Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hubba Bubba

I don’t chew gum anymore, but as a child, I was pretty hardcore. Two of my favorites were Wrigley’s Doublemint and Juicy Fruit (click on the links for 80's-era commercials).

Big Red was also good. Studies have shown that smell is one of the most powerful ways to take one back in time (it’s typically more potent than visual or auditory cues). This is why many times while waiting in line at the grocery store, I’ll take a pack of the products listed above and take a really, good whiff. Sniffing a pack of Fruit-Stripe gum is an extra special pleasure.

In junior high, I moved up to the big time and regularly bought Bubble Yum, Bubblicious, and Hubba Bubba (try saying Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum really fast).

Some people can choose gum for hours, but I would quickly get bored and throw mine out after 15 or 20 minutes. If the gum could hold its flavor indefinitely, I’m sure I could go on longer. Why don’t I chew the stuff anymore? Well, probably because I only like to move my jaw when I’m ingesting food. Gum is a poor man’s substitute to me.

Remember how everyone made a big deal out of not swallowing gum? My mom used to tell my sisters when they were about 3 years old to make sure they threw their gum out when they were done, not to swallow it. One afternoon, my mom asked one of them what had happened to her gum. She said she swallowed it. My mom said, “Why’d you do that?”. Her reply: “I forgot”. I guess we’re so used to putting something in our mouth and then swallowing it that to do otherwise takes some getting used to.

Obama Runs Constructive Criticism Ad Against McCain

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Brew Crew

As the Milwaukee Brewers clinch their first playoff berth since 1982, I'm reminded of the Fall Classic from all those years ago. Though my hometown team was the Twins, they weren't doing so well at the time and Wisconsin (the Brewers home state) was only 40 miles from where I resided.

I was 11 in '82 and though baseball has a much slower pace than football, it's always nice to see a regional team make it to the big show.

The Brewers lead-off hitter at the time, Paul Molitor, was a native Minnesotan. I can still remember their top three hitters: Molly, Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper.

This was back in the days when major leaguers were pretty big on chewing tobacco. The Brewers manager, Harvey Kuenn, was the most egregious offender.

Another thing I liked about the Brewers was their logo:

It looked just like a fielder's glove. It wasn't until years later that I realized the mitt actually spelled out MB (Milwaukee Brewers). My mind was blown at the discovery.

In the '82 World Series, the Brew Crew played the St. Louis Cardinals, another team that produced a lotta beer (their ballpark was named Busch Stadium). Here's a vintage 2-minute clip which played at the start of Game 2.

I remember during the Series I wanted to get a Brewers cap, so went with my grandmother to JCPenney. All they had was a really small Brewer hat for kids under 7 (believe me, I wanted the cap to fit, but it wouldn't).

I can also recall going to LaCrosse, Wisconsin one afternoon and marveling to my mother that the Series was being played a mere 150 miles away.

Friday, September 26, 2008


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word(s?) Wal-Mart? A place for good deals? A store that sells all the best that China has to offer? A shopping center frequented mostly by the poor? Though their prices are good, I prefer purchasing my food items at Hy-Vee (a relatively big-time grocer in the Midwest). Why? Simple, they bag my groceries (technically, Wal-Mart does bag groceries, they just don't put 'em in your cart).

No, that's not the real reason. But here are a few genuine ones: for one thing, being in a Wal-Mart is a tad depressing to me. I mean, we all have this technology and brainpower, but this is the best we could do? This is the world’s number one company? I’m sure many of you are familiar with the millions of Wal-Mart employees who’ve had to rely on the government to give them affordable health insurance because their premiums are so high. Then there are hundreds (thousands?) of cases of employees who have been “strongly encouraged” to work through their breaks as well as the many incidences where women weren’t allowed to move up in the organization.

There are many other issues I have with them, but consider the above three a good start.

I’ve found that I really wouldn’t save that much by getting my food at Wal-Mart. Even if I saved, say, $8 a trip by going there instead of Hy-Vee, I would still opt for the latter. Hy-Vee’s employees consist mostly of teenagers who are required to wear ties, but who seem quite happy, nonetheless, to hold the positions they do.

One afternoon, after this schlubby kid finished bagging my groceries, I slipped him a dollar bill and then put my index finger to my mouth as if to say, “I know I’m not supposed to tip you, but I just couldn’t resist”.

And you can’t beat their slogan: “Where there’s a helpful smile in every aisle” (that trumps a smiley face saying “How May I Help You?” in my book). One thing I don’t like about Hy-Vee is how they have live lobster and fish displayed in their meat section. It reminds me too much of medieval times when people were placed in “the rack” in the town square as a warning to others. But I guess no organization’s perfect…except maybe Friday’s.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Day I Lost My Faith In W.

I can remember the specific moment when I lost faith in George W. Bush. It was very early on. I had decided in January 2001 that I would support him as President even though there were a number of indicators that he shouldn’t have won Florida (in particular, the blacks whose name had been taken off the rolls, so that when they showed up, they weren’t allowed to cast a ballot).

I was reading the newspaper one evening in mid ’02 and saw that W. had decided to turn back a number of environmental regulations. That was going backwards in my mind, big time. I mean, think about it. We had just transitioned to the new century (millennium) and he was rolling back policies that had been put in place to keep corporations from polluting.

What a legacy to leave our children. How regular citizens could get behind a guy so in league with Big Business was mystifying to me. There is a book that came out a few years ago that deals with the issue of people voting against their own economic interests. It’s called "What’s The Matter With Kansas". This was but the first of many things that caused me to lose faith in him. So while many have been tired of him for a couple years, I’ve been resentful of him for more than 6! Needless to say, my Bush fatigue is almost beyond comprehension.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I love living in years that are palindromes. I wish they could last forever. Yes, today I pay tribute to the wonders of the movies I went to in 2002. Me and a friend got a lot of shiggles out of "Sorority Boys". One of my favorite movies of the year was a Spike Lee joint starring Edward Norton called "25th Hour".

It was one of the first movies that referred to 9/11 (the seminal event that occured the prior year). There were two incredible scenes in it: one in which Norton looks at himself in a restaurant mirror and goes on a big time rant. Watch it here. And the final sequence in which his father tells him all the things that are still possible in the young man's life. That can be viewed here.

The movie "Frailty" goes to some very dark places. Directed by actor Bill Paxton, it involves a serial killer who believes he is doing "God's work". A doozy of a twist is revealed at the end of the film. A high-quality indie can be found in the Jennifer Aniston movie "The Good Girl". It's a dark comedy, to be sure, but one that I ate up. Here's a scene from it. "Stealing Harvard" was a not-very-funny Jason Lee-Tom Green vehicle. George Clooney's "Solaris" had many points to make about memory and immortality, but was a tad too ponderous for its own good, in my view. Many of the people I was at the screening with lost patience with the film.

"Far From Heaven" was a very well-done Julianne Moore movie in which she was a 50's housewife who pines for something more. The movie was filmed in such a way that it felt as if it was actually made in the 50's (as opposed to the 21st century).

Here is the movie's trailer.

Adam Sandler showed dramatic range in the R-rated "Punch-Drunk Love". Check this scene out. "Super Troopers" was an OK comedy while "Tuck Everlasting" was quite blah. "Van Wilder" had a few laughs, but was nothing compared to Michael Moore's provocative "Bowling for Columbine". Adam Sandler's animated "Eight Crazy Nights" was a bit of a disappointment, but I loved the performance of Nicholas Cage as twins in "Adaptation" (though the movie did come off the rails a bit at the end).

I'll continue my overview of '02 in a future entry.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Riddle Me This

Slate.com has a special feature on its website called the Explainer in which questions submitted by readers are answered by Slate staffers. Once in a while, questions are sent in that even they can’t answer. Check it out:

Can a baby get drunk off of nonalcoholic beer?

Very rare to find a hotel room with a light on the ceiling, they're usually floor lamps or desk lamps. Is there some structural reason for that?

Why are some cats softer to the touch than others? Is it possible I have the softest cat in the world?

In Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity, he says that Jason Bourne can pack with great economy of space, allowing him to pack much more in a small bag than it would seem. How would one do this, and is it even a real thing?

If an unscrupulous bar owner was to mix diethylene to, say, whiskey, what would the effect be on the consumer?

Why does having a foreign accent make a person seem more attractive?

When a fly lands on a ceiling, does it execute a barrel roll or an inside loop?

Why do train whistles at night always sound lonely and mournful? Not so in the daytime.

Why is smooth peanut butter cheaper than nutty?

How clean is bar soap in a public bathroom? Is it "self-cleaning," since it’s soap? It seems like a health hazard to me.

Why did Zidane head-butt his opponent in the World Cup final? Do the French not fight with their fists?

If a group of passengers on a hijacked plane wanted to, could they bring a plane down by all of them using their cell phones at the same time?

Is it possible to collect all the cookie dough in Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and actually bake cookies from it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Kum & Go

On Saturday afternoon, my friend and I headed out to Mason City, Iowa to hear some hillbilly music from Grammy-award winner Vince Gill. It was a brilliant, sunny day as we left my place. Before leaving town, however, I wanted to have a good, filling meal. Translation: Friday’s. Mr. Shanon wanted to go to Old Country Buffet, but I said that would have to wait; since I would be driving 4 hours that day, I got to pick where we would be eating. He’s getting a bit sick of going there, but said he still prefers it over McDonalds. I had some chicken fingers as we discussed heading down to the Hawkeye state.

As usual before embarking on a trip, I printed out directions from Rand McNally.com. They said it would take 2 hours and 10 minutes to arrive there. I was hoping it wouldn’t take that long as I intended to go at least 5 miles over the speed limit throughout our voyage. Almost immediately upon getting on the interstate, there was road construction (the four lanes had been taken down to 2). I didn’t know how many miles we’d have to endure it, but, thankfully, I’d allotted us 3 hours to get there. Just a couple miles into the construction, I was very pleasantly surprised to see dozens of wind turbines.

Three words came to mind as I saw them: brave new world. This is the future of our country (if we’re to have one): clean, renewable energy. Shanon marveled and said he’d never been so close to one before. To keep the mood positive, we listened to Shania Twain’s greatest hits. After 16 miles, the road construction ended and I accelerated to 73.4 mph. We passed through Austin and Albert Lea (Spam Museum!) before making our way to good ol’ Iowa.

Just 5 miles into the state, we saw a casino named Diamond Jo’s. This is the portion where I tell you that I’ve never gambled (though I did vote for George H.W. Bush in ’88 and will elaborate on this in a future post). We were making good time. Color me surprised, but Iowa’s scenery wasn’t as boring as I thought it’d be. Probably have Shania to thank for that.

When we arrived in Mason City, it was just 1 hour and 45 minutes since we left Rochester. I love it when I arrive somewhere before I’m supposed to. I’ve the suspicion that these map websites deliberately add 15 or 20 minutes to their projections so that people can be happy when they come in under expectations.

With so much time to kill, we browsed at Best Buy for a bit before walking over to a Hollywood Video nearby. We were talking about some superficial crap when Shanon noticed that the video store had a “For Lease” sign on it. Turns out it was just the name of a new straight-to-DVD movie coming out for Halloween.

I kid. It was closed. The only video stores we have left in Rochester are two Hollywoods. Both Blockbusters are gone as is Premiere Video (a store I worked at in the late 90’s…I was so innocent then, but weren’t we all). I noticed something quite amusing as we drove through Mason City. I counted no less than 3 convenience stores that were named, well, take a look at the pic below:

What’s kinda sad is that I was already familiar with the chain. You see, in the early 90’s, I helped my cousin move to Decorah, Iowa and went to one of their locations for a tasty beverage. I’m not sure if I got the joke way back then.

We arrived at North Iowa’s community college (where the concert was taking place) at about 7, a half hour before the show was scheduled to start. What I saw as we walked to the auditorium surprised me: the age of the attendees. There was gray (or white) hair everywhere we looked. I would say that more than 75% of the people at the show were over 55. I haven’t seen that many old people congregating together since, oh, probably since the McCain rally I saw on telly a couple weekends ago.

I deflated a bit when I noticed on the concert program that Vince was giving an acoustic concert. The last two times I’d seen him, he’d played with a 17-piece band which included a horn section. Vince is a good singer, but I'd wanted to hear some electric guitar.

Just after sitting down, Shanon noted he was the only one in the entire auditorium wearing a ballcap. I looked at the hundreds of people gathered and sure enough, not one hat. A few minutes later, a fortysomething sat in our row who was wearing a cap. Shanon was a bit disappointed (he was feeling so special up until that moment).

7:30 rolled around and it was showtime. Vince came out, waved to the crowd, and then sat down.

He said he was pleased to be performing in the “great state of Iowa”. I got some crap for referring to Iowa in that way last week, but Vince gets away with it cuz he sounds so sincere. He said that he’d just had knee surgery which is why he was spending the entirety of the show on his duff. He mentioned that though only 51, the surgery was necessary as he’d been having problems walking of late. He said he was a bit down that his wife, Amy Grant, was playing with the Des Moines symphony a mere 120 miles away, but that because of scheduling, he wouldn’t be able to see her that night. All the men under 45 sighed, wishing they had someone like Amy to come home to.

Vince played with 3 others at the show: one guy on keyboards, another on this instrument that sounded like drums, but looked like an old washboard, and one other guy on one of those big bass things like Elvis used to have in his band.

45 minutes into the show, much to my relief, Vince dug out his electric guitar and played a few songs on it. He played 2 hours and 20 minutes (no opening act). I took a bathroom break about halfway through to stretch. As the show wound down, Vince took a number of requests. One lady shouted, “Cowboy Up”. Vince hesitated, but said he’d do it. I didn’t know what the 70-somethings were gonna think of it, but looked forward to finding out. Here’s the first verse of it:

I'm putting on my favorite cowboy boots
Like a crazy bull rider coming out of the chute
Ready for some dancin', maybe too much beer
Like bare-back rubbin' going on in here

Hey little cowgirl leave the Stetson on
Let's cowboy up and down all night long

Another lady suggested Vince do a Christmas song, but thankfully, he politely declined. The show ended at almost exactly 10 and as the crowd shuffled out, Shanon struck up a conversation with a fortysomething who said this was her 23rd time seeing Vince play. Damn, I thought I was good, this being the 6th.

It took a while to get out of the parking lot, but once on the highway, there were very few cars. Though disappointed that Vince went the acoustic route, at least I got an idea of what it’ll be like when/if I get older and have to spend my days with those of an advanced age (SPOILER ALERT: the bathroom waits are significantly longer).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Celebrities Would Look Like If They Had Not Made It Big

Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta Jones

Tara Reid

Johnny Depp

Fifteen more can be found here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Verdict on the New Bed

Slept on the new bed for the first time last night. It sets a few inches higher than the previous one, so I was concerned Zoe might not be able to jump up on it, but she was able to swing it. Shortly after it arrived, the cat went on it and did that thing that felines do where they move their paws back and forth several times (she does this even though she has no claws). Because of the increased height of the bed, instead of having my fan on top of one shoe box next to me, it now is on top of three.

As for the bed itself, quite choice (to borrow one of Ferris Bueller’s lines). I’m sure I’ll have many more restful nights on it, especially if Obama is elected.

(I’m trying to throw an Obama reference into every one of my posts these days if you haven’t noticed).

Who knows if the type of bed you sleep on really makes any difference, but one thing is certain, unless you’re a workaholic or a couch potato, the bed is the furnishing in which you spend the greatest percentage of your life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seasons Change

One thing I love about living in an area that has four (relatively) pronounced seasons is it allows me to literally see the passage of time.

As the leaves start turning, I think of childhood memories, of jumping into a pile and feeling the sensation of them against my body before getting my ass whupped by Pa for “****ing up the raking” he just did. This time of year is one to be enjoyed, but always in the back of my mind is the thought that the weather will get much more severe in the months to come.

My favorite aspect of winter is the stillness and whiteness that surrounds one after a storm.

You can actually hear yourself think and though you may wish it was 50 degrees warmer, you learn to accept it, knowing this is part of Earth’s cycle. It’s sometimes hard to believe I’ve lived through three dozen winters. That is nothing to sneeze at, well, it probably is as many of us come down with colds during this time of year, but thankfully, there’s Christmas and New Years to keep us festive.

It always feels good getting home on a cold winter’s night, taking a bath, reading a rag, and letting the warm water rejuvenate me. Sometimes I'll put my head underwater and pretend to be struggling before my wife comes in and tells me to knock it off. Then I put my robe on and lay on the bed for a spell, happy to be in a warm home on a cold night.

Even though it seems mighty far off in mid-January, spring does come. You start hearing birds again and getting bird shit on your car. Flowers start blooming and people start wearing shorts before they should. The days grow longer and the hardships of winter are quickly forgotten. Spring may be the favorite season of fair-weather people since not only is the weather much more mild than the prior one, but they also have the warmest season, summer, to look forward to.

I have to admit that summer usually lives up to the hype. There’s work to be done in the yard, but it’s also nice to be able to have the windows open, to watch Zoe run back and forth in the sprinkler, to not lock the doors at night, hoping that someone, anyone, will surprise us while we're sleeping. Life can be so very predictable sometimes.

Before you know it, it’s autumn again and I wonder how many more years I’ll see before I die, how many more decades, how many more seasons of “Prison Break”, and it’s just then that I quiet my mind, accepting that this moment is all there is, that the past exists only as memory, and the future is a not-yet-realized dream. My head starts to ache at this realization, so I take an aspirin, lay down in a fetal positon, and scream, “God, please don’t let me die in a meat grinder mishap!”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain Gets Barack Roll'd


I’m driving to the great state of Iowa this weekend. I’ve not been there in more than a decade and a half. In the 80’s, we drove there regularly as two of my mother’s sisters resided in Waterloo. It was in Iowa where I first saw "E.T.", where I got my first taste of Long John’s Silver’s, and where, while about to eat a bowl of cereal (without milk, as I like it), my aunt asked if I wanted any milk and before I could answer in the negative, she’d already put a few ounces on it. Eww!

There’s really not much to draw me there. The reason for my trip is to see one of my favorite singers, Vince Gill. It will be my 6th time watching him play as well as the 3rd year in a row (I saw him in MN in ’06 and in WI last year). Mason City is the closest he’ll be coming to my home base this year. After some reflection, I decided that driving two hours (each way) to see him wouldn’t be too much of a strain. After all, I (and my friend, Shanon) will be able to enjoy some quite notable scenery on the way down. This IS Iowa we’re talking about.

No, I remember the drives to the state and can’t say there was much to look at unless I was playing that find-as-many-states-as-you-can-on-other-cars game. I shudder to think of what it’d be like having to drive all day through one of the Dakotas.

Maybe one day, cars will be available that can project beautiful scenery and make it look as though it actually exists outside your window. That would be wicked. It might take some time to perfect, but I have no doubt Obama could speed things up if elected. Actually, Iowa is where Obama had his first primary victory all those months ago.

To reduce the boredom factor, I’ll have to bring some good tunage along. I don’t typically like to listen to the singer I’m going to see on my way to the concert. I’d rather be “fresh” when they come out on stage.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Profound Comment on America

Amsterdam Judge Ruter says, "You cannot solve social problems by making them taboo." The Dutch don't drive their human weaknesses underground. The minister of justice of Holland's conservative govt says, "The aim is to prevent as much as possible a situation in which more harm is caused by criminal proceedings than by the activity itself."

Legalization allows the govt more flexibility than criminalization. A prostitute undergoes regular health exams and measures are taken to prevent disease. One result is an astonishing low rate of AIDS infection: less than 1% as compared to America's illegal but plentiful prostitute population at 30-40%. Allowing prisoners conjugal visits with loved ones reduces prison tension and curbs aggressive in-prison homosexuality.

Marijuana loses much of its attraction to young people because it's no longer forbidden, making it into an unsensational item. In fact, the proportion of teenage users in Holland is a fraction of US use and crack is virtually non-existent. Also the violent druglords are taken out of the picture.

Dutch schools teach sex education and birth control pills are cheap and available. Yet Dutch girls are no more sexually active than American girls. Holland's teen-age pregnancy rate is 1/7th that of America's. American teen-agers have 12 to 14 times more abortions than Dutch teens.

The Dutch treat prostitutes, drug addicts, teen-age pot smokers and the terminally ill with respect. Not surprisingly, respect breeds responsibility, not license. The heroin addict uses a clean needle. The prostitute does not transmit disease. The teen uses birth control.

The Dutch's sense of mutual respect and collective responsibility is deeply rooted.

In the 1600s they were the most prosperous nation on earth. Riches bred a "collective conscience" that demanded generosity for the needy and tolerance for those with different religions and different habits. Obligations to community, to society came first. The 300-year tradition continues. They know the most fertile breeding ground for irresponsible behavior is the slum. They offer the world's most comprehensive social support programs.

This prosperous country of 14 million has much to teach us, for tolerance has never been an American trait. We have a long history of demanding moral purity of our neighbors and eagerly locking them up if they transgress. We rely on force to solve our social problems, not wisdom.

Today America imprisons a larger portion of its citizens than any country except South Africa. The Dutch watch in amazement our descent into social anarchy. They cannot understand why a nation would willfully destroy itself to control its citizens' personal behavior.

-excerpted from "Collective conscience breeds Dutch tolerance" by David Morris

Friday, September 12, 2008

Best Opening Lyrics

Spinner magazine has published a list of the 25 best opening lyrics.

Here are some of my faves:

"You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar"

"I've been a bad, bad girl"

"I was dreaming when I wrote this"

"Tommy used to work on the docks"

"Well, she was just seventeen -- you know what I mean"

and, of course,

"Go, shorty. It's your birthday"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I Got Rid of my 96 Neon

Now that I had my 05 Elantra, the next step was to get rid of my Neon. It had about 120,000 miles on it, well, that's what the odometer said, but since it only worked about 1/2 the time, there were probably several thousand more miles on it. A friend from out of town said he would ask some people from work if they were interested in it. He said I shouldn't expect to get much, $500 if I was lucky.

I wanted to kinda speed things up, not only to have some extra money in my pocket, but also so the car wasn't sitting out in the driveway indefinitely (Neons hate spending their evenings sitting on driveways!). I thought of putting an ad in the paper, but that could be quite costly. Ah-ha! I found my car through findcars.com. Why not try to sell mine the same way?

So I went on their website. It cost $25 to place an ad, but it would stay on their website until the car sold. I entered the relevant data and priced the puppy to sell ($750 or best offer). I knew that people were more inclined to respond to the ad if I posted a pic of it. However, I didn't have one and sure as hell didn't want to mess with taking a pic, having some photo place put it on a disc, download it to the website, etc. I was able to find a pic of a Neon on the internet that looked quite a bit like mine:

The pic was so small that if someone came out to actually see the vehicle, they wouldn't know the difference.

I went to bed, content that I would get a buyer in the near future. The next morning, I went to work and got an email from a guy who said he was interested in the car. His email name was lucky freiheit08 (wonder why they call him Lucky?). Here is what he had to say:

"What is the lowest you would go on the price how are the tires and the transmission can you send more pictures"

I told him I didn't have any other pics, but described the vehicle and the issues it had in great detail. I wasn't prepared for the commotion that occurred that evening. I had 3 or 4 voice mails from people who were interested in the car (I had quite underestimated the demand a "beater" might have). This young dude from out of town said he would come take a look at it that evening. Another guy, interested in purchasing a first car for his teenage daughter, said he would also stop by. This other lady said she might as well.

The father came by first and took the car for a test drive with his daughter. He offered me $500. I declined, saying that another guy was stopping by later to take a look. He then asked what it would take for him to take the car off my hands. I said I'd let my sweet Neon go for $675. He then gave the car keys (which he still had in his hands from the test drive) to his daughter and a big smile broke across her face. He asked about writing a check out, but I said I preferred a cashier's check. So they headed to their bank.

Now I just had to tell that young dude that the vehicle was no longer available. I called him on his cell and told him what happened. He said he was just coming into town with $650 cash. I said I was sincerely sorry and to make up for it, I would give him $25 cash and a couple movie passes. He said that would help ease his pain.

Next, the father came back and instead of a cashiers' check, gave me $675 cash. I transferred the title to him and all was well. About a half hour later, the young fella stopped by in his mom's white Impala and took the gifts I had for him. He asked that I call him if I heard of any people who were selling a car for under a grand. Four months later, I pray he found a beater he could be happy with.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Chilly Willy

Last night, for the first time in more than 5 months, I turned the furnace on. Can you blame me? The temperature in the house was 68 degrees! *rubbing hands together to warm them* Don’t worry. I didn’t go nuts. I set the thermostat to 69. I can’t remember if I shut the thing off this morning. I have to say it goes from air conditioning to furnace weather pretty damn fast around here.

The first thing that gets cold on me are my toes (I know, I’m weird). Last night, while watching Prison Break, I was actually wearing wool socks. Later on, I even brought a comforter out. The only thing missing was a fireplace. The cooling season is definitely upon us. Jackets are starting to come out, shorts are going the way of Hillary campaign buttons, and football season has now begun (poor Tom Brady).

I can remember how much Brandy, our Saint Bernard, loved the winter and snow.

Unless it was bitterly cold, she would spend hours laying in the white stuff (and eating it as well). I have many pictures and videos to help me recall those early '00 days. On many an evening, I would shovel the front drive while Brandy found a spot and watched me do so.

We have a snow thrower now, so doing it the old-fashioned way is starting to fade. I can remember how proud I was in prior years when I would be the only one shoveling while others in the neighborhood were doing it the wussy way. Now I’m a wuss as well. *sigh*

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Last 5 Movies I’ve Been To

The last five films I’ve gone to have all been comedies (or at least tried to be).

The first was “Pineapple Express” (B+), a stoner comedy starring “Freaks and Geeks” alums Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Though the movie gets unexpectantly violent in its last half hour, I quite enjoyed it. Franco plays the town wastoid to great effect (I get the feeling he has first-hand experience in that area).

Sample dialogue:

Saul (Franco): Just sit back and get ready to enjoy some of the rarest weed known to mankind. [he lights a joint and inhales]
Dale (Rogen): It's really that rare?
Saul: [exhales] It's, like, the rarest. [he examines the joint] It's almost a shame to smoke it. It's like killing a unicorn...with, like, a bomb.

The following week, it was the movie that spent three consecutive weeks in the number one slot, “Tropic Thunder” (A-) starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Tom Cruise (under a lot of makeup). This was a gas from the first moment when a number of faux trailers were shown before the movie proper, the best being a rapper named Alpa Chino who has his own line of energy drinks (BootySweat) and energy bars (Bust-A-Nut).

Robert Downey is the highlight as a white man who undergoes surgery to temporarily dye his skin so he can play an African-American soldier in the jungles of Vietnam.

Choice bit:

Kirk (Robert Downey Jr.): Everybody knows you never go full retard.
Tugg (Ben Stiller): What do you mean?
Kirk: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, 'Rain Man,' look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Count toothpicks to your cards. Autistic, sure. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, 'Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded. Peter Sellers, "Being There." Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don't buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, "I Am Sam." Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed...

Next was Anna Faris (of the “Scary Movies”) in “House Bunny” (B). She plays a dense blond who gets kicked out of the Playboy mansion for being too old (27). She struggles to find meaning in her life and winds up as house mother for a sorority. She strikes up a romantic relationship with Tom Hanks’ son, Colin, and in one of her scenes with him, says the following, “My heart is pounding like a nail!”.

The weekend before last, I went to “Disaster Movie” (C). It more than lived up to its title. I liked “Superhero Hero” earlier this year, so thought this one would be decent. Too late I found out that the guys behind “Superhero” weren’t behind (this) “Disaster”. Though I got a couple chuckles (especially out of a scene in which a guy impersonates Justin Timberlake), for the most part, it was rubbish, the worst movie I’ve seen in a theatre in quite some time. Steer clear if you know what’s good for you.

On Friday, I went to “Hamlet 2” (B+); to get the title, it helps to know that everyone died in the original “Hamlet”. The movie is about a down-on-his-luck drama teacher (is there any other kind?) who writes a play based on Hamlet going back in time to stop his girl from taking the poison that takes her life. Hamlet also brings Jesus with him to the present-day where his attractiveness leads the cast to sing “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” (probably the highlight for me).

Very quirky movie, but I quite enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Grocery Shopping in the 80's

The main grocery store our family shopped at 20+ years ago was Randall's. It was located on the west side of Winona in what was called the Westgate Shopping Center. Let me take you through a typical visit there. Before leaving our home in Rollingstone, my mom would make sure that we returned our 8-packs of Pepsi glass bottles. Yes, glass.

When we arrived at the store, the empty bottles would be put in a container near the shopping carts and we would be given a credit for 75 cents or so which would be applied to our bill. I remember when I was quite small, I would sit on the metal bars underneath the cart while my mom went through the aisles.

As I grew older, I would frequently go to the Book Nook store located adjacent to Randall's while my family was shopping. The reason being that Randall's did not stock my favorite sci-fi movie magazine, Starlog,

or the Marvel comic of "Star Wars". I'd browse both items and if I had money, would usually buy one or the other. One night, I bought a paperback book that had thousands of jokes in it. Many of them were really dirty, so dirty that I didn't even understand them.

Book Nook also stocked dozens of "sexually explicit" magazines. On many an evening, I would see some guy choose one (or more) and take it to the checkout. They had some nice looking ladies that worked there at the register. I wonder what they thought of the poor guys as they rung 'em up.

The Nook also had an office that overlooked the whole store (to discourage shoplifting, I assume). The lady that sat up there was an older one. She looked just like your typical librarian. The store also stocked Hallmark cards, but I wasn't too interested in that stuff.

Getting back to Randall's, I would sometimes look at their aisle of toys. They'd have a small amount of Star Wars figures which were typically higher priced than JCPenney, so I rarely bought them there, but it didn't hurt to browse. I can recall one night seeing frog legs for sale in the freezer section. Eww.

Checkout was much different than it is these days. The register person had to manually enter the amount of each item into the old-time register (no bar codes yet). Stickers were placed on every item in the freakin' store. Obviously, it could take awhile to get through the checkout. One of the newspapers available at the checkout was Grit.

Our food was put into paper bags and a number was scribbled on one of them. We then strolled to the car. On the way out, we could see people working in Randall's small office and just before hitting the doors were more than a dozen gumball and candy machines. There were penny gumballs as well as ones that cost a quarter. They also had a copy machine there which was a pretty new thing at the time.

Once in the car, we drove by Randall's exit doors. Usually one of us kids would roll down the window, mom would give us the numbered card and we would display it for the Randall's bagger to see. He would then come out and put all our groceries in the "third-tier" of our awesome station wagon.

We never had to wear seat belts. If mom or dad had to stop real quick, they'd reach their right hand over and gently push us back against the seat.

It was always a treat when mom would let us have some Pepsi that evening. She would open a bottle with the opener and the five of us would be wired for the next couple hours.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Visit to the Democratic Party Office

After going out to eat at Friday’s last night, I thought I’d stopped by the Democratic Party office (it’s located just a couple blocks from the restaurant). I’d seen a couple Obama signs up in our neighborhood and was interested in getting one myself. I went in and saw a teenage girl (probably a volunteer) working the phones. Behind her was a huge map of Olmsted county (the one I reside in). The lady I talked to was a forty-something who worked the same office back in ’04 when Kerry was the nom.

She said they had Obama bumper stickers (a $1 donation was encouraged if you wanted to pick one up), but that, at the moment, they had no Obama signs. She said a shipment was expected in the next week or two. The ones coming in were actually Obama-Biden signs as opposed to ones with just ‘Bama’s name on it (she said a $5 donation was encouraged for these). As she spoke, I noticed a very interesting thing: her eyebrows were literally dark blue. I wondered if they were blue because she liked the way the color looked on her face or if it was done to show off her party affiliation (she may have been wearing a blue top as well).

She also gave me a flyer for a Rock the Vote party taking place next week in south Rochester. Funnyman Al Franken is gonna be there, but the main attraction is an Elvis impersonator. And he’s not just a regular impersonator who’ll pose for pics and do that thing with his hands that Elvis is known for. He can actually sing like Elvis. I’m not sure if I’ll go, but I bet it'd be fun mingling with others who are of the same political persuasion (we can talk about how much we love gay people, how we can't wait to tax the shit out of the rich, have lots of French fries, hug a couple trees). Who knows? Maybe I’d meet someone who is even more pumped about Obama than I.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cholesterol Results

Back in May, I went for a cardio consult and was told "you're not as healthy as you think you are". The main reason the doctor concluded this is because my total cholesterol number was 245 which is not just borderline high (as it’s been in the past), but high (anything over 240). The doctor said he would give me 3 months to get my numbers down or I’d have to go on an anti-cholesterol drug. I definitely was not up to taking an anti-chol drug as one of the side effects of most of them is anal leakage. I kid, but there are many potential side effects and I wanted to avoid taking anything extra if I could.

The doc said I needed to work my heart out more than I had been. Instead of taking a leisurely stroll during the day, I should hit the treadmill and walk with a not-inconsiderable incline. I should also speed up my walk as well. In addition, he wanted me to reduce my saturated fat intake as much as possible and try to do some strength training to build some muscle. Over the past 12 weeks, I’ve hit the treadmill pretty hard (about 3 times a week). Many evenings, I’ll go for more than an hour. I start out at the highest incline and every 5 minutes, reduce it a bit. Throughout the hour, I walk at 3.4 mph. I have to say I sweat a great deal during that hour. So mission accomplished on working my heart out more.

For reducing saturated fat, it’s been more of a mixed bag. I’ve been to Friday’s a ridiculous amount of times though I typically only eat half a hamburger, a handful of fries, and half a dessert. Every two or three days, I stay home and eat very good (my one guilty pleasure being having a couple Oreo Cakesters). For strength training, I had good intentions, but only did the lifting a few times over the last quarter. I believe I’d been eating less SatFat over the last 12 weeks, but wished I hadn’t given in quite so much. Oh well. What can you do?

Eat better, duh.

I set up the appointment to have my blood drawn a couple weeks ago and waited with bated breath to get the results. So excited was I to see if the hours of treadmill riding had made a dent that I called the doctor’s office two days after the test and was told a letter had just been sent out with the results. The nurse said she could read it to me, “Dear Mr. D****, your blood results from yesterday show quite a bit of improvement. They are so much lower, in fact, that I’m tempted to believe you prayed to Obama and were aided by him in accomplishing this”.

In all seriousness, I was told that not only were my total numbers now out of the HIGH range (240 and over), but they were even out of the BORDERLINE HIGH range (200-239). I actually have DESIRABLE numbers at the moment (193!). How ecstatic was I? Well, I went to Friday’s that very evening and had an entire burger as well as a whole frickin’ Brownie Obsession! It’s kinda like when someone goes to Weight Watchers, finds out they’ve lost 2.8 pounds over the past week, and then binges joyfully that evening.

The type of cholesterol that you want to be high was still fairly low in my case, but I know I can improve this by reducing SatFat even more than I already have. The doc said I should get retested again in 6-12 months to make sure I’ve still got it under control. Needless to say, the doctor sees no reason to prescribe anything for me at this time (unless there’s a drug that can reduce my feelings for Obama from obsessive to merely enthused).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Shopping for a Bed

I don’t like shopping, especially for big-ticket items. As noted two posts ago, it took me weeks to find a new car. All that time spent looking online, trying to find a deal, wondering if I made the right decision, time that would be better served laying in bed in a fetal position.

But it had been more than a decade since the Mrs. and I had bought a new bed. The one we have has quite a few holes in it and is more bent out of shape than Bill was after Hill lost the nom. There are also bite marks on the sides of it from when our Saint Bernard (who passed in ’05) would get bored in the middle of the night and go to town. So I was resigned to the fact that we needed a new one.

Our neighbor lady said that most furniture stores have big sales on Labor Day weekend and gave us several fliers as evidence of this. I took my time getting up, but we were able to make it out a little after noon on Monday (which is pretty damn good for us on a holiday).

Since Slumberland closed the earliest of the stores, we went there first. We had looked at a place called HOM furniture several weeks before and were prepared to spend about a grand on a good bed. Within 45 seconds of entering Slumberland, we were approached by a salesman. Shocking, huh? He was an older chap whose name was Bill.

You gotta admit that looking for a bed is unlike any other type of shopping. I mean, you lay on a bed trying to get comfortable, trying to get an idea if the bed will be good for you while a salesman hovers nearby. Wouldn’t it be great if the salesman left you alone, let you take a couple articles of clothing off, and had a blanket you could put over yourself? That would go much further in giving one an idea on if the bed is gonna be a good fit. Slumberland’s flyer said that a number of Sealy Posturepedic beds were on sale, so we tried those out first. It reminded me of the Three Little Bears because there were three different types of bed, one was too firm, one too soft, while one was just right.

My wife loved the super-firm one. Bill said this is the typical preference for one who sleeps on their stomach most of the time (as my wife does). The next one (a bit softer) was much more comfortable to me (someone who sleeps on their side). The last one was even more soft, but the salesman said it would probably be too soft for my wife’s tastes. I was fine with the middle one.

Just for comparison’s sake, Bill let us try some other brands including the priced-to-the-roof Tempur-pedic bed (they go for at least 2G’s). He showed us another bed and said, “This is the kind of bed that the President sleeps in”. We laid on it. It didn’t seem too special to me. I wasn’t going to make any comment, but my wife said, “Keep it away from me”. To this, Bill said, “When I used to tell people that line, most would ooh and aah, but these days…not so much”. He said that he personally had a Beautyrest, so we tried those out. It cost a bit more than the Sealy, but was a good deal more comfortable and priced at a very-nice $667. Bill then said, “I’m 62, but have a really good back and think it’s at least partially due to the mattress I sleep on. Course I also do Jazzercise every day”.

My wife and I were quite happy with the Beautyrest. One cool thing Bill mentioned is that Beautyrests have individual coils so that if your partner gets out of bed in the middle of the night, you can’t feel it. I was somewhat dubious, so closed my eyes and told my wife to get off the bed sometime in the next minute. About 30 seconds later, she was off. Holy crap! They’re not kidding. I didn’t feel a thing (that’s what she said).

Just for shiggles, my wife said she wanted to try a couple of the more generic beds that were on sale. I laid down on one and knew within about 1.3 seconds that it was lower quality. There was another lady nearby who was going to try the bed out after us. My wife asked what I thought about the bed. I said, “It’s alright” in the way I usually do after I’ve just seen a shitty movie. The lady had heard my comment. Oops. Bill said a couple minutes later that those beds were not very high quality. Poor lady. She probably only had enough money to get one of the cheaper ones. I wanted to buy the Beautyrest right then and there, but my wife wanted to check out a couple other places. I told Bill we would most likely return and off we went to a newer store called Mattress Giant.

Upon entering the store, we saw a guy laying on a bed that had a sign on it that said “50% off”. He had taken off his glasses and was laying on his side, his wife sitting next to him. Their flyer said they had a number of beds for $500, but upon inspection, they were pretty lame.

Thankfully, a salesman wasn’t bothering us since he was busy going over financing with another couple. My wife said she wasn’t impressed, so we headed out a couple minutes later. The guy on the bed was still laying there when he left. He probably was meditating on if he should purchase it or not, afraid that if he made the wrong decision, it would unravel space and time itself.

Next it was on to HOM. I told the salesman that we had been there a few weeks ago and were very familiar with the types of beds they had. It was nice not having anyone next to us as we laid on a couple beds. The one we spotted earlier this summer was priced at about $900. It was a bit nicer than the one at Slumberland, but we didn’t think spending an extra $200 was justified. So we left and headed back to Slumberland.

Bill said, “That was quick” as we returned after having left the store about 45 minutes prior. Before checking out, Bill asked if we would be interested in purchasing a mattress cover. I was thinking, "WTF?", but didn't allow my facial expression to change as I didn't want him to think I was making fun. He showed us the cover and demonstated how the mattress was able to "breathe" through it. My wife asked how much it was. Bill replied, "75 dollars". I was thinking, "Check, please". We said we were gonna pass this time. Who needs a protective cover? I thought that's what sheets were for.

I got into a conversation with one of the other salesmen as we checked out when he saw my T-shirt which said Pomeranian Dad. This was the 2nd day in a row I received a comment on my shirt (the day before, I returned to Valleyfair and two guys said they liked my Borat “Sexytime Explosion” T).

We returned home after completing the sale. I was quite pleased we had found a good bed for a nice price, but perhaps even more happy knowing that some of the commission Bill received from our sale would go towards continuing his Jazzercise regimen.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How I Acquired a 2005 Hyundai Elantra

This past April, I was getting itchy to purchase a different car. For the past 10 years, I had owned a Neon (an emerald green one from '98-'05 and a red one from '05-'08). There were a number of minor problems I was having with the red one, the most insufferable being a lack of A/C (I had the same ish with the green one). With summer quickly approaching, I didn't want to be without it this year. Other problems: The odometer only worked about half the time, actually I didn't have a problem with that. The windshield wiper fluid dispenser didn't work, the dome light was dead, and the speedometer only worked some of the time (that wasn't too big a deal since I just traveled the same speed as other people on the road). I'd had a mechanic look at these various things, but he stated it would cost quite a bit to make the repairs. It was great not having a car payment each month, but I knew the time was coming for me to update my "ride", as the kids say.

I started looking at the cars available at dealer lots on the internet. I was still interested in getting another Neon. Call me crazy, but I was very accustomed to its layout and didn't want to get a boring silver, black, or white vehicle. Not finding much at the dealer websites, I moved on to findcars.com. I started out looking for cars that were $5,000 or less. That way I wouldn't still be making payments at the end of Hillary's first term (this was when she was still in the race). I came to realize, though, that spending a few thousand more could probably get me a pretty decent car. So I upped my top price to about 8G's. I went on car websites every day for a couple weeks.

After a time, I got the gist of what cars would be priced at based on their mileage and make. I was quite surprised, then, to find a dark blue 2005 Hyundai Elantra with just 41,000 miles on it priced at $8,000 (I'd done some research and knew that Hyundais were pretty good cars). The guy selling it lived in Mankato, a city of about 50,000 located about 80 miles away. I'd actually never been to the city before. I emailed the seller and asked him some questions about the car. He said he'd bought it new in Michigan and had had no problems with it thus far. The man said he was a hospice pastor and only really drove the vehicle around town which explained the relatively low mileage. Now, if I couldn't trust a pastor to be telling me the truth, who da hell could I believe?

I set up a time to drive out there, take a look at the vehicle, and go for a test drive. Imagine my shock when the next morning I went to findcars.com and found a "sold" icon placed on the car. As Cartman would say, "Goddammitt!!!". I called the pastor about this. He said a guy had come that morning and offered him 8.2. I told him he could go to hell (probably not the wisest thing to say to a man of God). I'm kidding. I wasn't able to reach the seller, but was able to contact his wife. She was surprised to hear that the car was listed as sold and said that this wasn't the case. Thank God! The seller later said that the ad had probably expired or something like that.

I was curious why he was selling the car, so asked him about this in an email. Here was his reply:

"We are selling the car because a friend of mine bought a hybrid and decided to give his Honda Accord to us for a nominal price. This way we are free of monthly car loan payments."

Sounded reasonable to me.

I had recently ordered a CD set from Amazon.com called Classic Soft Rock (doesn't the title just instantly put you at ease?)

It actually was part of an 11-CD set, but I didn't want to get it all at once, so ordered the 2-CD Ride Like the Wind for a discounted price. Check out the full track listing.

It was a sunny day as the girl and I set off to south-central Minnesota's biggest city. Even if I was fully satisfied with the car, I wasn't gonna get it that day. I would "sleep on it" as they say. When we arrived, the car was in the driveway.

We took a quick look at the interior before heading in to meet the pastor and his wife. They were very cordial. The seller then gave me the car keys and said I could do the test drive if I wished. I was glad he wasn't accompanying us. That way, I could concentrate on the car and not have to worry about making small talk.

After driving it for a few minutes, I can't say I was too impressed. I liked the small size of the vehicle, but wasn't used to the feel of the seat. The CD player that he had installed was a relatively cheap one, not like the Pioneer I had in my Neon. Ah, well. Time to try the cruise. But where is it? I looked all over, but couldn't find anything that could be construed as a cruise switch. I tried everything. How could a 2005 vehicle not have cruise on it? What the fudge? This car is definitely a no-go. Conversely, my girl thought it was pretty nice for the price and said she rarely used cruise herself.

I headed back to the seller's house and asked about the cruise. He confirmed that the car didn't have it and said the person who'd come to look at the car earlier in the week had also inquired about this. I asked if he'd consider lowering the price. He said that his asking price was quite fair, but that he could drop it down to $7,800. I said I would contact him in a couple days with a definite answer.

Going to bed, still dead-set against making the purchase, but feeling that I should still sleep on it, I printed out a pic of the car and put it under my pillow :P

Though I wasn't crazy about the car, I probably wouldn't find a better deal. The same car with the same amount of mileage was for sale at a local dealership for at least $2,000 more (and it was a bird-crap white!) I found out that cruise could be added to a car for a few hundred bucks and I could have Best Buy put my Pioneer stereo into the Elantra. After discussing it with a few people (including God, jk), I decided I should go through with it. I got financing with my bank (4 years, $199.85 a month) and sent an email to the pastor that I would like to purchase the car. Here was his reply:

"I am glad you are buying the car. I am sure you will be happy with it.
I will not drive the car anymore. I will just go through the car-wash and park it in the garage.

It was another sunny day as my wife and I headed once again to Mankato to pick up my new vehicle. The pastor gave me the keys and the warranty information as the three of us headed to a Mankato bank to complete the sale. He said he was originally from Poland (he did have a bit of an accent) and quite enjoyed living in Minnesota. He also said I should give him a call if I had any problems whatsoever with the vehicle. All was well as we said goodbye to him. On the drive home, the CD player totally konked out and I had to listen to the radio. I hate listening to the radio!

But the car was starting to grow on me. Later that day, I had Best Buy put my Pioneer stereo into the Elantra. Now I just had to get rid of the Neon and I would be happy for the rest of my lives!