Saturday, December 17th, 2016

We have somehow survived Part One of The Great Blizzard of 2016! But wait! There’s more! (That’s why they called it Part One, see.) More snow is on the way! No one will blame you if you cannibalize your spouse!

Seriously, we got two, maybe three inches last night, about the same as last weekend when another storm was coming in and everybody was talking like we were all staring into the heat death of the universe. Come on, people! We live in Wisconsin! Put on your hat & gloves and grab your shovel! We’ve done this only a couple thousand times before! I think we can get through the next one just fine.

frozen | 10:30 am CST
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Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Ah, yes. Shoveling snow off the driveway. The wintery exercise that blows the flabby coronary muscles of dozens of aging, out-of-shape Wisconsin men every year. Will this year be my turn?

After I “retired” from the Air Force, I moved back to Wisconsin because I remembered liking four seasons, and after living in so many places that had two or less, I thought I wanted to go back to having the full four.

Oddly, Misawa was the last place I lived before I came back to Wisconsin. There are four seasons in Misawa, just like Wisconsin. Also, just like Wisconsin, I had to shovel snow in Misawa. Lots of it. I wonder why that didn’t set off alarm bells in my head?

Anyway, today was the first day in winter when I had to shovel the driveway. In my mind, that ought to be the first official snowfall of the year. If you don’t have to shovel it, it really shouldn’t count.

snowfall | 9:25 am CST
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Monday, June 13th, 2011

We watched Wisconsin Death Trip last Friday night. I’m not allowed to pick out the Friday night movie any more.

Based on the book that you’ve probably never heard of, this movie that you’ve probably never heard of is an hour and a half of people acting out the news squibs found in the newspaper of a northern Wisconsin town, Black River Falls. A friend at work recommended it highly and I remembered that it had been featured at the Wisconsin Film Fest, which My Darling B and I love to go to, so I picked it up Friday afternoon on the way home from running an errand and we plopped ourselves on the couch after dinner to watch it.

Twenty minutes or so into the movie, after maybe half a dozen murders and suicides – I want to say it was right after a farmer killed himself by burying a stick of dynamite in the ground, then laying down with the back of his head against it before lighting the fuse – B finally spoke up: “Geeze, you couldn’t have picked a nice comedy?”

This movie is billed as “an intimate, shocking and sometimes hilarious account of the disasters that befell one small town in Wisconsin during the final decade of the 19th century.” We must have rented the version that had all the hilarious parts edited out. The one we saw was: Death, murder, mayhem, insanity, murder again, suicide, serial murder, some more insanity and suicide … you get the idea.

Right smack dab in the middle of all this was a short vignette, no more than a minute long, about a young couple, just teenagers, “obviously runaways” as the narrator puts it, who, in a fit of high spirits, asked the city clerk to marry them. “Their wish was granted,” the narrator said, without a trace of sinister foreboding in his voice. Even so, B was on the edge of her seat while the actors portraying the couple frolicked and danced across the screen. “This’ll all end in tears somehow,” she said, but it never did. This part of the movie disturbed B more than almost anything else in the movie. “What the hell was that, anyway?” she kept repeating, while furiously googling the interwebs, looking for some kind of an explanation.

I honestly liked the movie, although I would hesitate to recommend it to anybody who was not in the mood for it. This is strictly for a night when you’re wanting something that’s out of the ordinary, kind of dark, and after the kids are in bed. Other than that, I really liked it. I wish I could say B did, too, but I’m still not sure.

Wisconsin Death Trip | 8:08 pm CST
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Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Was I right about last week’s warm weather being a tease? Yes, I was! I got it so right when I said we’d all be freezing our nipples off this week! BOOyah!

Why can’t I be right about something useful, like lottery numbers?

frigid | 8:26 pm CST
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Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Our Saturday morning routine has altered slightly. For months it was: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then co-op for groceries, then book store, then home. But for the past few weeks it’s been: farmer’s market for breakfast & shopping, then march to capitol square chanting “Recall Walker!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” with hoards of angry protesters, then stop at the co-op for groceries, then home. It’s a subtle change, but it seemed significant enough to mention.

I’m impressed that they’re still marching and rallying, to tell you the truth. The rally today wasn’t as big as last week’s, so the rally organizers, whoever they are, don’t seem to have been able to keep the amount of enthusiasm at the levels we’ve seen before. The crowd today filled up the corner of the square facing King Street, but when we walked around the square we didn’t see many people anywhere else on the sidewalk or along the terrace. There was a small knot of people at the top of State Street, but that was it.

My Darling B and I marched with the parade of veterans that gathered on Library Mall at the UW campus up State Street to the square, up Carroll Street and Main Street to the King Street intersection where the rally was held. We wore our old fatigue jackets because we got the impression there’d be a lot of veterans there, and there very well might have been, but only a handful of them wore anything that looked like uniform jackets or fatigue shirts. We sort of stuck out, so much that I was approached by a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal who wanted to ask me about my impressions of the rally. I was going to tell her no comment, but then I reconsidered and answered her questions. Maybe she’ll quote me accurately and maybe she won’t, but if she doesn’t I’ve got her business card.

Saturday Morning Rally | 4:22 pm CST
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Sunday, March 13th, 2011

image of rally in Madison WI 3-12-11

My Darling B and I spent all day yesterday in downtown Madison and all we saw was a lousy two hundred thousand union supporters rallying around the capitol! Man, did we feel ripped off!

We started off the day normally enough, washing up and heading into town to stock up our pantry with various and sundry items from the Dane County Farmer’s Market and, while we were there, we filled our bellies with a delicious breakfast: burritos, hash browns and a few leafy greens. Leafy greens might sound a little unusual to those who have not eaten at a farmer’s market. I thought they were at first, too, but after you’ve eaten breakfast at a farmer’s market for a couple years you not only get used to it, you feel a little guilty if you don’t eat your leafy greens, like maybe you’re cheating. “Hiding your leafy greens under the table mat again?” “No, Mom, honest!”

While My Darling B was shopping I had to run down the street to get first aid for an eyeglass emergency. At first I was just going to duck into Dorn’s Hardware to see if they had any of those little screwdrivers you can attach to your keyring. That would’ve been the quickest and easiest way for me to fix my glasses, if Dorn’s had been open, but they were not, so I ran shuffled on down to State Street to an optometrist’s shop on the intersection with Gorham Street. I’m going to give C. G. Schanel & Associates a plug because not only was he the most pleasant optometrist I’ve even dealt with, he didn’t just hand me a screwdriver and leave me to fix it myself. Instead, he took my eyeglasses over to his little workbench, made sure everything was put together and lined up correctly, cleaned off the glasses and handed them back to me at no charge. “Just come back to me when you need glasses,” he said with a big smile. And I will.

State Street was a steady stream of people walking up to capitol hill and by the time got back to the neighborhood where the farmer’s market is held I was starting to worry that I would never find My Darling B in the crowd. I milled around for a bit in the parking lot, then went into the market itself and looked around, but eventually had to admit to myself that I was never going to spot her and, as it turned out, I was right. She was going to spot me. She came out of the ladies’ room just a fraction of a second after I came out of the men’s room and chased me down. So we didn’t have to wade into the mass of people congregating around the square.

The first time we showed up there it must’ve been about ten o’clock. There were already quite a lot of people crowding the sidewalks around the square, so many that they were already filling the street as they walked around in the customary counterclockwise direction. I wonder who started that, and why? Anyway, we milled around for a bit, collecting pro-union buttons and checking out the signs before we were swept up by the crowd and marched hand-in-hand up Carroll Street to the top of the hill where Hamilton intersects at an angle with the square in front of the Inn on the Square. That’s where we backed up to the curb to wait for the tractors.

This was what My Darling B was most interested to see this morning. Farmers brought about two-dozen tractors (and the inevitable manure spreader — that was sort of required, wasn’t it?) to parade around the square. Real farmers. We knew several of them from the farmer’s market. The parade was headed by an old green fire truck and I’m pretty sure I saw Dan Nichols in the bunch that stood on the back shouting, “This Is Grassroots!” The crowd quickly took up the chant and amped it up to a deafening roar.

As the tractors came up Hamilton Street one by one and turned to head down Main Street at a slow crawl the crowd raised a cheer to each one of them, and when a farmer raised a hand in salute or otherwise acknowledged the crowd they were rewarded with a round of “Thank! You! Thank! You! Thank! You!” from the crowd. It was quite a moment.

After the last tractor turned down Main Street the crowd closed in behind it and marched along in the road. I don’t think we got any farther than halfway down the Pinckney side of the square in a half-hour of marching before we decided to mill around some and see what was going on. What we found was mostly a hundred thousand or so people milling around to see what was going on. Various people were making speeches from the platform set up near the base of the stairs on the State Street corner of the square, but we were too cold by that time to stand still and listen to them, and when My Darling B suggested we pop into Merchant’s to warm up a bit I eagerly agreed.

Merchant’s is a relatively new restaurant on the high-visibility corner of Pinckney and Doty, right across the street from Johnny Delmonico’s. We snagged two stools at the bar and, a few moments later, the attention of the bartender to beg him to fortify us against the cold. B was somehow hungry already, and as soon as she said that I was, too, so we split an open-faced sandwich and chased it with our favorite libations, a Hopalicious from Ale Asylum for me and a glass of Malbec for B. With a fresh supply of antifreeze coursing through my veins I was able to take my coat off … thirty or forty minutes later. I was really cold.

While we enjoyed our brunch, demonstrators streamed past the windows, most notably a long line of bright yellow cabs from the Union Cab Company, honking their horns in syncopation with the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” (an earworm that no one in Madison can get out of their heads these days) and waving hand-made signs from the windows. When the red light at the corner of King Street stopped traffic, cab drivers would pop out of almost ever cab to take photos of the line. You can google “union cab madison wisconsin” and come up with any number of photos of the cabs lined up in the street yourself right now.

As our brunch came to an end we had to decide: go home, or stay to witness The Return of the Wisconsin Fourteen? The wouldn’t make their appearance until three o’clock, so we would have to find something to do for a while. We debated for a little while longer over another round of bellywarmers, just to keep the juices flowing in the cold, don’t you know, then wrapped ourselves up and headed back up to the square. After a quick stop at a book shop where My Darling B searched but was sadly unable to find just the right kind of journal she was looking for, we plowed back into the crowd to see what we could see.

Not much, as it turned out. It was about two-thirty and by this time the square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. I’ve read estimates of the crowd at about one hundred thousand. Pssht. If it was anything less than a quarter million, I’m a greedy union thug. Oh, wait. I am. Well, I still say it was closer to a quarter million, but maybe that’s my uncontrollable need to collectively ask for too much.

And while My Darling B and I were standing on tippy-toe trying to see who was at the podium, the lady next to me nudged me with her elbow and said in a conspiratorial whisper, hooking her thumb at the gentleman standing in my way, “Do you know who that is?” He looked maybe a few years older than me and wore plain denim work clothes. Could’ve been anybody from anywhere in Wisconsin. I turned back to the lady and shook my head no. “That’s Tom Barrett,” she said. Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the gubernatorial election and lost by a narrow margin. I wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d turned around and introduced himself, but many people in the crowd reached out to shake his hand and give him their regards, and after that happened a couple dozen times the crowd itself turned their cameras from the podium to Barret, snapping away and shouting, “Hello, Mister Mayor!” If you can find any of those photos on someone’s Facebook page, you’ll probably see My Darling B and I standing right behind him.

When the Wisconsin Fourteen finally returned, they were literally welcomed by the crowd as returning heroes. The crowd was signing a hymn to their return. I swear I am not making that up. To the strains of God Bless America they marched up the stairs, took their place at the podium, and one by one thanked everyone for everything.

And of course there was Jesse Jackson. I think he stops by every Saturday now to say a prayer. This Saturday he asked us to pray for the people in Japan and even I ducked my head to thank goodness that the friends I had in Japan were okay.

Tony Shalhoub was the Hollywood star this week, a good pick, I thought. You can’t get any more native to Wisconsin than Green Bay, but I say that with a touch of bias, having grown up in Green Bay myself. He brought his sister Amy along because she’s one of those overpaid teachers you keep hearing about.

We began to make our way off the square at maybe four o’clock, cold and exhausted but happy we stayed. Being part of a crowd like that will be a memory that will stick with us for a while.

Oh, just one more thing: Cows.

Tractors. Cows. 14. A Monk. | 10:42 am CST
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Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It’s hard not to sit down and start typing out some drivel without wanting to babble about what’s happening lately in Mad Town, so I might as well surrender to the urge. You must do what you feel is right, of course.

My Darling B’s at an emergency meeting of her union as I type these words. I’m not sure what they have to talk about, other than the most immediate fact that, in the very near future, their union will be no more, same as mine, or at least that’s what I’m guessing. I suspect that most of the people I work with are in the union because we had to join the union in order to get a job at the state, and I’d back that up by betting an extra-crispy morning bun that, if the union called a general strike effective immediately, most of the people I work with would be at their desks tomorrow morning, if they weren’t scheduled to be off already.

I know I sound like a cynic. I can’t help it. It’s not that I don’t care. If we could legally strike, and if we had a strike fund, and a dozen other ifs, I might start to think that a general strike could be effective, but we don’t have those first two things, and after that the rest really don’t matter, do they? My contract says I can’t strike, and I don’t have to think about it too long to come to the realization that, if I were to join a general strike tomorrow, I’d soon be holding a pink slip for violation of contract.

True, the state made the other half of my contract, but they can change the law, can’t they? Don’t bother to answer that, they already have. It’s almost like magic. Don’t like to be burdened by annoying unfunded pension payments? Can’t stand it that the damned budget refuses to be balanced? Pesky open hearing requirements cramping your legislative style? Oh, hey, you can change the law! Who wouldn’t love being a legislator?

They’re not bothered by all those calls for a general strike, because there won’t be one. If the workers were all truly a union, if each and every last one of us refused to show up for work tomorrow morning, and we stayed away from work indefinitely, that would have one hell of an effect. Even if the state laid us all off and brought in replacements, the bureaucracy would come to a grinding halt and stay that way for weeks, because it would take I don’t know how long to train up replacements. But I won’t have to buy you that morning bun. Everybody will be pushing paper tomorrow. We all have bills to pay.

But at least tomorrow’s Friday. Woo-hoo.

Mad Union | 10:08 pm CST
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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

There is surely some weird-ass shit going on in Madison tonight.

You might’ve heard that the senate passed the part of the so-called budget repair bill, the part that does away with collective bargaining. I don’t know understand the legislative system well enough to know how they can pass part of a bill, or how it’s even just a little bit legal for them to do it less than an hour after introducing the idea, but they did. The assembly meets in the morning to vote on it. I’m not holding my breath.

We drove down to cap square after supper because I wanted to see what was going on. I thought there’d maybe be a protest on the square, we could sing “Solidarity Forever” while waving our open cell phones over our heads, something like that. I was absolutely gobsmacked to find the doors to the capitol open and people streaming in. I thought there were strict controls to getting in, but we took a walk around the terrace and it looked to us like every single door was open. Even weirder, there were no uniformed cops inside that we could see, maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen around the terrace.

The rotunda and all the balconies were chock full o’ people when we left at about nine-fifteen, beating drums and chanting “Recall Walker” and “General Strike.” I surely hope this isn’t going to get messy.

Don’t call me Shirley | 10:14 pm CST
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Saturday, February 26th, 2011

There were about a million people on cap square this afternoon, even while the snow and the temperature were both falling. If it wasn’t literally a million, it looked like a million. I’ve never seen a million people in one place, so I’m not sure what that looks like, but what I saw was that the streets around the capitol building were filled curb-to-curb with a steady stream of people marching around and around, and more people filling the steps up to the capitol, and more on the terrace surrounding the capitol. It was a lot of people.

I dressed for thirty degrees, the temperature on the thermometer when we left the house at around ten o’clock this morning to go have breakfast at the farmer’s market. We did our shopping, then stashed the goods in the trunk of our car before walking down State Street to see if we could catch the end of the rally that was supposed to start on the Library Mall at eleven. No, we couldn’t. The rally had already broken up and about a thousand, maybe fifteen hundred protesters were marching up State Street toward the capitol, led by our U.S. Representative, Tammy Baldwin.

So we joined the march. At this point I could still feel the ends of my fingers and toes.

When we got to cap square the rally on the State Street steps hadn’t begun yet, so we stayed with the marchers as they turned up Carroll Street. We kept on marching around a second time, and we did parts of a third lap around, taking two detours up to the terrace to see if we could get inside and warm up a bit, but the volunteer marshalls were herding people into one line toward the Hamilton Street north entrance and the line stretched halfway around the building. If I stood in that for any length of time I knew I’d turn into a meat popsicle, so when My Darling B asked me what I wanted to do I voted to keep moving, and that’s how we ended up marching partway around a third time.

By one o’clock in the afternoon there were tens of thousands marching around the square, and I don’t know how many more inside. This was the point where I could no longer feel the ends of my fingers or toes, because it was a lot colder than thirty degrees out there. The dashboard thermometer on our car said nineteen when we finally went back to the parking lot.

The most interesting protest sign I saw was in the hands of one of a group of three Walker supporters that read, “Work helps, protesting doesn’t.” And the way he chose to make that point? By protesting. That’s the kind of logical loop that Captain Kirk and Mister Spock used on the evil killer computer to make it self-destruct.

March on the capitol | 3:51 pm CST
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Monday, February 21st, 2011

image of pro-union demonstration at the Madison capitol building

Wowzers, was it cold on cap square this afternoon! Even so, we wanted to see how many union members would show up for a pro-union rally on the steps of the capitol, and at first it looked like there wouldn’t be more than a couple hundred. When we showed up, there was a smattering of people gathered around the door on the steps of the State Street entrance to the capitol, but in a short time, maybe a half-hour after we showed up, somewhere between one thousand and two thousand people rallied in the sleet and freezing temps.

My Darling B and I stood shivering in the cold as we listened to one speaker after another for about an hour and a half, I think, before we had to take a walk around the building to get our blood flowing again, and we finished our lap around the square by stopping in at Michelangelo’s coffee shop on State Street for a piping hot cuppa. That certainly hit the spot.

By the time we went back the rally had moved off the steps and into the capitol building itself, so we went inside to see what was going on. A small knot of about a dozen people stood in the center of the rotunda beating drums and leading chants, breaking in now and again to give the microphone to teachers and other union members who offered their union’s support, or other testimony to keep the pro-union ball rolling. They even gave the mic to a student with a pro-Walker stance who offered his two cents. He, understandably, wasn’t cheered by the crowd.

It was quite an upbeat crowd. I hope they can keep it up, and even more than that, I hope their dedication amounts to something. The governor doesn’t seem to be willing to budge from any of the conditions set out in his so-called budget repair bill, but the democratic senators who walked out on him say they aren’t willing to come back until he says he’ll negotiate. It’ll be very interesting to see what’ll happen.

Union | 5:37 pm CST
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