Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds:”

A few minutes later, two more books have been added to the stack:

  • “The Thorn Birds 3: Things Be Getting Tornier!”
  • “The Thorn Birds 2: More Thorns”

The stack gets a little higher in the next scene with an all-anagram stack of “The Thorn Birds,” including:

  • “The Borsht Rind”
  • “The Third Borns”
  • “The North Birds”

Then the stack becomes a lollapalooza of goofy free-association versions of “The Thorn Birds:”

  • “The Born Turds”
  • “The Torn Shirts”
  • “The Sworn Words”
  • “The Thin Boards”
  • “The Shorn Brads”
  • “The Corn Nerds”

And finally, the stack turns into a random pile of books we’ve seen in previous episodes, including:

  • “The Thowd in the Bone”
  • “A Blockwork Thornge”
  • “198Thourn”
  • “The Picture of Thornian Bray”
  • “The Thord of the Rings”
  • “Thorntnoy’s Complaint”
thorn birds 6-25-20 | 12:01 pm CDT
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Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a stack of books on the end table:

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • 1984
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Thorn Birds

A few minutes later, “A Clockwork Orange” has been transformed into “A Clockwork Thornge.”

After that, “The Sword in the Stone” becomes “The Thowd in the Bone”

Then “1984” becomes “198Thourn”

And finally, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” becomes “The Picture of Thronian Bray.”

thorn birds 6-24-20 | 11:50 am CDT
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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

I’m pretty sure I’m getting entirely the wrong story from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

The story I get is: There are these two good friends, Judas and Jesus. Jesus actually has a lot of friends, twelve of them, but Judas is the one who can tell Jesus stuff the other friends won’t or can’t. 

Judas and Jesus have been best friends for quite a while, know each other pretty well and, up until now, get along even better, but it’s beginning to dawn on Judas that Jesus needs Judas to do something, mmmm, kinda bad. Judas isn’t sure at first what it might be, but he’s getting the vibe it’s something he doesn’t want to be a part of any more.

He tries to tell Jesus about his concerns, but Jesus isn’t having it and he won’t tell Judas why. Jesus will only tell Judas, over and over, “You do what you’ve got to do.” Judas doesn’t like the sound of that. It sounds like he doesn’t have a choice.

Then he makes the mistake of calling the cops on Jesus. This seems like the right thing to do because why wouldn’t the cops want to help Judas sort Jesus out? They know what’s right and wrong, don’t they? (Is this topical right now, or what?)

Well, yes. The cops know the law, and they want to sort out Jesus, but they’re thinking more like with capitol punishment than corporal. Judas figures this out too late (although the purse full of silver should have been the tipoff) and, crushed by the realization that he’s condemned his friend to death, Judas hangs himself.

But wait! There’s more! In death, Judas learns that he was right to feel he didn’t have a choice, because he didn’t! He was set up from the beginning to be the one who literally sells out his friend. This makes him a tad bitter, and why wouldn’t it? Jesus was the best friend Judas ever had, but Judas was doomed to kick that friendship right in the teeth.

It’s one of the most heartbreaking stories I know of a friendship torn apart by events beyond their control.

Jesus Christ Superstar | 6:30 am CDT
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Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds” on the end table:

In the next scene, a copy of “The Bourne Identity” appears on top:

Next, “The Thorn Birds” and “The Bourne Identity” seem to meld into a single copy of “The Thourne Identity.”

And finally, “The Torn Birds” reappears:

thorn birds 6-22-20 | 12:03 pm CDT
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Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

I finally found a reality show I like. Not that I was looking for one. I gave up on reality shows almost as soon as they became a thing. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that stiff, self-conscious drama played by terrible actors working with practically no plot almost always added up to a show I did not want to spend more than five minutes on.

Many moons later, I’m a YouTube junkie, and it started with guys who pull junker cars out of garages that are scheduled for demolition, take them back to their shop and fix them up (the cars, not the demolished garages). The guy who got me hooked regularly drags home a Volkswagen that’s been sitting in a garage for thirty years, dumps a little oil in the crankcase, connects a spare battery and fires it right up. I binge-watched his videos for weeks. It’s hard to explain why.

I can’t remember how I crossed over from that kind of fix-up video to boat building, but however it happened, I ended up on a series of videos from Leo Sampson, who rescued a historically significant wooden boat from being broken up, shored it up in the backyard of a friend’s house and started work on restoring it. He thought he’d be able to save a lot of the boat, but what he ended up doing was tearing it completely apart and rebuilding it from the ground up. (Almost. If I recall correctly, the original ballast keel is still on the ground beneath the completely rebuilt hull.) What made it fascinating to me was how detailed his videos were and how clearly and concisely he explained what he was doing. It’s like “This Old House” but for wooden boats. I’m a complete nerd for this kind of stuff.

I tried watching several other video series about building wooden boats, but none were as interesting to me as Leo’s were. He had a special knack for shooting just the right video, putting it together in just the right way to tell a story, and then narrating the story in a way that was really engaging to me. He’s also got wicked good taste in music, which surprisingly makes the videos so much more enjoyable.

While I was searching for and watching other videos about building wooden boats, I also watched videos about sailing boats. There are a metric butt-ton of these and they fascinated the hell out of me for a while because apparently there are viewers who will pay to watch these videos! Yes! A typical video will feature a young couple who sold their house and their car and bought a boat, which they plan to sail around the world. You can like and subscribe the videos, which somehow makes money for them, and you can sign up to send them money regularly through a service like Patreon, and who wouldn’t want to throw twenty bucks a month to a couple in their twenties so they can sail to Tahiti and drink beers on the beach?

*raises hand*

Sorry. Not going to pitch in for gas money if I’m not going along for the ride.

(Full disclosure: I’m pitching in for Leo’s boat because that guy’s got moxie. Watch the first half-dozen videos in the series and try to tell me he doesn’t.)

I’ve given up watching most videos about sailing, but there’s one series I can’t tear myself away from: It’s called “Sailing Uma” and features, unsurprisingly, a young couple, Dan and Kika, and they – again, unsurprisingly – sold practically all their worldly possessions, bought a boat and sailed it across the Atlantic Ocean. What makes their story compelling is that, like Leo, they have a knack for creating an interesting video journal of their journey. They know how to tell a story. They can compose a shot and edit the shots together like the pros. And they are engaging and have great chemistry together that comes across well on the screen. In short, not only are their sailing videos are more fun to watch than any others I have seen, I even look forward to them.

a pleasant distraction | 5:36 am CDT
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Sunday, May 10th, 2020

I have been enjoying the hell out of The Murderbot Diaries for only about four months. I read the first novella, “All Systems Red,” in a weekend in February and liked it so much I snapped up all three of the rest of the series of novellas – “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” and “Exit Strategy” – intending to read them while we were on vacation in March, which meant I would have to wait and not read them for weeks and weeks. I managed to almost do that.

With a week to go before our vacation started, I broke down and read “Artificial Condition” as slowly as I could, dragging it out to three days – I could’ve stretched a full-length novel to as much as two weeks by reading very slowly and putting it down between chapters, but I couldn’t put down Murderbot because a chapter in a novella is a snack compared to a chapter in a full-length novel. Fun to read, but it just doesn’t last.

I was dying for some more Murderbot after I finished “Artificial Condition,” and I’m quite chuffed to say I managed to hold off reading the next novella, “Rogue Protocol,” until I was on a plane heading south. Finished “Rogue Protocol” in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and finished “Exit Strategy” somewhere in the Caribbean.

With no more Murderbot left to read, I did what any self-respecting reader who enjoyed the hell out of a series of books would do and started at the beginning again. And enjoyed it as much as I had the first time. Which is why I’m over the moon this week after finishing the first novel-length Murderbot story, “Network Effect,” which dropped into my Kindle on Tuesday morning. I didn’t see it there until my lunch hour and had to wait four agonizingly long hours to jump into it because my day job got in the way. I hate it when that happens.

There is science fiction and fantasy that I connect with immediately, some that I grow to like after a while, and then there is SF&F that I don’t connect with no matter how hard I try. I connected with The Murderbot Diaries right away, I think because I identify with Murderbot, which probably should be an alarming admission, considering the difficulties Murderbot has getting along with people (it calls itself “Murderbot” for reasons you can easily guess), but I can’t deny the affinity. There’s a lot about human society that Murderbot just doesn’t get, which is the way I feel about human society at least sixty percent of the time.

And yet, there is plenty about human society that Murderbot likes, even when it’s not sure it completely understands, and I think it’s the moments where Murderbot is trying to work out what it likes and why which I enjoy most. In “Network Effect,” for instance, Murderbot writes the story of its relationship with Mensah, one of the humans who befriended it, and gives the story to another sentient killer robot like itself in order to help it free itself. I’ll have to read that again because I know there are angles to that story I missed the first time around, even though I stopped and re-read parts of it.

And there are things about socializing that Murderbot seems to understand very well. It spends a lot of time trying to work out what kind of relationship it has with a sentient space ship, for instance, even while the humans in the story can easily see it’s a close, personal relationship. They enjoy watching soap operas together. They argue like an old married couple. They fight and almost die for one another. It’s really very touching.

A review of “All Systems Red” by Jason Sheehan at NPR

A review of “Network Effect” by Steve Mullis at NPR

Network Effect | 10:27 pm CDT
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Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Neil Gaiman interviews N.K. Jemisin, 5/2/2020

Gaiman: Back in 2014, I was in Jordan in a Syrian refugee camp – I was talking to the refugees about what made them flee their homes, what made them flee their cities. In order to get to those camps, they had to cross a desert where there would be people shooting at them, where they would cross the bodies of people who had failed to make the journey. Some of them had come all the way across Syria during a civil war. I would ask them what had happened. My realization, which was slow in coming, was how incredibly fragile civilization is. We see a city and we see something immutable, we see something really solid. Then I would talk to these people and they would say, “The tanks ran through our village.” If you drive a tank through a village, everything underneath the tank in the road is destroyed, which includes the water main, so now your village has no water. All it took was a few bombs, a few land mines in the farmer’s field, and now the farmer’s aren’t farming. And very soon they’re getting permission to eat cats and dogs from their religious leaders, and then they run out of cats and dogs.

Jemisin: The part of it that’s most fragile, I think, [are] connections between people, where people are looking out for each other and willing to take risks for each other. That’s what’s kind of being eroded here in the United States right now. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to put those webs back together. Within the city, they’re still pretty much still in place, but there are cracks starting to show. Things like the concept of a nation, or the concept of a group of people being one people are actually really easy to separate and fission off, and we’ve got some parties actively engaged in trying to do that. That’s the part that I was not prepared for. That’s the part science fiction didn’t help me with. Science fiction was all about, When the plague comes, the U.S. will come together and try to fight it.

Gaiman: That, to me, has been the most amazing part. The one bit that I could never have predicted was the levels of idiocy and incompetence and the strange, sad shit show. I would’ve gone, Okay, well, there will be a pandemic, therefore all of the grownups will step up and they will do the right things. That is what grownups do. The only reason they wouldn’t is if we were writing some kind of satire intended to point out the foolishness of people, but even in that we would expect them to come together under the umbrella of sanity, in the end.

Jemisin: And the incompetent people would eventually be deposed by the heroes, and the heroes would be the grownups. Then the grownups would take over and everything would get better, and there would be a nice period of I-told-you-so when the heroes got to tell the incompetents, What were you thinking? Then we would see them all brought to justice – no, none of that’s happening here. And honestly, at the moment that the U.S. is in right now, I have some despair of it ever happening, or the justice part of it ever happening.

Gaiman: One of the things that I’ve always said is that life doesn’t have to be convincing; science fiction does. Had we written this, I don’t think you could’ve written the complete chaos, getting to the point where states are randomly coming out of lockdown.

Jemisin: I don’t think anybody was expecting the states to have to guard their stashes of PPE from the federal government, either, for fear that the feds would come steal it. Good grief! None of this makes any sense! This is all bad writing! We’re living in a really badly-written season of “COVID-19.”

life doesn’t have to be convincing | 5:13 pm CDT
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Saturday, April 11th, 2020

It’s coming. Release date April 14.

Which means I’ll be re-reading the first two books this week before my copy of the pre-ordered final volume comes in the mail. Assuming we still have mail. I will be so fucking furious if mail is one of the government agencies this administration gets rid of.

The Last Emperox | 4:03 pm CDT
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Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

Tim tipped us off to a show he watches on You Tube called Hot Ones. In it, Sean Evans interviews celebrities while they eat hot wings that get hotter as the show goes on. Some of the celebrities bail out before they get to the hottest wings, earning themselves a place on the Hot Ones Wall of Shame. Others press on to the very end even while they regret every moment of it. A few endure the experience with a calm stoicism that is truly impressive to watch.

We had our own Hot Ones challenge last night, using the lineup of hot sauces the show featured in Season Nine. Well, okay, not the entire lineup. I ordered the first five sauces because, while I enjoy spicy foods, I wasn’t entirely sure I could endure the whole lineup of ten sauces, so I decided to try the bottom half to see just how hot they got.

I like a little hot sauce on my eggs and had been dabbing them with The Classic, which has lately been the first hot sauce in the Hot Ones lineup. It’s tasty and not quite as hot as Cholula, which is the hot sauce I had been dressing my eggs with because that’s what the waitress brings me when I ask for hot sauce in a restaurant. I have to say I favor The Classic over Cholula because I think The Classic is tastier and I like that I can put more of it on my eggs because it doesn’t set my mouth on fire.

I ordered The Classic from Heatonist, a store in New York, which sells most of the sauces seen on Hot Ones, and while I was on their web site I also ordered the bottom half of the lineup so we could do our own home-grown Hot Ones challenge one day. Well, that day was yesterday after dinner while Tim was visiting. B heated up some chicken nuggets and we dunked them in a dab of each of the sauces, working our way up to number five. All of them are just delicious and even the hottest one, Los Calientes, was not quite as hot as some of the Indian food we get for take-out, although all were respectably spicy.

Then, there was Da Bomb, the famously superhot hot sauce that takes down all but the most seasoned guests on Hot Ones. I think probably the best response any of the Hot Ones guests had to Da Bomb was best voiced by Trevor Noah: “It’s just pain! What? Why? This is not ‘da bomb,’ this is trash.” (His complete thoughts on Da Bomb start at 14:10 and they’re hilarious.)

I never intended to ever try Da Bomb because almost all of the guests on Hot Ones were virtually unanimous in their condemnation of it, but My Darling B bought a bottle of it when we first started watching the show and she dug it out of wherever she was hiding it and put it on the table with the rest of the hot sauces last night. It was practically a double-dog dare. I’m a great big chicken who can back away from a double-dog dare with no regrets, but I was thinking the other sauces were tolerable; how much hotter could Da Bomb really be?

Imagine filling your mouth with gasoline, then setting it on fire with a flame thrower, then instead of putting the fire out you hit yourself in the mouth with a red-hot poker while you let your face burn. That would be almost as hot as eating something with Da Bomb on it. I have never eaten anything that hot before and with any luck, I never will again. It didn’t only burn my mouth, it cranked up my heart rate, gave me the shivers, and sent my brain into orbit. I’m getting a little dizzy just recalling how hot it was. I felt the way Tom Arnold looked by the end of his Hot Ones interview. At the peak of Da Bomb’s spiciness, I had to drink ice water constantly just to keep my head from exploding. I would slurp up a mouthful, slosh it around until it was a little warmer than ice, swallow, slurp up more, slosh, swallow, et cetera. I did that through three pint glasses of ice water and I only stopped at three pints because I wasn’t sure I could hold any more.

My Darling B, the cocky little wench, had to immediately spit out her mouthful of Da Bomb and for a few harrowing moments she was sure she was going to throw up. “It tasted the way natural gas smells,” she very accurately described it.

Would I do it again? Hell no. I’m sorry I did at all. Gonna try some of the other hotter sauces featured on the show, but I’ll never try Da Bomb again. I don’t know how Sean Evans eats that crap every week.

Just FYI, we grabbed things from all over the kitchen looking for an antidote to Da Bomb and it turned out that sucking on orange wedges helped a lot. I ate the wedges because the pulpiness seemed to help mop the fiery heat off my tongue as I chewed them up.

hot ones | 11:11 am CDT
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Thursday, January 16th, 2020

This is too much fun:

And this is just plain cool:

See more of Laura Kampf’s work here!

beer bike | 6:41 am CDT
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Saturday, January 4th, 2020

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

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

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

Marjorie Morningstar | 5:06 pm CDT
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Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

new years eve | 1:01 pm CDT
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Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

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

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

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

songs you’re done with | 6:05 am CDT
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Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

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

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

copypaste | 3:14 pm CDT
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Monday, October 14th, 2019

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

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

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

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

beanbag | 5:53 pm CDT
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Friday, September 27th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right. Well. Where to start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

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

And now, the chorus:

Sky rockets in flight
Afternoon delight!

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

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

Afternoon Delight | 6:09 am CDT
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Monday, September 16th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tally Ho | 6:16 am CDT
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Sunday, July 28th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

offer accepted with conditions | 11:07 am CDT
Category: entertainment, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, this modern world
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Thursday, July 4th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

molly lewis | 3:08 pm CDT
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Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

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

This is why it sounds familiar:

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

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

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

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

David Sedaris, Calypso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WFF2019 – day 5 | 7:55 am CDT
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Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parable of the Sower | 9:12 am CDT
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Monday, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

zero degrees | 2:28 pm CDT
Category: books, entertainment, food & drink, weather
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Friday, November 9th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

gone too far | 4:50 am CDT
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Saturday, October 20th, 2018

One of my favorite ways to wind down at the end of the day is to watch YouTube videos of Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert’s The Tonight Show, and Seth Meyers’s The Late Show. All the shows post highlights of the previous night’s show the next day, so I can catch up on all three in about an hour; longer, if they have a guest interview I’m interested in (normally, I’m not).

Although our flat-screen TV is supposed to be a “smart TV,” it’s pretty stupid until it logs in to our home wifi network, which normally takes a couple minutes. While it’s doing that, I surf the broadcast television channels to see what’s on. It’s almost all pretty bad reruns of the crappy TV I used to watch as a kid, including the original Star Trek television show with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the crew. Over a 3-year period they made 79 episodes of this show, and I’ve seen each and every one of them so many times that I usually know which one I’m watching within seconds of changing the channel, no matter which scene is playing.

The other night the scene was Kirk and his crew on the bridge, but Kirk was the only one moving; everybody else was still as a statue. Ah-hah! This is the episode (“Wink Of An Eye”) where the Enterprise responds to a distress call from the Scalosians, a race of beings who move so fast they cannot be perceived by the human eye! Which is kind of a cool premise, if you don’t think about it too much. I mean, even if they can move as fast as a bullet, they spend a lot of their time in this episode just standing around talking. So even though they can move too fast to be seen, you’d think someone would notice them when they stand still.

At one point, though, the pretty girl (there’s always a pretty girl, because Kirk) steps out of the way of a phaser beam, which crawls through the air at sloth-like speed. It gives her a really awesome-looking superpower but it means she can move faster than light, assuming phaser beams move at the speed of light. (I have no clue what a “phaser” is, but it rhymes with “laser” so I think we all assumed the pretty glowing beams from phasers were moving at the speed of light, didn’t we?) If these beings are moving faster than the speed of light, or even if they move at the speed of light, then how do they talk to one another? Sound moves at a pretty slow speed, a lot slower than light, slower than a bullet, even. If one of them said something to another one of them, it would take ages for the sound to move from the talker to the listener. And yet they yak yak yak at each other without having to wait around for the sound to move between them, somehow.

The pretty girl, called Deela, takes Kirk prisoner by slipping a mickey into his coffee that alters his metabolism, making him move as fast as her. They smooch a couple times right there on the bridge in front of everybody (because Kirk), there’s some yadda yadda yadda from the pretty girl to explain what’s going on, and finally Kirk storms off to see what he can to to fight back against these invaders from outer space. My question: How the hell does Kirk get off the bridge? The only door opens to the elevator, which they call a “turbolift” because, I guess, it moves pretty fast, but not as fast as a bullet, so not nearly fast enough to get Kirk (or Deela, for that matter) off the bridge before he croaks from old age. He must have used the secret back stairway that’s never been shown in any episode before.

Kirk confronts the other super-fast beings, they fight (because Kirk), there’s some more yadda yadda to explain what’s going on, and then Kirk and Deela do it. You never see them do it, thank goodness, you only see them smooching just before, then they cut away to another scene, and when they cut back, Kirk is pulling on his boots and Deela is fixing her hair. And I’m sorry to put this image in your head, but if they’re moving faster than bullets, how do they not suffer deadly blistering from the friction of rubbing against one another? Their heads should be literally bursting into flame just from the smooching. Well, they should all be literally incinerated just by walking through the air. They would be like meteors streaking through the atmosphere. One step forward at that speed and POOF! They would never get close enough to smooch.

There’s a lot more that’s wrong with this episode, but I’ve already written way too much about it. It’s just Star Trek, after all. You’re supposed to just sit back and enjoy it. But damn.

fast forward | 2:39 pm CDT
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

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

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

pain | 6:22 pm CDT
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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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