Thursday, February 9th, 2017

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

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

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

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

bummer | 9:59 pm CDT
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Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

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

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

I almost choked on my tongue.

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

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

So I wasn’t the only one thinking it.

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

Fair winds and following seas, Eugene Cernan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La-La Land | 9:49 am CDT
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Saturday, January 7th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well. *shrugs* OH-kay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other minor quibbles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

57 Royal Quiet De Luxe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rubbing the residue off the key caps

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

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

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

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

crudded-up type face

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

type face on 57 Royal QDL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So three stars, just because it looked so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I quite like this one, too.

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

I just can’t get enough of this video.

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

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

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

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

bailing out | 12:40 pm CDT
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Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right, she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet somehow we still got there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. A whole lotta nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet somehow we still got there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise Monkey Day One | 6:00 am CDT
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Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CDT
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
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Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

My Darling B and I went to the El Dorado Grill for dinner on Thursday night. It was restaurant week, as if we needed an excuse to go out to eat. We were looking over the menus when the waitress came over to ask if we wanted to start off with something to drink, which sounded like a great idea to me, so I ordered a martini. B told me later that when she asked, “Do you have a preference on the vodka?” I made a face like she’d just waved a dead squirrel under my nose. That must be the face I make when people ask me a question that seems to be completely disconnected from what we were just talking about, because at that moment I was thinking to myself, “Vodka? Is there vodka in a martini? I don’t think so. Why is she asking me about vodka?” It came and went, a quickly-passing senior moment, when I remembered that vodka martinis are a thing, but I still fumbled around for a bit trying to tell her that I wanted a martini made with Hendrick’s gin. Turned out that I got all the Hendrick’s gin left in the place, about two or three ounces, which they turned into an acceptable cocktail, but because it was smaller than they usually make them, they treated me to it, on the house! The best-tasting martinis are Hendrick’s martinis, but the most delightful are free martinis.

gratis | 11:26 am CDT
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Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Spoiler Alert: I watched the ending of The Man In The High Castle last week, and it’s time to unload the various and sundry brain vomit that’s been building up inside me. And grump alert: I thought it could’ve been better.

In the last half-hour of the last episode, Frank wants to know what’s so damn important about these films that Jules is after, so they thread one into a conveniently handy projector (there’s always a projector around when they want to watch a film) and Frank sees himself being lined up with a bunch of Nazi resistance fighters and shot.

Up until this point, it hasn’t been clear whether the films are a record of a reality that had somehow crossed into the alternate timeline where Frank and Jules lived, or they are a propaganda stunt. If they were from another universe, cool. But for nine episodes there was no reason to believe they were anything but a fantasy spliced together in somebody’s garage for the hell of it. Why did we have to wait ten hours to learn that the films were somehow crossing over from our reality into Frank’s?

And what the hell is with Frank, anyway? His mind is blown when he seems himself shot in the film, but just a minute or so later he snaps back to being all mad and mopey about Jules and Joe. Dude! You just saw yourself in another universe! There’s no other plausible explanation! And you got shot! In! Another! UNIVERSE! Your girlfriend and her other boyfriend are not as big a deal as that!

And another thing: The resistance has been devoting practically all their time and effort to getting hold of these films. They don’t know why. They don’t even know what’s on the films. They just know they’re important, so they do everything they can to get them. The Nazi SS in New York is doing the same thing by planting a mole in the resistance to steal the films and pass them along to Hitler, who has a special interest in the films, we’re told. The resistance is getting the films for someone they know only as the man in the high castle, which turns out to be, Guess Who?

So if the resistance has already been maneuvered into getting the films and passing them along to Hitler, then why is the SS trying to take the films away from the resistance in order to give them to Hitler? Seems to me that the first item on the things to do list of the SS commander would be: Make sure nobody stops the resistance from getting those films to Hitler.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hung up on the films. Maybe they were meant to be nothing more than a McGuffin, but it seems to me that the story doesn’t work that way. The films point the way to an alternate universe. That would make them, and every action related to them, very important. Where am I going wrong here?

film at eleven | 8:58 am CDT
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Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

After everybody got up and got showered on Sunday, we all piled into the O-mobile to make the short trip to Lake Mills, where we visited the Tyranena brewery. Their tap room opens at noon and they encourage visitors to order take-out food from any of the local restaurants and bring it in to eat while drinking beer, so B and I covered the table with 5-ounce tasters and we phoned a local pizzeria and asked for a sixteen-inch with plenty of cheese and sausage.

The tap room has plenty of board games piled up along the window ledges. I picked out a word game that we played for ten or fifteen minutes. When I guessed it was about time to pick up the pizza, I took my leave and made the short drive into town. The pizzeria was on the town square about three minutes away; all I had to do was duck in, pay the ponytailed girl at the counter and duck out. I was back at the tap room in probably ten minutes. It was like I was never gone.

B was a little concerned about how we were going to eat the pizza without plates, but the bartender solved that problem by handing us a whole stack of paper plates and napkins. He even handed over a jar of cracked red pepper in case we wanted to spice up the pizza a little bit. Now that’s a bartender who knows how to keep his customers happy. We gobbled up all the pizza while we played the word game some more and sipped our beers, which kept us there until about two-thirty. Almost all of us dozed off on the twenty-minute drive back, so we broke up to find places to nap for an hour or so after returning.

Tyranena | 7:07 am CDT
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Friday, December 4th, 2015

I was in charge of feeding us last night, but I had given literally zero seconds to thinking about what to make for dinner so I defaulted to stopping at Stalzy’s Deli for hot sandwiches, which has never been disappointing before and wasn’t last night. B ordered a slab of fried walleye on a hoagie bun, and I had a Ruben, and we were both so hungry that we ate every bite rather than save half for later, our usual modus operandi.

That was the second night in a row this week that we ate out. Wednesday was the first. After a long and especially busy day at work, B didn’t want to make dinner, she wanted to relax and have someone make dinner for her. I didn’t see how I would have a leg to stand on if I were to argue against her, so I didn’t. Take that back; I argued just a bit. She suggested Alchemy, but I’d been thinking about how long it had been since we visited Grandpa’s, a pizzeria on Willy Street, so I suggested that, and she went along without a moment’s regret.

The pizzeria’s in a building that used to be Grampa’s Gun Shop. It was right next door to what used to be a store that sold bibles and other Sunday-school tchotchkes. Both stores went out of business years ago; with a new coat of paint, the bible store became Jane’s Junk Shop. Gil Altschul and Marissa Johnson, the pair that have opened several crafty restaurants and bars in the area, bought the gun shop after it closed, gutted it and reopened it as a very cozy little pizzeria, naming it Grandpa’s as a nod to its previous life.

The front of the shop, where gunsmith Larry Gleasman used to sit and work on guns behind the big picture window when it was Grampa’s Gun Shop, was turned into a dining room with one long community table. We were seated there the first time we visited, but when we’ve gone back every time after, they’ve seated us in the dining room that was added to the back of the shop and faces the gardens. Paneled in dark wood with windows all around, the addition has the homey look and comfortable feel of an old-fashioned family room.

Our second visit was on a Tuesday, which they’ve declared Date Night, so we ordered the Date Night Special, which comes complete with special pizza, appetizers and a bottle of wine at a very reasonable price. Since we missed Date Night by twenty-four hours on our most recent visit, we had to pay for the bottle of wine; it was overpriced, but drinks everywhere always are so what the hell.

We built our own pizza last night, or rather B did. I suggested too many toppings and combined pepperoni with basil, a culinary no-no, if B’s reaction was anything to go by. She suggested roasted red peppers and sausage instead of pepperoni, which turned out to be a fabulously delicious pizza indeed. We gobbled up all but two slices, which I saved for lunch the next day. And we got to take home the olives we didn’t eat. So, a very nice night out indeed.

eating out | 1:22 pm CDT
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Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Our latest guilty pleasure has been watching The Man In The High Castle, a television series streaming on Amazon video that was released just two or three weeks ago, so we’re almost keeping up with what other people are watching. The premise of the story is a pretty straightforward what-if that has made lots of money for dozens of writers: What would America look like if the Axis powers had won the second world war? This show has some pretty good-looking visuals to answer that question. They’ve obviously devoted a lot of brainpower to giving the streets of occupied American cities look foreign and retro. Wish they had saved some of that ingenuity to translating the story to the screen as well.

I’m not sure what the story is, to be frank. We’ve watched five episodes and so far, about all I know is that there’s this guy everybody calls the man in the high castle and he’s got something to do with a film that’s a what-if story about what America might look like if the Axis powers had lost the war. Very meta, right? There’s also a resistance movement that doesn’t seem to be resisting very much. They appear to be spending most of their efforts on getting the film in bits and pieces to the man in the high castle. Beyond that, the show is mostly atmosphere and people speaking very elliptically in hushed tones. “If you knew what it cost me to get here.” “My mission must not fail.” And so on.

atmosphere | 6:04 am CDT
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Saturday, November 28th, 2015

We binge-watched all thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones last week, if you consider it binge-watching when we only watched two shows on most nights. We started with three episodes on the Friday before last when the whole season was up for grabs on Netflix; I think that’s as many episodes of any series as we’ve ever watched in a single gulp. We finished it this last Friday morning. B wanted to finish on Thursday night, but I was burned out after two episodes and had to go to bed. For some reason, she waited for me, but insisted that we watch the final episode right away Friday morning. Which we did.

Jessica Jones is unlike any other television series built around a superhero. She’s really not much of a superhero, for a start. She can’t fly or shoot laser beams out of her eyes. She’s not bulletproof, and ordinary people can knock her out by bonking her over the head with a stick. All she’s got, at least in this series, is the ability to punch people really hard and jump really high. She doesn’t wear a costume; she mostly wears undershirts and the same old ratty pair of jeans. And she doesn’t have a superhero name. Her real name isn’t even all that unusual. She’s just Jessica Jones, a private detective who isn’t especially good at investigating things, even though everybody says she is. As far as I could tell, she found out what she wanted to know because everybody was after her all the time, and when they caught up with her, she punched them really hard until they answered her questions.

Which brings me to the second point of how unlike other “gritty” comic-book hero series this is: Instead of filming it mostly in the dark, or by throwing in lots of gory fight scenes, they made this one seem real through the simple expedient of making the characters pretty ordinary. Even Jessica’s arch-nemesis, a guy who can make people do what he wants by merely suggesting it to them, is the spoiled brat you would expect anybody with that kind of power to be. Not that it makes him any less threatening. His cat-and-mouse game with Jessica over the span of thirteen episodes kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Daredevil was not quite as engaging as Jessica Jones. I started watching it several months ago when I was down with the flu, got through eight or nine episodes in three or four days, then stopped and didn’t pick it up again until this week after we finished Jessica Jones. The show seems to have a much slower pace and the villain isn’t nearly as vibrant or engaging. He’s meant to be the most canny businessman ever who just happens to have a penchant for occasionally beating people to death, so the few times you see him doing that, he’s truly awful, but most of the time you see him he’s in meetings with other evil villains, expounding in his drawn-out, reserved baritone voice how he’s going to make the city better. Yawn. I can’t imagine why they didn’t go with a much more immediately threatening villain like Bull’s Eye. There was a guy who could have kept Daredevil on his toes and made his justifications for becoming a vigilante sound more reasonable and less like rationalization. Not that I minded Daredevil questioning himself. If I had one little nit-pick about the hero, it would be that I had a really hard time believing he could take as much punishment as he did, and he took a lot of punishment: he was beaten, stabbed, shot, disemboweled and thrown off one building after another, and yet he still got up and walked away, slept it off and was back on the streets, beating up bad guys the next evening. Didn’t seem too plausible, given that healing fast wasn’t one of his super-powers. I’ve got one episode left, and I’m hoping the resolution will be as satisfying as the one they wrote for Jessica Jones.

boob tube | 11:26 am CDT
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Monday, November 16th, 2015

There’s a certain kind of funny that doesn’t seem to register on my funnybone. Maybe I sprained it?

The other night I was listening to a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour. Three people were talking about how much they loved the television show Brooklyn 99. They thought it was one of the funniest shows on television today, funnier than Parks and Recreation, a show that, from what I’ve been able to tell, virtually every person on the planet believes is hilarious.

I’ve watched both, and I am here to confess that I have not so much as cracked a smile at either show. It kinda makes me feel like a grinch. These shows are not hyperpopular for no reason, but I just don’t get the funny, even though I can tell when the characters deliver what is clearly meant to be a joke. They even pause for audience reaction. It couldn’t be more obvious if there was a laugh track. But the jokes just don’t register on me. I don’t get it.

By coincidence, Brooklyn 99 was on TV the night I’d heard the podcast. It had been several months since I’d tried watching it, so I sat through the episode to the end, thinking that maybe this would be the episode that would flip the switch. Maybe that discussion I heard on the podcast gave me the insight I needed to properly experience this show. Maybe, but no. No funnies.

The weirdest example of funny shows that are not funny to me was the very excellent The Last Man On Earth. The first episode had me doubled over laughing until I was in tears. Those were the funniest twenty-two minutes of my life. Naturally, I wanted to binge-watch the whole series after that, so I went on to the next episode. It was … meh. Could’ve been a misfire, I thought, so I went on to the next episode, which was … okay.

How did that happen? How did they go from a first episode that was so funny I was struggling for breath every single minute to a series of episodes so meh that was struggling to find reasons to keep watching? After the fourth or fifth episode I couldn’t think of any, and stopped watching.

I’m not blaming television, or anybody else besides me. I’m completely okay with owning this. It’s clear to me that my sense of humor fossilized in the 1980s and can’t understand what young people these days think is so darned funny.

sprained | 7:00 am CDT
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Saturday, November 14th, 2015

“I think we finally have found a new Fri 13 restaurant to replace the beloved Peppino’s,” My Darling B posted on Facebook while we were having dinner at Estrellon, Tory Miller’s new restaurant on Johnson Street in downtown Madison. I believe she may be right, although I would quibble with her use of the word “replace.” I don’t know how we’ll ever find another restaurant that will have the both the cozy feel and the terrific food that Peppino’s had, but Estrellon is the best substitute we’ve found so far.

We went there for tapas several months ago and passed the better part of an evening noshing away at a table in the bar while the waitress brought us one dish after another, and maybe a few glasses of wine to go with them. It was such wonderful food that we knew right away we would have to come back, and when Friday the Thirteenth rolled around this month, My Darling B made reservations.

The dining room is beautiful, very open and airy with high white ceilings crossed by darkly stained wooden beams. The walls are paneled with dark wood and the back of the room is open to the kitchen so you can watch Chef Tory Miller and his staff go to work (he happened to be there last night during our visit).

The staff is fantastic. Everybody’s smiling and helpful, and our waitress – she happened to be the same young lady who waited on us when we stopped in for tapas in the summer (I think she said her name was Christine; hope I got that right) – had an impressive knowledge of the foods – how they were made, what they were made with, and how to pair them with which wines.

We chose three tapas dishes to start, a dish of garlic shrimp swimming in oil, and a dish they called “estofado de vegetales” that was a stew of Italian sausage, root vegetables and chickpeas, served with a crouton topped with tomato relish. I would’ve been satisfied with the stew alone, it was so good and the portion so generous.

Our entree was called “valenciana” and was a big fry pan filled up with rabbit, shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, flavored with sarvecchio cheese and served on a bed of bomba rice. I thought we’d have plenty to take home for a midnight snack, but it was so good that we gobbled up every little bit of it.

We learned on our first visit that a meal at Estrellon is not complete without the churros. They’re served with a cup of melted dark chocolate that you can dip the churros in, or spoon into your coffee; they give you more than enough for both.

Estrellon | 7:59 am CDT
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Sunday, November 8th, 2015

After living in the Madison area for a little more than ten years, we finally made the thirty-minute drive to Lake Mills to visit the Tyranena brewery. We’ve loved their beer since our first taste and today got to sample several brews we’ve never tried before. And we’ve got a new favorite: a delicious porter flavored with maple syrup and aged in bourbon barrels. Would definitely drive to Lake Mills again for more.

tyranena | 5:09 pm CDT
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Monday, November 2nd, 2015

New favorite moonshot find on the internet: recordings of the intercom chatter between flight director Gene Kranz and the members of the “White Team” that were on duty when an oxygen tank blew up on Apollo 13.

The cool of these guys is jaw-dropping, especially Sy Liebergot, the guy who eventually noodled out what had gone wrong. The pressure on him to come up with an answer for Kranz must have been colossal, doubly so when it turned out to be the answer nobody wanted to hear. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve lost two fuel cells,” he tells Kranz about twenty-six minutes after the accident. Up to that point, they had been working as if they might be able to fix the problem, even though Kranz already suggested they could use the lander to get home if they needed to.

This is a recording of the closed loop the flight director (Kranz) used to talk with the rest of the team, so the only time you can hear the astronauts is when the team members are not talking, and then only distantly, because they’re on another loop. But you can hear Lovell report about fourteen minutes after the accident that they’re venting something into space. I guarantee that chills will run down your spine.

chills | 8:00 am CDT
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Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Well I hope you all had a good time at your various pagan celebrations last night, not that I think there’s anything wrong with pagan celebrations. I am, in fact, a supporter of almost any celebrations at all, particularly if drinks and noshies are on hand. And if it’s a party where you dress up in underpants and a cape, or as sexy garbage collector, I have been known to appear at those, too. Sorry, no, there aren’t any photos.

Our Little Red House was visited by sixty or seventy little superheroes and pixies last night, but nobody with bloody axes or knives sticking out of their heads. Thank goodness that particular costume has gone out of fashion in this neck of the woods. And thank goody-goodness they took all the Snickers snack-size candy bars and Reese’s Pieces and left us nothing but Twizzlers, which neither one of us will be tempted to eat today. Tomorrow we’ll take them to work and leave them in the break room, where they’ll disappear before the lunch hour.

pagan | 9:58 am CDT
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Sunday, October 25th, 2015

The view from Ishnala Supper Club's dining roomWe had dinner last night at the Ishnala Supper Club near Wisconsin Dells. It’s a bit of a drive, just under an hour, but as things turned out, our visit there was worth every minute on the road.

We learned about Ishnala from “Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club,” a documentary we watched at the film festival. If it sounds a little dry and boring, it really isn’t; it gave us the urge to visit every Wisconsin supper club in the film. We didn’t, but ever since then we have wanted to visit Ishnala, a relatively short drive from Madison.

I have to admit, I wanted to go there for the ambiance alone. The supper club is in a log-cabin themed building perched on the very edge of Mirror Lake. The bar is the most prominent room, jutting out over the lake and surrounded on three sides by picture windows that gave us an uninterrupted view of the fall foliage. The dining room is much the same: a long, open room with floor-to-ceiling picture windows on the side facing the lake. Our visit was maybe a week past the peak time for fall colors, and the evening was overcast so the colors were a bit muted, but it was still gorgeous.

I frankly didn’t expect much from the food, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. B and I each ordered a seven-ounce fillet mignon with sun-dried tomatoes in a wine reduction, one of the specials, and it was fantastic. I ate every bite and used my potato skins to sop up as much of the wine reduction as I could. The little bit of sun-dried tomato that was left over got buttered onto slices of melba toast and I shared it with My Darling B.

Tim treated us to his company on this trip and reported that the New York strip steak he ordered was every bit as wonderful as our fillets. We were there a little more than two hours, lingering afterwards over a slice of chocolate gateau and coffee before hitting the road back to Madison.

Our First Dinner at Ishnala | 9:36 am CDT
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