Saturday, June 30, 2007

Because you were hoping for more band names

Two band names, courtesy of a Saturday afternoon at the Starbucks in Wauwatosa Village, Wisconsin:

The Smoking Nurses
Billy Idol Blowing His Nose

I should at least explain the second one. Amazingly enough for 2007, there was, at this particular Starbucks, a teenager doing his best impression of Billy Idol, circa 1986 - spiky blond hair (not quite bleached enough), black t-shirt, black pants, boots, the big cuff bracelet thing going on. The only thing that blew the look was the cold he had going on, which necessitated that he make constant trips to get more napkins so he could blow his nose.

Also, I'm not 100% sure whether Billy Idol had braces in 1986, but I don't remember seeing them in the video for "Rebel Yell."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'll take that slaw, but hold the Mayo

I've lived in plenty of places in the past thirty-eight years. An apartment above Willson's General Store in Lisbon, Iowa. A former Catholic School building (from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which -- given my dating ineptitude in those days -- was appropriate) in Decorah, Iowa. A very large house divided into much smaller apartments in Postdam, New York.

But to my knowledge, all of the twenty or so places I've called home are still standing. Until, apparently, soon. Word has reached 19 Minutes International Media Headquarters of the impending demise of the College Apartments in downtown Rochester, Minnesota.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to take this news. The College Apartments were apparently the swankiest apartments in town when they were built. In 1914. By the time they housed my white naugahyde couch and Toshiba T-1200 laptop, in 1994, they were, well, okay. Reasonably priced. In decent shape. They had high ceilings and big rooms. They also had no air conditioning and a cockroach problem. Bats occasionally rode the air currents around my ceiling fan, and my car was broken into outside (which was, to my knowledge carried out with a different kind of bat).

It was the first apartment I'd had that accommodated more than one friend at a time. In an inspired bit of smug self-satisfaction, it played host to an occasional gathering of radio and newspaper reporters to mock the 10:00 news on TV. Then, we started making more friends in television, gave up the "Mock the News" parties and moved the gatherings to Newt's Bar.

And it was a comfortable place to come home to after getting my wisdom teeth out at the Mayo Clinic. I remember very little about returning home that day, actually. But fortunately, a friend, fellow radio person, and fellow College Apartments dweller drove me home after the surgery and - after I had stopped giggling and snorting from the anesthesia - left me to the cockroaches and the bats. [It was coming down off the anesthesia, I believe, that I struck an important bargain with the roaches - they would never leave the friendly confines of the kitchen, and I would refrain from blasting them with aerosol air freshener.]

And yet, the College Apartments were never what you'd call homey. [Or "homie," for that matter. But then again, everything in Minnesota is just a little too Minnesotan to be called "homie."] They looked like sort of a tudor bungalow on steroids, a strangely placed apartment complex in the midst of Rochester's forty gazillion modern hospital buildings.

My friend Matt once noted that the ideal view of Rochester was in his rear-view mirror. And I shed few tears when I moved out of the College Apartments in 1996. But part of me can't help but feel like Snoopy when he found out the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm had been replaced by a six-story parking garage. Especially given that the Mayo Clinic, which owns the building, has no plans for the site. (So yeah, why not just knock it down?)

But there is some good news to report. Willson's General Store in Lisbon, Iowa, may be long departed, but the building appears to have been reborn as the Lisbon History and Culture Center, which - if the center's website is to be believed - will play host to the big Cabbage Weigh-off in August.

So who says you can never grow home again?

Twelve years

Jodi Huisentruit went missing on her way to work as an anchorwoman in Mason City, Iowa twelve years ago today. We've blogged about this before (and also, improbably, talked about it on TV), but it's worth noting that she's still missing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ironwood Dining Report

I'm a firm believer in eating local specialties. As long as they don't involve sheep's intestines or cobra hearts, that is. On our annual trip to Maine, I try to squeeze in at least a year's worth of lobster and locally made ice cream into a week's vacation. And so last week, as my wife and daughter and I traveled to the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I went scrounging for the local delicacy: Sloppy Joe on a Stick.

No, really, U.P. cuisine is all about pasties - basically, ground beef, potatoes, and sometimes other vegetables inside a pie crust pocket, which in turn is served in a little wax paper pocket, so you can throw it in your lunch bucket, if you happen to be a miner in the 1800s, or you can eat it while you're driving your pickup and talking on your cell phone, if you're a resident of Ironwood, Michigan.

My wife and I elected to eat our pasties at her grandmother's house, a technique I'd also recommend, as long as you call her in advance. [On a related note, if you do call her, she'll answer on an honest-to-God dial phone, which actually actually makes the following ringing noise: "Ring."] Our second night in Ironwood, we tried pasties from a different shop than we usually bought them, at which point, we became obsessed with comparing the variety of pasties available across town.

Because you will no doubt all be flocking to Ironwood, Michigan, immediately after you read this, I hereby present the Official 19 Minutes Guide to the Pasties of Ironwood, Michigan. None of them should completely frighten you off:

U.P. Pasty Express. If you're driving in from the west (which means you will have just reached the edge of the earth), the U.P. Pasty Express is the first pasty shop you will encounter on U.S. 2. It has a downtown outlet, too, improbably called "The Famous Pastry Kitchen," the extra 'r' apparently thrown in to confuse tourists. The Express outlet, which isn't any faster than the downtown outlet, is a storefront in a tiny strip mall. Like all the pasty shops we visited, the pasties are cheerfully baking away in a little oven behind the counter. The pasties here had the most distinctive crust of any that we had - a chewy bread crust seemingly from the sourdough family. The filling was less exciting - it would take a tough, Finnish miner to love the meat, potatoes and onions inside. Fortunately, there are a lot of descendants of tough, Finnish miners still left in the U.P., so the Pasty Express still has plenty of devotees. I am not one of them.

Joe's Pasty Shop. Joe's is the pasty shop you'd first encounter if you were driving in from the east (which means that you will have already been driving past the edge of the earth). Joe's has a drive-through window on U.S. 2, which is, tragically, closed on Sundays and Mondays. Fortunately, they, too, have a downtown outlet, and it's reportedly open seven days a week. Joe's traditional pasties - as opposed to the Cornish pasties, which also include rutabagas(!) - are consistently strong. They contain plenty of onions, too, which gives them a distinctive taste, but also makes them literally hard for me to stomach. The real highlight at Joe's is the concept of the breakfast pasty - which replaces the standard filling with eggs, ham, bacon, and cheese (and potatoes and a scattering of onions). My wife considered it a life-changing experience.

Rigoni's Bakery. Rigoni's was the wildcard on this trip to Ironwood. We had never even noticed it before, but it's across the street from a boat shop owned by relatives of my wife, and they pegged it as their favorite, so we gave it a try. It quickly became my favorite, as well. The beef was the highest quality of the three, and was a greater proportion of the filling than what we found in any of the other pasties. The crust was flaky and light, and the whole thing gave just the slightest hint that maybe we were eating something that doesn't quite qualify as health food. The only caveat is that they ran a little low on inventory towards the end of the day, so you'll probably want to make your Rigoni's run before 4:30 in the afternoon.

So there's your guide to the Pasty Shops of Ironwood, Michigan. Tune in next time as we try to locate the restaurants in Ironwood which offer cobra hearts.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Frights of passage

Lots of excitement around the 19 Minutes home office recently, as our daughter turned three years old over the weekend. But the annual rolling over of her odometer itself wasn't the real excitement; rather, it was that this year also marked Sylvi's first real birthday party.

Sure, there had been party-like events before. She actually celebrated her first birthday with her friend Phoebe, who is nine days her junior. But that was less a party than it was an experiment to see what would happen if we put frosted cupcakes in front of little kids with only a handful of teeth. Not much, as it turned out. Sylvi enjoyed moving the frosting around with her finger, and Phoebe tasted a little before turning more to the Osmosis School of eating.

And last year, Sylvi had only been in the neighborhood for a few months by the time her birthday rolled around, the result being a friend-deprived birthday celebration in the dining room mostly remembered for its hippo-shaped cake.

But in the past twelve months, Sylvi has developed both a network of friends and a taste for frosted pastries, so we figured to have found the appropriate formula for a birthday party. The only issue was what the party would physically look like. It's been a while since I've been plugged into the birthday party scene, and turns out that there are a lot of new types of parties that have sprung up since my parents brought me and six of my friends to a George Washington University basketball game in 1979.

Here in southeastern Wisconsin for example, there are a variety of different "fun" facilities which discerning parents apparently choose in an effort to keep cake frosting out of their DVR machines. All of them, for some reason, seem to be in corrugated metal buildings, in industrial parks, in distant suburbs inhabited by people with pickup trucks larger than at least three of my past apartments. Sylvi has been invited to several of these, including one in a corrugated metal building with a pool (at which it took her 45 minutes to decide she wanted to get in, leaving her a good 15 minutes of swimming enjoyment, before cake, ice cream, and the 40-minute ride home), and one in the playroom of a corrugated metal building that also housed a kiddie spa where kids can get pampered to take their minds off the day-to-day stress of reading Dr. Seuss and eating American cheese. For these parties, parents are also required to invite every child their son or daughter has ever met, in the hopes that the combined eBay resale value of the presents will be enough to offset the cost of renting the unit of fun.

So for those reasons, plus the fact that my wife and I would prefer to be locked in a room with a Yanni CD on infinite repeat than hold a party in a corrugated metal unit of fun, we decided to aim for a more low-key party. This was fine with both the parents (for example, our friend Mary, I believe, was actually looking for us to set a low-key party precedent) and the kids - who rarely ask for corrugated metal in the context of fun.

So with "low-key" in mind, we divided up the responsibilities for the party. Sylvi would be in charge of turning three. My wife, Gretchen, would get to send the invitations, go grocery shopping, make the cake (a watermelon shaped/flavored cake), provide the other snacks (watermelon), mow the lawn, and otherwise get the backyard ready for partying, three-year-old-style. After a joint trip to Target to pick out party favors, I was left with one vital responsibility: buying balloons the morning of the party. I believed I had gotten off easy. I was incorrect.

Sunday morning at 10:00 had me en route to a dollar store about fifteen minutes from our house. I've always been of two minds on the dollar store concept - on one hand, I'm a little suspicious of what happened to the merchandise to cause it to land in such a store. On the other hand, I can get behind a place where I can calculate the total cost by counting the number of items in my basket. Regardless of my sentiments, I was informed balloons were available there, and so it was my Sunday morning destination.

It had been several years since I'd last encountered a dollar store, and as my helium professional inflated the ten balloons on my list, I took a few minutes to walk around the store to see what else might make a good addition to the, uh, party oeuvre. I was delighted to discover that not only can one buy helium balloons and knock-off frisbees for a dollar, but also copies of Bob Dole's memoir and something called an ovulation predictor. I resisted the urge (telling myself that neither quite fit with the watermelon theme) but left with plenty of great ideas for future (and highly inappropriate) party ideas.

I also left with ten Mylar helium balloons, which seemed like an appropriate number, until it dawned on me that a) there was a stiff breeze blowing through the parking lot of the Dollar Tree store in West Allis, Wisconsin; and b) I needed to somehow get all ten balloons into the hatchback of a Jetta wagon. It took a good fifteen minutes, but I managed to get all the balloons in the car at the same time, and also provided the good people of West Allis with an enjoyable new spectator sport.

But I made it home with plenty of time to spare and at long last, our backyard gleaming with the reflection of sunlight off of ten Mylar balloons, it was party time. And the party was both low-key and enjoyable, notwithstanding Sylvi's initial panic that her friends were there to abscond with all her toys, which resulted in a mad dash around the backyard in an attempt to hide all her things under her shirt. A quick re-briefing session later, she was outside and hugged each of her three guests as they arrived. The watermelon cake came out perfectly, and the kids all thought the actual watermelon was great, to the extent that we had to keep reminding them not to eat the rind. Also, "pin the tail on the donkey" was played, for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, except for the fact that it was my idea.

The party favors were a hit, too... with the kids, anyway - Mary complained that flashlights, stickers, and M&Ms exceeded low-key limits, but my philosophy is that party favor bags can contain gold bouillon, as far as I'm concerned, as long as they don't include anything that could be considered a noisemaker.

So in all, the birthday party was a swell experience, and we're looking forward to planning next year's event, as soon as we can coat our house in corrugated metal.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A jolt from the remote

It was a long day in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, so we decided to wind down this evening with a little TV, now that we're probably safe from having to watch any more replays depicting the demise of our beloved Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup. People say that television in 2007 is awful, that most of it lacks the high-minded ideals of the classic era of TV, when innovative producers created shows like "All in the Family", "Sesame Street", and of course, "Three's Company" and "Charlie's Angels."

To those people, I would like to note that there is much to be learned from an evening's winding down in front of the television.

For example, from watching just a few minutes of the Fox Soccer Channel, I have learned that there is a group of leagues called the "USL," and it features some of the stupidest franchise names in the history of organized sports. The game FSC was televising this evening involved a team called "The Montreal Impact," which sounds more like a sociological phenomenon than a soccer franchise. "The Impact" is an even more ridiculous name than "The Montreal Machine," which was a short-lived team in the "World League of American Football" in the early '90s. I can report I was one of four people who purchased a Montreal Machine cap before the team disappeared.

The WLAF eventually became NFL Europe, which has inflicted team names such as the "Frankfurt Galaxy" and the "Scotland Claymores" on the world. These names, again, do not compare to names in the various leagues of the USL, which also include "The Central Florida Kraze", "The Vermont Voltage," and their sister team in the USL women's league, "The Vermont Lady Voltage."

But that's not all I've learned this evening. I've also discovered that the network operated by the National Basketball League shows highlights from the daily media availability at the NBA finals, giving fans yet another opportunity to learn for themselves that no one has ever said anything remotely interesting at a press conference, unless you count the occasional profanity-laced tirade.

But I didn't only learn about sports this evening. I also learned that people will apparently do anything to land a slot on a reality show, ranging from planning their weddings before a television audience to subjecting themselves to an intervention. Fortunately, as with the sports highlights, I did my best to learn these things without actually watching the networks involved.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

...and their hit single, "Ozone Warning"

Today's great potential band name, brought to you by the Milwaukee Air Quality Index:

The Fine Particulates