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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fresh Copy.

I found a site a few months back that grabbed me from the first word and never let go.

The site is called Copyblogger, and provides writing tips for anyone who needs to

Their ideas seem new and fresh, or maybe it's just a different-angled approach to the same tried-and-true ideas. But it's a great blog...and ever since I found it I thought that if I could take away even 20 percent of the lessons and ideas and tips offered there, I might be writing for a living instead of, you know...not writing for a living.

Some of the titles of their entries draw you in enough that you can't help but click over and see what they have to say. Titles like, "Are You A Fancy Nancy Writer?" (my answer: not as often as some other people) or "The Art of One Butt Cheek Blogging" and "The Winnie The Pooh Guide To Blogging." (Pooh and his friends teach us more than we know.)

I'd lie and say that after reading a new Copyblogger post, I immediately incorporate on this blog what I've learned in that day's entry. But most of you have visited here often enough, and would know that that's simply not the case. Yet.

I try to take away at least a little nugget of wisdom every time I click over to the site. For the most part, though, it serves as a fantastic read, and an example of what good copy can be, should be, and with any luck...someday, will be.

"Copy from one, it's plagiarism;
copy from two, it's research."
—Wilson Mizner

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blog Update

Somebody at Adobe must've known that yesterday was Monday and that I was in need of a good chuckle. This is what popped up on my computer screen at work about mid-morning:

Gotta be the best dialog box I've ever seen.

"The only thing God didn't do to Job
was give him a computer."
—I.F. Stone

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shoot The Moon

On Saturday night, I was jarred from my cozy apartment by a text message shortly after midnight that sent me scrambling for my jacket and camera bag.

Flipping open my phone, I found the following:

"Dude, you better be outside taking pictures of
this moon and the blue landscape!"

I went to my front window and peered up into the sky, and then to my back window. Nothing.

I sent back a quick text:

"I have no idea what you're talking about...
but I'm running out the door to look."

When I got outside, I realized I would've needed a hole in my ceiling, and the roof above, to see the moon from the comfort of my couch, as it was directly overhead.

It was full, and bright, and formed an eerie glowing ring around it. I tried to snap a few photos, but thought a big glowing ball in the center of the frame might make for a rather boring shot, so I almost leaned against my building, and shot straight up into the air.

If I tried to get the moon in sharp focus, the ring around it...and most of the building, for that matter...disappeared from the frame. So I settled for this shot, which makes the moon look almost like a headlight. It wasn't...but it was close. And I kind of like the weird angle of this shot.

And the ring. Had to get the ring. That's not a camera trick...that was actually visible in the sky.

Then I got in my car and drove a couple of miles out of town and parked on a dark, lonely road where I spent a little time several years ago, lying on the hood of my car at about 3:30am trying unsuccessfully to see some of the Leonids meteor shower.

Here's where I first understood what my buddy meant when he said "the blue landscape." The moon was glowing so brightly that it illuminated the earth pretty well, and as I stood outside of my car and looked around, there was a faint blue tint to everything.

As I stared at the moon straight above me, I knew there was no chance to get a shot that would include both the moon and any part of the landscape for reference, so I took out my zoom lens and fooled around with a few settings that I'm sure a professional would tell me weren't the "correct" ones...but as I brought the moon into focus in the middle of the frame, it showed a little detail and some of its features, and that was good enough for me.

I clicked around with my camera until my fingertips were nearly frozen, and hoped that I had something on my card that would look good on the screen.

It's not an artsy moon shot, and it's cropped so it looks more like a photo that you'd see in a textbook to define parts of the moon's surface.

But I took it. And I think it rocks.

I don't think I've ever been as grateful for
txt msging (and txt msgrs!) as I was on Saturday night.

"Yeah we all shine on,
like the moon,
and the stars,
and the sun."
—John Lennon

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby Steps

Baby steps, they say.

We’ve all heard the phrase. When embarking on a giant new venture, or taking on something steps. Makes the task or the journey a little easier to tackle, one small step at a time.

You know when else you should use baby steps? When Mother Nature sprinkles down a nice freezing drizzle and coats...oh, just about a shiny, thin layer of ice.

I was out in Madison with some buddies last weekend, watching the football games, and while we’d heard the forecast and knew what was probably coming our way, it was still a sight to see when we came out of the popular chicken wing establishment (not the one with the orange shorts, the one with all the W's) after the games were over.

Rather than head for home, somebody in our group decided we should go downtown to a piano bar that was supposed to be popular. I left my finely iced car in the parking lot, and off we went in a car less affected by the elements, to listen to tunes from Billy Joel and Cat Stevens and Elton John.

Then someone else got the bright idea to head to another bar that was “just a block away.” This is where the baby steps came in handy on Saturday.

When we got outside, it was slow going, and balance was key. Any attempt at a regular walking stride would have been met with certain horizontality along the sidewalk, so there was much shuffling and reaching for stationary items to help us on our journey.

The one-block estimate was actually off by about three, so we stepped gingerly over ice and through snow that had better footing, turning to see the Capitol building lit up and glowing quite nicely in the night. (no photos to accompany this statement, however. because if I would have had my camera, I would certainly have wiped out, and been minus one camera.)

I found myself overwhelmed by a fit of laughter at the sight of the four of us as we slithered and slid up the sidewalk. Remember that Tim Conway character from the old Carol Burnett shows? The world’s oldest man? That’s how we were walking.

We got to the hipster bar and listened to a little jazz funk from a five-piece band crammed onto a corner stage that could really only comfortably hold about three people. And when the lights came on after last call, it was time to slide our way back.

This time, as we walked past the Capitol, there were about a half dozen people using the long, slanted approach to the building as a slide, not caring much about their clothes as they lay on their backs and came down the angle to the sidewalk below.

It looked like fun, but I didn’t want to shuffle all the way to the top just for a 15-second joy ride to the bottom.

The laughing fit that struck me on the way up came back and hit me again on the walk back to the car. Apparently ice plus late nights in Madison plus trying to stay upright (plus more than a few beers) equal one funny scene.

There were three wipeouts among our group during our round trip (I was not one of them), and after taking inventory that no wrists or hips or elbows...or skulls...had any new cracks in them that weren’t there before the spill...well, that just added to the hilarity, of course.

I don’t have much use for winter, but I guarantee the sight would have been much less entertaining if it was just a walk in a cold spring rain.

“When I see a slippery slope,
my instinct is to build a terrace.”
—John McCarthy

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Slows.

Boy, when things get slow after the holidays...they really...get slow...after the holidays.

And I'm not talking only about my eight-day hiatus from this little space I called home throughout December.

There's very little hustle and no bustle to speak of in the stores. The Christmas decorations that lined several intersections in my village have been taken down. And work? Let's just say it's gone from missing a few lunch breaks and working extra hours here and there, to the quote I heard today: "The workload is a little lean today, so you can probably knock off at four."

Whew! We've definitely hit the January Slows.
(yes, I thought about that phrase for a couple of hours both yesterday and today, and that's the best I could come up with. apparently, work isn't the only thing that's not moving at full speed these days.)

During my calendar year at work, there are a couple of very noticeable lulls, and the first few weeks in January definitely qualify. (part of July does a pretty good January imitation, too.) After running ourselves ragged writing stories and laying out and pasting up bigger issues, and special sections, January comes and the page total takes a hit. A few 16-page papers signify the dawn of a new year.

(I know what you're saying. "Did he just say sixteen?? What's he complaining about?" Yes, I know we're not the New York Times or the Detroit Free Press, but they've got more than four and a half people on their staff, now don't they? And they don't split time between newspaper pages and newsletters, raffle tickets, business forms, yaddayaddayadda.)

What I was trying to say...before I so rudely interrupted myself with what I thought you might be whining about as you read this that there's a big difference between a 16-page paper and a 20- or 24-page paper.

Pasteup on Wednesday mornings is done at an almost...dare I say...leisurely...pace. I get 30 entire minutes to eat lunch and check my mail, instead of wolfing something down during the drive to the printer.

I have time at the end of the week to work on tasks that were overlooked during the holidays, like...oh, I dunno...file backup. Machine maintenance. Breathing. Focusing.

Kinda feels like one big, "Ahhhhhhh."

Things will pick up again soon, and while they won't be Christmas season crazy, they'll But pretty soon, football season will be over, and we'll have a couple tough, slow months to continue slogging through.

A concert here and there, and maybe a baseball game in spring. A big Vegas trip to look forward to in June, and then a beer or two on the Fourth of July. Wind down the summer over Labor Day and put on a scary mask for Halloween. Cry in my wine over another crappy Lions season while stuffing myself with Thanksgiving turkey, and then wait until four days before Christmas to finish my shopping.


What was that I said about...slow?
Because that sure feels like how last year went.

Enjoy the down time when you get it, friends.

"I value the friend who for me
finds time on his calendar,
but I cherish the friend who for me
does not consult his calendar."
—Robert Brault