Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The LaCrosse Murders?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel today is reporting that the FBI will step in and investigate a series of mysterious deaths in LaCrosse (WI).

For years now there have been rumours swirling around the disappearance and drowning deaths of young men in LaCrosse.

The article quotes 8 deaths in 9 years; I've heard whispers of as many as twenty in the last  15-20 years that fit the profile.

This story has become part urban myth  - part sociology problem here in Wisconsin. All of the men died with river water in their lungs, indicating they went in the water alive; they had no visible signs of struggle or bruising; and most importantly their blood alcohol level was through the roof.

Yet many people say a killer is on the prowl in LaCrosse, striking down young men with impunity while hiding behind the smokescreen of the river's proximity.

Still others argue the very idea of a killer is a smokescreen in and of itself, to mask the embarrassing fact that binge drinking is a problem on the UW- LaCrosse campus and in Wisconsin in general.

9/10ths of me is certain the authorities are right, and that this is nothing more than young men, drunk out of their minds, stumbling home from bars and mistakenly winding up in the river.

The rest of me says that it's a stretch to have that many identical accidents in such a short  amount of time, to that specific of an age/gender bracket, in a town where the danger of the river is so well known.

I doubt this investigation will be the end of the deaths one way or the other. If drinking is the culprit a criminal investigation can do nothing; if it's a killer the FBI already seems intent to dismiss the problem, if the article's tone is correct.

I'll try to keep you updated on the story. And speaking strictly about it as a story, there's something about it that really excites me creatively; I think (in a modified form) it'd be a heck of a mystery/thriller novel.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Trade Show

I spent today, or at least 14 hours of today, at an industry trade show in Lake Geneva at the gorgeous Grand Geneva Resort and Spa.
 
For the most part its an excuse to walk around and pick up scores of trinkets and gadgets from suppliers eager to win your attention. There's some seminars too, and the Internet marketing one was well worth my time.
 
The meals . . . pork medallions and vegetable medley for lunch, steak in a mushroom sauce with fried zucchini for dinner . . free wine and beer if you liked . . . salad, desert . . lordy. I probably gained two pounds.
 
This was my second year at the show. In '05 I went with only a few weeks as the boss under my belt (in fact, I had to wear the nametag of a former manager). I felt out of place and wasn't eager to repeat the experience.
 
This year I knew many people by name, others by reputation, and just as many knew me. It was nice to network and kid around with people just as obsessed with our business as I am, and I felt like I belonged.
 
My, I could almost cry.
 
I even had a good  time laughing at the lame jokes at the awards banquet, and sitting through the guest speaker who droned on about new taxes that affect my business. And I even seem to have bonded a bit with my co-workers that went with me.
 
One odd comment from a supplier who eagerly hunted me down and shook my hand. Tell me how I should take this:
 
"You know Dan, when you first took that job I looked at you and gave you a month, two at best. You should be proud that you've stuck around this long. I'm happy for you, I really am."
 
Well, what the heck!
 
Am I to take that as a compliment, that I overcame adversity and triumphed in the end? Or as an insult, like maybe I never deserved the job at all?
 
I'm going to stick with the former, just to save my ego. But it bothers me, and amuses me that I apparently looked shell-shocked my first few months on the job.

Halloween '06 and My Dad's Party

I was shocked when I downloaded/uploaded/whatever the latest Halloween pics to my computer.

The folder 'Halloween 06' now joins its counterparts '03, '04, and '05. Hard to believe we've been doing this so long. Seems like just yesterday I dressed YaYa in a one-piece Halloween pajama back in the olden days of film cameras, circa 2001.

Just for kicks, here's some photos of the girls through the years.

This is 2003, where we had a Wizard of Oz theme. I'm the Tin Man.

(sorry, shoulda orientated that pic prior to Uploading it to AOL)

That's YaYa on the right dressed as Dorothy. Her friend Meadow is in the middle, and I think that's YaYa's cousin in the Barney getup.

And here's LuLu dressed as the cowardly lion.

Now for 2004.

Here's LuLu.

And YaYa.

I have no idea why the pics are different sizes. It was my first digital camera, a shoebox sized gizmo.

2005 I chronicled here on Slapinions.

I'm still waiting for the pictures from LuLu's trip to the pumpkin farm, but the Mrs. spent one evening carving the bounty they found there.

In Milwaukee Halloween is officially mandated to be the Sunday closest to the holiday, and during daylight hours only. It was fine for me as a kid, but my kids deserve supervised nighttime trick-or-treat. Therefore, we take up a friend's mother's offer to participate in a paid trick-or-treat event, this year on October 28th.

Roughly 600 kids pay $3 each to receive a treat bag and pin, and the right to trick-or-treat at night within a supervised neighborhood.

We started out with YaYa in the Barney get-up

Yes, we reuse our costumes. We are poor.

But she grew tired of it and switched to the Rapunzel dress we bought her for her birthday.

LuLu went as a witch

And Parker went as Toto, again a recycled costume. I'd have had better pictures of him, but . . well, I 'll explain later.

Garsh, I look good, no?

You'll note the kids are dressed for Arctic battle. It was supposed to be 30 degrees, so we dressed appropriately. We even brought blankets along for the stroller.

The evening started with a generous dinner at the Mother's house. There were a lot of kids.

Then it was out to trick-or-treat.

It turned out to be a mild night and the blankets went unused.

Two big memories of the night, aside from great times watching the kids have fun going from house to house; Parker stumbing down the road, YaYa stopping to chat with many of the people handing out candy, LuLu getting frightened of a scary house and me dragging her kicking and screaming to the door, just so her life wouldn't be ruled even this once by fear.

Memory one: we're two or three blocks in when LuLu announces firmly she needs to use the potty. So I take her on my shoulders piggy-back all the way back to the house where we started, use the potty, then retrace our steps and try to catch up to the rest of the family - occasionally stopping to trick-or-treat along the way. LuLu and I are getting close lately, she's just so cute.

Memory two: when LuLu and I were on our own we came to a house where a 3 or 4 year old boy dressed as a Storm Trooper was crying. The woman handing out candy said he was lost and had been on her lawn for more than 20 minutes.

Well, a short time later I saw a SUV cruising slowly down the street. I flagged it down, and sure as day it was the father searching for his son. When he told me what he was wearing I said "Well, I have good news for you. He's down the road about two blocks, over on your left"

He drove off - and went right past the house. So I ran, yes ran, down the road after him. "I'm too fat for this s**t," I said when it was over.

Father and son were reunited.

Now after the trick-or-treat we dropped the kids off at my mother in law's (where YaYa was unusually sentimental about us leaving) and headed off to Caroline's, a pub near downtown Milwaukee that featured a live jazz band. It was my father's belated 60th birthday party, and a good (and unusually large) number of his side of the family showed up.

I'm a fan of jazz and enjoyed it, but I was tired and Lisa was exhausted, so we made an early exit. But my Dad stayed til nearly 2 - and he had to work at 6. The highlight while I was there was the band seranading my father. He had a great time and couldn't stop talking about it at work the next day. Kudos to my sister Katie for planning the bash.

Alas, sometime in the night my camera - my beloved camera - started taking crazy shots, blurred and streaked. It wasn't discovered until the next day (I had assumed it was just the poor lighting on the trick-or-treat and in the bar). This is a bad thing for two reasons: 1) we are 11 days from embarking on the 1st Slapinions Family Vacation and I cannot afford a new camera and 2) half the photos of the trick-or-treat, all of my Dad's birthday photos, and all of the daytime trick-or-treat were useless.

Don't believe me? Here's the most usuable of these discarded pics, a fluke solid shot of (naturally) a lousy pic.

And the one usuable photo of Parker from the 29th's daytime trick-or-treat, showing the after effect of all that candy.

We didn't want to stay home and be bombarded by candy hungry kids (aren't we horrible?) so we split and did a little trick-or-treat around my Mom's neighborhood, then visited my Aunt Rosie, then headed to my mother-in-laws.

While there we handed out candy, or YaYa did. She was upset at the low turnout in the older neighborhood, but I helped her out by flagging down some customers for her. All three of my kids and I then played tag, hide and seek, and Zombie in the front yard. And YaYa played a trick on passer-by's. She hid on the ground under my coat adn then jumped out and yelled 'Boo' when I gave the signal. She scared the bejeezus out of one infant!

Afterward we toured a house my friend Emo had remodelled and put up for sale.

And just for kicks, the camera decided to start working again later in the evening, tho' I still half-believe it's just tricking me into leaving for vacation with a bum camera.

Here's two random pictures of my girls from the test shots:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rather than risk a TOS violation . .

I will only say that Lisa was laughing at her own (lame) joke involving a woman on the TV named, of all things, Minnie Cox.

Friday, October 27, 2006

YaYa can Read!

I remember sitting on my mothers lap as a kindergartner as she tried in vain to teach me to read.

For whatever reason I hated it, and would have no part of it. A year later it clicked all at once, and by the end of 1st grade I was reading Henry and Ribsy and getting yelled at by my teacher for reading aloud more than the required one page.

Two weeks ago this coming Sunday Lisa told me that YaYa could read.

I didn't believe her, even when she brought out a treasury of Dick and Jane and plugged away at a page. She's memorized it, I thought.

That evening though she sat down with me and read several random pages, diligently sounding out strange words and plowing through the page.

Lisa then wrote out 'car', and many variations on the word: bar, star, etc. Once she sounded out 'car', she got the rest of the words lickety-split.

No one's claiming she can read Shakespeare yet, and she still occasionally chafes at being asked to read a word (but often is very, very eager) but it's better by far than I did at her age.

I'm proud of her, and of my wife. Sure, when she was a teeny baby I held her in my arms and read a Bernard Cornwel Sharpe book to her, and I've taken her to the library a lot, but it's my wife that's read books aloud to her a dozen or more times to my one; it's my wife that had the patience to plug away at teaching her to read when I remembered my youth and wouldn't even try; and it's my wife that continues to make her flex her newfound reading muscle.

* * * *
That same day I took my Godson/nephew to see Jackass 2, and I must be a boy because I thought it was hilarious. A mere mention of the best parts would get me a TOS violation on AOL, but I thought it was great.

My nephew was probably a little young for it, but since he's seen the original I figured no harm no foul.

Afterwards we went for a ride and (at his mother's request) gave him 'The Talk' and some info on drugs to boot. He seemed to listen.

Hopefully some of it sunk in.

 

The Cardinals Win

Well they pulled it off, knocking out the Tigers in 5 games - the exact opposite of my prediction.

There's been a whole lotta talk over on Baseball Think Factory (aka Primer) about how the Cardinals aren't the best team in baseball, and how it's silly to take a seven game series and extrapolate the title 'Best in the World' from those results. After all, the Cards came out of the pathetic Central division in the equally weak National League, and barely broke .500

Well, duh.

In baseball anything can happen in a short series. If I had to pick one team to take the field and win for me on any given day, it wouldn't be the Cardinals.

Winning the World Series doesn't make them the best ever, or even the best around today.

It just makes them Champions.

When I had the pleasure of watching Buster Douglas wup up on Mike Tyson live on TV, I never once, even for a moment, thought Douglas was better than Tyson.

But there is something to be said for being able to see it through to the end and come out on top.

Michelle Kwan might be the best skater around, but her constant Olympic failures means someone else takes the gold - and will forever be remembered as a champion.

I won't fault a team that sticks it out and wins it all.

Kudos to the Cardinals. Still a boring, blase team whose manager is overrated . . .

But tonight they're all Champions.

 

Thursday, October 26, 2006

My 10th Anniversary

I didn't have the greatest anniversary.

About half an hour after I went to bed, at about 1:30, our phone started ringing.

We argued for a second about who would get up, and my wife lost and went to answer it. It was work.

"This had better be important," my wife told the caller.

It was.

"Dan, this is X. We were just robbed at gunpoint. They took everything," my good friend and co-worker of 8 years said.

15 minutes later I was at work. The robbery had been quick and bold, two gun-toting men leading him into an employee area, grabbing the cash, and leaving in no more than a few minutes.

It was so fast I missed it the first time I reviewed the security tapes.

Like I said, this employee is a good friend of mine, someone I worked alongside for 6 1/2 years while earning my stripes on 3rd shift. Just two days before I'd mentioned to him that it might be a good idea to move on: "You've got ten years in. Sooner or later your luck's going to run out".

Thankfully, when it did no one was hurt.

I worked in his place for the remainder of the night, and by the time I returned the kids were nearly ready for school. I got to sleep around 9:30 and slept away most of my anniversary.

The big highlight of the day: a trip to Wal-Mart with my wife in the evening, and a couple hours of TV doubling as white noise while we cleaned the house.

* * * * * *

In other news, I'm waiting on some pics from LuLu's teacher before I do a post on her trip to the pumpkin farm, and the related carving of the jack-o-lanterns.

I've also primed to do my first political post in quite a long time as I find myself mystified by the appeal of our corrupt and two-faced Governor Doyle, and the self-serving and exploitive stem-cell ads Michael J. Fox is appearing in here on his behalf.

In addition, once I get a chance to watch it, I'll do a post on the new Lost episode, and possibly one on the very entertaining World Series.

I'm also going to try and update the dated pic of me in the 'about me' section, as I'm sick of looking at it.

Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

YaYa's 5th Birthday Party

The day didn't start very well.

I was getting ready to go into work for a few hours when I received a phone call. Picture this said with a cheery voice, rapid fire, and a bit of an 'upspeak' at the end of every sentence.

"Is this Dan?" the caller asked. "My name is X and I'm a neighbor of Tracy. He was cleaning his gutters when he fell off a ladder. His legs are immobilized and he wanted me to call you and ask you to come see him before the ambulance takes him to St. Lukes"

Tracey, aka Tre, has been a friend of mine since Boy Scouts, my best friend since college, the best man at my wedding, and YaYa's Godfather.

I got to his house in time to see the ambulance drive off. Luckily, once I got to the hospital I found my friend in good spirits, with 'only' a muscle tear in his leg for the trouble.

Yikes.

The rest of the day went much better.

We had YaYa's birthday party at Paulo's, a 50's themed pizza parlor/diner. For months before the party Lisa and her mother worked on making real poodle skirts for every girl to wear (and take home as a favor!).

Note the coordinating scarves and Marilyn Monroe moles on their cheeks . . .

 It wasn't just YaYa's party though. She is very close in age to Lisa's friends daughter, and Meadow celebrated as well.

There was a fine turnout, despite the fact that $ concerns (and a heaping helping of kids in the family and among our friends) severely limited the number of classmates invited.

Her step-Grandmother decided to enjoy the day and dress appropriately

One of the neat aspects of Paulo's is a free jukebox jammed with 50's classics, including my fave Buddy Holly

and a bunch of hula-hoops for patron's use, with a bumper sticker awarded for showing off. At one point YaYa's friends Jordan and Emma had a hula hoop battle royale:

 [ Note Parker poking his head into a lot of these shots :) ]

At some point LuLu decided to get a little antsy

But then we decided to open gifts and eat some cupcakes

After Happy Birthday both girls gave a pretty rendition of "I'm Five Years Old" which lead to a genuine round of applause

The the gift opening. Frankly, YaYa was spoiled. She got so many gifts, of such quality, that we scrapped the gift we were going to give her (a Spiderman themed Barbie where she is dressed in a wedding dress as Mary Jane; she'da freaked!) and instead stuck with only a Rapunzel dress up outfit.

[the ant hill was scrapped when we found out the life expectancy was under three weeks, and that it could not be restocked naturally, as Queen ants cannot be shipped. Oh, our Praying Mantis is still kicking weeks (a month or more?) into her stay with us, but the grasshopper passed and turned into Mantis food]

Here's our gift, and da** the red eye filter for messing with her eyes in the shot.

But I love/adore this pic, and my memories of the moment

That's her best school friend Sophia in the shot with her. Oh, the little boy that proposed to YaYa last year, the boy she swoons over and is infatuated with (and who admittedly is the nicest boy in the class showed up. His name is Dan. Her famous quote: "Isn't it funny Momma how your husband's name is Dan, and my boyfriends name is Dan too?"

After the party at Pulos (a great deal for how many folks we fed, btw) some of the girls went to the hotel for a sleepover in the Cadillac room, where a real '57 Caddy and big screen TV awaited them.

[For space reasons even fewer girls made it to this leg of the party. Among the excluded, unfortunately, were some of her best friends ]

The girls went swimming in the hotel pool, watched Grease and Bye Bye Birdie on the TV, listened to '50's CD's on the car's radio, and went to McDonald's for breakfast. The only bad part: LuLu got her hands caught in the Caddy's door. No harm done, but she wasn't a happy camper for awhile there :(

Meanwhile Parker and I retired home to watch the opening of the World Series and Badger hockey on PBS. Well, I watched that stuff. He slept :)

A great day (even with all the cold rain and early morning drama) and an enjoyable and memorable 5th birthday party for YaYa.

 

Sunday, October 22, 2006

WTF???!!!

Ok, now I'm pis**ed.

I jump onto Slapinions tonight to do a post, and the hit counter reads '7'

Seven.

Last year I was up to more than 30,000 and the hit counter went to zero.

Then it goes back up to ~5,000.

And down to zero.

Today it was up to 1340-ish and again . . .

Ugh.

Look, a hit counter is nothing but a visual expression of an ego trip. I realize that. But it means something to me, and more to the point the continued problem means AOL is doing jack to fix the problem.

I know you can reset your own hit counter, but I shouldn't have to do it.

I'm not going to make any rash comments about leaving AOL, even though I have slapinions.com ready to go whenever I want . . but I like AOL, and I like this journal, and I can even tolerate the gawd-awful term "J-Land".

But WTF.

Ugh.

Update: Well, hot dog! I just added a site meter counter in the 'about me' section per one of the comments on this post.

Some Book Reviews

I'm having a lot of fun writing for Slapinions lately - writing in general, really - so you'll have to excuse the frequent posts. [Not that anyone reads this blog, but just in case.]

Recently I began my semi-annual ‘Hey, I just paid off my library fines!’ reading binge.

First on my plate was Old Man’s War, a science-fiction novel by AOL’s very own John Scalzi.

Old Man’s War follows the familiar but beloved path of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (one of my favorite books, btw) as we follow John Perry, a new recruit into an army whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc on the alien enemies of mankind.

But here’s the twist: John is seventy-five years old, as are all the recruits. On the edge of their last years on Earth (in every sense of the term) they are granted a newly cloned and modified body in exchange for ten years of service.

As I said the book is very much an homage to Starship Troopers in that both are brutal and militaristic futures where war seems perpetual. Along the way, however, Scalzi twists the plot and settings just enough to breathe original life into his universe. He refuses to be a clone of Heinlein - no pun intended - and the effort shows on the page.

I loved the first few pages, which were beautiful and more than enough to hook me into the story. I did think the ending was a little flat, and there was a brief page of dialogue (when the recruits are still in training) where the conversation seems too . . . Woody Allen, with well thought out and witty comments pouring out of every character.

Definitely recommended.

So is its sequel (?) The Ghost Brigades.

This time the story follows Jared Dirac, a clone of Charles Boutin, mankind’s greatest traitor. Jared was created to track down Boutin by recreating his memories, but along the way he begins to craft his own ideas about the bloody and ethically challenged universe around him.

I think this book was by far the better of the two, well thought out and intelligently written. As it can function as a stand-alone novel I would almost encourage you to pick this one up first.

* * * * * *

A brief note in the afterward of one of Scalzi’s novels pointed me toward the next book, The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld.

Normally this wouldn’t be my cup of tea - strongly technical, ‘hard’ sci-fi. But I found myself quickly involved in the story and the subtle but powerful writing of Westefeld.

In the future mankind is ruled by an emperor who died 1600 years ago. His reanimated self is the gift he has given his people - the opportunity to cheat death by way of a symbiant implanted after death. His empire has grown stale and decadent, and the Rix - a computer driven enemy - has successfully planted itself on a Imperial planet.

Among a web of lies and betrayals the crew of one vessel must stave off the invasion and rescue the population of that world from its own Emperror.

Told from varying points of view and jumping from one year to another, the tale grabs you and won’t let go.

The same goes for its sequel The Killing of Worlds. My only criticism of that book is that the secret of the Emperror - the knowledge that has driven the action of both books - is rather tame and frankly, not all that horrifying. I can't say more without giving it away, but if I was one of his subjects I'd contemplate it for a minute, then say "That sucks. But it's better than the alternative. Carry on."

* * * *

Next up was The Coming by Joe Haldeman, chosen because simply because I saw it on the shelf when I picked up Killing. The best part of this pathetic book was the premise explained on the cover: a message from space is intercepted. It says only ’we’re coming’ and the world is left to deal with the impending arrival of ???. Haldeman should give half his royalties to that copywriter, because the rest is a waste. Spare yourself this book; the ending alone is so weak it wouldn’t cut it in a second-rate slasher film.

So it’s beyond me why I picked up another Haldeman book, Forever Peace. Although I disagree vehemently with the ‘solution’ proposed and carried out in the book, it was an enjoyable and entertaining read.

In the near future Soldier-Boys, robots built for war and controlled telepathically from afar, rule the battlefield. Julian Class is in control of such a beast one week a month, and a professor the rest of the time. As the war drags on and society has finally discovered a way to end the universe itself, it also discovers a means to end war forever.

Recommended.

* * * *

The Hard Way by Lee Child is yet another book featuring the great Jack Reacher. It’s basically more of the same old Reacher, but when the bar is so high to begin with, that’s just fine by me. Recommended.