Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reflections on "Ex Week"

Well, I'm sure most of you are glad that week of catharsis is finished. If you got the impression that I didn't have much fun floundering in the dating pool, that's pretty accurate. At least I collected a lot of stories to tell, most of them humorous and self-deprecating (I only scraped the surface last week).

For anyone still on the dating scene, I have two bits of advice. First, don't take it all too seriously. If it's "meant to be," then it will happen. If not, you can't make it happen. When someone rips out your heart and stomps on it, try to remember there's always someone else out there who might not (one corollary being that if you don't let go of the former, you won't be open to the latter). Second, realize that the people you date are just a subset of the rest of the world. I always assumed women were nice, and they took advantage of that. The chances of the person you date being a jerk are just the same as the chances of any random stranger on the street being a jerk. The fact that he/she has shown some interest in you doesn't change who he/she is.

I hope that last advice didn't come across as too cynical or, heaven forbid, misogynist. I went out with plenty of nice women, including one that I mentioned during "Ex Week" (which was not a representative sample). I'm just saying that if I hadn't naively (and subconsciously) presumed kindness in every woman I met, especially as evidence mounted to the contrary, I would have been much better off.

Last week shouldn't be construed as a yearning for the past -- more like relief that those days are behind me. I had so much anxiety back then. I wish I had known the saga would have a happy ending; then I might have enjoyed it more. I met my wife ten years ago, so all the women I've written about are in the distant past now. The memories dredged up last week just make me happy to be married, happy that my dating days are over. My wife says that if something happens to her, she wants me to get remarried. I tell her, "No way, I'm not going through all that again." I'm going to live in a cabin in the woods like the Unabomber. Except I'll need DSL.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Trials and Tribulations of the New Water Heater, Part III

As promised, the installation sub-contractor called at 8 AM Friday to confirm our water heater installation. She said she would call back in about an hour to tell me what time they would come out, but we would probably be one of their first stops.

At 9:15, the telephone rang. "We're having trouble getting the truck started." Could anything else possibly go wrong? She said they would keep trying, and she'd get back to me in an hour. An hour later, she said the truck was being towed, but she promised me that we would be first on Saturday morning.

Like the movie Groundhog Day, the installer called at 8 AM this morning. This time the truck was fine. They arrived at 9:45 and swapped out the bad water heater in less than an hour. This time, much to my relief, the pilot lit. The installer pointed to one of the many copper pipes surrounding my water heater and asked if they had charged me extra on the first installation. Apparently, that pipe serves the furthest reaches of our plumbing system ("my" bathroom -- the one upstairs next to my office). An extra plug has to be removed from the water heater to accommodate that pipe, and usually it's an extra charge. I told him they didn't charge extra, maybe because they felt bad about leaving me with a bum water heater. If those guys had said, "Bad news. Your water heater doesn't work, and by the way, you owe us an extra n bucks for hooking up this little pipe," I might have bludgeoned them with their own pipe wrenches.

So now we have hot water flowing out of our tap for the first time in a week. Words cannot express how relieved I am to have this ridiculously over-complicated project finished. What should have been a minor inconvenience turned into a week of frustrating phone calls and cold showers (hmm, not unlike dating). Tonight I'm tempted to crank up the water heater to 160 degrees and steam myself like a hot dog, just because I can.

Lyrics of the Day

Here it is, the long-awaited conclusion of "Ex Week"...

Far be it from me to over-analyze -- actually, that was my specialty in those days -- but another song also seemed to sum up my relationship with the Metra babe (as my co-workers called her). Appropriately, the song is about a train wreck: "I Can't Remember"* by the Vigilantes of Love:

We were thrown into the snowbank,
Into this screamin' night;
I heard the splintering of bones,
cries of pain and fright.
We had laughed and shared a kiss,
mingled there our lives
doing 90 miles an hour, when our train hit the ice

But I can't remember --
what was I so excited about?
I can't remember --
why all the fuss & shout?
I can't remember --
Ah, the ember's goin' out.
I guess that's a logical step after recognizing I had taken everything too seriously. What was I so excited about?

"I Can't Remember" is from the third Vigilantes of Love album, Killing Floor. The album has been released twice, the second version adding three live tracks (the second and third Amazon items below include the extra tracks).

* A note for the purists: I transcribed the lyrics from the CD lyric sheet, which differ from the online lyrics at in punctuation and capitalization.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

"Ex Week" continues with the aftermath of the Metra babe...

Not long after we met, she told me about a Halloween party she attended dressed as a prostitute. She said everyone was surprised because it was so out of character for her. After our relationship was over (at least the "dating" part), I realized that the opening lines of Soul Asylum's "Without A Trace" provided a concise summary:

I fell in love with a hooker
She laughed in my face
So seriously I took her
I was a disgrace
I didn't quite fall in love with her, but I definitely took the relationship much more seriously than I should have. And in the end, I was pretty much a disgrace. It didn't help that she wanted to "still be friends." Nine times out of ten, guys don't really want to be friends -- we just figure if we stay in a woman's life long enough, she'll eventually come to her senses and want to sleep with us (and 99 times out of 100, it never happens). That faint glimmer of hope kept me in her life long enough to help her move downtown (I even drove the freaking U-Haul truck) as well as hear her complain about the string of insensitive jerks she did sleep with. My chance never came. Finally, more than two years after the day we met on the train, I told her, "I think our friendship has run its course." It was long overdue, and it was one of the most empowering days of my life.

"Without A Trace" was the fourth single from Soul Asylum's enormously successful Grave Dancer's Union, which includes their most famous song, "Runaway Train." Both of those songs also appear on Black Gold: The Best of Soul Asylum.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trials and Tribulations of the New Water Heater, Part II

Monday night we got an automated call from Sears informing us that a service representative would be here Tuesday "between 8 AM and 5 PM." So much for "Tuesday morning." Sheesh, at least the gas and phone companies can narrow it down to a four-hour window. After my 30-mile bike ride, I couldn't hold out from showering any longer, so I had to take a cold one. I did it "Hokey Pokey" style, thrusting one limb into the chilly water at a time. I'd liken it to banging my head against a wall -- the best part was how good it felt when I stopped.

On Tuesday morning, I awoke at 11 AM. Morning was almost over, and there had been no sign of the technician. At 4:55 PM the phone rang. It was the technician making sure I was home. Well, yeah, I've been here all freaking day. He said he was about 30 minutes away. When he arrived I led him downstairs. "Oh, I've never seen one of these in the field," he said. Lucky us, we're the first customers to get a defective model since it came out a few months ago.

After looking it over for 20 minutes, he said that one of two parts was bad. One of those parts would probably take a week to order, and the other one would take at least two weeks. Needless to say, one or two more weeks without hot water was not an option for us. He recommended that I call the store and ask them to install a new one. This was exactly what the installers told me would happen -- Sears would send out a technician who would confirm the problem and say it couldn't be fixed, and then they would be back at my house installing another water heater.

I called the local Sears store, assuming it would be reasonably easy to get a new water heater now that I had the official word from the technician. Well, maybe it would be easy if I could find the right person. My call got transferred at least five times. The last person listened to my entire story and said, "Sure, we can take care of that, let me put you through to someone..." After waiting on hold for upwards of 15 minutes, I hung up in disgust and redialed. This time I fared better, finding someone who actually dealt with water heaters. There was one problem: by this time it was 6:30 PM, which meant it was too late to contact an installer. He took my information and promised that someone would call me Wednesday shortly after the store opened. That made my chances of getting a replacement before Thursday slim, but I didn't have any choice. It burned me to know that if the technician had arrived in the morning as originally promised, I'd probably have a new water heater on Wednesday.

Instead, I awoke Wednesday to wait for a call from the local Sears store. An hour after the store had opened, I decided they weren't going to call me as promised. Sure enough, when I called them, no one had any record that I had spoken to someone the night before. The clerk was very helpful, though. He promised to call me within half an hour, and he kept his promise. Unfortunately, he only called to tell me he didn't have it sorted out yet. Apparently, replacing a brand new, defective water heater is a radical process that has never been attempted in the 121-year history of Sears. He called back in another hour to let me know he had figured it out. I had to give him my credit card number to purchase another water heater, but I should get a refund within ten days. He was going to fax my information to the installer, who should call me soon, and I should have my new water heater on Thursday.

Guess what? Now it's Thursday. I called the installer, who has no information about our impending installation. Bad sign. She said they don't handle faxes anymore as of Monday and told me to call Sears customer service. After getting put on hold and disconnected once, I got through to a human. He said my water heater should be installed tomorrow because he was putting a rush on it. Gee, it's about freaking time somebody put a rush on it. I was afraid I'd have to go down to their offices and flick my BIC under their butts. I still may have to "turn the place into a car wash," as my dad used to threaten. At least car washes have hot water.

Lyrics of the Day

"Ex Week" continues...

When I started working in downtown Chicago in September 1993, I commuted from Aurora via Metra train. One day in October, I started a conversation with a woman on the train and got her number. It was a major achievement because I was never good at flirting. I was so excited that I couldn't help blabbing to my co-workers (a young, fun gang of people, the best). They immediately branded her "the Metra babe"... and started calling me "the Metra stalker."

I was starting a new job in a new environment, and I was making more money than ever before. A previous relationship was just far enough in the past that I was finally ready to move on -- a huge step for me. A girlfriend seemed to be the only thing missing from my happy little life, so I thought my chance encounter with this woman was nothing less than a sign from above.

I was listening to Aerosmith's Pump and Get A Grip a lot on my Walkman as I traveled 50 minutes each way on the train. I seized upon "Amazing" as a sort of theme song for my relationship with this woman, though it was just as much about letting go of the past:

It's amazing
With the blink of an eye you finally see the light
It's amazing
When the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright
It's amazing
And I'm sayin' a prayer for the desperate hearts tonight
It's pretty clear now that I had way too much invested right from the start. I was so sure it was "going somewhere" that I was completely blind to the reality of the situation.

We had a nice date or two and met up on the train occasionally, but the relationship never really took off. She never seemed quite as happy about running into me on the train as I was. And while I would go to great lengths to surprise or impress her, she never bothered to go out of her way for me. In her defense, her life was pretty miserable at that moment. She was taking night classes and changing careers, bouncing back from being laid off. She had a really lousy, stressful job that consumed much of her time and energy. It didn't matter to me then that she was about eight years older, but once I reached her age, I realized how cynical she must have been about relationships, work, and life. Simply put, there was nothing "amazing" to her about us, if "us" ever even occurred to her.

That relationship gave me a book's worth of pathetic, self-deprecating stories. I won't share them here, but I will revisit the Metra babe tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking for a Novel Way to Die?

Why not drink yourself to death the hard way? Anyone can drink too much alcohol and die. That's easy, as long as you can keep yourself from puking long enough for the stuff to get into your bloodstream. But what about drinking too much caffeine? That's a challenge, but the Energy Fiend blog can help. Just go to the "Death by Caffeine Calculator," pick out your favorite caffeine-laden drink or food, enter your weight, and click "Kill Me" (I think it's worth visiting the site just to see a "Kill Me" button). There's a catch, though (there's always a catch). The calculator is based on having all that caffeine in your system at one time. So you'd better drink fast.

Kamikaze Squirrels

Those furry little bastards were out in force on the North Branch Trail this afternoon. I nearly ran over half a dozen, which wouldn't have been good for them or me. But it wouldn't have been as bad as hitting one of the four deer I saw grazing along the path.

I had a good but short ride. Everything that ached after 30 miles on the DPRT Monday felt fine today. The North Branch Trail is still closed for reconstruction between Beckwith Road and Golf Road -- the worst part of the old asphalt with buckles galore from tree roots. A sign said the section from Dempster Street (Linne Woods) to Beckwith was also closed, but I rode through and didn't encounter any construction. When that section is under construction, it will be very easy to bypass via Lehigh Avenue and Beckwith Road. By the way, I've pedaled the newly paved northern section of the trail, and it is sweeeeet.

Lyrics of the Day

"Ex Week" continues...

Remember the tale from Monday about the Catholic school teacher who called Tom Petty a "total druggie?" Well, the relationship lasted another five or six weeks, which was actually pretty long by my standards.

We were going to get together Friday night on Thanksgiving weekend. She was supposed to call me at my parents' house, and I was going to pick her up at her parents' house (also in the suburbs -- it was set to be our first date where I drove). By 8 PM I hadn't heard from her. I was sure she had lost my parents' phone number or something (we weren't carrying cell phones back in 1994). I checked for messages on my apartment answering machine, just as I had every hour all afternoon. Although I knew she wasn't supposed to be there, I called her apartment. She answered. She said something about deciding to return to the city instead of staying at her parents'. I asked why she hadn't called me, and she brushed it off. Never one to take a hint, I asked about getting together. She danced around it and spoke vaguely without committing to anything. As we made smalltalk to close out the conversation, I recognized the song playing on her stereo in the background:

I wrote her off for the tenth time today
And practiced all the things I would say
But she came over, I lost my nerve
I took her back and made her dessert

Now I know I’m being used
That’s okay man cause I like the abuse
I know she’s playing with me
That’s okay cause I got no self esteem

We make plans to go out at night
I wait till 2 then I turn out the light
All this rejection’s got me so low
If she keeps it up I just might tell her so

Yes, it was "Self Esteem" by the Offspring, the tale of a pathetic, desperate guy who lets his gal walk all over him. Months earlier, a friend at work had joked that it should be my theme song, and, well, there I was.

I left a few phone messages for her the next week (in retrospect, that was really pathetic and desperate), but I never saw or spoke to her again.

By the way, for anyone familiar with the rest of the song, the lines, "When she's saying that she wants only me/Then I wonder why she sleeps with my friends," have no relevance here. In fact, I've never been in that situation, which is one good thing about having very few friends.

Goodbye LaSalle Bank

While I'm not happy that 2,500 Illinoisans are going to lose their jobs when LaSalle Bank merges into Bank of America, I won't shed a tear for the demise of LaSalle's godawful marketing campaign. Let's hope ABN AMRO retains the rights to the word checkilicious, dresses it in concrete shoes, and drops it into a Dutch canal, never to be seen again. Ditto for checking couture.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Trials and Tribulations of the New Water Heater, Part I

Our water heater started leaking around 3 AM Friday while I was doing laundry. Since the heater was date-stamped 1994, I had figured this day would come soon, especially since it wasn't a high-quality heater to begin with. In retrospect, I should have planned ahead for this, but hey, who does?

I spent the next few hours researching water heaters online. Although I thought I wanted a tankless water heater, reading a few cost-benefit analyses talked me out of it. Basically, it would be a great choice for a new home but a poor investment for an old house that would require expensive installation modifications. The break-even point would be around 20 years, and I doubt we'll still be living here by then (heck, I might be dead by then). Then I wondered whether I should buy a 40- or 50-gallon tank. My wife and I could easily get by with a 40, but most sources claim the difference in energy costs is negligible (the main cost is heating the water, not keeping it warm). I decided to stick with 50 like we had, which would simplify installation (I had read horror stories of jacked-up installation costs). I looked at Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears. By the time the sun came up, I had decided to get a brand new model Kenmore so efficient, it was below the "Energy Guide" range (230 therms on a scale from 242 to 272). For comparison, our old water heater rated 278 therms on the Energy Guide, which even 13 years ago was poor.

The Sears Web site was unclear about many things. For instance, nowhere did it say I could call a phone number to purchase a water heater along with installation in one transaction. Consequently, I thought I was responsible for procuring the water heater myself. I purchased it online and picked it up an hour later at the local Sears (this part of the process was very efficient). The box just barely fit in the Focus with the hatchback partly open, but it was only a 1.5-mile drive.Then I called the Sears home services phone number to get it installed. First they told me I had to call a special "water heater hotline." But the hotline person said they only handled installation for water heaters that they sold through that number, so I had to call the store. After speaking to several people at the store, I finally scheduled installation for Saturday morning. Perfect. One day without hot water was no big deal.

By the way, the city of Chicago charges $40 for a permit to replace a water heater. it's one thing to pay for a permit for $10,000 worth of electrical work (as we did in 2000), but $40 for a $299 installation? It's enough to make me wonder whether the city and the water department would conspire to put something in the water to make water heaters fail more often! (Of course, I know that's not true since our old water heater lasted much longer than its warranty.)

The guys came out around 11 AM Saturday and put in the new water heater. But there was trouble. The pilot light wouldn't stay lit, which meant I was screwed. At least the leaking, old heater was still giving me hot water, but now I had nothing. They said they were only installers, so I'd have to call Sears to get it fixed. At this point, I was still fairly calm. With this 88-year-old house, I've come to expect everything to be difficult, complicated, or expensive, even though this project should have been straightforward -- the defective water heater certainly wasn't my house's fault. Shortly after the installers left, someone from their office called with a Sears phone number for me to call.

Thus began my descent into telephonic Hell. I called the first number, navigated a voice menu, and was given the number of the "water heater hotline." Of course, that was wrong, and they gave me another number. That one didn't work out, either, but I got another number to call. Government bureaucracy is more efficient than Sears. The woman at the next number tried to help me. When I gave her my phone number, she had a listing under my wife's sister's ex-boyfriend's name from a dozen years ago. When I gave her my name, she had my work number from nine years ago (when we purchased our washer and dryer). Either way, she had no record of my water heater purchase and therefore could not send anyone to our house without charging me. She gave me another phone number. Keep in mind that by this time I had explained my problem roughly 10 times. I called the new number and explained it once again. This time the woman asked for the model and serial number. This seemed like progress until she transferred me to another woman who asked me to repeat all my information. After 20-30 minutes of being jerked around, I finally had the right person. She said they didn't show any openings until Thursday, and I started to lose it. "I have a brand new water heater and no hot water, and I have to wait until Thursday?" She said she would send a message to "routing" so maybe they could stop by that afternoon. She said I should expect a call within 30 minutes.

After waiting two hours, I called the phone number I found in the instruction manual. The woman told me I was scheduled for Friday. "Friday?!" I exclaimed and repeated my spiel about having a brand new water heater. She called routing and managed to get me bumped up to Tuesday morning. That still meant a few days without hot water, but I felt like I scored at least a tiny victory.

On a linguistic note, I am pleased to report that not once did anyone from Sears call it a "hot water heater" (a grating tautology).

Meme: Bands I've Seen

I never do memes, but "Ex Week" has me in a nostalgic mood. Besides, I was intrigued by the bands I had in common with this blogger. I don't attend many concerts anymore, so this list probably reflects who I used to like better than who I like nowadays. At least I've been to enough concerts that I was able to leave out a few that I don't want to admit to anyone.

Here is how it works: copy this list; leave in the bands you've seen perform live; delete the ones you haven't, and add new ones that you have seen until you reach 25. An asterisk means the previous person had it on their list. Two asterisks means the last two people who did this before you had that band on their list.
1. Vigilantes of Love**
2. Peter Mulvey**
3. Soul Asylum*
4. Steppenwolf* (technically John Kay & Steppenwolf)
5. Warren Zevon
6. James McMurtry
7. George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars
8. Lou Reed
9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
10. George Thorogood & the Destroyers
11. Blue Oyster Cult
12. Rolling Stones
13. Bruce Springsteen
14. Who
15. Weird Al Yankovic
16. Eric Clapton
17. Bottle Rockets
18. Steve Miller Band
19. Bob Dylan
20. Jason Ringenberg
21. Semisonic
22. Georgia Satellites
23. John Fogerty
24. Replacements
25. Smashing Pumpkins

Lyrics of the Day

"Ex Week" continues...

This one is about a woman I dated in college. One night I ended up at her apartment, which she shared with her older sister. Their father was a pot-smoking old hippie. He had been arrested recently after police found a large quantity of weed in his barn. The woman I was dating showed me a newspaper clipping, and her sister went to put a record on the stereo.

"Copperhead Road" is one of Steve Earle's most popular songs. And yet hearing Earle sing it never quite hits me the same way it did that night when those two daughters sang along in honor of their dad:

I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash first,'round here anyway
I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
And I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico
I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road
Well the D.E.A.'s got a chopper in the air
I wake up screaming like I'm back over there
I learned a thing or two from ol' Charlie don't you know
You better stay away from Copperhead Road
I don't know how dad's court case turned out. The sing-a-long was my fondest memory from that relationship, at least until our paths crossed again years later, but that's another story...

30 Miles on the DPRT

Since I didn't get to ride all weekend (long story), I had to go for a long ride today. I drove up to Old School Forest Preserve near Libertyville to ride the Des Plaines River Trail. After my motorist conflict on the Poplar Creek Trail, I looked forward to a trail with very few street crossings (the DPRT has many underpasses and an overpass or two). I took my mountain bike, which probably was a bad choice. My touring bike can handle crushed limestone just fine (I used it for all the rides in Biking Illinois), and it's much more comfortable than my mountain bike.

This ride reminded me of my first DPRT excursion back in 2000. I'd had my hybrid bike for just a few weeks, but I rode from Half Day Forest Preserve (about six or seven miles south of Old School) all the way up to Russell Road near the Wisconsin border (and a bit further north on a gravel access road, if I remember correctly). Back then, the DPRT wasn't finished, so my route included some unhappy miles on busy IL 21 (Milwaukee Avenue) south of Gurnee. The other problem I remember from that ride was not carrying enough food and water -- and stopping at a convenience story only to discover I didn't have any money. Since then, I make sure to stash a few dollars in the rack pack on every one of my bikes.

This time I was able to ride the trail all the way, which was much more pleasant. I planned to go an hour north and then turn around, but after an hour I felt decent and wanted to explore further. I watched the mile markers count down the distance to the state line. At every marker, I'd think, That mile went well; let's do another. At the 5-mile marker, I had to make a decision. Either I was going to go all the way, or I was going to turn around. Since I had ridden 15 miles and my longest ride this year was about 20, I figured I'd better turn around. I drank a bottle of warm Gatorade and started back toward Old School.

I made the right choice. After just a few miles, my hands were getting pretty sore. Even with bar ends, my mountain bike doesn't provide much variety in hand holds. Also, while my touring bike has the seat level with the bars, my mountain bike has the seat an inch higher than the bars. That means the mountain bike puts much more pressure on my hands. My feet weren't doing so well, either. Lately, I've been wondering whether clipless pedals are all they're made out to be. Aside from my little fallover on the Poplar Creek Trail last week, a number of people on the Touring e-mail list have reverted to toe clips or platform pedals recently.

Once I got south of Independence Grove (a lovely preserve with trails around a man-made lake), the miles passed very slowly. I was really struggling, spinning a low gear up the slightest hills. My feet were hurting, and my hands were somewhere beyond that. They were going numb, and I couldn't find a way to grip the handlebars that didn't hurt. Now I was really glad I hadn't tried to ride to the border and back. That extra ten miles would have darn near killed me today.

I completed the 30-mile roundtrip about 15 minutes short of three hours (that's total time, not "riding time" -- I don't have a cyclometer on my mountain bike), which was significantly longer than I had planned to ride. I paid a price for my enthusiasm, though. Eight hours later, there is still numbness in the heel of my left hand (though not as much as when I finished the ride). The bottoms of my feet are sore, as are my ankles. My ankles would probably be sore regardless of bike choice-- they always hurt when I push my mileage far beyond what I'm accustomed to.

I didn't realize until I got home that this is my longest ride since 2005, when I was in much better shape. Thirty miles is getting up into the range where I'd like to be, so today was very encouraging. I still have delusions of riding an invitational in the waning days of the season, though obviously not a full century (maybe this weekend's Pumpkin Pie Ride?). I won't be doing any long rides on the mountain bike, that's for sure.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Another Pointless Redesign

Whenever I finish a big project, I find myself redesigning my business Web site for no good reason. This time I decided I was sick of blue, so now it's a very boring black-and-white affair. I tried to put colorful buttons on the homepage instead of text links, but they looked out of place. I changed about ten words of copy and added a "samples" page that doesn't contain any actual samples. Pretty darn exciting, huh?

Lyrics of the Day

"Ex Week" continues...

When I first moved to the city, I put a "matches" ad in The Reader. The ad drew eight or nine responses, six of which led to dates. Only one of those lucky ladies could bear the thought of spending another evening with me. She was a Catholic school teacher and a huge supporter of Jack Kemp for president. She also had a car, which was mighty handy considering I had left mine behind at my parents' house (it took me another six months to find a buyer for the darn thing*). So one day we were going somewhere in her car, and a new Tom Petty song came on the radio.

"I like Tom Petty... even though he's, like, a total druggie," she said.

"I don't think he's that much of a druggie," I said.

This conversation lasted just long enough to get to the first chorus of the song:

But let me get to the point, let's roll another joint
And turn the radio loud, I'm too alone to be proud
You don't know how it feels
You don't know how it feels to be me
Crap, I guess I lost that argument. "You Don't Know How It Feels" had just been released as the first single from Petty's upcoming Wildflowers album, and obviously I hadn't heard it before. Oh well, I still think "total druggie" is a bit harsh for an occasional pot smoker like Petty. I mean, Howie Epstein (the Heartbreakers' bass player) was a "total druggie" (heroin use eventually led to his death).

I'll share a better story about that relationship later in "Ex Week." Stay tuned...

* My suburban family was not happy about me selling my car. One family member expressed concern that I'd never get a date without a car. Fortunately for me, it was the 1990s, not the 1950s. None of the women I dated ever complained about me not having a car. They always had other reasons to never want to see me again.

Questions for Atheists

Do atheists ever say, "God damn it?"

If someone says, "God damn it," at a gathering of atheists, do they make fun of that person for calling upon a nonexistent deity?

Or do atheists say, "God damn it," all the time and then cite God's failure to damn anything as proof that there is no God?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

This will be "Ex Week" for LotD. By "ex," I mean any woman who ever let me buy her dinner. It's a generous definition, and I'm sure virtually none of those women would grant me "ex" status, if they even remember me at all. Anyway, these are songs that remind me of them.

When I was a teenager (literally half my lifetime ago), I used to make tapes for women I liked, usually because their tastes in music sucked and they needed my guidance (it may sound arrogant, but it was true). Anyway, I started out just being friends with this woman, and I made her a few tapes. I included one of my favorite songs by the Rainmakers (one of the best bands you've probably never heard of) called "No Romance:"

If you're looking for some answers
Well you've come to the wrong place
You might find lines, but no valentines
Written all over my face
I bear no grudge, I wear no frown
I just come with calloused hands
And I don't mean to bring you down but
There is no romance.
By some strange twist of fate, we ended up sort of dating, or at least "seeing each other," for a short time. Then I wrote her a letter saying I didn't want to go out with her anymore, probably in a clumsy, tactless way (though I can't remember the words). And wouldn't you know, she wrote back and quoted some lyrics from "No Romance." I guess I deserved that.

(order the version from seller "VILLAGERECORDSCOM" to get the 2006 reissue with bonus tracks)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's Finally Finished! 2007 PNW Vacation

This afternoon I finished uploading photos and journals from our vacation to the Pacific Northwest three months ago. It's the biggest Web project I've launched since the still-unfinished site (I've only made pages for 24 of the 60 rides so far -- now that this project is done, I'll have to get back to work on that one).

I put it on a "new" Web site, I registered the vanity domain when I became a writer, but I don't use it for my business because people always misspell my name anyway. Now it will be the place for anything that doesn't fit thematically into my other sites. If it's a bike trip, it will go on, but if it's a car trip, it will go on

In case you forgot about our vacation, here are some highlights:
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Dog Bark Park Inn
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • Portland Rose Garden
  • Powell's Bookstore
  • Pacific Coast
  • Wildlife Safari
  • Redwoods
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • World Center for Birds of Prey
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument

Read all about it!

Please let me know if any photos are missing, or if you find typos, misspellings, etc.

I Wasn't Going to Get Into This...

I've been reading some of the 313 comments on Eric Zorn's column about the Aurora Planned Parenthood clinic. I could say a dozen things about that, and frankly none of you would care. I know that I won't change anyone's mind about the matter, and I suspect Zorn doesn't really expect to change many minds, either. Such is the abortion debate in America.

But I do want to take issue with commenters who accuse Zorn of making biased statements or who scorn the Tribune for letting his bias appear in print and online. Some people who read newspapers apparently don't understand the nature of newspaper columns (and blogs, for that matter). Although sometimes a columnist will use his or her forum to report a story that has been neglected elsewhere, generally a column is intended to present the columnist's point of view. The Tribune pays Zorn to express his opinions, which are usually well-researched and coherently argued. It's a bit like having a reserved spot on the "letters to the editor" page.

I'm not defending Zorn personally (he can defend himself just fine) so much as the role of a columnist. Zorn's job is to present his opinions. Any bias you detect should not surprise you. He is not a news reporter, he is a columnist.

UPDATED 09/30/2007 - A week and several hundred more comments later, Eric Zorn has come to the same basic conclusion I recognized in the first paragraph above:

As I started hunting for quotes, I found not only that I couldn't begin to sum up the passionate range of views on both sides of the abortion debate with a few snippets, but that all the sound and fury left me feeling that the debate itself is hopeless and pointless, and therefore inevitably endless and ultimately tedious.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bastard of the Day

Today it's personal: the SUV-driving asshat who attempted to turn right in front of me as I crossed Route 59 on the Poplar Creek Trail.

I stopped at the busy intersection of Route 59 and Route 58. I waited for the "Walk" sign and pedaled halfway across Route 59. Then several of Mr. SUV-driving asshat's four-wheeled brethren on Route 58 turned right in front of me, never even looking at me in the crosswalk (and trust me, I'm too big to miss these days). I finally saw a gap and tried to finish crossing the highway before the light changed. Then Mr. SUV-driving asshat tried to turn, hesitated as I also hesitated (I err on the side of caution when I think I might be crushed like a cockroach and left to die in rush hour traffic), then finally let me go as he shouted and gestured toward the walk/don't walk light that was now flashing "Don't Walk," as if that meant I should have retreated to the corner I came from and waited for the next cycle of lights to try it again. I clearly had the right of way, but Mr. SUV-driving asshat seemed to think not (perhaps they should install signs reminding motorists turning right to yield to bicyclists and pedestrians). I wish I had read his license plates, but I was too busy watching his gigantic chrome grill creeping toward my Bike Friday.

Aside from that, I had a pretty nice ride. It was only my third visit to the trail -- the first was for Biking Illinois and the second was rained out before it started by a sudden summer thunderstorm. I did the loop in both directions with a little extra, probably 19 miles total (Bike Friday's cyclometer battery bit the dust years ago and I never replaced it). It was a beautiful afternoon. Many wildflowers (a.k.a. weeds) were in bloom, and everything else was green except the corn. I saw a lot of birds, plus a black snake slithering across the asphalt (and another who wasn't quite fast enough). I could swear the trail wasn't as hilly two years ago, but I know it's just that I was in better shape then (I haven't ridden more than 200 miles or so this year). That's okay; my Bike Friday is set up for touring, so it has plenty of low-end gears.

Aside from going anaerobic too many times and nearly being mashed by Mr. SUV-driving asshat, I had one other mishap. I approached an intersection and realized too late that I wasn't going to get across safely before the light changed. I hit the brakes, and my darn right cleat would not release. So I did what I had to do: I fell over on my side and sprang back up as if nothing had happened, cursing under my breath. At least I didn't fall in the street. It wasn't until I crossed the road that I noticed my handlebars had been knocked askew when they hit the ground. I rode a bit further, fueled by the adrenaline rush of my fall, and then it hit me -- this was one of those moments. I pulled off the trail, straightened the bars, and tightened the quick release (remember I was riding a folding bike) so it wouldn't happen again.

Is it just me, or are suburban cyclists less friendly than they were several years ago? It used to be that the biggest difference between city trails and suburban trails was that other riders would acknowledge me with at least a smile or a nod. Most ignored me today, even when I offered a greeting first (come to think of it, I'm friendlier when I'm on my bike than anywhere else by a long shot). Of course, they were still nicer than Mr. SUV-driving asshat.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bastard of the Day

When I first read Mayor Daley's outburst regarding the proposal to befoul Grant Park with the Chicago Children's Museum, I was furious. In general, I have supported him despite his occasional missteps, but this was too much. I decided to sleep on it, hoping he would apologize for this latest embarrassing verbal gaffe. Instead, he reiterated his position. Here's what the bastard said on Monday:
You mean you don't want children from the city in Grant Park? Why? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Hispanic? Are they poor? You don't want children? We have children in Grant Park all the time. This is a park for the entire city. What do you mean no one wants children down there? Why not? Wouldn't you want children down there?
This is the most inanely misdirected rant I've ever read. Of course, there are children in Grant Park, children of all colors and classes. And that has nothing to do with whether to build a museum there. Grant Park is supposed to be protected as "Public Ground -- A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of any Buildings, or other Obstruction Whatever." Some supporters of the Chicago Children's Museum are claiming that this law does not exactly apply, but those arguments clearly go against the spirit of the law if not the letter. Alderman Brendan Reilly, who sadly lacks the clout of his predecessor, Burton Natarus, has held nine public meetings about this. He says race was never an issue in any of those meetings, meetings that Daley couldn't be bothered to attend.

There are other ideal locations for the museum. What about -- duh -- the Museum Campus? That would elevate the Chicago Children's Museum's status immensely, putting it in the company of world-class institutions like the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium. Another option is Northerly Island, former location of Meigs Field. Those areas do not have the special legal status of Grant Park.

Here's a radical idea. If you, Mayor Daley, really give a damn about poor kids, why not locate the new museum where it can do some economic good? Instead of burying it amidst the jewels of the lakefront, put it in a neighborhood that could use an anchor for some stability. Put it where new restaurants, stores, and other businesses can open to serve museum visitors, offering jobs to those kids' parents where now there are few. As far as I can tell, that option has never been on the table.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

News Items

  • The Edens Expressway will be the next big IDOT project. This isn't really new news, but construction is starting later this month. In a prime example of how "interactive" Web sites just show us how stupid people are, the Tribune's forum page for this story has people complaining about Edens construction coinciding with Dan Ryan construction. The two expressways go in opposite directions, so neither is an "alternate route" of the other. And since the Dan Ryan is under construction, through traffic is already avoiding I-94, so this is actually the best time for Edens construction.
  • Hey, look who's running for president -- our favorite senatorial loser, Alan Keyes! Call him the "bad penny candidate." Too bad the chances of an Obama-Keyes rematch in 2008 are next to nothing.
  • I am officially out of touch with Major League Baseball. Jim Thome hit his 500th home run Sunday, and I've never even heard of the guy before. Regardless, a game-winning shot was a pretty cool way to get number 500.
  • Speaking of baseball, Tribune Company executives must be especially excited to see the Cubs in first place this year. A post-season appearance would make the franchise even more valuable when it goes up for sale this winter.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

And People Complain About Chicago Police?

A car crashes, police arrive, the driver says there are three passengers, the police find one, and they stop searching. This happened early Saturday morning in Gary, Indiana.

Seven hours later, the father of one of the missing passengers went looking in the woods where the car crashed. He found a shoe, and then he found his son and the third passenger.
He said he called police immediately, and when they arrived, they would not discuss whether the woods had been thoroughly searched. Smith said police were more concerned about the shoe he had picked up in the woods and was still clutching in his hand. "The only thing they said to me, and it was in a messed-up tone, was, 'Where did you get that shoe from?' and, 'You better put it back about where you found it,'" Smith said. "I threw it at them. I said, 'I'm looking at my son and his friend dead and you're worried about where I found a damn shoe?'"
I can only hope they died quickly from the crash. The alternative -- hearing sirens and voices nearby, only to be abandoned -- is too horrible to imagine.

Lyrics of the Day

My music collection doesn't include much punk, but the Los Angeles band X is a notable exception; I have eight of their albums. "See How We Are" is the title track from X's sixth album, released in 1987. The song covers a broad range of subjects from prisons to poverty to self-interest to relationships, but these lines always stick out in my mind:

Now there are seven kinds of Coke
500 kinds of cigarettes
This freedom of choice in the USA drives everybody crazy
Only seven kinds of Coke, imagine that! Back then, we had "new" Coke, Coke Classic, Diet Coke, Caffeine-free Coke, Diet Caffeine-free Coke, Cherry Coke, and Diet Cherry Coke. I remember because the first time I heard the song, I made that list and said, "Damn, they're right!"

Of course, that was 20 years ago. Since then, only "new" Coke has fallen (quietly) by the wayside, and the company has added Coca-Cola BlaK, Coca-Cola Zero, Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, Coke with Lime, Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke with Lime, Diet Coke with Splenda, Diet Vanilla Coke, and Vanilla Coke. Our Coke options have more than doubled!

This reminds me of a book I read a few months ago by Barry Schwartz titled The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. He confirms what X knew decades ago, that freedom of choice is driving us crazy. He shows how excessive options add stress, waste time, and often lead to poorer decisions. The last chapter is full of great advice for dealing with the overwhelming choices in modern America. It might even help you pick out your next can of Coke.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I was listening to The Velvet Underground & Nico yesterday*, one of the most influential rock and roll albums of all time. This 1967 debut album and its noisier follow-up, White Light/White Heat, didn't sell well when they were released, but they inspired many punk bands a decade later. In fact, Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground is sometimes called the "Godfather of Punk" (so is Iggy Pop). I bought the record (yes, it was on vinyl) 20 years after it came out. Another twenty years later, it has become what I call "comfort music," stuff I know by heart and happily sing along to, no matter how dark much of the subject matter is.

The song "Venus In Furs" is about sadomasochism, which was a pretty risque topic for a record in 1967. Of course, it never got played on the radio. The title is shared with a book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Severin is a character from the book who loves a woman so much he asks to be her slave. Here are a couple of verses:
Kiss the boot of shiny shiny leather
Shiny leather in the dark
Tongue the thongs, the belt that does await you
Strike dear mistress and cure his heart

Severin, Severin, speak so slightly
Severin, down on your bended knee
Taste the whip, in love not given lightly
Taste the whip, now bleed for me
The lyrics are accompanied by mournful and unsettling instrumentation including Mo Tucker's ominously thumping drums, John Cale's electric viola (which always sounds creepy to me), and Lou Reed's "ostrich guitar" (all strings tuned to the same note).

* Actually, it was Disc 2 of Peel Slowly And See, the Velvet Underground boxed set which includes all of their studio albums plus a mixed bag of previously unreleased material.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

I told you there would be more Tom Russell lyrics to come. My favorite Russell CD so far -- aside from some awesome concert recordings of him with longtime accompanist Andrew Hardin -- is Borderland, which includes many songs about the Rio Grande region. Yesterday's song, "Tonight We Ride," would have fit in perfectly, but Borderland leads off with another powerful song, "Touch Of Evil." The song is inspired by the 1958 movie of the same name.

Orson Welles directed Touch Of Evil but got booted off the project by Universal during post-production. When he was allowed to see what his replacement, Harry Keller, had done with the movie, Welles wrote a 58-page memo detailing the changes he would make. The memo has become Hollywood legend, and Touch Of Evil was reedited in the 1990s to be truer to his vision. Another notable thing about the movie is that Charlton Heston was cast as a Mexican (originally, Janet Leigh, who played his wife, was supposed to be Mexican, which would have been just as odd). In fact, despite being set in a Mexican border town, the movie used few Hispanic actors, but I suppose that was typical for 1950s Hollywood.

Of course, after hearing the song I had to rent the movie from Netflix. It sounded like the sort of movie I would enjoy. Film noir is one of my favorite genres, and the only other Welles film I've seen is the brilliant Citizen Kane. Alas, I was disappointed by Touch Of Evil. As I expected from Welles, there was some fantastic cinematography with unusual camera angles and such. But I had a hard time figuring out what was going on most of the time; I felt like I was watching the movie in a fog (it didn't help that my sleep habits have been completely screwed up since my wife started working midnights a few weeks ago -- I've been doing everything in a fog). There were some great lines and memorable moments, but I'd probably have to watch it a few more times to "get" it. Even as I write this, I'm feeling a little guilty, like I should have watched it again before mailing it back to Netflix.

Russell interlaces scenes from Touch Of Evil with the tale of a broken long-term relationship, the chorus pleading, "Why don't you touch me anymore?" Although the movie was set in a fictional border town, Russell sets this song, like several on Borderland, in Juarez.
The night my baby left me I crossed the bridge to Juarez Avenue
Like that movie Touch of Evil I got the Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich blues
Where Orson walks into the whorehouse and Marlene says "Man, you look like hell"
And Orson's chewing on a chocolate bar as the lights go on in the old Blue Star Hotel
"Read my future" says old Orson, "down inside the tea leaves of your cup"
And she says "You ain't got no future, Hank, I believe your future's all used up"
As it turned out, that poignant and prescient line was my favorite in the entire movie. It's toward the end, so I had to wait for a long time to hear it (the lyrics aren't exactly the same as in the movie, but close enough).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

Tom Russell is one of my favorite lyrical storytellers. "Tonight We Ride" leads off his Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs album. Russell tells of riding with John "Black Jack" Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa along the Mexican border (after Villa's raid on Columbus, NM in 1916). The narrator steals Pershing's stallion, but he gets caught and thrown in prison.
When I'm too damn old to sit a horse, I'll steal the warden's car
Break my ass out of this prison, leave my teeth there in a jar
You don't need no teeth for kissin' gals or smokin' cheap cigars
I'll sleep with one eye open, 'neath God's celestial stars

Tonight we rock, tonight we roll
We'll rob the Juarez liquor store for the Reposado Gold
And if we drink ourselves to death, ain't that the cowboy way to go?
Tonight we ride, tonight we ride
I'd rather not think of the sort of gals who'd want to kiss an old guy with no teeth, but I love the bravado of these lyrics. I've been listening to a lot of Russell lately, so he'll probably turn up in Lyrics of the Day again soon.

I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America's Top Comics

Lately there has been a dreadful trend in comedy of filming tours and compiling DVDs of the between-show antics. I guess the premise is that comedians are funny all the time. But they aren't, and those "on the road" DVDs are an awful waste of time. As a wanna-be comedian (I can be funny, but I can't tell jokes worth a darn), I should appreciate such glimpses into the lives of touring comedians, lives that I, on some level, dream of living. But I don't because they just aren't funny (David Cross: Let America Laugh was so bad I ejected it halfway through, and I never do that).

I Killed, compiled by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff, is what those self-indulgent DVDs wish they could be. The book collects stories from dozens of comedians ranging from old-timers like Red Buttons to Jay Leno to Larry the Cable Guy. Because only a tale or two from each lifetime of travel are included, you get only the very best. There are some duds, but most of the stories are at least amusing and some are wet-your-pants hilarious. There is a bit of insider jargon, but it's easy enough to figure out. Because the stories are never more than a few pages long, I Killed is convenient for people who only get small chunks of time to read. Just make sure it's someplace where it's okay to chuckle.

I don't want to ruin any stories, so here is a short one in its entirety from a page titled "Not In New York Anymore"

* Joey Novick We were three New York comedians in the Deep South, and the directions given to us by the club were, "Go past the Italian restaurant." We drove back and forth for an hour till we realized the "Italian restaurant" was a Pizza Hut.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stand-up comedy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Conspiracy Article Misses The Point

Matt Eagan's Tribune article "9/11 myths still linger" misses a major point about the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. Putting aside the crackpot theories about remote control airplanes and cruise missiles (and the anti-conspiracy crowd always trots out those extreme examples to discredit their opponents), look at the political objectives pursued by Bush/Cheney nationally (PATRIOT Act) and worldwide ("war on terror," "axis of evil") after 9/11. If Bush didn't lean on 9/11 to justify the Iraq War and virtually every other failure of his presidency, then maybe Americans wouldn't be so willing to consider 9/11 conspiracy theories. As it stands, many people are suspicious of the government's account because the events of 9/11 were just a little too convenient for the Bush administration. When the scene is too perfect, you can't blame people for thinking it was staged.

Lyrics of the Day

I've been a fan of Todd Snider for a long time. Although he may be associated more with Nashville or Austin, he was born in Portland, Oregon. He has written a handful of songs reflecting his Oregon roots, and one is about legendary airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper. On November 24, 1971, Cooper hijacked a flight from Portland, landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport to collect a $200,000 ransom and four parachutes, made the plane take off again, and then made his escape by jumping out of the Boeing 727 somewhere northwest of Portland. He was never found, and speculation about his real identity and whether he survived has run rampant over the years.

In "D.B. Cooper," Snider sings about watching coverage of the extensive manhunt on TV as a kid (taking the liberty of making himself eight years old when actually he was only five) and imagines a conversation with Cooper:

But he told me that the hardest part wasn't really jumping out of the plane
It was spending the night watching those lights
Shine through the pouring rain
It was a very thorough search; the F.B.I. found two bodies, but they were people who had been missing for years. Snider ponders Cooper's fate, and in the end he's rooting for the outlaw:

Now some people say that he died up there somewhere in the rain and the wind
Other people say that he got away but his girlfriend did him in
The lawmen say if he is out there someday they're gonna bring him in
As for me, I hope they never see D.B. Cooper again
The D.B. Cooper case is "the only unsolved domestic skyjacking in U.S. history." The Wikipedia entry gives a good overview of the hijacking and potential suspects, but Court TV's Crime Library probably has the most extensive narrative online.

Another Dumb Death

Remember the other day when I said I was sick of avoidable car-train "accidents" (more correctly, incidents)? Well, I'm sick of bicycle-train incidents, too.

I'm pretty sure it's illegal to wear headphones while cycling on public roads. Regardless of the law, it is a bad idea. You need to be aware of your surroundings. And if you do wear headphones, for goodness' sake don't turn the music up so damn loud you can't even hear a freaking train! In other words, don't be this guy:
A [42-year-old] bicyclist listening to his iPod was unaware of an oncoming train before it struck and killed him at a Kane County railroad crossing Sunday evening, police said... The crossing has a wooden sign marking it, but the crossing does not have an audible signal or gates, police said. "He had the iPod on, so we're going on the assumption with no gate or lights there that he didn't hear or see the train coming," Kane County sheriff's police spokesman Patrick Gengler said. The train conductor saw the bicyclist and tried to brake but was unable to stop before hitting him, Gengler said.
Now that train's engineer has the image permanently etched in his mind of an oblivious guy on a bicycle getting crushed. Can you imagine watching someone about to be killed and being virtually powerless to stop it? That shouldn't be a part of anybody's job description. Please, people, at least turn down those iPods at railroad crossings. Do it for the engineers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Week Ahead

Out of the blue, I recently started receiving e-mails from the Huffington Post again. I unsubscribed long ago, but what the heck, I'll give it a second chance. So far it's better than I remembered.

Marty Kaplan tells us what to expect from Bush's upcoming prime time speech about Iraq. The answer: "not much" if you're generous, "same shit, different day" if you're me. But this is my favorite part of the story:
This week is also, of course, the anniversary of 9/11. Republican presidential candidates can be counted on for a splendid dick-size tourney, which will be as consequential as any of the pious huffing and puffing we'll hear from the Hill. None of the candidates will brag of a wide stance, but several, no doubt, will boast of an admirably strong stream. Sensible Americans, except for the 20 percent or so who still constitute the Republican base, and except for the media who confuse covering the opinion of an extreme right-wing fringe with covering the issues of a presidential election, will sensibly ignore the adolescent tape-measure antics of the GOP field, just as they have already discounted the Frat-Boy-in-Chief's we're-kicking-ass-in-Iran delusions.
I'll bet we're going to hear loads of lies and half-truths from Rudy the Hero. I wonder if once again he'll claim he spent as much time at Ground Zero as the rescue workers did. After the New York Times determined that he only spent 29 hours there between September 17 and December 16, figured out that he spent 33 hours at Yankees games between October 10 and November 4 (and that's comparing a 3-month period with a 1-month period). I'll bet most of the poor bastards who got respiratory diseases at Ground Zero (one study says 70% had such problems) didn't get to attend any Yankees games that year.

Lyrics of the Day

Some lyrics are like poetry. You have to think to figure out what they are about. Today's lyric is the opposite; it's pretty darn obvious what's going on. "(I Can Tell) Your Love is Waning" is another Slobberbone song about a troubled relationship:*
There's a baby in the bedroom that doesn't know you're there
As you're lying in the bathtub with shampoo in your hair
And the radio is playing some fucked up country song
And sorta like us it's sad and sweet, but it won't last for long

'Cause I can tell your love is waning from the looks and smell of it,
Like getting caught behind a cattle truck and all you smell is shit
Getting caught behind a cattle truck and all you smell is shit
This song is from Crow Pot Pie, the band's first album. Brent Best's lyrics have grown more subtle on later releases, but the bluntness is what I love about this song. Unlike yesterday's "Live On In The Dark," this song does include a killing ("shampoo in your hair" becomes "blood all in your hair"), though whether it is real or imagined is open to interpretation (the song's last couple of lines imply that there's still hope).

* Readers should note that my choice of lyrics does not necessarily reflect anything going on in my personal life (and I will tell you when it does). I just enjoy dark music. My wife says my entire record collection is depressing, but I say, "No, it's not. What about Leonard Cohen?"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wisconsin Road Trip Revisited

I forget a few things in my write-up of last month's whirlwind auto tour of Wisconsin and other northerly regions...

When visiting Lake Superior, it is impossible not to think of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald." That was my favorite song for a while when I was a kid, sometime before fifth grade. My dad had the album (Summertime Dream), and it included lyrics. Of course, I followed along until I knew the whole song. I was a weird kid.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
On that moonlit night when I drove through Duluth toward the North Shore to collect counties, I saw a billboard for Gordon Lightfoot! He is appearing at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on September 23. A Gordon Lightfoot billboard in Duluth -- that made my night.

But there was more to come. Way up in Little Marais, the last town in Lake County before the Cook County line where I turned around (coincidentally, Lake and Cook Counties are adjacent in northern Illinois as well), I saw a place called The Spirit of Gitche Gumee, which is a bed & breakfast, gift shop, and coffee shop. It was almost midnight, so I couldn't check it out, but there are some interesting items on their Web site.

On a completely different note... While driving through Eagle River, Wisconsin, I saw a store called The Flour Sack that sells bulk food and baking supplies. I got the idea to start a similarly named business to compete with "Nuts On Clark", but I suppose the name wouldn't be very appealing.

"We Don't Want Any Hangings"

I probably shouldn't make light of this story, but I can't help myself.
A Chicago man held on traffic violations by Schiller Park police was found hanged in his jail cell Saturday, police said. Martin Garcia, 42, was arrested late Friday and was being held on traffic violations at the police station at 9526 W. Irving Park Rd., police said in a statement... An autopsy determined the death was a suicide...
This reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's classic "Alice's Restaurant":
After the ordeal, we went back to the jail. Obie said he was going to put us in the cell. Said, "Kid, I'm going to put you in the cell, I want your wallet and your belt." And I said, "Obie, I can understand you wanting my wallet so I don't have any money to spend in the cell, but what do you want my belt for?" And he said, "Kid, we don't want any hangings." I said, "Obie, did you think I was going to hang myself for littering?"
Similarly, why would a guy hang himself for traffic violations?

Lyrics of the Day

Slobberbone was a band out of Denton, TX that made great music with little commercial success. Lead singer and songwriter Brent Best had a penchant for modern murder ballads -- he killed off dozens of characters in the band's four albums. That said, no one dies in "Live On In The Dark" from Slippage, their final album. It's about a stagnant or decaying relationship. To me personally, it's about lacking ambition, desire, and motivation (backstory deleted to spare you all):

So I just live on in the dark
I could drive but I just park
I just talk when I could sing
And now it doesn't mean a thing
I could bite, but I just bark
I could light but I just spark
I live on in the dark
A few years ago, Best took the core of Slobberbone, added a keyboardist, and named them the Drams. Their sound is a bit more radio-friendly (not that it has resulted in any airplay), and the lyrics are generally more upbeat.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Latest Tour De France News

Last week, the Onion announced, "Non-Doping Cyclists Finish Tour De France." Of course, the race ended more than a month ago for most cyclists, but Finland's Piet Kvistik persevered:
"This is a very, very proud day for me," said the 115-pound Kvistik, who lost 45% of his body mass during the event, toppled from his saddle moments after finishing, and had to be administered oxygen, fed intravenously, and injected with adrenaline by attending medical personnel... Kvistik finished a mere 480 hours behind Alberto Contador, the overall winner, making 2007's margin between doping and non-doping riders the closest in history.
As usual, the Onion did their homework, "quoting" pro cycling's legendary announcer, Phil Liggett:
"It's rather a shame that the Tour's 'clean' riders, or 'lanternes naturelles' as the fans call them, receive so little attention, for their monumental achievement," said cycling commentator Phil Liggett... "It's nearly impossible to compete in the full Tour while shot full of human growth hormone, erythropoietin, testosterone, glucocorticosteroids, synthetic testosterone, anabolic steroids, horse testosterone, amphetamines, and one's own pre-packed oxygen-rich red blood cells. To do it on water and bananas is almost heroic, no matter what one's time is."
So what became of cycling's dope-free hero after the race?
Kvistik remains in critical condition at the Hôpital Neuilly-sur-Seine, where he was placed in a medically induced coma to aid his recovery from exhaustion, malnutrition, and loss of bone density. Attending physicians say he is not expected to return to cycling.
Oh well, maybe next year's winner will fare better.

Duh! Big Houses Are Bad For The Environment

Almost every day, there is a news story that is so painfully obvious, it's a miracle someone got paid to write it. Because it's a shame to waste only my own time, I am starting an occasional "Duh!" feature to draw attention to these stories.

The big environmental story on AlterNet today is "Big Houses Are Not Green: America's McMansion Problem." What a shock!

In Los Gatos, Calif., controversy has raged this summer over the city planning commission’s approval of a proposed hillside home that will occupy a whopping 3,600 square feet – and that's just the basement. Atop that walkout basement will be 5,500 more square feet worth of house. The prospective owner says he’ll build to "green" standards, but at the Aug. 8 meeting where the permit was approved, the city's lone dissenting planning commissioner stated the obvious when he told the owner, "You have a 9,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage and a pool. I don't see that as green."
I love that quote. The sad part is that no one else agreed with him.

The article goes on to cite statistics about how 42% of new homes are 2400 square feet or larger, and then it details the cost of raw materials (lots of wood!) and energy. Builders highlight "green" features, but the most obvious seems to elude them: build a smaller freaking house! A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in 2005 says, "A 1,500-square-foot house with mediocre energy-performance standards will use far less energy for heating and cooling than a 3,000-square-foot house of comparable geometry with much better energy detailing" (the article notes that the "geometry" of most new homes is woefully inefficient for the sake of looking interesting).

Unfortunately, the American mindset is to get the biggest thing one can afford, be it a house, a car, or a television. Until that changes, we are going to be the energy-hogging bastards of the world.

Lyrics of the Day

One of my favorite albums of the 1980s was Love Junk by a Canadian band called The Pursuit Of Happiness (TPOH). The hit single from this debut American album was "I'm An Adult Now":

Well, I don't hate my parents
I don't get drunk just to spite 'em
I've got my own reasons to drink now
Think I'll call my dad up and invite 'im
I picked this song today because a later verse goes along with my earlier post about not wanting to die in an embarrassingly stupid way:

I can't take any more illicit drugs
I can't afford any artificial joy
I'd sure look like a fool dead in a ditch somewhere
With a mind full of chemicals
Like some cheese-eating high school boy
I guess I'd describe TPOH as sort of a raunchier incarnation of the Smithereens with female harmonies. Here's the cheesy video they did for "I'm An Adult Now" back in the day...

I wonder if that song got them branded as a novelty act. Here is another slightly less cheesy video (I'm sorry; it was the 1980s) for a more serious song from Love Junk, "She's So Young"...

They put out two more major-label albums in the U.S., One Sided Story and The Downward Road (perhaps a comment on their career?), but they never really clicked for me like Love Junk did. The band released a couple more CDs in Canada, as well as a best-of, but I don't have any of those. They even have a concert DVD out, which I just added to my Netflix queue. I'd recommend starting with Love Junk., even if you have to buy it as an import.

A Million Ways To Die

Yesterday's blog entry about the woman who raced a train and lost brought to mind one of my greatest fears -- that I'll die while doing something incredibly stupid, and people will forever remember me as "that dumbass who tried to..."

This fear has probably saved my life a few times. I was doing something, I realized how dumb I would look if I died in the process, and then I backed off and did something less dangerous. I won't share any examples, so use your imagination ("I was at the gas station last night when the lights went out, so I reached for my lighter...").

If I do die in such a moronic manner, I can only hope my survivors will be kind enough to spruce up my obituary with evidence that at least I wasn't always that stupid. Still, it will be little consolation to have my summa cum laude honors mentioned right after my Darwin Award nomination.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bastard of the Day

I'm going to go out on a limb here and pick Edie Bolanos, the Indiana woman who raced a freight train with her minivan and lost, killing her two daughters. Damn it, I am sick of these avoidable train-motor vehicle "accidents." It was not an accident. Watch the video. She literally raced the train and then attempted to cross the tracks in front of it. Her minivan was hit by that train as well as another traveling in the opposite direction (which she would have seen had she not been busy making a jughandle turn to cross the tracks). Incredibly, she and her two sons survived.

Let's look at a typical response to incidents like this. Here is what the owner of her kids' day care center said:
"It was a tragic accident," Bazan said. "She was a very loving mother."
First of all, this was not a "tragic accident." It was a deliberate act of profound stupidity that ended badly. Second, she is not "a very loving mother." If she truly loved her children, she would not have endangered them in this way. Judging from the video, this probably isn't the first time she raced a train, just the first time she lost.

Some may argue that I should feel sorry for this woman because she has lost two kids. Bullshit. I say her actions show that she was an unfit mother in the first place. I would put that bastard on trial for murdering her daughters, and I would take her sons away from her.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lyrics of the Day

These are the opening lines from "Can't Go Back" by Soul Asylum back in their indie/punk days (1986):
The aim of my time is to fill up my mind
And when it gets too full I forget
That's about as good an answer to the philosophical question why am I here? as any.

For anyone interested in the "good old days" of Soul Asylum including a few MP3 samples, check out this.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First We Take Manhattan...

...then we take Berlin, as the Leonard Cohen song goes. I stumbled across two items related to Berlin and biking today.
  • When I logged into Blogger, this topped the list of Blogs of Note: Berlin to Copenhagen on Push Bikes. "Push bikes" is a term rarely heard in the United States meaning bikes that are human-powered as opposed to motorbikes. Anyway, this 12-day tour includes Germans, Aussies, a New Zealander, a black dog, and a tandem Bike Friday (same color as mine).
  • The bi-weekly Adventure Cycling Association e-newsletter "Bike Bits" mentions a Reuters story titled "Bike trail follows Berlin Wall route 46 years on." The article tells how quickly a right-of-way can be lost; since the wall was torn down in 1989, all sorts of obstacles have grown up in what used to be the "death strip" -- the place where defectors were gunned down or arrested. The 160-km (100-mile) route has about 30 signs describing historic landmarks. Less than 2 km of the wall remains along with only five of the 303 guard towers, and now some people are wishing they hadn't been so quick to destroy the thing.

Bastard of the Day

It's an encore appearance by crotchety, old Alderman Bernard Stone of Rogers Park. My least favorite newspaper in the world, the Pioneer Press News-Star (which I begrudgingly resubscribed to when they dropped the price to $5.99 -- after bitching to the telemarketer about what a crappy paper it is), reports this week that the Lincoln Village Theater is closing and that its owner is planning to donate the building to the Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School (cheesily misspelled by the pathetically copyedited News-Star as Chedar) if he can't sell it. The article includes a quote from the bastard:
"(The theater building) is a good location for the school. It won't make me happy (to lose the tax revenue), but there are other potential sites for a real tax producer," Stone said.
Sure, it's a good location -- across the North Shore Channel (alas, the News-Star calls it the Chicago River) from the heavily Jewish neighborhood it would serve. Bernie, you bastard, wouldn't it be nice if those kids could use a bike path bridge to get over the channel instead of walking along busy Lincoln Avenue? Maybe you should have built that bridge instead of playing petty tyrant. While I'm at it, shame on the News-Star for completely missing this aspect of the story, not to mention getting half the facts wrong, as usual.

Note: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich gets a runner-up award for emasculating the Complete Streets bill (SB 314), but I won't elevate him to bastardhood because I'm still hoping he'll sign HB 664, the property tax relief bill).

Monday, September 03, 2007

My Most Popular Blog Entry

Most of my readers don't know it, but one of my old blog entries has generated an incredible number of comments. Since I get e-mailed every time a new comment is posted, I have been able to watch the comment count rise to 71 (!) over the past two years.

In May 2005, the Chicago Tribune carried a story about the guys who pass out advertising cards for escorts in a certain Nevada city*. I ranted about how I hate that city, particularly because of those guys. It isn't even a particularly good entry; I think it's written rather clumsily. But it struck a nerve with so many people who hate that place that it has become a minor Internet phenomenon (or at least as close as I'll ever get to having one). When you type "I hate ___ _____" into Google, it's one of the first sites listed. The comments are depressing -- so many desperate, miserable people who would do anything to get out. There are very few positive comments to counterbalance the utter despair.

UPDATE 12/12/2009 - Now that particular blog entry has 247 comments, probably more than all my other posts put together!

* I'm not naming the city because I don't want to draw the search engines away from the original blog entry.

Wisconsin Road Trip

I had two free rental days from Hertz set to expire on August 31, so I took a brief but intense road trip to Duluth, Minnesota this week. I suppose I should have gone somewhere to do something rather than just driving around collecting counties, but nothing came to mind. Wisconsin isn't my favorite state, so my goal was just to collect counties and get it over with. My other objective was to listen to as many CDs as possible. I had a huge stack of CDs from my birthday and even Christmas that I hadn't listened to more than once or twice (at home I usually listen to downloaded concerts, but that's a topic for another time). Of course it was a profligate consumption of gasoline, but I figure I may as well take such trips while I still can.

I got a ride to Hertz from my wife so I didn't have to schlep my backpack full of CDs there on foot. I'm sure I could have, but I didn't want to start my trip all sweaty. They offered me a Chevy Impala, but I asked for something with better mileage. They gave me a 2007 Ford Focus sedan, so I enjoyed spotting the minor differences between it and our own 2006 Focus hatchback. I headed toward Wisconsin via I-90, holding our I-PASS up to the windshield as I passed through toll areas. I stopped at the Wisconsin tourist info center for a state map, and then I kept going through Madison and north on I-39.

My route led through Plainfield, WI, but alas, a highway detour denied me a visit to the town associated with serial killer Ed Gein. In Medford, I saw a sign for a hair shop called "Cool Noggins." Personally, I think they stopped being cool when they attached outdated slang like noggins to their name. Then I drove through Colby, WI, where Colby cheese originated. Although the town is right on the county line of Clark and Marathon Counties, it is not where County Line cheese originated. In Ladysmith, WI (which I couldn't help calling Ladysmith Black Mambazo, WI), I passed a former Carnegie library converted into a bed & breakfast called Carnegie Hall.

A sane man would have called it a night upon arriving at the Motel 6 in Duluth around 8:30 PM, but the remote counties of Lake Superior's north shore were calling. First I went to a Country Kitchen for a meat lover's omelette and pancakes. It was a bit overwhelming for my first real meal all day, and the pancakes were a little burnt. Afterward I drove southwest to collect Carlton County. Then after a quick U-turn beyond the county line, I headed northeast to Cook County some 75 miles up the lakeshore. I struggled to stay awake, especially on the way out there. The lake was beautiful with the full moon shining, but the drive would have been even prettier in daylight.

When I got back to Duluth around 1 AM, I was amazed how deserted the freeway was, as well as how normally the few people on the highway were driving; in Chicago at that hour, some drivers would be pushing 85-90 mph and weaving across three lanes. I finally returned to the motel with more than 700 miles for the day, as well as 16 CDs in my "already played" pile.

I debated whether to get a wake-up call for 7:30 or 8:00 AM. I decided on 7:30, but it didn't matter. Despite my exhaustion, I had a terrible night of unsettling, violent dreams and restless sleep. I usually sleep better on the road than at home, but not this time. When I awoke at 6:30, I figured I might as well get out of Duluth before rush hour.

I've never been particularly nervous about bridges before -- aside from the fear of an accident bouncing me over the guardrail and sending me to a fiery death -- but I couldn't help thinking of the Minneapolis bridge collapse as I drove skyward on the gigantic I-535 bridge from Duluth to Superior. I followed U.S. 2 across northern Wisconsin and stopped in another Country Kitchen in Ashland for breakfast. I love their pancakes, and this cook made them perfectly.

I plotted a route to grab a couple of counties in Michigan's Upper Peninsula without adding too many miles, and it was a pretty drive through Ottawa National Forest. The leaves were already changing up there. I went through Watersmeet, "Home of the Nimrods." Although the school's Web site explains that a nimrod is a hunter, I am sure that opposing teams favor the word's other, less flattering definition.

I stopped for a "bladder buster" Coke, as my wife describes any cup 32 ounces or larger. I was already feeling very tired thanks to yesterday's high mileage combined with too little sleep. The only way I would make it home alive would be to consume immense quantities of caffeine-laden liquids. This meant I had almost constant bladder pressure, and that kept me awake as well. Whenever I stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom, I bought another tall cup. This strategy worked pretty well, but I was a bit concerned when it was only lunchtime and I still had 500 miles to drive.

I spent a couple of hours driving through Nicolet National Forest. Then I drove through Menominee County, all of which is an Indian reservation, on scenic Route 55. In Green Bay, I crossed another huge bridge and headed northeast to Door County. My wife has always wanted to go there, but I have resisted because I have a strong aversion to the crowds in popular tourist spots. I suppose that makes me a jerk for going there alone, though I only traveled a short distance beyond the county line.

By the time I got to Appleton, the drink-Coke-and-pee routine wasn't working anymore. I hate coffee, but I had little choice at this point. I stopped at a Mobil station, used the bathroom, and poured myself a cup. The woman at the counter said, "That's free if you buy a post crescent." A what? "A post crescent."

I was wondering whether this was some odd regional food, like a crescent roll of some sort. "Um, I'm not from here. I don't understand," I said dumbly. She explained that it was the local newspaper, the Appleton Post-Crescent. Ohhhhh... Many thanks to her for suggesting a way to get my coffee cheap plus a newspaper to peruse later when I was more awake. This was also the first store on the entire trip to carry atomic fireballs so I bought a bag.

Back on U.S. 41, I drank my coffee in big gulps as if taking bitter medicine. I really don't like the stuff (my mom later said I should have added things to make it taste good, but she didn't understand -- I don't want to like coffee). Sufficiently dosed, I started sucking on atomic fireballs. Then I came to a construction zone. Traffic was okay, and I scooted along at 60-65 mph without anyone around me. As I looked at those orange and white-striped barrels, I knew that without the coffee in my system, I'd be drowsily bouncing back and force between them.

Soon enough, I was navigating the freeways of Milwaukee. Then I drove south on I-94, and I was into the "home stretch." I stopped for gas at the Lake Forest Oasis, bouncing back and forth from one foot to the other as I waited for the tank to fill. I drove over to the restaurant area to use the restroom, and to my surprise, I didn't need another shot of caffeine to get home. I was probably more awake now -- a good 150 miles past my coffee stop -- than I was in Superior this morning. I got back to Chicago around 11:30 PM.

Overall, I did well for a two-day trip. I covered 1,460 miles to Duluth, MN and back, collecting 43 counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. It was enough to bump me up a spot on the list. Now I need only two counties in southwestern Wisconsin to finish the state. I also listened to 31 CDs along the way. Most incredibly, I managed to take an overnight trip without my laptop for the first time in years. Of course, in Duluth I was too tired to miss it much.

I didn't go to sleep until 2:30 AM. After only 4.5 hours of sleep, I returned the car first thing the next morning, paying only the $2.75 per rental fee mandated by Chicago. The 1.3-mile walk home was brutal -- my lack of sleep was catching up with me. My legs seemed heavy and I felt a little dizzy. When I got home, I went back to bed.