Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sorry, Tom.

As we celebrate my favorite holiday of the year favorite day of the year, to be more precise...I thought I’d give the guest of honor a little face time.

This particular turkey greeted me recently when we stopped to visit some friends, and he didn’t seem too keen on having his photo taken.


I kept moving closer to take some better shots, and he staked his claim to his territory by sounding his gobble and strutting in my direction.

If I crouched down to take a shot from a better angle, he made a more aggressive move toward me. (The turkey’s owner told me that my crouching stance was a sign of confrontation, to which tom didn’t take too kindly.)

After a few photos from various angles, I’d had enough and stopped my photo shoot just short of being pecked in the shins.

Seeing this guy, I almost feel bad for eating one of his brothers on this, my favorite day of the year. Almost.

(Did I mention he acted a bit too cocky for his waddle?)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

“Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours
to prepare. They are consumed in
12 minutes. Halftimes take 12 minutes.
This is not coincidence.”
—Erma Bombeck

Friday, November 20, 2009

And A Glowing Light Shall Strand Them

“Our first stop has to be a gas station,” he said, glancing down at the golden glowing fuel light on the dash as he backed out of the parking ramp after a full weekend, ready for a long, latenight drive home.

“Yeah,” she agreed, looking at the fuel gauge needle. “And I really need to find a bathroom before we hit the road, too.”

They drove down the main drag, many of the stores long closed for the business day, but confident there would be at least a half dozen gas stations to choose from before the big city turned to lonely road.

A Mobil sign and well-lit parking lot signaled a destination with a solution to the empty fuel tank, and they pulled in, noticing a minor inconvenience.

“That’s one of those little half convenience stores,” he said, motioning to the tiny building that may or may not have had the caffeine he craved for the journey home.

“And they probably have those gross outdoor bathrooms, too,” she added, “where you have to go inside for the key, and then back outside to find the bathroom door.”

He drove slowly through the lot, surveying the situation, and continued out the back exit.

“There will be something right up the street. We still have a couple miles of main street left,” he said.

About a half mile after pulling back on to the main road, he saw a sign guiding him to the interstate highway that would lead them home.

“Isn’t that the way to our highway?” he asked, veering on to the exit ramp before she had a chance to answer. “Looks like an easy way to catch our road.”

As they continued in their new direction, the atmosphere in the car changed noticeably, as he realized what he’d done. And so did she.

“I, um...uh...maybe I shouldn’t have taken this,” he offered, noting his error.

She said nothing.

The lights of the main drag disappeared, leaving the couple to travel into the darkness of the connecting highway. The darkness punctuated only by the now brighter glow of the fuel light, staring up and mocking him for his decision as he drove into the drizzly, chilly, late night.

“Didn’t I just say that our first stop had to be a gas station??” he asked, incredulous at his poor judgment. “We were at...a Mobil…gas station! And we left!”

He watched the fuel light as much as he watched the road ahead, as they drove.

“I have Triple-A!” she offered with a smile and a lilt in her voice, trying to ease the tension of the situation.

He chuckled nervously, and replied, “We may need it!”

The conversation subsided, save for a few more chuckles, as they both thought it best not to vocalize what was really going through their minds.

But they both knew.

Their night might have...just maybe...grown a bit longer.

“We were right there! At a gas station!” he repeated with a laugh, rolling through his brain the predicament he’d put them in.

A few uncomfortable miles down the road, they saw a sign for the next exit, which was still a couple of miles away. Another mile, and they passed a sign for an upcoming convenience center.

“Kwik Trips are open 24 hours, aren’t they?” he asked, not really searching for an answer.

“I think so,” she answered. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they are.”

They approached their exit, the vehicle thankfully still powered by what little fuel must have been left in the tank, and saw a different glow than before. This time...the glow of a Kwik Trip sign and lights shining down on the fuel pumps they sought.

The tension lifted as they pulled next to a pump.

“I thought this was an 11-gallon tank, with about a gallon left when the fuel light comes on,” he said as he started pumping fuel. The gauge went past 11, all the way to 14 gallons.

“I might have been a bit off with my numbers,” he grinned at her, and she laughed.

As they went in to pay, they noticed they’d found one of the biggest, fanciest Kwik Trips they’d ever seen, complete with a latenight clerk who tried to sell them doughnuts and pizza and everything else in the store before ringing up just the fuel. And the caffeine.

They’d found their pot of gold at the end of the driving-on-fumes rainbow. And they turned toward home.


“Restore human legs as a means of travel.
Pedestrians rely on food for fuel and
need no special parking facilities.”
—Lewis Mumford

Friday, September 25, 2009

How Long Will My 100 Days Take??

I read a tweet Tuesday from @WritingSpirit, in which she asked about people's goals for the last 100 days of 2009, seeing as how Wednesday was the first day of the last 100 days.

She outlined a 100-day challenge whereby participants agree to do a certain task for 100 consecutive days...whether it be working on a book or other writing project, or sticking to an exercise regimen...and if during the 100 days, one day is missed, then the 100 days starts over.

Good motivation not to miss a day. Would you want to start over after, like, Day 64?!? Me, either.

I pondered what I might do for the final 100 days of the year, and how I could make them count. (no, I'm not going to blog for 100 consecutive days. I am a realist, after all.)

My mission is to do something...anything...creative with words. Every day. From now until 2010. Might seem like a simple goal, but with my recent level of slackitude, it's what I need to nudge me back in the right direction.

So blog entries, columns, first drafts, finished drafts, morning pages (popularized by Julia Cameron), poems...they all count.

I have a tiny crutch I can use when I'm feeling only 17 syllables of creativity, which is a 100 Haiku In 100 Days challenge that I'm publishing on Twitter. Check it out if you're into haiku. (and who isn't?!?)

I hope to pay more attention to other areas of my writing during these 100 days, but even if I look back as I begin 2010 and have a hundred haiku to show for this challenge, I'll consider it a success.

Your 100 days can start any time. So why don't you jump in and join me?

You just may soar past me when I stumble on Day 23 and have to begin again.

"Friends are like melons;
shall I tell you why?
To find one good
you must one hundred try."
—Claude Mermet

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

All's "Fair" In Love and Carnie Games

“I want to see you play a game,” she said as we strolled among the ring tosses and dart games and water gun races at the Manitowoc County Fair recently.

I could say that I was forced into foolishly spending money to play a game I couldn’t win, just to impress a girl and win a prize I didn’t even want.

But I knew I was going to play one particular game as soon as I saw it. This game and I had history, and I wanted to show it that I was still the master.

The game of choice involved three pieces of four-inch PVC pipe, sitting on a shelf about six feet high, with two pieces side by side on the shelf with about an inch of space between them, and the third piece centered on top of the bottom two.

The objective: throw a softball at the three pieces of PVC and knock all of them off of the shelf at once. Aim it correctly, and you’ve won yourself a prize. Nothing to it, right?

That’s what I thought several years ago when I first saw the game at a fireman’s picnic in Sun Prairie.

There was a big, stuffed Tigger hanging there as a prize that year, and for reasons that escape me now, I wanted that Tigger.

So I bought my two balls for five bucks, leaned up as far as I could, took careful aim, and threw the softball with a dart shooter’s motion at a contact point I thought would work. One or two of the pieces fell, and my attempt fell short.

“No, no, no,” said a buddy of mine who’d had a few beers earlier that evening. “You have to throw the ball…get some velocity on it to knock ‘em all down.”

So I backed up a few feet and wound up for my second one, missing my target completely. (I may have had a few beers that night, too.)

I bought a couple more balls, went back to my up-close dart shooter’s strategy, and continued to almost win...two balls and five bucks at a time.

Eventually I hit the right spot, and they all tumbled off of the shelf, and I took home my $20 Tigger.

When I saw the game at the fair, I scanned the back wall of stuffed prizes and saw nothing I wanted to take home. All I knew is I wanted to make those three pieces of PVC drop.

I paid my five bucks, threw my first ball, and didn’t even come close enough to get excited, hitting all three pieces but leaving two of them still resting on the shelf. I slid a few feet over to another stack and threw my second ball, knocking two of them down this time.

“You’re close, buddy! You’ve got the right idea,” said the guy working the game.

Just what I was looking for. False encouragement from a guy who wanted only one thing. Another five bucks.

I paused for a bit, took a few steps back to talk strategy with the girl I was trying to impress, and stepped forward again, plunking down another five bucks.

Same result. Good aim, good motion...ohhh, so very close. But no prize.

Meanwhile, a lady in her 60s with about five grandchildren in tow came walking up and bought a couple balls, too. With a wild-armed throwing motion she missed with her first attempt.

But on her second one, she found the target and all three pieces of pipe went flying off the shelf.

A couple of us who saw it ooh-ed and ahh-ed and clapped for her, and she came over to me and said, “Not bad for an old grandma, eh??” Then she picked out a stuffed monkey/ape/primate-type thing with a T-shirt that said, “I’m bringing SEXY back!” on it, handed it to one of the children and said, “Come on, kids, let’s go.”

And off they all went to claim another prize at another game.

The guy working the game caught my attention and said to me, with a little bit of a grin, “I’ll give you three balls for five bucks. You were so close before. You almost had it!”

And away we walked, empty-handed, and only ten bucks down.

Anybody wanna buy a big, stuffed Tigger? I’ll sell him cheap. Twelve bucks.

“The economic game is not supposed to be
rigged like some shady ring toss
on a carnival midway.”

—Arianna Huffington

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia. (they come as a pair.)

Julia Child has come back to life on the big screen this week, thanks to a stellar performance (does she give any other kind?) by Meryl Streep.

I went to see the movie, Julie & Julia, on its opening night last Friday, which had been eagerly anticipated by some, including the foodie with whom I watched it. (by the way, that foodie knows more about food...and words...than I could ever hope to learn. go check out her take on the movie.)

I don’t know if I would place myself in the “eagerly anticipated” category, but the film had Streep, which is never a bad thing; it had blogging as at least a secondary theme, a topic about which I know a fair amount; and it had food, which, while I can’t match the culinary skills of even a C- or D-list chef, I’m a big fan of eating.

So I was game for the movie.
And my two-word review: Great. Flick.

If you’ve seen even one or two of Child’s cooking shows, you’ll appreciate the skill with which Streep portrayed the legend. In a discussion after the movie, I predicted that Streep’s performance will earn her yet another Oscar nomination, but that there will be an as-yet-unseen role that may edge her out for the statue.

Take that opinion for what it’s worth, though, as I’ve been made aware of h
ow little I know about what makes a movie, um...good.

In reading a select few reviews of the movie, I became annoyed as I saw one critic in particular, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, dismiss Amy Adams’ role in the movie as basically unnecessary.

Adams plays Julie Powell, a young woman from Queens who takes on the challenge of cooking every recipe in Child’s classic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one year, and writing a blog about her experience.

Scott compares Adams’ acting ability to Streep’s, and Powell’s personality to Child’s, and concludes that the former are bland and lifeless when matched with the latter.

Can we please compare apples to apples here, and not apples to elephants?

Several commenters on Scott’s review agree with him, saying, “the movie didn’t need Julie.” Then might I suggest that when a movie titled, The Life and Soufflés of Julia Child, is released, they buy their popcorn and go sit in the front row.

I may not be a big-shot movie critic for the Times, and I may only see a handful or fewer of movies in the theater each year, and maybe I just don’t get it.

But this movie needed both storylines, and both were entertaining and engaging.

Of course, Meryl Streep acted circles around everyone else in the movie, and of course, the highlight of the movie was Child’s larger-than-life persona. Isn’t that what we’d all expect as we sat in the theater, even before the previews rolled?

And, no, Adams probably shouldn’t spend her time sitting by the telephone, waiting for her own Oscar nod. But the Powell storyline was quite necessary, and her angst over creating 534 recipes in 365 days, along with her excitement of watching a fledgling blog take off and gain a readership, added plenty to the movie.

Go see this movie. Enjoy perhaps the greatest actress of her generation as she portrays such a wild and wonderful personality. But don’t snooze or take a bathroom break during the Julie scenes, or you just might miss something.

I’ll say it again: Great. Flick.

“The only time to eat diet food
is while you’re waiting for
the steak to cook.”
—Julia Child
(photo via metronews)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Torture...In 140-Character Increments

I follow @detroitlions on Twitter.

I don't know why.

Perhaps it's because I enjoy having my pain served to me 140 characters at a time, with a hyperlink added for good measure if I wish to click and endure more.

NFL training camps opened last week, which means that the Lions' Twitter account has seen much more daily activity. And while I'm trying to remain optimistic heading into a new season...some of the snippets I'm reading are making it difficult to believe this year might be different from last. Although...can any team really go winless two seasons in a row? (don't answer that.)

Here is a sampling of tweets I've received on my phone in the last couple of weeks. The first few can kinda drag a fan down, but after half a dozen or so, you learn to chuckle and use the old standby excuse of, "Same...old...Lions."

Louis Delmas nervous as he signs with the Lions.

Jim Schwartz: Training camp will be just like the rest of the offseason program, except with pads.

At first team meeting, Lions' Jim Schwartz pokes fun at a rookie.

Sammie Hill, two other flunk Lions' conditioning test.

Lion's Bryant Johnson involved in golf cart accident.

GM Martin Mayhew: Lions have "areas of concern."

Landon Cohen celebrates his birthday by pushing people around.

Today's 7-on-7 drill was the worst of the Lions' camp.

Damion Cook goes on IR, a dozen other Lions are sidelined.

Lions' drill: Quarterbacks work on throwing the ball away (really).

Doesn't exactly inspire, um...hope...for a winning season, does it?

To be fair, there are some positive tweets to come out of Lions' camp once in a while. Such as:

Scott Linehan on Lions' Matthew Stafford: "I don't feel like I'm coaching a rookie."

With 40-some million guaranteed, and 70-plus mil at the top end of the contract, it's probably a good thing that Stafford doesn't look like a "rookie." For that kind of dough, he better be doing his best savior impression, and get the Lions a double-digit win total.

But that might be wishful thinking. First let's start with a couple/few more victories than last year, OK? And a few tweets that make me smile as a fan...instead of chuckle.

"I quit because I didn't feel like
the Detroit Lions had a chance to win.
It just killed my enjoyment of the game."

—Barry Sanders

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The small town that makes me “ooh” and “ahh.”

[Apologetic Note: This blog entry begs for photos. It screeeams for at least a couple photographic examples of what I witnessed, moon-wise and fireworks-wise, over the Fourth of July. However, I’m not currently too skilled at nighttime photography, and I was also on a crowded pontoon boat where setting up a tripod and immersing myself in experimentation mode wasn’t exactly an option. So, um...please use your imagination. Thank you.]

There’s something to be said for small-town fireworks. And on the Fourth of July, that “something” was, “Ooh.” And, “Ahh.”

We watched the fireworks from what is quickly becoming my favorite place to see the night sky light up...on a pontoon boat on a small inland lake in northern Wisconsin.

Three times I’ve been a passenger as we slowly make our way over the glasslike water shortly after dusk, passing the silhouettes of the trees and buildings surrounding the lake as the last hues of pink and orange and salmon disappear from the sky.

And one of my favorite sights is even before the fireworks begin, as we move to join the armada of already anchored boats on the water’s surface, their guide lights identifying them, residents and visitors to the lake preparing to be bedazzled by the light show to celebrate the holiday.

This year we had to wait until about a half-hour after dusk, but I didn’t mind the wait, as others grew a bit impatient. I just soaked it all in, and stared at the brilliant moon disappearing behind the clouds, and then peeking back out again through a hole that seemed to be expertly positioned in the clouds just to give us one more view.

Part of the fun of being out on the pontoon boat is hearing the reactions of the handful of kids along for the show.

The “oohs” and “ahhs” aren’t the same if they’re not sprinkled in with one little girl’s reaction as she sees her first-ever fireworks display. She must have exclaimed, “A fiyah-wook!!” a couple dozen times as the sky lit up.

And no matter how excited I was to see them, I cannot duplicate the expression of a 4-year-old boy watching a colorful explosion in the sky and then screaming, “That was AWEsome!!”

I’ve seen some impressive fireworks displays in my years, from the days we’d spend all day on the beach in Two Rivers and then at night could see three sets of them going off down the lakeshore...from Two Rivers, Manitowoc, and, faintly, Sheboygan.

And Kohler has a great homey Americana feel to its celebration, with the Kiel band and just the right number of people in its small bowl-shaped park.

I don’t know if the small lakes in northern Wisconsin received a chunk of the stimulus package to spend on holiday celebrations, or what, but...the only display I’ve seen that was more impressive was on opening night of Summerfest a few years ago.

And that’s Milwaukee! To open the biggest musical celebration in the Midwest. Up Nort is most definitely not, um...Milwaukee.

This show had everything required for a spectacular display...the big explosions that seemed to fill the sky from top to bottom, the little fizzly ones that made curly, quirky patterns, a few good white-light boomers, plenty of static cling-sounding choices, and everything in between.

Plus the bonus of being right on the water, among so many other small boats.

At about three different times during the show, we thought it was coming to an end, and at one point I even said, “That’s the exclamation point on a great fireworks display!” But then...they kept going.

And my buddy a few seats away said, “No, Gregg. That was just a comma.”

How true, punctuationally speaking.

Because when the finale came...oh, we knew it! And it was AWEsome!!

So where’s the best place you’ve ever ooh-ed and ahh-ed?

“All architecture is great architecture
after sunset; perhaps architecture is really
a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.”
—Gilbert K. Chesterton

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Steven Page?

It probably doesn’t take too great of a leap to agree with the statement that, when listening to live music, the lead singer makes or breaks the experience.

But let me give you a bit of a back story as one example to the contrary.

Many years ago when I saw Sister Hazel for the first time, at the county fair in Wausau, the band was arriving very close to the starting time of its performance, and for whatever reason, the lead singer was on a different flight than the rest of the group, and his flight was delayed.

The event organizers pushed back the start of the concert for as long as they could, but eventually a decision had to be made, and Sister Hazel came out on stage, sans one lead singer.

“Great,” I thought. “Drove a couple hours to see a talented new band, and what am I going to see?”

Turns out, the rest of the group came on stage and rocked the crowd. The performance was definitely missing a certain unique voice, but the other band members covered surprisingly well, and to this day I joke about what a great performance Sister Hazel gave the first time I saw them…minus one very important member.

Fast forward to last weekend. Summerfest.

We’d discussed going down on Saturday, and a Barenaked Ladies concert at 10 p.m. was going to (hopefully) be the highlight of that day.

Steven_PageAfter a group of us made plans to meet on the Summerfest grounds, a buddy sent me a link late last week to a story that lead singer Steven Page had left BNL a few months earlier, after charges of drug possession were brought against him.

While I’m a pretty big fan of BNL, this was the first I’d heard of this change in the band’s lineup.

This news brought me even more concern than learning years before that I’d have to hear Sister Hazel without its frontman, because BNL was already well established, and had a dozen or so very big hits that depended heavily on Page’s unique lead voice.

But I had faith in the other members of the band, and we were all ready to give them a chance to keep us secured among their fandom.

The threat of rain kept us from getting to the stage at an early enough hour, and by the time we showed up, about 45 minutes early, the bleachers and tables and aisles and rows were all filled.

So we hung out in back, and then moved way off to the left side to get barely a glimpse of the stage, and when Barenaked Ladies finally came out, it was easy to tell very early on that they weren’t the same Barenaked Ladies.

They stuck to much of their newer music, which only the most dedicated fans could sing along to. Among the first five songs they played, we knew one, and even that one was a bit...flat...without Page belting out the vocals.

A buddy of mine who had no interest that night in seeing the BoDeans, tapped me on the shoulder during the fifth song and asked, “Wanna go over and check out the BoDeans?”

And that was the end of our BNL concert experience. I doubt we missed much during the next hour of their show. And until they fill the gaping void that is Steven Page’s absence, I may spend my time enjoying their music through my headphones rather than through giant loudspeakers next to a stage.

The BoDeans put on an impressive musical performance for those in the group who hadn’t seen them before, and they played two of my favorite songs as encores, so it made for a good move.

And coincidentally, a few of us hung around into Sunday and went back to the grounds later in the day to see (dramatic come-full-circle pause) Sister Hazel. With lead singer planted firmly in front of a microphone, and not on a late flight in.

Because of course, the lead singer really does make or break the musical experience.


“When we started I wasn’t the singer.
I was the drunk rhythm guitarist
who wrote all these weird songs.”
—Robert Smith

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keeping My Fingers Crossed

I don’t fly much. It’s rare if I get up in the air once every year or two.

So when I do hop a flight, I pay attention. To people, things, conversations, etc. Here are a few observations from a plane to Las Vegas last weekend.

• I was seated in an exit row on both flights, which got me approximately two miles of leg room. At no extra charge!

When the flight attendant came and asked if I accepted the responsibilities of sitting in an exit row, I wanted to reply, “You mean the “responsibility” of stretching my legs all the way out every five minutes so I don’t cramp up on the four-hour flight? Yes! Absolutely!”

One lady on the trip home apparently didn’t want exit row responsibilities, because as she switched places with another passenger, she said, “That just creeps me out!”

• Perhaps it’s a sign of my simple mind, but it’s still almost magical to me that when a behemoth of a vehicle like that gets up to a certain speed, the ground slowly drops away and off we soar into the clouds. All by adjusting a couple little flappy things on the wings. (Probably has something to do with those big engines, too, right?)

• Before we left the runway, one of the passengers closed her window shade and leaned against the inside wall of the airplane, and a flight attendant said, “Ma’am, we ask that you keep your window shade up during takeoff.”

Which made me immediately wonder to myself, “If that’s so the pilot can turn around and check his blind spot for runway traffic, I think maybe I’ll drive.”

• On a related note, after we were up in the air, the pilot announced over the speaker that there were some signs of turbulence ahead, “...but we’re just going to keep our fingers crossed and hope that it isn’t too severe.”

Wait, what? First we have blind spots, now we have our “fingers crossed”? Where did I put my car keys??

• As we flew, I determined that the term “turbulence” as it relates to ground travel is akin to driving an Amish buggy down an old cobblestone street. You might get jostled and bumped around a bit, but for the most part it’s no big deal.

Of course, in an Amish buggy, you don’t get that occasional dip that makes you wonder if the pilot is in the cockpit using the joystick that controls the plane to play a video game.

• It seems as though many passengers use a flight as an opportunity to start a new book, as all readers in my vicinity, without exception, were no further than page 20 as we began our flight.

• When it comes to seatmates, it helps if you feel at least somewhat comfortable being near them. Because while I’m of a certain size in which I fill my seat rather completely, and the lady next to me was of generally the same size, when we both leaned back to catch some high-altitude Z’s, it almost felt as if we were, um...cuddling.

We’ve since become a couple that argues about who gets to use the arm rest.

• The girl in front of me didn’t need to request a pillow to be comfortable. She just used her boyfriend/husband’s shoulder. The whole...way...out. (Hope he wasn’t pitching in a big game last weekend.)

• As the beverage cart passes up and down the aisle, it inadvertently bumps shoulders, elbows, etc., and during one pass, the flight attendant said, “Sorry. Sorry! Wide load!” (insert dramatic pause here) “The cart! I mean the cart!” she said, providing a free chuckle.

• Safety note: When using the airplane bathroom, please be sure that all ties, necklaces, shoestrings and hanging appendages are firmly secured before flushing the toilet. Or you might just get sucked right out of the plane!

As we descended upon Las Vegas, looking out the window at Lake Mead and the natural landscape below us, seeing the city in the distance becoming more defined, I wondered how much richer I would be on the return flight five days later.

Answer? Much. So much richer. For the experience.

The wallet...that’s another story.

“The airplane stays up because
it doesn’t have the time to fall.”
—Orville Wright

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Three Words.

While my brain is working itself back into Reality Mode, I wanted to post at least a thought or two about my trip to Las Vegas last weekend.

“Hmm,” I said to myself, “what are three words that best describe my time there?” I kicked around a few ideas:

Can’t. Stop. Gambling.

Cirque. Shows. Rock.

Beers. Pools. Beers.

Social. House. Delicious!

(the above coupled with my newest discovery: I. Hate. Sake.)

Then it hit me, and I knew I had my three words. And believe me, I’m the furthest thing from a fashionisto you’ll ever meet. But they were everywhere. And impossible to miss.



“If people turn to look at you on the street,
you are not well dressed.”
—Beau Brummel

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Many “Middles” In Middle-Aged?

I’ve been thinking lately about age, and the simple idea of growing older.

And a recent trip to the grocery store...where you can learn so much if you just listen, right?...put a bit of a new twist on things for me.

I snuck into the checkout line with a dozen or so items after a day of activities and the goal of getting home and crossing a few things off of my To-Do list, and walked into the middle of a conversation between the checkout girl and a couple in front of me.

“…oh, I know, I just don’t like getting old,” was the first thing I heard the checkout girl say as I started to unload my items onto the conveyor belt.

“You’re not old,” said the lady in front of me.

“Hmm, but I feeeel old,” the girl emphasized.

“You can’t be that old.”

“I’m older than I look.”

Here’s where I decided to quietly join the game, and looked up and gave the checkout girl a quick glance. Twenty-four, maybe 25, I thought to myself, giving it my best guess.

“How old are you?” asked the customer.

“I’m 20,” said the girl.

Whoops. I guess I was off by a year or two or five.

If she’s older than she looks, as she said, I wondered if she thought she looked 17? Eighteen?

“Ack!” scoffed the lady. “You’re not even old enough to go to a bar.”

“I still do!” the girl boasted, a lilt of pride almost visible in her voice.

So at first, she was trying to convince the lady how old she felt, and in the next breath she was almost bragging that she was able to sneak into bars under age.

“You’re not old,” the lady returned to her original argument.

“I’m middle-middle-aged!” retorted the girl.

I had no plans to enter this conversation, realizing the futility of arguing with a girl who claims she’s “old” at 20. But I made a quick mental note of that new phrase, and wondered if I could even punctuate it correctly when I wrote about her on my blog. Because she was most. definitely. blog material.

The lady insisted once again that the girl was far from old, and the girl proudly repeated her rank on the aging scale.

“I’m middle-middle-aged!”

Ah, yes. I remember when I was middle-middle-aged. Back in the day when I had to...find someone old enough to buy me beer.

The age question is one I’ve been pondering off and on lately. Not obsessing over, mind you, but...recognizing.

According to the checkout girl’s timeline, I officially become “middle-aged” in about a week and a half.

The number isn’t really bothering me as much as I’m saying it is, because age is just a number, right? And a small-talk conversation in a checkout line.

I’ll be turning that number in Las Vegas, where I think there’s an unwritten rule that on your birthday you don’t turn a year older, but instead turn two or three years younger.

I just made that up. But I plan to stay there until it comes true, and I rewind back to about my mid-20s.

So fine. I’m soon going to be middle-aged. (that one I at least know how to punctuate.)

But aside from a few (hundred) gray hairs, I look...and act...younger than I am.

Does that counter-logic work as well for bloggers as it does for checkout girls? Yeah. Didn’t think so.

“Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.”
—Bob Dylan

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stretching the point? Or poor choice of words?

This blog entry is going to be interactive (I hope), as I’d appreciate a little feedback on this one. I know I have some strong-minded, opinionated readers out there, and I’m curious to hear what you think.

If you’re not comfortable with leaving your opinion in the comments section, then might I suggest using the “Ton-Fifty-MAIL” link in the sidebar and sending me your thoughts. Thank you.

— • — • —

Last week I wrote the following column for the paper I work for:

Being a non-smoker, and one who spends an occasional evening in a barroom in the pursuit of various bar-related activities...darts, cards, sporting events on oversized high-definition television’d think that I’d be jumping up and down at the idea of a statewide smoking ban.

Several years ago, I would’ve said it didn’t bother me one way or the other. I was well aware of all the elements that make up a bar’s “atmosphere”...smoky haze included.

And I could sit next to smokers and watch a game and be relatively unaffected, save for the smoky clothes that would need to hit the washing machine as soon as possible after arriving home.

Many eating and drinking establishments do a pretty good job of eliminating as much of the smoke as possible, making the environment tolerable for non-smokers. But there are definite exceptions.

Sunday night, I spent a few hours in one of those exceptions, and the way I felt almost all day Monday made me an instant proponent of the smoking ban.

The smoke in that bar was as heavy and thick as a dense fog, and it seemed as if some of it had been lingering there since before I became the legal drinking age.

Monday I walked around for most of the day in a dense fog of my own, light-headed and generally out of sorts. Can’t blame the beers, because I only had a couple. I point my finger at the cloud of smoke in which I sat and breathed.

I shot a few dart tournaments in that bar years ago, and didn’t come away with the day-after effect like I did this time. So it can probably be attributed to me getting older, and I accept that reasoning.

“Just don’t go in that bar if that’s the effect it has on you for a day or more after,” I can hear you smokers telling me. And that’s as valid an argument as any of those that are made in favor of the smoking ban.

If I want to go and play cards among a group that likes to have a few (dozen) cigarettes while they fondle their poker chips, then I have to accept the consequences that I just may feel like crap for the next 24 or 48 hours.

Or I can wait until a different night during the week when the poker group convenes in a location that is better suited to handling and eliminating the smoke from the air. Because smoking ban or no smoking ban, I bet the air in this particular bar will be able to be sliced with a knife for the next decade.

I use this extreme example because it’s still fresh in my hazy brain, as I’m writing this column after having felt under the weather for the past too many hours.

As much as I applaud the smoking ban from a non-smoker’s point of view, I also understand a smoker’s right to light up a cancer stick in a bar if he or she chooses. Not so much in a restaurant, a bar? That’s a finer point to argue.

Then one’s ever died of second-hand beer or whiskey consumption, have they?

— • — • —

That column was published on Thursday, and Friday morning I found the following comment in my inbox. It’s being copied and pasted as it was sent, so all punctuation and spelling and etc., are the sender’s. (My column is called, “What The Parrot Saw,” which explains the greeting.)

Hey Parrot.....

"no one's ever died of second-hand beer or whiskey consumption"........  REALLY???

Think about that comment for a minute and then answer this question:  Why is that Geske woman in prison ???  Isn't that just one example of "second-hand beer or whiskey consumption" and it's aftermath ?????  I think you owe a HUGE apology to the families of those people who were victims of "second-hand beer or whiskey" consumption !!!

The rest of the column was right on............if I don't want to smell from other people's cigarettes, I'll go elsewhere BUT I should have that choice, not have Big Brother shove it in my face !!  What's next ??????????????????

And here is what I sent to the reader as a reply...

Hi, XXXX...

I appreciate your comments.

While you make a valid point, I think you're assuming an extra step in the process...that being the one where the bar patron is careless enough to get into a 3,000-pound vehicle after his or her beer or whiskey consumption and go hurtling down the highway at 60 mph without all of their faculties about them.

My point in the column was that if someone sits in a bar next to someone who smokes...or a group of people who smoke...over a period of time, it's possible that the non-smoker could develop serious health problems through no fault of his or her own, except for choosing to spend time in that environment.

Whereas if someone sits in a bar and drinks soda next to patrons who are filling themselves full of beer or whiskey...their consumption has no effect on the soda drinker during his or her time in that establishment.

Perhaps I could have worded it a bit differently, but the phrase "second-hand" used in this example has nothing to do with a person's actions or judgment when they leave the establishment.

Thank you for your feedback, and thanks for reading!


— • — • —

So tell me...

Did you read the last line in my column and cringe, wondering why I chose to end it with such a bonehead statement? Or did you not immediately make the connection between that statement and drunken driving, as my reader did?

If your first reaction was that I’m an insensitive idiot for ending the column that way, and that I should never again be left alone to play with words and a keyboard, don’t be afraid to tear into me for it. I can take it. And I’d like to know.

“It is now proved beyond a doubt
that smoking is one of the leading
causes of statistics.”
—Fletcher Knebel

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Ode To The Close Of Poetry Month

This won’t really be as much of an ode as it will be a list. But tell me, what sounds more poetic? An ode to poetry month, or a list to poetry month. Thank you.

I’ve been rather absent from this space this month (let me haven’t noticed), but I’ve been busy with National Poetry Month activities. And now that April is coming to a close, I hope to have more time to devote to blogging.

After writing my brilliant “Roses are red” poem to begin the month, and having it favorably critiqued by a real live Ph.D. of English professorology (even if she was just being polite *ahem*), I knew I had to do more. I had to make the month count.

So. Here, in no particular order, are a few of the myriad ways I’ve been celebrating, promoting, and ode-ing National Poetry Month.

• Gently nudged everyone with whom I came in contact to begin pronouncing it “poh-emm” instead of “pome.” (This act cost me serious Guy Points.)

• Attempted to spend the entire month rhyming my activities as I went about the business of my day. Therefore, I haven’t eaten any oranges, or sat on any sofas, or purchased any items that were silver or purple.

• Drew up a set of plans to build a mending wall, being careful to ask what I’d be walling in. Or walling out. And to whom I was like to give offense. The project is still in blueprint stage.

• Met a guy on the street named Sam, and invited him over for some green eggs and ham.

• During my walks around the village, I approached everyone I saw and asked, “How do I love thee?” which got me dozens of confused stares, two threats with garden shovels, and one marriage proposal.

• Began writing my own original poem called, “Jabberwookie,” but decided against finishing it for fear of legal action from George Lucas. And Lewis Carroll.

• Met a girl on the street from Nantucket, and invited her over for some green eggs and ham as well.

• Attempted to use the term “iambic pentameter” at least three times a day. This is not an easy task in standard barroom conversation.

• Sounded my barbaric yawp through the village, and was promptly cited for a noise violation. (The price we pay sometimes in the name of art.)

• Stayed up until midnight one dreary night, and as I looked outside I pondered. I hadn’t eaten much that day so I was rather weak...and weary.

• Stumbled upon two roads that diverged in a wood, and took the one more traveled. And you really hasn’t made much of a difference.

So tell did you spend your National Poetry Month?


“The greatest poem is not that
which is most skillfully constructed,
but that in which there is
the most poetry.”
— L. Schefer

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Random Bits Of Peopleness

“A Lions fan?!”

That was the greeting I received today as I walked into a local restaurant after spending part of the day with my parents, the manager spotting my lined windbreaker as he held the door open for us to get in out of the cold Arctic (April!) wind.

“Yeah,” I chuckled, covering my hands over the white letters stitched with a shiny silver border on the blue background of the jacket. “I guess maybe I advertise it a little too much,” I joked. “Maybe I shouldn’t, huh?”

“I didn’t even know those existed!” he said, as we shuffled through the entry.

As I got up to the host’s station to request a table, my dad leaned back and said to my antagonist, “It was a rough year last year.” (My dad’s not a Lions fan, by the way, so he said it with a grin.)

And before I could hear the reply I was in a conversation with the host. But when we were seated at our table, my dad told me his response was, “It's been a rough decade.”

True, but...

It’s not anything I haven’t heard many times, and I suppose by wearing the clothes or the hats or the hopeless expression of desperation, I invite those comments. And I’m OK with that.

— • — • —

We got to the table and our waiter came to take our drink order, and mentioned something about the specials being Miller Lite and another beer I don’t remember, but I was hoping they’d have a bottle of the New Glarus Crack’d Wheat that I haven’t tried yet, so I asked.

“Nope,” he said. “We have Spotted Cow.”

“I’ll take one of those,” I said.

“How old are you?” he asked, clearly suspicious that a guy of my advanced age who came in to eat with his parents on a Sunday night might possibly be underage.

Certain he was kidding, I answered, “Um...I’m 19.”

“Can I see some I.D.?” was his next question, and while I was enjoying this bit of banter, a slight pause arose in the conversation that made me ask...

“Are you serious?”

He nodded his head and said yes.

“Suuure!” I said, reaching for my wallet, always eager to accommodate anyone looking for proof that I’m really a thousand years older than they think I might be.

He looked at my I.D. and was shocked.

“Nooo!! There’s no way you’re a ’69!”

“Uhhh, yep! I am!” I leaned over and patted my hand on my dad’s shoulder. “I have witnesses!” I laughed.

“Wowww, I would’ve......never would’ve look young!! Doesn’t he look young?? I graduated from high school in ’69!” he exclaimed as he walked away to fill our drink order of two alcoholical beers, one of which...yes, was mine. (score!)

After a line like that, my mom couldn’t resist (and I don’t blame her). “He acts young, too!” she giggled before he was out of earshot.

True, but...oh, never mind.

— • — • —

The topper of my night came when I stopped at the grocery store on my way home, and as I was in line checking out a few items, my brain whirring to gather these conversations so I could spit them back out here, the checkout girl waited for my slip to print.

If you pay with a debit or credit card, your name and information is printed on the receipt, and this store must have a policy of all the checkers calling you by name as you leave. So I’ve heard, “Thanks, Gregg...have a good night,” many times when I’ve shopped there.

But tonight was different. Of course it was, it had to be. She must’ve known I have a blog, and that I was coming home to write about odd bits of conversation. Because tonight I heard...

“Thanks, Mr. Nohhv-chek. Have a good night.”

OK, that last part I’m fine with because I hear it all the time, so I don’t even blink. But...



Did I hear “mister”?

I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that I’m THIRTY-nine and I got carded tonight?? Whoo hoo!!

That’ll carry me through my Monday.

“It is critical that parents and other trusted adults
initiate conversations with kids about underage drinking
well in advance of the first time they are faced
with a decision regarding alcohol.”
—Xavier Becerra

(whew! I’m so glad I had discussions about underage drinking some TWENTY years ago, so I’d be ready to smoothly and calmly handle the situation I found myself in tonight.)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Fine Saturday Companion

About a year and a half ago, I wrote on this blog that when Garrison Keillor came back through Wisconsin, I’d be in his audience.

I’d just attended a book tour event down in Milwaukee for his latest Lake Wobegon novel, and had quickly become a fan of his columns that I’d been reading for a few months prior, at the suggestion of a buddy of mine.

Saturday night, he brought his popular public radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for a live broadcast and an encore performance, and my parents and I had tickets for the encore performance, as the live show must have sold out long before I even knew he was coming for a visit.

Prairie_Home_Companion “A Prairie Home Companion” is part monologue, part humor skit, part musical act. Keillor and his group of actors, and one very busy sound effects person, moved around on a stage decorated only with mic stands and copy stands, a piano and a drum set, and the facade of an old two-story farmhouse in the background, a dim light shining through its dirty bay windows, and another light on the tiny front porch.

The show has been on the air since 1974, with a two-year hiatus in the late 1980s. It’s heard by more than 4 million people each week on almost 600 radio stations, and abroad on America One and the Armed Forces Networks.

On the show’s Web site, Keillor says, “When the show started, it was something funny to do with my friends, and then it became an achievement I hoped would be successful, and now it’s a good way of life.”


Keillor’s sometimes odd mannerisms are part of his charm, as he’ll often sit with his eyes closed as he tells a story or sings a song, and insert a well-placed smirk when he knows the audience is going to react to a line.

He came out in his trademark red socks and shoes again (not Sauconys this time, but Adidas, so I doubt he has an endorsement deal), and a black suit with a red tie tied a bit too long.

He’s been introduced as a master storyteller, and certainly deserves that designation. His slow, deliberate, baritone voice, his audible breathing into the microphone and the little whistle when he pronounces his esses, and his great attention to detail, all keep you eagerly focused on his voice as he speaks or sings.

The group performed, “The Sounds Of Sickness,” with original lyrics based on Simon and Garfunkel’s classic, “Sound of Silence.” And another hilarious song based solely on the one ingredient that makes a man a father, and its miraculous journey. I think that one might have been the crowd’s favorite.

Add in a few two-song sets by some local musicians who were lucky enough to get exposure on such a broad stage, and a couple great skits including one where Keillor had a phone conversation with his mom about Easter brunch that somehow took a turn to his mother advising him to keep his Facebook profile updated, and the evening turned into nearly three hours of music, humor, and great celebration of the details of storytelling and the English language.

Toward the end of the show, Keillor gave an update on Lake Wobegon, where he spun the tale of him and his sister out walking in the garden, and while she looked for a perfect pumpkin, he found fascination in huge rotten tomato that he scooped up and examined, and then…instinctively flung at his sister.

As she chased him, he raced down the street and snuck into the corner bar to hide, encountering his Uncle Jack. So of course, the tangent turned to Uncle Jack and all his faults.

Twenty solid minutes of Keillor, on a stool, in a lone spotlight. Leg crossed, red shoes and socks on display, eyes closed. Reminiscing about days gone by on Lake Wobegon.

Quite a friendly companion to have on a Saturday night.

“God writes a lot of comedy...the trouble is,
he’s stuck with so many bad actors who
don’t know how to play funny.”
—Garrison Keillor

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What Rhymes With Orange?

NationalPoetryMonth2009In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I went to hear a poetry reading tonight at the local community college.

I’d never heard of the featured poet, Chuck Rybak, but...truth be told, I’ve never heard of quite a few poets, local or renowned, living or dead, rhyming or otherwise. I don’t consider myself a poet. (Which...I fear will be evidenced in just a few short paragraphs.)

Rybak’s perspective on a variety of subjects, and his wry wit, made the hour worthwhile. He read a great poem on a “mute” point, and also one in the style of Facebook status updates, which greatly amused those of us in the very small crowd who know what Facebook is.

But...since this is my blog, and not Chuck Rybak’s blog, I better post some original material, yes? I’ve got very limited experience as a poet, and many...if not all...of my past poems have been simple four-line rhyming stanzas. I haven’t strayed too far from the formula. I envision some free verse in my future, but until I actually get something down on paper...what can I say? I’m a Dr. Seuss wanna-be. Which I don’t consider to be a bad thing.

I know most established poets thumb their noses at poems that rhyme. “Feh!” they say, closing their mouths quickly before accidentally spitting out another word that rhymes with “feh.”

Without further ado, in great celebration of National Poetry Month, I give you my hastily thrown together poh-emm...

So It Rhymes...So What?

Roses are red
(who were you expecting...e.e. cummings?)
violets are blue,
I can write poems
and I bet you can, too.

It’s really quite easy,
just find a few words,
and write about snowflakes
or tulips or birds.

Or football or rugby
or manly type things,
or the shake of your head
every time Britney Spears sings.

You can write about heartache
or true love or laughter,
or the wild keg party
and the rough morning after.

Read poems from the masters
like Keats, Frost, and Poe,
they’ll give you direction
and off you will go.

So grab keyboard or
paper and pencil or pen.
Write a line, then another,
and then do it again.

I know you can do it,
you can’t write much worse
than the drivel you’re reading
from first to last verse.

But I’ll keep on trying
and hope to get better,
and be a famous wordsmith,
not a lowly typesetter.

Three cheers to April,
raise your beer or your Snapple.
And if you go to the store
could you bring me an orange?

“The only thing that can save the world is
the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.
That’s what poetry does.”
—Allen Ginsberg

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I’ll Take The Fork-Stabbing Kind, Please

I’ve been eating a lot of lettuce salads lately...partly because I’m a big fan of the salad bar, and partly because I’m getting to that age where too many subs and Big Macs and pizzas tend to catch up to you and stick around a while if you don’t do something about it.

(Confession: I really reached that age several years ago, and have seen the noticeable effects, but it sounds better in this story if I tell it as though I’m just discovering it now.)

Even when I visit a top-notch buffet...which, I um, haven’t done in a few months, and don’t intend to do for at least a few more matter what spectacular meat and vegetable entrées await me, I always appreciate a well-stocked salad bar and start my meal with a plate of lettuce and a multitude of fixin’s and dressings.

In the past year or so, I’ve become addicted to the grocery store salad bar, with its containers so big and ingredients so numerous that you can get carried away with three or four different kinds of meats and peppers and mushrooms and tomatoes and baby corns and eggs and bacon bits and olives and cheeses and onions and carrots and top it all off with sunflower seeds and sesame sticks and croutons and...whew! before you know it your “healthful” meal weighs about six pounds and costs as much as your monthly electric bill.

It’s easy to go overboard with all those choices, and lately I’ve been trying to avoid putting three or four or nine scoops of bacon bits and two or three entire eggs on my salads.

Although the salads may be a bit costly per pound, it’s impossible to argue against their convenience, because to buy all of those ingredients separately would involve a bank loan and a co-signer, not to mention hours of cleaning and chopping and slicing and dicing, and an extra shelf in the fridge to store them all, when instead it’s all laid out for you right there in the grocery store.

Lettuce_IcebergMost of the salad bars have two or three different kinds of greens to choose from, and here’s where I get picky. I always always always go for the plain-Jane iceberg lettuce as the foundation for my salad creations.

I know the Martha Stewart-esque salads these days are built upon spinach leaves or some other kind of leaf lettuce variety, and have cranberries or almonds or grapes or mandarin oranges, and are spritzed with a flavored vinaigrette.

But those kinds of salads can be annoying, if only because it’s nearly impossible to remember how to spell “vinaigrette” without having to look it up in the dictionary.

My rule is: If you can’t stab it with a fork, then please bring me a different kind of lettuce salad. I don’t want to have to slip under a flimsy leaf with a spatula just to get it off of my plate.

And French. Thousand Island. Zesty Italian. Sometimes a combination of two or all three of these. If you wish to shake a bit of red wine vinegar over your mountainous lettuce salad, go for it. But leave the vinaigrettes for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, thank you very much.

I’m convinced, lettuce salads are more fun to top than pizzas.

And almost as healthful. Almost.

“Lettuce is like conversation; it must be
fresh and crisp, so sparkling that you
scarcely notice the bitter in it.”
—Charles Dudley Warner

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Stand By For News!

I first learned of Paul Harvey about 17 years ago when I worked for a carpenter who would always time our lunch breaks around Harvey's radio broadcasts.

The saws would stop and the hammers would go back in the tool belts, and my boss would say, "Paul's on." It was never, "Lunch time," or "Take a break." Always..."Paul's on."

And as soon as his 15-minute broadcast was over, with his trademark, "Pauuul Harvey. Good day!", so was our lunch break, and it was back to pounding nails.

Harvey was unique. From the way in which he'd pronounce syllables in certain words to the product ads he'd read during his broadcast to the eclectic angles he'd find from which to tell a story. He was opinionated, and those opinions rarely coincided with my own. But he was still a fun listen.

I didn't work for that builder for very long, and soon after that job, my lunch breaks had more and more minutes in them and less and less of Paul Harvey. But over the years I still found myself taking my hand off the radio dial if I ever heard his distinct voice as I was buzzing around the stations.

Paul Harvey died on Saturday at the age of 90, news that spread quickly around the interwebs and Twitter. He'd trimmed his broadcast schedule in recent years, but reports say that he was broadcasting a week before he died.

So no more searching around the radio dial for his familiar opening: "Hello Americans! This is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news!!"

Good day, Mr. Harvey.
Good day.

"In times like these, it is helpful
to remember that there have
always been times like these."
—Paul Harvey

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Live. Solo. Acoustic. With A Pug.

So the story goes that Rhett Miller was walking down State Street in Madison last Saturday, and he happened to stop in at Ragstock, a sort of retro-wear clothing store. There he saw the clerk wearing horned-rimmed glasses and a T-shirt that said, "Science Nerd," and that served as a reminder for him to play his song, "Four-Eyed Girl," at his show at The Majestic later that night.

Or at least...that's how he told it before he played the song. I have a feeling he'd have played it anyway, but it was a good story. And I do believe that he was wandering on State Street during the day before his show. Because...well, State is a street that lends itself to wandering.

His version that night of "Four-Eyed Girl" was a little messy and out of rhythm, and at times more spoken than sung...and it was fantastic.

After missing a couple of chances to see Rhett Miller in Wisconsin in the past few years, I didn't pass on this one, and I was glad I didn't. He played solo and acoustic, and while I haven't been in attendance at a great many acoustic shows, I've never seen anyone put so much effort and energy into playing an acoustic guitar and standing alone on stage, entertaining a crowd of several hundred people.

The rather eccentric lead singer of the Old 97s did very well for himself, by himself, up on stage. He's got this...presence...I guess, that makes you uncertain whether that's just him, or if he's a bit aided by chemical substances. Either way, he delivered a solid hour and a half of energy, playing a handful of songs from his first solo effort, The Instigator, which is the only album of his I owned prior to the show.

He also played songs from The Believer, which I now own, and need to listen to a few more times before I can say if it measures up to his first disc, and from his upcoming solo rele
ase, plus a few songs from The Old 97s as well. I'd tell you more about The Old 97s, but I don't have a clue who they are or what they're about. All I know is Rhett Miller is their frontman, and they're still together and still making music.

Part of the mystery of Rhett Miller and his music is that it's a bit difficult to classify. It's rock 'n' roll, no doubt. But there's something else to it. It's probably no coincidence that he went into Ragstock, because he and his sound have a retro vibe to them. And he can go from a hundred miles a minute to a weepy ballad with equal success.

The Old 97s I think are actually described by some as alt. country. Quite a category.

If you've never heard of Rhett Miller, I would suggest that downloading "Four-Eyed Girl" on iTunes would be 99 cents very well spent. And then go see a show.

— • — • —

I almost wanted to write this as the lead to this blog post, but after waiting for a Rhett Miller show for several years, I knew I had to put the headliner at the top.

But the opening act on Saturday was a welcome surprise...also an acoustic performer, a guy named Joe Pug from Chicago. A decent guitarist and an impressive lyricist, he held my attention during his set and got me to spend a few bucks on his EP, Nation of Heat, before I left the theater.

He's also got a full-length CD coming out in a couple of months, and I'm eager to hear more of his songwriting talents. I see myself actively searching out another of his shows sometim
e this year, because while much of the crowd at The Majestic was spending its time talking over Joe Pug as they waited for Rhett Miller, I spent that time, um...listening. To the songs. And the lyrics. (novel concept at a concert, I know.)

One reviewer writes a great line when he says, "I won't insult your intelligence by telling you who Joe Pug sounds like..." And if you click over to the link above, you'll get it right away.

But...give him a listen. He's in his early 20s, and he had a modesty and sincerity about him that might indicate that, if he catches a break or two along the way, more people might soon know the name Joe Pug.

And spend their time listening when he's up on stage.

"Two of us in a double feature,
I'm a rock and roller she's a science teacher.
I send her looks, they don't reach her.
She does not know I'm in love with her."
—Rhett Miller

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Three Down. How Many More To Go?

I went to another show last weekend at The Rave in Milwaukee, and that place is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues...if not always for the acoustics, then for the mystery of the building and its contents.

I say mystery, because I'm finding out that I don't really know how many separate musical venues are located there. And I'm beginning to think
that maybe nobody does!

I've seen a couple shows in the Eagles Ballroom (upper level). Late last year I saw Sister Hazel in the Eagles Hall, or The Rave II (lower level). And on Friday I was in what I believe is called The Rave Hall. There's also The Rave Bar, The Rave Vibe Room, the RockStar Lounge...none of which I've seen. Yet. At least not knowingly.

I'm fully expecting to one day order tickets to a Crows show, and when I get there, be led up several flights of winding, twisting stairs, down a long dark hall and into a small room with a couple tables and a fridge, and Adam Duritz standing by the sink playing a solo acoustic show for eight people in The Rave Kitchen.

Or maybe not.

— • — • —

The concert on Friday night was Big Head Todd & The Monsters, a band about which I know very little. I own Strategem, and can fumble along with the lyrics of a few of their songs, most notably, "In The Morning." Aside from that, I can't say I'm their biggest fan. I went mainly because it was a Friday night, a few good buddies, a few over-priced beers, and live music. Hello?? I can't say no to that! Well...I can. But I rarely do.

And after seeing what I saw on Friday night, I suspect I'll be returning to another Big Head Todd show in the future.

There was very little banter or crowd interaction between songs. All Todd and his three Monsters did was play high-energy, high-quality rock 'n' roll music. For two..and a half...hours. Todd's one hell of a guitarist, and I don't know how to describe the drummer...if he had, like...opposable wrists, or something? (yes, I just made that up. no, it doesn't make any sense. I know this.)

His hands just seemed to float above his cymbals, and then he'd go into an arm-flailing drum fill a second later, toss one of his sticks up in the air, catch it and switch back to a cymbal float. Hard to describe, except that he was a lot of fun to watch, really into what he was doing, and made so much of it look effortless.

The night included a few cover songs...."Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker; a good but not spectacular version of "Ring Of Fire," by Johnny Cash; and a blow-me-away-good rendition of Clapton's "Forever Man." Anyone who's geeked out about setlists can go and check out the rest of the night's lineup.

In a crowd of maybe 500 people—most of whom were very close to my age—it was a night of easy, relaxing, kinda bluesy, kinda rockin' live guitar music that did not disappoint, even for someone who was an almost fan going into the night.

One quick mention down here of something that did disappoint...and that was the opening act, Joan Jones. Had a hard time finding something to like during her short set, except for the saxophone player, who was as hot as she was talented.

Other than that, the songs were mostly filler until the crowd gathered for BHTM. One of her lyrics was, "Everybody wants to come to my party...wearing nothing at all." And I think that was supposed to be a ballad. 'Nuff said.

"Whoever fights monsters should
see to it that in the process he
doesn't become a monster."
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The (Not So) Super Bowl

It’s been said that baseball is a game of inches...although I think that cliché has been borrowed for almost every other sport by now as well, from horseshoes to badminton.

But I found out Sunday that sports, and football in this particular example, can be a game of percentages, too.

As in...what are the percentages that the team that wins the coin toss in the Super Bowl defers to the other team, and kicks off instead of taking the ball first?

Or what are the percentages that a rumblin’, bumblin’ linebacker intercepts a pass at one goal line and stumbles through a traffic jam of pads and helmets and grasping hands, dancing along the sideline without stepping out of bounds and falling head first into the other end zone to score a touchdown seconds before the end of the first half?

These two specific plays had my undivided attention on Sunday, especially the latter, because it changed the score from 10-7 to 17-7, which may or may not have rendered a square with my name in it completely worthless.

And this wasn’t a you’ve-just-won-a-free-cheeseburger square, either. More like an all-your-hotels-in-Vegas-in-June-are-paid-for square.

Such is my luck during the Super Bowl. And football season in general, for that matter.

A couple of other musings as we head into the off-season:

• Hines Ward had a 38-yard reception early on that stood for much of the game as the longest pass play between him and Larry Fitzgerald, until Fitzgerald caught one over the middle in the fourth quarter and streaked past Pittsburgh’s defense for a 64-yard touchdown. Ouch.

• Rarely did you hear Troy Polamalu’s name called or see his long hair blowing in the breeze on camera, as he was virtually silent and barely sniffed the ball during the game. I thought he’d find his way into position to get at least one pick.

• Both running games were anemic, with the Steelers hovering around 60 yards, and Edgerrin James gaining all of Arizona’s yards on the ground. Thirty-three.

• Kurt Warner managed to pick apart the league’s best defense for 377 yards to become the all-time greatest passer in Super Bowl history. The former Arena Leaguer has the three best passing performances in Super three attempts. Like him or not, that’s a rather impressive feat.

• There were 23 points scored in the fourth quarter alone, which turned out to be a big boost for those of us who were watching the all-important 46.5 number.

• The Super Bowl was, in fact, so unpredictable that The Boss himself didn’t even play a note of “Born In The U.S.A.” on the grandest stage in all of sports. I would’ve bet against that. I didn’t...but I would have.

Probably the tastiest tidbit of the day was that I got to devour some of my buddy’s chili. Which has nothing to do with the Super Bowl or football or anything else in this blog entry, but it’s always worth a mention, because it’s the best chili on the planet.

OK, heads I write about something other than football in my next post, and tails I break down the Pro Bowl.

Don’t worry, if I win the toss, I’ll defer to you, anyway.

“We’re at the Super Bowl and the people
are thanking us for coming. Thanking us
for coming to the Super Bowl?
Are you kidding me?”
—Lorrie Fair

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Oil-Free Bowling Alley

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

There's also a slightly lesser-known mantra that goes something like:

When a Wisconsin winter gives you temps below zero and enough inches of ice on the lake to drive a semi on...go bowling!


I spend many of my summer holidays with friends up nort (the "h" is optional, but frowned upon. nort!), and we often get together for a Winter Weekend as well. This year someone suggested ice bowling, if we could find some old pins and bowling balls. We did.

While the primary activity on Saturday morning was sitting around a table watching the needle on the thermometer slowly creep toward zero degrees (whether it reached its goal is debatable, depending on your angle to the thermometer), about noon, a couple of people started migrating out-of-doors and down toward the lake. And then a couple more. And a couple more.

I was one of the last ones down to the choice. But I had to go and see if in the frigid weather the balls and/or pins might shatter upon impact, or if there was maybe one very thin patch of ice on our "lane," and if the ball was unfortunately dropped in that spot, we'd hear a "Puh-lunk!" as the ball disappeared to the bottom of the lake to be fished out in spring.

Nothing shattered.
No puh-lunks.

I was outside for half an hour, to snap a few photos, most of which had a strange blue hue and unfortunate shadows (stupid manual camera settings and users who don't know how to set them!), before I decided that a heated garage would be a much better place to sit and enjoy a cold beverage.

The rest of the crew spent more than an hour outside, setting up various creative pin configurations (see the lonely bonus pin in the photo as an example), and occasionally knocking them down.

And bowling was over, and other weekend activities ensued, including (but not limited to) drinking beer out of 9-ounce plastic cups, eating Tobascoed chili, singing along to songs by artists as diverse as Kenny Rogers and Guns 'n' Roses, observing (but not participating in) the new exercise craze, called Eight-Minute Stairs, and debating the difference between the terms "sexy" and "attractive" (which can be an entire blog post on its own).

Quite a full day. And night.

"Building a mechanical device
for its appearance is like
putting lace on a bowling ball."
—Andrew Vachss

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blindsided. (but in a good way)

So did you all see what my Guest Blogger did last week?

After I wrote a rambling intro that was about the same length as his entire post, warning my readers to brace themselves for the worst, and how much of a bashing I was about to take, from my sports teams to my music choices to...well, to everything and anything...did you see what he did?

He took the high road!
(never saw it coming.)

That had to be the most painless wager I ever lost, because it got us all several paragraphs of thoughtful, clear, opinionated writing. Looks to me like everybody won. (except for maybe Mr. Guest Blogger, who's now probably kicking himself that he had the stage on which to bash me, but instead passed to focus his entry on current events.)

I knew he had it in him, and I know he has more. Much...more.

Should he ever decide to start his own blog and post such opinions on a regular basis, I will be certain to include the link here. I know I want to keep reading.

Don't you?

"To be an ideal guest, stay at home."
—Edgar Watson Howe

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Settling My Debt

Today at Ton-Fifty-ONE, there will be a bit of a change of pace, as I'm bringing in a Guest Blogger. You see...I lost a bet. When the Chargers upset the Colts during Wild Card Weekend, I was out drinking with some of whom is a Chargers fan. So we made a little wager, and as we were thinking of what to bet, this blog came up, and my buddy said, "Oooh! I can write a guest post on your blog!"

Sounds painless enough, but you have to understand that we have a hate/hate relationship. He hates me...and I hate the fact that I have to give him free reign of my blog for a day.

Well, maybe it's not quite as bad as that, but suffice it to say that sarcasm and insults flow freely between e-mail, txt msgs, and of person. We have to clarify statements of sincerity by prefacing them with, "But, seriously......" because those instances are so rare.

Being a believer in freedom of expression, and honoring my bets, I assured Matthew that I would not alter his post in any way. So all opinions, typos, lame jokes, and misused punctuation are his and his alone.

Truth be told (ouch, here it comes), he's a pretty good guy, and knows at least a little something about almost everything. And about some things, he knows a lot. We bounce questions and ideas off of each other. "What's the plural of 'analysis'?" he'll ask me. And, "Teach me all about computer geekery," I'll beg of him.

He's a constructive critic when I ask him to be. And he's funnier than you. (I'm not sure if I'm saying that because it's true, or because I want to put added pressure on him to write a good entry...because he saw this intro before sending me his post. Probably a little of both.)

In case you were curious...if I would've won the bet, he would have had to wear my Lions jersey during our draft party, and pay for all of my beer. Oh, all the microbrews I'm missing out on!

So for today, Ton-Fifty-ONE belongs to Matthew.
Please come back tomorrow. I beg of you.

— • — • —

During the past week a cold snap has overtaken Wisconsin, and from what they tell me, pretty much the eastern half of the nation as well. Maybe cold is too kind of a word. It's not the kind of cold that just makes you button your coat all the way to the top and shiver just a bit before continuing on your way. No, it's the kind of cold that makes you question Darwin and his theory of evolution. Surely there has to be a greater power at hand making decisions for the human race, because there's no way that we would evolve to live in the type of climate where taking one step outside results in a headache. If you're unlucky enough to stand outside for longer than 5 minutes, you run the chance of frostbite... over 200,000 years of evolution — and still people can literally freeze in a matter of minutes. Nature, on its own, could never be so cruel to let an animal live in a region they are so obviously unsuited for.

The deep freeze though, does have its benefits. It has a way of clearing the mind and prioritizing the important things. When you venture outside and the air temperature is minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you do not have the time for anything but the task at hand. You help the person who's car won't start or you donate those unused coats to a charity. The task at hand is to stay warm and help others stay warm. Your mind doesn't cloud with frivolous thoughts that seem important in warmer climes. In a teaser for Simon Schama's new documentary, "The American Future: A History", a woman from Texas rails against immigrants from Mexico, stating they were sneaking into the United States just to commit crimes and spread disease. Commit crimes and spread disease. To me, it sounds like that woman could use some frigid weather to clear her mind. When the temperature is so cold that taking a deep breath is impossible, fantasizing about the perceived evils of a people is not a priority.

The bitter cold is also contradictory. As uncomfortable as it can be to stand outside, the sheer beauty of the uniformly colored, barren landscape and the deep stillness and quiet that encompasses it can be strangely enticing. Maybe it's the sense of a new beginning. When it's so quiet that you actually believe you hear your breath crystalizing mere seconds after you exhale, and the land is as blank as a new sheet of paper, its hard not to believe that this is just nature's way of starting over. Anything seems possible when the mercury has nowhere to go but up and the terrain is so completely devoid of life that any sign of another living thing hints of all that is possible when spring finally emerges.

Maybe then this latest deep freeze is just nature's way of ushering out the national nightmare that has engulfed us all these last eight years and providing a clean slate for Tuesday. All of the atrocities committed in the name of the people of the United States... an unnecessary war, a climate on the verge of a tipping point, the human rights violations, an economy in ruins.... Is there anything we need more than a complete break from the past and a chance to start over? As the cold weather rolls east towards our nation's capitol, nature is giving us her answer. Wipe the slate clean... a new beginning is here. Welcome back America, I missed you.