Monday, September 25, 2006

As a matter of fact, I can believe it's not butter

Say what you want about this country, but By God, we continue to to blow away the rest of the world when it comes to one key measurement: Plastic Food Storage Containers.

Now I realize the Swedish folks at Ikea have a multitude of food storage options (which go by names like "Urk" and "Delp" and perhaps "Rodnunging"), all of which cost $3.00 and are piled in huge barrels conveniently adjacent to the cash registers, but the numbers pale in comparison to what you'll find at American malls, in stores like Linens-Containers-and-Beyond.

Here in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, the only thing that distinguishes our lunch today from what we brought with us in middle school is our spiffy Lock & Lock sandwich-shaped, hermetically sealed plastic container. (While we're at it, have you ever heard the word "hermetically" used in conjuction with any other word besides "sealed"? This is a situation that needs to be rectified. I'd take suggestions, but this feature is hermetically edited.)

And that's about the simplest thing on the market. The Tupperware folks have their own well-known version of the sandwich transporter, which accompanies less well-known products such as the carrot or celery holder, the Holiday Snack Canister, and (really) the Kimchi Keeper.

At the same time, our sandwich transporter is probably the most sophisticated plastic container we have at the home office. We've long been subscribers to the "Why Only Use the Margarine Tub For Margarine?" School of Food Storage. This has led to some entertaining moments, like in the brief time period in Flagstaff when we had enough room for our real-live dining room table, and we invited some real-live grown-ups over for dinner (that is, friends who we didn't ask to eat on the couch) and prepared, among other things, some real-live homemade bread.

So, of course, one of our dinner guests asked for butter, at which point I retrieved the tub labeled "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter", only to have the dinner guest report, "This looks like some kind of meat!" (And wouldn't you know he was a vegetarian.) On the upside, at least it was taco meat, and not butter 23 months past its expiration date. The downside is that no one's ever asked us to make bread again.

And so yesterday, it happened again - my wife went to butter her bagel with leftover macaroni and cheese. Fortunately, she didn't mind. Better still - it gave us a great idea for dinner.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Important news update

Alas, as predicted, 19 Minutes fell short in last week's Milwaukee blog poll, losing out to the perky Marine.

Having lost out on our latest shot at fame (or, perhaps, infamy), we're back to our important mission of keeping you, the 19 Minutes reading public, informed of important world events. So we're pleased to present the following National and International Headlines, which came across the newswire this morning:

  • Bush to Engage Skeptical U.N. on Mideast
  • Israel to Withdraw All Troops By Weekend
  • Muslims Want Further Apology from Pope
  • Feds Seeking Source of E. Coli Outbreak
  • Toshiba to Recall Sony Laptop Batteries
and, of course, the the story that will no doubt lead tomorrow's New York Times:

Whether the rest of the world is happy with Scarlett Johansson's curvy figure, is, I would imagine, even more predictable than whether the perky Marine would win last week's blog contest.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Somewhere, Mr. McFeely is blushing

It was a noteworthy day on the real-life radio show produced at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters. The host of our program interviewed award-winning author (and Wisconsinite) Jane Hamilton, who has a new book out. Our arts producer scored an even bigger coup, interviewing Alan Alda, whose memoir is out in paperback. Me, I got to tour a rubber and plastics factory.

Actually, I didn't mind the task. I've always been the kind of person who will notice a random object - or a piece of an object, and marvel that there's a factory someplace that produces it. Like, there's someone who goes to work everyday, and his or her job is to manufacture the wooden handles for the miniature crash cymbals that a two-year-old girl might play in an effort to emulate Pittsburgh Symphony percussionist Tim Adams, who appeared on an episode of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood". (In fact, I happen to know just such a two-year-old girl.)

My daughter, in fact, also seems to share in my curiosity about how things are made, at least in the context of Mr. Rogers. She's far more interested in the "Picture Picture" segments on the show in which Mr. Rogers visits the Cheerios factory, or we learn how pretzels are made, than she is in the "Neighborhood of Make Believe". (This is fine with me, because something's always bugged me about King Friday, Neighbor Aber, and X the Owl.)

So today's segment, as hosted by me, could have been titled, "How Obscure Little Rubber and Silicone Parts Are Made". The company's president took me on tour of the plant, which gave me the opportunity to use words like "extruder" in a desperate attempt to sound knowledgable.

The high point of the morning - of, perhaps, my entire radio career - came about halfway through the tour. We had just looked at some round rubber objects which turned out to be the sleeves that fit on the end of a stethescope to keep it from feeling cold on your chest. (Next on Mr. Rogers: A Picture Picture video, "How Sleeves that Fit On the Ends of Stethescopes Are Made")

The next stop was at an impressive-looking form press. The plates came together around the liquid rubber, and when they separated, they revealed probably fifty small, yellow, cylindrical rubber pieces. A factory worker cheerfully pulled each one of the still-steaming hot parts off the machine and placed them in a bucket. She then cleaned off the plates with a blast of compressed air, and started the process over again. It was impressive in an industrial way, and from a radio standpoint, was the first opportunity to collect some really interesting natural, or "ambient" sound.

As I watched the process playing out again, I turned to the company president, tape rolling.
"So what are these parts being made on this particular machine?" I asked.

He thought for a half-second. "Oh, these are the drain plugs for colostomy bags," he replied.
I'm thinking I might give X the Owl another try.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Turning it on and Packing it in

It was a day I had looked towards with some casual interest since the moving truck pulled into our Milwaukee area driveway and dropped off our belongings seven months ago:

Our first Packers Sunday as Wisconsin residents.

Mind you, I’m not claiming to be a life-long Packer Backer, nor am I at the point where I’m jumping on the Green Bay bandwagon (though, given the past couple of seasons, no one could accuse me of being a fair weather fan). In fact, I’m not even a huge football fan – it tends to fall below baseball and hockey in the pantheon of Sports That Keep Me Up At Night. I’m a New England Patriots fan, but I don’t own any Patriots clothing. (Well, maybe a hat. Or, two hats. Okay, two hats and a t-shirt.)

But after living in Arizona for seven years, where I once was able to buy football tickets half an hour before kickoff – at the stadium box office­ – I was kind of curious to see what the impact of Packer football would be on the rest of day-to-day life on a Sunday in Wisconsin.

My first indication – I went out to get bagels just before 9:00. Cruising up Bluemound Road on the western edge of town. In a charitable, Sunday-morning-and-there-are-no-cars-behind-me-sort of way, I stopped at a crosswalk to let people cross the street to get to church. Naturally, they’re all dressed nicely, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s an awful lot of green-and-gold in the average wardrobe. And perhaps more polo shirts with Green Bay “G”s than you’d see in other parts of the country.

But things were pretty subdued aside from that – a few Packers references on business signs with slide-out letters, plenty of flags flying from cars.

I had hoped to cruise the supermarkets while the game was on – you can tell how sports-mad a city is by how empty the potato chip aisles are in the grocery stores during game time. [When we lived in Arizona, my wife and I once had a going-away dinner for a friend that had the audacity to take place the night of the 7th game of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. (If you can imagine.) The dinner ended mid-evening, but being pre-Tivo, we didn't want to go home and turn the TV on in the middle of the game. So we went to Target to shop for toothpaste. Not only were we just about the only ones in the store, all the TVs in the electronics section were tuned to the game, so we spent the time trying to talk to each other loudly enough to drown out the sound from the other end of the store. But I digress.]

Anyway, my wife and I got involved in an exciting afternoon of Crawl Space Insulation Repair and then it was just about time to kick off. So I grabbed my foam cheesehead – a going away present from my Arizona colleagues – and plopped myself down in front of the TV, for the first time as a proud resident of Packer Nation.

And then I watched the game. And then I dusted off my Patriots hat.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Votes and more votes

First, a reminder that anyone who hasn't yet voted for this fine feature (or hasn't voted using all 17 of their alternate e-mail addresses) for Milwaukee Blog of the Week has a few more days. At least I think it's a few more days. As previously noted, I have no idea how the hardworking staff here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters came to be nominated, so I'm also a little fuzzy on the groundrules. In any case, if you're still waiting for the right moment to cast your vote, now's a swell time to surf over to MKE Online and click on the appropriate buttons.

After that complicated ordeal, if you're still in a voting mood - or if you need more voting practice before the upcoming general election - another popularity contest worth a web stop is the Quill Awards. I'm a mite turned-off by its self-description ("The Quill Awards pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz and have become the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of the group that matters most in publishing-readers."), which seems to be a cover for giving writing awards to Anderson Cooper, Rachael Ray and Dr. Andrew Weil.

But it turns out that in my other - public radio - life, I've interviewed four authors with books nominated for Book of the Year: Sara Gruen (for "Water for Elephants"), David Maraniss ("Clemente"), Christopher Moore ("A Dirty Job"), and Catherine Gilbert Murdock ("Dairy Queen"). And I can say without question all four of their books are eminently worth reading.

[Mitch's note: Well, strictly speaking, I can't guarantee Maraniss's book is a great read. Someone on my show's staff (no one has copped to this) booked the Maraniss interview, and then didn't mention it to anyone, nor did the publisher send a copy of the book. As a result, David Maraniss and an author escort showed up early one afternoon, and no one was expecting him. Fortunately, a) Maraniss was very understanding; b) he had a copy of his own book with him; and c) he was willing to wait 15 minutes while I at least looked through the table of contents and some of the chapter headings. Fortunately, too, I had been watching a Brewers-Pirates game the night before which had gotten boring enough that the announcers had launched into two innings' worth of Roberto Clemente trivia, so his career was fresh in my mind. But I digress.]

Anyway, they're all worth voting for in their respective categories. Both Moore and Gruen are nominated in the "General Fiction" category - "Water for Elephants" was a page turner with a fun ending and and got plenty of hype, but I'd probably go with "A Dirty Job", because it introduces the concept of the "Beta Male", a concept that fits the 19 Minutes lifestyle pretty well.

Unless you have a teenaged girl in your household, you may not be familiar with "Dairy Queen". (It's nominated in the "Young Adult/Teen" category.) And that's a shame, because of the four - it's the one that had the most lasting impression. The book - which is about a Wisconsin farm girl who wants to play high school football - is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. And the narrative voice is a refreshing, authentic departure from the usual wisecracking, precocious teen protagonist. It's a good read, though I will confess to feeling a little sheepish about getting on the bus and pulling out a book adorned with a tiara-wearing cow on its cover.

I have no recommendations for the "Romance" category, though I was interested to read that one can now get Harlequin Romance books delivered directly to one's cellular phone. I can only wonder about the impact this will have on other genres. For example, the impact of the tiara-wearing cow might be minimized on a 1"X1" cell phone screen.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"I feel like I could blog all day!"

Here at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, we're deep in the middle of our latest Midlife Crisis. (In fact, we've decided it will be easier to have one, constant, on-going midlife crisis until we're around 45. We'll let you know when it's over.)

This current crisis, however, was precipitated by the realization that we've made it to age 37 and no one has called, asking us to endorse their product. This realization hits us every morning on the bus, as we cruise past the billboard featuring former Milwaukee Brewers baseball player Gorman Thomas, plugging something called the "Sleep and Wellness Center" ("I feel like I could play ball again!" the smiling Thomas is supposedly saying, as though the only thing between Gorman Thomas staying in his 19-year-long retirement and his returning to pro ball is a good night's sleep. Although, given the Brewers' recent 10-game losing streak, signing a 55-year-old lifetime .225 hitter might actually be a savvy move. But we digress.)

The point is, here's a guy who hasn't played in a baseball game since 1986, and he's still being asked to endorse products. So I figure there must be plenty of companies providing products and services out there that would be only too happy to hire me as their celebrity endorser.

My first thought was to flash back, Gorman Thomas-like, to 1986. Twenty years ago, I was just starting my senior year of high school, which would make some kind of acne medication an obvious fit - though if I wanted the billboard to read "I feel like I could go back to high school again!", I'd probably want to endorse a product that would actually clog my pores. So I've tried to narrow down my options.

The main consumer good I purchased my senior year of high school was the Szechuan Beef at Chin & Lee's, a hole-in-the-wall take out restaurant in the Kemp Mill Shopping Center in Wheaton, Maryland. It was a remarkable food, and the perfect alternative to the school lunch, provided I remembered to take it out of my locker before it fused to my Trapper Keeper. More remarkable, though, is that a) the place still exists, with basically no change in decor in 20 years, and b) the place still exists, with basically no change in the price of the Szechuan Beef in 20 years.

On the other hand, a hole-in-the wall Chinese restaurant - even one that's lasted for more than two decades - seems unlikely to pay the six-figure endorsement deal that a blogger of the 19 Minutes stature would command. So a more viable option would seem to be approaching the Ford Motor Company to belatedly endorse my 1978 Ford Fairmont:

"Hi, I'm Mitch Teich. Father. Radio professional. Blogger. Driver. Sure, I take the bus to work. But as I cruise down Interstate 94 first thing each morning, I can't help but think how much more fun it would be in my 1978 Ford Fairmont. Vinyl front bucket seats. Three working cylinders. And plenty of room for catchy bumper stickers on the back. The '78 Ford Fairmont. Rescue yours from a junkyard near you. And for a limited time, get 75 cents in Customer Cash when you bring 15 aluminum cans with you. Tax, title, and license highly recommended."

If that doesn't work, I'm seriously thinking of approaching Dunkin' Donuts about Liquid Donut.

We'll try not to attach this to our feelings of self-worth...

...but for whatever reason, this fine feature is one of five nominees for Blog of the Week at MKE Online, the web arm of a spiffy weekly lifestyle publication printed by the swell folks at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Your chance to anonymously voice your full support for the efforts of the whole 19 Minutes staff is here:

We're not sure, but winning the award might just lead to that 19 Minutes movie deal we've been coveting.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The 19 Minutes Cacaphony Orchestra

I’ve never really been a fan of noise. I realize there’s a certain irony in that, given that in my daily life, I produce a radio show – which means that, in essence, I produce noise for a living. But it’s a public radio show, and is thus given to muted tones, and calm conversation – occasional interviews with opera singer-types notwithstanding.

I work downtown, so there’s a certain expectation that it’ll be noisy during the day. Milwaukee, I believe, actually has a Department of Jackhammering that deploys a crack squad of jackhammerers across the downtown area each day to ensure the city’s decibel needs are met.

But in the evenings, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin is a symphony. Unfortunately, it’s often one of those symphonies that insists on playing music by modern composers less interested in melodic lines than they giving audiences an aural view of their clinical insanity. Around our house, there are several key contributors to the nightly cacaphony:

Harleys. I’m going to write this carefully, because I don’t necessarily need the wrath of the Harley-driving universe descending on this space. And hey, I have no issues with the motorcycles themselves, or most of the people that ride them. They’re all spiffy, and I’m sure I would enjoy myself if I ever traded in the Volkswagen for a Harley. Okay. Fine. So then, the issue is the complusion among some of the riders of these fine pieces of motorcyclical engineering to drive them very, um, loudly down the street. This typically happens around 9:15 pm, which, coincidentally, is about the same time I’m rocking my two-year-old, as we talk about – in her words “things to think about” as she falls asleep. We talk about zoo animals, and we talk about all the things she likes to play with, and the people who love her very much, and “PPPHHHHHWWAPPPPPPPPppppp…ppp…” we have to start over after the motorcycle goes by, on its mission of attaining the highest possible speed in between stop signs, a distance of exactly one block.

But eventually, the cycles and their riders head off to other important missions, or to wake up other two-year-olds, and I head off to bed myself a short time later. My wife shows up after a little while, and we drift off to sleep with windows open to a pleasantly cool Wisconsin evening. This is a mistake, because without fail, around 1:00 am, the local raccoons throw a nightly dinner party in our neighbor’s trash can. They clank bottles, and rummage through things, as the raccoon bouncer shrieks at the local chipmunk population to go find their own dinner party. This usually goes on for an hour, until the raccoons get on their Harleys and go to their subsequent engagements.

And then all is quiet for a five or six hours. Unless it’s trash day.

But noises have irritated me for a long time. I bombed out of my first try at college. Ostensibly, that was as a result of having a GPA so small as to only be visible with powerful magnifying devices. And that was because I never went to any of my morning classes. But I would submit that the reason I never went to any of my morning classes had to do with noise:

I would head off to bed with the best intentions around 10:00. My roommate, Pat, would get home at roughly 11:30. He would invariably try to go about his business quietly, but would invariably make the following three sounds each night, which would invariably be spaced just far enough apart that they would wake me up, and keep me awake long enough that I wasn’t in the mood to get up the next morning for a political science class at which the professor insisted on using the word “Aristotelian” to describe himself:

First, he would get out the slice of pizza he had purchased at 7-11 on the way home from wherever he went every evening (I would guess a girlfriend’s house, but I was never really sure). He would attempt to eat it quietly, but – inasmuch as he’d generally consumed a couple of beers earlier in the evening – he never quite succeeded. If it had been 19 years later, the raccoon bouncer next door would have kicked him out.

Some minutes later (just long enough that I’d start to drift back off to sleep), he’d perch by the window and light a cigarette. Or rather, he’d try to light a cigarette. Pat apparently purchased his cigarette lighters at the Bic Rejects Shop, because the lighter would never work, despite 17, 18, 26 attempts. This was followed by a (muted, public radio-style) swear word, after which he would rummage through his flannel shirts, looking for a pack of matches. The smoking itself was relatively quiet, if not odor free. But this is a rant about noise, not smell.

Finally, pizza consumed and cigarette smoked, Pat’s last remaining task was to brush his hair. I’ve never had long enough hair to relate to the need to brush one’s hair before bed. But it was 1987, and Pat had pretty long, wavy, guitar player-in-a-heavy-metal-band-style hair. And he had a metal brush. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. SSSSSHHHHHHHIIICCCCCK. It took him a looong time to brush his hair.

And before I knew it, it was 7:15 am, and my alarm went off. And I would shut it off and go back to sleep, merrily working my way towards flunking out and losing much of my hair.

Pat, on the other hand, went on to make the Dean’s list and, I’m told, graduated with honors.

7-11 pizza, however, appears nowhere to be found.