Thursday, December 28, 2006

...And To All, A Good Night.

Ho, Ho, Heyyy…where did it all go?

All those weeks of hype, and in the blink of an eye, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are in the past, and we’re staring down the barrel of a brand new year. With it all behind us, I thought I’d use this space to share a few post-holiday thoughts that stuck with me last weekend.

• Somehow, big crowds and long lines and holiday chaos at the malls are a lot easier to handle the day before Christmas Eve than they are during the first few weeks of December. You’d think it wouldn’t be so, but as I was out for several hours of last-minute shopping on December 23 this year (a late date even by my standards!), I wasn’t nearly as frustrated with the hustle and bustle as I thought I might have been.

• If your buddies who are home for a few days for the holidays call you to go out, and you still have gifts to wrap and other things on your “to do” list, go out anyway. They’re your buddies. And if a couple hours turns into, oh, maybe four and a half…don’t worry. Things have a way of working themselves out.

• While the “Special XMAS” station I mentioned in my last entry can be a great mood lifter during the weeks leading up to Christmas, it seems only fitting on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to switch the dial to the “Classical Christmas” station one notch to the left that features big-production symphonies and choirs and traditional hymns in Latin and German and other ethereal carols. Just…because.

• Not having snow in the air—or on the ground—for Christmas is like not having chips and dip at a Super Bowl party. Something’s missing.

• If a beverage bills itself as a “Christmas Lager” on the label, and features honey and orange and spices in its ingredients, it might be entirely possible that it’ll end up getting tasted and then poured down the drain. Merry Christmas and all, but please leave the nutmeg and cinnamon out of my beer.

• “Silent Night,” sung on Christmas Eve…doesn’t matter if it’s by the Mormon Tabernacle or your local church choir…is as moving a song as has ever been written.

• If your 8-year-old niece asks you on Christmas Day what Santa brought you, after she'd been with you on Christmas Eve and seen the gifts you got during the family gift exchange, you'd better be a quick enough thinker to come up with a believable answer. (I'm not sure that I was. At first, I told her that I was naughty and that Santa didn't bring me anything. But I said it with a grin. So then I changed my answer and told her he brought me some books, because Santa knows how much I love books, and quickly shifted the topic to something else. I think I passed, but I've gotta work on my creativity.)

One big New Year’s Eve bash left for whomever wishes to ring in the new year in that fashion, and before you know it, the 2006 holiday season will be a memory and we’ll be grumbling for the snow to melt and why is it so cold and when is spring gonna get here and why won’t my car start?

Time. Marches. On.

“Next to a circus there ain’t
nothing that packs up and
tears out any quicker than
the Christmas spirit.”
—Frank McKinney Hubbard

Friday, December 15, 2006

No More Humbuggery

Let the holly-jollyness commence!
I believe I've just begun
the countdown to
full festive mode.

I'm the first to admit that it takes me longer than most people to find the "spirit" of Christmas. When I see the first signs of it popping up in stores shortly after Halloween, I block it out completely. And if too many people try to smother the great holiday that is Thanksgiving with too much talk of the big day that's "only" a month away, I tightly pack spoonfuls of stuffing into my ears and refuse to listen.
(Note: Mashed potatoes work equally as well.)

Regardless of the title of this entry, or the tone of its first couple paragraphs, my middle name is not Ebenezer. I promise you that. I'm a big fan of Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, as well. I just can't maintain the level of hype that some folks do for so many days prior, whistling carols as I work, or trying to sing like Burl Ives.

Around mid-December each year, though, there are a couple indicators that give me a jolt and tell me it's time to start Ho! Ho! Ho!ing.

The first has been occurring for more than a decade now, and it never fails to put me in the right mindset. The newspaper at which I work publishes a Children's Album each Christmas, as I'm sure many newspapers do. The middle school kids submit drawings, and the elementary school kids write stories and poems and letters to Santa and tell why they like Christmas and winter and......whether I'm typesetting some of their handwritten pages or formatting them to fit in the pages of our newspaper, it's impossible to not be inspired by some of the creativity contained within.

We do our best to leave as many of their "creative" spellings unchanged, so the reader gets to see what we see in the original. And while many of the themes are like to play in the snow and get cold so they can go inside for hot cocoa, or boys like to throw snowballs at their sisters, or boys like to go ice fishing with their dads and grandpas and uncles (who sure can drink a lot of beer!)...there's an originality to each kid's writing.

One girl wrote about how the snow sounds when it's falling. Didn't think that was possible, did you? Listen next time it snows, and if you hear, "Ch, ch, ch," then her writing is true. (If you just think of Jason from the "Friday the 13th" movies, then you're not revealing enough of your inner child. Dig deeper!)

Out here in these rural parts, if Santa's reindeer get a little touch of frostbite on those extra-cold nights, do you know how Santa finishes his rounds? You got it...he lands in a farmer's field and borrows some cows.

In one story, a girl writes about how everything was going wrong in the days leading up to Christmas, and one of the elves went to Santa and said (and I quote), "...our wood got broke." Luckily, things all worked out in the end. Whew!

In this year's issue, one girl was writing about Christmas candy and mentioned a bag of "likalice." I'll never eat another Twizzler the same way.

And my favorite of the year (here comes my bias) is the boy that wants a Barry Sanders jersey for Christmas. This kid was probably only a handful of years old when Barry left the league, and yet he's this boy's idol because he was so great, and so humble. And because he played for Detroit. I can relate.

— • — • —

The other outlet that gives me a Christmas boost is relatively new, as I stumbled onto it just last year. I have XM Radio in my car, and during the holiday season they play Christmas carols on several of their stations. One in particular, called Special XMAS, caught my ear last year.

This station specializes in some of the "alternative" Christmas carols, if you will. Even more obscure than, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." For instance, just tonight I heard an AC/DC impersonator doing his rendition of "Jingle Hells Bells."

The other night, I heard the audio of Cartman singing, "O Holy Night," in Mr. Garrison's class, and every time he screwed up or forgot the lyrics, Kyle got to zap him with a cattle prod.

I've heard an ode to regifting, called, "Didn't I Get This Last Year?" (a la "Do You Hear What I Hear?") I also heard a singer named Richard Cheese (heh.) and his leisure suit-wearing band, Lounge Against The Machine, do a jazzed up version of "Christmastime is Here," made famous by Charles Schultz and his Peanuts (as he put it).

My favorite example, though, comes from last year, when I first heard "Santa Lost a Ho! This Year at Christmas." I wish I could find an audio link to it so you could hear it for yourselves, but the lyrics in the chorus go something like this:

"He used to go Ho! Ho! Ho!
Now he goes Ho! Ho!.....Oh-Oh!
Where'd the other Ho! go? Don't know!!"

(I know, I know. Simple things for simple minds.)

— • — • —

I'm going to spend some holiday family time at my sister's this weekend, and you can bet that there will be nary a single "Humbug" in my vocabulary, and my sense of humor will be set firmly in place.

However. Now that I've finally reached the preferred state of mind for this grand season of yuletide, would somebody pleeaase tell me what I can get my mom for Christmas?

"Never worry about the size
of your Christmas tree.
In the eyes of children,
they are all 30 feet tall."
—Larry Wilde

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ma Nature Says Hello...

It was all just an illusion, you know. The November without a jacket, save for a couple days. The 50s on Thanksgiving Day. You knew it had to come eventually. This is Wisconsin, after all. And on Dec. 1, it came.

It's not as if we got dumped with three or four feet of snow, but there were an awful lot of big flakes flying around in the a.m. hours, and things got a whole lot whiter before it was over. Doesn't look like it's gonna go away, either. Winter is here.

I've been through 30-plus of these seasons, closing in on 40 of 'em, actually. And while I don't make it a habit to bitch about winter too much, I don't like it. I don't own a snowmobile, and I don't ski. The occasional snowball fight can still be fun. But what I do mostly in winter is...wait. For spring. And most recently, I curse the shitty tires that came on the car I got last September. New tires...plenty of tread. Just, horrible in the snow! (a Kumho endorsement, I'll never get.) I've got a buddy that owns a Goodyear dealership, and if I'm going to stay on the roads this winter, I might have to pay him a visit.

There is one good thing about winter, however. Relatively minor on one hand, but amazingly grand in scale if you look at it through the right eyes.

Winter is the season for Orion. Visible in the northern hemisphere from November to April, it's one of the most well-known constellations in the sky. It's been mentioned in literature and pop culture and music, from Homer and Milton and Tennyson and Frost, to Jimmy Buffett and Metallica and Prince and Springsteen and Jethro Tull.

Known as The Hunter, many references have been made to Orion's belt and sword, and other constellations surrounding him make up his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, and his prey, such as Taurus the Bull. According to one story in Greek mythology, Orion was killed by the poisonous sting of the scorpion, Scorpio. The two constellations are positioned so that Orion (fall and winter) and Scorpio (spring and summer) do not appear in the sky together.

I'll never claim to be the biggest astronomy scholar on the planet, and I don't own my own Hubble, but I never...never...miss an opportunity to stare up at the sky in winter and find Orion. I talk to him. And when spring comes, I bid him adieu for another couple seasons.

It would make for a great personal ad, don't you think?

(Lonely, slightly crazy SWM into star-gazing at heavenly bodies, Greek mythology, talking to himself, reading the classics like "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," shooting good darts and playing bad poker...seeks SF with same interests. Heavenly body preferred, but not required. Scorpios need not apply.)

I can see all the soulmates lining up already.

"You know Orion always
comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over
our fence of mountains."
—Robert Frost in "The Star-Splitter"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gobble! *burp* Gobble!

Things For Which
I Am Thankful
on Thanksgiving Weekend

• Elastic

• Leftovers

• Heavier-duty Elastic

• The fact that not even a pathetic
performance by the Lions can ruin
my favorite day of the year, even when
they grab an early 10-point lead and
give me false hope before falling apart.

— • — • —

In a bit of a backwards move, I spent part of my weekend moving a treadmill out of my living room, rather than using it to work off some of those leftovers I mentioned. I was actually returning it to its rightful owner by request, and truth be told, there hadn't been much treading on that mill in quite some time. So I'd be lying if I said I missed it much. seemed like I was taking a couple steps back.

"Eternity is two people
and a roast turkey."
—James Dent

Thursday, November 16, 2006

To-may-to, To-mah-to...Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to

(Blogger's note: In the spirit of my last entry, I decided to create my own month...NaBloAvoMo. [National Blog Avoidance Month] And as you can see, I've been doing a spectacular job of keeping up with its rigorous schedule. I even got words of encouragement from a friend just the other day. Kinda jarred something loose in my brain that if I keep this up, all my readers (as if I had any to begin with) would soon move on to the millions and millions of other blog-perusing opportunities available to them. So the hell with my month, I say. It's time to put some words on a Web page.)

— • — • —

I got an e-mail the other day from...or wait, is it an email?

And then I went to visit this really cool Web site. it, website?

In my job, one of the bibles I refer to quite often is the Associated Press Stylebook, which provides answers to the questions above and many more. And to that point, AP style dictates that "e-mail" and "Web site" are the correct uses. But more and more, on the Web and in print, I've been seeing those terms used the other way, and I've gotta say, they look a lot smoother that way. I just haven't been able to cave and start using them as such.

Certainly this is all just picking nits, but it's also an addiction of mine as well. I love the minutiae of words and grammar and spelling and the English language. (I also love the word "minutiae" for ending with three vowels. How bold!)

One of the most familiar misuses is of course the ever-popular "apostrophe, s", which is thrown into words in which it has no business being. It's everywhere! (previous example correctly used.) Some people feel that if a word ends in "s," it must need an apostrophe. The two-cent rule I've always heard is, "when in doubt, leave it out."

I'm probably going to come off as sounding like some sort of snob after this entry and people will be afraid to send me e-mails again, for fear that I'll return them edited. But that's not the case at all. (with the exception of one last week, but he deserved it.) I know I make my share of mistakes as well, and if you searched this blog you'd probably find dozens of typos on which to hang the "hypocrite" label around my neck. I'm not perfect, I'm just language-obsessed.

One other example I'll share with you here is the word, "myriad." For so long, it was used as a noun, as in: "...a myriad of ways to misuse an apostrophe...". But then language snobs much snobbier than I started turning up their noses and chastising people for not realizing that the oh-so-correct way to use it is as an adjective: "...I've annoyed myriad readers by not blogging for the past seventeen months..."

While I love to pick a side and engage in a healthy debate, I never knew which was correct, so I remained on the fence. And in the latest edition of Merriam-Webster, it's listed as...both. Everybody wins. So all the adjective snobs out there were being snobbish without due cause.

Whether it's an unfamiliar spelling or a misplaced hyphen or a word with more style than words are supposed to have, I love it all. And I'll probably make this a recurring topic on this blog (in this blog?), sharing little grammar nuggets and English tidbits as I run across them.

Got your own English and grammar pet peeves? Send me an e-mail. Or leave a comment on this, uhh, (whatever.)

And if you were wondering...yes, I am SUCH, a neurotic dork.

"If the English language made
any sense, a catastrophe would be
an apostrophe with fur."
—Doug Larson
"If the English language made any sense,
lackadaisical would have something to do
with a shortage of flowers."
—Doug Larson

Friday, October 27, 2006

You Mean Like...Every Day??

After blogging about NaNoWriMo several entries ago, I ran across its second cousin earlier tonight. Never heard of it before, but I thought it might be worth a mention.

Someone out there decided to start NaBloPoMo, (if you read my post on NaNoWriMo, then I trust you to figure out for yourselves what NaBloPoMo stands for) for those that are seriously into blogging but not so much into banging out a 50,000-word novel in a month. The idea is based on the same theme as its much more popular do a lot of writing during November. If you sign up for NaBloPoMo—which, I'm sorry, doesn't have nearly the same flow as NaNoWriMo when it rolls off the tongue—you're basically promising to post one blog entry every day during November. No skipping. No excuses.

While I support the blog thing as much as I support the novel thing, I won't even sign up and fool myself into thinking that I'll accomplish the goal, because: 1) I've got plans to be gone for at least a couple days in November, so that shoots the "every day" theme right there; and 2) I've been having a hard enough time lately getting in an entry a month, much less an entry a day.

One good thing about finding that site, though, is the lonnnggg list of participants at the bottom. There have to be a few gems in there somewhere. Where to click first?

"They say that cocaine is God's way
of telling you you have too much money.
I suppose blogging is His way of telling you
you've got too much time on your hands."
—James Morrow

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And The Oscar Goes To...

...nobody that was in the last movie I saw, that's for sure!
But I kinda knew that going in.

I went to see Jackass Number Two the other night. I knew the first time I saw previews for it that I'd go and see it in the theater. I saw the first one in the theater, and now own the DVD, along with one of the Steve-O videos as well. The second one will find its way into my video collection as well.

It's not exactly what you'd call riveting, plot-heavy, high-brow cinema. But it'll make you laugh your ass off if you like disgusting, unimaginable stunts. Surprisingly, many of the critics I've read gave it the same reviews. I thought it might not even be worthy of reviews by many in that profession, but even Ebert & Roeper gave it two thumbs up!

According to a CNN story, Jackass actually debuted at No. 1 in its opening weekend, bringing in more on the first Friday alone than the $11.5 million it cost to make the movie. Not a bad profit margin, huh?

For stupid, sick, disgusting stunts and humor, Johnny Knoxville and his crew are tough to beat. But after seeing it, you almost feel as though you should seek out and buy a ticket to a Shakespeare play, just to balance out your equilibrium a little.

Speaking of good movies, there was a preview for this before the Jackass flick came on. You can bet I'll be eating popcorn in front of the big screen for that one, too. (If you don't have the CD by them, get it. And then go see the movie. I doubt that Jack Black will disappoint.)

"But the heart of Jackass...
the adolescent drive to bash
body and soul into the symbolic
brick wall of maturity...
remains pure."

—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cleanup In Aisle Nine!

(Blogger's Note: Being rather new to this whole blogosphere, I wasn't aware that Blog Neglect is as serious of a crime as it is. After ignoring my own for more than a week, apparently some sort of electronic signal was sent to the Blog Police, who showed up at my door on the eighth or ninth day of blog inactivity, and hauled me away to Blog Prison. Forced to raise $9.14 for bail, I called nearly all my friends and family to come to my aid. "What are you going to do when you get out?" they asked. To which my reply was, "I'm going to blog, of course." Chuckling as they hung up the phone, they chose to leave me where I was. I cannot even mention some of the unspeakable things I had to do to earn the nine bucks and change over the last few days to get out on my own. I wish I could promise that this degree of neglect will never happen again, but I know how quickly the days pass sometimes, and I know how lazy I can be. So I've started my own Blog Bail Fund, to prepare for next time.'s time for an entry.)

— • — • —

Some people believe that how you meet your soulmate should be left up to chance. That it’s all a matter of fate, or destiny, or kismet. Call it what you will.

One example that I’ve heard more than once goes like this: “I always figured that I’d be walking through the grocery store one day, and I’d drop a gallon of milk on [his/her] foot and look up into their eyes and know they were the one.”

That thought has made me keep a keener eye when I’m buying groceries. No, I don’t try to force the issue by hanging around with a gallon of milk at the ready, or a dozen eggs to use as ammo from an aisle away. (“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be my destiny?” *splack!, right in the forehead* “Ohhh, here. Let me help you with that egg shell in your eye.”)

I’m a tad more subtle than that. But I do remain alert at all times.

Case in point: I was rushing through the grocery store the other day, and grabbed the just-shopping-for-one hand basket by the door instead of the here-to-stock-up-my-fridge shopping cart with the heavy-duty suspension.

In front of me was a well-dressed woman…white shirt, black pants, heels, those “smart glasses” that make you look like you could be a card-carrying member of Mensa.

I don’t claim to have a master’s degree in fashion. In fact, I’m not even sure that I have a G.E.D. I’m just saying that she provided a much better distraction than inspecting celery stalks in the produce section, OK?

As it turns out, I found myself behind her in line at the checkout (no ring; yes, I checked), and it was here that I began to wonder how critical a role the contents of one’s shopping basket played in whether or not they were viewed as soulmate material at the supermarket.

For instance, would this mystery woman immediately offer me her phone number when she glanced back and saw me unloading...among a few other things...Totino’s Pizza Rolls, and taco dip?

Not my finest hour, I realize.

I had visions of freezing time and rushing back to the meat department, picking up a freshly trimmed and wrapped beef tenderloin, and adding no fewer than five jars of spices to my basket, three or four different fresh vegetables, along with a bag of flour and some yeast for good measure.

“I make all my own bakery from scratch,” I’d explain to my Ms. Right as she eyed the flour and other ingredients, “with recipes and techniques my great grandmother taught me, that she brought over from the Old Country.”

Instead, my fate was already sealed. It was clear by my grocery item selections that my favorite cooking utensil was the microwave oven.

As I sit on my front porch years from now when I’m old and gray, slowly rocking in my rocking chair, a parrot squawking on its perch inside the door as my only companion, I’ll think of the one that got away at the grocery store, and what might have been.

Foiled by a processed frozen pizza treat.

I should have dropped a gallon of milk on her foot.

"Destiny is not a matter of chance.
It is a matter of choice.
It is not a thing to be waited for,
it is a thing to be achieved."
—William Jennings Bryan

Monday, September 25, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Blue

Yesterday was a tough day.
I've been through many
like it before.

You see...I cheer for a
very bad football team.
But this year was supposed
to be different.
(how many times have I
repeated that same line to start the season?)

This year they brought in a no-nonsense, hard-nosed disciplinarian for a head coach. All those clich├ęd adjectives that make you start to believe that things will turn around. And they hired an offensive genius (albeit a psychotic one) to turn all the potential on that side of the ball into productivity, and victories. I can't stand the guy, but if he's gonna help get my favorite team 10 wins, then he's my best friend.

The boys in Honolulu blue and silver are 0-3.
And I feel like I need a 12-step program.
My name is Gregg...and I'm a Detroit Lions fan.

It all started innocently enough, watching a speedy little running back come out of Oklahoma State and get drafted by the Lions in 1989 (the Packers passed him up by the way...for Tony Mandarich). Barry Sanders had electric feet, and tree trunks for thighs. And he could change directions in mid-air! Twice!

I was hooked, and before I knew it I had a Lions sweatshirt. Then I had three. Then I had a couple baseball mugs...refrigerator decals...boxer shorts...Detroit Lions shampoo...jackets...rookie cards...on and on and on. I was a fan. And 15-plus years later, I'm still a fan, and I've got the ulcers to prove it.

If it wouldn't cost so much to change wardrobes, I'd probably start wearing an Indianapolis Colts horseshoe on my chest instead of a lion. But I remain loyal.

The game that's marked the boldest on the schedule every year (seeing as how there are no nail-biting games at the end of the season to determine playoff seeding) is the Lions/Packers game at Ford Field in Detroit. One they can win. One they should win. This they really shouldn't lose. And they lost.

They lost in a shootout to an aging gunslinger. Where, oh where, is my team going to end up?

The interesting part about Sunday was how different it felt to go out in public in a replica Barry Sanders jersey and Lions cap before the game...and then have to wear the same clothes to run errands after the game was over, before being able to sneak home and bury the stuff in the back of the closet.

It was...uncomfortable. I could feel all the snickers and chuckles bouncing off of me as I picked up groceries for the week ahead. And I deserved them.

With all due respect to Kermit the Frog, even if the Packers are as awful as I think they're going to be for the rest of this season, it's a hell of a lot easier being green in these parts than it is being blue.

"Fans don't boo nobodies."
—Reggie Jackson

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Did Not!...Did Too!...Did Not!...Did Too!
(Ohh, Shut Up.)

In an effort to create a more intellectually stimulating environment around my little corner of the blogosphere, I completely wiped clean my social calendar last Friday night, and stayed home to watch the first of a couple debates between U.S. Rep. Mark Green, and incumbent Governor Jim Doyle, the two candidates running for governor of this, The Great State of Cheese, in November.

A more accurate story would be that there was no poker game, I was too tired and lazy to go out anywhere else, and I just wanted a forum in which to use the word "gubernatorial" in some sort of context.

And it would be hard to use a term like "intellectually stimulating" in response to what I saw from the two candidates for an hour on Friday night.

Doyle talked about how he wrangled a $3.2 billion deficit when he took office, and how he's balanced every budget since he's been governor. Green claimed that's not true, overusing the phrase, "...the sad reality of it is..." at least a half dozen times in the first half hour, in response to Doyle's claims of his work as governor.

Then Doyle was forced to use his own valuable time to state that it is true, and back and forth they went. Blah blah blah.

Green stated that taxes are just too high, and that he'd work to eliminate wasteful spending and slow the growth of government. Gee, doesn't he sound like a...a...politician? Let me guess, he ended the night by shaking hands and kissing babies, right?

If I'd have had the chance to be one of the guest questioners on the panel, I think my question would have gone something like this: "Gentlemen, seeing as how the tax burden in this state is so great, and how the number of new jobs created in the last three years is somewhere between 4 and 150,000, and how we may...or may not...have improved education in recent years, could I umm...could I maybe have two new contestants to choose from in November, please?"

Near the end of the debate, Green laid the schmoooze on pretty thick, too. "In my travels during this campain, love...all over again...with Wisconsin. I love this state!" (be sure...and pause...after...nearly every word...for dramatic...effect.)

The sad reality, Mr. Green, is that you've got no chance of getting my vote in November. Not even if you promise free lollipops and beer for the length of your term.

But I'll probably tune in for the next debate on Oct. 20.

(You didn't find too many hard facts contained in this blog entry, did you? Now you know how I felt for an hour on Friday night.)

Go ahead, you know you wanna say it: gubernatorial.

"Politicians are people who,
when they see light at the end
of the tunnel, go out and buy
some more tunnel."
—John Quinton

Thursday, September 14, 2006

She's An Eight, She's a Nine, She's a Ten I Know

A few days ago, one of my readers sent me a pi...

(Wait, wait, wait...hold on. I thought I could pull that off and make it sound believable. But that line sounds as if I have, know...readers, or something.)

Let me start over.

A few days ago, Mark (much better) sent me a picture of a sign he spotted on the interstate just south of Chicago.

If you know anything at all about country music, you know that John Michael Montgomery had a song in the mid-90s called, "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)." While I don't know a whole lot more than that about the genre, I do know that song. And a good one it is. (if you haven't heard the song, you won't understand the title block. sorry.)

Anyway, Mark sent me the picture, wondering if perhaps the Grundy County Auction was real, and not just a fictional location invented for the song. Pressed for time, he said he wasn't able to take Exit 112 and go exploring for the aforementioned auction, or any such "incidents" that may have occurred there.

But it got me to wondering...

...what other destinations made famous in songs would it be cool to run across while driving down the highway?

I'll take the easiest one out of play right away, so people aren't scrambling to their keyboards to be the first to send in Margaritaville. (where some people claim that there's a woman to blame.)

Another one I'd love to see on an interstate sign is an exit for Funkytown. (I'll take the Psuedo Echo version over the original by Lipps, Inc., thankyouverymuch.)

I haven't given this like seventy hours of thought, or scoured my CD collection for other possibilities, but those were two that popped into my head immediately. Any others out there?

China Grove, by the Doobies, perhaps? I think that one's real, though, down in Texas.

If I ever see an exit sign for "Sullivan Street," my car will probably steer itself onto the ramp. (I'm a Counting Crows freak.)

"Thanks to the interstate highway system,
it is now possible to travel across the country
from coast to coast without seeing anything."
—Charles Kuralt

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Only 1,667 Words A Day

So if you've got a little spare time in
November, and you're looking for something
to do...why not write a novel in a month?
Never even considered it, you say?
Well one brave and creative soul,
along with 20 of his closest friends,
attempted it in 1999,
and six of the
21 finished.
NaNoWriMo was born.
(I've got a link to it
on my sidebar.)

The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. Art for art's sake. Participants are free to write the crappiest crappity-crap in the world and still come away with a feeling of accomplishment.

Chris Baty of Oakland is the creator of the contest. And with the help of his Web site, it's exploded year by year into a global effort to write bad prose. Last year, 59,000 people participated, and nearly 10,000 people crossed the finish line.

The quantity-over-quality mantra serves as a boost to get writers' butts in their chairs, with the notion that somewhere in the middle of the bad punctuation and run-on sentences and muck, one might find the proverbial diamond in the rough.

Some people fizzle out after a few hundred words. I've made it to several thousand a couple times before deciding there wasn't enough November left to finish. But I applaud what he started, and enjoy following its progress each year. Perhaps one day I'll hunker down and take it more seriously. (just so I can cross "hunkering" off of my list Of Things To Do In Life.)

Several WriMos have opted to write something a bit better than crap, and they were rewarded with book deals!

If you're intrigued by the idea, and your November calendar is free, go poke around the site and learn more about it. Then spend the next month and a half polishing your plot points and scheduling your December carpal tunnel surgery.

And at 12:00:01 a.m. on November 1...WRITE!

"Mine started out as an
evil-people-take-over-the-world thing...
and is now essentially
a marching band story."
—Anonymous WriMo from 2002

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Image...Is Everything;
And Always Wear Red On Sunday

Tiger Woods is on a roll.

The last five times he's teed it up on Thursday morning, he and a trophy and the verb "hoist" were all somehow intertwined by Sunday evening (or, Monday, as it were).

Five consecutive victories is pretty impressive, and that includes two majors in that stretch. Thing is, it's nowhere near the all-time record of eleven straight set by Byron Nelson in 1945, and it's even one off the pace of Tiger's personal best of six in 1999-00.

Nonetheless, a streak like that brings to the forefront once again the question of Tiger's place in the ranks of golf history.

Is Tiger Woods the best ever?

It's been argued many times that the measure of greatness is the number of major championships a golfer has won. Tiger's won 12. Jack Nicklaus has 18. I think I learned somewhere in high school (probably in Heuer's trig class junior year) that 18 is greater than 12. So, no...Tiger's not the best ever.

And Jack has also finished second in majors a ridiculous 19 times. As you hear so often in golf interviews, it's certainly about the wins, but there's a lot to be said about being in contention on Sunday.

By the time Tiger's 40 years old, however, there will be a new "ever," and Tiger will be the best of it, probably by three or four majors.

I know that's a tall order, winning 10 of the next 40 majors in which he plays. But just hearing how motivated he is to get to Jack's record, I don't think he'll be satisfied with a one-tourney advantage. My magic number for him before he's finished is 22.

And I'm not even his biggest fan. Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated wrote a column a while back, stating that if you pay attention to golf at all, you're either a Tiger Fan, or a Phil Fan. There's no question as to who I'd cheer for if they're both coming down the stretch on Sunday with a chance to win. (Phil.) But it's amazing to watch what Tiger does, and see just how good he is when he brings his "A" game. It's impossible to not respect what he does and how he handles himself.

When the pros came to Whistling Straits Golf Course near Kohler in 2004 for the PGA Championship, I bought a week pass and spent more hours and walked more miles among the greatest names in golf than I could have imagined.

During Saturday's tournament round, we watched as Tiger teed it up on a dogleg left and tried to air-mail the corner with a booming drive. Well, he came up short and ended up in the rough on the spectators' side of a mound, so as we scurried up to see where his ball landed, I found myself only one row deep and about 10 feet away from where Tiger would hit his next shot. He came over to his ball and surveyed the situation, and was talking strategy with his caddie in a voice so hushed that literally no one else had any clue as to what he was saying.

But there I was. Ten feet away from the greatest sports figure on the planet, watching him hit a regulation shot in major tournament play. I don't know if I was the only one in that crowd that felt this way, but I wanted to shout, "Holy shit, You're. TIGER. Woods!!" just to confirm that it was, in fact, real.

I believe that goes against all golf spectator decorum, however, and his caddie would have probably broken my jaw. So instead I just soaked in the moment, waited for someone else to give the obligatory "you da maannn!" after he hit his ball, and continued on my way.

Tiger Woods: The greatest golfer of the next "ever."

— • — • —

In other news involving a ball that's slightly bigger and fuzzier, Andre Agassi walked off of his last competitive tennis court last weekend, ousted in the third round of the U.S. Open.

It would be hard to argue that he's the best ever in his sport, because there are others that have won more Grand Slams than he has. But a strong case can be made that he was the game's greatest ambassador, and one of its most wildly popular players.

He burst onto the scene as a brash teenager with long hair and too much neon for the prim and proper game of tennis. He got an endorsement deal with Canon where he uttered the phrase, "Image Is Everything," and won Wimbledon in 1992 to validate himself as more than a fashion plate. He would get seven more Slams.

And people took notice, not only of his tennis, but also of his style. Tennis attire started to become more gawdy, more colorful, more neon...and it was accepted.

He brought flair to a list of all-too-stoic personalities: Lendl, Sampras, Courier, Chang, every Swedish player that ever picked up a racquet.

Just when Agassi had them all marching to the beat of his drummer, he showed up at Wimbledon one year wearing all white. Somewhere along the way he lost his locks and shaved his head. And he outgrew his "image is everything" cockiness.

He played for the fans, and the fans willed him to keep playing. At age 36, after a 21-year career, his back told him no more. So he walks away as one of the game's greatest.

But the greatest "ever" is yet to be written in that sport, too. And his name is Roger Federer.

"The best things in life are free.
And the cheesiest things in life
are free with a paid subscription
to Sports Illustrated."
—Johnny Carson

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gluttons Wolf(e) Down Contest Requirements

I should probably stay away from this topic, seeing as how this is such a refined, high-brow blog. *ahem* But I'm pretty sure there are some people who wanted to see this posted, and one of them even lobbied to get a mention in the title I did what I could.

It's not exactly 58 brats in 10 minutes. But for amateurs, it's not an unimpressive feat, either.

A few years ago, a buddy sent out an e-mail with a unique contest that he'd seen attempted at Wrigley Field, I believe. And he thought it would be a fun way for a bunch of guys to spend a few hours around a television set or a radio. person at the game, if you happened to have an extra hundred bucks to throw away on food and beverages.

The contest is called The 999.

Nine hot dogs.
Nine buns.
Nine 16-oz. beers.

In nine innings of baseball. From first pitch to final out.

The first year, no one in a group of about 10 people who attempted it made it to the end. Last year, one lone Champ(!) did it in about seven innings, topping a couple of his dogs with chili just for extra added oohs and ahhs.

And this year, three out of a group of seven crossed the finish line late in the eighth inning or early in the ninth. I may or may not have been one of those three. I admit to nothing.

Fine. It was me. I'm a Nine-Nine-Niner.

The key to finishing is knowing which method of attack will best suit your digestive system. The neat-and-orderly method of one hot dog, one bun, one beer, one inning may work well for some. But we've modified the rules a bit to allow for 12 12-oz. beers instead of nine 16-oz. beers, so as to bypass the plastic bottles. Same amount of beer, though.

One participant in the inaugural contest opted to eat all of his hot dogs in the first three or four outs of the game. That's just hot buns. But the bread got to him before he got to the finish line.

This year, one of the winners drank all of his beers (or perhaps it was 11 of them) before going to the grill for a dog. I had three or four beers and then told myself, "I'm hungry," and went to put a couple notches in the dog-and-bun column.

It becomes a grind near the end, and the one main rule of NO digestive system reversal can be difficult to avoid. That's how we lost two of our participants this year, although one of them gave it the old college try to remain a contestant. I'll spare you the disgusting, but valiant, details.

Oh, and what did we do to celebrate our 999 victory? Drank beer and played cards for much of the rest of the night, of course.

I went grocery shopping on Monday night after getting back from my weekend. Hot dogs were not on my list.

Can't wait to see which one of the seven deadly sins they create a contest for next.

"Lust, Pride, Sloth and Gluttony, or as we call them these days,
"getting in touch with your sexuality," "raising your self-esteem,"
"relaxation therapy," and "being a recovered bulimic."
—P.J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Beat The Odds

I saw this road sign as I was driving home from my weekend, and had to double back and take a picture.

Looks to me like they don't have a lot of faith in the truckers out there. Are they saying that if you're in a big semi and you risk driving down the upcoming hill, that you've only got a five percent chance of navigating it successfully?

I didn't find a big crumpled mess of tractor trailers and axles and freight when I got to the bottom of the hill, so either all the truckers on the road that day were exceptionally alert, or that sign is way off.

(At least give 'em a 50/50 chance, won't you?)

"I sez Pig-Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck,
we just ain't a gonna pay no toll.
So we crashed the gate, doin' ninety-eight,
I sez, let them truckers roll, 10-4."
—C.W. McCall, "Convoy"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

We Had Joy, We Had Fun,
We Had Seasons In The Sun

(I don't know who sings that song, and I'm too lazy to google it, but that's the first thing that popped into my head when I came to the title bar of this post.)

(OK, I lied. I'm not too lazy, cuz it would have bothered me for a while. It's Terry Jacks. I thought maybe I had it on one of my "Super Hits of the '70s" discs, of which I have nine or ten. But it's not on any of those. I do, however, have "Kung Fu Fighting" on one of them. Aren't you jealous?)

The entry title struck me, because tomorrow is the lead-in to the three-day event that is summer's last gasp. As I wrote in my column for next week, it's time to put away the bikinis and board shorts, and pick up the backpacks and chinstraps.

A new school year, and more importantly...a new football season! I don't know why I get so excited about football season every year. I mean, c'mon...where are the Lions gonna go, anyway? Just exactly what does third place in the NFC North get you? A front-row seat on the couch for the playoffs, that's what. Truth be told, I'm just slightly more optimistic than in past years, but I've gotten so used to whining, I couldn't stop myself before all that negativity spilled out.

For the record—and I'd like very much to delete the record—after much thought and painstaking research, and a couple coin flips...I came up with Denver beating Dallas as my prediction for Super Bowl XLI.

However you're planning to spend the weekend of summer's farewell, enjoy. I believe mine will include a lake, a pontoon boat, and a beverage. (make that...multiple beverages.)

— • — • —

You're humming "Seasons In The Sun" to yourself right now, aren't you? And you want to know the rest of the lyrics, I bet. What if I told you I found a page that has not only the lyrics, but some lame-ass, elevator-musicky kinda xylophone rendition that starts playing whether you want it to or not. You probably couldn't stop yourself from clicking here to hear it for yourself.

"France has neither winter nor summer
nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks
it is a fine country."
—Mark Twain

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Colbert, or Stewart?

Is it just me...
(...and, most of the time when someone starts a question that way, isn't the answer usually, "it's just you!")

...or were the Emmys unusually funny this year?

Conan O'Brien—who I rarely find funny on his own show and I think is something of a mistake to replace Leno in a few years or whenever Leno said he's going to retire—did a remarkably good job in his monologue and throughout the show, and his little song-and-dance number at the beginning was pretty entertaining.

Tony Shalhoub, who I haven't seen in "Monk," reasserted why he's probably the right man to win for lead actor in a comedy series when he showed his dry, subtle, perfectly timed comedic talents in his acceptance speech as he picked up his second consecutive trophy and third in four years. I should attempt to catch that show at least once, so I can say I've seen it.

— • — • —

Quick side note: CBS's "Two and a Half Men" was nominated for all the big categories, including comedy series, lead actor and supporting actor. And it came away empty. That's not surprising, seeing the company it kept in each of those categories. But I might have jumped up off my couch and done a handstand if it would've won any or all of them. That show is so well written and so well acted.

— • — • —

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" won for variety, music or comedy series, and in his acceptance speech, Stewart admitted, "...this year I think you've all really made a mistake," hinting that perhaps one of the other nominees, "The Colbert Report," was more deserving.

It was great comedy to see Stewart and Stephen Colbert come on to present an award later. Colbert spent much of his time throwing a fit that he'd lost an Emmy earlier in the night, "to frickin' Barry Manilow!! I lost to Barry Manilow!!" (individual performance in a variety or music program.) And Stewart spent a good part of his on-stage time cowering and letting him rant.

— • — • —

Which brings me to my entry title, and the question(s) of the night. If you'd have a vote for best variety, music or comedy series and could choose between "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report," which would it be?

And who do you think is a better deliverer of fake news...Stewart or Colbert?

While I don't watch either of them on an all-too-regular basis, I've seen enough of both of them to be qualified to cast a ballot in each category, and I'm gonna look like something of a fence sitter here, but...I think Colbert might be the funnier of the two individuals (close race), but "The Daily Show" probably gets the nod for best substance. (how can you argue with a show that has a "moment of Zen" at the end of every episode?)

Let me know which way you sway.

"You can't make up anything anymore.
The world itself is a satire.
All you're doing is recording it."
—Art Buchwald

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is He...Subliminably Brilliant?

In a recent story on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country," Joe Scarborough was kicking around the idea of whether or not our president is an idiot.

I don't usually spend too much of my TV time tuned to MSNBC, because it's hard to give any credibility to a "news" network that gives a show to the likes of Rita Cosby. (although I'm having a more difficult time defending CNN after seeing Nancy Grace's show once or twice. maybe the two of them should form their own network that nobody will watch.)

But I digress.

The banner across the bottom of the screen as I channel-surfed past it said "Ronstadt: Bush Is An Idiot." What a concept. An actor or a musician bashing Bush? Never been done before!

However, Linda Ronstadt apparently called our president a name, and Scarborough decided to run with it, to see where the debate would lead. And for that, he was chastised by some for publicly asking the question of whether or not the president of the United States is dumb.

Let's face's not the first time that someone has suggested that Dubya is two peas short of a casserole. And it won't be the last. Scarborough was merely questioning how important it is for the president to be super-smart, if he or she (practicing my political correctness early, just in case) surrounds himself with the right people.

Scarborough blogged about it, if you're interested.

It's a tough question to ask, isn't it? Is Bush really dumb? Or are we, umm...misunderestimating him?

(oh my, the selection of quotes I had to choose from
for this post could have kept me typing until the '08 election!)

"There needs to be debates, like we're going through.
There needs to be town-hall meetings.
There needs to be travel. This is a huge country."
—George W. Bush

"I want the folks to see me sitting in the same
kind of seat they sit in, eating the same popcorn,
peeing in the same urinal."
—George W. Bush

Monday, August 21, 2006

Everybody Wang Chung Tonight

I think I've discovered where some of the has-been musical groups disappear to.

While some one- or two-hit wonders legitimately fade away after their 15 minutes of fame are over, recent research suggests that other singers or bands might in fact run into legal troubles that are the cause of their musical careers being cut short.

Case in point: Wang Chung

Before the biggest hit of their career, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight," in 1986, the group had a minor hit with "Dance Hall Days," in 1984. It was while listening to this song on the radio recently that I came to the conclusion that the group probably had to disband due to incarceration.

Look at how the duo described their recollection of a good night at the dance hall:

Take your baby by the hand
And make her do a high handstand
And take your baby by the heel
And do the next thing that you feel

And after an upbeat chorus, they come back with more of the same:

Take your baby by the hair
And pull her close and there, there, there
And take your baby by the ears
And play upon her darkest fears

Not content with hair-pulling and psychological torture, they continue:

Take your baby by the wrist
And in her mouth an amethyst
And in her eyes two sapphires blue
And you need her and she needs you

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but that's not really dancing, is it? Isn't that...


If they could have kept it simple with a little innocent bump and grind, or maybe some freak dancing, who knows how many albums Wang Chung could have turned out? But nooo...they thought since they were rock stars that they could cross the line and resort to ear-grabbing.

No wonder some '80s bands disappeared. Do you think maybe Dexy's Midnight Runners are in the cell next to Wang Chung?

"Either heaven or hell will have
continuous background music.
Which one you think it will be
tells a lot about you."
—Bill Vaughan

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The 'Wurst' Display Of All

Our little corner of the world became a bit more famous recently, during Sheboygan's annual Brat Days, which brought all the biggest names from the International Federation of Competitive Eating (it's true!) to Kiwanis Park to see who could stuff the most bratwurst in their faces in 10 minutes.

This display of gluttony attracted nearly 4,000 spectators, who stood on a hill and watched these superhuman eaters gorge themselves on what's probably a summer staple on most grills in our area, but is virtually an unknown menu item only a couple states away.

While a simple eating contest alone might not have drawn a whole lot of attention, the initials E, S, P, and N, and the best eater ever to stand in line at a buffet gave this year's event a little extra street cred. Yes, ESPN's cameras and reporters were on hand for the event, to cover Takeru Kobayashi, the IFOCE's top-ranked eater. Those two names brought the likes of eight more of the world's top 12 eaters to have a little lunch on the Lakeshore.

Yahh, hey!! Sheboygan's gonna be famous, en so??

While I should never admit here that I have so little couth that you'd find me smack dab in the middle of the cheering crowd at such a disgusting display of piggishness, I will say that the photos in this entry come from my very own camera, and not from the IFOCE's Web site. was ESPN! And bratwurst. I wasn't gonna pass it up for anything.

The world's top three eaters appear to be a study in concentration as they start the competition. Joey Chestnut (from left) is ranked second, and Sonya Thomas is third. Takeru Kobayashi is the world's most famous eater, and the record holder at Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest held every Fourth of July in New York. Earlier this year he ate 53 3/4 hot dogs (AND buns) in 12 minutes to hold off Chestnut, who ate 52.

The brat-eating contest was sans buns, and last year's record was 35, set by Thomas. With Kobayashi in the mix this year, though, no one really knew where the record would end up. My guess was somewhere in the 40-41-42 range, but as you can see below, he rather obliterated that modest total. He wolfed down 58 brats in 10 minutes, leaving Chestnut in a trail of brat grease in second place with 45.

When Kobayashi signed up to participate in this event a couple months ago, he'd never heard of a bratwurst before, but in his post-gorge interview, he said through his interpreter that he liked them and wanted to take some home with him. And that he also plans to come back next year to try for 60 or more.

I won't deny that I had a great time seeing the spectacle of it all, and while I don't understand how they can shove all that food in and where it all goes, I can't say that it turned me off of food for very long.

I found my way over to the food tent not too much later and got myself a double brat.

If you'd like to see some of the IFOCE's other records, check out this page. But be sure to do it on an empty stomach, because the baked beans and the hard-boiled eggs and the oysters and the cheesecake might cause a slight rumble.

"One of the most wonderful things about life
is that we must regularly stop what we are doing
and devote our attention to eating."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pigs Fly...Hell Freezes Over

Driving home the other night, I had my XM Radio tuned to the "Hitlist" station, and heard a song come on that sounded like a spot-on match for Gwen Stefani.

Reaching to change the station, as I'm relatively indifferent to the career of the former No Doubt lead singer, something caused me to push the button, which brings up artist and title information for the current track, rather than turn the button, which would have spared me a revelation for which I was completely unprepared.

While I would have placed a small wager that the voice I was hearing was that of Gwen Stefani, I would have lost, because the name that appeared on my radio display was...

...Paris Hilton.

Note, I didn't say that the voice I heard was Paris Hilton's, because if that's Paris Hilton, then I'm her next boy toy.

Whoever was working the sound-mixing board in the studio the day that "Stars Are Blind" was recorded deserves a big BIG raise. I bet Paris didn't even have to be in the building for that song to be made. She probably just attached her name to the project and voila...a music career was born.

Should you care enough to let your voice be heard.

(I didn't care enough to vote, but I did take the time out of my life to search for and provide you with the link. Shame on me.)

"Singers come and go, but if you're
a good actor, you can last a long time."
—Elvis Presley

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Big Brother Is Tracking You

A news item was recently published by the Wisconsin Public Radio news service, stating that Ohio has just become the fourth state to introduce a bill that would ban the mandatory implantation of microchips into someone's body to track their movements.

While you take a few seconds to let that sink in, let me tell you in this paragraph that Wisconsin was the first state to pass such a law. A $10,000 fine would be imposed on any employer or government agency that forces a worker to be implanted with a radio frequency identification chip.

Is this actually how time is being spent in our state legislatures? On the crafting of laws to determine how best to avoid having microchips installed into humans?

The chip makers state that they'd be best used for storing medical information, and would be well-suited for use in military personnel. But opponents of the technology argue that employers could use them to track employees during their off hours. (They'd find that I visit my local Wal-Mart on a far too frequent basis, and who wants that to be public knowledge, hmm?)

The head of the Florida-based Verichip, however, claims that the chip doesn't send out a signal itself, that it must be read by a scanner.

All I can envision if this technology reaches the mainstream is a conversation like this at work someday...

Micro-Managing, Power-Tripping Bossman: "Smith, why don't you turn your attention today to the Johnson account, and get a handle on that. Oh, and don't forget, Thursday at 10 am you've got your microchip implantation surgery. Don't be late."

Bewildered Yes-Man of an Employee: "Yes, sir! Yes, sir! And would you like to date my wife and have your own copy made of the key to my house as well? Right away, sir!"


Anybody that requires me to "implant" anything in myself in order to work for them certainly won't get the professionally accepted two-weeks notice before I head for the door.

"There are some ideas so wrong
that only a very intelligent person
could believe in them."
—George Orwell