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!