Monday, July 30, 2007

Bluue Seventeeen. Bluue Seventeeen. Hut...Hut...

I bought my second football magazine today, after buying my first one a couple weeks ago. The buzz surrounding the upcoming football season is in full swing, on the Internets, on local news channels and cable sports talk shows. All the NFL players are safely tucked into their training camps (sans the prima donna holdouts, of course), having nightmares of the two-a-days to come, and all I can say is I am......ready..for

This is my favorite time of the year...when I get anxious to send out my first football e-mail to a group of buddies who took my money last year, after having me take it from them the year before (who knows what this season will bring?); when the optimism surrounding Detroit Lions training camp is almost worth buying into (I know I shouldn't say this, because I say it every year, but...they could really be on to something this year!); and when you just never know which team will emerge, Saints-like, and be the big surprise of the league.

As the pre-pre-season gets underway, here are a few early thoughts that have been rolling around in my head as I wait for the kickoff of the regular season:
  • Go Lions!!

  • I realize that Joe Thomas is supposed to be the greatest thing to come out of college since sliced bread (which earned an MFA in yeast at High-Rise University), and I'm happy for the whole Wisconsin-boy-makes-good story, but more than FORTY-TWO million over five years?? With 22 or 23 million guaranteed? Two words...Tony. Mandarich.

  • Joey Harrington just can't seem to find a clipboard to hold anywhere these days. After being shown the door in Detroit, he went to Miami where he expected to back up Daunte Culpepper. Instead...he started 11 games, performing well in about two and a half quarters of those games. Sent packing again, he signed with Atlanta, securing a position on the sidelines behind Michael Vick. (has anyone heard anything about him these days?) With Vick appearing to have other plans for about the next, oh, six years or so...Harrington once again finds himself a starter.

  • Uhh...Go Lions!!

  • Randy Moss will have a spectacular season, and will catch many, many touchdowns. Terrell Owens will be boorish, obnoxious, attention-starved, and will be outplayed by teammate Terry Glenn. (A couple of the football magazines I paged through have the Cowboys pegged as the runner-up in the Super Bowl. Am I missing something? With Wade Phillips as coach??)

  • In an attempt to instill more confidence in the locker room, Lions signal-caller Jon Kitna has been spouting to the media that his team will win 10-plus games this season. And wide receiver Mike Furrey is echoing those statements, saying "on paper, we should win 10, 11 games, easy." ( don't put on pads and helmets and cleats to go and play pro football games on paper, Mr. Furrey.) Kitna also has been throwing around a crazy number when asked about the potential of his wide receiving corps this year, with Furrey, Roy Williams and draft-day stud, Calvin Johnson...saying he might throw 50 touchdowns this season. (Peyton Manning's single-sesaon record is 49. Last I checked, Jon Kitna is no Peyton Manning.)

  • So...Go Lions! Yeah, go away from all those microphones and stop talking like fuckin' idiots, and concentrate instead on a nice, respectable 9-7 record, which just might get you into the playoffs in the NFC.
I am soooo ready for some football.

"The place where
optimism flourishes most
is in the lunatic asylum."
—Havelock Ellis

Monday, July 23, 2007

It's ridiculous. And disgusting. (says you!)

Apparently, the Bratwurst Capital of America has suddenly gotten this urge to change its image and be more, um, health-conscious. Because the professional brat-eating contest held in Sheboygan the past couple years has been nixed from this year’s list of activities.

The people at Johnsonville Sausage, the main sponsor of the popular Brat Days event held in Sheboygan in early August, declined to say why it would no longer sponsor the brat-eating contest, but it’s certain that criticism from city residents weighed heavily on this decision.

Several citizens opposed to the contest called it a disgusting event that promoted gluttony, and reflected poorly on the city.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the bratwurst has ever been mistaken for a bran muffin in terms of leading the health food revolution.

It's a pretty simple concept: if the idea of seeing several dozen brats consumed in a handful of minutes doesn't appeal to you, then don't go to the park that day, and don't turn on ESPN during the broadcast. Is that difficult?

The amateur brat-eating contest, which has been going on for more than 50 years, will continue to be held. This kind of logic leads me to believe that if you’re a slow glutton, then it’s OK. But if you’re a big enough glutton that you can make a living at it and bring national attention to yourself, then you’re disgusting.

Incidentally, the winner in 2005 was a 105-pound woman, and last year’s champion was wildly popular professional eater, Takeru Kobayashi, who has muscles on top of his muscles, he’s so ripped. Two prime examples of gluttons if ever there were any.

The professional contest last year drew thousands of fans, and camera crews from ESPN, which broadcast the event on its network. I doubt that the amateurs will create such a buzz.

I was in the crowd last year, among the boom cameras and broadcasters for the worldwide leader in sports, and my opinion is that any exposure that brings that much good-natured attention to little old Sheboygan, Wisconsin, can only be a positive thing.

The president of the International Federation of Competitive Eating expressed his surprise and disappointment that the event had been pulled, saying it would have been a big draw and they would have loved to have been there.

Earlier this month, longtime champion Kobayashi was upset by American eater Joey Chestnut in the most famous contest on the IFOCE slate, the Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest in Coney Island, New York, when Chestnut downed 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes to Kobayashi’s 63.

The brats would have provided a great stage for a rematch.

A retired city attorney from Sheboygan was one of the most vocal and outspoken critics of the event, saying that when someone downs 58 brats in 10 minutes, which was last year’s winning mark, it proves the whole thing is ridiculous.

Nothing like a good *burp!* meal.
Ridiculous? It’s competitive eating!! Of course it’s ridiculous! These are people who eat mayonnaise and oysters and jalapeƱo peppers for kicks. And, for a paycheck.

But after the contest was over last year and the thrill of the ESPN cameras panning the crowd had died down, the crowd dispersed and enjoyed a brat or two themselves, along with some beverages. (I won’t say what kind of beverages, or it might give people across the nation the impression that folks from Wisconsin like to drink beer.)

I spent the rest of the day with family and friends on the Brat Days grounds, riding a few rides with my nephews, playing a few games and listening to music, having one of the most enjoyable days of my summer.

This year, Johnsonville will not sell me any food and beverage tickets at Brat Days, because I won’t be there. (which kinda stings a little, because the musical entertainment on Saturday night is Soul Asylum, a band I'd very much enjoy seeing for such a reasonable admission cost.) And I doubt ESPN will show up, either.

I have a feeling I'll be a big fan of Cher-Make brats for a while. And Usinger's. Or maybe I'll go on a sudden health food kick.

Brats and beer, people. gotta dance with the girl that brung ya, you know?

(I bet the Sheboygan critics will next try to get the seventh-inning stretch removed from baseball. Or Santa fired from Christmas.)

“No man in the world has more courage
than the man who can stop eating
after one peanut.”
—Channing Pollock

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Too. Much. Music. (Is there such a thing?)

So what's that saying about "best-laid plans"?

Mine were kind of altered, again and again, a couple Sundays ago when I went to Summerfest, and as it turned out, I wouldn't change a thing.

One of my goals for the day was to hear some good gospel music (shut up), as they had several groups scheduled on one of the stages. After my other gospel experience, I was curious to see what kind of performances Summerfest could pull in.

Not wanting to subject friends and family to my obsession with gospel music, I made my trip to the world's biggest music festival a solo one. I don't know if I should plant a closed fist upon my forehead with thumb and forefinger fully extended, and declare myself a "Big L" loooooser for going to Summerfest alone. But there. I admit it. I did. (and shhh, don't tell anybody, but...I've done it before, too.)

The gospel celebration was supposed to start at 3:00, but nobody came on stage until nearly 3:30, and they started off with a big long intro about upcoming events and who was in the crowd and backstage. After not hearing any music for quite a while, I walked away to find something, anything, musical at the popular music fest.

I wandered over to listen to Road Trip, an area cover band, for a couple songs, and then went back to the gospel stage, where this time they were handing out awards to several, umm, award-winning dignitaries, I'm guessing. I didn't stay long, and was starting to wonder if my gospel search would produce exactly zero "Hallelujah"s and "Aaaamen!!"s.

My next distraction was a two-man group called Fever Marlene, a couple 20-something guys up on a nearly bare stage...probably not destined for greatness, but for just a drummer and a guitarist, they held their own. Entertaining for a few songs.

As I walked back over to the gospel stage...again...I heard something this time, from yards away. They were singing!! Not just singing...but singing and clapping and swaying and nearly lifting the roof off of the place. I was getting my gospel fix. Maybe not three hours worth like I thought I might. (I wouldn't have hung around for three hours anyway.) A good solid hour of house-rockin' gospel, and the trip was worth it.

Another band I was anxious to see was the Eddie Butts Band. I'd seen 'em once, and they're a totally funky R&B kinda band, with Eddie as the way-too-talented drummer. But the tent they played in was pretty packed, with no seats available. I'd put on a few miles walking, and was looking for a seat. So after one song, I told myself that I'd "seen" Eddie Butts, and went to find a less popular stage.

Cult phenomenon Pat McCurdy was playing on the Harley stage, so I figured I'd stop and watch him for a while. But the Harley stage was packed to the gills with guys in Harley gear and bandanas and leather jackets. I'm assuming they were waiting for the upcoming country act, Big & Rich. And I was sooo curious to see how a crowd like that would react to Pat...a single performer, his guitar, and some catchy ditties. I hope for his sake he won 'em over, cuz Pat's cool like that. I didn't stick around, opting instead for a walk to the next stage, hoping to find a seat.

Here's where I struck gold! The bleachers by the Miller Lite stage were barely half full, so I grabbed a soda, sat down, stretched out, and thought to myself how old I must be, if I was worn out and contemplating going home at 8:30. The latenight side stage act that I wanted to see was Sister Hazel. I was at the right stage. All I had to do was make it through some Bob Schneider guy I'd never heard of, and Sister Hazel was up next. However, that meant leaving the grounds close to midnight, getting home after 1:00, and going to work the next day. If I stayed.

I was starting to talk myself into heading toward my car, when Bob Schneider came onstage. People stood on the bleachers and cheered, and he started with kind of a slow, country-ish song. Easy on the ears, with some talent behind it. His second song was about the same pace, and I got a little curious, so I stepped up on the bleachers and made my way to the closest open spot, about a dozen rows back.

Then he started rockin' a little bit more, and went through songs in his set list that included a salsa kinda thing, some hip-hop/rap kinda funk, straight-on rock 'n' roll, and everything in between. Granted, it may have sounded like he was a bit confused as to what kind of singer/songwriter, but everything he did was pretty well done, and he made a new fan.

Well...more than one. Because after the show over by the merch tent, he came over to pose for pictures and sign autographs. And the girlies went wild for him, all cool in his Ray Bans (it was almost 10 at night, but I'm pretty sure those were to hide his over-baked eyes) and his two-day scruff. One of the girls waiting in line was hoping to get him to sign her breasteses. Ahhh, the life of a rock star.

They recorded that night's performance and burned copies immediately after, so now I'm not only a fan, but I have Bob Schneider in my CD collection as well.

The time spent waiting for my CD was just about the time it took for Sister Hazel to set up and come onstage. I've seen them twice before (once at a county fair without their lead singer, even...he missed his plane), and they're awesome musically in concert. So I stayed. They rocked. I got home late. It was sooo worth it.

I guess I'm not so old after all.

— • — • —

So that got to be a little long and drawn out, didn't it? Turned into a "here's what I did, and here's what I thought" post, as one of my critics has termed it. Sorry. I can talk about music all day, and Summerfest deserves all the exposure it can get, because there's really nothing like it.

But down here, maybe I'll throw out a little question to ponder: How many of you are inclined to do things like that on your own, and who would rather skip those events if there's not someone to go with?...Concerts? Sporting events? Movies? Meals in restaurants?

Several years ago, Counting Crows played in a gymnasium on the UW-Stevens Point campus, of all places. And on a weeknight. And guess who took off work to attend? Alone.

I don't go to too many movies in the theater, but I'm not averse to seeing a movie by myself. And seeing as how I only have three friends (two of whom are imaginary), sometimes they're not available. (and I'll be damned if I'm gonna pay $8.50 for my imaginary pals to sit in a movie theater.)

In the movie Hope Floats, Harry Connick Jr. was eating in a restaurant by himself when Sandra Bullock came in and sat down at a table alone as well. He started to have this dialogue with her about how it takes a brave person to eat by themselves. How you've got to make it look like it's by you're mysterious. (or something close to that. I don't have the movie in front of me.)

Is it really such a horrible thought to do these things alone? Anyone?

"When I die, I want people to
play my music, go wild and freak out
and do anything they want to do."
—Jimi Hendrix

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

O'er The Land Of The Free...

I've decided to salute this great nation on its Independence Day with the biggest symbol of freedom I could find. And I bet you can't find one any bigger. (flagpole-wise, that is.)

All it took was a quick jaunt down the Interstate, because the photo you see is the tallest free-standing flagpole in the whole entire country, with a big mother of an Old Glory fluttering atop it. (amateur photograph taken by this blog's owner. if I would have had a ladder, or perhaps a helicopter, I could have gotten a more exciting angle.)

Those of you who live in this area, or throughout the state of Wisconsin, have no doubt seen this flag rippling in the breeze as you've driven on I-43 past Sheboygan. And those of you who've visited this blog in the past from Poland or Belgium or Mexico or Egypt or China or Taiwan or Turkey (aren't stat counters great?) or Singapore or Uruguay or the United Kingdom or Spain...I'm sorry you accidentally clicked on the wrong link, but thanks for spending a brief zero minutes at Ton-Fifty-ONE.

The flag and its pole were erected in 2005 by an insurance company called Acuity, after another flag it had displayed was toppled by high winds and a design flaw. When discussion began about replacing it, the talks grew big. Very big.

The flagpole is 338 feet tall...the tallest in the nation, and more than twice as tall as the previous pole at 150 feet. It is 6 feet wide at the base and weighs 65 tons, and is sunk into a 550-ton block of concrete that is 40 feet deep, 8 feet wide and reinforced by steel rods.

The flag is 7,200 square feet, or 120-by-60, which is four times the size of the original flag. Each star is 4 feet high, and each stripe is 4 1/2 feet wide. The flag weighs 300 pounds.

More info about the flag can be found here, and here.

It's awe-inspiring every time I drive past it, because it seems as though you could drive five miles in the time it takes for one slow, lazy ripple to make its way from the end that's tethered to the pole, across its vast canvas and off the edge of the stripes on the far end.

And while I shouldn't promote unsafe driving habits here, I will admit to gazing up through my moonroof at night as I drive past, the flag illuminated by a circle of kabillion-candlepower spotlights aimed at it from the ground.

Ya done good, Acuity.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

"It is very easy in the world
to live by the opinion of the world.
It is very easy in solitude to be
self-centered. But the finished man is
he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness
the independence of solitude."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson