Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right. Well. Where to start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

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

And now, the chorus:

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight!

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

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

Afternoon Delight | 6:09 am CST
Category: entertainment, music | Tags: ,
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Monday, September 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tally Ho | 6:16 am CST
Category: entertainment, play | Tags:
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Sunday, July 28th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on the road again | 6:51 am CST
Category: business travel, sleeplessness, travel, weather, work
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Thursday, July 4th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

molly lewis | 3:08 pm CST
Category: entertainment, music, vacation | Tags: ,
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Monday, April 22nd, 2019

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

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

Firsts | 5:45 am CST
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
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Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

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

This is why it sounds familiar:

Powerhouse | 6:35 am CST
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Friday, April 12th, 2019

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

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

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

David Sedaris, Calypso

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

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

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

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

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

WFF2019 – day 7 | 8:07 am CST
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Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn the lights down low, turn the lights down low

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

Time for a film festival!

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

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

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

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

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

long cold winter | 7:38 am CST
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Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sister Golden Hair | 12:20 pm CST
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Sunday, February 24th, 2019

I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” and I have to give it A+++ on the chilling dystopia story about a United States falling in to anarchy and chaos, not too hard to imagine right now, honestly.

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

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

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

Parable of the Sower | 9:12 am CST
Category: books, entertainment
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Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Fare thee well, Opportunity, and we thank you.

#thanksoppy | 6:12 am CST
Category: current events, space geekery
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Monday, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

zero degrees | 2:28 pm CST
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When I Was But A Wee Lad: Tales From My Dimmest Memory

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

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

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

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

“Uh, yeah?” I answered.

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

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

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

advice | 8:39 am CST
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Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Fare thee well, Alan Bean, and thank you. 

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Bean | 5:03 pm CST
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Sunday, May 20th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday’s films:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WFF Day Two | 9:55 am CST
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Friday, April 6th, 2018

Yesterday was the opening day of the Wisconsin Film Fest.  I didn’t take the day off from work, but My Darling B did. Didn’t get her out of the office, though; she still had to go in for a ten o’clock meeting.  That’s just how awesomely important she is: The DMV can’t go on without her at the ten o’clock meeting.

She went home after she was done with that nonsense, did some very important things (napped), then returned to the office to pick me up after I bolted at quitting time.  

Opening night ceremonies consisted of a catered party before the show, which was all right but we probably paid too much for it.  The noshies were not bad, the beer was pretty good, but the venue was too small for the fiftyish people who sardined themselves into it.  And it was too loud: when an acapella group of college students came in to sing us a few songs, the attendees wouldn’t shut up. I moved as close as possible without getting into their faces and yet I was able to hear only one song, and even then I think I was filling in because I knew the words.  

Then, on to the show!  This is the 20th year of the Wisconsin Film Fest, so the director of the first film fest (can’t remember his name & can’t find it on the internet) came out to give us a little talk about the festival’s history, followed by Ben Reiser, the festival’s PR man, who usually comes out to thank all the people who made the festival possible and somehow makes it sound like a standup routine.  A panel of jurists interrupted Ben to hand out the Golden Badger awards to three talented film makers, after which the acapella group from the party filed on stage to sing their arrangement of Ice & Snow, the song featured in the opening sequence shown before every movie at the 2014 film fest and which has become the theme song of every opening sequence ever since.

Finally, the movie!  Or movies, because there was a short (“Elemental”) before the feature film, “Mountain.”  The short was a guy dancing, filmed in various outdoor settings. I liked it, but it really wasn’t much more than that.  “Mountain” was sort of a video collage of mountains and the crazy things people do on and around them. And they were pretty much all crazy things: aside from the obvious (skiing, snowboarding), they climbed up them with bikes over their shoulders, then rode the bikes down at breakneck speed; they jumped from helicopters onto peaks overloaded with snow and rode snowboards ahead of the avalanche they started; they skimmed the rocky flanks of mountains in their wingsuits; they climbed hundreds of feet up the sheer, granite walls with no ropes for safety; and always, always they hurt themselves doing it.  But, presumably, they kept on doing it, because people are stupid. Willem Dafoe read a voiceover script that took a stab at explaining the how and why of all this, and he sounded great, but I’m no closer to understanding why anyone would want to snowboard through an avalanche.

Fun bit o’ trivia: Willem Dafoe was born in Appleton, Wisconsin – same as your friendly neighborhood Oman.

WFF opening night | 10:31 am CST
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Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

We’re back from our cruise. The cruise ship docked on Sunday morning, then we stayed overnight in San Diego and flew back to Madison on Monday, a trip that took pretty much all day because our flight didn’t leave San Diego until eleven and we had a layover in Denver that was almost three hours. So no big surprise that when we finally got home, we almost immediately changed into our jammies, hit the hay, and slept and slept and slept.

The weirdest thing about going on a cruise is getting off the boat and feeling like we’re still on the boat. Both of us were walking like a couple of drunks all day yesterday. We were at sea for a little over two days on the way back from La Paz and the trip up the coast was especially roller-coastery, which may have had something to do with it.

Our trip took us down the Baja Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas, the port at the very tip of the peninsula and very much a tourist trap. Think Wisconsin Dells in Spanish, but for cruise ships filled with a couple thousand people each. We went ashore to go whale watching, a whole lot of fun although that’s when My Darling B got sunburned.  Kids: Wear Sunscreen.  The whale watching guys took about a dozen of us out to sea in a speed boat about twenty feet long, which I’m sure was safe as it gets.  Finding whales to watch isn’t as hard as you might think: All we had to do was look for all the other whale-watching boats. Every group of whales had at least a dozen boats of all sizes circling around it. Whales must be very patient creatures to put up with that.

We wandered around in Cabo San Lucas a little while but not too long. Once you’ve seen one vendor selling t-shirts, hats, and assorted trinkets, you’ve seen them all. We stopped at a quiet little restaurant for lunch before we went back, and that turned out to be about the best idea we had in Cabo. The food was just delicious and I had the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted. Well, I had two of the best Bloody Marys. Couldn’t have just one.  They were the best.  When was I ever going to be in Cabo San Lucas again to have another one?

The next morning, Wednesday, we stopped in Loreto, a very small town trying very hard to be a tourist trap, mostly by selling Mexican-looking blankets and straw hats painted with the names of American football teams. We went ashore in the afternoon to get a bite to eat, then wandered around but there wasn’t much to do, so we cooled our heels in a little brewery and nursed a couple beers. The talent on the boat put on a concert in the town square in the evening which we were really looking forward to, but it got a lot colder than I thought it would.  I couldn’t tough it out to the end of the concert because all I was wearing was a pair of shorts and a rugby shirt.  With less than an hour to go I was on the verge of hypothermia, so we went back to the boat earlier than we had planned.

Thursday was our last port call, this time in La Paz. All these towns are along the “inside” east coast of the Baja Peninsula, and La Paz is the capitol city. The only harbor near La Paz that’s deep enough for cruise ships is ten or fifteen miles away, so the city ran buses out to the dock all day to take us into town, and some of the locals rode along to provide us with some color commentary during the ride. The countryside is sand and rocks and scrubby-looking trees, so there isn’t much to describe, but they did their best, pointing out a derelict building here or there and telling us it used to be the tuna cannery or something similar.  There’s not a lot to see or do in La Paz, unfortunately. The beach would have been nice in the summer, but on the day we visited the temps were in the mid-60s, too cold to go swimming or even lay in the sun comfortably. We had lunch at a nice open-air restaurant. Couldn’t read a thing on the menu except tacos and empenadas, so we had tacos and empenadas.  We strolled along the beach after lunch, then went back to the boat around three.

The rest of the time we were at sea. There were lots of things going on so we were never bored, and even when we weren’t interested in what was going on, we weren’t bored. B and I each spent maybe 2-3 hours each day reading, and when we weren’t doing that, we were soaking in a hot tub or hanging out at the bar or just leaning against a rail, watching dolphins play in the wake of the boat. Very nice.

And now it’s over and we have to go back to work. Boo. Well, I have to go back tomorrow. B has one more day off. She plans to finish washing her clothes and cleaning up around the house a bit, but I wouldn’t blame her if she kicked up her heels a while and just relaxed a while longer.

post cruise | 6:43 pm CST
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Sunday, January 21st, 2018

I’m about halfway through Monty Python Speaks, a sort of oral history of the show, the movies, and everything else Python.  I happened to find a copy while I was at the library trying to convince the desk clerk I returned the copy of The Geek Feminist Manifesto that I checked out last year.  While she was on the phone talking to the branch that alleged I kept the copy for myself, I wandered over to the shelf of staff picks and my eye was immediately drawn to the obviously Gilliam-influenced cover art of the book, flipped it open, and started reading about how the Python boys got started in comedy, how they got together for the series, how they wrote material, how they filmed it and, eventually, how they started to get on one another’s nerves.

I’m a total geek for this stuff.  I took the book home and I’ve been reading it almost non-stop ever since.  Right away, an odd thing happened: I was reading about how they developed characters for the sketches and they kept on naming a character I couldn’t recall ever hearing about.  I’m a pretty hardcore Python fan.  I can’t recite whole shows from memory any longer (I could when I was a teenager, though), but I can tell you all about the sketch you’re going to see if you show me the first five seconds of the video.  Yet somehow I couldn’t recall this Mr. Neutron guy they kept mentioning, so I searched the internet and of course I got my choice of about ten thousand videos to watch.  It was an episode from Monty Python Season 4 I couldn’t recall ever seeing.  It kind of rocked my world.  I was so sure I’d seen them all.  So now I’ll have to start at the beginning and watch them all.  I’m going to get very little sleep this next week.

Mr Neutron | 6:13 pm CST
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Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Fare thee well, John Young, and we thank you.

John Young

John Young | 11:43 am CST
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Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

I’m washing a ton of dirty clothes today, and that means I’m folding a ton of clothes, too, and THAT means I’m watching a movie while I fold clothes.  Today, I’m watching Twelve O’Clock High.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, but it’s not enough.  I’m still not tired of it, and I haven’t memorized all the lines yet.  I like to play favorite scenes over and over to make sure I’ve got the sound of the lines right as well as the words.  If I could deliver the lines where Savage chews out Gately as devastatingly as Peck did, I could die a happy man.

Today’s favorite scene was Savage meeting Cobb for the first time.  If you’ve never seen the movie, Savage is a general sent to take command of an army air force base in England during the early years of World War Two.  He is played to perfection by Gregory Peck.  I would like to say this is the role Peck was born to play, but I know he likes Atticus Finch best of all his roles, so I’ll say only this is *a* role he was born to play.  Maybe I can get away with that.

Cobb is a pilot in one of the units stationed at the base.  Savage wants to give Cobb the job of Air Exec, which would make Cobb second-in-command of the base, but Savage would like to know more about Cobb’s character first, so he goes looking for Cobb in the officer’s club the night he arrives.  The club is a quonset hut with a fireplace at the far end and a tiny bar to one side in the middle.  Someone is banging out “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree” on the upright piano right next to the entrance.

Peck strides manfully to the bar and barks, “Beer!” at the bartender.  As Savage, Peck barks a lot in this movie.  He’s good at it, too.

A major who had been standing in the foreground, just to Savage’s left, glances at the general’s star on Savage’s shoulder, then looks down into his beer as he decides he doesn’t want to make small talk with a general and wanders away, leaving Savage standing at the bar just one other officer, a major in a flier’s jacket and cap, slouched against the bar next to a half-empty shot glass of scotch.  The major has his back to the general.  Savage doesn’t know it yet, but this is Major Cobb, played by John Kellogg, who is about to steal the scene from Peck.

Peck looks the major up and down, then narrows his eyes at the major’s cap.  Military personnel do not normally wear any kind of hat indoors, which is handily telegraphed to the audience by the fact that nobody else in the club is wearing a cap.  Savage says evenly: “Remove your cap in the club, major.” He delivers the line just sternly enough that anyone would know it’s an order, but not so sternly that it’s a big deal, yet.

This is where it gets good: Kellogg swivels his head in Peck’s direction with enough of a glassed-over look in his eyes to give you the idea he isn’t drinking his first shot of scotch.  He looks the general up and down and says, with enough disregard for the general’s rank to get noticed, but not enough to get him into trouble, “That’s regulations, is it?”

Before Peck answers, he stands a little straighter, a little stiffer, and he looks a little more serious.  He clips his words a little shorter. The major has obviously ticked Savage off a bit.  “It is,” Peck growls.  He growls a lot in this movie, too, and he’s as good at growling as he is at barking.

Kellogg stands up straight, turns toward Peck and slowly takes the cap off his head, chucking it onto the bar between them.  Then he scoops up his drink and tosses it back.

Savage picks up his own drink and downs a gulp, narrowing his eyes as he watches the major’s carefully balanced demonstration of defiance and obedience.  Then his eyes widen a bit as he notices the major’s name tag, a tiny strip of black cloth with “MAJ J.C. COBB” in gold letters barely half an inch high on the left breast of the jacket.  It’s almost invisible, and Peck’s reaction is so subtle that I missed this part of their interaction so many times.  Really well-played.

Kellogg scoops up his hat and makes as if to go when Peck delivers his next line in an inviting, even friendly tone of voice, “Have another, Major Cobb,” he says, and Kellogg pauses long enough to let it register that he realizes he’s not in trouble, that he really is being invited to stay.

“Scotch,” he says to the bartender, and starts to dig out some change from his pocket, but Peck beats him to it, laying one of his own coins on the bar.  “I’ve got it,” he says.  (I love it there used to be a time when you could pay for hard liquor with loose change instead of folding money.)

“No regulation against buying my own, is there?” Kellogg says, not asks, a little proudly.

Peck says flatly, “That’s right,” and regards Kellogg with an icy look that reads: Are you sure you want to get into it like this?

Kellogg seems to waver for a moment but slaps his change on the bar after deciding he’s made his bed, now he’s going to lie in it.  The bartender takes his money and sets a shot glass in front of him, and Kellogg settles an elbow on the bar.  Peck grins at him but Kellogg doesn’t seem to notice, gazing straight ahead as he sips a bit of scotch from the glass.  His expression says, I refuse to stick my other foot in my mouth.

The next day, after Cobb apologizes to Savage for the snark, Savage tells him admiringly, “You gave it to me straight.”  These scenes where manly men beat on each other (sometimes literally – The Silent Man holds the gold standard for this) to size one another up are cliche, but I still love them, especially when they’re played as well as this one.

regulation | 4:38 pm CST
Category: entertainment, movies, play | Tags:
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Thursday, December 21st, 2017

It’s been eighteen months since The Deluge, the plumbing accident that created a virtual monsoon in our basement. As bad as it looked then, and it looked REALLY BAD, quite a lot of our possessions escaped The Deluge unharmed. We had hundreds of books down there, for instance, and almost every one of them survived without water damage.

I started to build the model train layout of my dreams in the basement many years ago.  There’s no more to it than the bench and track; I never got to the point where I landscaped it, or built any tiny train stations or other buildings, and a good thing, too.  All of that would have been washed away by The Deluge.  The track wasn’t affected by the water; it’s still all firmly in place and shows no signs of corrosion.  The bench is made of scraps of lumber that doesn’t appear to have warped at all in spite of all the water that washed over it.  So essentially the layout is unchanged from the day before The Deluge, presumably in working order.

The room the layout’s in, though, has been a mess ever since.

Two of the overhead light fixtures fell from the ceiling when the water-soaked overhead wallboard panels began to buckle under their own weight and the anchors that held the light fixtures up lost their grip in the sodden panels.  Same with the electrical conduit and outlets I screwed to the ceiling to plug the lights into, so there’s been no electrical light in that back corner since The Deluge.

The floor was a scattered mess of scraps of drywall and all kinds of jetsam that got washed off the bench by the floodwaters.  Cleanup was such a daunting task I never quite mustered the motivation to get in there with a broom and a vacuum cleaner. It was too depressing to look at, much less think about cleaning up, until last weekend.

It began when I swept a path through the debris wide enough for me to walk in.  Then I ran a couple extension cords to the two overhead lights that remained hanging from the ceiling.  I crossed my fingers and yanked on the pull chains, not knowing if they still worked.  They did.  That gave me enough light to keep going.

I pieced together the electrical conduit and outlets that fell from the ceiling.  Wouldn’t do any good to hang the lights if I couldn’t connect them to power.  Putting the outlets back up was easier than I thought it would be and took less time; I dreaded the idea I might be at it all weekend, but they went up in just a couple hours.  I even did it right the first time: The lights came on when I flipped the switch, same as if I knew what I was doing. Always pleasantly surprised when that happens.

LoCo Railway

With the lights taken care of, I had to get down into the dirt.  Literally.  There was so much dirt and dust and many, many dead spiders. Lots of broken glass. Bits of wallboard and insulation everywhere. More dirt.  It was an unholy mess, and there was nothing to do for it but get down on my hands & knees with the business end of a vacuum cleaner.  Kept me busy for the rest of the afternoon.

The next step is to close off the room so the cats won’t be able to get in there.  No use wiring the track up again if they’re just going to swipe at the wiring like it’s their favorite new toy.  That’s a project for next weekend.

revenant | 9:05 pm CST
Category: LoCo Rwy
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Sunday, December 17th, 2017

I’m a huge fan of the 1966 R&B hit song “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations, not that I heard it all that often before 2006. I came late to my appreciation of classic Motown music, but I love it now and this is one of the best.

Been thinking too much about the lyrics, though, and you know what that means: TIME FOR ANOTHER SONG TO BE RUINED!

I know you wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you go
If I have to beg and plead for your sympathy
I don’t mind, ’cause you mean that much to me

Whoa! “I refuse to let you go?” No means no, dude! Don’t be a creeper!

Ain’t too proud to beg and you know it
Please don’t leave me girl, Don’t you go
Ain’t too proud to plead, baby, baby
Please don’t leave me, girl, don’t you go

Let’s talk about relationships that are based on begging, because this guy begs a lot. I get that it’s supposed to be romantic, this notion that he’ll crawl through the mud for her, but how’s that relationship going to endure? It’s not, because neither one of them will have any self-respect. If she caves in and stays with him, she’ll hate herself for caving, and he’ll hate himself for giving up his dignity. Begging is not the way to go. Not that he’s going to stop doing it.

Now I’ve heard a cryin’ man is half a man with no sense of pride
But if I have to cry to keep you, I don’t mind weepin’
If it’ll keep you by my side

Well, now we have a complete lack of dignity with a generous helping of emotionally manipulation on the side. Very nice.

If I have to sleep on your doorstep all night and day just to keep you from walking away
Let your friends laugh, even this I can stand,
’cause I wanna keep you any way I can.

Okay, this has veered wildly into the world of the weird. I mean, is he LITERALLY sleeping on her doorstep to stop her from going anywhere? Because I’m pretty sure that’ll get him arrested just about anywhere in the world. And what kind of friends has she got if all they do when her ex behaves like this is laugh? Not very dependable friends, if you ask me.

Now I’ve got a love so deep in the pit of my heart, and each day it grows more and more
I’m not ashamed to call and plead to you, baby
If pleading keeps you from walking out that door

And now he’s making harassing phone calls.  Dude, we’ve all been there. You can survive this, but only if you put it behind you.  Stop already.

another song bites the dust | 7:00 am CST
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Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

On this day in 1954 Raymond Chandler’s wife Cissy died.  Chandler was arguably one of the greatest mystery writers in American history.  If you don’t believe me, read The Lady In The Lake.

Chandler wrote this about Cissy after her death, in a letter to a friend:

I have received much sympathy and kindness and many letters, but yours is somehow unique in that it speaks of the beauty that is lost rather than condoling with the comparatively useless life that continues on. She was everything you say and more.  She was the beat of my heart for thirty years.  She was the music heard faintly at the edge of sound.  It was my great and now useless regret that I never wrote anything really worth her attention, no book that I could dedicate to her.  I planned it.  I thought of it, but I never wrote it.  Perhaps I couldn’t have written it.  … Perhaps now she realizes that I tried, and that I regarded the sacrifice of several years of a rather insignificant literary career as a small price to pay, if I could make her smile a few times more.

 

cissy | 8:46 am CST
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We are planning a vacation, and when I say “planning,” I mean we are thinking about it every so often, and I know we are thinking about it only because when we do, one of us will say, “We should probably buy tickets for our flight soon,” and not because we have tickets or itineraries or actual plans laying around.

Not only do we have to think about flying there, we are staying over one night in a hotel before our cruise ship departs, but luckily I already had that part of the trip taken care of.

“Did you send me a copy of the confirmation email you got from the hotel we’re staying at?” My Darling B asked me a couple days back.  (She’s going to be furious if she ever discovers I portrayed her as the kind of person who ends her sentences in prepositions.)

“I’m pretty sure I did,” I said. “I can send you another copy.”

“You’d better, just for back-up,” she suggested. “I remember you made a reservation, I just can’t find it.”

“Well of course I made a reservation,” I said, literally scoffing at the merest suggestion that I might not have.  “I clearly remember making it.”

“I do, too,” she said with nothing but confidence in my travel-planning abilities, “but I can’t find that email.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I waved her off. “I’ll find it and send you another copy.”

Fast-forward a couple days to when I had an idle moment in front of my laptop and remembered the conversation with B about emails. I have an email folder just for vacation-related emails, so I checked there first, but couldn’t find it. Next, I did a search of all email folders using the search term “reservation.” Found lots of emails about vacations we’ve already been on, but this was no time to wander down memory lane. Tried searching again using the term “confirmation.” Still nothing new. Feeling a little desperate, I searched for any email that included the term “hotel.” Got about three dozen hits, none of them having anything to do with our upcoming vacation this winter. The last thing I did was to scroll back through my inbox to January, before I bought tickets to the cruise, and review every one of the emails that landed in my inbox since then. Not a one had anything to do with hotel reservations.

Well, poop.

Reluctantly, I broke the news to B that I couldn’t find the confirmation email. We sat down to brainstorm ways to get confirmation from the hotel that I prayed to the gods would not involve calling them, because I knew I would be the one to make the call, which would make me feel like an utter moron because the call would go something like this: “Hello, hrrr hrrr, I made a reservation in your hotel but I lost the confirmation email, hrrr hrrr, would you send it to me again, hrrr hrrr?” But even though we’re both moderately smart people, calling them was all we could think of and, what a surprise, the conversation began pretty much verbatim the way I just described it, except without as many “hrrr hrrrs.”

The call did not end with the expected email being resent because they never sent an email to begin with, and that, it turned out, was because I apparently never made a reservation, although I have to say the guy who answered the phone at the Marriott customer service center tried his darndest to find that reservation and wanted to keep on going even when I eventually said “thanks for all your help” and called off the search. So reality was going to stubbornly refuse to conform to our memory of events, dammit.  Well, nothing to do but cave in and find a hotel room, then.  I had to call around a bit, but eventually found one at a decent price that wasn’t far from the port.

Feeling lucky, I started looking for airline tickets.  I always start out feeling optimistic when I start looking for airline tickets.  I think that might be because there are so many ways to search for them that it seems at first there is nothing on earth easier to buy than airline tickets.  That optimism lasts for about three minutes.  Five, if I’m lucky.  I quickly remember that buying airline tickets ranks way down there with shopping for clothes and cars.  If you’re confused by that statement, you must be one of those people who live in an alternate reality where shopping for clothes and cars is fun.  In my world, dental surgery is more enjoyable.  (Is there a universe where dental surgery is enjoyable? What other horrors do you suppose they enjoy there?)

About five minutes after I began looking for airline tickets, I gave up and proposed to My Darling B that we just buy the first two I found, even though we would have to drive to Milwaukee and layover in Denver for hours and hours.  B does not enjoy shopping for tickets any more than I do, but she hates caving in to frustration even more, so she set off on an hours-long odyssey to find cheap airline tickets for a flight that departed from our airport and didn’t layover anywhere long enough for us to grow beards.  Not that I’m saying B could grow a beard or ever has, although if she did I would love her even more, especially if she wore it with a curly handlebar mustache.  Now there’s an image that’s going to be stuck in my head for quite some time.

She got tickets, but only after I took a little side-trip to call our insurance agency to confirm that I bought travel insurance and didn’t just imagine it.  Didn’t get a damn confirmation email for that, either.  So we began our weekend with no emails, no reservations, no airline tickets and no plans, but in the end we’re not only fully booked and ready to go, I also wrote down all the details in a notebook I will be tearing the house apart looking for in about six weeks.

reserved | 8:24 am CST
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Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Here’s a fun bit o’ trivia about me: I can enjoy the shit out of a story in a book or on television, but nine times out of ten I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the characters no matter how much I liked the story. In fact, the odds that I won’t remember names get better the more I like it. “I just read this fantastic book about these guys, ah, I forget their names, but the story was gripping!”

For instance, I giddily enjoyed the whole first season of Stranger Things and was maybe halfway into season two before I could tell you the names of any of the characters. When a friend of mine was telling me how much she liked Stranger Things, “But I just want to smack some sense into that Nancy,” I wasn’t sure at first who she was talking about. I knew all the kids and could keep them straight in my head, I just didn’t know their names. Dustin was my favorite character starting with the third or fourth episode, but if I had to ref him in conversation, he was just “the kid with the curly hair” until sometime after he found the slimy thing in his trash can.

If I’m reading an especially thick book with more than three or four characters, I have to make a list of their names on the back of a bookmark with a brief note about who they are and maybe what they do. If I don’t, I end up flipping back through the pages looking the last time they appeared in print, which sort of breaks the spell. I’m so looking forward to the day when we all have little computers in our heads and our memories become searchable, but for now, I’ll have to make due with bookmarks.

Names are my particular blind spot when it comes to books. My Darling B’s is a bit different: she can’t remember the plot of a story six months after she’s read it, unless you’re talking about A Prayer For Owen Meany, or The World According to Garp. She knows those books by heart, but even then it’s only because she’s read them over and over. I’m pretty sure she read Garp at least half a dozen times. Any other book, no matter how much she liked it, is a complete mystery to her a month or two after she finished reading it. She loved A Man Called Ove, for instance, but she lent it to a friend at least six months ago and although I’d guess she still remembers the bare outlines of the story, if you quizzed her on any of the finer points, she’d be clueless. If she ever reads it again, it’ll be a new story to her.

names | 8:50 am CST
Category: books, entertainment
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