Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Want to be Alone on Christmas ...

"I Want to be Alone on Christmas (Here with You)" by Milwaukee group Testa Rosa is a song that I never heard until about an hour ago, but it instantly hit me. The lyrics echo exactly my sentiment towards 2011's holiday season. Not every season, but this one in particular.

There are times we get too wrapped up in everything. Work, fitness, home maintenance, media, and even recreation can become overwhelming. I don't mean overwhelming in a "I can't handle it anymore!" kind of way -- not for me, fortunately -- but just enough that one can lose sight of what is most important: our loved ones. And even  ourselves.

This year, unlike any other, my wife and I are going to get away. We need a change. We long for a break from our routine, from politics, from our associates, from ... our own perspective. Leaving our house and our beloved pup Bailey in the good hands of my mother, tomorrow we board a Europe-bound plane where we will stay until New Year's Eve. Unlike other trips we have taken, we're not moving from town-to-town, country-to-country or airport-to-airport. No, this time we will stay in one hotel and embrace and submerse ourselves into a different language and culture. Hopefully, when we return, we will be renewed and ready to dive into a prosperous 2012 -- where we'll want to be alone with you for the entire year. :)

Merry Christmas and enjoy this song!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's That Time of Year ... for Mexicorn!

"Mexicorn?" you ask. "What the heck does the Christmas season have to do with Mexican corn?"

"Well, nothing," I reply. "Almost nothing."

It goes back roughly 5 years ago. All in my company were writing down on a sheet what they were going to bring to the Christmas luncheon. I looked at the list. There were about 12 different meatball variations, 14 different cakes or bars, veggie trays, cheese trays, thawed shrimp, thawed pies, thawed anything -- you name it. But only a few items to go as an accompaniment to all that meat, so I thought about it for a bit. "Hmm. I had some pretty good Mexican corn at at Mexican restaurant recently. Why not bring some Mexicorn?"

So I did.

It all got eaten.

So I brought it the next year.

It all got eaten, again.

And thus, a Christmas luncheon tradition was born. From now until the end of my working days, I will make a pot of Mexican corn to accompany everybody else's meat.

And, so I don't lose and scramble to find the recipe again next year, I'm blogging about it.

To make Mike Collins's Traditional Christmas Season Mexicorn, you do this:


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
a pinch of cumin
1 teaspoon lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add corn, bell peppers, red onion, salt, pepper, cumin, and lime juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until vegetables are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with fresh cilantro.

And of course, if company policy would allow, I would accompany with a nice cold Dos Equis lager.

Give it a try. Let me know what you think.

Merry Mexichristmas!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Inadvertent Education of a Reader of a Chef's Memoirs

Finished Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (my first e-book!) last night and I'm really wondering why Gabrielle Hamilton ever took the time to write it. She is, unquestionably, a gifted writer and I imagine her cooking is top-notch (I've yet to have the pleasure), but this book goes nowhere. There are holes in the story large enough to drive a truck through and it fizzles to an unsatisfactory end. Her story is 2 stars, but her ability to turn a phrase is 3+ stars, thus, I settle on a rating of 3 stars (out of 5).

I have read all of Anthony Bourdain's books, so when I saw his one sentence review on the cover "Magnificent. Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever." I thought, "Wow. This has really gotta be good!" Unfortunately, I can't say I disagree with Mr. Bourdain, 'cause honestly, I've never read a chef's memoir before (unless you count his landmark Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly), but if this is as good as a chef memoir can get, I'm afraid I won't be reading any more chef's memoirs.

More from Google Books: link.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Guitar Gently Weeps ...

My guitar gently weeps because I've been playing with a new-to-me new camera. Two years ago I gave my wife a Nikon D40 for Christmas, over time, I became familiar with it and soon desired one of my own. Since we had a few lenses, it made sense to check out Ebay and look for a body only. Finally found one for only $205! A really great deal that I couldn't pass up.

Look out world -- I'm gonna be a picture snappin' fool now!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dietbolical Goal Reached!!

What a day. What an amazing f'ing day.
I had mapped out my run about a week ago -- I designed my route to spell the word "dietbolical". [For those unfamiliar, "dietbolical" was a plan I hatched 100 days ago. My aim was to run every single day until I reached my target weight of 180 lbs. I started at 198 pounds. You can read my original commitment here:] As the days passed, it was looking more and more like I would hit my goal about day 100, BUT I DIDN'T EXPECT IT TO BE EXACTLY ON DAY 100!!
Tonight, after running the dietbolical route, got home, showered, stepped on the scale, stepped off, stepped on, stepped off, stepped on, and finally yelled to my wife "Hey! Come here! I have to show you something!" Understandably, she walked up the stairs timidly because usually this request is usually ends up with her wishing she never responded. However, what she saw was me standing on the scale in my shorts saying "Look! I did it!!" No matter where I moved the scale on the floor or how many times I stepped on and off, I could not make it read a number higher than 180. I did it. I freaking did it!!
I don't know what I'm going to do next, but I don't think I can stop running daily now. Now that I've met my goal, I can see there's still a bit more that I could stand to lose (175 lbs. seems like a reasonable goal). I knew nearly 100 days ago (I wrote my commitment 2 or 3 days after I started) that if I wrote it down and "published" my goal, it would be reached. I only wish I would have done it sooner -- I wouldn't have bought 3 pairs of shorts and 3 pairs of dress slacks in the spring with a 36" waist (I'm now a 33 or 32!).
Thanks for all of the encouragement particularly to Jane S. , Rachel B. , Keith H. , Chelsey F. ,Reggie W. for nearly daily encouragement and Tim C. for being the guy who put this crazy idea into my head in the first place. I owe you all a beer. ;) I owe many others a giant thanks too!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thank You, Glen Campbell

Today is the official release date of Glen Campbell's "Ghost On The Canvas." I was unaware that the album was in the works until I heard the title track on Milwaukee radio. I was aware, however, of Mr. Campbell's battle with Alzheimer's disease. This is his final album until he slips off into a life of dementia. Truly, truly sad.
However, what is not sad, is how magnificent this album is. I think this is going to be THE album of 2011. It's the type of album not many artists get to make. Warren Zevon's 2003 farewell album "The Wind" is the only one that comes to mind. After purchasing it for only $3.99 today from, I listened to it all day and during tonight's run. I remain awed by the lushness and expanse of the production, the melodies, the musicianship, and -- most importantly -- the power and smoothness of Mr. Campbell's voice. Oh man, I'd give up running if I could sing like that! (First love -- strumming and singing; running's fine -- but it's much farther down my list.)
I hate to seem like I'm shilling for The Man (not Campbell -- the corporate machine), but this album is available for this price for only a few more hours at Some won't like it; that's just the way it is, but most will at the very least have a strong appreciation for the man's talents.
Detractors may say, "Who can't make a great album when Jakob Dylan, Paul Westerberg, Brian Setzer, Billy Corgan, Dick Dale, The Dandy Warhols, Chris Isaak, Teddy Thompson, and Keith Urban (and more!) are your collaborators?" But I'd respond that, despite the quality and fame of his fellow musicians, Glen's voice stands above with a soul and quality that makes him a truly gifted artist. Which, I'm sure, is why so many of today's artists fell over themselves to make this album with him.
When I was a little boy, I had 2 hamsters: Johnny Cash and Glenn Campbell were their names. Like hamsters do, they passed away and were buried in the backyard. For a year after that, I would tell people, "Johnny Cash and Glenn Campbell are buried in my backyard!" Mom explained, "Mike's talking about his hamsters -- not the singers!" And regrettably, once my hamsters were gone, I went on to become a HUGE fan of the Man in Black, but The Rhinestone Cowboy was forgotten. Listening to this new album, I realize I've missed a lot and I look forward to going back into his archive and listening before his time with us has passed.
This post was extracted from my post for the day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Badass Minivan

"So we bought a minivan. No kids, but we own a minivan. Go figure."

The Minivan
That was my post on facebook yesterday and judging by a few comments, I got some raised eyebrows. "Why in the world would someone without kids ever own a minivan?!" Well there are reasons, both practical and indulgent. Yes, indulgent, but I'll get into that later.

First off, the vehicle that we replaced was my 2001 Ford Ranger pickup. I'm going to miss that pickup, but it was tired at nearly 128,000 miles. It still ran like a champ, but there were suddenly more than a few problems with it -- a slipping transmission being the most significant. Also, this truck was seldom compatible with city living/driving. It was great for those hauls to the city dump every so often, but as a daily commuter, it was awful. Poor gas mileage and a pain-in-the-neck in small parking lots -- with an extended cab, it was a long truck! -- made me curse the vehicle more than praise it. The writing was on the wall; it was time to replace the truck.

Next, it would be nice -- and less expensive (probably) -- to buy a car. However, most sedans seat 5 adults maximum (4 comfortably). My wife owns a receptive tour company (KBC Tour Company); a number of times per year she would have a need to provide a tour to 2 couples or a family. Our other vehicle -- a Mazda Tribute (SUV) -- was just too small. In these cases she would be forced to rent a minivan and the her profits (if there were any) would plummet. She could not cost-effectively conduct business by having to rent a minivan every time she had a group between 4 and 6 people.


There. I've said it. I've always been a pretty practical guy and these things are wonderfully practical. Good driver visibility, cargo carrying capacity (remember, I'm replacing a pickup), decent fuel efficiency, and they are comfortable. I don't like all minivans. It was only until Chrysler and Dodge came out with their current versions of Town and Countries and Caravans that I thought minivans became mildly attractive. Despite all their practicality, I wouldn't have considered a minivan until these models were introduced. The T&C is a little more well-appointed than the Caravan, but I like 'em both.

Puppy Bailey!
We spent the morning and the better part of an afternoon at Schlossman's in Brookfield considering the differences between the models (and prices!) and we finally came home with a 2011 Town & Country Touring model (link). The thing is awesome. I've not had a vehicle with this many features. It may be a pedestrian, suburban vehicle, but it has the feel and styling of a higher end automobile. Particularly cool is the 30GB hard drive that I've already loaded with a bunch of my favorite tunes and the picture viewer that now displays Bailey's face every time we turn the key. ("Turn the key" is figurative. All you have to do to start the thing is press a button. That's going to take some getting used to!)

Despite what should be my midlife crisis, I've never been motivated to own a "sexy" vehicle. My ego has zero connection to the type of car I drive. I'd rather arrive at my destination safely, comfortably, and with the ringing of heavy metal still in my ears.

This probably means only one thing: I've already passed midlife and am now just comfortably settling into being old. ;)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Got the Beet!

Beets. They're the one thing from childhood that I still haven't developed a taste for. Tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant -- I've overcome my dislike for their odd textures a long time ago. But beets?! What are they supposed to be? Fruits? Vegatables? Canned purply roots?

C'mon you damn beets, make up your mind!

But then I saw this video. I think if mom prepared beets like this, I would love beets. Chocolate, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter -- is this food porn or what?!

And how can I possibly write about beets without recalling "The Beet Runner!"

beet cake from tiger in a jar on Vimeo.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Monday, June 27, 2011

Two Thumbs Up!

The new "Downtown Milwaukee Night Out" video is fabulous.

I feel as though I have lived in this city at just the right time. After being born and raised here until I was 8, my family moved north of Green Bay. After I graduated from the University of WisconsinStout, it was back to the Mil for me. In the early 90s, we thought Milwaukee was pretty cool. It actually surprised my then-girlfriend (now wife) and me. We had spent some time in other cities and looked back at Milwaukee like an archaic rust-belt has-been. However, once we relocated here, we became pleasantly surprised -- Milwaukee had a "feel" to it that we just didn't feel in other places. Call it an independent streak ("We're not Chicago dammit! We do things our way. Sometimes they don't make any sense, but dammit, they are OUR way!")

Fast forward 20 years and Milwaukee has really grown up. We no longer can keep up with all the things there are to do here. New bars and restaurants open monthly, the concert scene has become huge, performing arts and cultural events are plentiful, museums offer lively exhibitions and activities, and the festival scene explodes in the summer (not just the big ones either—there are plenty of small ones that deserve attention (last year's New Belgium Tour de Fat and this year's Beer Lovers Festival come immediately to mind!) ).

And people are cool here.

The new video below is great not only from a marketing perspective, but it feels like my Milwaukee. It shows the city that I've come to love over the past 20 years. I think it is exciting to look forward towards the next 20 years. I believe only good things are headed our way.

Milwaukee. Check it out.

Oh, and those Brewers aren't bad either!

Friday, June 24, 2011

My 25,000th Tweet

Like sands through the hourglass, so go the tweets of our lives.

How I got to 25,000 tweets I have no idea. You write a couple a day and over the course of a few years, they add up. I know during last year's NFC Championship Game, I probably dropped a couple of hundred right there!

I noticed yesterday that I was approaching 25k. I almost went over too, as I was on a roll with the #cheesysongs meme. [My favorite: 30 Seconds to Mars Cheese Castle!] When I saw the number 24,999, I put twitter away for the day so I could use it for something ... special. If I could make it only 12 more hours with no tweets, I could use my 25,000th to celebrate my 16th wedding anniversary to my wife Kay [@kbctourcompany].

I thought about it over the course of the day and especially during my 2-mile #dietbolical run this morning. I wound up keeping it nice and simple with this little rhyme:

Tweet 25,000 
Is a big one you see, 
It celebrates 16 years wed 
to @kbctourcompany!

That tweet was posted about 7 hours ago. It's like a house of cards -- one new tweet and it'll tumble. I'll lose the synchronicity between the tweet and the number of tweets. But before I tweet again, I did what any blogging nerd would do: I grabbed a screen print of it so I could save it forever!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Stirring Song: Gather by Jay Farrar

I'm a music lover -- always have been, always will be. But lately I'm finding too much new music boring or uninspiring. There's some good stuff out there, no doubt, but seldom does it seem lasting. It's good for a few weeks or months, but soon forgotten.

However, I recently heard a song -- now 9 years old -- that just floored me and made me recall why I love music so much. It's from the Jay Farrar produced "The Slaughter Rule" movie soundtrack. The song is Gather. I never saw the movie and can only barely remember ever having heard of it, but recently, Amazon offered a Bloodshot Records sampler ("Bloodshot Records Spring Cleaning Sampler") and Gather was the second track. I listened to the whole sampler one straight though before starting another listen. On the second listen, driving home from work, Gather played again. This time I was riveted. I played it over. More riveted. A third time. More riveted; more moved.

Simple. Soaring. Beautiful.

At home, I put the song away for a few hours until I could sit down with my wife and I told her "You must hear this song. I love it. Turn off Twitter, shutdown Facebook, and just sit here and listen with me for the next 4 minutes." She did. By minute 2, my eyes had watered up and I could barely talk. Verklempt, I said "I don't know what it is about this song that moves me so much. It just does!" And together we listened until the song was over. I think she liked it too, but wasn't used to the chordal progressions the way I was.

I discovered that the song has a video to go with it (I don't think it's official) and the video is nice, but I think the visual stimulation in this case hinders rather than helps the song. This is a song best appreciated with eyes closed and just taken wholly in by the ears. Also, tinny PC speakers don't do any song true justice. If you'd like, the whole sampler is still available as a free download from Amazon (click on the link above; it's got many good rockabilly songs on it too). Get it and play Gather through your highest fidelity set up. I'm sure you'll be moved too.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Not for the Squeamish

Today's run was unusual and proved my growing dedication to #dietbolical. There's a part of this post that may not be for the squeamish, but I'll give you forewarning when that part is about to come up [maybe the whole post to some!]

I've had a few dermatological blemishes that I figured it was time to have checked out. You know, just to be sure. The main one was one that I never could see -- it was a mole right in the middle of my back. A General Practitioner about 3 years ago told me it would be good to have it checked out by a Dermatologist. Never one to be too prompt, I finally made an appointment for today.

So the guy does what Dermatologists do -- he gives me the once over ... twice! He was thorough, if you get my drift. And in being thorough, he examined the space between my tiny toe and the one next to it on my left foot. To my surprise, he suddenly looked at me and said, "How long has this been here?!" I said "I dunno. Maybe since birth, or maybe within the last year. I never noticed it before."

"You don't ever look in between your toes?" he queried.

"No. I don't."

But the mole that he spied between my toes concerned him. Apparently to dermatologists, some moles look benign and some look threatening. He said "Let's remove that and have it tested, just to be sure."

"Okay. When?" I asked.

He shot back, "Today, of course! You don't want to have to come back here do you?!"

So he left the room and returned in his surgical mask and overcoat with an assortment of stainless steel tools. While he was out, he gave me a document to read for care of the healing wounds. I noticed one line very clearly: "No strenuous activity for 24 hours."

WHAT?!!? I didn't get my daily run it yet! Is my runstreak doomed?

The doc asked if I had any questions. I asked "Can I run tonight?!" and he quickly replied "No."

He could see that I was dissappointed and asked what the matter was. I told him about #dietbolical and my streak and how I was worried it was doomed. He never gave me outright approval, but hinted that it might be okay and that I'd have to be very careful.

[Squeamish alert!]

The procedure involves shooting up the area with a local anesthetic, cutting out the blemish, and then cauterizing the wound to stop blood loss. His fear was that physical exertion will dislodged the cauterized clots and bleeding will begin -- a sizable amount of bleeding too. As I was staring up at the ceiling, he gently tapped on my now completely numb foot. He said "You feel that?" I said, "I don't feel the contact, but I know that you're tapping on my toe." He replied, "I'm simulating the effect of running to make sure the cauterization stays in place."

Procedure complete, I recovered from my wooziness and headed for home. After sitting on the couch for a few moments (woozy again) I headed out the door for a short run. I was only going to go for a mile, but I felt pretty good with my odd gait which greatly favored my right foot over my left, so I decided to go 3. That last thing that I wanted to see a mile and a half from home was a blood-drenched K-Swiss. And it could have happened, 'cause I still couldn't feel a thing on that foot! But I successfully made it back home where I proceeded to keep active by instantly switching into lawn-mowing mode.

So as I finally comfortable settle in for the evening, I am happy to say that #dietbolical is still alive at day #29 and counting! Heck, if you consider that my body is less 2 pigmented nevuses, I'm even lighter too!

#dietbolical 29:191

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Think I Should Write an E-book

Seeing how everybody strikes it rich with self-help books and fitness advice these days, I think I need to write an e-book. Topic? #dietbolical It's really working and working well. I am down 7 pounds since starting it 26 days ago. I shouldn't get too cocky -- I haven't reached my goal yet. But when I do, I'll have Chapter One of the book written! Chapter One is going to read something like this: write down your goal, exercise, and eat less, but I'll spice it up with fancy phrases like "establish your nutritional paradigm" and "define your fitness selling proposition" and similar buzzword jargon.

The bigger challenge is figuring out what the other 8 chapters will be about. But I've thought long and hard about it and I've finally figured it out...

The other 8 chapters will be about beer.

#dietbolical 26:191

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Collection X

Yesterday we went to the Members' Preview at the new Harley-Davidson exhibit named "Collection X." Collection X is a number of previously undisplayed pieces from the Harley-Davidson archives. Some of these items were very interesting. The exhibit is small -- it takes about an hour to view -- but it's worth it. My favorite was a "snowmobile" kit that could be made from a Harley engine. The "Pop's Trolley" shown here is one of the surviving examples. I love this thing -- it's like something my childhood imagination would have thought up! A rocket-shaped sled powered by a propeller?! Yes! Imagine how fun this thing would have been to ride around in on a frozen Wisconsin lake.

A great segment of the exhibit displays ways that Harleys have been used in non-traditional ways. In the first half of the 20th century, necessity was the mother of invention and there were many ways the power of the motorcycle engine could be adapted to suit a particular need. Another favorite was this straight-out-of-a-horror movie ice cutter! I can't even imagine how unsafe this beast would have been to operate! A series of chain reductions coming out of the crankcase powered this giant oscillating blade. Oh Mark Borchardt, the things you could do in movies with this maniacal device!

Another part of the exhibit displayed some of the Harleyware items which have been made for the Harley enthusiast (For the record, I like their motorcycles, but have zero interest in anything else Harley related. Maybe a particular t-shirt or a decal, but that's about it). When you see the exhibit, you may wish to hold in your laughter when viewing -- what you find hilarious and gaudy, the 6'8" bearded guy next to you might find delicate and gorgeous. Exhibit "A" would have to be the complete Harley wedding ensemble including a white leather tuxedo and a gorgeous his and hers, pewter eagle-embraced wine goblet set (pictured). I found the wine goblet set too much to hold back and I let out an "OMG! Look!" gasp. "That's so hideous!" I didn't get a punch, but I can't say you won't be so lucky!

The last great benefit is that they have a beer brewed by Lakefront Brewery specially for this exhibit. The beer's name is Collection X. It's a slightly sweet, malty brew where one glass is enough before you look for something lighter to wash it down. It's good; I'll get it again.

Collection X runs through August 21 at Milwaukee's Harley Davidson Museum [site].

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My "Dietbolical" Plan

di·a·bol·i·cal - 1. of devil: connected with the devil or devil worship; 2. evil: extremely cruel or evil

di·et - controlled intake of food

di·et·bol·i·cal - the smooshage (portmanteau) of the words diabolical and diet

This plan has been in my head since May 22, 2011 - the day after a conversation with noted Beer Runner Tim C. I am terrified to write this because, to me, once it is written, it becomes law. My law. I am highly motivated by my own words once written -- especially once published in our current, social media fueled world.

Tim (and Jane S.) have been streaking for the past 230 some-odd days -- run streaking that is. At Burnheart's last Saturday night at Sara S.'s "Brainaversary," I was lamenting to Tim how I fell out of the running habit that I worked so hard to cultivate last year. He suggested I start streaking, cause once you start streaking, it's hard to stop! I can see his point, and I'm sure if I started, I'd probably fall into the streak; however, it lacks a goal. A finishing line. A point of completion. But then it hit me, I've been longing to shave off a few decades of pounds - about 20, to be exact. How about I commit to run every day until I reach my target weight of 180 pounds? Thus, my “dietbolical” plan was born.

Reflecting on the definition of the word diabolical above, this is dietbolical for sure!

And so it has begun. As I write this, I am on day #3. I will run every day until I reach my target weight of 180 pounds. Only in the case of severe illness or unavoidable, super long work days (I have none scheduled, but there have been a few of these in the past -- usually involving travel to and work at customer facilities) will I allow myself an excuse to miss a daily run. (I’ve toyed with the idea of “miss a day, lose another pound,” but I think my commitment to this plan is strong enough and I don’t need to make it any harder than it already is!)

I will post my progress on using this simple metric: 3:198 (today’s number) - first number is the consecutive days run and the second, my last known weight (I don’t/won’t weigh myself every day). The big question is which side of the colon will hit 180 first? The safe bet is the first!

I’m accepting all forms of encouragement including cash. Thanks in advance for your support for my “dietbolical” plan! :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Best Meal I Ever Slept Through

Who sleeps through a meal? This guy apparently. I'll explain...

A few years ago I sold and commissioned a machine in Sebastopol, California. Sebastopol is quaint little hippie (mostly) town  about an hour north of San Francisco up HWY 101. When I landed in San Francisco, I was told that I qualified for a car rental upgrade of my choice. Jackpot! The weather was beautiful and I scored a nice little convertible coupe! I think it was a Mitsubishi, but it didn't matter -- this was a great little car for going over the Golden Gate bridge and surrounding area in.

Before I left Milwaukee, I told my nephew -- who had just moved back from San Francisco to Milwaukee only a month earlier -- that I was going to be spending at least one night in San Francisco on my upcoming trip. He was excited, because after graduating from the California Culinary Institute in San Francisco, he got a job working at one of San Francisco's best restaurants: Quince [website]. Unfortunately, while he was working there, I never had the opportunity to visit, but he left on good terms and was anxious for me to eat there and experience what it was all about. His former coworkers would be sure to take good care of me!

After 3 days in Sebastopol, I departed mid-morning and headed back towards the Bay. The day was gorgeous and I could not afford to waste the opportunity to drive this sweet little convertible along the ocean [HWY 1] and through the Point Reyes National Seashore Park. Man let me tell you, this is a glorious ride! So much beauty. You must put this one on your to-do list, okay? After a ton of fresh air and about 2 pounds of cherries (they were in season and I bought a HUGE bag at a farmer's market -- spitting out pits all along HWY 1 and on the Golden Gate Bridge; I love me some cherries!), I pulled into my Priceline-negotiated city center hotel. The time was about 3 p.m.; my nephew had confirmed -- I had dinner reservations at Quince at 9:30.

Now, since this work trip was a blue-collar affair, I hadn't packed clothes worthy of a fine dining experience. So I headed out in search of clothes. I found a JoS. A. Bank downtown and told the sales associate that I was in need of some nice dinner clothes -- shirt, pants, socks, and shoes too! We picked out a complete, fancy dinner worthy ensemble and I headed for a walk around Chinatown and the North Bay area.

If you've ever walked the streets of San Francisco, you know it can be a pretty good workout with many steep hills and a near-infinite number of interesting streets to stroll along. So I zig-zagged my way around for a while stopping every so often for a beer. After a few hours of exploring, I found this nice little Chinese place that had good soup and inexpensive wine. Dinner was still 3 or more hours away and I needed a little snack to tie me over. After soup and a few glasses of cheap wine I went to my room and prepared my clothes (removed tags and stickies, ironed) for dinner.

With the iron still hot and a nice breeze passing through the windows of my old hotel room, I laid back on the bed and BAM!! -- I was out cold!! I never knew what hit me! I was still fully clothed and my shoes were still on. The next thing I know, I hear a car horn from the street down below and my eyes slowly open. The room is dark, but dimly lit by the LED clock on the nightstand. The time? 2:30 a.m. Furgenflasterbaggit! I missed my reservation at Quince by 5 hours!! Fully awakened, I felt terrible -- not just for my loss, but to miss the experience that my nephew so wanted me to have. What an idiot! I grabbed my BlackBerry and texted him: "I'm so sorry. I missed my reservation. Fell soundly asleep. Me = idiot."

All that fresh air driving along the coast in the convertible (I also got up very early that morning), the hiking through the city, the beers, the wine, the time of the reservation -- it was all too much. I just couldn't keep my heavy eyelids open long enough. And that's really too bad, because stumbling around on the Internet, I came across the video below describing Quince's risotto as "perfect."

What a schmuck I (am!) can be, but at least I got some nice, new clothes out of the deal.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Worst Day Since Yesterday

No. I'm not talking about Wisconsin's May 15th weather. I am talking about the song by Flogging Molly [official website].

After picking up their album Swagger, I was walking to the grocery store listening to this song and I immediately figured the song out in my head -- chords and all! It was the first time after playing guitar for decades that I instinctively knew the chords the to  a song! I was eager to get my groceries and run back home to see if my progressions were correct. Got home, loaded the song on the hi-fi, grabbed the 6-string and immediately played along. What a gratifying experience! I was right on -- save for a few chords in the song's bridge that I needed to figure out.

The only thing left was to memorize the lyrics, which I did while driving to work a morning or 2 later. [One thing I've discovered about playing and singing a song, if you can sing from memory, you will be a better singer. Looking at a lyrics sheet while performing gives a brain one more task and forces one to use poor singing posture.] I often use the morning drive to commit lyrics to memory. I'll recite the lyrics from the beginning and I go until I get stuck. Then, I'll play the song on my truck's stereo from beginning to end and try to recite the lyrics again. Usually, by the time I get to work (about a 23-minute drive), I'll have the lyrics committed to memory.

I've played this song out a Tuesday night session at Brocach Irish Pub in Milwaukee, but a rainy Saturday allowed me the time to record it with my trusty Zoom H4 Digital 4-Track Recorder. The end result is this:
I am pretty happy with the end result; however, my singing certainly isn't where I want it to be, but as long as I keep doing it, I keep improving. Also, learning a new song also forces me to learn the same chords on my el-cheapo mandolin -- which I used as an accompaniment here. I think it adds a lot of texture to an otherwise guitar-only song.

Stay tuned for more and thanks for listening!

Oh, and if you wish to hear how some people think it's supposed to sound, here ya go...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Close Calls - Episode Three: The Iceman Cometh!

Porcupine Lake [map] was about 2 miles from my house in Spruce, Wisconsin. It was the place of countless hours of fun: fishing, ice skating, skipping rocks, and even swimming. Why “even swimming,” you ask? Because nobody swam in Porcupine Lake. It was notoriously murky and bottomless. It was rumored that a teamster once drove his horses into the water, they got stuck in the muck, sunk, and drown! I could write a couple of Close Calls episodes on our foolish escapades on ol’ Porky, but this story revolves around a frigid January 2nd – one of those days after New Year’s Day that is brutally cold. One of those times that when the high temperature reaches single digits after weeks in the minuses, you say “Hey, it’s not too bad out!”

My neighbor Jim was a super cool guy who let me use his Suzuki 4-wheeler at will. [It must be noted that I could devote pages to Jim [RIP] – a man who served as a big brother to me. I didn’t realize it until later in life, but Jim was a very significant person to whom I was to become. I hope you know that Jim, wherever your spirit may roam.]  On this frigid January day, my cousin Andy from visit was visiting from Escanaba, Michigan. I had a few years on Andy – I figure I must’ve been about 14 or 15 and Andy 10 or 11. We made the abundantly unwise decision to hop on Jim’s 4-wheeler and go for a spin. After bundling up in our ski masks, snowmobile hats, Sorels and chopper mitts, we headed over to Jim’s and cranked up the Suzuki.

This particular January was cold, but there wasn’t much snow. Also, the sub-zero temperatures came quickly and froze Porky over like glass. I knew that the lake was covered in pristine ice and made that our destination. Once we got there, we noted there were a handful of ice fisherman near the boat landing, but the rest of the lake was wide open. The lake is roughly 2,000 feet long by 1,000 feet wide. It has a tiny inlet to the north, but is mostly spring-fed with a larger outlet to the east. Andy and I had a blast as we would gradually gain traction and increase our speed to full and then put on the brakes and slide across the lake. With the brakes on and a little body English, we could get the ATV to spin many, many times. This was about as much fun as two young boys could ever have and we must have done it for a half an hour or more until we decided to seek out a new adventure.

It was my idea to head for the lake’s outlet. Looking at the picture from Google maps, you can see how the outlet stream narrows and gets a little crooked. What does this mean? This means open water my friends, but my teen-aged brain didn’t consider that possibility and I throttled the Suzuki with full acceleration and started down the outlet.

We may have been a couple of hundred feet off of the lake and rolling like the wind when I spied open water ahead. Fudge!! I slammed on the brakes but nothing – Nothing!! – happened. Remember, the lake was like glass and so was the beginning of the outlet – there was little traction to be had! We slid and slid. Time stood completely still. To this day I can remember every second like it was a week. As we slid, the 4-wheeler gradually spun and soon we had done a 180 and our backs were facing the open river. We finally came to a stop – our backs still facing the open water which was now just mere feet behind us. I twisted the throttle and tried to get us away from the opening, but slowly, surely, I heard a horrifying CCCCRRRAAAACCCKKK!! The ice gave way and soon Andy and I were under water. Every fear that I had ever had about being on thin ice had just become a reality. Could we get out? Would we freeze to death? Would the current carry us downstream under ice? Yikes! You get the picture: a pretty frightening scenario to be sure! (Dreams of that echoing crack still wake me in the middle of the night, heart pounding, in a pool of my own sweat.)

The good news was that I could touch bottom, however barely. I tried to pull myself up onto the ice, but the ice would break or my hands would slip off. I finally got to a spot where the ice was firm and I was able to flop my body up over the edge. Honestly, at this point, I was only concerned for myself and not Andy, but I believe he did something similar and got out of the ice about the same time I did. He was probably luckier, because I’m not sure he could touch bottom as much as I could. Once both safely out of the water, we went into another state of panic: we were drenched and our boots had come off trying to get out of the river! We were standing partially in stocking or bare feet on solid ice about a half a mile from any other humans on a sub-zero day! The 4-wheeler remained in the water floating wheels up. It got stuck on some other ice chunks and remained in place. I knew at this point that we had to get moving and move fast or we could get hypothermia. I remember making a beeline back to the ice fishermen with both of us saying the whole way, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! What are we gonna do?!” and "Don't stop moving!"

You think my stories over? Not yet. Get this...

We finally made it to a fisherman sitting there on an upside down bucket. I said “Mister, can you please help us? Our 4-wheeler cracked through the ice on the outlet and we are freezing. We live 2 miles away. My mom owns Goatsville tavern.”

“Hmm. Goatsville, huh?” he says. “I’ll give you a ride home if your mom gives me a 12-pack of beer.”

“Yes! YES!” I say. “But we need to go now! We are frozen!”

We made it to the landing and his truck and were, by now, really cold. During the 2-mile ride back. I can recall him calling us stupid kids and scolding us nearly the whole way. As soon as we walked in the door I said, “Mom, give this guy a 12’er!  Andy and I have to get warm!”

We headed upstairs, peeled off our soaked and partially frozen clothing and took turns in a warm bath trying to get our feeling back.

Finally dry and warm, my panic now turned to Jim. What the hell was Jim going to say to me for submerging his ATV in the river?! Did I ruin it? Would it ever run again? My fears were allayed when I finally got to tell Jim and rather than rant at me, he chuckled and shook his head!! He thought it was pretty funny that we were just stupid kids being stupid kids! Wow! I told you in paragraph two that Jim was a pretty cool guy, didn’t I?!

The final chapter in this story is that Andy’s dad (my Uncle Lynn) had come down to pick up Andy that same day. Uncle Lynn was a big dude and we knew we could use his size and strength to get the vehicle out of the creek – as long as he didn’t get too far out on the ice! We took some rope back to the lake and found a solid piece of wood a couple of feet long. I sidled carefully near the opening and tossed the wood, with the rope tied around the center, around an axle of the quad. Uncle Lynn standing near the creek’s edge, began to the tug the rope. As he pulled, the ice would break around the 4-wheeler. When it finally got to firm ice, we used a long branch to get underneath the floating quad and pried it up over the edge. As it raised up out of the water, Uncle Lynn gave a Herculean pull on the rope and finally it popped up onto the ice.

Like an idiot, I tried to start it. Of course it did not. Once Jim got it, he took it to his garage where he let it warm up and he disassembled much of the motor and let all the water drain out. After a few days, new gas and new oil, it fired right up!

Whew! Another close call and from SO many angles too.

One last note: it was a close call for me and Andy, but when I finally got around to tell my mom that the ice fisherman demanded a 12-pack of beer to take us home, I swear she was going to find him and maim him. Somewhere, somehow, that schmuck never realized just how close of a call this was for him too!

What a jerk, amirite?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Close Calls - Episode Two: It's This Face vs. Barbed Wire!

If you're old enough, you'll remember a razor commercial starring Lyle Alzado and his notoriously bushy face where he says "It's this BIC versus barbed wire!"

I always think of that commercial when I think of this story -- only instead of "this BIC," substitute "my face."

Of all close calls, this was the closest. I still shudder to think just how near this one came to taking me out in the most grizzly manner.

Similar Model Polaris
We moved to Oconto County from Milwaukee in the mid 70s. One of the things that my Dad found attractive about the area was all of the available places to ride snowmobiles. My Dad, however, seldom stuck to convention and snowmobiling on a marked trail held little attraction to him. He'd rather be more adventurous and head off in directions unmarked -- and so we did on one cold Winter's night when I was 8 or 9 years old. I sat in front of him on the seat of our trusty Polaris and we headed off towards "Hogsback." [For details on "Hogsback," see my earlier post: Milk Truck.]

The snow that night was fresh and deep; that I can recall well. We headed across a field and I recall Dad making a few loop de loops and figure 8's in the hayfield about a half mile behind our house. [A few years later, friends and I would further demonstrate our juvenile idiocy by tying a rope and saucer to the back of a snowmobile and crack-the-whip on the saucer-rider at ridiculously dangerous speeds. The driver would laugh hysterically when the rider was thrown from the saucer and rolled 25 to 30 yards until they came to rest against something soft -- like a tree!] After a little free-form riding, Dad started to exit the field to the east. Nary a track -- human or animal -- could be seen in the fresh snow. He accelerated; the field in front of us was wide, white, and open. Suddenly, and completely without warning, he put his left arm across my chest and yanked me down flat against his belly as he leaned back as far as the snowmobile's seat would allow. Lying flat, a barbed wire fence screeched across the hood of the snowmobile and took the windshield clean off! My face was the next object in its path. My head slightly turned, the wire glanced on my cheek, over my eye socket, across my forehead and took my hat right off! Dad was untouched!

I remember seeing what Dad saw: about 10 yards to the right of the snowmobile, he saw a fence post and barbed wire angling down into the snow. He knew that the wire was in front of our sled and only guessed that it would come over, not under, the sled. Thank goodness for Dad's quick thinking and reaction!

I was a bloody mess. My cheek was roughed up, but my forehead skin was opened up and blood was running down the front of my face and body. I recall little of the next few moments, but fortunately we weren't too far from home and Dad got us back on the sled and raced for home. I was inspected, cleaned up, and bandaged, and, despite the blood, determined to be okay -- no emergency room trip required. I am sure Mom gave Dad some serious hell and probably nearly sent him to the ER for his recklessness.

I recall going to school the next day with a bandage over half my face. After about a half a day, I had the teacher call home and have my mom pick me up. My facial swelling was great and I couldn't open my left eye. At home, we iced it, I popped some aspirin, and the next day I returned to school.

What makes me shudder is just how much worse this could have turned out! First, if Dad hadn't seen that wire, we'd have been decapitated. No doubt in my mind. It would have come right under my chin -- and probably his -- and we would have been discovered as two headless, frozen torsos the next morning. Second, my head was slightly turned. That wire just missed catching my nose. [Don't think about this too long -- it'll make you sick just thinking about it.] It many not have killed me, but I surely would've been messed up for life. And third, the part of the wire that rode across my skull was in between barbs!! As beating the odds goes, that may be the luckiest part of all! Another inch or 2 in either direction and surely a rusty barb would've have gouged my mug deeply.

(Excuse me, I just shuddered again and spilled coffee all over myself...)

Whew! Close call, right?!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Allerton Hotel Ghost?

A short story for all, but particularly my friend Julie Krawczyk with whom, mostly through social media, I've shared a few laughs (Julie to me: "Is this YOU?!").

I was staying at the Allerton Hotel in Chicago for a week-long business trip. The Allerton is a nice hotel along the famed Michigan Avenue strip. It's an old place that's been well-updated and is a great place to stay if you're looking to camp in Chicago for a night or two. The Allerton is highly visible by its historic "Tip Top Tap" sign above Michigan Avenue. [Sadly, the Tip Top Tap no longer exists, but somebody has got to reopen this -- I'm sure it would be a gem!] Even though this hotel is appointed with modern amenities, it's still easy to tell that it's an old building and, at night, when it's quiet, it can feel just a bit haunted.

After a long day at a tradeshow, I had my laptop out on my desk and was reviewing the day's twitter stream. I came across Julie's [@kisluvkis] where she was vacationing in Europe with her then beau and now husband C.J. She had tweeted and posted a link to her Flickr stream where you could see their trip pictures. Liking European travel myself, I clicked the link and started watching the slideshow. I needed to get ready for the following day too, so I unfolded the squeeky hotel room ironing board and started preparing the next day's navy blue oxford (for industrial tradeshows, they're all navy blue oxfords). As I ironed, I'd glance at the slideshow every few moments, but eventually, the power-saving settings on my laptop caused the screen to go black. Shirt crisply pressed, I put away the board, brushed my teeth and went bed. Exhausted from a long day, I was asleep in seconds.

I may have slept for up to an hour - I'm really not sure, but something disturbed my slumber and I began to wake. I heard a child's voice. A rather faint, but ghostly sounding voice singing to trumpets and trombones from the 1920s. As I fully regained consciousness, I shot up in bed like lightning! "CALL GHOSTBUSTERS!" I thought! "THIS PLACE IS HAUNTED!!"

No kidding. For about 10 seconds I was completely bewildered and thought something ghastly must've happened in this room 8 decades ago. I stumbled to my feet in the darkness, heart pounding, and tried to determine the source of song. It was coming from ... from over there. There, by the desk next to the closet. Eyes adjusting and the blinking amber light of my laptop guiding my way, I determined the source. The poltergeist was in my laptop! I rubbed my finger on the mousepad and, ta-da!, there was the ghost:

With the screen off, the slideshow continued to play until this video came on. Once I had it all figured out, I chuckled to myself and thought, "Julie, you got me good on this one!"

As for the girl in the video, she's a cute kid, but I'm not sure if I ever want to meet her. If she looked at me and said, "Hello mister!" I'd probably go run and hide in a closet and stay there all day!
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Close Calls - Episode One: The Milk Truck Encounter

I'm a fortunate guy. I've been able to do a lot of things and I've had a lot of adventures. I've never gotten in any major trouble and I've managed to see a lot of places. However, my adult life has come close to never happening. Too close! Some of my teenage/early 20's escapades have brought me pretty close to a handshake with Jesus. Before advancing age causes me to forget these shenanigans, I'm going to use the "Close Calls" series of blog posts to recall and describe some of these hairy moments.

As a youngster growing up in northern Wisconsin, I always had snowmobiles and motorized two-wheelers. At 6 years old, I was riding a minibike and by 8, dad had me regularly driving a Rupp 440 snowmobile, Mom gave in and let me buy a 90cc Kawasaki dirt bike at age 12 or 13. This bike was tiny, but with my small frame, it was fully capable of 65-mph on paved roads. [I don't think mom ever knew how fast the bike would go or she would have never let me get it in the first place!] I would race this bike all over the back 40 -- which was actually a lot more the back 1,040 acres. There was a ridge formed by a retreating glacier from the Wisconsin Glacial Episode that I would rip up, down, over, and along about a half mile behind my house. This was my primary riding area and some of my "Close Calls" blogs will recount death-defying feats of stupidity on this ridge -- known locally as "Hogsback."

My protective riding equipment was very different than what you see on today's X-gamers. My protective clothing and equipment was ... well ... nothing! It was common for me to ride in just shorts, t-shirt, and sneakers. That's it. No helmet, no protective eyewear, no shinguards or elbow pads. No nothing! That I didn't crack open my melon on numerous occasions is just by luck. I can't ever complain that I'm not blessed enough, as I luckily dodged bullets for about 15 years of my life. That I didn't get eliminated by one is fortune enough!

We lived in the country about 7 miles north of Oconto Falls, Wisconsin along County Hwy B. Now, even for a stupid like me, I treated County B with respect. In my early teens, County B [B] was like the New Jersey turnpike, only people drove faster and were, most certainly, drunker! But I had a pal who lived about 5 miles away and the only way to get there efficiently was by taking a 2 or 3 mile rip along B. I decided (against mom's rule) that I was going to go over for a visit. Rather than take the Kawasaki on B right from home, I was conniving and headed east on Goatsville Road (a much-less traveled local road; "Goatsville" was also the name of the tavern that mom owned and operated). After a couple of 90-degree turns, I took to the dreaded B and twisted the throttle. Soon, I was going like the wind! All 90 cubic centimeters of piston were firing up and down at full speed and that bike was giving me everything that she had! After a few minutes, I made it to the turn-off with no problems -- and no directional to signal my intentions. I slowed to prepare for a hard right and began leaning into the turn. Then, there it was, any motorcyclist's worst nightmare -- gravel. Crap. I knew I was going too fast, but I could increase the radius of my turn a bit and reduce the rolling effect of these micro-marbles. However, I did not, in the least, plan for, see, or prepare for the milk truck that was slowing towards a stop as he prepared to cross B.  I leaned hard. I braked hard. I went down ... hard. The trucker saw me, but with a full-load of milk he could not stop any quicker than he already was. Me and the bike were sliding along the gravel and pavement and when we finally stopped, where were me and my gravel-embedded forearms? Under the milk truck. I was able to look straight up at the engine block idling above me. I had went right between the truck's 2 front tires!  I quickly rolled out from underneath, heart pounding, and said "I'm okay! I'm okay!" However, the milk truck driver, who was completely uninjured, hyperventilated. I recall him asking me questions, but his breath was rapidly going in and out and I thought he -- not me! -- would faint.

I rubbed the loose gravel off of my bloody arms, checked my bike and was relieved that not only me, but the bike too, were still in single pieces. The bike, despite a few scratches and dents, was ready to run and the engine started right up. I hopped on the bike and headed for home, scheming how I was going to get in the house bloodied without mom finding out that I was on B!

I can't remember the story I made-up to procrastinate my inevitable ass-whipping. See, as I mentioned earlier, Mom owned and operated a tavern and the milk-truck driver was a patron -- often stopping in after his rounds. He knew who I was and, once he regained his ability to breathe, probably couldn't wait to visit my mom and tell her what an irresponsible ass-hat her son was! And, once mom found out -- with her patented brand of psychological beat-down ["Michael, I'm sooo disappointed in you. You have no idea how much you have let me down." (Said with watering eyes too, no less!)] -- I may have just preferred that bumper facial.

I cheated the Grim Reaper on this one. A foot or 2 in any direction, and I would have certainly met the same fate as many a fender-chasing farm dogs.

Whew. Close call!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Death of a Theater Phobia

I'm a patron of the arts—always have been, always will be. But I haven't developed a taste for all performing arts. Theater is one of those arts. Nearly a decade ago, my wife and I would go to a few plays a year—maybe 1 or 2. [She may disagree with that number, but she certainly wouldn't dispute that I quit theater-going cold turkey about 5 or 6 years ago.] I can't even remember the last one I attended, but I do recall the last 3 or 4 plays that I did go to, I became ... disinterested. Disinterested during the performances. Thespians may have been pouring their heart and soul into their craft, regardless, it didn't connect with me and the daydreaming machine would inevitably start (Hmm... At intermission, should I have beer or wine? Did I leave the iron plugged in? I wonder if the Brewers are winning? etc.). In all likelihood, I probably just wasn't going to a play suited to my predisposition—sort of like reading a Haruki Murakami novel before graduating from Green Lantern comic books. So, for at least a half of a decade, I avoided theater the way Kathy Griffin avoids funny jokes.

Lee Ernst as Willy Loman
However, last night we decided to give it a whirl and we went to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater—more commonly known as "The Rep"—for their production of "Death of a Salesman." And, boy, did I enjoy it! I was riveted for the entire performance—no daydreaming, no adult beverage contemplation, no nothing. I just fell into the story and stayed there. I was really impressed with the whole show, but particularly with Lee E. Ernst's portrayal of Willy Loman. It was incredibly powerful. It made me wonder why in the world anybody would want to be an actor! To put that much energy and emotion into a performance every, single night would be draining—both mentally and physically, I think. And Mr. Ernst holds nothing back.


I am certain that I wasn't the only one moved by Mr. Ernst's interpretation of Willy Loman. In the final seconds of the play, when the actors and actresses walked off the stage, you could hear a pin drop. And, had a pin actually dropped, it would have sounded like a cannon blast. The players walked near our seats on their way out and my wife and I were both transfixed by the look on their faces—they were playing their role until they were fully off-stage. Hell, I bet they stayed in character until they were finally resting comfortably on a barstool 7 blocks away!

Finally, a note about the play itself. This has long been considered a classic work by Arthur Miller. I recall reading it in high school literature and thinking it was okay, however, there is no filter like the prism of age and experience to bring Mr. Miller's vision into focus. Having been a working person for at least 20 years, I could connect with certain emotions and verbiage expressed by Willy. These are expressions I could not possibly have understood at 17 years of age.

Now I completely understand why Death of a Salesman was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. It gets my award for the best play that I've seen in the last 5 years for sure!

It runs through May 8th at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater in Milwaukee. Go see it if you get the chance. You won't regret it.


Important follow-up: I shared the above post with Mr. Ernst and he replied with the following:

Hi Mike,

Hey, thanks so much for your kind words. I'm glad we were able to get you with this one. I love the play, and, while it may be draining (yes it is!) it is also a great honor to be able to share Miller's incredibly profound story eight times a week.

Best Regards,

This made my day!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Free Cheese!!

Not many things are better than free cheese (free beer notwithstanding). But imagine how good free cheese would be when you are out of a job, struggling to make your house payment, your kids need shoes, gas is over 4 bucks a gallon—basically, you are just about at the lowest, most difficult time in your life. I bet you'd really appreciate some free cheese then. And not only cheese, but milk, bread, butter, fruits and vegetables—oh, and clothes!—the stuff that's pretty much the base of the pyramid on Mr. Abraham Harold Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs [I knew that stuff I learned in college would come in handy someday!].

Today I had the unique opportunity to visit a place that makes sustenance products for destitute members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or LDS for short. About 20 years ago, the LDS's dairy bought one of my company's machines for bottling fluid milk. After two decades of solid service, they had begun to wonder if it was performing as good as it should be, so they called us up for a machine audit and the next thing you know...I'm in Salt Lake City. I really didn't have a good idea what a church was doing owning a dairy, but after discovering their purpose, I was a little awed and very moved. Every single thing produced at this facility is given away to needy members. Every. Single. Thing. They bottle milk (chocolate too!), produce cheese and cottage cheese, and, in nearby facility, bread and other items. The people operating the plant are among the friendliest I have ever worked with too, and that's saying a lot, because dairy folks are generally some of the nicest people I've worked with in any industry.

I don't know a lot about the Church of LDS. I know some people have rather strong opinions of their institution. Heck, just last night I was reading a book about beer bars in Nauvoo, Illinios—the city on the Mississippi named by Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (also the place where Mr. Smith was charged with treason, imprisoned, and shot in 1844)—and the local conflict with the influx of teetotaling LDS residents who are affecting their businesses (supposedly), but I have a heck of a lot of respect for the way they take care of their own. It's a worldwide exemplary model. Visitors come from all of the world to visit this operation and learn how they do it. Every president since Reagan (except the current one) has visited the same dairy that I worked in today. All marvel at the self-sustaining nature of this organization and their ability to provide basic and effective services to their members.

Unfortunately for them (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), I'd be tough to convert, but I had a true and genuine respect for what I saw today. In this day, when it's easy to be sarcastic and full of cynicism, it was great to see people caring for those less fortunate and giving them the basic necessities to they need to get back on their feet.

Speaking of giving, I was also given a block of cheddar cheese and a book: Pure Religion - The Story of Church Welfare Since 1930. If there's anyway to convert me to anything, free cheese is a pretty good start!

And, after today, I may even just root for BYU in a football game next year!
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Friday, April 8, 2011

Eating Crow [I'm Sorry Pete Yorn]

I feel bad.

In 2001, a friend gave my wife a copy of Pete Yorn's "musicforthemorningafter". I said Pete who? Well after a few listens, I fell in love with this album. It was a lot of what I love about music: tuneful, well-produced, good rockers, a few well-crafted ballads ... in general - a really nicely balanced record. I wasn't the only one who loved it - it went on to become an RIAA Gold record. In 2002 or 2003, we went to see Pete at Milwaukee's Rave, it was a rollicking good show. It seemed everybody was loving Pete. I recall my sister swooning every time his face was on TV.

Then came his sophmore album - "Day I Forgot". It might as well have been the named "The Day We Started to Forget (Pete Yorn)". It wasn't a terrible album (I don't think; I don't remember for sure), but it didn't live up to Pete's stunning debut. Then "Nightcrawler" in 2003. Okay, I think. A few good songs, but still, it didn't captivate like "musicforthemorningafter". Blah, blah, blah. Some album with/for Scarlett Johansson. Blah, blah, blah. Sadly, Pete lost me. I even stopped following him on twitter [In my defense, Pete blows at Twitter. Tweets like, "What do you like better? Fish sticks or chicken nuggets?" just weren't captivating.]. I had written Pete off.

He played Milwaukee about a month ago and I had no interest in seeing him. I believe I called him "Pete Yawn".


Then he did it.

That son of a bitch.

He released an album on par with "musicforthemorningafter".

Driving. Rocking. No bad tunes. No filler.

Pete, you fucker. You got me.

Credit goes to Amazon MP3 and their 30-second samples and their daily deals (Pete's "PY" album was only $3.99 with 4 bonus "live" tracks a day or 2 ago.). Remembering the great debut, I always give Yorn's new work a brief listen - if nothing else. But immediately I heard it. PETE YORN WAS BACK! From the opening riffs of Precious Stone to the old-timey country-sounding Wheels, he did it. He made an album that matches - dare I say surpasses? - his great freshman effort.

Anyway, Pete, I'm sorry. Please come back to Milwaukee soon. You'll see me in the front row. I'll be the one eating the crow Po' Boy.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How'd You Like a Nice Playan Punch?!

You meet some interesting people on vacation in Mexico. Some are the usual people that you meet from the U.S. - you talk to them long enough and you soon find out that you know some of the same people ... somewhere, somehow. It happens every time.

Yongehead* Canadians are a dime a dozen. I swear, don't these people work? I'm only guessing, but the U.S. has got to have at least a 20:1 population advantage over Canada, don't we? Yet the resorts, beaches, and restaurants are clogged with America's tophatters. And here's the thing that gets me about "Yongehead" Canadians: they ALWAYS bring up their national healthcare. It's like it's the only thing they have over the States, so they bring it up at every opportunity. Example: "I could cut my nuts off with a torn-in-two Tecate beer can and my government would pay for my surgery. Would yours?!" It's precisely at that time when I order a Tecate, shotgun it, and tear it in half. "Here you go, ay!"

But the people that I find the most interesting are the ones that are here because they're on the run from something. I haven't a clue what they've done, but I am a bit jealous of them. They're typically grey-haired, suntan, and drunk - but different in that they have a certain worldliness about them. Undoubtedly I ask when I meet these fellows, "You've lived down here for 16 years and you still don't speak Spanish?" and they'll usually reply with a hearty "Fuck 'em!!" We've met a couple of these characters. Last night we met just such a chap. He explained to us that he moved around the U.S. a lot, made an obscene amount of money doing "marketing," but his bastard lawyers fucked him over and he spent a year or two in jail on tax evasion charges [I always suspect that there's more to the story]. Upon release, to Mexico he went.

So after enjoying a few moments with this character, out comes his motive for introducing himself to us: "My name is C.J. Sharky and I just wrote and published my first novel. Please read it and spread the good word." First of all, "C.J. Sharky." Is that a great, made-up novelist name or what? Second, despite this man's crimes -- which I am still not certain of -- I could not be more jealous. He has the BEST life! I'd be so good at it! Just living on the beach, drinking stuff, and writing. I also suspect Mr. Sharky enjoyed a few other of Mexico's finest herbs too, but that ain't my thing.

So because C.J. was such an entertaining fellow and a pretty welcoming guy, I pass along to you the we link for C.J. Sharky's first novel: Playa Punch - Book One of the Mayan Trilogy.

I'll check it out when I get back home. From what I understand, it's only $5 and quickly downloadable to a Kindle. Furthermore, if there are enough clicks on the above link, Mr. Sharky assures me that all of my toes will properly remain on my feet for decades to come.

My feet thank you.

* Originally I had used a different word than "Yonge," but I thought it a little harsh. Also, not all Canadians are Yongeheaded, just the ones that participate in the behavior described.  Furthermore, "Yonge" is pronounced "Young" in Canada, but for a more insulting effect, pronounce it "Yonj."