Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Moment of Random Coincidence

Hey, everyone, before reading any further, check out Dirk's story about his devil costume and accompanying pitchfork.

Are you back?

It's a strange world. Dirk and I worked together several years ago and have kept in touch. Our birthdays are close (he's a few years older than me); we share a similar sense of humor; he's gay and I'm not. Regardless, I'd never heard his pitchfork story and was astonished to read about it today.

When I was five or so I too wound up as a devil for Halloween. I'm pretty sure my mom sewed the costume - just like she would later sew my sweet Chewbacca costume - and I recall fairly vividly that I wanted a pitchfork really bad. I don't remember the precise argument about the pitchfork, but I do remember being a supremely pissed off five year old when I learned I would not, in fact, be allowed to carry a pitchfork around the neighborhood. I'm sure there was a logical reason - say, the likelihood that I would spear everything within striking distance including but not limited to my sister - and I'm also sure they were completely lost on me. Oh, the injustices of a five year old's world.

Instead, my mom sewed a piece of black fabric onto the front of the costume. Apparently I went along with it but I'm not sure why. In retrospect my devil costume went from totally badass to Dorkiest Homemade Costume (Ages 10 and Under Division) in just a few snips and stitches. No pictures exist. That's probably a good thing.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

... And Two Recipes

Due to the absence of heat I've been hanging out in the kitchen because, as it turns out, there are multiple sources of heat in kitchens. I made up the following two recipes this weekend. Creative? No. Delicious? Oh yes.

1. Cocoa with rum.
  • 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 mug milk (I used soy milk, but whole milk would work)
  • several ounces rum
  • Mix sugar and rum in bottom of mug.
  • Heat milk in saucepan over medium-low heat until it steams. Add cocoa powder; mix thoroughly. When hot (but not boiling), pour carefully into mug. Stir. Drink. Forget furnace troubles.

2. Crockpot chicken and potatoes and stuff.

  • 2 chicken breasts, frozen or thawed
  • a handful of frozen broccoli spears
  • a handful of new potatoes, cut in halves
  • 1 large can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • a bunch (1/3 bottle? 1/4? who cares?) of leftover white wine in the fridge
  • Throw everything into the crockpot. Turn crockpot to low. Go away for 8 hours. Forget about it until bread in oven is done. Eat. Watch football.

Two Thoughts

1. My furnace is broken for the second time in a week. I came home on Friday to a rather cool apartment and promptly called my landlord, who said it wouldn't be fixed until Monday. I'm not sure what the actual temperature is in here because the thermometer on the thermostat is buried at 50. I'm currently wearing three layers and an arctic knit hat.

2. I'm a Tigers fan by birth and a Cardinals fan by indoctrination, and this was the first World Series in twenty years or so around which I scheduled my life. I remember bragging to my stepbrothers about that '84 squad that won the Series (Kirk Gibson remains my favorite player of all time – shares my birthday, wears #23, etc.) At some point in the '90s I stopped caring about baseball except in a vaguely social way particular to St. Louisians. If you've been to St. Louis in the summertime you probably know what I mean.

Now, my Tigers cap is my all-purpose cap for summer lounging and impromptu fishing expeditions, and after Ordonez's homer sent the Tigers to the Series for the first time in 22 years I almost cried. So I should have been rooting for the Tigers in this Series, but as the Series moved to St. Louis I found myself rooting for the Cards. I couldn't really figure out why I didn't want a replay of the '68 Series (the Tigers came back from 3-1 to beat the Cardinals) until a thought occurred to me Friday morning that should have been obvious all along. I was rooting for the Cards because of my dad.

He grew up in St. Louis and lives there now. He hadn't seen his team win a World Championship since 1982. Friday, Game 5, was his 65th birthday. When I talked to him shortly after the last out and the best (and last) baseball town in America was going completely nuts, he sounded happier than he has in years. The man got the kind of birthday gift that comes along once or twice in a lifetime and he sounded giddy – and my dad doesn't do giddy, thank you very much. Throughout the Series I had played along with the notion that I wanted the Tigers to win it all, and due to a wager I owe him a dinner at our favorite local restaurant here in the 5400 the next time he comes. That tab will be worth every cent.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Weekend: Super Writing Extravaganza

I'm back in the 5400 after a weekend in Laramie with Kathryn, Abbey, Dan, Jenn, Phil, Chris, Heather, the badgers, other old friends, and the god of Interstate travel.

It rained most of Friday, and knowing that I had to drive through 3 hours of weather to Laramie put me in an anxious mood. By the time I pulled out of the gas station around 4:00 the rain disintegrated into tiny ice crystals on the windshield. Five miles out of town it was true snow; the climb up to Beaver Rim required downshifting to a crawl through snowpack and passing a jack-knifed semi that couldn't handle the 6% grade. Even at the top I kept fishtailing and thought very hard about turning around, or at the very least, pulling over to put on chains. Near Sweetwater Station the road slowly improved, devolving from snowpack to tracked snowmelt to slush to dry.

That's a weird stretch of road, especially with low ragged clouds obscuring the local ranges and a white haze bringing the high plains horizon even closer.

I made the turn at Muddy Gap and headed for Rawlins. This stretch is usually treacherous because of traffic – people tend to open it up here, blazing past tourists and semis in the summer and slow locals and semis in the winter. I'm in that second group. My 2wd Tacoma simply doesn't have the gumption to go fast and as such is not cut out for Wyoming speed limits.

In fact, my truck isn't cut out for Wyoming driving, period. People who know me also know that I'm frustrated with my truck. I want to buy a Subaru next summer. I'm not at all convinced that a Subaru will be faster than my truck, necessarily – the Subaru will have a slightly larger engine and lower center of gravity but will still be 4 cylinders.

The Subaru would excel, however, in the general crappiness I encountered near Rawlins. Granted, horrible drivers will be just as horrible in a Toyota Tacoma as they will be in a Subaru Outback. But for those of us who aren't horrible drivers, the viscous locking AWD and boxer engine on the Subaru would provide a wee more agility and control on slush than my truck.

A few miles out, somewhere between Rawlins and Wolcott Junction, the snow started in again. At Elk Mountain it was clear I would not be making good time to Laramie: besides the obligatory wind gusts, snow drifted onto the road and splattered on my windshield. All traffic, with the exception of the occasional idiot, slowed from 80 to 60 to 40 within ten miles. Somewhere near Arlington I sidled in behind a semi, leaning into my steering wheel to see the tracks in hopes of keeping my truck in them.

By the time I got to Laramie I was a nervous wreck but managed to perk up by the time we all met up at Abbey's apartment. Driving through town felt eerie, and that feeling would resurface a few times over the weekend. I'd spent just over two years there and only left two months ago, but already it was no longer my town. At Appleby's, Kathryn and I agreed that it felt like we should have known more people. The same thing happened when I returned to Champaign the first few years after college. It was like someone had mugged my friends not just for their money or clothes but for their haunts as well. Strange.

Abbey turned 21 a few days ago but has been celebrating all week long, culminating in this weekend's bash. The plan was to head to Appleby's and see where the night took us, so from Appleby's we headed to the Library, a bar across the street from the residence halls and pretty much the only place I ever went for weeknight drinks. Kathryn and I have a few songs we have to play on the jukebox there, and after a few rounds of Long Island iced teas, pool, and foosball we all headed back to the apartment.

Pizza, Pabst Blue Ribbon. The first half hour of a movie.

Saturday was my friend Chris's birthday and also the UW football game vs. Colorado State. Jenn and Abbey dropped Phil, Chris, Kathryn and me off at the game and headed over to Heather's place to help with the badgers.

The game was a blowout and a great time, with the Pokes shutting out CSU in a frigid wind. We sat right behind the band in the student section, notorious for alcohol and verbal abuse, and it lived up to expectations.

After the game we headed to Chris and Heather's for a while, tried our luck at dinner but got laughed out of the overflowing wait area at the Mexican restaurant, and wound up back at the apartment. Kathryn and I then headed back over to Chris and Heather's place for some late-night Nintendo 64 action, the kind of fun we used to have 8 years ago.

Sunday morning came quick and so did the departures. I swung by Chris and Heather's again, drank some coffee, ate some bread pudding, watched the badgers tear into the bread pudding like, well, badgers, and hit the road.

I was really dreading the drive home, with reason. It was windy, of course, and the nasty stretch by Arlington and Elk Mountain was again treacherous – this time, snow blew across the road and froze in spots. The trouble was that you never knew when those slick spots would come up. You could risk it, or you could get stuck behind the occasional semi or R.V. doing fifty. And on more than one occasion I risked it and sped straight into a patch of iffy looking slush and water.

But I didn't die. The Interstate god must have been pleased with my offering of gas station coffee grounds and roadkilled deer hides, because by the time I got to Sweetwater Station and the Beaver Rim descent I'd put 100 miles of completely clear road behind me. I stopped to download some coffee at Sweetwater Station, where it was remarkably warm compared to the weekend's cold snap. From there it was a matter of plummeting down Beaver Rim, a few winding turns through red canyons, and the final turn and 8 meaningless miles into the 5400.

Back home last night safe and sound. This week is already rolling.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I Know, I Know

I haven't updated for a while. Kathryn and I had a great weekend last week, and this weekend I'll be busy doing work at home. "Homework," one might call it.

As for last weekend, here's one true story of many:

Kathryn and I went to a Grateful Dead bar in a section of Colfax Ave. that reminded me of downtown Phoenix. Once inside the bar we quickly grabbed the only high table available, and she held down the fort while I went for drinks.

A note here about the bar. Any bar dedicated to a specific band is bound by contractual obligation to contain two elements: first, it must be covered wall-to-wall with said band's concert posters, artwork, photos, etc. Second, it must have hardcore fans miming along word for word while said band's music pipes in through the jukebox. This bar had both elements. In spades.

There's another element that bears discussion, though, and this element is not limited to dedicated bars: the dude on the prowl. I don't think I've ever been in a bar on a Friday night without spotting at least one. Hell, I've been that guy - but not often, and not within the past five years or so. I've witnessed dudes on the prowl, though, and have entertained myself for hours watching the awkward advances and jackassery associated with them. And the one thing I've learned from observing dudes on the prowl is this: if you see a woman sitting by herself at a high table, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to pick her up. Don't speak to her. Don't even bother with eye contact. She is either with someone, or someone is about to meet her there. Always.

It just so happens that dudes on the prowl in a Grateful Dead bar are a little - oh what's the word I'm looking for here? - creepier than dudes on the prowl at your local Appleby's. Dudes on the prowl in Grateful Dead bars will fall into two categories which coincide with Grateful Dead fans in a broader sense: they are either highly educated, progressive, and generally nice people, or they are filthy hippies who give the Left a bad name. Now, I'm proud to be in that first group. The Dead's music is, at times, revelatory. I'm not a hardcore Deadhead by any means, but I love their music and am always thrilled to meet other people who love the Dead as well.

That second group, however, is infamous for its drug use, questionable hygiene, and lack of personal integrity - they can't hold a job because that would require motivation and commitment. They can't interact with normal people because that would require social skills above and beyond the phrases "wow, that's a really powerful statement, man" or "yeah, but the best weed comes from Humboldt County, man."

Now, Kathryn is the kind of person who will attract attention when she's sitting alone in a bar. A dude on the prowl with lesser powers of observation than myself might mistake her for someone who wants to be picked up by a filthy hippie. One would think a hippie couldn't screw up the courage to wear a tie to a job interview, much less approach a woman who is way, way, WAY out of his league.

And so it astonished me when, after taking no more than three minutes to retrieve our double rum and Cokes from the bar, I returned to our table only to see Kathryn being approached by a dude on the prowl. Three minutes. I left her alone for three minutes and a dude on the prowl had spotted her and gone in for the kill.

I'd witnessed the last ten feet of his act: shoulders drooping and swaying in that hippie kind of way, he leaned into Kathryn's personal space right as I arrived with two drinks. He was in the process of opening his mouth to speak.

Now it's not like I'm a big guy or even all that intimidating. But when he saw me, he closed his mouth and pivoted with surprising alacrity and balance for someone on that many controlled substances. Funny, funny stuff.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Someone's Got a Case of the Mondays

Today was probably my roughest yet at the new job. No details for fear of revealing my profession. Tonight I'm trying to figure out what in the holy hell I'm going to do tomorrow and so far I've come up with: . . .


In happier news, I'm heading down to Denver this weekend to see Kathryn, eat Ethiopian food, see a movie, maybe shop a little bit, and just generally try to relax. I was also paid recently, which helped with my outlook on life.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Illinois 23, Michigan State 20. I Repeat: Illinois 23, Michigan State 20

My beloved Fighting Illini have won a football game. I've spent the better part of the past 24 hours in preparation for the earth spinning off its axis.

That is all.