Friday, December 28th, 2012

telephone dialI have a phone with a dial and it sits on a small table beside the recliner, just inside the front door of Our Humble O’Bode. At about two o’clock this morning I woke up because I could hear somebody dialing it. Whirrr. It sounded like a very short dial. Whirrr. As if somebody was dialing the number two over and over again. Whirrr. At first it was puzzling, then weird, and then a little scary. Whirrr. But after several minutes of whirrr-whirrr-whirrr I wanted to say out loud, “If you’re the axe murderer and you’re doing that to be extra-creepy, you’re doing it too long. Get in here and chop us to pieces already!”


Oh, come on, this is just nuts, I said to myself, and lifted my head from my pillow high enough to get a better view through the bedroom door. I could easily see the far corner of the living room, the recliner and the front door, and there was nobody standing there, maniacally dialing the same number over and over on the phone. With my head up and both ears uncovered, I could also tell that the noise was not coming from the living room. It was coming from My Darling B’s side of the bed, where she was very lightly snoring into her own pillow in such a way that she sounded exactly like the dial of a rotary phone.

If only I could learn to do that, I thought as I fell asleep again.

whirrr | 5:25 am CST
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Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

image of toy dinosaursMy Darling B and I spent the afternoon shopping for clothes. And here’s just one more reason I have to believe she’s the perfect match for me: We both feel that the only thing more painful than shopping for clothes is getting run over by a train. Wait, no: Shopping for a car is probably more painful. I’m pretty sure she’d be with me on that one, too.

Shopping for clothes can never be over and done with quickly enough. Even when I know exactly what I want, and I know exactly where it should be in the store, and the store just happens to have it in my size, it will still take me at least an hour and a half to drive to the store, go into the store, grab the clothes I want, pay for the clothes, get out of the store and drive home. An hour and a half of my weekend is a lot more time than I’m willing to give up for anything but the things I enjoy doing, or absolutely must do.

Unfortunately, we had both put off buying clothes for so long that I was down to the last pair of pants that were good enough to wear in mixed company. I had a few not-so-grubby ones that I could still wear in public, but only if I knew I wouldn’t be going anyplace fancier than the hardware store, or to a place where I knew the lights wouldn’t be very strong, like a corner tavern, or a dungeon. B was in a somewhat similar fix. Looking for new clothes had become something we absolutely had to do, so, with gritted teeth, we saddled up and headed across town to the Hilldale Mall.

B had the idea that she could get what she wanted at Macy’s. That turned out to be wrong, mostly. I think she said she found a handbag there that was exactly what she was looking for, “but I can get it cheaper on the internet.” It turned out she was totally wrong about that. The one at Macy’s was a steal. Well, maybe not exactly a steal, but more affordable than any she could find on teh intarwebs. Now she’ll have to go back.

Macy’s had a pleasant surprise in store (accidental pun) for me: Pants by Dockers. Lots of stores carry Dockers, but never in my size. In fact, I think it’s a state law that Dockers can sell pants in Wisconsin only if they have a waist no smaller than 40 inches. If you’d ever been to the Monroe Cheese Festival, you’d know why. But Macy’s must have been granted a waiver, or somebody goofed up the order, because they had two pairs of Dockers pants in a 33 waist, and I snapped them both up. Didn’t even care that they were priced at fifty-eight bucks apiece. I had to have them. Weirdly, when I checked out, the guy scanned the price tag, then got a little sheet of bar code stickers out of his cash register, peeled one off and placed it on the price tag over the original bar code and scanned it again. He did the same thing to the other pair of pants. I got them both for seventy-something bucks total, so there must have been an unadvertised sale going on. Score!

But the shoe selection at Macy’s was dismal, nothing but very stylish dress shoes, and running shoes. What I really needed was a pair of walking shoes, so I left the store by the main entrance to see what the rest of the mall had to offer and came face to face with a North Face store. That’s too many faces to be coincidental. And besides, North Face wouldn’t sell crappy shoes to hikers, right? So I barged right in and asked the first salesperson I ran into about walking shoes.

She wanted to sell me a pair of flashy running shoes, all shiny silver trimmed with traffic yellow. “Have you got a good walking shoe I could also wear if I wanted to stop into a nice place for a drink?” I asked her. “Something, um, normal-looking?” And indeed she did, a nice all-terrain shoe with leather uppers. She even had it in my size.

Back at the mall, My Darling B was having no luck at all searching for jeans or shirts among the available clothes. She wasn’t doing much better with the shoes. There was one pretty good shoe store at the mall, but a dozen or so people were competing for face time with the few salesmen on staff, so she gave up on that. We regrouped outside Macy’s to discuss our options and she decided to try one more time down the other way, while I amused myself in the toy store. They had dinosaurs. There’s still no toy better than a toy dinosaur.

Eventually, we had to make a trip to the Kohl’s store right down the road from the neighborhood where we live to find some jeans she could live with. They’ve got sparklies on the butt, but I guess she’s okay with that. I’ve never seen her with sparklies on her butt before. It’s a new thing for me. Maybe a good thing. I’ll have to think about it a while.

sparklies | 6:06 pm CST
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image of clockCouldn’t sleep in this morning. I was trying, but when I crawled back into bed after a quick trip to the bathroom during the wee small hours, I heard a ticking or scratching sound, very faint but very persistent, in the bedroom. There was probably a mouse behind the book case or poking around in the closet, or maybe the house was settling. It was a pretty cold night.

But the noise was so annoying that, after ten minutes of listening to it, I sat up in bed to see if I could figure out which direction it was coming from. My attentiveness must’ve unnerved My Darling B. I thought she was asleep, but after I sat there for a minute she asked, “What?” in her wide-awake voice.



She paused, trying to decipher what I’d said, decided she couldn’t, and asked: “Bat?”


“No, that.

Pause. “Fat?”

“T, H, A, T: That. That ticking noise.” I laid back down and tried not to think about it. “Probably just the cat.”


“Great,” she said. “Now I hear it.”

I gave up sleeping, got out of bed and went to the kitchen to brew a big pot o’ joe. Felt pretty bad about leaving her there to try to sleep through the ticking, but I didn’t know what I could do about it, other than lay there, wide awake, listening to it myself and getting more annoyed by the minute.

As I sat in my basement lair, doinking around with the internet, I heard her get out of bed and cross the living room. Obviously, she hadn’t been able to deal with the ticking noise any better than I had. I went upstairs to apologize.

She was waiting beside the kitchen table with one of my many clocks in her hand. “There’s your ticking noise,” she said, then headed off back to kick the cat out of the warm spot on her side of the bed.

There must be a word for the thought that gets stuck in your head and becomes so persistently annoying that it won’t let you sleep. Until I find out what it is, I’m going to call it batfatthat.

batfatthat | 6:36 am CST
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Monday, September 17th, 2012

Look into these eyes …

image of My Darling Bs pupils

tomatoes | 5:00 am CST
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Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Apparently I missed all the fun last night. I hit the hay at about half past nine, but B stayed up late and not only got to see everything, she was right in the middle of it! That’ll teach me to go to bed just because I’m exhausted.

While B was sitting up late, working on a project, she slowly became aware that Bonkers the Cat was making mouse-hunting noises. When she finally went to investigate, sure enough, she found him playing cat-and-mouse with a real live mouse. She went away for a couple minutes to find a jar or plastic take-out box to catch the mouse in so she could release it later, but when she came back she found only Bonkers sitting in the middle of the living room floor with the tail of a mouse hanging from his muzzle.

“Did you eat it?” she squeaked at him. “Aghhh! Spit it out! Spit it out! Yuck!” And so on.

Bonkers was not only completely oblivious to her squeamish reaction, he also appeared to be trying to swallow the mouse, and eventually succeeded, prompting a lot more yelling and squealing from the aforementioned squeamish B, who not only continued to make a lot of noise about it, she said she even jumped around in circles a little bit. I, somehow, managed to sleep through the whole thing.

la-la-lah | 9:28 pm CST
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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

No zombie dreams last night, thank goodness. No dreams at all that I can remember. I was so bushed after dinner that I could barely hang on long enough to drag myself to bed before I fell asleep. I had plans to stay up late enough to sand and finish the book shelves in the extra room, but hitting the hay early to get a full night’s sleep sounded like a much better use of my time. That’s how the zombies get you, by the way. You fall asleep at the wrong time and, next thing you know, they’re munching on your innards. That’s how the pods steal your body, too. And how the Wicked Witch of the West gets your shoes. There really isn’t a safe time to go to sleep, even in cheery kid’s movies.

My Darling B and I had to fold some of the mountain of clothes that have piled up in the baskets on top of the washing machine over the past week. We’ve been champion procrastinators about this, putting it off night after night for at least a week, so last night I set up the television at the end of the coffee table and popped a DVD from the first season of The Big Bang Theory into the player, then cranked up the theme song to lure her into the living room and sit down on the sofa where I’d moved all the laundry baskets. She fell for it. In just two episodes, we folded forty-two million pieces of clothes. Now I just have to figure out how to get her to put her clothes away.

Then, we tried to play Boggle, but I was already having a hard time staying awake. I got one really good word, “footsie,” but the rest were all three- and four-letter words, and my scores got worse as the game went on. I capitulated (that would be one hell of a good Boggle word) after playing just a half-hour or so, brushed my teeth and went to bed to read. I managed to stay awake long enough to finish two chapters of Just My Type, but only because I kept dropping the book on my face. I may have to go back and re-read some of it tonight.

sleepy | 6:17 am CST
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Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The cats may have locked me out of my laptop. When I came home this afternoon It was sitting on the sideboard by the front window with the top up. The monitor was dark and wouldn’t come back on so I had to force it to shut down. Then, after I booted it up again, I couldn’t get the mouse cursor to move or get any response at all when I tried the function keys, control-alt-delete or any of that other magic. Tried starting it up again in safe mode – still no luck getting it to respond. “You could call customer service,” My Darling B suggested, but we popped in a DVD and watched the second episode of Luther instead. It’s so strange hearing Idris Elba speak with a British accent after all those years listening to his Stringer Bell Baltimore lingo. And we’ve both got such a tin ear for Britspeak now that we have to turn on the subtitles. Still, there’s no question it was a much better way to spend my time on a week night than listening to hold music for sixty minutes while waiting for a tech support rep to answer.

locked | 10:05 pm CST
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Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Here’s how you make it rain: You dig up all the onions in your garden and lay them out to dry in the sun for a day or two.

The amount of rain you get will be inversely proportional to how much tender loving care you have bestown upon your garden. When growing onions in a window box on a lark, you might bring on a brief shower, or perhaps a cloudburst. A decent crop of onions that have received middling care might bring on a day or so of moderate rain. More heartbreak equals more rain.

Bringing down rain in this manner requires some preparation: Plant a garden, spend every spare moment of your free time pulling weeds and squashing bugs, wait until just the right time to pull them up. If you put your heart and soul into raising a bumper crop of several varieties of big, beautiful onions, then the very night that you pull them out of the ground and lay them proudly on a bed of straw to dry out before putting them up in the cellar, that very night you are so very certain to get rain that it would be a guarantee if only someone would issue the certificates.

So remember: If the weather in your part of the country is trending toward drought and you want relief, don’t go looking for a rain man – befriend a gardener instead.

precip | 9:24 am CST
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Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

A few bits and pieces of last night’s dream floated to the surface of my memory while I was making the morning pot o’ java:

Waiting in line with about a half-dozen commandos to storm the play room of a Chuck E. Cheese. Being scooped up by the petals of a giant plastic flower. Petals transformed into helicopters that whisked me away to a cell roughly the size of O’Hare airport. Walked the corridors to an in-ground pool lit from below by floodlights that made it look as though the water was on fire. My Darling B emerged from the pool, invited me to go for a dip, dived back in. Swam to the wading pool behind her. She had cocktails waiting.

heli | 6:29 am CST
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Friday, July 1st, 2011

According to the web site of the National Weather Service, the probability of rain this morning is a mere twenty percent. Having just come back from my morning walk a bit more damp than I was when I left the house, I can assure you that the odds are a tad greater. Satellites, focused on the cloud cover, are whirling through space; Doppler radar is measuring changes in wind velocity; trained meteorologists are analyzing the data; and all this to produce a forecast that isn’t as accurate as stepping outside to take a walk down the road.

B’s gripe with the NWS is when they set the probability of rain at one-hundred percent. The first time she saw that she nearly blew a gasket. “One-hundred percent? So there is no chance that it’s not going to rain today? They’re guaranteeing rain?” And she hasn’t become any less empathic about it over time. We’re a little excitable when it comes to the weather as predicted by the National Weather Service.

percentages | 6:18 am CST
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Monday, June 13th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin Death Trip | 8:08 pm CST
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Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I just finished disposing of the Christmas tree. Yes, I know that Christmas was six months ago. No, it’s not a point of pride. I’m lazy, and I admit it.

After the holidays were over and we all went back to our jobs, I threw the Christmas tree into a corner of the garden because My Darling B asked me to. She said it attracted birds and bunnies and all kinds of other creatures she not only liked but wanted to give shelter to during the winter months. It sat in the garden until mid-May, when B began clearing out the garden in preparation for planting.

That’s about when the tree ended up just outside the garden fence on the lawn, where it languished for another several weeks. I mowed around it a couple times, each time wincing a bit for not taking care of it sooner. I moved it out of the way once to mow the grass that was growing tall through its branches. But I didn’t get rid of it then. Well, I said I was lazy.

This afternoon, when I was done with my other chores, I offered to help B weed and she suggested I dispose of the tree instead. Oh, hey! Good idea! Dashing to the garden shed, I came trotting back with a bow saw and a pair of gloves and started to work hacking the branches off, but not before stopping to admire the biggest damn jumping spider I’ve ever seen, hunkered down on the trunk between the branches. It wasn’t an especially large spider, as spiders go. Jumping spiders are usually pretty small, though, and this was about the size of my thumbnail, so I had to stop and try to get a good look. He kept scooting around to the underside of the trunk as I turned the tree over, but the few times I spotted him he looked like a daring jumping spider, not that I know one spider from another. The google knows, though, and I trust the google.

When I was no longer distracted by the spider, I cut the tree up into individual branches that I could feed to the wood chipper and reduced it to a half-bushel of chips and needles. “Is that all?” My Darling B asked, when she saw it. She was expecting bushels and bushels, but Christmas trees are like cotton candy: Big and bushy, but they don’t have much of substance to them.

chipped | 4:07 pm CST
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Thursday, June 9th, 2011

A passing thunderstorm chased us all into the basement – me, My Darling B, and both cats – and though I made sure we had flashlights and candles down there with us, we didn’t have to use them. The lights flickered once or twice, but the power stayed on in spite of howling winds and ping pong-sized hail. Ping pong-sized? Yes. That’s the technical term now. Hail the size of all ping-pong.

On the up side, My Darling B’s garden badly needed the rain, and all of us needed a break from the heat, especially the cats, their being covered in fur and all. With temps hitting the high nineties this week, I programmed the central air here in Our Humble O’Bode to keep running through the day at a reduced setting, then kick in full-blast at four o’clock, an hour or so before we came home, to chill things the heck down so we wouldn’t be walking into a sweat lodge, whatever that is. I’ve never been in one before but it sounds hot, doesn’t it?

And the storm brought some relief from the heat wave. I could open the front door for the cats this morning, something I couldn’t do earlier this week because of the waves of steamy heat that would come surging through the door. The cats love to sit behind the screen and glare at the chipmunk who lives under the stoop and comes out in the morning to mess with them, but I just couldn’t do it until this morning. The storm has air-conditioned the whole neighborhood so it finally feels good again to open the door.

relief | 6:22 am CST
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Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Did you know you can order pizza on line now, just like you can order computer parts from New Egg or books from Amazon? Well, maybe you can’t, but we can. T-Dawg came over for dinner last Saturday night and, just to switch things up a bit, he treated us to dinner, instead of the other way around, with pizza from Glass Nickel. B went to look up the menu on line and it turned out to be interactive. She could choose pizza size and customize toppings with clickable pull-down menus, and she could even track the progress of our order. Too much fun! She put in the orders, then kept checking up on it while we sat around shooting the shit. When it seemed to be taking an awful long time for them to prepare our pizza, B reviewed our order and discovered she hadn’t clicked on the “submit order” button. Oops.

click submit | 5:52 pm CST
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Dance lesson last night. Not our usual night because of a switcheroo with another student who couldn’t make his usual time.

Don’t know exactly what was wrong with me but I suspect that it had to do with the two left feet I was using. Make that three left feet. Two left feet wouldn’t have been enough to screw up as spectacularly as I was managing to do. The simplest stuff was somehow beyond me. Turns and spins and twirlies that had been indelibly tattooed on my brain had apparently become unreadable, as tattoos will do. I would lead B into steps that we both had down cold long ago, but last night I only ended up spinning her away while I stumbled off into an orbit of my own, usually on the wrong foot. If there was an upside to any of this, it was that I was tripping over my own feet most all the time instead of B’s.

The craziness began at the group class, which is a dance lesson for everybody who walks through the door, and last night was all about swing dancing. Mr. Park showed us a flashy maneuver that started out with a step called the sweetheart, then launched into a crazy whirligig that took us the rest of the night to learn. The first couple times we tried it were not so much misfires as they were complete duds. I’d wrap B up in a sweetheart, then try, and try again, and try again and again to unwrap her with the overhead twirly the instructor showed us, but time after time I ended up twisting B’s arm, which is not the kind of thing you want to do to your dance partner at all, or coming completely unglued from her and flying away (literally!), or sometimes just dancing the basic step without any twirly-whirly at all, and no idea how I managed to do that.

It only took forty-five minutes to figure out how to do it with all the twists and turns well enough that (a) there was no danger of breaking any bones, (b) the instructor wasn’t rolling his eyes at me, and (c) we were having fun. Then it was time for our private lesson.

About three months ago we took our first shot at a Viennese waltz and fell all over each other. It’s crazy fast and there’s a lot of spinning going on. Even when we were dancing to a fairly slow song, we could manage to remain upright for just three or four steps before our legs got all tangled up and we toppled over. And even after we managed to move all the way down the dance floor using the first very basic step Mr. Park taught us, he had to follow along behind us and literally give us a shove in the right direction to teach us how to make a turn. I wish I had a recording of that night.

Now, three months along, we can not only dance all the way around the room at a respectable speed, we can even throw in some fancy moves. My Darling B can do a cute little twirl and kick that looks ever so pretty, and I can lead her through turns and dips without dropping her on her head. We’re still building up the stamina to dance that fast for more than a couple minutes, but if you just happened to glance our way when the music started and didn’t know any better you might think we had some idea we knew what we were doing.

Except for last night, when I suffered a major brain cramp and went all the way back to tangling up my legs in B’s and stumbling all over the place. It got so bad I was beginning to doubt if I could remembered my name. We finally gave up when we got to the corner of the room and my one working brain cell couldn’t come up with the right step to get us out of it. B gamely followed me through it two or three times and every time we tried I ended up just kind of walking away. I wasn’t in step with the music – I wasn’t even sure which foot I was on!

So we tried a little rumba instead and, after a slow start, we had quite a lot of fun with that. My brain was still cramped up a little bit but I walked it off and after five or ten minutes we were both having a good time again. Not that I wasn’t screwing up; I was making tons of mistakes, but by that time we were having fun with it instead of trying to get every step exactly right. Probably we’d just gone numb by then.

stumble | 5:49 pm CST
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Earlier this week, the weather forecast called for rain, rain and more rain starting on Wednesday night and continuing through the weekend. I am pleased to tell you that they were wrong, wrong and are still wrong. More to the point, nobody is more pleased than My Darling B, who takes vacation time from work to expand this from a standard, regulation two-day weekend into a giant, economy-sized four-day weekend so she can get her garden planted, and for the past couple years that she’s tried this tactic, she’s almost always been stymied by rain. This year, though, she’s had almost entirely sunny days, except for yesterday when the tiniest bit of rain came spitting down now and again. She didn’t care, though. She kept working through it. She’s determined to get as much planting done as she possibly can, and to that end she was out there again this morning at eight o’clock, the time when she is normally sitting on the sofa with me, a cup of coffee in one hand and an ear on the radio as we listen to the weekly broadcast of Says You.

rainless | 8:54 am CST
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Friday, May 20th, 2011

What a fantastic day! We were up at six for no good reason I can think of other than that seemed to be the right time to get up. After coffee and our customary breakfasts – B has a banana, I eat a bowl of granola – we changed into our yard work clothes and went at it.

B spent all day in the garden, of course, where she is even as I type these words. I doubt she’ll come in for good until the sun is down and the dew begins to settle on the grass, at which point I expect she will be ready only to change into her pajamas and hit the hay. And I wouldn’t expect her to be up at six tomorrow morning, but who knows? She’s surprised me before.

I spent the day at various and sundry tasks, mostly: Weeding, if you consider dandelions weeds. I know most people do, regardless of how they manifest themselves, but I’ve long had a live and let live attitude toward dandelions. I like them. They’re pretty. And for the most part they’ve decorated our yard without being overly enthusiastic about it. This year, however, our dandelion crop has been extraordinarily exuberant, to the point that it looks like a takeover, and I’ve had to ask them nicely to scale back their attendance a notch or two. I asked them by cranking up the mower and cutting them, repeatedly, about once every three days. I’m really sick of cutting the lawn already.

I’m so sick of it that today I cut a large swath through the densest ranks of dandelions with a weed eater (or, for you Texans, a string trimmer), which was really much easier to use on them than a lawn mower. Got more immediate, satisfying results, anyway, but I had to wear safety glasses to do it, something I don’t have to do pushing a lawn mower. Just can’t use a weed eater without catching chunks of flower stems with my eyeballs, for some reason.

That took up a huge part of my day, just because there are so many dandelions in so many different parts of our yard. I ended up getting the mower out to finish off the front yard because it looked a little lopsided after I was done with the weed eater. I was at that so long that I had to take several breaks, one of them so long that I manged to catch forty winks, the best part of having a day off from work. I understand there are a few civilized countries where they actually take a nap at mid-day. Sounds like Paradise.

When I was awake and refreshed again I joined My Darling B in the garden for a while, shredding leaves. She covets compost in a way that almost makes me feel as though I shouldn’t be looking, and in the hopes of making lots of compost over the winter season she gathered up leaves from the yard last fall and piled them in the garden where they sat, not composting at all, until today when I raked them up and ran them through the wood chipper. They came out the other end finely shredded, which My Darling B oooh and ahhhh in much the same way that other women ooooh and ahhhh over shoes or ice cream or I don’t know what. Really, just don’t look.

My Darling B heard that a friend of hers gets orioles to visit her yard by hanging orange halves from their feeder, so B got some oranges and bought a feeder from Ace Hardware specially made for orange halves, and she hung it out for the birds this morning. I have personally witnessed my dad do something like this and get maybe two orioles to show up over a ten-year period, so I had some serious doubts that B would get any of this particularly shy bird to show up in our yard. Well, this evening as I was setting the table for dinner I realized that I was hearing a birdsong from the yard that I hadn’t heard before, and when I turned to look there were a pair of orioles at the feeder! B was still out in the garden and managed to catch sight of them when I called her name. I sure hope this isn’t the only time all summer they’ll show up, but at least she got to see them.

weeds | 6:57 pm CST
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My Darling B doesn’t quite have the hang of this “beck and call” thing. I told her, I’m at your beck and call to help in the garden all day long, and she starts off, “Here’s what you can do to help … you don’t have to do this right now, just whenever you feel like it…” That’s not really calling the shots, that’s just making a suggestion. “No, honey, here’s what you do,” I said, “You say: Grab that weeder and cut all those dandelions down right now!” But she couldn’t do it. I think she seriously underestimates the power of her beck.

beck | 7:06 am CST
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Sunday, May 8th, 2011

As I watched My Darling B carefully arrange wedges of potato in a trench before covering them in dirt and straw, I asked her, “Why don’t you use a potato planter to do that?”

“Because I like playing in the dirt,” was the first part of her answer — and then she said the most amazing, blasphemous words I’ve ever heard anyone utter: “Besides, you don’t need a gadget for everything.”

The horror! The horror!

Gadgets | 4:17 pm CST
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Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Wow, they just don’t make movies like The Man From Laramie any more. For one thing, nobody likes movies that corny now. For another, there’s no Technicolor. I really miss Technicolor.

The university puts on a show that’s open to the public and free, courtesy of the film studies program. I think we went to a show several years ago but haven’t been back until last night, which is sort of weird for two people who will take a whole week off from work to watch a dozen and a half movies in four and a half days.

While we were at the film festival this year, we picked up a copy of the playbill and found they were just finishing up a retrospective of westerns directed by Anthony Mann. I couldn’t say I knew his name but I must have seen quite a few of his films because Jimmy Stewart was in a lot of them and I’ll watch anything that features Jimmy Stewart.

The Man From Laramie was playing last night at seven, so after work we drove into town, found a place to park that wouldn’t extort ten bucks from me because the Badgers were playing, and got a bite to eat at Ian’s Pizza before the movie.

There are two huge parking ramps on Lake street. The one on the south side of University Ave is closer to the movie theater and right next to Ian’s. I didn’t want My Darling B to get too wet walking back and forth in the rain, so I thought this one would be perfect. Unfortunately, that ramp is also the closest ramp to the Kohl Center and the Badgers must have been doing something sports-related. The streets were crawling with people wearing red and white, which is not all that unusual when you’re that close to the campus but when it’s a bunch of old people, you know something’s up.

There was a long line of cars driven impatiently by people waiting to get into the ramp, even though a sign at the entrance noted they were charging TEN DOLLARS! I blew up just a little bit when I saw that, pulled out of line and drove around the block so I could turn the other way up Lake Street to park in the ramp on the north side of University Ave where they were charging only four dollars to park. One block away, six dollar difference. That’s just weird.

Ian’s Pizza is a Madison institution, meaning everybody eats there, meaning university kids. I’d been to the store on State Street several times but B had never been at all and had wanted to for a long time. This was her big chance, so we stopped in to grab a slice of pie before the movie. It seemed like a good idea, but then so did parking close to the theater before we realized there was a game downtown. We managed to beat the big rush so we didn’t have to wait long to get our food, and B even managed to snag a couple seats at one of the dozen or so tables in the dining room. You’d think for such a popular pizza joint they’d have a little more seating, but on second thought that’s probably all but impossible to come by right next door to the university. Still, they were doing one hell of a lot of business when we were there. They could really use more places to sit.

The movie was at the Cinematheque, a theater across University Ave from the Chazen Museum. It took us maybe five minutes to walk to it, the longest five-minute walk I made all day. It was still raining and we were walking into a headwind, so even with our umbrellas we got wet and cold all the way through. Thank goodness the theater was toasty warm.

It was also just about empty when we got there and I thought it might stay that way. I mean, how many people would you expect to tramp through weather like that to see a fifty-year-old movie? Somewhere between fifty and seventy-five, as it turned out. The seats filled up in the ten minutes right before the show started, mostly by people about my age who stayed up late watching movies like this on television when they should have been doing their school work. As a matter of fact, I realized as soon as the first scene began to play that I’d seen this movie on The Late Show, probably several times. B had the same revelation.

If you’ve seen a typical Western there’s not much to tell you about this movie. A New Guy comes to town. He’s looking for something. He crosses paths with a Bad Guy. There’s a fist fight where the two guys punch each other in the face way more than two people could possibly do and still have all their teeth when they’re done. There’s a shootout where each of them pops up from behind a rock to take a shot at the other just as a bullet goes pwing! on the rock right next to their head. And they chase each other through the desert on horseback really, really fast, cloppity-cloppity-cloppity. Did I forget anything? Oh, there’s a girl with Joan Crawford hair. She looks pretty in spite of the Joan Crawford hair but doesn’t get to do much else.

It’s awfully corny but, as I said, I’ll watch any movie that has Jimmy Stewart in it. More than once.

The Man From Laramie | 7:50 am CST
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Monday, April 11th, 2011

My Darling B woke up totally knackered this morning. Or, if she wasn’t completely tired out the minute she woke up, she felt like it just moments after finishing her shower and settling onto the sofa with her morning cuppa joe. After spending close to seven hours working her garden Sunday, and maybe six or seven on Saturday, she couldn’t feel any other way, not after spending all winter inside watching movies, reading books and surfing the internet.

But when the skies cleared and the sun shone and the temperatures climbed into the sixties all weekend long she could hardly be expected to do anything but start turning over clods in her garden with a great big fork and sticking seeds in the ground, and that’s just what she did. At least she had the good sense not to grind herself down completely to a little worn-out nub. She took a kitchen timer to the garden with her, set it for sixty minutes each time she went and, when it rang, came in to sit on the sofa for ten or fifteen minutes, however long it took to suck down a couple big glasses of cold water.

It didn’t keep her from feeling the burn, though. When she got up after dinner she was hobbled by stiff muscles in her legs, back arms, you name it. “Did you know you have muscles right here?” she asked me, pointing at the bony back of my wrist. “Well, you do.”

To generate some sympathy pain for her, I rode my bike to work this morning. It’s about three or four miles away, easily doable in a half-hour even with the flabby winter muscles I have. Took me forty minutes and my butt was sore enough to force me to walk funny. Luckily I only had to walk as far as my desk, where I could sit down for a couple hours and let the feeling come back to my legs.

Sore | 8:08 pm CST
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I think our dusty house may be trying to kill us.

By the time we get to the end of the winter season, when the windows have been closed more or less continuously since October, our house has dust bunnies so numerous that the president takes them off the endangered species list. Granted, that’s mostly our fault. We could be more diligent about hunting them down. It seems like such a waste of time, though, when there are still books I haven’t read, naps I haven’t taken and web sites I haven’t doinked away the afternoon poking through.

This year has been especially dusty. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been remarkably non-diligent about cleaning. I don’t doubt that could be the case, but I’m not ready to make that admission yet. It could just be an especially bad year for dust. The cats have been shedding quite a lot. I’d feel a lot better about blaming it on them than taking responsibility of it myself. Tell me you wouldn’t do the same.

And up until now, having a dusty house hasn’t been a problem, so we haven’t wasted a lot of thought to mull over how to make it less dusty, or energy to do anything about cleaning it up. This year, though, we discovered that a dusty house is, in fact, a problem. This year it’s come to light that dust can make you really, really sick.

My Darling B ventured into the basement last weekend to clean up the room where she starts her garden vegetables under a bank of grow lights. Really, just veggies. Tomatoes and peppers. Nothing else. If this was a basement operation for growing other things people seem to be growing in there basements year-round, B’s growing area wouldn’t need a clean-up every spring to clear away the stacks of boxes, magazines and whatever else gets thrown in the basement “just for now.”

She cleared all the collected junk away first, then swept up the floor. An hour or two later she had a nasty cough. The next morning she was coughing up lung cookies. She thought it was a relapse of the chest cold she’d been suffering the week before, but the doctor she visited said her symptoms sounded like an allergy, and she she asked B what she’d been doing right before the coughing started and B told her, the blame fell on the dust.

Kay. That made sense, given that we already know our house is infested with dust bunnies and that B got the hacking ickies last year at about this time. First thing I did the night she got back from the doctor’s was change the furnace filter because I don’t know when I did that last. Probably last fall, but maybe a year ago. Maybe more. I always forget to write the date on the side of the filter. Didn’t forget this time, though.

And after summer I vacuumed the basement stairs where some of the biggest dust bunnies have been hanging out. It’s been live and let live up to this point, but I have to draw the line when they keep My Darling B up nights.

Then today when we did our housecleaning today we vacuumed and wiped and dusted like maniacs. And B’s been looking for a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, a high-priced acronym meaning that it’s supposed to clean all the dust out of the air and/or all the money out of your wallet.

Heepah! | 4:36 pm CST
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Monday, March 21st, 2011

I very nearly woke My Darling B from her beauty sleep this morning when I looked up from browsing over the morning headlines, saw that it was twenty past six and was shocked to realize I had yet to hear her up and around. She usually emerges from the bedroom shortly after six and hits the shower first thing. Not wanting her to have to get ready for work in a panic I popped out of my seat headed up the stairs, and got as far as the living room when I remembered that she had the day off from work today and would be the polar opposite of grateful if I woke her up while it was still dark outside.

She takes this day off every year to start seeds for her garden, so she’ll spend the day getting her hands dirty in the basement arranging tiny pots of dirt under grow lamps. Have a great day, B!

Seed | 6:38 am CST
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Sunday, March 20th, 2011

My Darling B made an avocado smoothie this morning and kept some aside for me. I eagerly slurped it up, and I say that as a man who would not have slurped up anything with avocado in it until B started experimenting with foods like this. I was not a big fan of avocado because everything made with avocados ends up looking like something that should be coming out of your mouth, not going in. For most of my life, I avoided avocados just because of the way they looked, yet another example of how I haven’t matured much beyond the stage of an eight-year-old.

But B makes a guacamole dip that I just can’t get enough of, literally. It’s deliciousity compels me to eat as much as she’ll let me have, and everything else that she’s made with avocados has been just as tasty, so when she whipped up an avocado smoothie I knew I would be a fool not to try it. To be perfectly honest I was a little dubious at first, but as soon as the first gulp passed over my taste buds I knew we had another winner. I don’t know what all she puts in it. I think I taste banana in there and of course some avocado. I think she uses vanilla-flavored soy milk, too, but I don’t know what else there might be. Don’t care much, either. It tastes great and I go for it when she leaves some for me. Nuff said.

Smooove | 11:04 am CST
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Sunday, March 13th, 2011

image of rally in Madison WI 3-12-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, just one more thing: Cows.

Tractors. Cows. 14. A Monk. | 10:42 am CST
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Sunday, March 6th, 2011

image of Bonkers the cat

My Darling B has been in the kitchen all morning stewing a batch of chicken thighs in saffron and a bunch of other yummy-smelling stuff, in preparation for turning them into meat pies.

After stewing them, she piled them on a platter, placed the platter on the dining room table, then went to work on the broth. I happened to pass through the dining room while she was working and the first thing I saw was Bonkers the cat sitting on the windowsill not two feet from the pile of chicken. He has no scruples at all about pouncing on food left unattended so I can only guess that the spices B used when stewing the chicken must have masked the smell, else he would have been all over it as soon as she turned her back.

So Close | 11:54 am CST
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Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

And so ends a lovely three-day weekend we filled by reading books and watching videos.

I’m still working on A Crack In The Edge Of The World, Simon Winchester’s history of the San Francisco earthquake, only he’s so into geology it’s more like a history of the entire planet’s geological past. Seriously, he goes all the way back to the formation of the earth as a protoplanet to explain plate tectonics. The earthquake doesn’t happen until he’s two hundred pages into the book. He’s a geology nerd right down to the bone. I didn’t get an inkling of this when I read his book about Krakatoa, so he must have kept his nerdiness in check through that book, but he not only let it out for this one, he did it while drinking pots of coffee or snorting crack or something that made him take off at a gallop. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it takes a lot of determination to keep up with that kind of mania.

My Darling B just started Last Call, a book about Prohibition. When I opened the book to flip through it last night, I found a photo of a crowd of hundreds of people carrying signs that said WE WANT BEER in huge block letters. I may have to read that next.

And for video entertainment we finished the first season of The Wire Saturday Night, a series I was not at all sure I would like when we started, because, you know, another cop show? I’ve seen so many cop shows I’m just not that interested any more, but this one turned out to have a few good characters in it and by the time we got to the last disk I was asking B if she’d put in a request for the next season. She had, so I know what we’ll be watching next weekend.

B also brought home a copy of Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room because she apparently can’t go a day without making herself even more pissed off about Our Current Economic Crisis. Say what you want about these Enron assholes, you’ve got to admit that anyone who can convince investors to cough up money to buy futures in weather is a salesman’s salesman, the cream of the crop. B doesn’t admire this kind of economic inventiveness. For the rest of the night, she walked around the house, shaking her head while muttering “Bastards!” under her breath. I keep asking her why she watches this kind of stuff when it upsets her so. She doesn’t know. And she keeps on watching.

Weekend Fun | 6:20 am CST
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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I had almost as much trouble getting into bed last night as I usually do getting into the center seat of a commercial airliner. My Darling B turned in early because she’d been sick for the past few days and has been doing her darndest to get as much sleep as she can. She stayed home from work on Tuesday and just slept and slept. “Sometimes you just need to sleep for fourteen hours.” Boy, don’t I know that feeling.

But I wasn’t sick and couldn’t turn in that early, particularly not while I was trying to finish off the last two hundred pages of the biography I’ve been plugging away at for two and a half weeks. I was down to the last three chapters of Colonel Roosevelt and couldn’t put it down, so I stayed up well past the time that B turned out the lights, curled up and started sawing lumber.

By the time I showed up to get into bed, there was no bed to get into. I could get onto bed just fine, there was lots of wide-open space available on my side of the mattress, but the scrap of covers that was left over for me after B wrapped herself up in quilts wasn’t enough for me to blow my nose into. (Insert obvious joke here about how many square yards of cotton I’d need to blow my big nose into.)

What made it worse was, the little bit of covered bed that was left for me to scooch into was half-claimed by a cat. Was he ever surprised when I showed up. His ass got evicted so quickly that he was just about launched into orbit when I sidle up to him, grabbed the edge of the quilt and rolled over to snap the covers taut. I managed to claim a bit more of the covers for my own as the night went on, but mostly I stayed warm by staying as close to B as I could without disturbing her and thus risking getting a somnolent elbow in face.

Beddy-bye | 7:35 pm CST
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Saturday, December 18th, 2010

One of the Christmas gifts I bought for My Darling B on-line arrived in the mail yesterday, a t-shirt with an adorable kitty on it. I’m giving away the surprise because I’ve already showed it to her. I had to. When I opened the package I found out there was no way I’d be able to sit by with a straight face while she opened it on Christmas morning. Why? Oh, so glad you asked.

By the way, there’s a growing belief that more people are now using the internet to look at kittens than porn. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were somehow proven to be true. When there are web sites like Cute Overload and LOLCats, I don’t even wonder why it could be true.

I ordered a t-shirt for myself, too, and they both came wrapped up in the same package, so I took it down to my basement lair to separate them and stash her present away in a hidey hole. But first, I had to get a good look at it.

Mine was just fine. I ordered a medium for myself and it was more than big enough. I used to order large back when large was just about my size, but lately large has expanded along with the rest of the universe so much that a large is now big enough for two of me to slither inside. Either that, or I am gradually wasting away to nothing. I can accept that either is possible, as long as I can still get clothes in my size.

I draped my t-shirt across the back of my chair and unfolded the shirt I got for B, and that’s when I discovered I’d fallen victim to the paradox of clothing sizes. While a men’s medium has gotten larger over the years, ladies’ sizes have gotten smaller. How does that make any sense? Her medium was so much smaller than my medium that I can only conclude “ladies” has become a euphemism for women the size and shape of eight-year-old girls.

I was so startled by this, I took it straight upstairs and showed it to B, who wasn’t surprised at all. I think she even anticipated that I was going to show her a t-shirt that she wouldn’t have been able to pull over her head, thanks to my misunderstanding of women’s shirt sizes.

I’ll just buy men’s t-shirts for her from now on. At least I have some idea how big they are.

Hello Kitty! | 4:11 pm CST
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Saturday, November 27th, 2010

image of cod milt

My Darling B visits many, many food porn sites every single day. She is a devoted, almost obsessively compulsive foodie, and that’s fine by me because those web sites give her the inspiration to do things in the kitchen that are deLISHous. It’s amazing to me, really, that she can throw together stuff that looks like weeds and guts and mush and which, in my hands, would turn into a gray smelly lump, but by the time she’s finished with it, it’s a gorgeous-looking, scrumptious dish that I stuff into my face with such lascivious pleasure that I know why foodies call it “food porn.”

She occasionally lets me watch over her shoulder while she’s ritually surfing her favorite sites. Not often, but every once in a while. I point and ask more questions than a two-year-old in a toy store while she’s clicking through the photos even though I can tell she just wants to surf, so I try to keep my visits to a minimum. Not only do I point and make yummy noises when she surfs past the good-looking stuff, I also point and gag loudly when she scrolls past a plate of something particularly revolting-looking.

“What’s that?” I asked last night, pointing and gagging at what appeared to be a bowl full of pus-filled intestines.

She paused long enough to read a few illuminating lines from the accompanying story out loud: “Cod milt, the sperm sac of various fish.”


I’m so glad I’ve never been daft enough to say, out loud or to myself, Man, I could really go for a bowl full of plump sperm sacs from various fish. Doesn’t that sound like something they could put you in a padded cell for? I wouldn’t be at all surprised. I might even endorse it.

I wish I could meet the first guy who thought sticking that in his mouth was a good idea, because I need to grab him by the collar and shake him hard while shouting, “Why would you do that?&#148 He must’ve been really hungry. Like starving to death hungry. “Well, I’ve eaten the meat, the liver, the heart, the eggs, the eyeballs and the tongue … all that’s left is this thing, whatever it is, and I’m just hungry enough to stick it in my mouth without asking too many questions.”

Cod Milt | 9:31 pm CST
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Thursday, November 25th, 2010

No group dance class tonight, for some reason. We practiced a whole bunch of moves Tuesday night when nobody else showed up for the group lesson, so Mr. Park turned the night into an extended private lesson, starting with waltz. If I remember right, we worked mostly on style, although My Darling B would be the best one to ask about that because she’s taking notes now. She thinks that’ll help us remember the steps we’ve already learned. We’re always asking each other, “What new steps did we learn when we did this last week?” and I hardly ever remember until we start dancing. My muscles have better memory than I do.

The trouble with taking notes is, you have to know what the dance steps are called, and even when we can remember the steps, we have no recollection at all of what they’re called. Mr. Park will ask us to do a fifth-position overhand leaping leaf-spring extensor developay and I’ll look at B for a clue, but she’ll just frown at me and we’ll have to wait for Mr. Park to give us a little demonstration, whereupon a dim bulb will go on over both our heads. “Oh! That one!” we’ll cry in unison, and do it right away. But name them, we can’t.

So B has a notebook filled with made-up names for the dance steps we’ve learned, like “left underarm twirly thing” or “traveling too fast left box.” It would be a lot of fun to hand it to a professional and ask him to perform as many steps as he can possibly figure out. I have no idea how likely it is this will help us remember what we’ve learned, but at least we’ll have mildly amusing names we can use in class that will confuse the hell out of the instructor, instead of the other way around.

Twirly Whirly | 9:06 am CST
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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I took almost the whole day off from work today because I was the only one in the family who still had enough time off from work this year to drive into the country to pick up the turkey. One of the bennies in my contract for employment is that I get thirty-six hours of personal time every calendar year, regardless of whether I was hired on January 1st, or on September 27th. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that bennie go away soon.

But I had to use it up before the end of the year, because it doesn’t carry over, so I asked for lots of time off around the holidays. We’re all being furloughed the day after Thanksgiving (gosh, thanks!), so I asked to have the day before Thanksgiving off, to take advantage of the long weekend. Then, when B asked me last week to see if I could take time off on Tuesday, I asked for the whole afternoon, because why not? If it’s going to be a long weekend anyway, might as well get started as early as possible.

Although I was able to get all the days off that I wanted, I still had one hour of personal time left over after the dust settled. After I put in my request to take this afternoon off, my boss suggested I burn an hour off the end of the morning with that last personal hour. Well, okay … twist my arm!

I drove across town and out to the farm right after I left work, to make sure I wouldn’t forget. Don’t roll your eyes at me. It’s not only possible, it’s very likely. When I got there, the woman I found waiting at the back of the refrigerator truck wasn’t the farmer we ordered the turkey from. Worse than that, I’d never seen her before. “You’re here to pick up your turkey?” she asked.

“Yes?” I answered.

“What size?” she prompted me.

“I was afraid you were going to ask me that,” I told her. “I don’t know. Don’t you have them by name?” She just laughed at that. Apparently, they don’t name their turkeys. I wouldn’t, either. Makes it harder to wring their necks. Har.

But just then, Carrie showed up with a clipboard and a long list of names. She crossed mine off her list and told the gal in the truck to hand me a sixteen-pounder. Saved! I don’t have to go home looking stupid! I love these guys.

A Bird for a Bennie | 1:24 pm CST
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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

image of B's laptop bandaid

My Darling B got tired of her laptop staring at her while she’s surfing food porn web sites. It’s got a little built-in camera at the top of the flip-up screen that she could use to take photos or record videos of herself if she were so inclined. Since she is most vehemently not, she has used it just once, to record our New Year’s wishes to our adoring crowds last year. So it’s really no more than a novelty item that gets used once in a blue moon, usually when alcohol’s involved. (This appears to be typical for many a video on internet.)

She never thought much about it since then, even when stories surfaced in the news about people using laptop video cameras to watch users in ways that did not not at first seem all that creepy until sitting down in front of a laptop with a camera lens staring at you. A few seconds of that and you’re sure the whole world is watching you.

At first, B tried to use common sense. “It’s got a little red light that comes on,” she reasoned, or whistled in the dark, take your pick. “Nobody would be able to hack into my laptop and turn on my camera to watch me without turning on the little red light.”

“Riiiiight,” I answered her, patting the back of her hand, “that would never happen.”

She stubbornly stuck to her common-sense, rational approach to her video camera until yesterday, when we heard a story on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me about the Kinect, Microsoft’s new game accessory that lets you control your XBox by standing in front of it and gesturing. Not only can it see you and recognize what you’re doing, it could also (according to Microsoft), or absolutely would not under any circumstances (according to, again, Microsoft) be used to send targeted advertisements to your television set.

Coincidentally, after B heard that, she covered her video camera lens with a band-aid. She still maintains she doesn’t think anybody’s watching her, but why take the chance? It’s Pascal’s Wager applied to Big Brother.

I See You | 9:49 am CST
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Saturday, November 6th, 2010

image of Weiwei's

I should give my impulses a rest. After reading an article in today’s The New York Times about a Chinese artist under house arrest whose name, Ai Weiwei, reminded me of a playground taunt or the chorus of an African tribal dance, I felt an irresistible urge to share it with My Darling B.

B wasn’t as interested in the sound of his name as it came tripping off the tongue as she was puzzled and then, gradually, agitated by the photograph of Weiwei standing in the middle of one of his works installed at the Tate Modern in London.

Titled Sunflower Seeds, it consisted of one hundred million tiny nibs of porcelain shaped and hand-painted to look like sunflower seeds and dumped on the floor where visitors were, for a while, encouraged to walk on them, handle them, lay down and roll in them and otherwise frolic in them until somebody noticed that the weight of thousands of visitors every day was grinding the seeds to dust. Museum officials, worried that the dust was rising into the air and being inhaled by the visitors, shut the vast room in which the exhibit was installed so visitors could only look at it from a roped-off gallery, changing the piece from an artistically highbrow ball pit to a scattered mess of porcelain chips. Before, visitors could step into them and play. After, all that was really left for visitors to do was make a mental game of figuring out how long it would have taken any number of people it took to hand-paint that many fake sunflower seeds.

My Darling B was not pleased that the Tate was once again exhibiting a work of art that was not actually art, probably recalling all the fuss that was made over Tracy Emin’s “works of art” at the Tate, her most famous being her unmade bed. Littered with books, newspapers, cast-off clothes and, almost inevitably, a condom, she lugged it up to the Tate and not only convinced the gallery’s managers that it was art, she had every newspaper and quite a lot of the public buzzing over it, too. She made bales of money from it and other similarly silly exhibitions.

“That’s literally art that I could do,” B said, the implication being that she could as easily hire a thousand people to make a million sunflower seeds, then dump them on the floor and call it art. I have no doubt that she could, although I had to dispute her follow-up observation that “Anything I can do is not art.” If hand-made quilts are still as popular a hundred years from now as they are today, and all the forecasts of a zombie apocalypse are wrong, then her quilts will no doubt be found hanging in antique malls across the nation, their tiny little four-figure price tags fluttering in the air-conditioned breeze coming from the ceiling vents. I would also swear before a court that her cooking is truly artistic.

“That Cristo guy who’s always wrapping stuff up in brightly-colored fabric – not an artist,” B went on, warming to her subject, “My kids could do that.” I had to wonder at this point if her observation of Cristo’s artistic abilities wasn’t tinged by perhaps just an eentsy-weentsy bit of jealousy. There isn’t anyone who can pack a box as full as she can, but she’s always expressed the frustration when wrapping packages that it never comes out the way she wants it to. Not that I think Cristo’s any great shakes when it comes to wrapping things, although I would have to admit he’s clever enough to have figured out it’s more impressive to wrap the biggest things in eyeshot.

I had no idea Sunflower Seeds would set her off as badly as it did. If I had, I would have never brought it up. “But I only thought his name sounded interesting,” I pointed out, eventually calming her down by having her breathe into a brown paper bag I held over her mouth for a couple minutes. Later, we’re going down to the grocery store to buy up all the sunflower seeds. Then we’ll dump them in a pile on the living room floor and dance in them, singing “Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei.” Should be fun.

Art My Kid Could Make | 3:04 pm CST
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Monday, October 18th, 2010

image of Oster blender

This is the Osterizer that My Darling B bought more than twenty years ago. And isn’t “Osterizer” a great word? Way better than boring old generic blender. The Oster company doesn’t appear to have named this particular blender unit Osterizer but I love the name so much I’m going to use it generically to apply to this machine, the way Kleenex describes all tissue paper that you blow snot into.

“Snot” is a word that’s too much fun to pass up repeating way too many times as well. Snot snot snot. There, I think I got that out of my system.

B isn’t sure exactly when she bought her Osterizer, but she’s certain it’s older than her oldest child, and he’s going to be twenty-five this year, if memory serves. She’s hung on to it all these years because it was made so far back in the mists of time that it’s actually got “Made In U.S.A.” stamped into its metal bottom. Try to find an Osterizer or any other blender thingy like it without a week-long search on e-bay.

Actually, I’m a dork. No sooner had I said that than B found dozens of them, whole and in part, all over e-bay. That’ll teach me to open my mouth. Oh, who am I kidding? It probably won’t.

This drivel about kitchen appliances was triggered when B’s prize Osterizer froze up last weekend while she was trying to convert a bushel of tomatilas into salsa verde. After she tried and tried to get it turning again I got my chance to crack it open and take a look inside. No matter how many times I do this I can’t seem to get it through my head that I’m never going to open it up and find a big OFF switch. “Hey! Here’s the problem!” Doesn’t happen.

But she loves that thing, and I don’t blame her. It’s stuck by her so long it’d be hard for anyone not to have an emotional attachment to it. I suggested we buy a used machine just like it that I saw at a neighborhood thrift shop. They had to, in fact, but after checking them out she decided that one was too expensive and the other was too beaten-up.

“Let’s stop at the small-appliance repair store,” she suggested as we headed home. She was talking about a shop on Monona Avenue. The front window was chock full of vintage mixer machines so old they made her Osterizer look modern. I stopped there just to make her happy, but I really didn’t believe she’d find one like her machine in there.

She found two. I’m just never going to be right in this story.

Not only did she find a couple of machines just like hers, she found out they could probably repair hers for a reasonable price. I told her to go for it, but after we got home and she started finding all that great stuff on e-bay the little gears in her head started turning and I think her emotional attachment to her own machine might be weakening enough for her to consider buying a replacement and using the money left over to also throw an attachment or two into the mix. So to speak.

Osterize this! | 7:51 pm CST
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Monday, October 11th, 2010

image of furloughed employee

It’s Furlough Monday! Time to stay at home and do something frivolous. Or not so frivolous, if you’re the guy in charge of keeping the bathroom clean and you sort of let it slide for a couple weeks. Yuk. I made a project out of it by driving down to the store to buy a couple cans of good old Ajax scouring powder, loaded with way too much chlorine bleach, so I could spend less time cleaning and more time on my butt reading or otherwise frittering away my mandatory day off. Armed with a super-sized can of Ajax and a stiff brush I was soon slaughtering the mold and mildew that had taken root in the grouting between the tiles on the floor, shouting “Die, Scum, Die!” like a conquering Mongol. Does that make me some kind of nerd? It sort of sounds that way but I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a cleaning nerd. Which is not the same thing as a cleaning fanatic (ref: the first half of this drivel where I mentioned letting my cleaning duties slip).

After going on a germ-killing rampage, and then showering in scalding water so I could feel somewhat clean myself, I drove into town with My Darling B who offered to take me to lunch at Lazy Jane’s. We haven’t been to lunch there in a coon’s age, or maybe it’s never, I can’t say for sure. B says she hasn’t been to lunch there until today but I don’t see how that’s likely. Anyway, I don’t believe I’ll ever turn down a meal at Lazy Jane’s. The food there is way too scrummy and their coffee is just the right combination of unusually strong and almost, but not quite, burned. It’s a lovely opportunity to relax and enjoy an hour or so with good food and good company.

Frivolity took up the better part of the afternoon, what with naps, dorking around on the internet, reading. I did managed to do something productive when I pulled up the soaker hoses in My Darling B’s garden, coiled them and stowed them in the rafters over the garage, but that hardly took half an hour, so I don’t want you to get the slightest idea that I was working hard at all. Just piddled the afternoon away. It was almost like being unemployed again, which, technically, I was, but technically only for eight hours. Tomorrow, back to work!

What I Did On My Day Off | 6:22 pm CST
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Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

image of sleeping sick guy

I’m still trying to sleep off the effects of this head cold I caught, so this will necessarily be brief before I have to go medicate myself with my hourly fistful of over-the-counter drugs, drink a pint of water and stretch out on the recliner for my early-mid-late-afternoon nap.

My symptoms today are a lot worse than they were the day before, and they were plenty bad yesterday. “You look like shit,” My Darling B observed, gazing across the dinner table at me. “I hope you don’t take that the wrong way.” I was too burned out to take it any way at all.

This morning I had a clear head for about an hour, long enough to make the ceremonial pot of coffee and eat a bowl of granola before I wrapped myself up in quilts and retreated to the recliner with a hot cuppa joe and the Sunday paper. I barely touched either of them before I was drifting in and out of consciousness.

I’d forgotten how much I hate being this sick. For an hour or more I struggled to keep my eyes open as waves of congestion swelled my face up and filled my eyes with tears. I could read three or four paragraphs before I had to put the newspaper down, reel off a yard and a half of toilet paper from the roll I kept at my side, and explosively blow a quart or two of snot from my sinuses. Finally I just gave up, popped a couple decongestants, stretched out with my eyes closed and prayed for death.

When I finally came to again, round about two in the afternoon, I was feeling well enough to make myself a cup of tea, and passed a few hours by reading a few chapters of the book I’m chipping away at, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It even made some sense, unlike the news stories I was trying to figure out this morning. But I can tell a relapse is coming on quickly and I’ll have to go pop a couple more decongestant capsules before becoming an inert lump on the recliner once again.

The photo’s from yesterday; B snapped it while I was out like a light. She’s been babying me as much as she dares, but mostly she’s trying to keep her distance, and I don’t blame her one bit. The cats, on the other hand, aren’t squeamish at all about my condition. The great thing about cats is they’ll curl up with you whether you’re healthy or sick. All they’re looking for is a warm lap, and once they’ve claimed it they’ll stubbornly stay there no matter how wetly you sneeze on them. They can’t catch your bug, so they don’t care.

Out Go The Lights! | 3:25 pm CST
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Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

image of sick office worker

One of the benefits of working in an office environment is receiving a steady paycheck. I think we can all agree on that.

Maybe another thing we can all agree on is one of the most glaring detriments: Having to acquire a whole new herd immunity. I have no idea if this has ever been studied scientifically, but I can offer my own anecdotal evidence from almost thirty years of moving from one office environment to another at intervals of about two years. Each time I’ve made that move I’ve had to spend several weeks during the first few months sicker than a puking dog. All the antibodies I built up while working in the previous office seemed to be absolutely worthless in the new office.

My latest office environment is no exception. At my previous office I could, and frequently did, sit at a desk surrounded by people hacking up great gobs phlegm as if they were dying of tuberculosis. I worked there five years and I think I got sick once, maybe twice. In my new office, however, I’d been there just three days before I knew I picked up their particular strain of cube farm killer death flu.

“Got any plans for the weekend?” one my coworkers asked me Friday afternoon.

“Yeah,” I answered, ”I think I’m going to spend it sick in bed, using up all the Kleenex.” And that’s what I’m going to do. Luckily, I’m only halfway through an eight-hundred page history of the discovery and development of atomic power, so this will give me a chance to knock off a couple hundred pages a day. Also, I’ve got My Darling B, who says she’ll make me some tomato soup. Atomic physics and some heartfelt pampering ought to make the next couple days bearable, even if I have to spend them half-dead.

I god a ruddy node | 8:32 am CST
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Friday, September 24th, 2010

image of credit cards

The answering machine greeted us with a Bleep! when we finally made it home from the evening commute yesterday. Playing the message, it was a voice we’d never heard before and the guy never identified himself or gave a number to call back. Our mystery caller said he found Tim’s debit card in an ATM and he canceled it, which was a pretty nice thing to do, as opposed to taking it home, logging on to Amazon Dot Com and using it to order one of everything.

That was nice of him was actually the second thought that occurred to me, though. The first was, Any random guy can call a credit card company and cancel a card that’s not theirs? And the answer turns out to be: Yes. Anybody can call the customer service number on the back of a credit card and ask them to cancel it, even if it’s not theirs. We know this with one-hundred percent certainty because we did it, too. Or, to be totally accurate, My Darling B did it, but she’s not above using an angle to implicate me.

After I called Tim to relay the message to him, B called the credit card company’s 1-800 customer service number (we have an account at the same bank) to find out if it was possible for somebody else to cancel a card, because that didn’t make a lot of sense to us. And it still doesn’t. But you can, if you’re looking for a quick and dirty way to smack down somebody who really pisses you off. Just call customer service and tell them you’re what’s his name’s mother and feed them a story about how you got a phone call from a stranger who found your son’s card, then ask if it’s been deactivated and, when they tell you no, it hasn’t been, express grave concern and ask if they’ll deactivate it for you. They’ll do it.

Or maybe just the customer service trainees will. B thought the customer service rep she spoke to sounded as if she hadn’t been on the job too long, and wasn’t sure what she should and shouldn’t do. She accepted B’s story without any evidence and offered to cancel Tim’s card without asking B for any identifying information, or indeed without asking for any information that would positively identify Tim. Is there only one Tim-O out there with a Visa card? It seems as likely there’s some other guy with the same name who couldn’t pay for his coffee and bagel at Starbuck’s this morning, called customer service to find out why and was told his mom canceled his card. I’ll bet the conversation got really weird after that.

Back to our Tim: B canceled his card, then called Tim at home to tell him the stranger who called us didn’t really cancel his card after all, and urged him to call his bank as soon as possible to make sure his account was okay. While they were talking about lost cards and banks and stuff like that, B became a teensy bit confused about his finances. “This is for your account at [NAME REDACTED] bank, right?” she asked him.

“No, it was my [OTHER BANK] debit card,” he answered.

“[EXPLETIVE DELETED],” B gasped. She canceled the wrong card. And the angle she’s going to use to make me an accessory to her mix-up is that I told her Tim closed his deposit accounts at one bank. Where I got that information, I couldn’t tell you. I’m going to blame it on a randomly firing brain cell damaged by sitting in front of the television for six hours every day when I was a kid.

B apologized to Tim, who now has no active bank cards because everyone in Monona except him is calling customer service to cancel them. She offered to front him any amount of cash he needed while he tried to straighten out this mess. Moral of the story: Don’t tell your parents, or anybody else, for that matter, where your money’s on deposit.

How To Cancel Anybody’s Visa Card | 9:34 am CST
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Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

image of Boo the cat

Bonkers is feeling much better today, thanks for asking. The vet gave him some meds for arthritis and some painkillers because the meds don’t kick in for two to three days. He’s up and around this morning, almost as active as his old self. Hesitates a bit before jumping up in my lap, as if he’s thinking about the twinge he’s going to feel as he pushes off, but he jumps up nonetheless, happy to be home.

Boo is not happy at all about Bonkers coming back from the vet. She skulks along the far side of the room when she wants to get past him, growling at him the whole time. She’s like that every time he goes to the vet without her, I guess because he smells funny when he gets back. She usually gets over it fairly quickly, but she was still hissing and spitting at him this morning while I was trying to get some meds into him.

The odor of the wet food I was sprinkling the medicine on pulled her in like a crappie on the end of a well-baited line so we gave her some, too, but she was very upset she had to be in the same room with Bonkers and wouldn’t stop spitting at him until My Darling B turned on her and cut loose with a barrage of hissing and spitting that sent Boo reeling back on her haunches. If communication is the proof of intelligence, then Boo confirmed hers, because her face said, “What the hell, woman?”

Even though I put her in a bedroom and closed the door for a well-deserved time out that lasted several hours, she managed to keep her sour mood going through the rest of the day. The first thing she did when I finally opened the door to let her out was hiss at Bonkers, who was standing in the hallway to see if she wanted to be friends again. The poor guy couldn’t figure out what her problem was and followed her from room to room as if to ask, “What’s wrong?”

If the funky smell of been-to-the-vet Bonkers drove Boo to hissy fits, being stalked by him made her even crazier. She skulked across the far side of the room, as far away from him as possible, growling as she made her way behind sofas and under chairs, to get a bite to eat and a drink of water. When she found Bonkers standing in the doorway of the dining room on her way back, she not only had another hissy fit, she gave him a couple swats on the nose, too, earning a good drenching from the squirt bottle.

Backing off with a genuinely hurt expression on his face, Bonkers tried once again to figure out what was wrong by following her across the living room, but Boo very pointedly answered that she did not want to talk about it, and eventually he gave up and curled up on the pile of dirty clothes I had sorted to wash and took a day-long nap.

You Know What They’re Thinking | 9:20 am CST
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image of potato

It’s a people potato!

Or My Darling B thinks so, anyway. She was unloading a basket full of veggies she brought in from her garden yesterday morning and asked me if I wanted to see the potato that looked like a well-endowed woman.

Sure! I said. What red-blooded American man wouldn’t want to see that? Show me a well-endowed woman any time you want, you don’t even have to ask.

The photograph at left is the potato she produced from her basket. If you squint your eyes really hard and use a lot of imagination (and italics), I suppose it’s just possible you might see a figure similar to a woman in that potato. I’m not sure how “well-endowed” she is. A better description might be “freakishly enhanced by silicone implants,” and if that were the case, I’d sue the doctor that botched the job, were I in her shoes. Not that this particular woman could wear shoes.

Why Vegetables Are So Important To Your Diet | 8:34 am CST
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Friday, September 10th, 2010

My Darling B took the day off from work today to spend it at the annual quilting expo that comes to the convention center. She was there when the doors opened at eight and didn’t come home until almost two o’clock this afternoon. She was exhausted. The place was jammed with silver-haired women who spent as much time, maybe even more time, gathering together in immovable clusters to chat with one another, as opposed to looking at the quilts. B wore herself out trying to elbow past them. “They won’t move for anything,” she said, “but they sure aren’t bashful about shoving you out of their way.”

She was so tired when she got home that she had to lie down for about an hour to recharge her batteries … after we went to Java Cat for a couple tasty dishes of gelato. Nothing helps calm your jittery nerves like gelato. Have you ever eaten really good gelato? It’s like ice cream, only creamier. I really shouldn’t eat it on account of my unfortunate reaction to dairy products, but I find that if I down a couple doses of lactase I can enjoy a small helping of gelato … if I make sure that, for the next half-hour, I won’t be in a confined space with other people. Outdoors is best, with a brisk wind blowing. No, don’t inhale. You’re downwind.

Backing up a bit, I passed a couple hours this morning tinkering with my web site. When I put it together three or four years ago, the pages were arranged with a modicum of sense to them, but I never had the site mapped out, so as I added pages I patched them together in a way that sort of made sense but when all was said and done resembled a 1927 Ford Model A held together with bent coat hangers. Not very well done. So I had another go at it today, bringing together all the component files I have assembled over the years and trying to put them together with some sense to the assembly this time. I’m not entirely sure I’ve pulled it off, but I’ll leave that for others to decide. I’m happy with it for now.

After getting my web site in order, all that was left was to get it on line. For almost two years it’s resided on a server set up by my brother who kept it like a puppy in his living room where he trained it like a professional, but about three months ago he got a new job and moved from the big city to a far-off land. The server ended up in connected to an internet provider that assigns a new IP address every other day, or every other week, depending on the phase of the moon, the whim of the gods, the direction the wind is blowing or one of a dozen other factors. That’s why drivel would sometimes disappear for a week, then remain on-line for two weeks, then disappear again.

Because he had so much more to think about than whether or not the server was working correctly, I felt like an absolute cretin when I complained about the web site being down. In actual fact, I was an absolute cretin for complaining, considering that he was providing his services for no cost at all and the whole world is not hanging on every word I write. But as it turns out, I’m addicted to blogging. I know this because I seemed to suffer some of the same symptoms of withdrawal – cold sweats, loss of memory, a compelling desire to eat every single thing in the refrigerator that isn’t green with mold – felt by anyone who snorts cocaine, shoots up heroin or smokes two packs of Camels a day. I was willing to stab the eyes out of anyone if it would satisfy my habit. So I set up this web site. It’s a weird hobby, but most of them are, when you think about it. Especially golf.

We All Have Our Hobbies | 11:26 am CST
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Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

image of our wedding day

Special day: It was on this day, twenty-one years ago, that My Darling B answered, “I do,” after the preacher asked her if she wanted to be stuck with me for the rest of her natural life. Little did she know what she was getting into. Or maybe she did, after all. I certainly like to think she did. We’ve been around the world a couple times together, raised two fine sons to maturity before releasing them into the wild, and finally found a humble abode where we could settle down and quietly live together, she tending her garden, me … puttering, or whatever it is I do. It’s been a wonderful life, B. Happy anniversary.

She did | 6:10 am CST
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Sunday, August 1st, 2010

image of dancing with B

There were two or three other Rosies at the hangar dance last night, but only I had the privilege of dancing with the one who looked just like the one in the poster.

The entertainment at Madison’s annual hangar dance is provided by Ladies Must Swing, an all-girl band that plays tunes made famous by the great swing bands of the 1940’s, so the dance has naturally taken on a 40’s theme and people come dressed in costume: Women get their hair poofed up, wear 40’s dresses and nylon stockings with lines down the backs of their calves. Guys wear zoot suits or army uniforms. There were a lot of prohibition-era gangsters and mols, too, but nobody seemed to mind the discontinuity there.

B got the idea to dress as Rosie the Riveter about two weeks ago because what could be more 40’s, right? I was afraid there would be a glut of Rosies at the dance, but as it turned out I saw only two, one of them in a pair of overalls and another in a denim work outfit like B’s, but neither one of them had the authentic Rosie polka-dot bandana and B did.

She almost didn’t, though. The hangar dance was Saturday; she waited until Thursday to order it. Couldn’t say exactly why other than, that’s just her way. When the mailman delivered it Saturday afternoon she came into the house squealing, “It’s here! It’s here!” as she tore open the padded envelope. With polka-dots on her head she was the most-photographed Rosie at the dance. “You’re just so adorable!” one woman told B as she took a snapshot of us dancing.

“That’s the first time a perfect stranger has called me ‘adorable,’” B said.

“Well, you are,” I assured her.

The hangar dance marked our debut: It was the first time we used our classroom-learnin’ in public. We had a lot of fun with it, but dancing in a crowd is a lot different from dancing in a studio with the whole floor to ourselves. We didn’t run into anyone, that wasn’t the problem. What presented the biggest challenge was trying to remember our steps while we were preoccupied with watching everyone around us. By the time night fell and the dance was almost over we remembered most of the steps we’d learned, but dragging them up from our memories was more trouble than pulling hen’s teeth.

We’ll have a whole year to practice before next year’s hangar dance, though, and we ought to be able to come up with some decent costumes by then, too. I’ve also made a note to find the most powerful mosquito repellent in the world, preferably in a country where there are no pesky health regulations to keep them from using ingredients like DDT or napalm. Right after sunset but before it got dark, mosquitoes descended on the crowd like a biblical plague. To make things worse, the band had coincidentally gone on a half-hour break at exactly the same time the mosquitoes showed up for dinner. If we’d have been able to keep on dancing we might have kept them off us, or at least made them chase us and earn our blood, but no joy there. All we could do was swat and swat and swat until the music started again.

Once night fell and the band started up again, the mosquitoes left us alone and the cool, evening breeze made the rest of the evening just as much fun as the first half, maybe even more so for us as we remembered more dance steps. We stayed until the last dance and went home tired but pleasantly so, enough that we slept in late the next morning.

Hangar Dance | 6:09 am CST
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Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

image of license plate

Is there one thing people do practically all the time, a small, insignificant thing that really shouldn’t bother you but, even so, makes you clench your teeth to keep yourself from screaming, “STOP DOING THAT! IT’S WRONG! WHERE’D YOU LEARN THAT?”

For me, it’s when people say “reason why,” as in, “the reason why that’s important is…” I know it’s got a long history of use by the most respected writers in the English language, but it’s dumb. If you said, “the reason that’s important is…” you haven’t lost the meaning and you’ve avoided being redundant. I’ve never been able to discover why so many people believe the extra word is necessary. And don’t even get me started on “the reason why is because…” Thank you so much for humoring me as I once again compulsively pick at a scab that I’ll probably never allow to heal.

Well, this is what drives My Darling B up a rubber wall: license plates with more than one annual sticker, an annual sticker in the wrong place, or both. (Usually, it’s both.) It doesn’t bug her just because she works for the DMV. It is partly because she works for the DMV, but mostly it makes her want to hit people with a stupid stick because the State of Wisconsin mails the yearly license plate stickers along with a set of instructions that looks exactly like this:

It’s pretty hard to mess that up. Even if you can’t read, the arrows pointing at the corners of the plate tell you that something’s supposed to go in the lower left corner and something’s supposed to go in the lower right corner and that’s it! There’s nothing in the middle, nothing up the sides, nothing across the top, yet every day we see license plates with stickers plastered all over them as we commute home from work, to much gnashing of teeth.

You now know her weak spot. Exploit it at your peril.

Pet Peeve | 2:57 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Here’s one that’ll take me a little while to live down, at least in my own mind: My Darling B and I go to a group dance class each Tuesday and Thursday night. It sounds like a lot, but each class is only forty-five minutes and it goes by so quickly that it’s over just as we’re getting warmed up and feeling the urge to keep on going all night long.

I think we’ll probably be going on Monday nights, too. The schedule just changed and on Mondays they’ll be teaching some swing steps. We’ll need to learn as many steps as we can between now and the night of the hangar dance at the airport on July 31st. Right now we can do a grand total of two steps, and I can twirl B in circles a lot. That’s not going to get us very far.

But back to last night: As I said, the schedule just changed and Tuesday nights they started teaching waltz steps. This is a huge deal because I just love to waltz. The other dances are just fine, and I believe I had almost as much fun as B did learning salsa steps, but when we start waltzing I don’t want to stop. I think the last time I had that much fun was when I was learning to fly. The two are pretty much the same thing, as far as I can tell. Waltzing gets me just as high, and there’s no danger of crashing and burning.

We must have left the house to get to last night’s lesson too early, or traffic was much lighter and much faster than usual, because we ended up at the dance studio about fifteen minutes before the class started, so after changing into our dance shoes B and I stepped into the back room to warm up a little.

B bought herself a pair of dance shoes after the second or third lesson. She was already well down the road of becoming a dance nerd, although she has yet to order a pair of heels. She says she’s going to sew a ball gown this winter, too, and has already spied out a pattern. Photos to follow, promise.

I held off buying dance shoes until last week, not because I wasn’t totally devoted to learning to dance but because I’m a great big cheapskate. I already have a pair of shoes, what do I need another pair for? I’ll tell you what I need them for: I need soft, lightweight dance shoes so I don’t mash all ten toes of every dance partner at the studio to jelly. I’m sure there’s a limit to how many times they’ll put up with a pummeling from my size-twelves with patented Vibram soles, no matter how bravely they smile and assure me, “That’s all right.” Bravery is routine to women who will dance with beginners, particularly a salsa.

For our warm-up I led B through a couple basic turning box steps, an underarm turn, a crossover or two, and then, when I tried a cross-body lead, it fell apart at the end so completely that we couldn’t start up again and ended up just standing there, unable to pick up the beat. The expression on B’s face said, What the hell just happened? so vividly that we both broke down laughing.

“Okay, let’s try that again,” I said, thinking it was just a fluke and we would be able to glide right through it once we got going. It was such a simple step, and we’ve done it so many times, that surely we could fly easily through it again.

But no. I led her into it, she came to the turn, and when I stepped around to pick her up we were both out of step and couldn’t sync up again. Bizarre.

“We did this just last night,” B chuckled. “We shouldn’t have forgotten it by now.”

So we tried once more, and once more it fell apart at the end. This isn’t a hard step, and we’re two fairly intelligent people. We should have been able to figure this out, but no matter how we tried to break it down we couldn’t quite find the point where we lost it.

As we were about to give up and move on, Christopher, our regular instructor, popped into the back room. He was working with another couple out on the studio floor but would have been able to see us through the French doors and apparently couldn’t bear to watch us dork up this one simple step any longer. Or, to hit the dork squarely on the head, he couldn’t bear to watch me mess it up. The first rule of ballroom dancing is, Mistakes are the guy’s fault. He leads the dance, after all. I’m not sure how fully I agree with that, but in this case at least it carried plenty of weight.

“You’ve got to bend your arm,” he told me, giving a quick demonstration before he dashed back into the studio by lowering his left arm, then crooking his elbow. This is the signal from the gentleman to the lady that they’re about to start the cross-body lead. I’d been lowering my arm but I’d been keeping it ramrod straight, not bending it. Could the answer to our problem be that simple?

His laser-sharp eye had zeroed in on exactly the one part of our dance that would put everything right. As we stepped through half a box I dropped my arm, tucking it back by bending my elbow, and B glided effortlessly through the turn. Hey! It works! To make sure it wasn’t a fluke we tried it again, and again we pulled it off without a hitch.

How could I have missed that? Won’t miss it again, though.

The Secret | 9:09 am CST
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Monday, July 5th, 2010

image of table fan

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Polar Cub, a table fan with sharp-edged metal blades and no safety cage to speak of. Turn it on and the blades whirl so fast you could lose a finger to this thing faster than you can say “Emergency Room.” Now that I’ve restored it to working order I imagine there’s a guy in whatever federal safety office watches out for these things kneading his forehead as he struggles to regain his breath and muttering, “I feel something terrible has happened.”

I picked this up at a thrift shop some months ago and yesterday finally got around to replacing the electrical cord, which was so old it had gotten brittle enough to crack and fall apart in more than a few places, making it even more dangerous than the original designed called for. Replacing the cord was a quick fix but I’m not a quick worker, so here it is, July, and I’m just getting around to it.

It works great except for the oscillating mechanism. The gears were so badly gunked up the motor couldn’t get them going again. I could turn them slowly by hand, though, and it seemed to help free them up, so I got the bright idea to chuck the shaft in my power drill and give it a good, long high-speed turn. Moments later the gears were stripped beyond all repair. Brilliant.

The motor’s got just one speed, corresponding to F-5 on the Fujita tornado scale where winds from a force five tornado cause the maximum damage conceivable. Still, on a really hot July day in Wisconsin that’s about what you need to move enough air past you in order to keep cool. Come August, we could put a truckload of these things to good use.

Today’s another day off from work for both My Darling B and I, but the great big green and yellow blob that’s hovering over our part of Wisconsin on the NOAA Doppler radar screen means we probably won’t be doing any yard work today.

B’s taking full advantage of this development and sleeping in late this morning, after spending Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday in her garden, pulling weeds, setting down soaker hoses and generally tidying up. And I’m, y’know, doinking around on the internet. Because it’s there.

Polar Cub | 9:20 am CST
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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I so want to be out on the patio this evening, enjoying the cool, evening breeze that’s finally come along to reward us all from enduring the long, hot, muggy day, but going out there right now would be like diving into a swimming pool filled with Bowie knives packed together so tightly that the ends of their blades all point up. Why? Because we’ve had so much rain over the past three days it’s brought the mosquitoes out in swarms that settle on every square inch of exposed flesh as soon as you step into the open from the shelter of your back door.

My Darling B went out to her garden just before dinner, determined to bring in some leafy greens for our table and as many pea pods as she could pick and take to work for lunch tomorrow. She lasted about ten minutes. Safely watching her from the inside of our screened-over dining room window as she did the happy slappy dance, I was truly impressed that she lasted so long. She must have collected at least fifty bites in that short time, five every minute, or I’m a lying bastard.

So there’ll be no kicking back in the yard this evening, no matter how much I’d like to slouch down into one of our camp chairs with a tall, cool mojito in hand and watch the evening sky fade from blue to indigo to black. I’d be bled dry so quickly that the most accomplished medical team on earth, armed with a bottomless blood supply, would be powerless to revive me.

I probably bring this up every time I start talking about mosquitoes, but here I go again: Are you old enough to remember the days when the city crew would drive a truck through your neighborhood with an industrial-strength fogger mounted on the back, spewing a thick, white cloud of insecticide over all the yards and houses, and all the children would drop whatever they were doing to chase the truck and dance through the lethal cloud as if it were the most benign plaything ever? I still haven’t developed any malignancies that I know of from doing that, have you?

And another thing: When a mosquito gets into my bedroom at night, why’s he so fascinated by my ears? He’s got the whole, great big house to fly around in, and yet the one place he wants to be more than any other is in my left ear, and sometimes in my right ear. He’s not trying to bite me, because guy mosquitoes don’t do that, so it’s not like I should even be on his radar. Does he think my ear is the way out?

Skeeters | 10:04 pm CST
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Monday, June 21st, 2010

In Mouse-Catching News: Boo was acting all funny Saturday night, jumping around and chasing shadows across the floor. That’s usually the kind of thing Bonkers does, else My Darling B wouldn’t have taken much notice of her. “Whatcha doin’, Boo?” she asked, and when Boo turned to look at her, B noticed a mouse’s tail hanging from Boo’s mouth, just like in the cartoons.

I was in the bedroom so I didn’t see any of this, but I did hear B holler, “Oh, gross!” Then she called for help when Boo spat the mouse on the floor. I arrived on the scene just in time to chase the mouse across the living room floor and stick it in a jar. It was playing dead until I reached for it, then took off like a shot, heading for the hallway with me in hot pursuit while B struggled to hold the cats in check.

B doesn’t like mice in the house but would rather not kill them if she can help it, so when we catch one, or the cats do, we take it to a nearby park and release it. B took this one to a park just up the block in an empty applesauce jar to let it go, then came back and, just as she was beginning to relax again, Bonkers brought a mouse up from the basement and started chasing it around the living room!

Unfortunately for Miss Mouse, B couldn’t get to that one in time for a live release. Bonkers beats them up pretty bad chasing them around, although they’re such small, bouncy things you’d think they’d be able to handle that a little better than being inside a cat’s freaking mouth! When B finally got Bonkers to let his prize go it was limp as a noodle, not playing dead at all. The applesauce jar was only a temporary holding spot on the way to the trash can for that little furball.

bleh | 9:15 am CST
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Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

We mambo’d the night away at group dance class last night. A mambo is like a salsa, but in mambo you step off on the second beat; in salsa you step off on the first. Seems like a really tiny, insignificant difference, one that wouldn’t be too hard to take into account, and there’s no doubt in my mind that most people do it easily, all the time. To me, though, it’s like trying to brush my teeth with my left hand.

No, wait: Waltzing in a right-hand box after doing a change step is like brushing left-handed (as contradictory as that may sound, it makes perfect sense if you think about it for a second. Okay, that’s good, now stop.) Switching from a salsa to a mambo is like trying to sing a round of “Row, row, row your boat” after someone else has already begun singing it. So simple, and yet you can’t help muffing it the first few times by laughing or stepping on the other person’s toes.

Christopher asked us to switch from salsa to mambo, and I quote, just to mess with us, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s the instructor so he gets to do that whenever he wants to. You’d think that, because we’re paying him, it’d be the other way around and we’d get to call the shots, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work out that way. Life is so cruel. Dance class is even more cruel.

There’s lots and lots of twirling in salsa. My Darling B used to like twirling but she’s starting to get a little vocal about all the spinning she has to do now that we’re dancing the salsa. To be more accurate about it, she’d like to know why the girl does all the spinning in salsa while the guy just stands there, twirling her around. She’s getting a little dizzy, is the gist of her argument.

I think it goes back to something Christopher said about dancing: It’s all about making the ladies look good. The guy does an occasional underarm turn but, most of the time, he tries not to steal the show, and instead he just flicks his arm or raises it up and spins the girl around so she can twirl, probably to make her dress poof out and show off her legs, I guess. Works for me.

We learned the underarm turn ages ago, and it’s so simple that we moved on straightaway to the figure eight, an underarm turn but with a twist, literally: we don’t let go of each other’s hands, so our arms end up tied together like a pretzel. Then we prance back and forth a bit before untying our arms.

And last week we learned the “sweetheart,” a left underarm turn where we don’t let go of each other’s hands. In that one, we end up dancing side by side, arm in arm. It’s cuddling while dancing. I suppose that’s why it’s called a “sweetheart.”

Then last night we learned how to wind the ladies up in a figure eight, prance around a bit, then unwind her and go straight into a sweetheart – and then send her spinning away before winding her right back up again like Duncan a yo-yo. Sweet! It’s a whole lot more twirling, but of course the lady’s the one getting motion sickness. The guy just hangs out, waiting for her to come spinning back to him. Mambo rules.

dizzy | 7:50 pm CST
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