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 CDT
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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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Saturday, January 6th, 2018

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

John Young

John Young | 11:43 am CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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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 CDT
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Thursday, November 30th, 2017

These are the songs I loved when they were first released but I’ve heard them enough. I’m not here to ruin them, it’s just that I’ve heard them so many times that I wouldn’t care if I never heard them again. Or, really, I’d rather not ever hear them again. It’s time for them to retire, preferably forever, from the airwaves.

Crocodile Rock
When our local oldies station plays an Elton John song, nine times out of ten it’s this song. They used to play Yellow Brick Road a lot, but not so much any more and there’s no way they played it more than Crocodile Rock. I’d bet the farm that no other Elton John song has been played as much as Crocodile Rock has. And the crashing shame is, it’s not even one of his best. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s a fun song, but it’s not so good that it deserves to be played umpty-million times. I don’t get why radio stations play it so often, unless maybe they got it on sale.

Hotel California
I’ve never understood what it was about this song that made everybody so ga-ga over it. I like the Eagles, but this song is just so … average? A nameless traveler pulls into a hotel late at night, checks in and verse by verse discovers the place is haunted by the souls of all the other travelers who pulled in and were trapped there forever. Wow. Might have been scary if it were shot in glorious black and white as a Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner, but as a pop song it’s had its run.

We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions
I know I’m going to hell for this. I don’t doubt for a second that Queen is an awesome band and their songs are iconic. Everybody who grew up in the 70s had at least one favorite song by Queen. Unfortunately, it was probably this song. I just don’t get it. Why not Don’t Stop Me Now? Why not my favorite, Somebody To Love? Why not even, so help me, Fat Bottomed Girls? Why does We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions deserve to be played whenever it’s time to honor Freddie Mercury or Queen? They had so many other, better songs.

Hey Joe
Speaking of other, better songs, Jimi Hendrix was way better than Hey, Joe. It’s a good song and all, I’m not saying it’s bad, but it seems like the few rare times I hear Hendrix on the oldies radio stations, it’s always Hey, Joe. They need to knock that off. Play Cross Town Traffic once in a while, or Manic Depression. Even Foxy Lady, which seems to be their other go-to Hendrix song. Anything but Hey, Joe.

many songs bite the dust | 6:30 am CDT
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Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Our after-dinner entertainment on Thanksgiving was the Michael Jackson music video Thriller. Fun Fact: Tim had not seen it before then. Amazing, I know. Now his life is complete. To think we came so close to being complete failures as parents.

thriller | 5:45 am CDT
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Saturday, November 18th, 2017

We went to see Justice League Friday night with some friends. Fun movie. If you’re into superhero movies, then you will enjoy this. Grab some popcorn and go.

No spoilers here, but some general observations on superheroes, if I may:

The “what if” element of comic book superheroes has always been fascinating to me. What if you could shoot laser beams from your eyes? What if you could fly? What if you were unbreakable? What if you could punch something so hard it would go into orbit? It’s some pretty far-out imaginary thinking, and it’s fun to do! They gave Superman all those powers, and he’s been superheroing with them for, what, going on eighty-five years now?

I can still enjoy comic books – I’ve got quite a few issues boxed up in the basement, and I dig them out from time to time – but I can’t look at superpowers as anything but magic now.

The Flash was one of my favorite superheroes when I was a kid. Guy can run so fast you can’t see him go by. Trouble is, the friction he’d have to generate to go that fast would trench the ground from the spot where he started to the place where he stopped, and he would leave a trail of superheated plasma in his wake that would incinerate everything around him, to say nothing of the multiple sonic booms shattering everything that wasn’t already in flames. Also, he wouldn’t be able to corner for shit. His turning radius at Mach 1 would be measured in miles, so in the city he would have to run in a straight line and any taxi or pedestrian that got in his way would be flattened (or incinerated, but we already covered that).

Why would I want to spoil superheroing like this with facts? I wouldn’t if the movie hadn’t brought it up first. Batman noticed the Flash wore a heat-resistant costume, presumably to protect him from friction with the air, ignoring that the costume was held together with what looked like piano wire. Pretty sure that would fall apart before he hit the speed of sound. Also, the Flash covered every part of his body with heat-resistant material except his face. So I guess his face is indestructible. And Barry Allen (the Flash’s alter-ego) said his crazy-fast metabolism made him hungry, as he was gobbling down a pizza. That must be one high-octane pizza. It takes orbital rockets about five minutes to burn through tons of explosives, but he can run faster than the eye can see after fueling up on sausage and mozzarella. Cool cool.

Batman is my son’s favorite superhero. Timbo says that’s because Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s just really strong and good at fighting, and he’s got a lot of gadgets. I say, he does have a superpower: he can stop time. It’s the only way to explain how he has enough time to build the gadgets. If he couldn’t stop time, he would spend his whole life building those gadgets and never have any time left over to get out there and fight crime. Now I know they sort of explained that Wayne Industries has an armaments division that cranks out his toys but, if that were true, then Batman’s superpower would have to be mind control, because how else would it be possible that he could use all those impressive gadgets in full view of the public and nobody would ever point at the latest news broadcast on a TV set in a bar and yell, “Hey! That looks just like the bat-shaped jet plane we made only one of at Wayne Industries!”

Sticking with Batman for another minute: He’s got to have some kind of regenerative powers, or he’s unbreakable, because no human being, no matter how bulked-up or highly trained, can take the hits he can, then get up and walk away. Even if his costume is some kind of body armor, there’s a limit to how much punishment it can take for him, and Batman is taking hits in this movie that would definitely kill your run-of-the-mill mortal being, no question. Put it this way: If you were inside a can made of an indestructible material and I pushed you off the top of the Empire State Building, when I opened the can you would be nothing but jelly and a pile of broken bones. It wouldn’t make any difference that the can didn’t get scratched or dented. That’s what’s happening inside Batman’s apparently indestructible armored costume whenever some super-powered being punches him across the room and he comes to a sudden stop against a wall. He would be oozing out of every seam of his suit instead of staggering to his feet groaning to bravely face his attacker again.

And there’s that face problem again: Batman covers ever part of himself in an armored costume but his face? None of the bad guys ever think of shooting him in the face? He never gets shot in the face by accident? Seems like a pretty poor costuming choice for the sake of a little face time.

Superman’s powers are really very easily explained: He’s an alien. Aliens can do things so advanced it looks like magic. How else to explain how he’s flying? Hell, he’s clearly levitating in these movies. Levitating! He can control gravity with his mind! And he can not only make himself fly, he can make other things fly. One scene in Justice League showed him carrying a building intact through the sky. There’s no way he simply picked it up in his hands. A building is made to stand on its foundations; it isn’t engineered in a way that would let anything grab a small part of it and pick it up. Superman had to be controlling the force of gravity! That’s a pretty awesome superpower! And pretty much all the superpower you need, when it comes right down to it. No superbaddie could touch you if you could send him flying into space or crashing into a mountain just by thinking him there. Funny Superman never does that, though. He mostly only punches. Which is great eye candy, but still puzzling.

Justice League | 12:52 pm CDT
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Friday, November 10th, 2017

I Want You Back by the Jackson Five is one of my favorite Motown songs ever. I really don’t want to ruin it, but I don’t know how to explain what’s going on in with this guy and his ex without making him sound like a jerk, and that, in fact, kind of ruins the song.

His jerkiness starts with the first two lines of the song:

When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd

This has to be the most roundabout way of calling a girl ugly that I have ever heard in a pop song. He is calling her ugly, right? I can’t think of another way to interpret that.

Then he goes straight into regret, but it seems to be more the kind of regret that she’s with someone that’s not him, instead of regret that he was a jerk to her:

But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took
Now it’s much too late for me to take a second look

Oh, baby, give me one more chance (to show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart?
Oh, baby, I was blind to let you go
But now that I see you in his arms (I want you back!)

See, I’m not sure if he really expects her to take him back, or if he’s just crying in his coffee. He called her ugly, admitted to himself that she’s with someone now who thinks she’s beautiful, and he’s all wahh-wahh, gimme a chance. Dude, too late. You had your chance, and it sounds to me like you blew it.

Trying to live without your love is one long, sleepless night
Let me show you, girl, that I know wrong from right
Every street you walk on, I leave tear stains on the ground
Following the girl I didn’t even want around

So … he’s stalking her now? Is that supposed to be romantic? I mean, the first line of that verse sounds like the kind of poetic language guys use when they’re being romantic, but the second line sounds like an empty promise. He already showed her he didn’t know wrong from right; he ditched her because he thought she was ugly. Then some other guy thought she was worth seeing and suddenly he’s all, Hey, I want you back. Makes me think he doesn’t know wrong from anything.

And then those last two lines — the tear stains thing is all poetic again, but he’s following her everywhere. That’s not normal. That’s weird. Dude. Just stop.

another song bites the dust | 6:30 am CDT
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Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Watching this made me so happy.

Just watch | 6:45 pm CDT
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The solar eclipse was way back in August but I’m just getting around to writing about it now. I believe I’ve already said enough about how good I am at procrastinating, so it seems unnecessary to enlarge on that any further.

I got the idea I would like to see a total solar eclipse more than a year ago. It’s not an idea that just came to me out of the ether. I’m a geek for stuff like planets and outer space, so I follow the blog posts and Twitter tweets of scientists and fellow space nerds who talk about that kind of stuff 24/7, and they started talking about last summer’s eclipse many moons ago (heh).

And because I follow all those guys, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see a total eclipse from my back yard or from any place near Wisconsin; I would have to drive many, many miles to see it, and I would probably have to figure out a way to talk My Darling B into going with me, because we have just one car and it would be rude to leave her without a way to get around for days and days.

So when we got around to talking about where to go on vacation this summer, one of the suggestions I threw out was a road trip to St. Louis, Missouri, and from there to my mom’s in Bella Vista, Arkansas, and it just so happens that such a trip would coincidentally take us far enough south to see the total eclipse.

Naturally enough, B wanted to know what there was to do in St. Louis that made me suggest it. She’s not dense, so I came clean right away and told her about the eclipse, but also that I’d always wanted to see the arch and that there must be other attractions in St. Louis that would make it worth visiting. We had plenty of time to find out what they were if we started planning ahead of time.

And she agreed. What do you know about that?

As our plans unfolded, we laid out a road trip south to St. Louis, then just a little bit further south to see the eclipse, then on to Bella Vista, Arkansas, to visit my mom for a few days, and finally to Memphis, Tennessee, to do we didn’t know what yet, but it was Memphis, so there must be something there to see, right?

In St. Louis, we stayed at The Park Avenue Mansion B&B on Lafayette Square, an old brownstone mansion that had been lovingly restored by Kathy & Mike, the owners. If you like staying at a B&B instead of a hotel, as we do, I couldn’t recommend this place highly enough. Mike greeted us at the door with two giant poodle hybrids in tow; one was a labradoodle and I forget what the other was — something with “oodle” or “poo” in it. They waited ever so patiently while he introduced them, then came rushing forward to be petted after he released them. One of them had a ball — wait, I should have written it this way: HE HAD A BALL! HE DROPPED THE BALL! HE WANTED ME TO THROW THE BALL! I THREW THE BALL! “He can do that all day,” Mike warned me. It’s okay, we told him. We love to throw spit-soaked tennis balls. We could do it all day long, too.

Mike knew every house on the square and told us all about them, but he didn’t mention Horace Bixby’s house a block to the north. Bixby was the crack river boat pilot who taught a young Samuel Clemens his trade. If the civil war hadn’t interrupted traffic along the Mississippi River, Clemens would probably have spent the rest of his days piloting paddle boats up and down the river and nobody would ever have read about Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.

If you go to St. Louis you would have to visit the arch while you were there, right? And we planned to do that, but you have to get tickets if you want to ride the elevator to the top of the arch to look out the windows. We thought we’d do the smart thing and order tickets for the next day by going on-line. We were not as smart as we thought. Tickets for the next day were sold out. Seems you have to check the web site several days in advance.

So instead of going up inside the arch, we drove into town just to get a close-up look at it the next morning. It wasn’t hard to find, and traffic was light so early in the day. We parked about a block from the old courthouse, which is now a tourist attraction administered by the National Park Service. That wasn’t part of our agenda; maybe next time we visit St. Louis. Then we strolled down to the park at the base of the arch so we could take a selfie with it in the background, because how do you go all the way to St. Louis and not get a photo of yourself in front of the arch?

Over breakfast, we chatted with some of the other couples who were staying at the B&B. Every one of them was there because of the eclipse in one way or another. One couple was there because it was a long weekend for them; they worked for the state, and Missouri had shut down all state offices on Monday due to the eclipse. Not sure why. Another couple was there from Chicago because they up and decided on a whim, more or less, to get married where they could see the eclipse. A third couple was there just to see the eclipse. They all wanted to know what our plans were, and when we said we were there to see the eclipse, too, they cautioned us that thousands upon thousands of people were expected to come to Missouri for the eclipse and that if we didn’t get an early start, we would end up stuck in traffic. One of the couples was planning to head south before daybreak. That was never part of our plan. I told B that I would be perfectly happy seeing the eclipse in Lafayette Park, if we ended up stuck here, or along the side of the road, if we ended up stuck in traffic. I did not need to get up at the crack of dawn and hit the road right away just to see the damn eclipse.

On the day of the eclipse, we drove to St. Claire, Missouri, a little burg about an hour’s drive south of St. Louis in normal traffic. Normal traffic, however, was the one thing we did not anticipate seeing that day, so we set out early. Got a little help from Kathy, whose directions got us out of the city with no trouble at all, and we arrived in St. Clair about a half-hour before the eclipse.

My Darling B is the one who picked out the spot; she looked for places designated as official viewing places where there would be people in attendance who could answer questions about the eclipse, if anybody wanted to ask. We saw people camped out along the roadside and in several empty lots in and around St. Claire. We were looking for a saddle club, which turned out to be tucked away down a side road off the main road, almost hidden away. That may have been the reason there were so few people there. The way everyone was talking, I expected to be shoulder-to-shoulder with teeming crowds, but there were maybe fifty people, sixty tops, gathered on the grounds of the saddle club.

The heat was incredible. I was dripping sweat just minutes after stepping out of our air-conditioned car. I’ll bet I sweated away a couple pounds of water just sitting motionless in a lawn chair under the shade of an umbrella waiting for the eclipse! Luckily we had several bottles of water, and I was guzzling them constantly. Probably the only thing that kept me from drying up and blowing away.

The eclipse was not the life-changing event I heard many people on radio and television say it was for them, but no worries: it was every bit as cool as I hoped it would be. The sun was already being eclipsed by the moon when we pulled over and got out of the car; I glanced at it as we were getting our lawn chair out (though a protective filter!) and could see the moon had already taken a bite out of it. I believe we waited at least twenty minutes as the bite got bigger and bigger until only a sliver of the sun was left. From that point, things changed very quickly.

There were a few clouds in the sky, especially off to the west, so I was hoping we might see the shadow of the moon as it approached, but it came too fast for that. Just before the last sliver of the sun disappeared, an odd, silvery light fell over the grounds of the saddle club, and when the sun was entirely eclipsed, it was as if someone had quickly run a dimmer switch almost all the way off. A collective “WHOA!” and a little nervous laughter rose involuntarily from the people gathered around us as we were plunged into twilight.

We could look directly at the sun’s corona while the moon eclipsed the disk of the sun. It streamed out in all directions, the way long hair does when it’s suspended in clear water. I’ve seen a lot of photos of it, but the one that looked most like the eclipse I saw is one from NASA. Of course it is.

The only difference between the photo and what I saw is, I didn’t see the surface of the moon; I only saw a black disk where the sun should have been, with the corona streaming away in all directions. (I think I read that the NASA photo is really two photos, one of the eclipse with a photo of the moon superimposed on it.)

The eclipse lasted about a minute and a half. We didn’t need a warning when the sun began to peek out over the edge of the moon again; the blaze of light was unmistakable, and everybody put their filters over their eyes again.

I’d rather this story had a happy ending, so the part where we were stuck in traffic for 9 hours afterwards is going to be a story for another day.

Our eclipse story | 4:13 am CDT
Category: travel, vacation
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Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

We binge-watched the entire second season of Stranger Things last weekend, making us the two people in the whole nation who didn’t see it within the first twelve hours after it was released. Procrastination: it’s not just our middle name, it’s our mission in life!

Loved the second season and, I have to say, I was prepared for a let-down, because I the first season was so much fun that I didn’t see how they could pull off a second season as good as the first. Better Call Saul was the last one we watched that just kept getting better and better. It doesn’t happen that often.

That said, I’d be perfectly happy if they didn’t make another season, because this one tied up all the loose ends rather nicely (except that one in the icebox) and even gave us an (almost) happy ending.

I think my favorite scene was toward the end of the second to the last episode: The monsters are closing in. The kids are holed up at the Byers’ house with Hopper. Dusty whips out a Dungeons & Dragons manual to explain the hive mind of the monsters by describing how a character in the game works: “The mind flayer: It’s a monster from another dimenson.”

Hopper: “None of this is real. It’s a kid’s game.”

Dusty: “No, it’s a manual. And it’s not for kids. And unless you know something that we don’t, this is the best metaphor —”

Lucas: “Analogy.”

Dusty: “Analogy.” Beat. “THAT’S what you’re worried about?”

Of course that would be my favorite scene.

Most disappointing scene: The one that never happened, when one of the dog-monsters ate Max’s douchebag brother. Was so waiting for that scene.

Second most favorite scene: Dusty goes to the Wheeler’s house to look for Mike, has this conversation with Mike’s dad at the door:

Dusty: “Is Mike here?”

Dad: “No.”

Dusty: “Where the hell is he?”

Dad: “Will’s”

Dusty: “What about Nancy?”

Dad: “Allie’s. Our children don’t live here, didn’t you know that?”

Dusty: “Seriously?”

Dad: “Am I done here?”

Dusty: “Son of a bitch.” (walks away shaking head) “You’re really no help at all, y’know that?”

I just realized the thing these two scenes have in common is Dusty, who happens to be my favorite character in the show.

And my favorite reaction in the show was from Lucas, after Max got her first look at one of the hounds from hell and asked him, “Are you sure that’s not a dog?” Such a perfect “Are You NUTS?” look he gave her.

Stranger Things | 6:30 am CDT
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Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

Most mind-blowing thing I learned last week:

This guy …

… and this guy …

… are the same person! Holy shit!

I went on a business trip last week that seemed to last a whole year, because that’s how much of your life gets sucked out of your soul when you’re behind the wheel of a car for three days driving on the interstate and backroads, getting stuck in traffic jams caused by oh my god another construction zone, and sleeping in one anonymous hotel after another. Thank goodness I don’t have to do that again for a while.

The one good thing about the trip was a travel companion who liked the same movies I liked and grew up on the same songs I grew up on. To pass the time, we played the “Who’s your favorite actor?” game, and we took turns playing songs from our phones through the car stereo and singing along, me always slightly out of key (thank goodness she didn’t mind. At least I think she didn’t).

One of the songs that kept coming up on her playlist was All Good Things from the musical Godspell, and each time it started to play she told me “That’s Victor Garber,” like I should’ve known a singer named Victor Garber. I was pretty sure I didn’t, but only because I didn’t know Victor Garber the singer was also Victor Garber the actor. I didn’t even know he could sing! It’s not like he ever broke into song in Legally Blonde or Sleepless In Seattle. And why would I ever have connected the kid in the blown-out afro with the gray-haired guy in Titanic? In my defense, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only person who has remained this blissfully ignorant.

So last weekend I got reacquainted with the music of Godspell. I had the album once upon a time and listened to it so incessantly that I learned the words through osmosis, although not always the right words. The version of Godspell that bubbled up from my memory was filled with lots of Whoa Nipsey Russel and Elvis Is A Watermelon, because my LP didn’t come with the lyrics printed on the liner, dammit. I didn’t have a decent stereo to play it on, so I learned to sing lots of words that I knew were wrong but I would have to make do with them because I couldn’t figure out what the right words might be.

What’s interesting to me about this alternate version of Godspell is not only how comically wrong I was about the words but that, after all these years, I could recall the wrong words so clearly. I mean, these are songs I haven’t thought about in more than fifteen years, and yet each and every misheard word came back to me as clearly – or, rather, as garbled – as they did when I pressed my ear against a tinny speaker back in high school, straining to learn the words, any words, to the song.

Just as a for instance, one of my favorite songs was All For The Best, sung in two parts by Jesus (Victor Garber) and Judas (I don’t know). I could easily decipher the words of the part Garber sang, but I got the words to the other part almost entirely wrong. The way I heard it, it went something like this:

Some men just want to live at ease, doing what they please, richer than the bees are in honey
Never growing old, never feeling cold, pulling pots of gold from thin air
Your bets from every town, bets are shaking down, bets are making mountains of money
They can’t take it with them, but what do they care?
They get those sandy pots of meat, pushing down the street, outside on the street where it’s sunny
Summers at the sea, which are warmer treats, all of this when we have progressed
But who is the land for, the sun and the sand for?
You guessed, it’s all for the best!

But now I have the internet! I can look them up! Which I did, and was astonished to discover that I actually got some of the words right! But the words I got wrong were oh so comically wrong:

Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please, richer than the bees are in honey
Never growing old, never feeling cold, pulling pots of gold from thin air
The best in every town, best at shaking down, best at making mountains of money
They can’t take it with them, but what do they care?
They get the center cut of meat, cushions on the seat, houses on the street where it’s sunny
Summers at the sea, winters warm and free, all of this, and we get the rest
But who is the land for, the sun and the sand for?
You guessed, it’s all for the best!

I think “sandy pots of meat” is my favorite mis-heard lyric.

If there’s a down side to this, it’s that I’ve had All For The Best playing on a loop in my head ever since. Well, sort of a down side. That was one of my favorite songs, so I’m not entirely bummed that I can now sing it the right way.

Mind blown | 6:30 am CDT
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Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

I brought a big box of CDs along on our three-day road trip last week so we would never be out of fresh songs to listen to. Turned out we reserved the only damned car in the DOT fleet that didn’t have a CD player.

But good luck was with us: Each of us had lots of our favorite songs saved on our phones, and the car was a late model with a stereo that would connect to our phones so we could play our music loud.

The most amazing thing about long road trips? How easy it is to get someone to sing along with Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ when you’ve been trapped in a car staring out the window at endless miles of concrete for hours and hours.

songs for the road | 6:30 am CDT
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Saturday, October 28th, 2017

I have to travel to do my job. Not always. In fact, not more than a few months out of the year, and that’s a very good thing because if I had to do this year-round I think I’d blow my brains out with a bazooka. Driving hundreds of miles a day, waking up in hotels, and eating complimentary “breakfasts” is not my thing. I don’t know whose thing it is, but if it’s yours, you can have it all to yourself. I will stay here in my cozy little town while you drive drive drive.

Let’s talk about those complimentary “breakfasts.” First, the eggs. What is the spongy substance those eggs made of? I would venture to guess it’s the same stuff actual kitchen sponges are made of. It holds water just like a sponge and it has no taste at all. But they wouldn’t offer actual kitchen sponges for breakfast, would they? Seems to me that might leave them open for some kind of lawsuit. So if it’s not an actual sponge, what is it? Any ideas? Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be an egg-like substance at all, other than it has a vaguely egg-like color. Why can’t they just make them out of, you know, eggs? Is it so hard to find people who know how to crack an egg into a frying pan? I guess it must be.

And then there are those sausages, the kind that look like they were extruded from the end of a grease gun. They seem to be standard issue at all hotels everywhere, same as the spongy eggs. If the same corporation makes both the egg-like substance and the grease-gun sausages, we could put an end to complimentary “breakfasts” once and for all by nuking it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). Full disclosure: I kind of like grease-gun sausages. But I can’t eat more than two links at a sitting or I’ll shit my brains out. I have a theory they make those sausages super-greasy so hotel guests don’t get constipated eating eggs made of kitchen sponge. These are the things you think about when you’re on the road a lot.

The only other item on the complimentary “breakfast” menu I willingly eat is toast. I used to eat the waffles, but I can’t stomach the mucilage they call syrup, and I won’t eat them dry. I suppose I could drown them in melted margarine, but it would take forever to wait for the semifrozen tabs of margarine to melt, and I’m already grumpy enough in the morning without adding that kind of frustration to my day.

road trip FOREVER | 9:47 am CDT
Category: business travel, food & drink, soylent green, work
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One of the best things about waking up at home instead of a hotel? The coffee doesn’t suck.

I don’t know how many hotels I’ve stayed in while I’ve been away on business trips these past three months — getting close to a dozen, I would think — but I can say without hesitation that the coffee they served at almost every one of them (except the Best Western in Hudson; good job, Hudson) was not coffee anybody should be proud of serving to the customers, even if it was free. And in particular, somebody ought to be hung for the coffee I tried to drink from the urn in the lobby at the Microtel in Rice Lake. I don’t know how you screw up coffee so badly it tastes like water used to rinse underwear & socks, other than actually using water you soaked socks & underwear in.

On the plus side, I’ve been to quite a few very nice little coffee shops in towns all over the state. I thought we here in Madison were spoiled for choices of cozy mom & pop coffee shops, but really they seem to be everywhere, and thank goodness for them because I don’t know how I would have survived these trips without them.

road trip FOREVER | 8:41 am CDT
Category: business travel, coffee, food & drink, work
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Thursday, October 26th, 2017

I’m here to ruin another song for you! Or maybe not. The song I’ve been thinking about today is Undercover Angel by Alan O’Day. Ever heard of it? It was on the radio constantly in 1977 but I haven’t heard it since I graduated from high school. So maybe you haven’t heard it, in which case I won’t be ruining it for you.

Likewise, I won’t be ruining it for you if you’ve heard it but, like me, you’ve always thought it was more than a little weird that a pop song about a guy’s wet dream made it all the way to number one in the charts. That’s really what the song was about. The songwriter himself, Alan O’Day, described the song as a “nocturnal novelette,” which I guess he thought was a kind of sly way to say it but I thought was about as sly as sneaking into a woman’s locker room by crashing through the wall with a truck.

Here’s the first thirty seconds of the song; what does this sound like to you:

Crying on my pillow, lonely in my bed
Then I heard a voice beside me, and she softly said
Thunder is your night light, magic is your dream
And as I held her, she said, See what I mean?

I said, What?
She said, Ooo-wooo wooo-weee!
I said, All right!
She said, Love me, love me, love me!

Undercover angel, midnight fantasy
I’ve never had a dream that made sweet love to me
Undercover angel, answer to my prayer
You let me know that there’s a love for me out there

So either a total stranger snuck into his bedroom while he was crying and boned him, which doesn’t seem likely given the actual words of the song; or a literal angel appeared and likewise there was boning, which doesn’t strike me as likely, either, given what I was taught in Sunday school about angels; or he dreamed the whole episode, which seems most likely to me because he was in bed, at night, crying about how he was soooo lonely.

Full disclosure: I was the kind of angsty teenage guy who was so bunched up about girls that I mostly lived my so-called social life in my own fantasies. The idea of getting it on with the literal girl of my dreams held an admittedly adolescent appeal for me. I didn’t think it was necessarily weird to write about it; god knows I did some of that myself, but I thought it was unquestionably weird that the repressive culture I grew up in would elevate a song about boning a dream girl (or an angel; which would be weirder?) to the highest tiers of musical fame.

Further disclosure: I like this song. Still. I liked it then, because of the aforesaid social fantasy life I lived, and I still like it now, mostly because it tells me that, no matter how awkward adolescence was for me, it was just as awkward, maybe more so, for other people. Say, other people who are song writers, for instance.

another song bites the dust | 5:00 am CDT
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Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

Pop Music Confession Time: I think John Cougar Mellencamp’s old songs get better and better every time I hear them.

Tangent: I know he’s John Mellencamp now, and I’ve heard he doesn’t much care for the “Cougar” name, but I’m an old dog and his old name was stuck in my head just now, and I include it here because I’m a pedantic completest.

Another tangent: I specify Mellencamp’s old songs, i.e. the songs he recorded in the 70s and 80s, because it turns out he’s been recording right up to the present day, but I didn’t know that until I googled his name as I was writing this drivel. Until just now, all the Mellencamp songs I knew about were pre-1984.

So when I say I think his old songs get better and better, I’m talking about Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A. I don’t know how to account for this. I didn’t like his songs much when they were popular on the radio forty years ago. Truth to tell, I didn’t like his songs at all except for Jack & Diane, which was insanely popular in spite of the fact that nobody I knew liked it. I had to enjoy Jack & Diane in private; turning it up when it came on the car radio invited an instant egging.

Then, for many years, Jack & Diane was the only Mellencamp song I heard on the local oldies radio station, with maybe an occasional Hurts So Good thrown in every couple of weeks just to remind us of the Mellencamp That Was, same as they did with Elton John and Crocodile Rock. How many times have you wanted to kick a radio across the room in a Hulk rage, hollering “HE WROTE OTHER SONGS!”

And now, for maybe the past five, ten years, I’ve been turning up the old Mellencamp songs when they come on the car radio and belting out the tunes

Random Bit O’ Trivia: I learned to sing along with Jack & Diane in the age before the internet, when the only way I could learn the words was by listening to the song, usually through the tinny speaker of a cheap stereo set or, even worse, a car radio, then by comparing what I learned with what my friends learned and either accepting the mistakes they made or continuing to sing the mistakes I made. Now, forty years later, I can look up the words to any song, if I remember to, but very occasionally I will still just ask somebody, as I did recently when My Darling B and I were singing along to Jack & Diane. The line in question was: “Hold on to sixteen as long as you can / changes come along real soon, make you women and men.”

I turned to My Darling B and asked her, “What’s he say there? Because I always heard, ‘Changes come along real soon, make you swim in a van.'”

Such a look she gave me.

“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” I shot back. “You’re the one who thought ‘Roam if you want to’ was ‘Whoa, Nipsey Russel.'”

John Cougar | 5:00 am CDT
Category: entertainment, music
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Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Don’t know?

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

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

Once more I didn’t know.

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

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

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

‘I — I — don’t know.’

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

‘I — I — nothing, for certain.’

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

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

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

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

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

cub pilot | 5:00 am CDT
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Monday, August 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still hate that song, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

musical | 10:11 am CDT
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Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Caine Mutiny | 12:58 pm CDT
Category: books, entertainment, play | Tags: , ,
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Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I immediately went to talk to her about it.

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

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

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

booked | 7:47 am CDT
Category: vacation | Tags:
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