Monday, April 28, 2008

Window salesmen, drainage ditches, musical beds, and a picture of Socialist! Oh My!

A rare productive weekend for me.

On Friday, with the help of one of my maintenance guys, I moved our new king bed into the house. Getting it in despite 40 mph wind gusts and tornado watches was grand; getting it inside and up our narrow stairs was a downright miracle.

That replaced the California King that we've had for nearly a decade. It was well past its prime and Lisa's back had been feeling the effects. For that reason we've spent much of 2008 playing musical beds. Many a night Lisa would wind up in YaYa's bed, with the kids either taking our bed or sleeping on their 'couches' on the floor. When the kids took our bed I'd grab LuLu's, in part because it put me closer to the baby and, well, because it was the best bed in the house.

Mind you, all was well in the marriage department but you can imagine what news of our 'sleeping in seperate rooms' did for the rumour mill.  

Afterwards, as the rain came down, I noticed the northwest corner of our lot was a lake. That's the same place where the old 1892 wall leaked, but it wasn't raining that hard. It turns out part of the neighbors gutter was blown off by a storm (when??) and all the water from his gutters was dumping out right there. I contacted him and, for the time being, we dug a trench to channel the water away from my house. It worked, as there were no leaks despite heavy rain, but I'm not going to swear an oath that it was the sole reason for our water problems (tho' of course I'm hoping it is).

Then the window guy showed up and gave his spiel. I'm embarrassed to say I signed up for his services (after thinking it over for a day). His product was high quality, his references impeccable, his written guarantees sound,and his face very familar. As it turns out I've met him before, as he's best friends with a radio guy I've done business with at work. Small world and all that, eh?

Pricewise he was about double what it would cost for me to buy standard, over the counter windows at Menards and install them myself. That last part is laughable, because there wasno way I was capable of doing them myself. I proved that on Sunday.

Saturday was spent at a one of YaYa's  friend's First Communion, but Sunday morning Socialist came over at my request.

You might remember that in the fall of last year I took apart Socialist's shed and transported it to my backyard. He told me it was free for the taking, but that if I wanted his help putting it up it would have to wait until spring.

Well, here it is 6 months or so later and all I had completed was the floor and three walls. So I asked for his help.

In 90 minutes we got the walls and roof put up, minus shingles. It would have taken 70 minutes were it not for the fact that I continuously stripped screws, missed 2x4's, nearly tipped over the ladder, and generally made a nusicance of myself.

On rare days, when I'm in the zone,  I could put the pyramids together with my bare hands and a hammer, but 90% of the time I look like the guy in shop safety films that chops his own hand off.

If it wasn't myself I was talking about, I would accuse the guy of intentionally tanking it to get out of work.

Sadly, not true.

In the end Socialist dubbed the shed "Whacky Shack" because no one remembered how the thing went back together, and some parts had warped during the harsh winter.

I remembered it being slightly prettier before the move. Here's some pre-dissemble pics.

Whatever. I'll finish it up, give it a good paint job and a Danny-is-a-paranoid lock of suitable heft, and away we go.

After I finished the shed the window salesman came over to finalize some paperwork and brought his 5 year old daughter along to play with LuLu. I take that as a good sign. I don't think he'd bring his kid into the deal if he had an intention of screwing us over.

Or he could be a sociopath. Either/or.

So, a busy, productive weekend. How was yours?

Cloverfield

    

Saturday night Lisa and I burned the midnight oil and watched Cloverfield, a movie by the maker of Lost that I had been dying to see in the theaters but never got around to watching.

If you saw the previews you saw the essentials of the plot. New York is attacked by some thing and the Godzilla like attack leads to a mass evacuation. A small group of party-goers, one of whom has a video camera, tries to escape but they turn back to rescue a friend stranded in mid-town Manhattan. That places them squarely in the midst of the monster's attack, and the movie goes on from there.

I've never seen a Godzilla/Mothrilla movie that I liked, and I was disappointed when I  found out this movie was in that vein. On the other hand, as you may have heard by now, I have a fetish for 'end of the world in progress, last band of survivors' films, so it earned points there.

The verdict after watching it? I loved it! Even Lisa, who put off watching the DVD in hopes I'd watch it alone some day, wound up staying up later than she'd have liked just to finish watching it.

One reason I think it was well received in this house was the character development. It's a  monster movie and yet I know more about the characters than I do some ofthe people I've worked with for years. 

Rob is a successful businessman, on his way to Japan on the eve of the attaack. Unbeknownst to his friends, he had a one day fling with Beth McIntyre, a friend of long standing. He loves her, she loves him, and naturally neither one will admit it.

Jason is Rob's brother, and he's involved with Lily. Lily feels she's a part of their family, although I got the feeling she's jumping the gun a bit.

Hud, short for Hudson, is Rob's dufus friend and the videographer of the nights events. He has a crush on their goth-ish friend Miranda, who doesn't even remember him when they are re-introduced.

And so on.

I also loved the way the monster is  churning up the world at the center of events, yet barely explained or even seen for much of the film. A bit of the Jaws 'you only see the shark once or twice' kind of effect, and it works.

(Plus the parasitic spiders that hitchike on the beast are nasty. One bite from them and it's Ebola redux.)

Flaws? Well, sure, it isn't Wuthering Heights. It's still a monster flick, albeit a good one. What else? Hm, well the ending is not only bleak but given away in the first seconds of the film, should you read between the lines of the military text. And of course, someone would have either told the guy to shut off the camera at some point, or his battery would have run out. 

But then we wouldn't have a movie, would we? 

[dumbest reason not to see it: Socialist said that if he wanted to throw up from motion sickness he'd ride a roller coaster. That's a pathetic reason, one that referenced the moleycoddled wimps out there who asked for theater refunds because they experienced vertigo at the hands of the 'hand-held' camera.]

On a general scale, Cloverfield ratees 3 and a quarter stars out of 5. On my scale, 4 out of 5.  

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lost: The Shape of things to Come. Season 4, episode 9

Lost is back, and so my Thursday nights are once again ruined by my need to sit in front of the TV for an hour :)

The episdoe features 'flashforwards' of Ben as he awakens in the Sahara Desert, mysteriously dressed in a winter coat and bleeding from an arm wound. There is no trail leading to his location.

He overcomes two Bendouin attackers, killing one and using one of their horses to ride into a city.

 The date is October of 2005, 13 months after the crash of 815, yet Ben himself had to ask the year of a hotel clerk; did he travel through time?

He then heads from Tunusia into Iraq, where he encounters Sayid as he buries his wife, Nadia. (from this we learn that the Oceanic Six are 'rescued', at the latest, within months of the 'current' events of the island, and that Sayid is reunited with the long-lost Nadia, however briefly).

Ben and Sayid team up to killl Ishmael, a man allegedly in the employ of Charles Widmore, and  - again allegedly - one of the men responsible for Nadia's death.

Thus the odd partnership of Ben and Sayid is forged, but to this viewer it seemed rather half-baked. Sayid never trusted Ben - why start now? And why take his word on something of such vast importance as the death of your wife?

Let's go back to the island. Jack and the beach survivors find the murdered body of the ship's doctor. A subsequent morse code message to the ship reveals that he is - at that time - alive and well. More evidence of time distortion? After Jack confronts him Daniel admits they have no intention of rescuing the 815 survivors. Jack, who's been ill the whole episode, collapses in deep physical pain.

Meanwhile Alex, Ben's daughter, is forced by her captors to override the fence around the Other's compound. She does so, but types in a distress code that alerts her father. A furious firefight takes place, and the strike team from the ship kills several 'redshirts' - Lost survivors who've occupied background roles for the last four seasons.

 

The team approaches Ben's house with Alex and threatens to kill her if he doesn't surrender. He calls their bluff, only to watch with horror as they kill his daughter in front of his eyes.

"He changed the rules," Ben says in shock. He quickly disspears into a sealed room in his house, only to emerge later telling the rest of the group to run for the treeline. From out of nowhere The Monster emerges, consuming the strike team.

 

Amid their shrieks of pain and terror, the survivors split up. Locke and Ben force Hurley to accompany them to Jacob's cabin, but not before Sawyer warns Locke that he will kill him if any harm befalls Hugo.

Back to 2005. Ben is in London, and breaks into the suite of Charles Widmore. They know each other and speak with a comfortable familarity, albeit one that is stressed and filled with hate for one another.

Ben says he 'cannot' kill Widmore, but that for Alex's death Ben will return the favor and kill Penny, Charles daughter/Desmond's love. Widmore scoffs, saying he'll never find her, Ben retorts that Charles cannot find the island. Widmore says that he knows 'what' Ben is, and that everything he is he took from Widmore, and that it is laughable that Ben blames him for his daughter's death.

Okay, end of episode summary. Aside from the questions I've already raised:

Ben was very specific with his wording, and cannot kill Widmore. I take it to mean the island prevents him from doing so, as was the case with Michael's suicide attempts.

Widmore is very clear that Penny can't be found, not in a cocky manner, but in the matter-of-fact voice of someone who knows you can't find Hoffa because he's buried in the Jets' end zone. So where is Penny, and presumably Desmond?

Did Ben summon the monster, or just lure it to the compound now that the security fence was down?

My theory is this: Widmore owned the island, as much as anyone can own that crazy place, and was involved with or ran Dharma, and therefore knows that Ben betrayed that group and handed it over to the Others. I presume Widmore came in contact with the isle because of the Black Rock, meaning his connection may run back 150 years  (remember, time travel/distortion abounds within this show). It is Penny that Sayid is hunting in the future, and that leads us to my next theory.

I think I see the threads of the show coming together, and I have a glimpse in my head of how the finale will play out. Sayid and Ben will inevitably face off against Desmond/Penny/Widmore, with the rest of the Oceanic Six forced into the fray against their will.

There's more, but like the show's mysteries, the entirety of the concept was crystal clear in my head for a seond, then vanished into the vapor.

As always, we'll have to see how it plays out.


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Saturday, April 26, 2008

What I thought of Juno

Lisa and I sat down and watched Juno recently. Unless I'm forgetting something it was the first of the 2007 Oscar contenders that we've seen.

The verdict? A good movie, but I don't think it was worth all the buzz it received.

The list of what was 'wrong' is short, so I might as well spit it out here.

*  I found the character of Juno downright annoying and her dialouge pretentious, which is a problem when the whole movie's about the girl. 

BUT I suppose I may have  forgotten just how awful teenage girls can be. Come to think of it, they were pretty terrible to me in high school, so maybe the movie is spot on.

* I also found most of the music downright crappy, but obviously there's a market for poorly written soundtracks sung off key, and tossing in an obscure Buddy Holly tune doesn't change that.

* For all the 'he's boss' crud throughout the movie, I thought Bleeker (the Baby Daddy)was pretty much a thoughtless dweeb.

At his age, while a dweeb myself, I would have stepped up and done something right. Not everything, but something. Like maybe not take another chick to the prom while the girl I knocked up stays home alone.

* Rounding off our list, I thought her initial reaction to the pregnancy too blase.

On to the good:

* Jason Bateman rocked, and even if the character gave off some creepy vibes at times you can't go wrong with someone that opened for the Melvins.

* Jennifer Garner looked stunning and gave a heartfelt performance. I was impressed.

* I thought it was a delight to see a decent, loving father. I also thought it was cool that the step-mother was painted as an ally, not a villain.

I thought it was great that Juno considered an abortion, which was probably the first thing she'd have thought of in real life, but then discarded it as an option and faced down her mistake. What's the line? "This is one doodle you can't undoodle?"

* I thought it was a positive thing that the protester wasn't an over-the-top hateful kook, even if she came off as somewhat stupid.

* Best of all - SPOILER ALERT - I loved that the adoptive father changed his mind, splitting apart the potential family, and yet Juno and the mother went ahead with the deal.

Didn't you expect Juno to wind up keeping the baby? I did, and I bow to a screenwriter who threw me for a loop.

Garner's character gave off a palatable yearning for motherhood. It was hard not to root for her, even if that flew in the face of the conventional way these movies handle the situation. I might not have been able to follow Juno's example - I'm pretty much a breeder - but it was probably the 'right' thing to do.

(plus, totally independent of the movie as 'just' a movie, having Juno keep the baby would have made adoption seem like the 'wrong' choice. Worse yet, having her keep the baby could -conceivably - have made someone facing the same situation say 'whoa, no way am I winding up with my baby. Adoption is out'.)

End of Spoilers So in short: good movie, not great. 3 stars out of 5.


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Friday, April 25, 2008

On Souls, karma, and a whiny monologue by St. Peter

 

I just thought about Nancy, a friend of my sister's who died in a car accident, God, it must be 15 years ago now.

I think of her every once in awhile. She was a genuinely nice person who would have made done right by the world if given the chance - I can imagine her with a house full of kids and maybe a job as a teacher.

It was a horrible waste  - she was only in her teens - so that sticks with me. She also seemed to have a bit of a crush on me, one I never reciprocated, which makes me feel a bit of misplaced regret.

Anyhow, I mention her here because of one of my kooky maybe Christian/maybe not beliefs. I've felt for a long time that whenever a person is remembered after their passing, be it an everyday thought of my Grandma or some obscure well-digger who's name pops up when reading an archived document, well, it does . . . something. Call it my half-baked, inarticulate version of 'every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings'.

[Of course, by that theory, Hitler gets a whole lotta 'something' too. So I guess a caveat - only good or neutral thoughts count]

[And while we're on the subject, when did all this 'angel' stuff get so big? I object to this notion of angels being the recently deceased. So, 'some' people in Heaven rank higher than others? How does that conversation go?

St. Peter, coffee cup in hand: Yeeahhh, listen Frank. I know you lived a good life, and, well the proof's in the pudding right buddy? I mean, you bypassed purgatory and hell and jumped right to the Big Show. Do you know how rare that is in this day and age? You da man!  [hits him on the shoulder]

But, uh, well . .listen bro. You know we have this 'angel' thing, and . . .hey, I just work here ya know? But there are some . . I don't want to say 'quotas' per se, but . let's say 'requirements'. And, no offense, but a guy who had a heart attack is a dime a dozen. Gladys over in Toledo, you know, the one who was cut in half by a cable car? That's the kind of applicant the big guy is looking for right now. Attractive, female, unusual death . . .

I know it's hard to swallow man, but there's always next millenia. Allright? Thatta boy! I knew you were a trooper! Talk to ya later!]

Anyhow, in no small part because I believe it does some karmic good with her soul (the online version of lighting a candle in church?) I just want to say that Nancy is remembered.

That's all. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A great bit of Disney's imaginative copywriting

YaYa spends time online on a Disney roleplaying game where you live the life of a cartoon animal. Last week her online pet, 'neglected' for a few hours, ran away from her character's home. 

This is the email sent to the site's support staff:

My puffleball ran away. how do i find her?

The response came yesterday, and I reproduce it here because of its imaginative approach to her problem.


Hello,

Oh dear!  I can help you find her.  Puffles are really great pets, but
sometimes they get bored if you don't visit your igloo very often to feed them
and play with them.  When a puffle gets bored it is likely that it will run
away.

The good news is when your puffle runs away it almost always runs back to the
pet shop to be with other puffle friends.  If you go visit the pet shop I am
confident that you will find your puffle there.  You will need to purchase her
again and teach her her name again, because puffles can be very forgetful
sometimes.  Once you re-name your puffle it will appear in your igloo.  Make
sure to take very good care of it this time!

If you have any more questions please feel free to write in anytime.  Have a
fun day!

Sincerely,

Leah F
Club  Support

Wow. By implying that it simply went back to the pet shop the letter calms any fears and guilt the kid might have over the pet.. It encourages you to buy a new one, the only true way you're going to walk away with a pet, but convinces the child that it's the same familiar - if amnesiac - face. It even works in a mild scolding and a lesson on how to take care of their pet.

So YaYa got a new online pet, convinced it was the same one that left her, and all is well.

My hats off to that copywriter. Great job!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some answers to your Questions

I want to thank everyone who participated in the site survey a few days back. (If you haven't, kindly scroll down the main page and jump right in).

It appears I skew towards an older, female audience that is nicely distributed geographically. Not exactly the coveted 'male 18-39' target group, but even so an audience I am quite happy with, thank you very much.

As for everyone who was quick to jump the gun and assume the paid blogging spot was a sure thing, well it isn't. I spoke to my friend yesterday as we walked a 2.8 mile route - well, tried to talk, between deep, labored breaths - and he admitted it didn't look very good.

He was still going to talk to the company but all the current slots are filled and a new one is unlikely to emerge. Still,  I prodded him to give it a shot and argue some of my strong points - a proven 3.5 year track record, nearly 800 posts proving I have no shortage of filler at my disposal, and the abiltiy to self-edit, keeping private stuff private and my content on-target and appropriate for my average reader.

(such as the post about the bushes. The orginal title was 'way too many pics of a big bush', but you didn't see me run with that title on this  family-friendly blog, now did you?)

So we'll wait and see.

Meanwhile I think I'm going to take that offer to scribble a weekly 'male Erma Bombeck' article for a community newspaper. It doesn't pay much, but it's more than I make writing now, that's for sure. I'd originally turned it down as being charity, but they've hounded me long enough now that I think they have a genunine interest in the column.

Eh, who knows.

To answer some questions posed in the comments and emails related to the survey:

* Do I think my 'style' would change? Nah, not really. By and large I'm rather a cocky wiseenheimer in print. That tends to show through in everything I write. The exception, of course, would be in documents where that would be innapropriate - such as political analysis and eulogies.

* Would I 'sell out'? Heck yeah. Give me a check and I'll write about the glory of the Chicago Cubs and how I think that Kurt Cobain guy was over-rated. It would hurt, but I'd buy something to ease the pain. :)

Mind you, evenually I'd abandon it for 'pure' art, casting it as my 'dark commercial period', like Johnny Depp's years on Jump Street or the skin flick Stallone did before Rocky .

* Do I write for myself or for an audience? Honestly, an audience

Think about it: on Slapinions you don't read about my work, my innermost fears, the names of my kids, my real last name, embarrassing details about extended family, or my sex life (you're welcome). By default, I automatically edit this blog for the eyes of (largely) anonymous strangers.

 I don't think I'll ever stop writing, in some way, shape, and form, even if no one ever read a word I wrote. That's been the case before, was the case for much of my life in fact.

But even in that scenario I'd fall victim to what Stephen King calls 'writing for the ages' - the little voice in your head that says every word you commit to the page will one day be revered, whether read now or not.

Say mankind was about to die out. Before it happened a magic genie appears and says to me that only one document would survive The End, only one scrap of writing to tell the universe 'we were here'.

The choice, says the genie, is between the Declaration of Independence or half the grocery list I wrote yesterday on the back of a matchbook. Now choose.

In which case, rest assured dear reader, the aliens from Gamma 5 are going to be asking what 'Tuna Helper' tastes like.

* Would I still write here on Slapinons if I was paid to blog elsewhere? Sure, I think so. Scalzi kept Whatever running while AOL paid him to do, well, this. I certainly think I can handle the vice-versa.

Again, as always, thanks for reading :)

Bleepin' Home Improvement Salesmen

You know, I'm starting to get a little insulted by all these contractors who stop by my house to solicit work.

Yes, I know the roof is old and has seen better days. That's why wer're looking to replace it. Yes, I also know the windows are old enough to have seen FDR's first term. Thanks for pointing that out. And thanks ever so much for leaving the one thousandth home improvement flyer on my screen door.

But the kicker? The lawn service that stopped by last year with a flyer advertising a $19.95 special,  took a look at my barren and brown lawn, then crossed out the sale price and scribbled 'call me for a quote'.

That was last year, mind you, before a summer's worth of lawn work and seeding.

Tonight I was feeding the kids dinner when Smiley ran in and grunted, gesturing to the front door. There again was a contractor, this one looking to give me a quote on the windows.

As it turns out the windows are one of the three things we are hoping to have done this year, so I asked him to return at a better time - Lis, that means Friday at 7 pm - but geesh.

I suppose just by agreeing to the estimate I validated his approach, but doesn't anyone ever just reach out and slap them?

Even as I was signing up I was nursing a grudge.

"Did you stop at every house on the block, or just the ones that looked like sh**?" I asked.

He hesitated, gauged my temper, deemed me genial, and laughed. "Not every house, but a lot of them. See you Friday."

Monday, April 21, 2008

An American Haunting - review

I like horror movies, which is odd considering I hated them growing up. That had much to do with my coming of age in the Golden Age of Slasher films. Along with the new 'torture porn' phenomenom, slasher films remain on the bottom of my things to watch list.

But I'm all for genuinely scary films, and I'll take a cheesy mid-budget '70's horror flick anyday (think Amityville/Omen/Black Christmas).

I had high hopes An American Haunting would fit one of the bills, despite the boring title.

Yeah, no.

Not a bad movie, don't get me wrong. The acting was good - Sissie Spacek, Donald Sutherland - and there was a wicked crash scene a good way into the film.

It's based on the 'real life' case of the Bell Witch, but much of this film is pure fiction.

The movie dilly-dallies quite a bit, showing us the day to day afflictions without ramping up the fear or our sympathies. The modern day story bookending the tale is superfluous, and, frankly, a lot of folks do a lot of things the exact opposite of how it would go in real life.

Evil creature knocking at your door, then suddenly stopping? Why by all means, take that as a cue to head for the doorknob. Go on, open the door - I'm sure the evil spirit is gone!

Devil child appearing then dissapearing in front of you? Gosh golly, follow that child through the woods alone, and yeaaaah, of course you should enter that dark cave after her! What's the worst that could happen?

All kidding aside, without giving away the ending (one Lisa guessed five minutes in) let me just say the filmakers looked at the situation, thought of it soley in 21st century terms, conjured up a vile, appalling rationale, and used it awkwardly explain away a 19th century ghost.

If they're right, then pi** on the dead. If they're wrong, I'd hate to have to be the screenwriter when he gets to the hereafter and meets the person he slandered from 200 years distance.

Not a bad way to waste an evening, but I wouldn't jump through hoops to get my hands on a copy.

2.5 stars out of 5.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The bush out front

I'm sorry I haven't been able to catch up on my blog reading list; I promise I'll devote some serious time to it in the next day or so.

* * * *

Crazy weekend, and it went by super fast. We retired early Friday night and from Saturday afternoon until only a few hours ago Lisa and YaYa were out of the house, enjoying a slumber/birthday party for a family friend. Plus LuLu and the baby were at my Mom's and Smiley was at my in-law's, leaving the house to me and me alone.

Party!

Alas, my friends are old and decrepit and could not/would not sally forth to do anything. In retrospect the highlight of the evening was taking one of Lisa's friends across town to pay her cell phone bill.

Whoo-hoo.

But, I did get some projects done around the house, and early Sunday morn Socialist and I went and picked up a dresser Lisa's Aunt donated to LuLu. With that out of the way I borrowed a saw from him and started the next thing on the Honey-do list: the bushes out front.

Now here's the deal. When we bought the house, it had been abandoned for years and the bush in front of the porch was completely overgrown. On New Years Day of 2007 (or maybe Dec 31st, '06) I borrowed some manual hedge clippers and went to town.

These are pics of the bush midway through the effort. When I started it extended halfway into the sidewalk, forcing you to step around it when walking past.

If my memory is right, when it was done I was too tired to bother taking pictures of the end result. Here's the closest I could find to an 'after' shot.

On with the show. The bushes remained universally despised by eveyone but me. "I'd have cut them down the minute I signed the [mortgage] papers," my Dad said.

"They're awful," Lisa would say.

"I like them. I think they look like bonsai trees," I'd say.

"Yeah. If bonsai trees were five feet tall and looked like sh*t"

In time she modified her attack to point out they blocked our view of the kids when they would ride their bikes in front. It did, and that bothered me.She proposed a landscaping plan that was acceptable, and I gave in.

So fine, today I decided to take them down.

Only . .

Only I have this quirk where my conscience aches at killing a plant or tree. Yeah, yeah - I'm not a tree hugger. But put it this way: I'm all for capital punishment, but I'm not volunteering to pull the switch, you know?

So I cut down a bunch of the bush and paused, wracked with guilt. And a jogger goes by and says "Smells nice anyway." and I took a wiff and thought "huh, he's right."

It was very fragrant, almost like the cedar chests that both sets of my grandparent's used. And that got me started on how old the bush must be to be that large, that gnarled, and how it might predate my family's purchase of the house (~1940) and if left alone just might outlive us all.

And I started to think about how maybe my Mom played under it as a kid, or my Grandma stood in its shadow as my Grandpa started to woo her. And maybe it was Great-Grandpa himself that planted it, perhaps to commemorate a big event - like puchasing this house - or as an anniversary gift to my Great-Grandma. Maybe the day it was planted was a big deal.

Or maybe it was just an ugly bush that came with the house and eveyone ignored it for decades.

Either way I stopped, took a step back, and came up with a plan.

An hour or so later Lisa returned and saw me moving branches to the trash. With excitement in her voice she asked if the bush was gone. "Sort of," I said, and took her out front.

"See, it opens up the whole front of the porch. You can see the sidewalk from the rocking chairs, I checked. And it'll bookend that shepard's crook you wanted. And I defy you to tell me they don't look like bonsai now"

She paused. "Dude." That's all she said . . but it said so much.

Sadly, subsequent opinions, voiced by others, also lean towards chopping the thing down.

Dangit, I really do like it. And once I lay some sod, put that shepards crook up, and maybe a small birdfeeder or a stone with our family name on it, I think it'll rock.

Or I can just borrow the saw again.


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Congrats Danica!

Because  it was run in Japan, had a start delayed by weather until 9 pm central time, and was broadcast on a station with as many viewers as your grandpa's webcam, you might not have heard the groundbreaking news.

Last night Danica Patrick became the first woman in history to win an IRL (Indy Car) race, taking the trophy at the Japan Indy 300.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding her entry into racing Danica had never, until yesterday, won a race. That fueled comments in the heavily sexist racing world that she was a publicity stunt, or racing's version of  Anna Kournikova.

The series of scantily-clad bikini shots in Sports Illustrated probably didn't help alleviate those concerns.

[I was going to post some of the pics here but they're probably too racy, no pun intended, for this site. Not that the research was a waste of time.]

So now she's a bona fide winner, fair and square, and the 800 pound gorilla in the room just walked out the door. It's a monumental moment in sports, and I suppose in the modern history of women as well.

Congrats Danica!

* * * *

NOTE: Mind you, it's nothing compared to YaYa being the first ever female MLB player,  finishing her career with a .279 avg. 87 home runs, 512 RBI's and 1571 hits as a 2nd baseman. Nor LuLu's turn as the first female pitcher in MLB history, finishing with a 75-59 record, with 52 holds and a 4.12 ERA for her career, which also features 24 home runs at the plate.

The baby's numbers have yet to come into focus.

Smiley, it goes without saying, will hit .304 with 868 home runs and 2548 RBI's in a first ballot Hall of Fame career.

Give or take a dozen RBI"s, natch. I'm not a psychic you know.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hey, lend me a hand will ya?

Just for the record, Raspberry Beret is my favorite Prince song, although Get Off comes in a close second.

With that important fact out of the way, on to the business at hand.

I might have mentioned this before, but a close friend of mine has a friend who's wife is a professional blogger in these parts. Friend of a friend's wife . . yeah, that's right.

Anyway, to my friend's credit this seemed to annoy him, what with me still blogging here for free while she earned a living doing the same thing. Having some connections at that company himself, he promised to put a word in for me.

But he wanted some information to prime the conversation, such as how many visitors I average, etc.

Well, that average is 41 a day, although my mini-vacation is skewing the numbers downward. 1230 visitors a month isn't too bad for a site that now depends soley on word of mouth for advertising (instead of sites like Blog Explosion).

But I'd like some additional info to give him. Keep in mind that at this point my chances of being paid to write are roughly equal to that of being paid to dance covered in baby oil, but what the hell. You never really know; there's always some freak out there who'll  pay for the goods.

So with that in mind, be you a regular who leaves comments or a longtime lurker, please complete these quick survey questions.

If yes . . .

If yes  . . .

Some background info . . .

If outside the U.S . .

Thanks for the help!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Of Rockies, Inherited skill, and what little I learned yesterday

I don't have much to say about the events of yesterday yet, other than on the surface it seemed positive. Assurances were made, the right words floated into my ears . . and I'm not sure I bought any of it.

We'll see.

Add to that a rigorous 5 hour city inspection that morning that ended about 20 seconds before the meeting began, and you have one heck of a workday.

On the other hand the inspection allowed me no time to prepare for - or worry about - the meeting, so it did have a positive spin.

* * * * *


If we ever get that print/save option for the journals I'm going to pay someone to index this site. AOL Journal's little search box is for sh*t.

Here at Slapinions I wrote about Joe Hill's debut novel Heart Shaped Box. Good luck locating the post.

All that aside, it turns out that Joe Hill is the pseudonym for none other than the son of Stephen and Tabitha King.

Yes, that Stephen King.

I was suitably impressed by the book and the writing and I'm . . wow, it sounds so lame . .but I'm tickled that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

I look forward to his next novel.

* * * *

God Bless MLB Extra Innings.

Last night I watched the Rockies and Padres take a 0-0 score into the 14th inning. I'm not going to say it was an incredible game, because no sport should go 3 hours without a goal/run/touchdown being scored. It just isn't right.

I gave up on the game in the 15th and went to bed. That was around 1 am my time.

In the morning I discovered the game went 22 innings. There was a seventh innings stretch, and a 14th inning stretch, and a 21st inning stretch.

I'd have walked out of the park long before that came to pass.

Anywho, the Rox won 2-1 on an unearned run in the end.

But it was a play in the 13th that grabbed my attention. Paul McAnulty of the Padres led off the bottom of the inning with a double to right. Conventional baseball wisdom says that when one run wins the game, you don't push your luck. You're already in scoring position sitting on second, and you sure as heck don't make the 1st or 3rd out trying for an extra base.

So what does he do? He turns the corner and chugs for third. Now I'm no big Rockies fan, but I chose sides in this contest and that side was Colorado. Even so, when I saw him head for third my first thought, word for word was "What the hell is he doing? Dumb a**"

And here comes a rocket throw from the rightfielder to his cutoff man, who rifles it to third with plenty of time to spare.

Out.

The next batter bloops a single that *would* have won the game but now accomplished nothing, and the Padres go on to lose hours later.

Fundamentals people. Live and die by them in baseball. Fundamentals.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunshine

Judging by Amazon, I don't think you'll find many bad reviews of Sunshine, a sci-fi film released in 2007. That is, except for this one.

50 years from now the sun is dying and a ship is dispatched to re ignite the star with a nuclear blast. Something causes that ship to fail while out of communication range with Earth, and a second, 'last best hope' crew is sent. Enter our movie, as it follows the astronauts of the Icarus II on their mission.

This is not Armageddon; for all I know all the science is bunk but they make a valiant and largely successful attempt to make it as 'realstic' as possible, so much so that I think this the movie is largely accessible only to a true sci-fi fan.

My problem with the movie is that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. It's part 2001, part Alien, part Deep Impact, and in the third act it veers rather drastically away from even that splintered identity to become of all things, a horror movie.

Forget the thumb-up-their-bum Amazon reviewers who go on and on about how this blends visual style with blah and blah and offers a spiritutal ya da yada.

Personally, I regret putting down my guitar to pop in the DVD.

2.5 stars out of 5 on my scale.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Changes

I've never talked about work on this blog, right down to clamming up about what line of work I'm in, and that's not going to change tonight.

I will however mention that big changes are in the works. 

Basically,  in the next few weeks I could be out of a job. Most of the staff believes they are in the same position but I think the top of the totem pole is what's most at risk of getting cut down. I suppose there are other scenarios, right up to the idealistic 'things are going to get better'  but those aren't the thoughts you bank on.

I can't talk freely until all is said and done, or at least don't feel 'right' doing so, but there are pros/cons to all the alternatives.

By Thursday night I *might* have an idea of what the future holds, or at least have put the picture slightly more in focus.

In the meantime I've tried to finagle our bills to give us a worst-case buffer against the night. We're also in the process of refinancing the house, obstenively to re-do the roof. But an increasingly important incentive  is the lower payment the (vastly) reduced interest rate will give us. That might come in handy real soon.

We'll see. Wish me luck, whatever fates definition of 'luck' might turn out to be.

Quote of the Day "No One"

An hour after I put the kids to bed I heard footsteps upstairs. Moving to the stairs I could hear the faint sounds of a TV, sneakily turned on with the volume down.

"Who's still awake up there!" I said. 'Said' is a misnomer. It was more like the battle cry of a Visgoth.

"No one-", YaYa said quickly, starltled into responding without thinking. 

I heard a disgusted sigh at her own slip of the tongue, a moments pause, and a resigned "We all are."

It'd be funny if it wasn't a sign of dismal parenting on my part. How they avoided detection for so long is beyond me. They can't go two minutes without equaling the decibel level of a jet during the day, but try to put them to bed and they can sneak around like they have their own private 'mute' button at their disposal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

I'm the first to admit, I thought this movie would  be a bore. If you saw the previews you couldn't help but walk away with that impression.

A magic toy store you say? Run by a foppish eccentric who acts like a child and talks like the Mad Hatter?  What's that? The shop horribly rendered silent and still when the youngin' loses her faith in it? Oh my - perhaps, maybe, well, do ya think? - maybe believing in yourself will right all the wrongs and restore magic and happiness to children everywhere!

Tonight, when our DVD copy of The Water Horse failed to work, the family sat down and ordered this movie on pay-per-view despite those previews.

And wouldn't you know it, the movie was a pip. We all loved it (although Lu and Smiley couldn't make it through the whole thing).

Forget the preview, even if it does give you the skeleton of the story; after all, it's the meat and heart that really count.

Hoffmann is wonderful as Magorium, genuinely funny and delightful - he rather reminded me of a Troughton Dr. Who to be honest - and the story is about, of all things, his impending death and the handing off of the store to his young assistant, played by Natalie Portman.

I thought Portman was adequate, but not much more, and her unusually short hair confused the girls ("Is that a boy or a girl?" both YaYa and LuLu said at different times). In addition I'd have chopped 10 minutes or so from the third act.

That aside,  I'm going to add this movie to our regular kid-friendly rotation. It was grand.

And I'll probably watch it again just to snag a few of Magorium's quips.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's DeLovely

We left the hotel, quickly discovered and corrected a flat tire, and headed out to Fort Atkinson, an hour or so outside Milwaukee.

Mapquest was dependable, as always, but took us on a leisurely route through the countryside. Here our new MP3's came in handy, and having Garth on the radio brought back memories of trips down to Georgia back in the glorious pre-kid days.

Once we got to the booming 7,000 person metropolis we found ourselves with four hours to spare before our reservations. We burned an hour getting a light lunch at a local diner, avoided a rainstorm in the process, and then hunted for something to do with the remaining time.

Enter ShopKo.

Somehow I had managed to go all my life without walking through the doors of a ShopKo. When Lisa correctly stated they were a Wal-Mart clone, I was interested enough to give it a go.

Two and a half hours later we exited with four pairs of shoes, a bra and a shirt for Lisa, a pair of sandals and a shirt for me, boots for YaYa, an obscure Lawrence Block paperback, some trinkets for the kids, some more expensive ($3 ish ;) toys as souvenirs for the kids, and probably some other stuff I've forgotten.

"You held up well in there," Lisa said when it was over. "I'm proud of you."

We took advantage of their restrooms to change into our dinner duds and headed over to the Fireside Theater.

The Fireside is perpetually advertised on TV here, but I will confess ignorance of the art, so much so that I assumed you actually ate your dinner while they performed around the tables.

Plus the outside looked pretty dissapointing.

We stopped before going in and kept up an old tradition, dating back to1995: we took an awkward self-portrait of us.

Inside my impression changed. After checking in we explored what seemed like an endless string of gift shops. You'd reach the end of one and walk into another, and another, and another. There's a Music Shop, a Garden Shop, an art area, and so on. The sheer scopeof it all  was really quite impressive.

BTW, I was grooving on Lisa pretty hard, as I thought she looked quite yummy.

We picked up a magnet from the show, keeping in line with a theater tradition of ours, and were idiotically dumbfounded by the following.

No, there is NO pipe connecting to the back of the faucet. The secret, which in retrospect is obvious: there is a clear plastic tube running between the faucet and watering can, with the water running up the tube and cycling back down.

That didn't stop us from waving our hands behind the faucet like a stooge at a magic show.

Then, on to dinner. The Fireside can seat 1000 people for dinner, and we were in one of the far dining rooms. That was a plus, as it gave us the chance to be properly awed by the size of the place. Lisa and I shared the same thought: it was like being back on our cruise.

Dinner was a five course affair. An olive based spread on toasted baquette (sp?), a splendid soup, salad, fresh baked breads, and then the main events. I had a salmon and asparagus version of the beef plate.

Chef-carved medallions of roast tenderloin of beef on a toast crouton w/ three peppercorn Madeira Wine Demi-Glaze Sauce. Potato Croquette au Gratin and French String Beans. Baked Peach Half with a Brandied Mincemeat Center.

Chocoalte Praline Mousse Diamond Presented on Crème Anglaise flavored with Grand Marnier and garnished with Fresh Berries.

And coffee, a grasshopper, and a fine strawberry drink.

Oh. My. Lord.

Here's a very neat part of the experience: while we were dining the owner of the Fireside came and spent about five minutes with us. 1000 people there for dinner, and he spends five minutes on a couple of first-timers from Milwaukee.

He told us some of the history of the place (the red statue in front was dedicated by then-Gov. Knowles in 1970; the popular restaurant added theater. in 1977 when the local university held a show there after a last minute emergency; etc)

He was a very nice, cordial man, very down to earth, and extremely proud that the theater used only Actor's Equity performers, many of whom had gone on to star in Broadway roles, some  'paying back' their big break with a return to the Fireside as a favor to him.

(oh, and it turns out my parents went there once right after I was born, when it was still 'just' a restaurant. My Mom recalled it was with some of my Dad's co-workers from the bank where he worked at the time, and that she bought me a dog puppet from one of the shops)

Did I mention dinner was wonderful?

Afterwards, Cole Porter's Anything Goes. It was performed in the round and sadly one scene was obscured by the performers (but alas, obscured by the derrieres of three dancers, so it was not a total loss).

It was a very good performance, despite what I thought was a lukewarm rendition of Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (who did turn on the charm after a rousing Let's Misbehave)

Three standouts: Brian Ogilvie did a great job as Billy Crocker, the stunning Stephanie Kay Swant gave an energetic and crowd pleasing turn as the 'Angel' Purity, and Law and Order vet Don Stitt unequivocally stole the show as Moonface Martin.

Man, I love musicals.

What a grand experience. I have no doubt we'll be back. 

Meanwhile, at 11 pm we still had an hour's drive to our next hotel . . .

This Ain't No Chuck E. Cheese

What lousy timing with that Guest Editor business. It was published Friday and I left town that very day, depriving me of enjoying the adulation I so fully deserve.

But we needed the time away. It was our first vacation of any kind since '06 and our first trip sans kids since '05.

Still, I had plans of saving some $ and spending Friday night at home, albeit a home gloriously empty of children. But after devoting half an hour to cleaning the mess the water caused the night before, we said 'see ya!' and headed out the door.

First stop: an average Mexican restaurant in Cudahy, where the only thing of note was the disgusting tongue-action between a homely 50-ish couple in the booth behind us.

[Note: aside from the fact that they sat on the same side of the booth, routinely traded tongues, and had their hands (shiver) disappear beneath the table quite a bit, may I just say to the gentleman, should he be reading this:

Your waist is not located on a plane even with your nipples. Wear your pants below your chest. Trust me. There is a middle ground between my plumber's crack and your . . whatever that was.

The world thanks you in advance for your co-operation.]

Then it was on to At Random, a south-side bar that Lisa's been trying to get me to visit for ages.

It's been in business for more than 40 years in a converted South-side home. Their menu proudly advertises that they don't serve beer or wine. So what do they have? Pretty much anything else on earth.

Aside from the drinks, the place is famous for its decor. It's very dark in there, even by tavern standards, and much of what illumination there is comes from fiber optic Christmas trees scattered about. Mid-century jazz plays over the loudspeaker, and our waitress was easily seventy or older.

It's not intentionally kitschy you understand, they just haven't found a need to change in 40 years.

The owner is a big, gruff guy that Lisa warned me was 'intimidating'. I guess I can see that, but he was just fine with us. Not so the case with some college age couples who wanted to change booths - oh the looks he gave them! They're very finicky about who gets in and where they sit.

[True story: once upon a time Lisa went to At Random with a bachlorette party and they were refused seats.

"But it's my bachlorette party," Lisa's friend said.

Nothing.

"There's a whole couch that would fit us," she said, referring to a wrap-around in one of the rooms.

Blank.

"We could sit at different tables," she pleaded. By this point she was crying, with tears just streaming down her face.

His final, unequivocal answer, said with a snarl and a trace of contempt: "This ain't no Chuck E. Cheese. This place is for couples. Get out."]

Lisa ordered a mint drink that tasted like a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie, and I settled on a delicious concoction made of Irish Cream, Vodka, and Oreos - three of the best things on earth - mixed with ice cream.

It was grand, but they taste so much like harmless confections that you drink the whole thing before BOOM! the booze hits you blindside.

From there it was on to a local hotel where we spent the night. Aside from everything else that was great about the hotel, Lisa found herself entranced by Peter Jackson's King Kong, something she'd never, ever have rented or watched at home.

In the morning it was off to Fort Atkinson.