on an Amtrak passenger train. Three out of five.

“Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect” was a documentary about one of those chefs who owns several restaurants that are so popular you have to call years in advance to book a table. Going to one of them is not a meal, it’s an event, and the chef spends hours a day hunched over each and every dish, carefully arranging sprigs of rosemary around thinly-sliced beef. This guy is more into food than anything else, probably even more than his family, but his wife seems to be okay with that, until about midway through the film when chef announced that he would be closing one of his restaurants. In a brief clip, his wife says something like, This will be great, he’ll have time to spend with the children and help me around the house. My first thought was, Clearly you do not know this guy as well as you think you do. I’ve been watching him for barely and hour and I already know he’s not going to let up on the gas at all. And sure enough, in the scenes that follow he opens another restaurant in what looks like a great big church and as the film closes, he’s bustling around the kitchen. I’m not a foodie so I didn’t care much for this film, and gave it three out of five. B happens to be a foodie, but she thought it could have been better, and gave it the same.

“Operation Avalanche” was a found-footage comic documentary that followed two new recruits to the CIA who learn, pretty much by accident, that NASA won’t be able to figure out how to land on the moon until 1971 at the earliest, so they hatch a plan to fake the moon landing. I just know that some day footage from this film is going to be used in a moon-hoax conspiracy video. Four out of five.

WFF Final Day | 10:00 pm CDT
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Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

We saw four movies today, all at Sundance on the west side of town:

“Valley of Love” followed Gerard Depardeau and Isabelle Huppert playing the divorced parents of a son they have recently learned has committed suicide. Writing a letter to each of them at the time of his death, he beseeched them to meet at several different tourist spots in Death Valley, where he promised that they would see him. His mother seems to believe in psychics and visitations from beyond. His father flat-out doesn’t, but goes along with it, apparently to make his mother happy. The first two-thirds of the movie paint a sincerely honest and endearing portrait of these two as they come to terms with the death of their son. In the final third of the movie turned it into a heavy-handed ghost story that all but ruined everything that came before. Three out of four.

“Under the Sun” was a startlingly revealing documentary about life in North Korea, filmed by a Russian crew that was invited to record a day in the life of a typical North Korean family. Footage that was obviously not meant to be used in the finished film, so that North Korean handlers are continually seen coaching the film’s subject on what to say and how to say it. Five out of five.

“Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words” is just what it says on the tin. Archived films and photos illustrate passages from Bergman’s diary and letters to friends. Four out of five.

I don’t think I’ve seen a Roberto Rosellini film before, and if “Europe ’51” is exemplary of his work, I don’t think I’ll be seeing one again. Walked out after watching half of it and couldn’t bear any more. No stars.

WFF day seven | 10:00 pm CDT
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Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Only three movies today, our lightest day at the film fest all week:

“Best of the British Arrows” is always a crowd-pleaser. A collection of some of the best television advertisements from Europe, they usually lean toward humor, although it seems to me that nobody can make a more pointed public service announcement than the British.

I liked “Little Men” a lot. B thought it was so-so. A family moves to a Brooklyn apartment over a store. The family’s son becomes close friends with the store owner’s son, but the parents do not become friendly at all. Wonderful acting all around made this movie a treat to watch. Five out of five.

“Louder Than Bombs” was a drama that started with a birth, then spent the next two hours examining how the death of a mother affected her sons and her husband in ways that often contradicted their outward behavior. Five out of five.

WFF day six | 10:00 pm CDT
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Monday, April 18th, 2016

No trouble getting to the movies today. We reviewed our schedule the night before and again this morning. Our first movie started at one, so we set an alarm to remind us to get out of the house by noon, and we actually left about ten minutes before noon. No panic today, no sir.

No panic | 10:22 pm CDT
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“Nahid” was a whole lot of drama about a woman who was ripping off the kind, compassionate man who wanted to marry her so she could pay off the debts she was drowning in from trying to raise her brat of a son without any help from her douchebag ex-husband. Four out of five.

“My Love, Don’t Cross That River” was a tender tribute to a couple married seventy-some years. Four out of five.

“The Witness” was a documentary that followed Bill Genovese as he learned about the murder of his sister, Kitty Genovese, in 1964. The story went viral when the New York Times famously asserted that dozens of people witnessed the murder but did nothing to help. In Bill’s interviews with people who lived in the aparement building across the street, he learns otherwise. Four out of Five.

“The Mountain” was an unexpectedly gripping drama about a woman growing increasingly frustrated with her marriage to a husband who has no time for her and her life in a house that is virtually a tomb and literally part of the cemetary on the Mount of Olives. Five out of five.

WFF 2016 day five | 10:00 pm CDT
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Sunday, April 17th, 2016

We almost didn’t make it to the first movie we wanted to see today. It started at noon, so the night before we agreed that we would leave the house no later than eleven o’clock. Fast-forward to the next morning and we were be-bopping around the kitchen, singing along with the soundtrack from the Broadway play “Hamilton,” our newest favorite musical ever.

After singing our way through acts one and two, I stepped into the shower to clean up. B took her shower a little while later. When she stepped into the shower, I noticed that it was already eleven o’clock, but I said to myself, Surely she knows what time it is and when the show starts, so I didn’t say anything. And she took a good, long shower, as she should be expected to do when she’s on vacation. But the longer she was in there, the more I asked myself, How are we going to the movie on time?

When she finally stepped out of the bathroom at eleven thirty, toweling her hair dry, I asked her, You know the movie starts at noon, right?

Right, she said.

Well, I said, looking at the clock, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

She stopped toweling her hair, looked at the clock, too, and said, Oh, shit.

But we decided to try anyway, packed up the car and hit the road, B’s hair still damp from the shower. Traffic on the Beltline was very light and we managed to pull into the parking ramp by the theater at about five past noon, hurried over to the theater and found that people were still waiting in line for the first movie, collect our tickets and got in line just minutes before they opened the doors. Even got some pretty good seats, although they were a little closer than we usually want to be.

How to almost miss a movie | 10:00 am CDT
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“Rwanda & Juliet” is about a retired Dartmouth professor who travels to the trouble spots of the world to produce Shakespeare’s plays. In Rawanda, the young men and women are more than a little skeptical of his intention to reconcile Hutus and Tutsis through his production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Four out of Five.

“Sonita” is a documentary about a young woman from Afghanistan who fled to Iran to escape the Taliban, only to have her mother try to take her back because marrying her off would bring the family $9,000 that they need to pay for the marriage of another relative. But Sonita has spent her time in Iran learning music and earning awards. Her music video about child marriage wins her a scholarship to a school in the U.S. Five out of five.

“The Fear of 13” is ninety minutes of one guy sitting in front of a camera, spinning the story of how he entered the prison system, talked himself into a conviction for murder, compounded his conviction by escaping, then was exonerated for the murder through DNA examination of the murder. As compelling as this might sound, watching this guy talk for an hour and a half was never as interesting as the story might have been. Walked out, no stars.

“Viva” My Darling B said it best: “”Viva” wasn’t quite what I expected, and I’m glad for it. I expected a fun romp about a drag show newbie; what I got instead was a story about forgiveness, acceptance, and strength.” Four out of five

“Tickled” was without question the most interesting, and the weirdest documentary of the day. After a journalist in New Zealand stumbles across a video of “competitive endurance tickling” and writes to the organizer about his interest in producing a documentary, he begins to receive blatantly homophobic emails in reply that escalate into threats of legal action. As the journalist digs deeper, his investigation slowly pieces together a bizarre story of a guy with a tickling fetish, a mountain of money and a sociopathic need to control people. Five out of five

WFF 2016 day four | 7:00 am CDT
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Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Mad About Madison: a collection of shorts made by people who are from or living in Madison, or about Madison itself, including:

“Intimate Nature” was four minutes of scenes from the Arboretum. The irony of sitting in a dark room on a beautiful day to watch a film about a walk through the Arboretum on a beautiful day was not lost on me.

“The Turkeys of Atwood Avenue” was a collection of Facebook posts (literally!) from a fan page devoted to watching a gaggle of turkeys (or whatever you call them) that roamed up and down Atwood Avenue in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood of Madison. Was it inevitable that one day film makers would turn to Facebook for source material?

In “A Grand Walk … Paul’s Late”, a student at the UW wakes up late for class, runs his ass of to get there, sits down just as everyone in the class receives an email message announcing that the class has been canceled. Oops, spoilers.

“Lakeshore Preserve” looked like found footage shot for a news story about volunteers doing trail maintenance at a nature preserve.

I went in thinking I would not like “Nigga: A Monologue” but came away feeling that it deserves a lot more of my attention.

A nature photographer searches for the rusty-patched bumblebee in “A Ghost In The Making”, which sounds really, really boring, but I promise you it’s not.

Hundreds of nude and seminude bicyclists ride through Madison on World Naked Bicycle Ride Day, the subject of “Real … Live …”

“Continuum” is another film about a UW student who wakes up late for class and how that worked out pretty good for him. Will we soon see trash cans piled high with alarm clocks all over campus?

There is a Russian Folk Orchestra at the UW. “Russian Folk” is a four-minute short documenting a rehearsal. Worth watching just to see a balalaika as big as a dining room table.

“IMMO 240 Frames A Second” is just what it says on the tin: Iron Man Madison filmed at 240 frames per second, which slowed the action down to a snail’s pace. Watching it in slow-mo didn’t do anything for me. Take that back: an artifact of the high-speed recording process gave the playback a herky-jerky motion that irritated the hell out of me. Also, a lot of the film was shot in the low light of early morning and late evening, making it very hard for me to follow the action.

WFF 2016 day three | 10:00 am CDT
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Friday, April 15th, 2016

My Darling B and I both took a week off from work so we could sit in dark, windowless rooms and watch movies all week long. It’s time again for the Wisconsin Film Fest. We veered slightly from tradition this year; I was sick with a nasty chest cold when the film guide was published last month, so we didn’t go straight to Roman Candle after work to pick out the films we wanted to see. I think we went the next day or maybe the day after that. Even then, we didn’t pick out all the films we wanted to see, or go through the long, complicated negotiations where we whittled them down to the twenty or thirty that we could fit into the schedule. Instead, we bought a pair of all-festival passes, same as we did last year. They’re pricy, but they’re a savings on the cost of individual tickets for the thirty-two films we wanted to see this year.

Thursday was the opening night of the festival with a reception in the lobby of the Barrymore Theater an hour and a half before the start of the first film, a comedy from New Zealand called “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Although the reception was very crowded, there were plenty of noshies, champagne and chocolate, with enough left over that My Darling B pocketed a few extra for later. The comedy was good; a little uneven, a little over the top at times, but genuinely fun. I gave it four out of five.

Friday was kind of a bust. After struggling to find a place to park on campus, we found out that the first film we wanted to see, “Louder Than Words,” had been canceled. With a couple of hours unexpectely dropped into our laps, we rented a couple of B-Bikes and pedaled up State Street to Capitol Square to eat a leisurely lunch at Graze before coasting back down State to the campus to see the rest of the movies on our Friday schedule:

“Phantom Boy” was an animated feature about a boy with an unspecified but serious disease who learned while he was in the hospital that he was able to leave his body and float around. He teams up with a police officer to catch the arch-criminal who is threatening the city. I thought it was worth four out of five, but B drowsed through much of it.

Two teenaged girls with way too much time on their hands stalk a middle-aged single father in “John From.” The synopsis in the film catalogue called this “a sensitive, infectious and dreamy ode to young love.” We thought it was creepy, more than a little boring, and gave it no stars because we walked out before the end.

“The Well” was just about the cheesiest film about race relations you could imagine. I’m sure it was considered gripping in 1951 when it came out, but the writing seems cliched and the acting looks stilted and wooden now, except for Harry Morgan, doing his best to get through the movie. I gave it four out of five, should have given it three.

“True Stories” was one of the quirky movies of the eighties that we considered cool back then, but are mostly cringeworthy now. Walked out after watching thirty minutes or so. No stars.

WFF 2016 day one and two | 10:00 am CDT
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Sunday, March 6th, 2016

We spent a whole week on a cruise ship, but we hardly ever went to any of the activities that the cruise line arranged for the passengers. There were too many activities arranged for the Sea Monkeys that we didn’t want to miss, so our days were jam-packed with those. We didn’t go to the casino or see a movie. We didn’t even swim in one of the forty-seven pools, or however many there are. The cruise line says there are only ten, but I was there and I think there were a whole lot more. Forty-seven sounds about right.

Unless you count the hot tubs, then we did one ordinary cruise-ship thing. And when I say “hot tub,” I’m not talking about the little cedar-sided bathtub that you’re probably thinking of. The ship we were on, Freedom of the Seas, has two hot tubs on either side of the pool deck big enough to fit maybe twenty people. Thirty, if they don’t mind getting cozy. Each tub is a half-circle, with the flat side up against the edge of the ship and the round side sticking out over the side, I guess because there wasn’t enough room on deck with all the other pools. They didn’t have glass bottoms, which would have been awesome, but they did have wrap-around windows.

B and I changed into our swim suits and went up to try out the hot tub one night when we had some time after dinner. The ship was en route from Coco Cay to Saint Thomas, and the sea was not calm. It wasn’t especially rough, either. Tables and chairs weren’t sliding across the deck or anything like that, but when you tried to walk in a straight line, you couldn’t do it. You found that you had to walk a drunken path. Luckily, everyone else had to walk the same path. It was like you and everyone around you was doing the same dance number in a musical.

There was no one in the tub when we got there — we had the whole tub to ourselves! SCORE! There was nothing to see outside the big wrap-around windows because there was no moon, or it was overcast, or both. But there was plenty of action inside. The pool deck is way up at the top of the ship, a little more than a hundred feet above the water line, so all that pitching and rolling the ship was doing got magnified to the point that we could see the water sloshing around in the pools. The hot tub was much smaller than the other pools, but the water in it was sloshing just as much, often slopping over the edges of the tub onto the deck. Looked like fun.

At first we sat on the round side of the pool, hanging farthest out over the ocean, but most of the wave action seemed to be happening in the corners of the pool where the curve met the flat side, so we slid in closer. There was a seat molded into the bottom of the tub all the way around the sides, but we didn’t sit on it much. It was more fun to try to float and let the water shove us around. It was a lot like being in a bathtub full of water when you suddenly slide from one end to the other. All the water ran away from us, then came rushing back to lift us up and spin us around before running away again.

We soaked in the pool for maybe an hour. By then, we were pruning up enough that it seemed like a good idea to climb out and dry off.

hot tub rock and roll | 9:08 am CDT
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Saturday, March 5th, 2016

I used to read fiction almost exclusively. The only time I would read non-fiction was when someone made me, like for school. And even then, I blew off most of my assigned reading to read fiction.

I loved fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy. Those stories had what seemed like limitless possibilities. What would a society of intelligent bugs be like? A writer could take that idea and run in just about any direction with it: Would they get along with humans? If they didn’t, would humans win or lose a war with them? If they did, would humans have sexual congress with them? (Sooner or later, even the most far-out ideas come back to sex.)

And then, for reasons I never quite understood, a switch flipped in my brain about twenty or twenty-five years ago and I began reading non-fiction. Mostly biographies, or American history. I think it started when I wanted to know more about American history during the second world war. I knew a lot about bombs and planes, but almost nothing about why America made the bombs and planes. Turned out there was a lot to learn. I think I’ve read more about that period of American history than any other, and I still wouldn’t dare say I know much about it.

But maybe five years ago I made a conscious effort, every now and then, to pick up some fiction that came with the recommendation of a friend or a critic, and read at least the first fifty pages, just to see if there was still some magic in the pleasure of reading made-up stuff. It would be a pity to miss out on a new voice as engaging as some of my old favorites. And waddaya know, I did find fiction that still raised my eyebrows in surprise, that was fun to read.

Most recently, I started reading The Name of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. An epic fantasy (660 pages! Run, Will Robinson!), it’s not the kind of book I would normally have tried to read for fun, and I say that as a guy who not only has all of Le Guin’s Earthsea books in hardback, but who takes them down from the shelf every couple of years and reads every page from beginning to end. I also say that as a guy who has started reading the epic tomes of Saberhagen and Martin, but could never get any further than the first fifty pages. Pure fantasy, with magic and swords, was never something I automatically loved the way, for instance, a story with a rocketship would.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I curled up on the sofa with The Name of The Wind one night and found myself immersed in a story that I didn’t emerge from until it was time to put on my jammies and turn in for the night. And even then I took the book with me, as it’s long been my custom to read a chapter or two in bed. It relaxes my neck, which lets my head sink into my pillow. Far from putting me to sleep, though, this is one of those books I have to read just one more chapter of, until I glance at the clock and warn myself that if I don’t stop, I won’t get enough sleep and I’ll be a grumpy cat in the morning.

I probably never would have looked for this book, or even heard of it, if I hadn’t gone on the JoCo Cruise. Rothfuss was there to read some of his work and to sit on a couple of panels to talk with the other authors who came along, and he was such a pleasure to listen to that I resolved to check out all his books from the library and try out every one of them, believing that surely at least one will appeal to me. Well, now I’m facing the daunting possibility that they will all appeal to me and I’ll soon have a whole shelf filled with them in hardcover. Oh well. There are worse compulsions.

The Name of The Wind | 9:56 am CDT
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Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

True story: As the bus taking us from our hotel to the cruise ship neared Port Canaveral, the driver turned around and asked us, “Which cruise line are you guys on?” The frigging driver didn’t know which terminal he was supposed to drop us off at!

And yet somehow we still got there.

Tell you what: the cruise line has every last thing figured out about how to get a couple thousand tourists aboard a big ship in a hurry. The terminal was as wide open as a sports stadium. When we got there, which was still pretty early, we could easily see one end of the room from the other, and yet there were uniformed attendants every fifty feet or so to direct us along our way. We hardly stopped moving until we got to the check-in desk where they took our photos, handed us a couple of magical plastic cards and pointed toward the gangplank.

Those plastic cards were magical because we could wave them at bartenders to get all the drinks we wanted. There’s a pro tip for you: Get the ultimate drinks package. For two good reasons:

First, imagine taking all your meals at the airport for seven days. What do they charge you for everything you drink? Every cup of coffee, every glass of orange juice, every bottle of water, and all at airport prices. What if you want a cocktail in the evening? How much would a week of that cost you? Yeah. We didn’t want to have to think about about how much we were spending, so we got the drinks package. That way, we’ve already spent it. No worries.

Second, because starting every day with a mimosa or a bloody mary is the best way to start your day.

I made a pact with My Darling B that we would stop at the first bar we could find after going aboard so that we could toast the start of our vacation with a couple glasses of champagne. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go looking at all: There was a bar just inside the doorway as we entered. Almost like they knew what we wanted most at that moment.

all aboard | 12:01 am CDT
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Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Here’s something I really didn’t expect: At the end of our vacation when our ship tied up to its pier in Port Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday morning, the temperature there was forty-six degrees. Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, temps were in the fifties. What the hell was that about? When we left Wisconsin, it was cold there and warm in Florida, as it should always be. Florida should never be colder than Wisconsin. That’s just a natural fact. And yet, it was. I knew we would have to snap back into harsh reality at the end of our vacation, but I didn’t expect the universe to be that perverse about it.

What the hell, Florida? | 8:04 pm CDT
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Monday, February 29th, 2016

Here’s something I can share real quick about going on a cruise: Take lots of cold & flu medicine with you: decongestants, pain killers, all that over the counter stuff that you take when you start feeling fluey but believe that you really have to keep going to work for at least another two or three days so you can tell everyone how sick you are and sneeze and cough and spread your germs all over the place. (Have you ever done that? If so, please stop. Stay home until you’re better. Thank you.)

I don’t know how many people are on a cruise ship, but I’ll bet it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand passengers and crew. Possibly I’m lowballing that; could be a whole lot more. The only crew you ever see are the service staff, but someone’s got to be running the engines, keeping the lights on, fixing the computers, and so on. And it looks like an enormously big ship, but it’s really pretty close inside. You’re constantly bumping into other passengers, breathing each other’s air and grabbing the same door handles that everyone else touched. So even if you don’t take my advice on the cold medicine, at least get yourself a six-pack of those little pocket-sized bottles of Purel, and use it often. Even if you’re washing your hands.

Actually, the ship’s crew don’t give you much of a choice on the Purel. Every time you go into one of the restaurants, even the swanky main dining room, you’ll find at least one crew member waiting at the door for you with an upended bottle of Purel poised to give you a shot. You might try to sneak by without reaching for any, but if they can see your hands, those crew members are going to try their darndest to squirt some Purel into them. On top of that, there are Purel dispensers everywhere. I would say it’s a fair bet that just one cruise ship goes through a metric butt-ton of Purel every day.

Having said that, the odds are about even that you’re going to catch a bug that will get up your sinuses or down your throat and fill you up with phlegm and mucous, if in fact those are two different things. Even if they’re not, a double dose is not unlikely. Everywhere I went, I heard people coughing up crud or telling somebody how they just got over a case of the coughing crud. It seems to be part of the cruise experience.

I may have caught a watered-down version of the crud. My nose got a little stuffed up and I had some phlegm and/or mucous caught in my throat for a day or two. My Darling B, however, caught the giant industrial sized version of the crud that manifested itself on the last day of our cruise. A sore throat kept her up most of the night and we went to see the doctor in the morning, who charged us a hundred eighty bucks for the tests to see if she had strep throat (she didn’t, thank dog) and three packets of Theraflu. It helped, but the moment she laid down in bed that night, her pretty little head filled up with fluids and she tossed and turned until we had to get up the next morning. She’s still getting over it.

So, to recap: fill a bag with cold medicine, buy so much Purel that the company sends you a Christmas card every year, and every time you pass a faucet, wash your hands. Then maybe, just maybe you won’t get what everyone else will get. But I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

sniffles | 10:45 am CDT
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Hi, we’re back from our cruise to the Bahamas and we had a great time, thank you very much for asking. This was the first cruise either of us had gone on, so we had no idea what to expect, other than we were going to be on a great big ship that was going to take us to some islands in the general vicinity of Florida. We knew they were called the Bahamas but, embarrassingly, neither of us could say just where the Bahamas were or how many islands were in the Bahamas. Turns out there are 700. 700! And we didn’t know they existed until we went on this cruise. This is not the first time that travel has revealed to us how stupid we are about the world.

The ship we took was Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas. If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, or been around ocean-going ships at all, your mind isn’t ready to take in just how big they are or how much stuff is crammed into them. It’s as if the designers combined The Mall of America with a five-star hotel. The inside of the ship is hollowed out, leaving room for shops and restaurants and taverns and a wide pedestrian walkway, just like a mall. At one end of the mall there’s a theater showing movies, theater reviews and concerts, and at the other end there’s quite a grand dining room where liveried service staff bring you all the food you ask for. Oh, there’s a dance club in the middle, too. Because they had some extra room, I guess.

The outside of the ship is the hotel. Hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, maybe thousands, I don’t know. More than I’d care to count. We had a room that was really very small and ordinary, because we didn’t plan to spend much time in it (turned out this was the one of those rare times that our plans matched up with reality; we were in our room to shower, change clothes, and sleep, and we didn’t do much sleeping), and yet it was still a very nice room. It even had a window, which I learned was not the case in every room. Our window faced the water and was at the front of the ship, so we could see the waves crashing off the bows as the ship plunged through choppy waters, or see the islands as we approached. Other rooms had windows that faced the inside of the ship, overlooking the mall. All things considered, I’m glad we got one looking out at the sea.

The islands we visited were Coco Cay, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Coco Cay is really just a part of the cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere. Royal Caribbean owns the island, and the ship’s service staff gets off with the passengers to serve food, drinks, and otherwise cater to their every need. I guess a sandy beach was the one thing they couldn’t shoehorn into the boat, so they bought an island. St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and St. Maarten is a Dutch territory. From what I could tell, they exist only because cruise ships stop there.

We didn’t sign up for the cruise to visit the islands, to tell the truth. We signed up because some of our favorite musical performers and authors were going to be on the ship. It was a themed cruise, and for want of a better term, I’ll use the phrase that the other passengers used who signed up for the themed cruise: Nerd Boat (in real life it’s called JoCo Cruise).

The authors were all writers of science fiction (John Scalzi) or fantasy (N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss), or were involved in science fiction or fantasy writing in some way (Wil Wheaton). (The names in parens are examples only, not meant to be pigeonholes. Scalzi also writes fantasy, and although I’m not familiar with Jemisin, I understand she writes science fiction as well. I know next to nothing about Rothfuss, but I will soon. And Wheaton, besides being an actor and writer, is a dynamite comic presence. Really.)

The musical performers may be a little harder for me to describe, but I’ll give it a shot: it’s comedy (Paul & Storm), but it’s also nerdy (Jonathan Coulton), and I think the easiest way to describe “nerdy” in this case is to give you a few examples: Paul & Storm opened their musical show with a song urging George R.R. Martin to write faster so we wouldn’t have to wait to find out what happens next on Game Of Thrones. Also, their most popular song by far, and sort of the theme song for this cruise, is The Captain’s Wife’s Lament, a sea shanty about pirates. I would be spoiling the song to go any further, but suffice to say if you don’t like puns, or double entendres, or both, then the payoff won’t work for you.

The most well-known song (and again, a kind of anthem to the people who go on this cruise) by the headline act, Jonathan Coulton, is about a person who writes code for a living. Another song is written in the form of an inter-office memo from a bureaucrat who has recently become a zombie. And my favorite song of Coulton’s is a love song to Pluto from Charon (the planet and its largest moon, respectively) that makes me puddle up every time. I guess that makes me a nerd.

The comedy and the nerdiness is all well and good, but this is to say nothing of how musically awesome the performers are (and besides the comedy and nerdery, we were also treated to (for want of a better term, again) more mainstream artists such as Aimee Mann, whose pop hit Voices Carry almost everybody my age knows, even if they don’t realize that Aimee Mann was part of the group Til Tuesday). Really, if you could see all these guys come together to play a David Bowie tribute, as they did on the last night of the cruise, you would be blown away by just how amazingly accomplished they are as musicians. The musical shows by themselves were well worth the price of admission.

Anyway, that’s the quick & dirty summary of where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing for the last week. I’ll be writing more drivel about it eventually, but it’s going to take a while to go through my notes and I’ve got to divide my time between that, unpacking, washing clothes, and nursing My Darling B, who contracted a case of the coughing crud that was going around the boat. Also, the floor won’t stop rolling back and forth, so every time I stand up, I feel as though I might topple over, and I can’t cross the room without walking like a drunkard, so there’s a slim chance I’ll crash into a wall or tumble over a piece of furniture in the next few days, but if, knock wood, that doesn’t happen, I’ve got a few stories I can tell.

cruise crazy | 9:05 am CDT
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Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Our trip from the hotel to the port did not go quite the way I pictured it.

I was under the impression that the shuttle we booked from the hotel to the port would be a Ford Excursion, or a stretch van, possibly as big as one of those sixteen-person shuttle buses that hotels send you to the airport in. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know how I got that impression. Certainly nobody told me what kind of vehicle we would be riding in. I just assumed. Turns out what they mean when they say “never assume” is true.

On the recommendation of the people organizing the cruise, I called the phone number Florida business and spoke to someone about chartering a “shuttle” from Orlando to Port Canaveral. No one said anything about how we were getting from point A to point B, but maybe the mom-and-pop feel of the business was what made me think the owner herself, or her brother Merle, would show up in a panel van, load our bags into the back and off we’d go.

Nope. A whole lotta nope.

There was a huge gaggle of people milling about in the lobby when we went down there around nine-thirty, a half-hour before we were supposed to leave. There was no sign of anything resembling a line of people waiting to go. I assumed — there I go again — that they had all arranged their own transportation and a long line of vans and stretch limos would soon appear in the drive to take them all away.

Because there was nothing that bore any resemblance at all to a line, we dragged our bags out to the curb and sat in a comfy chair by the driveway to wait for the Ford Excursion/van/shuttle bus that would pull up to take us away. We’d been sitting there all of ten minutes when I happened to notice there was a lady in the lobby moving through the gaggle of people and checking off names on a clipboard. I don’t know what made me think she had anything to do with our ride to the port, but I said, “Be right back,” to B and went inside to see what she was doing.

Turned out she was lining up sixty or so people to get on a chartered bus, which coincidentally happened to be the shuttle we had booked a ride on.

We dragged our bags back inside and searched for the end of the line, ending up behind a thick knot of people who were bunched up around a cluster of chairs. Every so often, someone would walk by with their bags and ask us whether or not this was the line for the shuttle, and we would say something flip like, “Well, I certainly hope so.” That happened three or four times before one of the people in the cluster ahead of us turned around and said, “Oh, we’re not in line.”

So all shuffled three or four feet to the left and waited for clipboard lady to work her way down to us. As she approached, she moved through the cluster of people to our right who said they weren’t in line, ticking off their names. So apparently they were in line after all. We had to practically grab clipboard lady and drag her over to our side of the line to make sure we got checked in. Then, when the line started moving, we all merged as we neared the door.

True story: As the bus taking us from our hotel to the cruise ship neared Port Canaveral, the driver turned around and asked us, “Which cruise line are you guys on?” The frigging driver didn’t know which terminal he was supposed to drop us off at!

And yet somehow we still got there.

Tell you what: the cruise line has every last thing figured out about how to get a couple thousand tourists aboard a big ship in a hurry. The terminal was as wide open as a sports stadium. When we got there, which was still pretty early, we could easily see one end of the room from the other, and yet there were uniformed attendants every fifty feet or so to direct us along our way. We hardly stopped moving until we got to the check-in desk where they took our photos, handed us a couple of magical plastic cards and pointed toward the gangplank.

Those plastic cards were magical because we could wave them at bartenders to get all the drinks we wanted. There’s a pro tip for you: Get the ultimate drinks package. For two good reasons:

First, imagine taking all your meals at the airport for seven days. What do they charge you for everything you drink? Every cup of coffee, every glass of orange juice, every bottle of water, and all at airport prices. What if you want a cocktail in the evening? How much would a week of that cost you? Yeah. We didn’t want to have to think about about how much we were spending, so we got the drinks package. That way, we’ve already spent it. No worries.

Second, because starting every day with a mimosa or a Bloody Mary is the best way to start your day.

I made a pact with My Darling B that we would stop at the first bar we could find after going aboard so that we could toast the start of our vacation with a couple glasses of champagne. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to go looking at all: There was a bar just inside the doorway as we entered. Almost like they knew what we wanted most at that moment.

After toasting our cruise, we wandered down to the gaming room to check in, get our sea monkey passes and our swag bag. Our sea monkey passes get us into all the JoCo Cruise events, and the swag bag was filled with games and a plush toy as mementos to remember our cruise.

I had to make a special trip to the chapel where there was a meeting of all the sea monkeys taking part in a game of assassin that was specially-made for this cruise. When I played assassin in college we used squirt guns to kill our targets; in this game, they used a deck of cards and rules for using them that went completely over my head. I went up to Martin, the creator of the game, to ask for his help, but he was in a pretty intense discussion with someone protesting one of the rules, so I tagged Martin’s wife Mandie and let her know that I wanted to talk with them when we picked up our cards later that night.

Then I had to run all the way back to the other end of the ship to meet up with My Darling B at the New Monkey Orientation, where Paul and Storm welcomed us and told us a few things about the cruise, mostly stuff we already knew. JoCo and Scarface joined in after for a Q&A that was, again, mostly stuff we already knew. We had done our homework before the cruise.

There was a mandatory lifeboat drill at four. When it was done, we ducked inside to grab cocktails that we took back to the rail to watch the ship pull away from the dock and head out to sea. The port was not the prettiest part of Florida by any stretch of the imagination. Besides the terminal and acres of parking, there was a fuel dump, warehouses and all other kinds of servicing facilities, but out at the end of the canal, just before we sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean, there was a small park where dozens of people had set up their lawn chairs along the shore to watch the ships head out and wave at the passengers lined up on the rails. Each ship blasted its horn as it went by, answered by the horns of the dozens of cars parked along the shore.

We both went to what was billed as a cocktail mixer but was really more of a general melee for drinks and noshies as Paul and Storm read more announcements, introduced the guests and cracked wise from the stage. Directly from that we went to dinner in the main dining room. Slight hitch there: We wandered for fifteen minutes or so looking for a table with open seating. All the tables that had any room had been mislabeled “Staff Only” when they were supposed to say “Open Seating.” We finally found a four-top where we sat with Ryan and Scott, a couple of Canadians who came on the cruise primarily to play games and hadn’t heard of JoCo or Paul and Storm before.

Our last activity of the evening was the JoCo concert. I wonder why the headline act went on the first night? Seems like something they’d save for last, but apparently they had different ideas.

We had a teeny tiny little roomette. A king bed took up about half of it. The other half was a small sitting room, closet and bathroom. There was a love seat, a desk and a tiny coffee table. The closed was just big enough to hold all the clothes we brought. After we emptied the suit cases, I was able to stash them under the bed, so that we would have more room in our small world. There was a television, but most of the channels were information about the ship or about shore excursions, and rest were children’s cartoons or were in a language I couldn’t identify.

Cruise Monkey Day Two | 9:13 am CDT
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Saturday, February 20th, 2016

I managed to get to sleep around nine-thirty on the Friday night before we were going to fly out for our cruise. I even kept on sleeping until about two in the morning, but after that I was just lying in bed awake, so I got up at about two-thirty and read a book until four when B got out of bed. We washed up and left the house at five, just as we planned, and our flight left on time a little more than an hour later. Like hitting every green light on a trip across town, it felt somehow like we were getting all the breaks. We even got through security without either of us being selected for “special attention.”

Our layover in Chicago was just long enough for us to get from our arrival gate to our departure gate and start to gobble down a bagel before they called for us to start boarding. Just as quickly, they put a hold on boarding, explaining that they were trying to settle “safety issues.” No problem. You go ahead and take as long as you like to settle those “issues.”

That was the only hitch we experienced along the way, and even though they delayed boarding for a short time, every flight left on time, the airlines didn’t lose our luggage, and the shuttle from the airport to the hotel showed up within ten minutes after we piles all our bags at the curb. Slick as snot, as one of my tech school instructors used to say.

We arrived at our hotel (which the sea monkeys are calling the JoCotel, after the cruise’s namesake, Jonathan Coulton) in the early afternoon. The clerk who checked us in apologized for how cold it was, then asked where we were from. She laughed a bit when we told her Wisconsin. “So this isn’t exactly cold to you,” she said. The temp was seventy-five degrees. We set the thermostat in our house to sixty-nine this time of year. Not exactly cold, no.

We had a bite to eat in the restaurant downstairs, then went back up to our room to change into our swim suits to spend the next several hours by the pool, basking in the sun. One of the perks of being a cheesehead on vacation in Florida is realizing what a treat it is to lie half-naked in the sunshine in February. Still, an hour of that was more than enough for me, and I went looking for a seat in the shade where I could sip a fruity drink and write some drivel. B took a dip in the pool to cool off, then stretched out to soak up another hour’s worth of sunshine.

After washing off and changing into dry clothes, we took a short walk around the hotel, but because I had so little sleep the night before, I was running on fumes and had to hit the hay. My Darling B was all in, too. We stopped off at the bar for a nightcap before turning in for the night.

Cruise Monkey Day One | 6:00 am CDT
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