Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

I remember the very end of a dream as I woke up this morning: A gleaming steam locomotive, one with lots of pinstripes and shiny brass, easing away from the platform of a passenger station and out into the yards, chuffing away.

As it faded into the distance I was snapped into full wakefulness by My Darling B, who crooned directly into my ear the appropriate sound effect:


Now, how did she know to do that?

zoom | 7:33 am CST
Category: daily drivel, dreams, My Darling B, O'Folks | Tags:
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Thursday, January 31st, 2013

We were on our way home, the car crawling at twenty miles per hour over slush-covered roads that were slowly freezing solid. “It’s the end of the world, isn’t it?” My Darling B asked me.

“No,” I chuckled. “The world is not ending. The world will be around for a long time.”

“No? Yesterday it was warm enough for people to play golf. Today it’s snowing. That’s not a biblical end-of-times?”

“Oh, that,” I said. “Yeah, that’s what’s happening.” I thought she was talking about something like a killer asteroid or the heat death of the universe.

end times | 6:00 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks | Tags: ,
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Monday, January 28th, 2013

We are exhausted after our long, long journey to the distant city of Stevens Point, where we stayed overnight after attending the 15th anniversary celebration of the Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst. Really. I need a nap. Oh, wait, I already had a nap. Guess I’ll write some drivel, then.

If, for some reason, you glanced to the north as you drove along Highway Ten just outside Amherst and your eyes happened to fall on a certain plain white steel-walled utility building in the middle of a corn field, you would very probably never feel the slightest inkling that some of the finest beer in Wisconsin is brewed there. Last night, though, the long lineup of cars parked along both sides of the access road would have given you the idea that something rather important was going on there. That something was the fifteenth birthday party of the Central Waters Brewing Company.

My Darling B and I found out about it maybe a month ago when Paul, one of the brewery’s owners, was in Madison to host a beer tasting at Star Liquor on Willy Street. Star has one of these events almost every Friday. They’re a great opportunity to try new beers, or just enjoy the beers we’ve always enjoyed while chatting up the guys who make them. I mean, really, how can you not like talking to a guy who knows how to make great-tasting beer? It’s like meeting someone who can make happiness.

So while we were asking Paul a few nosy questions about his beer and how he made it, he mentioned that the brewery’s anniversary party was coming up, and that it was sort of a big deal. I was thinking maybe he meant it was a big deal on the scale of big deals in Amherst. I mean, the brewery has a tap room, a small place off to one side of the building where visitors can sit around a bar or at a few tables and partake of a few of whatever beers the brewery has on tap, and when I say small I mean maybe there are seats for twenty-five or thirty people. Sixty or seventy people might be able to get in there if they didn’t mind getting really friendly. How many more people could they get in there?

Paul said that for the party they didn’t confine people to the tasting room, but let them into the rest of the brewery to mingle around the fermenting tanks and brewing vats. I remember wondering then, and again last night, about the wisdom of allowing a hundred or more beer-drinkers to wander around amongst the plumbing and other delicate apparatus that he depended on for his livelihood, but then he’s been doing this for years, so he must have had some idea what he was getting himself in for.

Amherst is a drive of almost two hours from Our Humble O’Bode. There was no way in hell I could possibly have spent the afternoon drinking beer in any amount, then driven all the way back to Madison. As it turned out, I didn’t have to even consider it. The guys at Central Waters said on their Facebook page that they would be running a charter shuttle bus from Stevens Point to the brewery, so My Darling B did a little googling and found a B&B not far from the bus stop. We made reservations to stay the night.

It was a grand old Victorian house known as Dreams of Yesteryear. Check-in time was three but the owners let us in an hour early. That was so we could leave Madison at around noon, be in Stevens Point by two o’clock, and catch the first shuttle to the brewery at two-thirty. And it all went like clockwork, except for the last part.

Since we missed the first shuttle, we hung out in a bookstore downtown for a while where we discovered the new genre of books called “Urban Fantasy.” As near as we could figure them out by reading the jacket blurbs and looking at the cover illustrations, they were all variations on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. There were twice as many urban fantasy books as there were of almost any other subject in the store. People in Stevens Point really like their vampires.

I was completely wrong about how many people they could fit inside that building. There were hundreds of people buzzing around inside the brewery when we got there, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find out that thousands of people came and went over the course of the evening. Chartered buses were bringing visitors in from far away, and the cars parked along both sides of the roads bore license plates from several states. This was a big deal.

We took turns standing in the long, long line for specialty beers. My Darling B was especially keen on trying to get hold of the anniversary brew, but we never did manage to get any. While she was standing in line, though, the guy behind her noticed her cup was empty and poured her a shot from the growler he was carrying. He was either being very generous, or he wanted to empty the bottle before he got to the front of the line. Or maybe a little of both.

I tried two brews I’d never heard of before, Exodus and Le Petit Mort, both very tasty, but by the time I got them I had already had enough of standing in line, so I didn’t go back to try anything else. We made do with a couple beers from the regular taps while we listened to the band, or wandered around the brewery to check it out.

Being a couple of lightweights, we didn’t stay late at all, heading back to town on the seven-thirty shuttle. If I remember, we were in bed by nine so we wouldn’t miss breakfast in the morning. A good thing, too, because the hostess cooked up breakfast burritos that were delicious. I’d consider going back to Stevens Point just for that.

fifteen | 6:27 am CST
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Saturday, January 26th, 2013

This was how my Friday began:

I drove My Darling B to work yesterday because we were going to meet some friends of hers at Smoky’s Club on the west side. If I had the car and went back to pick her up after work, it would eliminate a lot of driving back and forth.

Her office is on the west side of town and, at that hour, the beltline is the quickest, easiest way to get there. On Friday morning, though, there was a dusting of new snow all across Madison and, when I came down the on-ramp and merged with traffic, I had the luck to fall in behind a county truck and, just as I pulled up behind him, he dropped his spade and wing plow to clear snow from the on-ramp and he started spreading salt. Of course.

I tried to get out from behind him but couldn’t. He slowed down quite a lot to plow and salt the road, and the oncoming traffic in the other lanes was moving too fast to safely merge with it. Also, I was having a lot of trouble seeing: The spray thrown up behind the truck mixed up with the salt he was laying down, which quickly coated the windshield of the O-Mobile in an opaque, white glaze. I tried the windshield washer but nothing squirted out. Tried it again; still nothing.

It’s the kind of car where the wipers come on when you try to squirt the wiper fluid. Sweeping back and forth across the windshield, they smeared the road spray and salt all over the glass, leaving about three inches at the very bottom for me to peek through. I had to drive the rest of the beltline hunched down in my seat. My head was lower than the top of the steering wheel.

After dropping B off at work I pulled into the first gas station I could find on University Ave, a small Mobil station. There was a rack of one-gallon bottles of wiper fluid right next to the door; I grabbed a gallon on the way in, set it on the counter and dug my wallet out of my pocket. And waited. There was no one at the counter. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the service bay, either. I shuffled around a bit, making noise, but nobody came out of the bathroom or whatever hidey hole they were in. I could have shoplifted the cash register.

I was standing there about five minutes when an older guy came out of a back room behind the service bay. “Can I help you?” Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks.

Back at the car, I popped the hood and filled up the wiper fluid reservoir, started the engine and yanked on the wiper stem. The wipers swept back and forth, but nothing squirted out. I yanked again, because, you know, that fixes it, right? Only it didn’t fix it, and I didn’t have time to figure out what the problem might be. I was already late for work, so I just poured wiper fluid straight from the bottle onto the windshield, then reached inside the car and yanked the on the wiper stem. The wipers swept across the windshield, squeegeeing the wiper fluid off the glass and slopping almost all of it onto my pants. Of course.

This was how my Friday ended:

We’ve driven past Smoky’s Club I don’t know how many times, and every time we drove past, one of us said, “You know, we really have to visit there some time.”

Well, we finally stopped in at Smoky’s yesterday. They were taking part in Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, so for the last night we decided to finish off with a steak dinner at Smoky’s. And just to make it as much fun as possible, we met a couple that B knows from work and passed several happy hours swapping stories while we enjoyed dinner and some drinks. So, as bad as the day started, it ended about as well as it could have.

my friday | 7:56 am CST
Category: booze, commuting, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play, restaurants, work
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Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Avast, matey! There be spoilers ahead!

On the way home from work Friday night, I asked My Darling B if she wanted to watch the last episode of Breaking Bad. We checked out season two from the library earlier in the week and had watched the whole thing in just a couple of nights, all except for the last episode. I figured they couldn’t end the season without explaining the burned red teddy bear they’ve been teasing us with all season, so I kind of wanted to find out what that was about.

“Oh, hell yes,” B answered me, “we have got to find out about the plane crash.”

For just a moment, I thought we were talking about two different things. “Plane crash?”

“No, not plane crash,” B said quickly. “I, ah, meant to say something else!” I waited a couple of heartbeats, but she didn’t explain any further what she could have possibly said that might have sounded like ‘plane crash.’

Wouldn’t have made any difference, anyway. I figured out it was a spoiler. She had been even more curious about the red teddy bear than I was and looked it up. Couldn’t help herself, really, like the other night when I wondered out loud, “How many people has Walter White killed so far?” and she googled it almost without thinking.

Turns out if you type “How many people has wa” into google, it autocompletes the question for you. (If you stop at the ‘w’ the question becomes “How many people has weeds killed?”)

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that “” is not a thing, although this tumbler post just about makes up for it.

spoiler | 2:26 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, television
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Sunday, January 13th, 2013

choicesChoices, choices.

Next weekend is the start of Restaurant Week here in Madison, Wisconsin, Our Fair City. My Darling B has been pouring over menus to try to decide which ones she wants to go to, and has whittled it down to a ‘short list’ of thirty-seven dozen restaurants, more restaurants than are actually participating in Restaurant Week. There’s a quantum theory to explain how this is possible, but I never went any further than high school science, dammit, so I don’t know how she did that.

I, on the other hand, have only glanced at the available choices and have not made any list at all, because they all look good to me. My list would be their list. I want to go to all the restaurants and eat all the food.

But we have just one week and we can only go to lunch and/or dinner, so we could eat twelve meals at the most. Then we’d have to go home and cry for all the meals we couldn’t eat. It’s a bittersweet event.

choices | 9:46 pm CST
Category: food & drink, Madison Restaurant Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

beesMy Darling B got a tablet for late Christmas. I got a worm farm. I guess we know who came out ahead in that deal.

Actually, the worm farm is for both of us, inasmuch as it’s meant to dispose of all the kitchen scraps My Darling B leaves behind for me to clean up every night after dinner. The buckets just outside the back door are full, and the compost pile next to the garden is too goddamn far away to visit in the dead of winter; hence, the worm farm.

My toys haven’t arrived yet. When they do, I’ll easily spend as much time wrapped up in them as B is in hers. Maybe. I’ll be surprised if she goes go bed before midnight tonight.

[UPDATE: After three hours sitting in the recliner with her tablet, she’s still reading the instruction manual. There’s something seriously wrong about that girl.]

bees tablet | 7:28 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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For years, My Darling B has been She Who Trains Newbies in the DMV office she works in, but that was unofficial. She was good at it, so the powers that be assigned her the task more often than not. When the official job came open recently, she was a shoe-in for it. Even so, she fretted over her resume for weeks, and she dressed up in a skirt and suit jacket for the first time in years when she was called in for an interview. Yesterday, she learned she got the job. She starts next week. Here’s a great big good on ya from the drivelmeister to B for finally being recognized as the best in the bunch!

good on ya | 6:05 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks, office work, work
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Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Poor B had a stuffy nose that woke her up this morning. I had a cat that woke me up. If I had to pick one, I guess I’d take the cat. If the cat wakes me up, at least I don’t feel like I’ve been smothered with a pillow, unless the cat wakes me up by parking on my face. None of our cats do that, thank goodness. None of our surviving cats. Kidding. I have never snuffed a cat. Wanted to, many times, dreamed of it, particularly when they won’t let me sleep at night, but never done it.

Last night, just after lights out, one of them, probably the fat one, came creeping into the room, probably stalking the skinny one, because they launched into a flurry of chasing each other across the house, but just before they did, the stalker stepped on the loose floor board in front of the bedroom closet and the creaking noise it made sounded exactly like the tippy-toe approach of the axe murder. I jerked my head up off the pillow to look but of course nobody was there. Seeing that nobody is there is almost worse than seeing the axe murderer. If it’s not the axe murderer, it could be the monster under the bed! Or a ghost! Or a swarm of killer cockroaches!

Then the cats went on their crazy tear and I started counting the minutes until they settled down.

Story time: My dad lived on a farm when he was a boy. This was during the depression of the 1930s. His dad was out of a job and his mom’s family had a big farm where they went to live for a while. Like any farm, they had lots of feral cats roaming the place. There were so many cats that they became a nuisance and had to be culled from time to time. One day, my dad was handed a burlap sack stuffed full of kittens and a big rock and told to take it down to the bridge and drop it in the river. I guess he walked all the way down to the bridge with the sack but couldn’t bring himself to do the deed, having to listen to those kittens mew and cry the whole time from being stuck in that bag. As Grandma told the story, she found him standing on the porch in tears, sobbing sorry, sorry, sorry, as he handed the sack back to her.

cat story | 8:42 am CST
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Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

After the Mayan apocalypse brought the end of the universe some time late last night, I woke up this morning curled up around My Darling B. I always hoped that, if there was a heaven, it would be something like this.

I had to work yesterday but, when quitting time was drawing near, I shot B an e-mail that asked, “How about dinner at Alchemy? Want to meet me there?” B is not always sitting at her desk, and even when she is, she’s usually too busy to answer right away, so I didn’t expect to get an answer until she was putting away her work and shutting down her computer, which is why I honestly didn’t believe the e-mail that popped up in my inbox a minute later was from her. But it was. “OK!” was all it said.

I slid down the back of my bronto the minute the foreman yanked on the pterodactyl’s tail and was out the back door minutes later, cooling my heels at the curb as I waited for a break in traffic to cross Washington Avenue. The eastbound lanes were bumper to bumper with cars backed up from the capital to First Avenue and beyond. I couldn’t see what was holding up traffic. I had to wait about five minutes for the pokey-pants drivers in the westbound lane to let me through, picked my way through the traffic jam in the eastbound lane and I then I was on my way.

It was already getting dark and the wind was still rather brisk. I was bundled up tight and moving at a quick trot through the hard-packed snow. When my cell phone went deedle-deedle-deedle I was able to duck into a doorway for some shelter so I could take a glove off without losing any fingers to frostbite. “The roads SUCK!” My Darling B was texting me. “So do the sidewalks,” I texted back before bundling up and trotting away again.

She didn’t text again until I was sitting down at a table: “Traffic jam!” I warned her about the tailback on Washington; she tried to avoid it by crossing over at Blair and hit another jam-up. “CRAP CRAP CRAP! I just want a beer!” I checked the menu and asked, “Vanilla porter or Irish stout? I can have one waiting for you!” “VP” she texted back, so I ordered a porter and a plate of nachos with salsa to nosh on while I waited.

B had no luck getting through on Blair so she tried another route, punched through the snarl of cars on Washington and made her way to Alchemy on the back streets. It was almost five-thirty by the time she came through the front door with a big smile on her face, happy I guess to finally be out of the car and into a nice comfortable tavern where she could relax with a beer and a fish fry. The nachos bought me some extra brownie points.

heaven | 9:45 am CST
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Friday, December 14th, 2012

I had no plan for dinner last night and no idea what I could have scrounged up from the pantry even if I’d come up with a plan at the last minute. I couldn’t even suggest a place to go eat when My Darling B posed the customary Thursday night question, “What’s for dinner?” I was totally blocked, so she picked it. We had dinner at Alchemy. (Too bad I can’t see the future or I’d have simply met her there.)

I wasn’t especially hungry, so I asked for a salad. “Small or large?” the waitress wanted to know, and since I wasn’t that hungry I asked for the small. She followed up with, “Do you want chicken on it?” Picturing a small salad with diced-up bits of chicken appealed to me, hungry or no, so I said sure, and then I relaxed and enjoyed a few pulls off the frosty-cold beer she’d brought me only minutes before.

She brought me a whole chicken — no, two whole chickens on a salad as big as a wedding cake! And that was the small.

chicken | 4:38 pm CST
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Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Your devoted drivelmeister was out way past his bed time last night, boys and girls, and he brings back reports of a rich chocolate treat that is the talk of the town. A brownie, I believe. Or it may have been a goulash. I know a rich chocolate goulash sounds a bit unconventional, so maybe I heard that wrong. I’m a devoted drivelmeister, but I don’t always get the story one hundred percent accurate. This is drivel, after all.

The evening started out at the Cardinal Bar in downtown Madison, where the local band Beat Road Blues was the featured musical entertainment. My Darling B’s coworker, Adam, plays in the band and she’s sort of a groupie, I guess you might say. When he plays in town we usually stop by to give a listen, and last night we even talked Kris and Bryan, a couple of friends into meeting us at the Cardinal for drinks and snacks.

More than a few of B’s coworkers at the DMV turned out to see the band, too, and quite a few stopped by our table to say hi to B who, being in Happy Friday mode, made introductions all around. One of the first to stop by was Michael, who shook my hand and informed me that my wife was “a treat.” I think he meant a treat to have around, or a treat to work with, something like that, but the way he said it, it sort of sounded like he thought she was a glazed pastry, or a candy wrapped in foil. I think he realized almost right away that the compliment didn’t come out exactly the way he wanted it to, because he added, “Like a rich, tasty brownie.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I did what I usually do in that case, which is laugh and wait for somebody else to say something. I’m not very gifted socially.

“Okay, I’ll shut up now,” he said.

When Jim, another one of B’s friends from work stopped by to say hi, we asked him what food B reminded him of. “Seriously?” he asked. And of course at that point we weren’t serious at all, but we wanted an answer anyway. “Okay, I think she like a goulash,” he said, “because it has so much variety.” That’s My Darling B: She’s a tasty chocolate treat! She’s a goulash!

She’s a dancing fool! Jim took B out on the dance floor for the band’s final number, “Mustang Sally,” and they cut a rug, maybe even two rugs. Watching from the sidelines, I can say with confidence that all those dance lessons we took paid off for her that night.

When the band began to pack up we left the Cardinal to head up the street half a block to Plaka Taverna to get a bite to eat. None of us had eaten anything besides the chips they were serving at the Cardinal so we were feeling a little hungry, and Plaka serves the most delicious Greek food: kababs and pitas with hummus and rice wrapped in grape leaves, and you can get combo platters that are perfect for satisfying a growling tummy. The place was crazy busy but we got the last available table and even though the waitress was running her legs off, she was game enough to play along when Kris asked her what food she thought of when she looked at B. “A chewy chocolate-chip cookie?” she guessed. Good answer, because who wouldn’t want to be compared to a chocolate chip cookie?

We weren’t quite ready to go home after we finished noshing at Plaka’s, so we walked back down the block to the Come Back Inn to order a final round and swap a few more stories and bad jokes. Our waitress talked me into ordering a foamy mug of O’Shae’s Irish Stout, and I mention that only to give you a very important heads-up about O’Shae’s Irish Stout: Whatever you do with it, don’t put it in your mouth! If that stuff is real Irish stout from Ireland, then the Irish are pawning their cheapest stuff off on the American market. I’d rather drink Budweiser, and I think you know how I feel about that bilge water.

We had a pretty good time at Come Back Inn, especially the girls. I don’t know what was in their beer but it sure made them giggly. (Okay, I guess the usual stuff in beer would make them do that.) Spoken conversation became impossible after the band started playing in the next room so they started spelling out words in the air with their fingers, and that turned into a game of chrarades, and THEN the giggling got really intense! When their back-and-forth became nothing at all but giggling Bryan and I cut them off and took them home to tuck them in bed.

Up All Night | 9:49 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Sunday, November 18th, 2012

My Darling B has leveled a challenge: She believes that, if I were to tell anybody how many typewriters I own, I would get an eye-roll from practically everyone.

Well, here is a group shot of every typewriter I own:

that's a lot of typewriters! Or is it?

On the far left: A Smith-Corona Silent, one of the first typewriters I bought from a roadside antique store in a small town back in the 80’s. More than that, I can’t remember. A beautiful machine, I hardly ever use it because the platen’s too hard and slippery to hold paper. The day I get it fixed, I’ll sit down and write my first novel on it.

In the left column, top to bottom: A Smith-Corona Skyriter. I developed an affection for these cute little machines when my son bought one and let me try it out. You really do have to call them “cute.” They’re not fully-functional typewriters but they’re small enough to tuck into a backpack or overnight bag so, if you learned to write on a keyboard and you’re an anachrophile for typewriters (there’s got to be a word for that, but I haven’t found it yet), you really have to take one of these to the coffee shop to annoy all the laptop users. One day I’d like to corner the market on Skyriters, paint them in bright colors and sell them as the novelty items they ought to be.

Below the Skyriter, an LC Smith No. 8. A classic cast-iron desktop, this is the first typewriter I dared to take apart. When I bought it from a thrift shop it was filthy and barely functional. I cleaned it up enough to make it presentable but it’s still barely functional and will probably remain so until I take it apart a couple more times. That’ll have to wait for a long weekend in winter, though.

Below the No. 8, a Smith-Corona Sterling, a five-dollar garage-sale find. A good portable. Was my favorite writing machine until I bought an Olivetti.

Below the Sterling, a Japy I picked up at an auction only because it types in a Cyrillic font. Barely functional, this one’s another project for a long winter weekend.

On the work bench in front of the Japy, a Corona No. 3. Another one of the buys I made when I was going through my first typewriter-hoarding phase back in the 80s. Bought it because it looks very old and because it’s one of the first portable typewriters. Already very small, it becomes positively tiny when you fold the carriage down over the keyboard and close it up in its own little hatbox.

In the center column: a Royal Quiet de Luxe. I don’t collect Royals as a practice, but this is the same model my Dad wrote on. I got an itch one weekend, searched e-bay for a reasonably-priced offering and had this one on my work bench about a week later. Took about a week to de-gunk and un-fungify. Still needs a little tender loving care but is already one of the most useful typers I own.

Below the Royal, a pile of junk. Sort of spoiled the shot. Sorry about that.

Below the pile of junk, an IBM Selectric II. Found this in a Goodwill shop priced at three dollars. My hoarding instinct kicked in and I found myself carrying it out the door before the full import of what I was doing struck me. Selectrics are so well-built and produce such high-quality text that they’re still in use in some offices and sell for hundreds of dollars. Getting a buyer to pay the extortionately high cost of sending a fifty-pound typewriter through the mail or via FedEx is a bit of a problem, though.

On the work bench in front of the Selectric, another Smith-Corona Skyriter. This one’s a little older than the other one and writes in a pica font. And I’m going to paint it navy blue. Just because.

In the right column: an Underwood No. 5. Another of the classic cast-iron desk top typewriters, this is the very first typewriter I bought for fun. I don’t use it much any longer because you have to be in pretty good shape to bang out even two or three pages of copy on a machine like this, and I just don’t have the muscle tone for it. It’s a machine for a young man full of piss and vinegar. Also a good machine to use if you’re very angry; you can mash the keys as hard as you want, you’re not going to break it.

Below the Underwood, a Remington Quiet-Riter. Impulse buy at a thrift store. Pieces missing, but a good working typer. A very noisy machine. Not that I mind, but the name is more than a little ironic.

On the bench in front of the Remington, a Smith-Corona Sterling. I bought this by accident while I was trying to figure out how to use the Goodwill on-line auction web site. No, really. Cost me five bucks plus postage.

Front and center on the work bench, an Olivetti Studio 44, my favorite machine in the harem. Also a thrift store impulse buy, this is the best-built machine I’ve ever seen. The action is smooth and it has a beautiful pica font. The backspace key didn’t work but I fixed that by slipping a washer under the hook that pulls the carriage back. (That’s why it’s still naked.) The return lever is broke and I still haven’t figured out how to fix that, but I still use this machine more than any other.

So, did you roll your eyes? You can be honest with me.

eye roll | 11:09 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, typewriters | Tags:
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Friday, November 16th, 2012

Smith Corona SkyriterThere was a package waiting on the front stoop yesterday evening.

“That looks too big to be the thing I ordered,” My Darling B said when she spotted it as we pulled into the driveway. “Did you order something?”


Looking sideways at me she asked, “Is it a typewriter?”

Pause. “Maybe.”

Rolling her eyes, she got out of the car.

It was an impulse buy, as all my typewriter purchases are. I couldn’t help it. After Tim brought me his Skyriter for repairs and I took it for a test drive, I started searching teh intarwebs for one just like his. Turns out they’re outrageously expensive on e-bay but I found one on Goodwill’s auction site for just five bucks, although somebody jacked the price up to ten bucks before the auction ended.

It’s going to need quite a bit of attention. It’s got enough hair in it to make an anatomically correct mouse, and there’s a bit of rust to buff off. Also, some of the keys are bent, which will take a bit of fine-tuning. Looks great on the bench, though, and will look even better once I clean it up, if you’re not an eye-rolling typewriter looker-downer like some people.

delivery | 10:14 pm CST
Category: entertainment, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, typewriters
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Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Bonkers wanted up in my lap. I was blogging. I said no.

He sat and pouted for a while until he fell asleep sitting up. When he jerked himself awake, he sauntered off toward the dining room, probably to slop water from his bowl all over the floor. He’s getting good at that.

Several minutes passed in near-silence as I tapped at the keys of my laptop. Then, from the dining room came the sounds of a cat getting into trouble. He might have been on the table, trying to get the lid off the butter dish, or he might have been scrounging through the basket of empty bottles, trying to get at a rinsed-out tin of cat food that still whiffed faintly of whatever that nasty brown stuff is they make cat food out of. Either way, he was clearly up to no good.

I jumped out of my seat and made it to the dining room in three giant steps. Bonkers was hiding under the table when I got there. As I stepped to one side to get a look at him, he ran to the other side of the table. He was definitely hiding something he shouldn’t have had, but if I moved, he shifted to a spot under a chair or the far corner of the table where I couldn’t see him. I started pulling the chairs out from under the table and finally he ran into the living room with me in hot pursuit.

That’s when I saw the mouse’s tail. He very definitely had a mouse’s tail dangling from his muzzle. I ran back to the kitchen to grab a mason jar that was sitting on the counter and came back to the living room with it. Sooner or later he’d drop the mouse, and I needed something to trap the little monster. If I didn’t, the damn thing would disappear into the woodwork.

No such luck. For the mouse, that is. When Bonk dropped it and I took a step forward with the overturned mason jar in hand, he deftly snatched it up again and took a step or two away from me. “C’mon, drop it,” I urged him. He turned his head away, ignoring me. He began to gnash on it.

“Aggh! Mouse getting eaten! Mouse getting eaten!”

I’d been shouting mostly out of shock to nobody in particular, but the alarm brought My Darling B out of the spare room where she was watching cat videos on the internet to witness the carnage. She clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a scream when she saw Bonkers choking the thing down.

Two bites, three, maybe four more and it was gone. He swallowed the damn thing whole, licked his chops, then paraded around the room meowing loudly. “That’s right! I’m the cat! I’m the big, bad mouse-catcher! Suck it, mousies! I’m gonna getcha!” And so on.

Mouse is a dish that’s best eaten live.

mouse is a dish that’s best eaten live | 12:42 pm CST
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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

image of County Clare Inn in Milwaukee WIJust a bit more drivel about Milwaukee and then I’m done for a while, I promise.

Almost as good as being in the audience for one of our favorite radio shows was having the great good luck to find a place to stay for the night as comfy and warm as the County Clare Inn. I could say good things about this place from now until the cows come home and, if I didn’t stop for breath and maybe a bite to eat, I might get them all said, but it would be close.

First off, the location is great: It’s right in the middle of old Milwaukee, a short walk from the river, a short taxi ride from the UW-Milwaukee campus. We might even be able to hoof it all the way to the Modern Art Museum from there if the weather was good and we were feeling our oats. If all we were looking for was a place to stay the night and maybe take a walk in the morning, though, the tree-lined streets around the inn are quiet and some of the houses and buildings are really very eye-catching.

Then, there’s the pub downstairs: Irish-themed, obviously. I don’t usually go for themed bars chock full ‘o kitschy knick-knacks, but they managed to keep the kitsch under control. It isn’t spilling out of every nook and cranny. We could hold a conversation without shouting at one another; the background music stayed in the background. That should always get high marks. There was just one television screen, it was off to the side and the sound was muted. More high marks.

And the service is wonderful. We came back from the taping a little after eleven o’clock and, because we hadn’t eaten since two, My Darling B was feeling a little peckish. I could’ve used a snack myself, but we figured the kitchen wasn’t serving any longer so I asked the bartender where we could get a bite to eat. He helpfully pointed out there was a place down the block, then added, “You could always order off our bar menu, too,” and handed me a copy. Smooth.

B got the hummus plate, figuring it would be a pita sliced into eighths with a dab of hummus and maybe a little couscous on the side. Wrong. It was enough pita and hummus to feed us both. Not knowing that, I ordered a plate of tater tots myself, figuring that would make up enough of a bedtime snack to hold us both over. Well, we both went to bed sufficiently serensified that night, I can assure you.

Saving the best for last, there’s the room. We’ve been to a few places in all corners of the world; fallen into fleabag flophouses and lucked into sumptuous suites with luxury amenities that were probably all but wasted on us. We weren’t expecting so very much from an inn smack in the middle of town that charged just a hundred fifty bucks a night, but I’m pleased to say the accommodations exceeded our expectations in every way. The room was much larger than it had any right to be. The bedroom and the bath were all together in the same room, but separated by a permanent screen with the toilet and sink off to one side, the shower and whirlpool bath off to the other. B cherished every minute of her Sunday-morning soak in that tub.

Finally, we got two tickets to breakfast with the price of our room, a nice little perk. They had an eye-popping spread laid out when we came down in the morning. Two short-order cooks were making omelets to order on a row of portable gas stoves. We put in our order with them, then grabbed a complimentary newspaper off the stack in the dining room as we went in to pick out a table by the window and whiled away the better part of two hours eating, sipping coffee and flipping through the news.

When the staff began to pack away the buffet and bus the tables, we thought we might have overstayed our welcome, but just then a guy came by with a pot of coffee and offered to warm up our cups. B asked how long the dining room was open.

“It’s the weekend,” he said. “Stay as long as you like.” Then he went off to see if anyone else wanted coffee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day – Part 3 | 12:54 pm CST
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Monday, October 22nd, 2012

image of Art Smart's Dart Mart in Milwaukee WIWe went to Milwaukee to see a taping of one of our favorite radio shows, Says You! and then we almost didn’t make it to the show! It was an evening taping but we left Madison in the morning and got to Milwaukee around noon so we could have a wander around town. Then we went back to our room to clean up and catch a short nap. When we were ready to go, I called for a taxi to pick us up.

The driver called me from the curb outside the door of the inn when he got there and I very nearly didn’t answer because he had a New York phone number, so I assumed he was a telemarketer. I only decided to pick up so I could mess with him.

“Yessss?” I answered.


That old dodge: Using my first name to get me to stay on the line. “Yessss?”

Pause. “Did you call a cab?”

“Oh! Yes, yes I did! Hang on, we’ll be right down!”

Then, as we stepped out the elevator into the lobby, a couple dressed to nines were looking out the window and saying something like, “I don’t know how he got here so quickly. Maybe it’s not ours.” But they went out anyway and stopped short of getting into the cab when we followed them as closely as a shadow all the way to the curb.

“Did you call a cab, too?” the woman asked me.

“Yes, I did,” I answered as My Darling B stuck her head in the door to make sure it was, in fact, our cab. It was. As I climbed in, B asked the driver to take us to the Helen Bader Theater on the UW-Milwaukee Campus, and then gave him the address: 2419 E. Kenwood Boulevard. “Right, right,” he said, and sped us to a faraway neighborhood of the city.

Let me just interrupt here to remind the reader that the only times we’ve been to Milwaukee before this have been on guided tours, or to pick someone up from the airport. We don’t know any of the streets or neighborhoods, but we assumed our driver did, and when he said, “Right, right,” and nodded, I don’t think we went out on a limb when we assumed he knew exactly where the Helen Bader theater was. Certainly, we expected him to know where the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee was.

So when he dropped us off at the intersection of what looked like a shopping district, we didn’t say, “Where the hell are we?” We assumed he’d dropped us off maybe around the corner from the theater and we only had to walk to the corner and we’d see it. Call me foolishly naive, I deserve it. When we walked down to the corner to get our bearings, though, we discovered that the driver had dropped us off on Kenilworth Street, not Kenwood Boulevard! I ran back to the taxi with B yelling, “Stop him! Stop him!” behind me. Thank dog it took him so long to get his dispatcher on the phone.

On the upside, he didn’t charge us for the ride to the correct address, and we got there in plenty of time.

I was trying to describe Says You! to a friend the other day and rather ironically found myself at a loss for words. Ironic, because Says You! is, as the show’s host, Richard Sher, describes it, a game of words played by two teams. It’s alrways played in five rounds, each with its own peculiar quirk. They played one of my favorite rounds last night, a game I can play without making my brain explode. Richard Sher gives the name of an actor and asks a panelist to guess the movie he’s thinking of. It’s usually an almost unknown actor in a supporting role. With just one name, the guess is at best wild, of course, although sometimes they actually get it on the first try. If so, ten points! If not, another actor’s name gets added to the list, this one a little more well-known than the first.

With the choices narrowed down a bit it’s not a coin toss any more, but still just barely an educated guess. Sometimes Richard will go with the most popular movie featuring the actors in question, sometimes the most recent, but sometimes he’ll go for the obscure title. You never know. The last name added to the list is a giveaway, the name of whoever got star billing, and when it gets that far its announcement is followed by a lot of facepalming and oh-I-shoulda-got-that groaning.

Two of the rounds are Bluffing Rounds: the host gives one team a word so obscure that it sounds as though he made it up on the spot. The words they used the other night, for instance, were “callithump” and “corf.” Don’t ask me what they mean; I forgot already. Each of the team members gets a card, but only one of the cards has the definition of the word on it; the other two cards say, “Please Bluff.” Those two team members try to make up a definition that sounds plausible enough to fool the other team into picking one of the made-up definitions.

There’s always a musical guest to play a song during the introductions, and to provide a musical interlude during the bluffing rounds, to give the panelists enough time to come up with a good bluff. The musical guest was probably the most delightful surprise of the evening: they were The Squeezettes, the power-polka band we just happened to see last month at the Monroe Cheese Fest. I described them then as an all-girl accordion band but there was a guy drumming and another guy playing a sousaphone, so obviously I wasn’t paying close attention. And although there are three women playing accordion, calling them an all-girl accordion band doesn’t do them justice. They describe their style as “power polka,” which comes much closer to capturing the feel of their art. Have you ever thought of “Wooly Booly” as a polka? Me, neither, but to hear them belt it out is to experience a whole new level of polka that I frankly wouldn’t have thought possible. I didn’t hesitate to buy a CD from the guy selling them in the lobby.

There was just one thing, and I mean only one thing, I would have changed about the evening: If I’d known the six people behind us were going to jabber and shout through the whole performance, I would’ve eaten a brick of cheese right before we were ushered in. I’ll have to keep one in my man purse from now on for emergencies.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day – Part 2 | 8:59 pm CST
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Sunday, October 21st, 2012

image of My Darling B drinking beer from a boot in a Milwaukee tavernWe’re back from Milwaukee! We went there to watch a taping of one of our favorite radio shows, Says You!, and ended up doing a sightseeing tour of a small slice of Milwaukee while stopping off at a couple of our favorite places.

Even as the number of things we wanted to do mounted up, it seemed like a good idea each time. Tickets to the show cost just $17.00 each, but the taping was scheduled to end sometime after 10:30 pm. I didn’t want to drive back to Madison that late at night, so we reserved a room at the County Clare Inn. That tacked a hundred fifty bucks on to the cost of our trip right away, but seemed like not only a good idea but a good deal: We’d be smack dab in the middle of Milwaukee. That’s how we decided to do some sightseeing while we were there. We had the time. We were in a good location. Why not?

We left Madison as early as we could Saturday morning, by which I mean ten o’clock. We were going to shoot for a much earlier departure time until we realized it’s not like there was a great big hurry to get there. I made a pot of coffee and we slowly drained it while we passed a couple hours Googling for information about interesting places to go and fun things to do while in Milwaukee. Don’t laugh. There really are some. The last time we were in Milwaukee, for instance, we stopped at a place called the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. Guess what they sell there? And not only can you snack on a selection of great Wisconsin cheese, you can take your plate of cheese to the tap room where you can ask them for one of the two-dozen great Wisconsin beers they have on tap. Tell me that’s not a place you’d want to visit.

And it was within walking distance of the inn, along with other sights we’d never seen before just because we hadn’t taken the time. So we pulled into town shortly after noon and, with more than a few hours before the show was scheduled to begin, started wandering the streets in the warm sunshine of an gorgeous autumn day in Milwaukee.

How to see Milwaukee on just $500 a day | 8:02 pm CST
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Sunday, October 14th, 2012

image of McSorely'sOne afternoon in New York City on our way back from a tour, My Darling B suggested we stop at McSorely’s, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern in America. From the moment we set foot on the sawdust-strewn floor of the place, I didn’t doubt it. The bar ran down one side of the narrow bar room and a scattered collection of wooden tables and hard chairs ran down the other. The walls were dark wood, but the wood was mostly covered with framed newspaper clippings of historic events, or photographs of well-known people. Teddy Roosevelt was featured prominently and repeatedly. I have to admit, I like the place immediately for that.

We took a seat at a table beside a pot-bellied stove, which took up a considerable amount of space in the middle of the room. There were four fire fighters from the Bronx at the next table over who started chatting us up even before we sat down. Their table was crowded with beer mugs, most of them empty, a half-dozen or so still full, two or three half-drunk. “Where you from?” they asked, and when we said Wisconsin the next dozen words out of their mouths included “cheese curds” and “Bret Favre.” Why didn’t Bret Favre stop while he was ahead? they wanted to know. What he did to himself and his career was just a tragedy. And so on.

Leaving B to keep up the conversation with the firemen, I sidled up to the bar and asked the bartender, after he was done welcoming a small crowd of regulars, what he had on tap. “We serve only McSorely’s ale here, light and dark,” he informed me. I asked for one each and he drew them off into small glass beer mugs. The beer had a rich, foamy head and a sweet, creamy taste, and went down very easily as we listened to the firemen bewail the fate of Bret Favre. I even went back to the bar and ordered another round after polishing off the first, the only time we did that at any bar we visited in New York City.

After McSorely’s we went to Pete’s Tavern, reputed to be the oldest continuously-operated tavern and restaurant in New York City, which is clearly not the case if McSorely’s is in fact the oldest continuously-operated bar in America. Is there a rivalry going on here? If so, McSorely’s has the edge in product, because they serve a better beer. The beer at Pete’s was okay, but not all that great. We ran into this a lot in New York City, where the bars tended to serve mainstream brands like Bud and Miller, and we saw very few locally-produced brews like Brooklyn Brewery and Six Point.

image of My Darling BThe only other place that was nearly as interesting as McSorely’s was The Tippler, a bar carved out of the spaces beneath the Chelsea Market, a retail mall in the reconditioned buildings of the old National Biscuit Company’s original manufactory. This was the birthplace of the Oreo!

My Darling B wanted awfully badly to visit, so we stopped in on Saturday, our first day in NYC, for an evening cocktail. If memory serves (and if it doesn’t, I’m sure she’ll find a way to let me know), B had a Booty Collins, a drink of vodka infused with tea and mixed with passion fruit, cayenne, lemon and yohimbe. I’ve never even heard of yohimbe, so it sounds like her kind of drink, but she didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my Gin and Chronic, a take on the classic gin and tonic with a little hops flavor thrown in.

We stayed for just one drink as it was getting late and we wanted to have enough time to visit the Empire State Building that night. Considering how that turned out, we probably should’ve stayed for another drink or two.

image of The Tippler in NYC

drinking in nyc | 5:56 pm CST
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Sunday, October 7th, 2012

image of B and I on Brooklyn BridgeCrossing the Brooklyn Bridge was one of the items on our Tourist To-Do List, but how to do it was up for grabs until the day we showed up at the South Street Seaport for a tour and spied Blazing Saddles, a vendor that rented bicycles by the hour. Each came equipped with a map that was marked up for a tour of the area, including a trip across the Brooklyn Bridge. Could it sound more perfect? I think not!

So on Friday morning, after stopping by the ticket booth on Fulton Street to see if there were any half-price tickets to the Broadway smash hit Book of Mormon and walking away sadly disappointed again, we headed down to the pier to rent bikes, or rather, a bike: they had a tandem Schwinn that looked to us like it might be a lot of fun. We’d never ridden a tandem together before, but how hard could it be, right? The guy renting the bikes showed us how it worked, took an impression of our credit card, strapped helmets on our heads and sent us on our way. Easy-peasy.

I’ve no doubt that, if we’d had a few days instead of two hours to practice riding a tandem together, we might’ve gotten good enough at it that we would’ve had the time to look around and enjoy ourselves, but here’s the thing: There were an awful lot of people on the bike path — walkers, skaters, bikers, people standing on their hands. On my own bike I would’ve felt confident enough to take a look around while easily threading my way between them, but that tandem steered like a cow. A twenty-foot-long cow.

Each time I lined up the bike to thread our way through a gap in the crowd, another pedestrian would wander into our way, or another bicyclist would whoosh past us and cut me off, or My Darling B would lean to one side to get a glimpse of something my head was blocking her view of. Any one of a dozen changes like this would require me to make a new adjustment to our trajectory, and very often all those things would happen simultaneously. I felt as though, if I took my attention off the people around us for even a second, I would probably hit every single one of them!

So the only time when I could look around and see any of the sights was when we stopped. That ended up happening more often than not, as it turned out. Like the time we had to stop so I could grab a stick off the ground and use it as a lever to get the chain around the gearwheel. It had jumped off when I shifted into the lowest gear. Luckily we were on a side street where there wasn’t a lot of traffic, and not a hundred yards further on, up the rather steep approach to the Manhattan Bridge, where suddenly losing the ability to crank the bike forward would have been about as bad as it could be. If you’re going to rent a bike from a vendor, by the way, take it for a spin. Ride it like you’re trying to break it. You don’t want to be a mile away from the vendor and find out that the shifter is crap or the tires are under-inflated. Voice of experience talking here.

As we rode away from the pier and under the Brooklyn Bridge, we were supposed to turn left and follow a side street to the on-ramp. We tried several times to do that but couldn’t find how to thread our way through the construction that was taking place along the road beside the bike path. Concrete barriers had been set up and, although there was one gap in them, it didn’t appear to line up with the street we were meant to take. The bike path continued along the East River toward the Manhattan Bridge, however, so we decided to do our trip ass-backwards and cross into Brooklyn on the Manhattan Bridge first, get a good look at the Brooklyn Bridge that way and maybe get the hang of riding together on the tandem.

Riding along the bike trail built our confidence a bit as there were only a few people walking or riding along it. Then we had to turn off the bike trail, ride through the neighborhood at the base of the bridge and thread our way up the entrance onto the walkway along the side of the bridge. I don’t even remember how we did that. It’s all sort of a blur of weaving through traffic while trying not to run any red lights. Other than that, I’m afraid I have to admit I suffered a sort of sensory overload and couldn’t even move my lips to answer B when she repeatedly asked me where I was going and what I was doing. Somehow, though, we ended up circling around a ramp up to the bridge and setting off across it.

We ended up on the upriver side of the bridge. Maybe there was a way to get to the walkway on the downriver side, which would’ve given us a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge, as I’d hoped, instead of the slightly less picturesque views of the electric power substations and abandoned docks of Brooklyn. Oh, well. At least there weren’t too many people on the walkway, although it would’ve been nice to have that low gear on the climb up to the middle of the bridge. We were able to pass the lady in the pink jogging outfit when we first got on the bridge but quickly got so tired and sweaty that she easily passed us halfway up the climb and we didn’t catch her again until we were coasting down the other side.

After we reached Brooklyn – chaos! We had only the dimmest notion about how to get to the Brooklyn Bridge. The map they’d given us was little help; not all the streets were labeled, and they’d intended for us to go from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge, not the other way around, so we had to find our own way through the back streets. Again, it’s a blur to me now, although I do remember that the traffic wasn’t too bad and that, once we’d made our way through the business district to a park at the base of the bridge, we were able to go slow and look around. Didn’t help, though. We looked at every map we had but couldn’t figure out how to bicycle up to the entrance to the bridge. Eventually we found a pedestrian stairway and carried the bike up. Several other bicyclists were doing it, and we were at our wit’s end, so B grabbed the back end of the bike and I grabbed the front and up we went.

When I thought of biking across the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a picture in my mind of a wide lane that we would easily go sailing along, without a care in the world, looking this way, looking that at the sights of the New York skyline. In actual fact, there’s a photo on the vendor’s web site showing two people doing exactly that. BUT: Bicyclists share a boardwalk with pedestrians that runs down the middle of the bridge above the traffic lanes and appears to be about ten or twelve feet wide. There’s a white line painted down the middle of the boardwalk, and on one side of the line there’s the classic stick figure of a walking man to indicate the pedestrian lane, while on the other side of the line there’s a stick figure on a bike to indicate the bike lane.

The pedestrians pay no attention whatever to the line. They only shy away from the bike lane when bikers whizzing by nearly run them down. And the New Yorkers making their way on bike across the bridge, as they probably do every day of the week, were flying fearlessly through the crowds of people, and around the dorky old slowpoke tourists like us, as effortlessly as you would sidestep a telephone pole. I don’t know how, but they did.

As for us, I don’t know how we crossed the bridge without hitting someone. It was difficult enough to pick our way through the people on the uphill side where there was a little room for error, but on the downhill side it was terrifying – or, as My Darling B put it, “exhilarating!” The bridge was in the middle of a multi-billion dollar refurbishment, so the walkway on the downhill side was a gauntlet of steel shutters that narrowed the walkway even more. B started yelling “On Your Right!” when a woman stopped, looked up to admire the view and began to step back into the bike lane in front of us. I had already put all our momentum behind zigging out of the way of another biker and really thought she was going down under the wheels of our bike until B yelled and the woman jumped out of the way.

When we finally got to the Manhattan side I pulled off into a park to regain some sense of composure and powow with B to plan for the next stage of our ride. We had been thinking about riding back down the East River bike path to Battery Park and, if we felt we could keep going, north along the Hudson River to visit the parks there, then double back to the pier to turn in our bike. B was still up for it, so off we went.

We had to ride past the South Street Seaport, which is where tourists buses stop and throngs of tourists off-load, gathering in the bike lane before marching off, in the bike lane, to whatever sights they’ve stopped to see along the river front. We had to dismount in order to cross through the streams of people, but once we were through we got back on the bike and shaved past them by yelling “On Your Right!” over and over while picking up speed. It worked on the Brooklyn Bridge, and it worked there, too. They jumped out of our way like scared mice.

Just past the pier there was a lot of construction that narrowed the bike lane to about three feet, and it was choked with pedestrians. No amount of yelling would make them jump out of our way – there was no place for them to jump to. We had to get off the bike again and walk it between the orange plastic fences, excusing ourselves as we poked each passing tourist with the handlebars. After walking maybe 50 yards there was room to one side to pull off the path. The construction and the narrowed path went on as far as we could see, so I proposed to B that we turn around while we were still close enough to the rental place and return the bikes now. That way we would have the rest of the afternoon to walk wherever we wanted without having to drag a tandem bicycle with us wherever we went. She agreed, and back we went.

To wrap up: A fun tour, an exhilarating ride across the Brooklyn Bridge, but riding a bike to Battery Park is not the way to go while all that construction is going on, and make sure your bike works before you leave.

Bicycling across the Brooklyn Bridge | 12:04 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

image of My Darling B in Brooklyn with PROOF!If you’re ever out this way and you’ve always wanted to do a little sight-seeing in Brooklyn, a good way to do it would be to book a tour with A Slice of Brooklyn. Not only do they make sure you have a lot of fun, they feed you some pretty good pizza, too.

We were about a half-hour early getting to the corner near Union Square where we were supposed to meet the bus on Monday morning, but the storefront across the street had big picture windows filled with crates and bottles of wine, so we wandered over there and looked over the labels, a very agreeable way to pass the time. When it got close to ten-thirty we drifted back across the street where a small crowd was gathering at the corner around a dark-haired young woman who introduced herself later as Paula, our guide.

Paula, it turned out, had a story for everything we saw, a patter that never let up and a delivery that was never boring. After we got on the bus and she did the head count, she explained as we headed toward Brooklyn that we would be crossing the Manhattan Bridge, and if it seemed somehow wrong that we weren’t crossing on the Brooklyn Bridge it was actually very right, because this way we’d get a really great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. She could’ve stopped there and let us think they were doing it all for us, but it turns out there’s a weight restriction on the Brooklyn Bridge, and she got the driver in trouble once for having him cross it. It was a story she couldn’t pass up telling.

Our first stop was the neighborhood under the Manhattan Bridge, called Dumbo by the people who live there – Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Paula said it used to be old warehouses where artists found cheap loft space and, to keep the hoighty-toity types away, they gave their neighborhood what they thought was a stupid-sounding name. It backfired on them, because apartments there go for millions now that it’s been gentrified. But, there’s a great little park poking out into the East River where you can get an unmissable view of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Next stop, Grimaldi’s Pizza. We made two stops for pizza on the tour and this was the better of the two; thin-crust margherita pizza and a bottle of root beer to go with it. Paula said it was considered the best place to get coal-fired pizza in all of New York City and that people were often lined up around the block to get in. She had a pretty good story about the original owner selling out to somebody else, then opening a rival pizzeria next door, but I can’t remember it. If you want the details, you’ll have to sign up for the tour and make sure you’re on the bus with Paula.

Then we took a spin through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. One of the fun things about the tour was the way they played scenes from well-known films like Goodfellas, Saturday Night Fever and Last Exit to Brooklyn as we drove through the city, matching scenes in the movies to landmarks that we were passing at the time. Most were, oddly, movies I’d only ever seen snippets of, never watched from start to finish. It turns out I could make a long To Be Watched list of movies set in Brooklyn.

Coney Island was the final stop before heading back to Manhattan. We didn’t stay long, only ten minutes or so, the only time I was disappointed with the tour.

A Slice of Brooklyn | 6:21 pm CST
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Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

image of B in front of a New York City ramen shopRAMEN! WE FOUND A RAMEN SHOP! JUST LIKE THE ONE IN MISAWA!

Well, except that the guys in the kitchen didn’t all yell “Irasshaimase!” when we walked in the door. Oh, and they didn’t have ebi ramen on the menu. But still! Except for that, it could’ve almost been exactly the same place!

Stepping through the front door of Menkui Tei was deja vu weird. A big, red curtain with “RAMEN” printed in white kana characters hung over the door, and when we opened it and walked in we were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh veggies, pork fat and boiling noodles. *bliss!*

The shop was built long and narrow, more like a wide hallway than a store. The kitchen was built up along the right-hand wall, tables and chairs ran down the left-hand wall, and a counter with low stools was set up between them. We decided not to sit at the counter and went for a table near the back. It was made out of Formica back when every table was made out of Formica, and was worn down to the white where people had been leaning on it.

B ordered her favorite, miso ramen, and I tried the tonkatsu ramen. We also ordered a plate of fried gyoza for old time’s sake, but they were rather disappointingly delivered after the ramen. And the ramen was good, but I have to admit that I’ve been spoiled by the tonkatsu ramen at Umami back in Madison, made with fresh noodles from RP Pasta right down the street, fresh pork from a farmer right outside town, and always served with a soy-infused egg, which I realized too late I’d have to order as an extra at Menkui Tei.

It was very cool finding a ramen shop that did everything but physically take us back to Japan. If we’d ducked in from a snowstorm, and if they’d had ebi ramen on the menu, I don’t think I could find it anywhere in my heart to say it was anything but the most wonderful ramen shop ever. Dammit, Umami, you’ve spoiled me! You’ve spoiled me forever!

ramen in NYC | 6:43 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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Thursday, September 20th, 2012

It’s guy night! Otherwise known as We’re going out to eat, honey!

My Darling B usually has the car and picks me up from work, but tonight I had the car and picked B up, putting us both on the west side of town at exactly the time that both our tummies started growling in unison.

“What are we doing for dinner tonight?” she asked, as we pulled out of the parking lot. I suggested that we could either stop at the grocery store on the way home, where I’d pick up a salmon fillet, take it home and broil it for dinner, OR we could drive just three minutes down the road to our favorite Italian restaurant, Lombardino’s, where we could both enjoy a refreshing cocktail and a big plate of spaghetti.

“Which would you rather do?” My Darling B asked me.

Wow. Talk about a no-brainer.

It just so happened that we showed up at that certain time of the evening on that certain night of the week that they were offering a special on three different kinds of wine by the glass, according to the lovely young lady who brought us samples to taste. My only regret of the evening is that I should have splurged and ordered a glass of the delicious third glass that I’ve already forgotten the name of because I thought, Hell, I’ll never forget a name as distinctive as that and didn’t write it down.

Instead of a glass of wine I ordered a pomegranate martini, partly because B ordered one, too, and I thought it’d be cute if we both had the same drink, and partly because the name of the drink had “martini” in it, despite the fact that there wasn’t a drop of gin or vermouth within a hundred feet of it. I should’ve known it would only disappoint me.

That huge plate of spaghetti sure didn’t disappoint me, though, and neither did the plate of calamari we ordered for an appetizer. I thought maybe we’d munch a couple of those as we sipped our cocktails but we ended up wolfing down the whole serving, yummy as they were. The marinara sauce, garnished with horseradish, really did the trick there. Couldn’t finish the entree, though. Didn’t even try.

Lombardino’s | 9:05 pm CST
Category: booze, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We both worked late last night, so we both liked the idea of quick and easy dinner, which lead us to Roman Candle for pizza. That’s it. Ate out again. Roman Candle. Pizza. That’s all I got. Not much else to tell. Oh, I was working late so I could move a bunch of files to a different office, and B was working late because she’s got a project she’s trying to finish before a looming deadline. We were both pretty damned glad to get out of our respective office buildings and into Roman Candle, quaff a cold, delicious beer and wolf down a couple slices of their amazing Supreme pizza pie (half with mushrooms) (my half). Would’ve been nicer if the waiter had remembered to bring an order of garlic bread like we asked, instead of leaving it on the warming table all night, but at least he didn’t charge us for it.

cheese farts | 5:43 am CST
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Sunday, September 16th, 2012

image of trunk full of goodwill donationsWe paid a visit to the Monroe Cheese Fest yesterday, which, if they were honest, they would call the Monroe Standing In Lines Fest. Ten thousand people crowded the city square of Monroe, so there were lines for everything. There were even lines to get in lines. I’m not kidding. To buy cheese curds, or cheesecake on a stick, or a beer – anything – we had to stand in a line to buy tickets for it first. I didn’t find a vendor anywhere that would take my money in exchange for something deep-fried, or cool and refreshing. I should’ve pulled the race card on them. “Oh, I get it: No tickee, no beer, eh? What kind of racist organization is this, anyway?”

Of course, each vendor had their own tickets. We couldn’t buy a whole fistful of tickets, then redeem them anywhere we wanted. Beer tickets would not buy cheese curds, for instance. Luckily for our thirsty selves, the New Glarus beer tent had a crack staff that kept the lines moving pretty fast. I was okay with the tickets-for-beer crap so long as I had a cold cup of beer in my hand.

We were invited to the cheese fest by a couple we know, Bryan and Kris. Bryan grew up in Monroe, so he knew it like the back of his hand and could tell stories about every building in town. He knew, for instance, that we wouldn’t be able to park anywhere near the courthouse square. Taking his advice, we parked on the edge of town and rode in on one of the buses the festival organizers chartered to bring people into town. Bryan suggested we meet in front of Baumgartner’s, a tavern Bryan said anybody would be able to point us toward if we couldn’t find it. Good idea, but as it turned out, we didn’t have to ask. The bus dropped us off right behind Baumgartner’s, so we were right where we wanted to be almost as soon as we stepped off the bus.

Our timing was perfect. Bryan phoned My Darling B just minutes after we arrived and left a voice message for her, saying he was in front of Baumgartner’s waiting for us, but after scanning the twenty or so faces of the people standing outside Baumgartner’s, we were pretty sure he was pulling a Candid Camera stunt on us. “If you’re in front of Baumgartner’s, then you must be cloaked,” I texted to him. I tried calling, but the cumulative weight of ten thousand cell phone users must’ve been overwhelming the one tired cell phone tower near the center of this normally-sleepy berg, because I never connected with him no matter how many times I tried to dial his number, even while he was leaving me more voice messages.

We hooked up eventually. He and Kris were standing on the other side of the road, near the beer tent. How fortuitous. After grabbing a cold one, we set off to tour the vendors set up around the square. That’s when we found out there were an infinite number of lines waiting for tickets, food, tickets, and beer. When we were almost all the way around the square, Bryan volunteered to wait in line for tickets to buy some cheese curds if we would go on to the beer tent and have a freshly-pulled cold beer waiting for him when he caught up with us. We agreed, and on we went.

I caught only the outlines of this plan, however, because while we were working them out I overheard the familiar strains of La Vie En Rose, played by all-girl accordion band, The Squeezettes. I had never been prepared for a version of La Vie En Rose scored for four women on accordions. I’m more accustomed to versions like the one sung by Edith Piaf, although Louis Armstrong can turn out a pretty good rendition, too. Overcome by the, ah, unique rendition by the Squeezettes, I lost track of what was going on around me and almost didn’t notice when the rest of the group moved on to the beer tent.

We ended up at the corner where we started, just as my Auntie Sue and Uncle Jim arrived. There was much hugging and hellos, followed by a trip to the beer tent to make sure everyone had a cool, refreshing drink before we went on to the next thing. The Next Thing was supposed to be listening to a blues band at the stage behind the brewery, but unfortunately it turned out that they were scheduled to appear much later in the day than we thought they were, so we made our way back up to the square and, on the way, happened to meet some people we knew. There was much more hugging and hellos, more cool libations from the beer tent, and shortly afterward we found ourselves in the shade of the buildings along the side of the square, where we passed the rest of the afternoon, shooting the shit while polka bands played old pop tunes. And it was not at all bad way to pass the time, I might add.

We made one side trip to see what the tour of the distillery was like. I have to say that I was disappointed. It wasn’t much of a tour. They herded us into a room, showed us a brief Power Point slide show summarizing the history of the Minhaus Brewery, poured a few drinks, and that was it. There wasn’t even a distillery to look at. They had a mega-still installed in the room, but it looked like it wasn’t hooked up to anything and, if I heard them right, it hadn’t ever been fired up. It was a virgin still. Maybe the tour will be a bit more interesting after they’ve actually distilled something and have a few good stories to share. Couldn’t say.

We packed up and headed out of town kind of early because standing around all day in the sun sipping beer made me a little sleepy. I wanted to get back before it got dark.

Monroe Waiting In Line Festival | 8:55 pm CST
Category: beer, booze, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, music, My Darling B, O'Folks, O'Folks friends, play | Tags: , , , ,
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Sunday, September 9th, 2012

My Darling B made pizza for dinner last night. She wanted it cooked on the grill. Since I am the grillmaster, it fell to me to figure out how to cook a pizza on the grill. This is the story of my PIZZA FAIL.

Just to get this out of the way: Does anybody other than me think that cooking pizza on a grill, Weber or otherwise, is a little on the weird side of outdoor cooking? And I mean “weird” in the weirdest possible sense of the word. Whoever came up with the idea of cooking a pizza on a wire grill over a charcoal fire had to be in one of two frames of mind: Either he was making a pizza and wondering, “What’s the most outrageous way to cook this that I could talk other people into trying?” I’m not sure that this was the case, because just off the top of my head I can think of lots of ways to cook a pizza that sound way cooler and would be a lot less trouble than trying to cook it on a grill. Just for instance, flamethrowers leap to mind. Don’t think I could cook a pizza with a flamethrower? Let me have one for a week and I’ll get back to you.

Or, our pioneering chef was flipping burgers on his trusty Weber one Sunday afternoon and – I know this will sound blasphemous, but stay with me here – he was a little bored by doing the same old same old, so he asked himself, “What would be the most challenging food to cook on a grill?” And he began to visualize the scene: Throwing a big, doughy pie on a wire grill and expecting it to cook before it falls through onto a bed of red-hot coals. It’s nutso to expect that to work. An overachieving chef would therefore waste hours of his time on it to make it happen.

You read that right: When My Darling B proposed cooking a pizza on the grill, she said the way it’s done is to simply throw it on the wire grill. “And how exactly do you just throw a pizza on the grill?” I asked her, after my imagination completely failed to picture a way to slide a pie onto the grill without wrinkling it, folding it in half or spilling any or, even more likely, all the toppings through the grill onto the coals, where the fat from the pepperoni and cheese would erupt into a column of flame that would incinerate the dough. Which would look so cool, but would not achieve the result we were after.

She couldn’t imagine how it was done, either, so when she made the pie, she rolled it out on our pizza pan, a fourteen-inch circle of aluminum perforated as thoroughly as any road sign on a back road in hillbilly country. It always worked well in the oven, so we figured it would do the job well on the grill, too. Using the pan may have been my first mistake.

I wasn’t sure how hot the fire should be. B thought it should be at least as hot as the oven, 450 degrees, when we bake pizza in it. Trouble with that is, I don’t use a thermometer when I cook on the grill. I can build a fire that’s fairly cool, hot, pretty hot or very hot, but I have no idea what that translates to in degrees Fahrenheit. In the end, what I did was build a fire as hot as I could make it, then put the lid on it for a couple minutes to moderate it a bit. Not knowing how hot it really was may have been my second mistake.

I slid the pizza on its pan onto the grill, put the cover on and set a timer for three minutes, then paced back and forth impatiently waiting for it to go bleepity-bleep-bleep. Three minutes later the pizza looked pretty good: Nothing in flames, nothing burned at all, and the cheese was melting nicely, so I put the cover back on and ran the timer another three minutes.

When the timer bleeped and I could yank the cover off again everything still looked fine. I even hooked a fingernail under the edge of the crust and lifted it to make sure I wasn’t burning it. No worries there. The toppings, though, were not quite as bubbly as I wanted them, so I put the cover back on and planned to check again in another minute. Leaving it in that extra minute was my third and final mistake.

I ran inside to get the thick pot holder and, by the time I came back out, so much smoke was chugging out of the top vent of the Weber that it looked like a steam engine laboring up a hill with a long string of freight cars behind it. I snatched the pizza off the grill as quickly as I could, but I was a minute too late: The damage had already been done.

What happened, I think, was this: In that final minute, the fire heated the pan as hot as it was going to get: Not red-hot, but so close as to make no difference. I probably could have taken the pizza off two minutes earlier and the pan would have kept on cooking the crust for another three more minutes until it was toasty-crunchy instead of burned. The toppings might’ve been a little gooey, but the crust wouldn’t have gone all Cajun style on us. We managed to prise almost six slices off the pan and scrape off enough of the blackened stuff in the center to make it edible. Around the edges, the crust was almost normal.

Thinking it over later, maybe B’s original idea of just throwing it on the grill would be better. The pan, after all, is what burned the pizza, not the fire, and it kept me from seeing that the center of the crust was getting burned. How are we going to get the pizza from the kitchen to the fire, though, and slide it onto the grill? That’s the million-dollar question.

pizza fail | 9:28 am CST
Category: food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Monday, September 3rd, 2012

View Our Epic Journey to the Taste Of Madison! in a larger map

I don’t know if you realize this, but a historic journey of heroic proportions was completed yesterday. I’m talking, of course, about the bike ride My Darling B took with me all the way around Lake Monona. This 12-mile trip is probably longer than she’s ever traveled on her bike in one day. I knew she could do it, but I was still amazed that she not only agreed to it, she also suggested it in the first place!

She surprised the hell out of me last week when she suggested we ride our bikes to the Orton Park festival. That trip was a breeze and she seemed to enjoy the ride quite a lot. So much, apparently, that she suggested, while we were making our plans to visit the Taste Of Madison this weekend, that we ride our bikes in and take a ride all the way around the lake at the same time. I didn’t raise my eyebrows and ask, “Are you sure?” I figured she knew what she was capable of.

The trip up Monona Drive is a good way to start: It’s mostly downhill, except for that one hump in front of the high school. We left the main road after we passed the intersection with Cottage Grove Road, weaving through the back streets of the neighborhood behind Olbrich Park until we met up with the Capitol City Trail and followed it into town. The trail runs along a railroad track so it’s almost flat as a board, a very easy ride, and it goes all the way to the end of Williamson Street.

At that point, though, we had to climb the ridge up to capitol square; not all the way, but about three blocks up King Street where we locked up our bikes to a post across from the Majestic Theater. B was just a teensy bit winded and looking a bit peaked from the steep climb so our first stop was the beer cart that was helpfully parked at the top of King Street. Seven bucks bought us a twenty-ounce cup of ice-cold Capital Amber to refresh us as we made our way around the square.

After sampling some of the foods at the festival, we saddled up and headed back down the hill, much to the delight of My Darling B, and rejoined the bike trail, turning to the south to follow it along John Nolen Drive. The cool breeze blowing off the lake was a blessing and a curse, giving us some relief from the heat but, dammit, it was a headwind, so we had to fight it all the way to Olin-Turville Park. I geared down as far as I could so we could enjoy the view without having to huff and puff all the way around the lake.

After fighting a headwind around the lake we had to run the gauntlet of Waunona Drive, a neighborhood of million-dollar homes along the lakefront and, not incidentally, more than a little hilly. Not terribly steep hills, but a lot of them. It was crank, crank, crank our way to the top of a hill, go “Wheeee!” all the way to the bottom, then crank, crank, crank our way to the top of the next hill again. Waunona Drive is only a mile or two long, but it seems to go on forever.

And the home stretch is a long, steep hill at the top of Bridge Street that I thought My Darling B would have to dismount for, but she stayed in the saddle and climbed it like a trooper. The road levels off at Bridge Road Park, then begins a shallow downhill that we took advantage of, mostly coasting all the way home.

According to The Mighty Google, it’s a 12.3 mile trip. B says she’s sure it’s more like twenty. I have to go with her estimate; she’s usually right.

epic journey! | 8:19 am CST
Category: bicycling, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, travel
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Sunday, August 26th, 2012

image of the moonI have a strange confession for a space geek to make: I have only the sketchiest idea where I was, and no memory of what I was doing, when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon.

I’m pretty sure I was in Marquette, Michigan when it happened, but I have no memory of watching the landing, none at all. I can only assume that I did. I was a huge science geek when I was a boy, especially about moon rockets. I have a very vivid memory of just about wetting myself when I unwrapped the giant-sized model moon rocket that my parents gave me for Christmas, and I still remember wearing an old blue sweater with the Apollo 11 crew patch printed across the front.

But, unlike most people, I can’t tell you where I was and what I was doing when the moon landing took place. I will probably be able to tell you, many, many moons from now, where I was and what I was doing when I learned that Neil Armstrong had died, however.

I had just gotten up from a refreshing nap after bicycling into town and back to visit the Orton Park festival with My Darling B on our wedding anniversary. I poured myself a beer and saddled up in front of my computer monitor to check out the Twitter feed and maybe watch videos of some adorable kittens playing with string or something equally wasteful. The tweets memorializing Neil Armstrong had already begun to hit the feed and I thought, “What the hell is this? Neil Armstrong can’t die yet.”

But when I skipped from one news site to another I found that, yes, in fact, he could do that, and he did. And after the idea had sunk in and hit me way harder than I ever thought it would, I went upstairs and out the back door into the yard to search the skies for any sign of the moon. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it during the day, so I wasn’t even sure it was visible at that hour, but I desperately needed to see it just then.

“What are you looking for?” My Darling B called to me from the kitchen window. “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” When she stepped out the back door to join me, I told her I was looking for the moon. “Why? Isn’t it there any more?”

“I sure hope so,” I said, then told her, with an unexpected catch in my throat, that Neil Armstrong had died. She’s not the space geek that I am, far from it. Her eyes usually glass over whenever I start talking about space geekery, but she understood immediately that I had lost a hero, so she gave me a big, warm hug and told me everything would be all right.

And it was, even though I couldn’t find the moon in the sky that afternoon, or later that evening. Clouds slowly filled the skies until rain began to fall late in the night and all through the morning today. I’ll have to wait until a clear night to wink at the moon.

wink at the moon | 10:58 am CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery | Tags:
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Saturday, August 25th, 2012

It’s our anniversary, My Darling B reminded me when she kissed me good morning today, but when she tried to figure out how long it’s been, she found it was way too early in the day for her to do the math in her head, and had to go with her gut feeling.

“It feels like we’ve been married forever,” she said, “but in a good way.”

Turns out it’s been 23 years. I had to count it on my fingers, even though I’ve had two cups of coffee and plenty of time to wake up.

Happy Anniversary B! | 7:52 am CST
Category: daily drivel, My Darling B, O'Folks
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Friday, August 24th, 2012

“Would you like to meet me at Glass Nickel after work?” I asked My Darling B by text message late yesterday afternoon. She answered “OK!” about a half-hour later, just as I was packing up my saddle bags in preparation for leaving the office. I changed into shorts and a summery shirt, headed out the door and jumped on my bike.

Glass Nickel is a pizzeria about halfway between Our Humble O’Bode and the office building where I work. We don’t go there often, but we do order their pizza all the time and it’s pretty good. I picked it partly for that, but mostly because it’s halfway home. Usually when we stop for pizza we go to Roman Candle, but that’s actually further from home and further from the office and I didn’t want to get all full of pizza and beer when I still would have to bike all that way.

I got to Glass Nickel just after five o’clock, ordered a beer and took a seat in a booth near the door so I could catch B’s attention when she came in. Sucked down damn nearly half my beer before she showed up. Guess which pizzeria she went to?

whoopsie | 5:36 am CST
Category: daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants
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Sunday, August 19th, 2012

image of B&O at Brewer's gameMy Darling B and I took a little trip to Milwaukee yesterday afternoon to see our first Brewer’s game ever, courtesy of the good folks at Hop Head Beer Tours, who provided transportation and plenty of beer, which was not only freshly-brewed in the kettles at the Vintage Brewing Company but was poured by one of the brewers at Vintage! Sweet!

What I know about baseball is limited to a gist. If the guy hits the ball with the bat, he tries to run around the bases. There’s some other stuff that tumbles around in my head like trivia, but that’s about it, really. When other people start talking baseball, they might as well be talking about particle physics. Actually, I may know more about particle physics than baseball, but I don’t find myself in those conversations ever, and Hop Head Beer Tours won’t be tailgating at the next conference of particle physicists, so never mind.

On top of that, we knew that our seats were going to be somewhere between the sky and the clouds, and when we got there we discovered that our section seemed to be where they stuck all the drunk people and loud kids (check out the kid photobombing us in the snapshot). But we’d never been to a Brewer’s game and we’d been to Milwaukee just once before, and we really, really needed to take a day off, get out of Madison and to unwind as much as possible, and this sounded like a great way to do it.

image of Blatz beer signThe tour began at the Vintage brewpub, just off the beltline on the west side of town. I was already in such a relaxed mode that I wasn’t bothered in the least by the guy in the truck behind me who got all bunched up when I wouldn’t turn onto Whitney Way because the traffic light was still red. He honked his horn, he squealed his tires as he weaved around me, and he flipped me off as he left me in a cloud of his dust, but he didn’t push a single one of my buttons. I was in the zone.

We arrived at Vintage about forty minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. B doesn’t like to be late for events like this, so when she asked, “When do you want to go?” I suggested that twelve-thirty ought to give us more than enough time to get across town, find a parking spot, check in and maybe even relax with a beer, and never feel rushed about it. I did not expect her to believe this would be the case, and she did not fail to meet my expectation. I then revised my suggestion: Noon. She was fully satisfied with that, and we left almost spot-on time. Ten minutes after backing out of the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode, we were exiting the beltway onto Whitney Way. Three minutes to park, five minutes to check in, two minutes to stop and say, “Well, what do you want to do now?” left us forty minutes to spare.

Since we had the time, and the idea had already been broached, we went into Vintage, settled onto a couple of comfortable bar stools and ordered beers to nurse until the bus started loading. I don’t know enough about Vintage to have learned the story about how they gathered up all the beer-themed kitsch from the 60s and 70s they could get their hands on. It’s everywhere, and the furnishings play up the time warp feeling to make the pub a very comfortable place to relax. I felt as though I was in the sort of Wisconsin supper club that my mom and dad used to take us to when we went out to eat dinner with friends.

I wasn’t quite finished with my beer when the bus began to load up, but no worries. We weren’t more than ten or fifteen minutes outside the city limits when Filipe pried the top off the cooler and Jeff, our helpful host from Vintage, began making his way down the aisle pouring samples of the brewery’s beer from a growler under his arm. It takes a lot of skill to pour beer into a teensy-tiny cup while rolling down the highway on a moving bus, and I’m happy to say that Jeff managed to keep all of the beer out of my lap until we were rolling through the streets of Milwaukee, where even a Shaolin monk wouldn’t have had enough self-control to pour beer without spilling.

image of B at Wisconsin Cheese MartOn our arrival in Milwaukee we made a short stop at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. I’m not sure but I think that every time we’ve gone along on one of the Hop Head Beer Tours they stopped at a cheese store. I’m not sure why. Maybe they just like cheese a whole lot, or maybe they figure that, since we’re in Wisconsin, they should make sure they include cheese as part of the tour. I’m not complaining, and B is not only not complaining, she enjoys it very much. She brought a cooler along on this trip just to keep cheese in, and she filled it up with her favorite hard-to-find cheeses. We almost spent as much on cheese as we did for one of us to go on the tour! The girl does love her cheeses.

image of beer poster at Wisconsin Cheese MartWisconsin Cheese Mart serves beer as well as cheese, but we did not partake. B wanted to spend her time there shopping, and I didn’t want to chug a beer in the short time we had, so I wandered around looking at the architecture and the memorabilia on the walls. The cheese mart was in a gentrified section of Milwaukee where lots of buildings from the 1800s had been restored, and there were lots of photos on the walls depicting the neighborhood as it appeared back in the old days, but one of the most eye-catching, and not incidentally the most relevant mementos was a framed print of what looked like a page out of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel depicting 99 bottles of Wisconsin beers. Almost nobody took any notice of it, but B and I studied the old bottles for a while, and wondered where we could get a copy of it for ourselves. I’m still wondering. I must’ve wasted an hour and a half this morning poking around on the internet trying to find that thing and, although I found a low-rez reproduction of it on the designer’s web site, I can’t find it for sale anywhere! Great. Now I’ll have to make it my life’s purpose to track down that print.

image of tour at Lakefront BreweryOur last stop before the ball game was Lakefront Brewing for a tour, because it’s a Hop Head Beer Tours tour, so they should probably get at least one tour of a brewery into each trip, right? B and I have visited Lakefront once before and it was so much fun that we really didn’t mind going on the tour once again, although our time there did seem a little rushed. If we’d had maybe twenty minutes more to relax and soak up some suds after the tour it would’ve made for a slightly more enjoyable stop. Traffic conspired to make us about fifteen minutes late, though, and had to get to the game early enough to do the tailgating that the Hop Head guys promised us, so we had only enough time to grab some souvenirs before we got back on the bus and headed to Miller Field.

As I said before, I know nothing about baseball, but it seems to me that tailgating is just as important, maybe even more important, as watching the game. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that a lot of people tailgating in the parking lots around the stadium never even enter the stadium to watch the game. In fact, on the way back from the game we passed a group sitting around a radio, listening to the play-by-play with beers in their hands. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure they never got any closer to the game than that.

A very essential part of tailgating appears to be trying to make more noise and/or drink more beer, or both, than the people around you. Several busloads of people had set up high-powered stereo sound systems that blasted rock music loud enough to shatter granite. I swear I could feel the ground shake while I ate my dinner, but maybe that was just the power of suggestion. And they left behind garbage bags full of empty beer cans, but it was all crappy beer so, in the contest to drink more beer, I’m pretty sure we won. I didn’t drink much beer myself, but I’m a firm believer that quality trumps quantity.

We schlepped ourselves over to the stadium after we finished our dinner and slowly made our way up to the nosebleed section. The stadium is a steel and concrete contraption that looks a lot more like a factory or a blimp hangar than a stadium. Yeah, there’s a baseball diamond right in the middle of it, but that sort of looks accidental, or at least it did to me. The arched roof was open to the sky and a cool breeze played across the stands, even in the rarefied air of the stratosphere where we were seated. I kid. I thought we had pretty good seats, really. We weren’t right behind home plate or anything, but I could see everything that was going on, even if I couldn’t understand a lot of it.

Watching the game does not seem to be something that most people go to the park to do, however. There were quite a lot of people around us who didn’t go there to watch the game. The five young ladies in the row right below ours in particular appeared to be doing nothing but updating their Facebook status and texting their friends. The only time they might have noticed there was a baseball game going on was when they took pictures of each other. The stadium and some of the game could possibly have been in the background. I can’t say for certain that they knew it was there, though. so it’s only conjecture that they saw it.

We didn’t stay to the end. We left at the end of the seventh inning because a) the Brewers were losing 4-1, b) the game was boring, and c) I didn’t want to walk back in the middle of a throng of drunken people. B was with me on all three counts. It was a good call: The Brewers couldn’t pull it out at the last minute, so we didn’t miss anything.

Brewers vs Phillies | 4:40 pm CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, travel | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, August 11th, 2012

It’s the Great Taste of the Midwest! (I’m typing this entry now because I’ll be far too toasted to hit the right keys in the right order after we come home from the event.)

My Darling B and I went out to Crema Cafe for a pre-tasting breakfast so we’d have a solid cushion of food in our bellies. B went with the biscuits and gravy, always a good choice, while I opted for the breakfast sammie – absolutely scrumptious!

At eleven, Tim will pick us up at our front stoop and deliver us to Olin-Turville Park, where we’ll wait in line until the gates open at one. We’re going that early because the line will already be snaking around the soccer field by that time. A surprising number of people will be warming up already while they wait; I’ve seen people put away two or three beers before the gates open. That’s just plain crazy. We’ll use that time to study the program so we can get some idea which of the 150 brewers to visit in such a short time.

great! | 10:44 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, festivals, food & drink, Great Taste of the Midwest, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, T-Dawg
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Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Rain began to fall as we stepped out of the parking garage on North Webster to walk to Harvest, the last restaurant we had reservations for during Madison’s Restaurant Week. We were both so unfamiliar with the feeling of water falling out of the skies on our heads that we froze in confused indecision and began to babble our thoughts aloud to each other.

“Should we go get a brollie from the car?” My Darling B asked.

“It’s only a little rain,” I said, as if I knew what “a little rain” looked like any more, “from a passing cloud. We’ll be fine.”

It’s just a block and a half from the parking garage to Harvest. We had to wait in the rain for the light to change so we could cross through the traffic on North Webster, and we made it as far as the overhang in front of the Bartell Theater before I voiced the opinion that it wasn’t only a little rain after all and that maybe we should wait it out.

“We’ll be fine,” B said, so we started out again, sticking as close as possible to the buildings, where the rain wasn’t coming down quite so hard.

As we rounded the corner in front of the YWCA building I caught sight of the staff at Harvest frantically clearing linens and silverware off the tables on the sidewalk, and that’s about the same moment that I realized I was getting SOAKED and was walking rather briskly up the street to the door. Apparently my subconscious mind, which must have been operating on the same frequency as the staff at Harvest, had hijacked control over my body from my devil-may-care conscious mind because HEY DUMMY IT’S RAINING!

The staff at Harvest, apparently just as surprised by the rain as we were, recovered with a lot more poise and dignity than we did. The hostess pretended that we weren’t dripping all over her podium, for instance. Lots of brownie points to her.

This was our first visit to Harvest ever, even though we have been living in Madison for six years and have said to each other at least half a dozen times every one of those years that we really have to visit Harvest one of these days. With all those years of built-up anticipation I was completely prepared to be disappointed because, really, I was expecting a dining experience that would send my very soul to a happy place and make me long to go back. Well, guess what? It was all that. I’m even happier to report that My Darling B thought our visit was, overall, the most enjoyable of all the five restaurants we stopped at this week. Huzzah, Harvest! You’ve been given the high-five by a couple of bumpkins! That’ll teach you for letting just anybody in the door.

The hostess seated us at a table along the wall, offering the chair to My Darling B. She usually sits on the bench seat along the wall and I thought maybe I ought to wait until the hostess went away and let her switch, but then I thought, Hey, just what’s so great about the bench seat, anyway? And I sat down and settled in. You know what? It turns out that there are not one but two really great things about the bench seat: First of all, you’re sitting against the wall so you can watch everything that’s going on. I got to marvel at the skill of the bartender as he mixed many liquid libations, for instance, and I couldn’t help but check out the costumes all the other diners were wearing. We weren’t the only bumpkins who showed up in relaxed attire, but we were a pronounced contrast to the many diners who dressed to the nines. People watching is too much fun.

The second really great thing about sitting on the bench seat against the wall is, I wasn’t hanging out there in the aisle for the diners and all the staff to bump into. And there’s a lot of staff at Harvest. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many staff at a restaurant before. At least ten, maybe twelve people, constantly buzzing through the aisles taking orders, delivering drinks, passing dishes from the kitchen to the tables, refilling water glasses, whisking dirty dishes away. I can’t fault them for service, but it was a little distracting.

First, the drinks. B ordered what Harvest called their signature martini. It was made with vodka. Why are drinks made with vodka instead of gin called martinis? How is that any different from serving a dish you call Chicken Kiev that you make with pork cutlets instead of chicken? Okay, never mind, I shouldn’t have gone there, forget I asked. Besides, it was delicious. The waiter mixed our drinks up and gave me B’s not-martini and I drank a sip and liked it. Quite a lot. So much that I would have gladly drunk the whole thing, but that still doesn’t make it a martini, okay?

Here’s another really wonderful thing about their martini which is not really a martini: If you ask the waiter what’s in it, as My Darling B did, the waiter will ask the bartender and the bartender will come over to the table and tell you exactly what’s in it, right down to the label. That tempted us to ask, later on, what was in the sauce they served with the main dish, to see if the chef would come out to tell us, but we managed to stifle ourselves even though the temptation was nearly overwhelming.

On to the food: We both ordered the tempura chicken for starters and the slow-cooked pork shoulder for the second course. We almost always order different dishes so that we can try each other’s food, but we know what we like and, after looking over the menu last night, we knew that we didn’t want anything else. We even ordered the same wine to go with dinner, a Cotes du Rhone that had just enough zip to it to compliment the pork shoulder. Listen to me. Like I would know what kind of wine would compliment pork. You almost bought that for just a moment, didn’t you?

I wasn’t as impressed by the chicken as B was. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it was very tender and I liked the barbecue sauce they drizzled on it, but I guess I was expecting crispy tempura. This wasn’t that. It was delicious and I ate every bite, but it wasn’t what I expected, is I guess what I’m trying to say, badly. My Darling B thought it was awesome in every way and cut the chicken into tiny little pieces, the more to sop up all the sauce.

The slow-cooked pork shoulder was served over a generous piece of savory corn bread. Wow. Just wow. That’s all I could think of to say about that. Actually, we couldn’t say much at all because we couldn’t stop putting every scrummy morsel into our mouths until it was all gone, so really what I was saying was more like, “Mmm! Mmmmm, mmmm mmm! Mmmmmm mmmmm mmm!” And then B would say to me, “Mmm! MMM!” And I would nod my head and answer, “Mmmm!”

We kept that up through dessert. We ordered the same main dish, but we split on the dessert. I had the chocolate cake because, duh, chocolate. No-brainer. It was served with a dab of bourbon mousse and vanilla ice creme anglaise drizzled all around. I’m not sure what ice creme anglaise is but it tasted really good. B had the berry parfait and, when she finished, said it was the best dessert she’d had all week. Another high five from the bumpkins, Harvest!

harvest | 8:22 am CST
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Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Capitol Chophouse is da bomb and I’ll tell you why: They mix the best martini I’ve ever drunk anywhere. The Chophouse was our second stop on this week’s tour of restaurants for Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week, our semi-annual trip around some of the finer restaurants in the area or, as we like to think of it, the only time when places like the Chophouse will let bumpkins like us come sit at their tables. Although I couldn’t help noticing that there were plenty of people eating there last night who dressed in their finest cargo shorts and polo shirts, but I digress.

A helpful hint to diners everywhere: Don’t order the martini at the Chophouse when all you’ve had to eat all day is a chicken wrap for lunch and your stomach’s been growling since two o’clock, because they pour a very generous drink. Or maybe it was just our waitress who was generous: She poured my martini, then left the shaker at the table. Wow, did she get a good tip that night.

It was a perfect martini. I’ve loved that cocktail every since I learned the name. I order it just for the fun of saying it. “I’d like a perfect martini, please.” Man, does that feel good. Never mind that our waitress went and threw me off by asking what I wanted in my perfect martini. What did I want? Gin, and lots of it! “I think she means, what kind of gin, dear?” My Darling B suggested, coming to my rescue. Oh, I think I see now: Hendrickson’s, if you’ve got it. Gasoline, if you don’t. I’m a rube. I’m really not that picky, but thank you for pretending I might be.

martini | 8:38 pm CST
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Saturday, July 21st, 2012

image of automated musical instrumentsI’ve been to House On The Rock once before we went on our family outing last week with Sean. Many, many moons ago, when I was just a dorky beanpole teenager instead of a dorky beanpole middle-aged guy, my mom and dad stopped there during a family vacation, probably a weekend camping trip, but to be perfectly honest I don’t remember much about it except a calliope that caught my interest and a room chock full of musical instruments that played themselves.

Comes to that, the self-playing musical instruments were just about the single most impressive thing about the House On The Rock that stuck in my memory all these years. I’m a gadget geek by nature, so that stuff was the cat’s ass from the moment I first laid eyes on it, and I was wowed all over again when I saw them this time around. I forgot exactly how many rooms were filled with stringed instruments or brass or woodwinds, each instrument festooned with pneumatically-activated fingers that jumped as they plied the keys. As it turns out, there are dozens of such rooms, each with a different theme: In one room, the violas, cellos and violins rest on the plush cushions of gilded chairs and play waltzes, while in another garishly-painted room, brass instruments blare out marches.

I’m not the only one to get a serious geek-on over this. The band 10,000 Maniacs recorded a music video for their song More Than This at House On The Rock against the backdrop of a room filled with automated strings and horns. The band members wear puppet strings and prosthetics, and turn their heads robotically to suggest that they’re automatons. Very nerdy stuff.

Because I’m such a geek about it, I wanted to find out more about how the automated instruments worked, so I asked The Mighty Google to tell me more and was crushed when I learned from Wikipedia that a lot of the instruments don’t really play themselves. Wait, what? According to a book by Doug Moe, a journalist who writes for Madison news media, a lot of the instruments only jerk back and forth while the sound comes from organ pipes. I have never been more disappointed. Seriously. The combined disillusionment I felt when I learned that the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, Santa Claus and Batman were all just figments of the imagination did not let me down more than this.

image of doll house at House On The RockAs long as I’m sinking into the depths of disillusionment, here’s another thing I didn’t remember very clearly about The House On The Rock: In my dim memory, it was a place filled with a vast, wonderful collection of various and sundry trinkets and mementos gathered from around the world and assembled into an almost Smithsonian display of Americana.

It’s vast. I recalled that correctly. And there is some eye-popping stuff, but I wouldn’t call it exactly Smithsonian. I don’t think the Smithsonian would display a fiberglass whale that’s twice as big as any living whale and has shark’s teeth as big as tombstones. And I think the Smithsonian has doll houses, but not like House On The Rock. House On The Rock has doll houses like a mutt has fleas. They’ve hoarded what has got to be the largest number of dolls and doll houses amassed anywhere in the nation. If the powers that be added one more doll house to the massivity of their hoard, I’m pretty sure it would collapse into a black hole, it’s that impressively large. I wouldn’t call it a collection, though. A collection would be a thoughtful representation of doll houses displayed in a way that you could make sense out of. Their doll houses are piled up almost on top of one another in great big heaps, like old newspapers in a garage. Might be fun to look at a couple, but open up every one to see what’s in it? Nah.

Just one other thing I didn’t recall correctly, and then I’m done: I think the displayed mountains of stuff were meant to evoke a kind of wonder at how much there was, or how wildly crazy it was, or something big and fun, but it wasn’t what I would call wonderful, exactly. Maybe calling it a walk through someone’s nightmarish fever dream is too harsh, but it came awfully close to that. Almost every room was so badly lit that I staggered in and out of darkness, bumping into blind corners, and what lights there were seemed to highlight each display in ways that were straight out of a gotcha scene in a slasher movie. I often felt a little disoriented and often even repulsed by the strangely twisted sculptures that jumped out of the shadows at me. Nothing, for instance, could have prepared me for the sight of a hundred department store mannequins converted into angels by the addition of twelve-foot wings and gauzy toga-like garments so ill-fitting that about a dozen of them were flashing their nipples at us. Really? Nipples? They thought it was necessary to take the time to paint nipples on the mannequin angels? Wow.

image of nippled angels at House On The Rock

stoned2 | 1:52 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

nightmare image of unicorn head on a naked woman's bodyMy Darling B and I took Sean on a day trip to see The House On The Rock yesterday. “It’s something everyone has to do when they go to Wisconsin, and we haven’t done it yet,” she explained. So, in spite of a tiny bit of reluctance I may have detected from Sean, we jumped in the car early yesterday morning to hit the road. Okay, it was actually nine o’clock or so. Early for us.

Before heading to Spring Green where the house is at, we stopped at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner for a big, delicious breakfast. We anticipated being away most of the day because we were going to get tickets for The Ultimate Experience of the house, and didn’t want to run out of steam halfway through the tour of what is billed as the “marvels upon marvels of the grand vision of Alex Jordan,” the guy who built The House On The Rock. The Ultimate Experience is the ticket that lets you wander through all three sections of the fantasmagorical collection that has been amassed at the house over the years. B decided that, if we were going to do this thing, we were going to do the whole thing so we’d really have something to talk about.

We got there some time between ten and eleven o’clock on a day when the temperature hit 101 degrees. That’s sort of important, because the actual house part of The House On The Rock was built in the 1960s by a guy who might have been a genius when it came to building houses on rocks, but could have used a little more training in the subject of how to incorporate adequate central air conditioning into a vacation home. (Just kidding. I don’t think he gave it a moment’s thought until well after the house itself was finished.)

The house is actually two houses: There’s a gate house at the base of the rock where a fully-appointed kitchen and a low-slung dining room gave the residents a few modern amenities. Then there’s the main house perched high on a stack of sandstone overlooking a valley lush with oak trees. It must have been a truly beautiful vacation spot at one time, before it was surrounded by a parking lot, warehouses filled with bric-a-brac and an endless chain of covered walkways you can’t really see anything from.

image of House On The Rock, Spring Green, WIThe one quality of The House On The Rock that amazed me most was that I couldn’t see it very well. While we were outside, I couldn’t see it at all. The covered walkways all around the base of the rock zigzag every which way, but never at an angle that gave me a view of the house. Maybe I’m just being silly, but it seems to me that there ought to be at least one clear view of the main attraction. Even the Mighty Google could find just one image of it, a picture post card dating from who knows when, and it’s been recycled endlessly on tourist web sites and blog posts just like this one because, I would guess, people start to write about it and realize that they don’t have a clear photo of the outside.

Once I was inside the house I could take a pretty good look around, if I had the time and patience to wait for a break in the teeming mass of people that is constantly streaming through the cattle-chute cordon laid out to guide tourists through the house. I don’t know how big the house is – I imagine it’s pretty roomy for a couple on vacation, and probably still roomy with a couple of house guests along for fun. When there are a hundred people jammed into it, though, it’s as crowded as an elevator car. All I could see most of the time was the heads and shoulders of the people in front of and behind me as we shuffled through the narrow passageways and spread out whenever there was a little breathing space.

The house might be described as a warren of low-ceilinged rooms tucked here and there in the spaces where the rock parted wide enough for the builder to lay out a conversation pit or hang a row of windows. The rooms were connected by cliffhanging galleries or narrow passageways through clefts in the stone. At one time it must have been a wonderful place to explore, wandering from room to room, losing your way only to find yourself back in a familiar place again, but the rails laid out to guide people through the house have pretty much ruined the wandering charm the house once had.

image of The Infinity Room at the House on the RockThe highlight of the tour through the house is supposed to be The Infinity Room, which looks and feels like a tacked-on addition meant to satisfy tourists who bought just the ticket to tour the house and nothing else, to keep them from feeling ripped off. It’s more of a hallway than a room that sticks out 150 feet from the rock, with a window in the floor at the far end so you can see that you’re high above the oak trees in the valley below. While we were there, there was a gaggle of people at the end waiting their turn to get their pictures taken, so I guess the room turned out to be the money shot of the house tour after all.

If I had paid $28.50 for just this, the first leg of the tour, I would have left feeling ripped off – but no! There is so much more!

stoned | 6:07 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, Seanster | Tags: ,
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Saturday, July 14th, 2012

We all crowded around the television screen last night to watch Alien because we found out Sean has never seen it. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?

A couple nights ago after dinner we were sitting around talking about all the things that were wrong with Promethus again, and after one of us compared it to Alien Sean casually mentioned that he’d never seen it. I thought at first I’d misheard him, or maybe he’d meant to say he hadn’t seen it in the last ten years or something. “You’ve never seen it?” I asked him, expecting him to correct me. “No, never,” he confirmed. My jaw dropped. I was gobsmacked.

So My Darling B checked it out from the local library and we watched it last night after dinner. You know what? It’s still a pretty good movie. I wish we had a bigger screen to watch it on, because a lot of the atmosphere that comes across from a big movie screen gets lost when the picture’s shrunk down to a nineteen-inch television screen. The scene where Kane is hanging from a rope in the egg chamber of the alien ship, for instance, made me gape and gasp when I saw it on a proper movie theater screen. I’m pretty sure it still would. When I saw it this time, I desperately wanted to shove my face right up against the television screen but was afraid the others would find that a teensy bit rude.

And I have more reservations about believability. I didn’t used to, and I don’t know where I got it. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon now, but I just don’t believe some of the really crazy stuff any more, like when the alien goes from being a little worm to a full-size monster in a couple of hours, or maybe it was as long as a day. Either way, it wasn’t enough time for him to do that, and where’d he find anything he could eat so he could grow that big? It didn’t make any sense to me.

Also, why couldn’t anybody on that ship remember to close a door behind them? Were these people brought up in a barn?

“Hey, the facehugger’s not on Kane’s face any more! Where could it be?”

“Let’s go in and look for it.”

“Shouldn’t we close the door behind us?”

“Naw, I wouldn’t worry about that. It wouldn’t go scrambling out into the hallway to get away.”

“Oh, okay.”

Then near the end of the movie when Ripley goes down to get the shuttle, she leaves the door open behind her, as if there isn’t a giant killer alien roaming the ship looking for her. That drove me nuts! But I guess that’s exactly what it was supposed to do. And the alien wouldn’t have been able to hide in the shuttle if she hadn’t.

I think Sean liked it, and we all had a good time watching it again, although I think Tim was just a little annoyed by the audience participation. Some of us couldn’t stop ourselves from yelling “Don’t go in there!” or giving Sean a poke at just the right time, which did sort of ruin the suspense, but it was family movie night and those kinds of things are more or less a given. Maybe we should have saved the MST3K stuff for when we watch Prometheus at some family movie night in the future.

Alien | 7:47 am CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags: ,
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Friday, July 6th, 2012

The bus pulled into the Dutch Mills parking lot right on time at 9:45, and Sean was the first one off. It was still so hot that we sat in the car to wait for him, getting out only to welcome him with a big hug before scampering back into the car.

His first natural impulse when we got home was to feed. His mom told him he could eat anything in the fridge except the stuff in the paper boxes, our leftovers from dinner that we were saving for lunch the next day. Almost as soon as he set on his food, I was getting ready for bed. It was well past the usual time I hit the hay. I’m pretty sure B turned in shortly after me, but I don’t remember it.

Sean treated me to Big Head Burrito for lunch today (real name: LaBamba’s, not nearly as catchy; our name comes from their motto, “Burritos As Big As Your Head!” They’re not far off), and then he got on his mom’s bike and headed into town to hang with his friends. I considered riding into town with him for the fun of racing with him, but after spending just five minutes in the hundred-degree heat outside adjusting his mother’s bike I put that thought right out of my head and satisfied myself instead with relaxing in the air-conditioned comfort of Our Humble O’Bode.

seanster | 2:06 pm CST
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Thursday, July 5th, 2012

image of One Barrel BrewingI took My Darling B to dinner at Alchemy because it’s Thursday, which means it’s Guy Night and I’m responsible for serving dinner, but it’s way too hot to cook on the grill, the only way I can cook an edible dinner, so I took her to Alchemy, same as I always do. They were serving a delicious 1/3 lb bison burger that they served to perfection, grilled to a very tasty medium-well and dished up with a side of very crispy fries. *bliss!* My Darling B went with the old dependable walleye fish fry and wasn’t disappointed, then ordered a cream puff just to make the night perfect.

After dinner, we crossed the street to see what was going on at One Barrel Brewing, which was scheduled to host their grand opening tomorrow night but is apparently having a “soft opening” tonight and serving up anybody curious enough to press their faces to the window and peer into the depths of their shop. At least that’s what they did when I did. Besides the guest taps they were pulling three of their own brews: a session beer, a kolsch and an ale that I was especially partial to. A very helpful young lady poured us samples of all three and, after tasting them, we settled into our bar stools for an enjoyable stay.

While I was soaking up the suds I couldn’t help but notice that One Barrel Brewing bore the mark of a genuine Wisconsin tavern: the head of a jackalope was mounted on the wall. I haven’t seen one of those since my last visit to Club 161 in Waupaca County many, many moons ago. It warmed the cockles of my heart to know that some die-hard Wisconsin traditions still live on.

1bbl | 7:53 pm CST
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Sunday, July 1st, 2012

We slept like babies last night, probably because we’re not used to moving heavy appliances.

For months, we’ve been talking about getting a small, second-hand refrigerator to keep at the bottom of the stairs in the basement for beer, soda pop, fresh fruit and various other sundries that fill up the big fridge in the kitchen. Kept talking about it but never did much until yesterday morning when we decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to make a detour on the way home from the farmer’s market to stop at an appliance store along the way where we looked at their refrigerators. They had a pretty good small fridge and a second-hand fridge that was really too big, but stopping there got us off our butts, out of the house and looking, so we drove to Sears to see what they had, then to Home Depot.

Sears, of course, has rows and rows of refrigerators, starting with those teeny-tiny fridges you can keep under your desk in your college dorm room, all the way up to a fridge that was literally big enough to stuff a dozen college students into. We’d have to wall off the back half of the dining room just to install it. The upside, though, would be that we would never ever again have a problem with room for food. More reasonably, though, they had a fridge that was just the right size, not too expensive and they had one in the back, ready for us to take it away. We said we’d talk about it and get right back to him.

Home Depot had mostly monster fridges of the kind we already have stuffed into our too-small kitchen. The few smaller fridges they had all looked like cheap foot lockers made in sweat shops. After just fifteen minutes of looking we headed back to Sears.

Sears has a delivery service but a strange way of scheduling deliveries: they call you up the night before and tell you when they can deliver the next day. If you can’t be there waiting for them, they call you again that night to tell you when they can be there the next day, and so on. This could theoretically go on forever. “Forget it, we’ll take it home ourselves,” I told the salesman, then had to figure out how we were going to get it home.

B noticed when we were at Home Depot, just down the road, that they had a utility truck they rented out for twenty bucks, if you could get it back to them in an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s an odd deadline, don’t you think? But we were pretty sure we could get home and back with the fridge in under that. Leaving our car behind, we flew over to Sears where two big guys loaded the fridge into the back of the truck, then flew down Stoughton Road to Monona, pulling into the driveway of Our Humble O’Bode just twenty minutes later. Working very slowly and carefully, My Darling B and I managed to ease the fridge down off the back of the truck onto the driveway. It took a few minutes to figure out how carry it, but once we did we moved it into the garage and left it while we flew back up to Home Depot to drop off the truck. Did it in less than an hour! Score!

On the way back, B suggested that we might want to wait until we could talk Tim into coming over to help us get it down the stairs to the basement, but I poo-pooed the very thought. “It’ll be a lot easier for us to carry after I take all the packing material off it,” I assured her. “We can do it.” And as it turned out, I wasn’t just bullshitting this time. Wrapped in all that styrofoam and plastic it was hard to get a grip on, but much easier to handle after I stripped it naked. Also, this time I made sure I was at the bottom end of the fridge where the compressor and all the heavy machinery was.

The only tricky moves we had to make were getting the fridge around the corner by the back steps, then getting it down the stairs to the basement. In both cases we just took it one step at a time. Slow and steady did the trick. By three o’clock it was plugged in and B was happily loading up baskets with bottles and bags to transfer to the basement fridge. We were both so well-chuffed with ourselves that we had to show it off to Tim as soon as he came over.

The fridge in the kitchen looks so empty now. But I’m sure that won’t last.

frigid | 9:02 am CST
Category: beer, booze, ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, shopping, work
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Sunday, June 17th, 2012

image of my latest batch of beerBottling Day! Allow me to introduce you to My Darling Brew, a beer formulated especially for My Darling B, who likes a beer that is not too bitter and not too heavy. I brewed this batch with extra light malt extract and the mildest bittering hops I could get my hands on, then added a slightly stronger hop for the finish but left it in for just fifteen minutes to get the aroma and not the zing. It seems to have turned out very well, although I’ll know better once it’s had a chance to condition itself a bit in the bottles.

lawnmower | 3:03 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, My Darling B, O'Folks, play
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

image of B at Burgers and BrewBurgers. Brew. Life is good. I mean, really, what more could a guy want on a fine summer’s day? Well, the pretty girl makes it just that much better, of course. So here we have the epitome of a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon. I’ve told you before what Burgers and Brew is all about, so there’s no need to hash that over again. We had a great time. Nuff said.

serensified | 9:19 am CST
Category: beer, daily drivel, entertainment, food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play | Tags: ,
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Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I drove in to work today instead of riding my bike. The weather forecast called for high winds this afternoon and evening, and I hate biking against a headwind more than I hate biking through the rain, so I gave it a miss. Still left work at four-thirty, though.

This being Thursday, it’s customary for us to stop at our favorite pub, Alchemy, for dinner, not to mention hoist a beer or two. I don’t know how they manage to fit so much talent into such a little kitchen, but their food has never disappointed either of us, and we’ve eaten out in quite a lot of places in this crazy town. The beer’s never disappointed us, either, come to that.

So on the way to work, I suggested to B that, if it wasn’t pouring down rain when she left the office, she should just plan on meeting me at Alchemy. She was very agreeable to the idea, and it wasn’t raining after work, so I quit promptly at four-thirty and hoofed it on over, Alchemy being just five or six blocks from the office where I work.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, not unusual as it was still early. Justin was at the bar and came right on over when I sat down to see what I wanted. There was an ESB on tap from Left Hand Brewing out of Longmont, CO, that sounded pretty good, and darned if it wasn’t just what I needed after a very long day of shuffling papers and answering phones.

I was almost halfway to the bottom of my glass by the time B showed up. I’d snagged our usual table by then, so she knew just where to find me. Not that it’s a very big place. Still, don’t want to make it any harder than it has to be.

The special tonight was NY strip sirloin marinated in bourbon, served on mashed potatoes and sour cream, with a side of radishes baked in butter. Doesn’t that make you drool like an idiot? Me, too. We goth ordered it, and we both loved it. To go with hers, B ordered an oatmeal stout and let me have a sip. It was so perfect with the steak that I ordered a glass myself, so we had to stay long enough for me to finish it off. Since we were staying anyway, I finished off our visit with a slice of double chocolate cake. What decadence.

decadence | 8:28 pm CST
Category: beer, commuting, entertainment, food & drink, Guy Night, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, work | Tags:
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Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

We just came home from our first visit to Vasili’s Take Five restaurant on Willy Street. The good news is, the food is so good, we can’t wait to go back and try out the rest of the food on the menu. The bad news is, if the service doesn’t improve, our next visit will probably be our last, so we’d better pick something we really want to try.

When we sat down at Vasili’s, there were only six people in the dining room, counting us. One guy came out to welcome us, drop off a couple of menus, take our orders and bring our drinks. No problem.

While we were dining, though, the tables quickly filled up. In the space of about thirty minutes, that one guy had to find a way to take care of fifteen or twenty hungry diners, and frankly he was having a bit of a problem doing it. I’ll give him this: He was never idle, always hustling back and forth, his arms loaded up with plates piled with yummy food, and as far as I could tell he didn’t pop a sweat. I would’ve been wet and limp as a dishrag in that short half-hour.

I ordered the evening’s special, lamb pork served on a bed of rice pilaf with grilled vegetables. I was thinking gyro when I went in, but when the waiter told me what the special was I thought, Hell, I can have a gyro any night of the week, but that sounds fabulous! And it was! The lamb pork was just fatty enough that it very nearly had way too much flavor, but not so fatty that I wanted to trim it, and it was grilled to perfection, nice and tender. I’m not ordinarily a fan of grilled veggies, but I have to say I really liked the combination they put together for this dish. I recall tomatoes, onions, basil, and maybe peppers, all just crunchy enough to remind me that I was eating fresh veggies. The tomatoes! Oh my goodness, the tomatoes were like slurping up the best home made spaghetti sauce my Italian grandmother ever made for me, if I’d had an Italian grandmother. I would go back just for that.

I had to get up from the table about halfway through my meal, and just after I came back, the waiter stopped by to flip the check at us. I hate to tell anyone how to run their restaurant, but customarily I thought you waited until the customer was finished with his meal before you brought the check, and then only after you asked if he would like anything else. I was sort of looking forward to dessert, but I never got the chance to ask. My Darling B finished her glass of wine while waiting for her entrĂ©e and would’ve ordered another, if the waiter had asked. Speaking of which, the drinks were apparently free tonight. They weren’t on the check, anyway. B added ten bucks for my beer and her glass of very tasty tempranillo. I hope that was enough. I was going to ask, but the waiter didn’t stop moving long enough.

And I think it’s only fair to point out that it’s our policy to start knocking a percentage point or two off our usual twenty percent tip for every five minutes that a water glass stands empty on our table. We’ll let a waiter get away with a lot in the way of bad service, but any waiter worth twenty percent should be able to keep two water glasses full through an entire meal. B’s water glass was empty for almost ten minutes when we finally packed up and left.

I hate to dis what looks to be a labor of love and is so obviously a very promising operation. The food really was very delicious, I wasn’t exaggerating one tiny particle about that, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody I know who loves Mediterranean fare, but I’d caution them ahead of time about the service so they knew what they were getting into.

Vasili’s | 8:55 pm CST
Category: food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: ,
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Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’m pretty sure My Darling B would agree with me when I say that Wednesday night we had the most fun during Madison Craft Beer Week, starting with our visit to Natt Spil for dinner and a couple glasses of beer from New Belgium Brewery. From there, we went up Pinckney Street to The Old Fashioned to try the brews they were serving from Three Sheeps Brewing, the newest brewery in Wisconsin. B tried the Black Wheat, and I tried the IPA; both were very relaxed, mild beers that reminded me of home brews.

The highlight of our Wednesday night was undoubtedly the hour or so we spent at Cooper’s Tavern talking with Page Buchanan about beer. In particular, the five beers he made that were on tap at Cooper’s – and they were, if memory serves, a stout, an amber, an extra special bitter, an ale and a wheat. The ESB was my favorite. It tasted more like the bitter ales I used to drink while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. But My Darling B preferred the stout. The smokier the beer, the more she likes it.

Page seemed to be having as good a time sampling his beers as we were. He came along to our end of the bar while we were trying out a flight of all the brews and asked us what we thought of them, then stuck around for a while to talk about brewing beer. Page hopes to make House of Brews the first community-supported brewery in the region, modeled after the CSAs (community-supported agriculture) that brought farm-fresh vegetables to urban areas. I hope he can make it happen, because I want to be one of the first in line to subscribe.

When Pepper Stebbins showed up at Cooper’s, we knew it was time to jump on the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between the cap square area and the near-east side of Madison. We got off at Glass Nickel not because we had the munchies, but because the Glass Nickel on Atwood has a basement bar and we were hoping to sample a few of the brews that Founder’s Brewing was supposed to have dropped off there. It was a little too late to get the stuff we wanted – B was looking forward to a glass of Better Half, a brew that doesn’t seem to be on the brewery’s web page, so I can’t tell you about it because there wasn’t any left at Glass Nickel by the time we got there. We settled for a glass of Breakfast Stout between us and nursed it while we chatted up the bartender, who knew as much or more about beer as some of the brewers I’ve talked to.

bus route | 4:10 pm CST
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Friday, May 11th, 2012

My Darling B and I stopped at Java Cat on the way home last night for gelato. That’s Italian for ice cream. You, as not only a regular reader but a rabid fan of my drivel will no doubt remember, I cannot ingest dairy products without dire consequences, unless I dose myself with enzymes.

That’s my problem: enzymes. I can’t make them any more, at least not the ones that prevent the disastrous aftereffects of dairy. Your body probably pumps them out by the bucket load, but I have to get them out of a bottle. I would eat your spleen like a starving hyena if it would allow me to eat ice cream again.

Can’t tell you how much I miss eating ice cream. I can stop off now and then to share in the joy of eating a small cup of it with My Darling B but, even if I make sure I take my enzymes, I know I’ll have to suffer a rude awakening the next morning, and smell like a rotten egg all through the next day. Just like the rest of life, it’s a trade-off. Do I want to experience a few minutes of pleasure, knowing I’m in for hours of what will be unpleasant not only for me but for everyone around me?

Last night, the answer was, Why, yes! Yes, I do! And so, gelato.

expansive | 8:10 pm CST
Category: food & drink, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Friday, April 27th, 2012

image of beerStepping out from the patio after dinner at Mickey’s Tavern last night, we spotted this amazing tandem bike with attached sidecar and had to stop to take a good, long look at it.

It appeared to be largely home made, and the side car was equipped with an electric motor to give an added assist to the pedalers, no doubt for when the side car was carrying passengers.

The candy stripes are a particularly nice touch.

image of beer

sidecar | 7:06 am CST
Category: bicycling, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags:
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Thursday, April 19th, 2012

After Monsieur Lazhar, My Darling B and I stopped in at The Icon to relax between shows with a couple glasses of wine and maybe a few tapas for snacks. Okay, this has been bugging me all night: What’s the correct plural for tapas, anybody? Or is that already a plural? Wait, I’ll check the wikipediatapa means a lid or a cover and describes a slice of bread or meat placed over a glass of wine to keep the fruit flies out. Savvy bar owners put salty toppings on the bread and made sure the meat was salty so the customers would drink more wine. So it’s a scam that turned into an upscale way to eat snacks, really.

There are no fruit flies at The Icon. The food is good and they have so many wines that I chose one by scanning down the list until I found the Shiraz and picked the first one that was from Australia. You really can’t go wrong that way. They grow some delicious Shiraz in Australia. My Darling B ordered some deviled eggs, olives and a plate of little bread slices with ham, tomato and cheese slices. It was perfect for just before dinner time, when we were starting to feel hungry, but our stomachs weren’t really gnawing at us yet.

The Icon wasn’t very busy at all when we showed up, which amazed the hell out of me. I guess I expect that everyone’s as into the film fest as we are and will all have the same idea, to drop in for a drink and some noshies right after the show, but no. It didn’t fill up until fifteen or twenty minutes after we sat down. Worked out well. Service was quick and very friendly, even though the staff was obviously a little flustered by a network outage that killed all their cash registers. They were tallying up orders on plain white slips of paper and accepting only cash. That’s how we pay when we eat out, though, so it didn’t throw us for a loop.

And then we were off, racing down State Street to the Chazen to catch the next flick. If we’d known what we were in for, we probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry.

between | 12:26 pm CST
Category: entertainment, festivals, food & drink, movies, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants, vacation, Wisc Film Fest
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Saturday, April 14th, 2012

We celebrated Friday the 13th with not just the usual one, but TWO special events, and they were so conveniently close to one another we walked across the street to get from the first to the second. Sweet.

The first event was, as My Darling B so eloquently describes it, Two Rubes Dine Fancy Night. We returned to The Blue Marlin, our new favorite since our very enjoyable visit during Restaurant Week last winter. It’s such a cozy little place – the dining room is just big enough for about a dozen tables, and although it gets a little crowded and a little noisy in there once the dinner crowds show up, the food and the service more than make up for those little inconveniences.

We started with a couple drinks to wind down a bit after a long week pressing our noses to the grindstone. B sipped on a Bumblebee while I went with a whiskey Old Fashioned. Then we ordered some crab cakes, our traditional appetizer when we celebrated FT13th at Peppino’s. They came with a pepper sauce that My Darling B and I sopped up with the crusty bread, because we are Two Rubes, after all. Gotta keep up appearances.

For her main course, My Darling B ordered soft-shelled crab. There were actually two. Two whole crabs on a bed of Arugula and beans. The trick here was, B didn’t know how to eat soft-shelled crabs. They came breaded in corn meal and fried, so it seemed to be implied that she was supposed to eat the whole thing, shell and all, which she did. There wasn’t much meat in them, she said, and the arms were mostly just corn meal, but she enjoys trying new things and she enjoyed the crab just fine. She isn’t in any big hurry to try them again, though.

I ordered bouillabaisse, because the description on the menu was irresistible: “Mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, crab meat, fish, baby octopus, roasted fennel-saffron-tomato broth.” Zow! I had to see that! And I wasn’t disappointed at all. It really was the cornucopia the menu made it out to be – mussels and clams in their shells, a great, big, fat scallop, generously large chunks of white fish, and a whole baby octopus smack-dab in the middle. And the broth was so tasty I could have sopped it up with my bread, if I had had any left over.

For dessert, B oooh’d and ahhhh’d over the creme broulee while I gobbled up a delicious wedge of key lime pie. Then we relaxed while we finished our coffee and slapped our bellies, burping heartily. I could’ve used a toothpick just then, but the waiter didn’t offer me one. I’ll have to bring my own next time.

After dinner, we crossed the street to Adult Swim at the Madison Children’s Museum, where I felt even more like a hayseed in my Dockers and pullover rugby shirt. The theme for last night’s Adult Swim was red-carpet night at the Oscars, or something like that – nearly everyone was dressed to the nines. First thing we wandered into was a darkened back room where they were showing Star Wars Uncut, which I really can’t describe any better than the blurb that accompanies the video on YouTube:

In 2009, Casey Pugh asked thousands of Internet users to remake “Star Wars: A New Hope” into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from Star Wars however they wanted. Within just a few months SWU grew into a wild success. The creativity that poured into the project was unimaginable.

Most of the scenes were painstakingly re-created, line by line, right down to the facial expressions, but most of them took place in people’s back yards, garages, living rooms, wherever, with costumes and props cobbled together from card paper, discarded appliances and lots of duct tape. Every scene change brought laughs from the audience as they realized the crazy amounts of imagination that went into it. I figured we would stay for a few scenes, then wander around a bit, but we ended up watching the movie to the end.

Then it was back into the crowd of well-dressed people to feel even more out of place. Taking the elevator up to the roof to see what was going on up there reminded me just how much I miss the piano party we found going on in there at our first adult swim. B said hi to the chickens and even got to hold a chick that peeped and peeped until she turned it on its back and stroked its neck. The rooftop garden was nice and green and it’s always fun to stand on the corner of the roof and pretend we’re flying, but it was breezy and just a little too cold to stay out there very long, so we went back down after just ten minutes or so, and after playing with the ball gizmos in the lobby we decided to call it a night.

13th | 10:34 am CST
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Friday, April 6th, 2012

I ate the tastiest meatball sandwich for dinner last night. We swung by the Alchemy Cafe because it was Thursday, and on Thursday nights I’m in charge of coming up with the dinner, so I usually come up with the suggestion to stop at Alchemy. We have yet to be disappointed by anything we’ve eaten there, and they have a specialty beer menu that changes every week. Can’t beat that.

And although I had the tastiest meatball sandwich ever, My Darling B ordered something even more phenomenal: bacon-wrapped meatloaf in gravy. That’s right: Meatloaf, wrapped in bacon, dripping with gravy. ZOMG. And the portion was large enough that she could cut it in half, put it aside and take it to work for lunch. It just gets better and better.

BMAG | 5:57 am CST
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