Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
This idea came our way on the bus this evening. Milwaukee County busses, you'll recall, are equipped with something called "Transit TV", which beams everything from trivia questions supposedly written by Pat Sajak, to weather forecasts for sporting events taking place in domed stadiums, to (really) tips for tying asparagus. In between the produced features, the network also features the first two or three sentences from stories on various newswires (a technique that renders cleverly written features completely unintelligible).
And so it was that I found myself considering this evening, "What could possibly be less relevant to the Number 31 Bus Experience than the news that furniture maker Ethan Allen reports a drop in quarterly earnings?"
I thought about it for a while, and considered going on a Quest for the Least Relevant News Story to the Number 31 Bus Experience, but then I thought it would be a challenge to report the results to a reading public that's probably not entirely familiar with the Number 31 Bus Experience, and so that would necessitate a lot of explaining each time there was an update, and frankly, I'm not that motivated. (But while we're at it, "The Number 31 Bus Experience" would make a swell name for a budding garage band.)
So instead, I've decided to go on a Quest for the Dullest News Story of 2007.
With that backstory now lodged, kidney stone-like, in your mind, the first contender comes to us from the North Platte Telegraph, from North Platte, Nebraska. I thought about disqualifying entries from Nebraska on the grounds that all news there is inherently dull, but relented after deciding any story with the word "unicameral" in it at least elicits a snicker. Anyway, I was disappointed to have missed this item on the Number 31 bus today:
Agenda action items carried over from cancelled meetingIf tonight’s agenda for the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Directors looks familiar, it should. All of the action items were carried over from the Dec. 20 board meeting that was cancelled due to adverse weather.
I imagine faithful readers of the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Directors agenda series were disappointed when they received their latest issue, only to find it was a rerun.
And while we're cruising the papers, a runner-up from the Rutland Herald in Rutland, Vermont:
Mold found in temporary office trailers in Bennington
Having worked in plenty of office buildings, let me just say that I've never worked in a place that someone hasn't - at least twice a year - sent out a nasty officewide e-mail decrying the state of decaying food in the office refrigerator. In fact, I've had some co-workers who routinely got mustard stains on their news copy - which was difficult, considering that copy was on their computer's hard drive. (Cymbal crash.) Fortunately, we never got to the point where we had a slow enough news day to report on it.
Anyway, that's the first go-round. Feel free to nominate any news items you run across that might contend for the title. Or sit back and wait for us to feed your Dull News Weekly Requirement.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I like changing the showerhead, mainly because it's the kind of do-it-yourself homeowner project that's visible enough that it seems to carry with it an implication that it took a certain level of skill to carry off. You can drop it into conversations with friends or neighbors: "I was changing the showerhead the other day, and you wouldn't believe how much corrosion I ran on the shower stem." (This statement also wins do-it-yourself bonus points for also featuring "corrosion" and "shower stem", the latter being a term I thought I had just now made up, except that it seems to be the actual name for what I thought it was.)
Of course, changing the showerhead is probably the easiest do-it-yourself project in the bathroom. It narrowly edges out changing the toilet paper, because with the toilet paper, you always run the risk that you'll orient it with the tail facing the wrong direction.
We changed the showerhead because our previous one could blast graffiti off a subway car. This made for an invigorating morning ablution, but also depleted the hot water faster than one might like - faster than the shower at our apartment in Flagstaff, where the hot water heater was, I think, a Thermos bottle. (Also worth noting was the fact that we changed our showerhead in Flagstaff, too, a feat that so impressed our landlady that she regularly brought it up as evidence of my apparent DIY skill - and a statement I never disavowed, regardless of the fact that my wife was the one that changed the showerhead in the first place.)
So the highlight of a recent weekend was a trip to Home Depot, despite the fact that it always takes me 45 minutes to find what I'm looking for there (say, lightbulbs) and I always vow never to return. We spent a fair amount of time chasing our two-and-a-half year old away from whatever sharp objects she could find, and debating whether $79 was too much to spend on a showerhead. "Yes," was our answer.
We settled on one that promised a spa-like experience, as though rain would fall on our shampoo-laden hair.
And it's fine. I've never been to a spa, but it seems unlikely that this showerhead is replicating a $500/day experience. It does feel like a gentle rain shower, provided you live in a part of the world where the ground is porcelain and the rain is hot.
All this is to say that I have a new rule of thumb: Never allow a new showerhead to raise your expectations too much.
But you knew that already.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I wasn't watching too much television in the first few months of my life, in 1969. My parents tell me they woke me up to watch the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, but I'm not sure Neil Armstrong's visage was absorbed into my young psyche. But an addition to PBS's programming lineup in November of that year had a greater - or at least more immediate - impact.
If you mention the name "Bob" to someone younger than, roughly, 40 years old, they'll wait for a modifier. (In my life, there have been plenty of noteworthy Bobs - Radio Bob, Uncle Bob, Shish-ka-bob, Captain Kangaroo, etc.) If no modifier is forthcoming, it can only imply one person: Bob from Sesame Street. His real name is Bob McGrath.
Bob is in Milwaukee this weekend for an appearance accompanying the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra during one of its "Kinderkonzerts" (gee, can you tell this is a city with a German heritage?). And part of the interview was about his commitment to music education. His character on the show is a music teacher, and the real-life Bob worries that school budget cutbacks that eliminate music programs are creating a "cultural wasteland" in our inner cities, while the well-heeled can still afford to send their kids to private music lessons.
But mostly, I wanted to know about Sesame Street. I watched it through my childhood, watched it through my brother's childhood, and then it mainly disappeared for a few years from my consciousness. But one fateful night in college, a few of us ("odd ducks", you might call us) were perusing the comprehensive selection offered at the one video store in Mount Vernon, Iowa, when we skipped over "Diehard 2", and our eyes came to rest on: "Monster Hits". And, "Sing Yourself Silly". Which we, naturally, rented and watched that evening (though not, it should be noted, without an alcoholic beverage or perhaps two on hand). But before the night was out, we were singing along with classics like "C is for Cookie" and "Fuzzy and Blue", and newer classics like "Healthy Food", Cookie Monster's highly entertaining if half-hearted rapping effort to get kids to add things like tuna and trout to their diets, in addition to cookies. I wound up owning second-hand copies of both of those video tapes, along with a copy of the seminal history, "Sesame Street Unpaved" - all well before actually having a child. And I'll probably still be watching them well after my daughter has moved on to reruns of "Grey's Anatomy".
Sesame Street's Bob has outlasted all my other childhood icons - Walter Cronkite, Hawkeye Pierce, Dwight Evans, Cheech and Chong. So, yeah, it was an uncommon opportunity.
And Bob, thank goodness, was terrific, spinning yarns about Ralph Nader's appearance on the show (he asked to change a lyric in "The People in Your Neighborhood" to make it grammatically correct) and doing imitations of Elmo. He was also amazingly candid about the direction the show has taken in the past 10 years or so - which has been a nagging thought in the minds of almost everyone who grew up with Sesame Street. Bob, diplomatically, didn't put a value judgement on the changes (less exposure for the neighborhood, more computer animation, targeting a younger audience), but he did say - a little wistfully - that part of him misses the fun they had producing the show in its early years.
The other side effect he noted is that although the current generation of kids is still watching Sesame Street, the time has probably passed in which four- and five-year olds recognize him coming out of a store.
37-year olds are another story.
Friday, January 19, 2007
For those of you who missed it, here is what the brief tabloidization of this feature looked like:
In any case, the 19 Minutes Technical Support Staff hopes this latest redesign is easier on the eyes of our tens of thousands of loyal readers. Feel free to check in with your thoughts. Or feel free to switch off your computers and go on with your lives. Eat dinner. Read a book. Read the back of the cereal box. We'll wait.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Yesterday’s arrival yielded an even more impressive picture, as I walked into the office with my jacket open, one ear bud still in place, and the other hanging at my side. Of course, that meant I was immediately greeted by our arts producer, who wanted to introduce me to the guy she was about to interview.
That guy turned out to be Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, who shook my hand and immediately wanted to know what song was playing on my iPod at that instant in time. Thankfully, it was “Blown Kisses”, by Minnesota singer-songwriter Martin Zellar. Thankfully, because if your introduction to a reknowned singer-songwriter is going to be the name of the song you’re listening to, you don’t want that song to be “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Mulvey was duly impressed by my iPod selection. I made a mental note to check out Mulvey’s latest CD. Sheepishly, I admitted that the previous song I had listened to was “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick.
Regardless, it brought to mind a feature that’s appeared in several places (most notably around here, in the “A.V. Club” section of The Onion) in which people switch their iPods to shuffle, and then discuss – or in some cases, rationalize – the first five songs that show up.
So, not that you asked, here’s how my iPod shuffle shakes out, starting sheepishly with:
- “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Okay, we’ll file this one under “guilty pleasure”. The first-ever rock concert I ever attended was a 1979 Cheap Trick concert at, yes, the Agridome in Regina, Saskatchewan. It was not long after their “Live at Budokan” CD (er, LP) came out, and their North American tour was paralleling a cross-country trip my family was taking. Really. Had we not seen them in Regina, we could have taken in a Cheap Trick show in Mitchell, South Dakota or Pocatello, Idaho. My connection with the group has faded since I was 10 years old, though I can still manage to name all the members of the band (Rick, Robin, Tom (Bill? Dan?), and of course Bun.) I’ve never fully comprehended “Surrender”, though its refrain (“Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right – they just seem a little weird…”) always seemed like a nice sentiment, and one that I hope my daughter will someday take to heart. Peter Mulvey, to his credit, gave me a pass on this one, since Milwaukeeans have apparently adopted the Rockford, Illinois-based group as a “local band”.
- “Blown Kisses”, by Martin Zellar and the Hardways. I’ve been a fan of Zellar’s since I was a news reporter in Rochester, Minnesota, and hung out regularly at a bar that incessantly played his “Born Under” CD. If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in a small, industrial midwestern city, he may well have evolved into Martin Zellar, who writes with an uncommon empathy for his fellow humans and a heartbreaking understanding of his own failings. Besides that, it’s worth noting that the version of the song I was listening to is from his “Live – Two Guitars, Bass, and Drums” CD, and is WAY better than the studio version.
- “Got My Own Thing”, by Liz Phair. Great – what is this, “Mitch’s Guilty Pleasure Mix”? I figure I’m too male and too old to like Liz Phair, but there’s something about her raw, in-your-face attitude that I find appealing. That said, her older stuff (from her “Exile in Guyville” era) is a better illustration of that attitude than this track, which is from her latest effort, “Somebody’s Miracle”. Regardless, I like almost the entire newer CD, in that guilty pleasure-sort-of-way.
- “Your Life Is Now”, by John Cougar Mellencamp. I have no idea why this song is on my iPod. I don’t really like it that much – it is, I gather, supposed to be inspirational, a call to action, but – starting with the title - it has all the subtlety of a cinder block through a plate glass window. It sounds a little like it should be the theme to a prime-time drama on the CW network, which is to say it has a catchy melody line, but can easily be boiled down to a 30-second version in syndication.
- “Why Not Wyoming”, by Amy Speace. Ah, yes, that’s much better. Thematically similar to the Mellencamp tune, in that it also gets at the endless possibilities that stretch in front of us. But it appeals much more to my metaphorical nature than the previous Mellencampiness. I don’t know a great deal about Amy Speace, but she has a nice voice with plenty of range, a good ear for lyrics, and a very nice cowboy hat. I can’t decide whether I like the song’s gratuitous public radio reference (“...drive until we fall asleep/Listening to ‘FUV…” – a reference, I’m assuming to New York public radio station WFUV), but the song has a nice, soaring feel and a little hint of pedal steel guitar, which always conjures up the image of wide open spaces. Plus, it provided the inspiration for the title of a swell previous blog post. I really like this song.
So there you have it. And if none of this was the least bit interesting to you, consider that it probably took less time to read than it would have taken to listen to each of these songs.
Also, be thankful I didn't have to rationalize Song #6 - "Doin' the Pigeon", by Bert.
Monday, January 15, 2007
And today, we had a nice, moderate snowstorm. While other parts of the country were getting socked with copious amounts of snow, or dealing with the nightmare of sheet ice, the Milwaukee area picked up somewhere between 4 and 6 inches of snow. Which, in these parts, was greeted with a resounding shrug and the sound of shoveling.
So it was an unremarkable snowstorm in most ways. Except one.
Today was a day off for the government employees among us, including me. So with a two-and-a-half-year-old who enjoys sleeping until 9:00 a.m. (I don't know what we did to deserve our good fortune, but I refuse to complain), I was looking forward to a leisurely morning consisting of sleeping until 8:30, drinking coffee with ill-advised creamer products, and watching "The Price Is Right" (just to be sure that my brain cells don't get too much exercise).
Naturally, the phone rang at 7:20. It was our next-door neighbor, who has never called us in the 11 months we've lived in our house. And for that matter, she never called us before we lived next-door, but I'd ascribe that to never having heard of us. I didn't realize she even had our phone number. But there she was, on the phone at 7:20, talking to my wife. There were no context clues as to who might be on the phone as they talked, and in my early morning fog, I lost interest until I heard the phrase, "I'll send him right over".
Our next-door neighbor is an older woman, who was the recent recipient of a second-hand snowblower. This was her first opportunity to try it out, and she was having trouble getting it started.
So, under the assumption that all guys can at least fake their way through getting a gasoline engine going, she summoned the closest likely guy to take on the challenge. (And in a neighborhood of 1920s bungalows, we're pretty darn close together.) However, as faithful readers of this feature are aware, I'm not what you would call a mechanical genius. My most recent mechanical victory was taking apart my daughter's pretend camera, purchased for exactly $1.00 at Target, and coaxing the little pretend shutter into engaging a gear, which allows her to take pretend pictures of animals through the pretend viewfinder.
Unfortunately, our next-door neighbor's snowblower was real, so I was a little concerned I might not have the right stuff for the job. I was even more concerned when I was confronted with the actual snowblower, which was almost the size of my former 1983 Subaru, and included a complex, handwritten set of instructions taped to the handle, reading as follows:
- To start, full choke.
- Prime engine.
- Move throttle to fast.
- Pull hard on starter cord.
- When engine has started, turn choke to off.
- If engine stalls, turn choke to 1/2.
- Do not allow Mitch to operate this piece of machinery.
But, I figured I had good blog material regardless, so I followed the instructions, and moved all the various levers and yanked on the cord. Nothing. I yanked several more times, with no success. Finally, I hit on the idea of going with the direct opposite of the instructions. It fired right up, and I blasted my way down her driveway. It took no time to make one transit. This was going to be great! I'd have both our driveways cleared by 8:30 a.m.! So of course at that point it stalled, and neither starting technique wanted to work.
I took a break and got my extension cord to power the snowblower's electric starter. At least I wouldn't have a heart attack yanking on the damn starter cord. By the time I got back, my anti-instructions technique worked, and I got it going again, this time long enough to blast another path up the driveway before it stalled again. Back to another round of moving levers, pressing starters, and asking the neighbor if the hardware store had given her any suggestions after they had tuned it up.
They hadn't, and I couldn't get it started this time, so I helped shovel enough of a path down her driveway to let her get out of her garage, and started work on my own driveway as the snowblower sat smugly idle on the sidewalk.
Until, a brainstorm: I opened the gas cap. Empty. A mechanical problem even a Wisconsin novice could solve. It fired up and didn't give me any problems for the rest of the morning, not counting the time I forgot to take it out of reverse and it smashed into my knee.
Of course, it wasn't until I was driving it back up our neighbor's driveway to put it away that I noticed the brand name: Simplicity.
Friday, January 12, 2007
This is pretty good news (especially considering our first month of existence - January 2005 - we received a total of about 130 visits). But we're slightly disappointed that the 50,000th visit wasn't the person who happened upon our blog today after running a search for "biggest lump of ear wax".
For example, I know that my blood pressure is generally some three-digit number followed by some two-digit number. For years, whenever people would recount their blood pressure scores as evidence of something (growing old? eating too many Doritos?), I'd nod knowingly, as though I actually could tell the difference between the numbers in a blood pressure reading and the numbers in a tire size.
And I've had a variety of entertaining tests that have all, for some reason, involved the consumption of unpleasant liquids followed by attempts to make humorous banter with the medical staff in various departments at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital (Jamie the CT Scan Technologist was much more receptive than the folks doing the colonoscopy, though in fairness, I may have been less funny under sedation. Or perhaps I was more funny, but the medication wiped out my memory of the witty reparteé.)
But the most remarkable finding to come out of six weeks of medical care is the discovery that I have uncommonly small wrists.
You see, Sue, my P.A. (who's essentially managing my life at this point), thought that between the condition I'm dealing with, the various medications I'm on, and the fact that I'm allergic to X-ray contrast solution (the major discovery from my CT scan), I really ought to have some kind of ID tag, in case a piano falls on me as I get off the bus in the morning ("Caution: Allergic to falling pianos").
She suggested a dog tag - not a GI-style dog tag, but a real, live brass tag you'd buy for Fido, provided you use the 1940s as your guide for naming pets.
"They're, like, 5 dollars," she said, "and you can get them in the shape of a fire hydrant, which would be a real conversation starter." I like Sue.
But I had the feeling the fire hydrant tag wouldn't be too much use, because alll the lettering would have been worn off within about four days, since I would have played with it incessantly. (Plus, my coworkers would have killed me after about 20 minutes of constant clanking, which would have negated the need for the tag.) Plus, I hate wearing necklaces.
The other option was a bracelet. I like wearing bracelets even less than I like wearing necklaces, inasmuch guys wearing them tend to look like minor characters named "Louie" in mobster movies.
But I found a place that carried a medical tag that looks like, basically, a velcro watch band. Hopefully, if an ambulance crew ever has to deal with me, someone will be curious what time it is. When it came time to order it, I looked at my wrist and decided it probably fit in the "small" category. My watch bands have always been cinched up to the last hole, or stretched to the end of the velcro strip, but it never dawned on me that my wrists were that small.
The band came in the mail the other day. It was just as advertised, so no one's going to cast me in "Godfather IV". It came in a small, Ziploc-style bag. On it, a sticker:
Small: Ages 3-9
I'm looking forward to wearing my daughter's hand-me-downs in a few months.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
But there are times when overabundance, or even abundance, are fine. If you’re shopping for Pop Tarts, say, it’s nice to be able to choose between “Frosted Strawberry” and “Brown Sugar and Cinnamon”. And if you have to browse past the “Strawberry Milkshake” flavor to get to your Pop Tart of choice, well, so be it.
My needs are fairly modest. And with a metro area population of one-and-a-half million, I thought Milwaukee was excellently positioned to have a fair selection of just about anything I might desire.
And so, about a week ago, my sunglasses went missing. My guess is that there’s someone who went in to have blood drawn at the Froedtert Lutheran Memorial Hospital, and walked out with a somewhat-used pair of sunglasses that a previous patient (that’d be me) left on top of a 1998 issue of Newsweek. But they could also be underneath the driver’s seat of the car, among the gas station receipts, graham cracker crumbs, and travel brochures that temporarily occupy our 2 ½-year old, and which somehow migrate from her car seat to the front of the car.
Anyway, my office is in the basement of a downtown mall. So you’d think I’d be in an excellent position to procure a replacement set of shades. My overt goal was to get a cheaper set (you could actually put together an interesting line graph, charting my increasing age and the declining amount I’m willing to spend on sunglasses), but frankly, my real goal was to stop squinting when I walked outside.
As it turns out, sunglasses are not an easily obtainable commodity in Milwaukee in mid-January.
I brought along a co-worker with good taste in eyewear, mainly so I wouldn’t return home with a pair of sunglasses that would cause my wife to melt on the floor in a puddle of laughter.
My first stop was the T.J. Maxx located conveniently at the top of the stairs in front of my office. This is a store that sells everything from faux-zebra-skin throw blankets to reversable belts to Brett Favre jerseys. And yet there was only one sunglasses display, it was in the women’s section, and it was mostly empty.
I skipped the idea of going to a department store, partly because I thought the chances of finding inexpensive sunglasses there were small, and partly because despite the fact department stores have 17 entrances, I always manage to enter either through the perfume section or the women’s lingerie section, and both those sections frighten me.
So the next try was Walgreen’s, which I thought would be great, because then I could come back with not only sunglasses, but Tylenol, postcards, and Fiddle Faddle, too.
My co-worker and I split up and fanned out around the store. Found the cheap reading glasses. Found the eyeglass repair kits. But where the hell were the sunglasses? We flagged down a sales clerk.
“Oh, sorry, we don’t have sunglasses this of year,” she informed.
And then it dawns on me. After seven years in Arizona, in a city that gets 310 sunny days a year, I’m living in a place that’s just not that sunny, during a time of year that’s even less-sunny than usual. For a time in Arizona, I had three active pairs of sunglasses – the ones that were always around my neck, and a pair in each car (along with the pair of unknown origin that floated from car to car and was so ugly that it would only be used in a sunglass emergency, such as if I missed my exit and ended up driving into the sun). In Milwaukee, a person permanently wearing sunglasses around his neck would be pegged as an extra-cool librarian.
There turned out to be a sunglasses kiosk in the mall, operated by a person from some Eastern European country that probably isn’t all that sunny either. But all the sunglasses were $12, and we managed to find me a pair that my wife noted, “wasn’t really thinking much outside the box for you.” But I’m thinking I’d look like a pretty cool librarian.
Then, on the bus this morning. The Number 31. As we rounded the corner onto Wisconsin Avenue, a brilliant sun, just rising into the Milwaukee morning burst forth from behind the downtown buildings. And then the other epiphany hits me. On the rare occasions when it’s this sunny in January, the last thing you want to do is make the sunshine dimmer.
So the sunglasses stayed in my pocket. And of course since the forecast for the rest of the week is for increasing clouds, with rain, snow and sleet, they’ll probably stay in my pocket for a while.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
This fine feature is once again nominated for Milwaukee Blog of the Week by a fine publication called MKE (and its online version, cleverly referred to as "MKE Online"). We encourage you to surf over to the voting page. Check out some, or all, of the other blogs up for the honor. And vote. It's your chance to make history, obscure and irrelevant as that history may be.
And at least this time we're not up against a perky Marine.
Monday, January 08, 2007
The setting: The gymnasium at Wauwatosa West High School. I've never been there, so I have no idea what it looks like (and of course, because it's a dream, I have no idea how I know it's supposed to be the gym at Wauwatosa West High School).
I'm a newspaper reporter, assigned to cover the basketball game being played at Tosa West between Michigan State University and its lesser-known rival, a school called "Marcus and the Shovel." It's a competitive game, which is surprising, because it also turns out that "Marcus and the Shovel" is attended by only 28 students (again, a fact revealed through unclear, dream-like methods).
Michigan State ended up winning the game.
It's a dream entirely not worth interpreting, except to the extent that it probably originated with a conversation I had with my brother about a recent men's volleyball game that pitted the 11th ranked Ohio State University Buckeyes against, yes, the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
And really, that's not worth interpreting, either, except that it's interesting to note that the initials "M.S." figure heavily in "Michigan State", "Marcus and the Shovel", and "Milwaukee School (of Engineering)." Also, I edited an interview that aired on our radio program this morning. The topic? Multiple Sclerosis.
All of this links, inextricably, to Mitch's Subconscious.