Saturday, May 02, 2009

Viva O'Laughlin: Sweetie's Hunk of the Week (14)!

Sweetie's Hunk of the Week is... Alex O'Laughlin?

You/Sweetie Know Him As: ...a guy who was on "Criminal Minds" the other night, and also in something Sweetie said was called "Moonlight," about vampires. I pointed out to her that it's Twilight that's about vampires. So, you and Sweetie know him as that guy from Twilight.

I know him as: I don't know him at all. When Sweetie said "Alex O'Laughlin," all I could think of was Viva Laughlin and that scene they showed on The Soup of that guy singing that Elton John song. So, I guess, I know him as that guy who sang that Elton John song.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: There is no star too obscure to have a fan site, it seems, and the Elton-John-singing-guy-from-Twilight is no exception: Adoring Alex ("We strive to be your #1 fan source" for Alex O'Laughlin... as though the competition is fierce?) was set up by a loyal fan of his (who knew Sweetie could program HTML?) . The #1 fan source about Alex O'Laughlin lists his height as "6'1?" But it does note that he gained fame in his first role, playing... seriously... a guy who takes on a job as an oyster farmer to pay his sister's medical bills, only to find oyster farming doesn't pay enough, so he has to rob an armored car.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: Sweetie saw him in that episode of "Criminal Minds" this week, the episode that also featured Jamie Bamberg, who was Hunk #7 and who also has an inability to keep his towel in place. So I assume that hunkiness rubs off on people near you, and Elton-John-Twilight got a little residual hunkiness thrown his way. (The same thing happened in high school with cool kids, which was why I tried to sit near them whenever possible.)(It never worked.)

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "He's just so cute."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: Sweetie, be honest. You liked him for the stirring rendition he gave of "I'm Still Standing." I give you... "Viva, Laughlin!":

Note: Upon reading this, Sweetie corrected me: Jamie Bamberg was not in this week's "Criminal Minds." He was in this week's "Cold Case," a show Sweetie had previously quit watching but which, for some reason she decided, clear out of the blue, inexplicably, for no reason whatsover to watch this week. Whatever her reasons for watching that show (I wonder...) I bow to Sweetie's categorial knowledge of places Jamie Bamberg has been seen.

As part of my rise to the top, I will invent the world's first "Cookie Pizza."

A while back, over on The Best of Everything, I wrote up what I thought would be The Best Job To Have When You Get Tired Of Having Your Own Job, and the job I picked (Guiness World Record Confirmer) was indeed a good one... as were all the other jobs I sometimes long to have.

But I left one out: Cookie store owner. I would love to own a cookie store. Here's the pros & cons:

CONS: Trouble deciding which cookies to eat first for breakfast; weekly need to buy larger set of pants because current pants keep "shrinking in the wash."

PROS: Cookies.

(Note: In my current life, my pants exhibit a disturbing trend to shrink in the wash, too. Sweetie needs to be more careful and it has nothing to do with cold pizza leftovers.)

Additional PRO that I just remembered: ... including Macadamia Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies.

What's gotten me thinking about cookies this morning? More than usual, I mean? The ad I saw for owning a cookie franchise from Mrs. Fields. They've got a site that shows all the steps to getting into the cookie-making business, which I assume would also put me into the cookie-eating business: From the costs of investing (surprisingly low) to how they support you with advertising and ongoing training to an online form to apply for a franchise, they make it simple to determine if you're right for Mrs. Fields and Mrs. Fields is right for you.

And I am certain this is the career for me. Look at those Pros & Cons again -- I've got a carefully thought out business plan.

I haven't yet worked out the economics of how I'd make a living baking cookies that I would then selfishly refuse to sell to customers, but I'm pretty sure it can be done in the "new economy," or "via the Internet," or some other buzzwords.

Oh! Additional Pro I just Thought Of: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Does anyone even REMEMBER Alice Cooper Anymore (What's That Song About, 7?)

Today's song is not so much "a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a tortilla" as it is just kind of an interesting look at different cultures. The song is Bebo by The Saw Doctors.

What I Thought It Was About:
With a name like "Bebo," and being by a group named The Saw Doctors, I assumed when I downloaded it without ever hearing it before that it'd be some kind of guitar-heavy rocker, maybe about a crazy guy named Bebo. That's what having seen the movies Saw and Saw II will do to you... it'll make you link the word Saw with crazies and murders. (I imagined The Saw Doctors as being a cross between The Spin Doctors and Alice Cooper, as well.)

Here, then, is the song: "Bebo"

What It's Actually About:
"Bebo," as it turns out, isn't a giant, ham-handed killer who somehow grew to be 7 feet tall with a doughy face, bad combover, and strangely-untucked blue denim shirt who roams the back alleys of Milwaukee armed only with the baseball bat given to him on his 7th birthday by his father, a gift given shortly before a house fire caused by his birthday candles killed both his mom, his dad, and his brother, leaving Bebo to fend for and raise himself guided only by the maybe-imagined spirits of his dead family, a guy who uses the baseball bat to defend himself against the depredations of street gangs and muggers, only to become misunderstood as a potential serial killer who ultimately is hunted down by the Milwaukee Police and put on trial... want to find out how it ends? Watch the upcoming movie I'll write just as soon as a Hollywood producer pays me for film rights.

No, Bebo is a social networking site used in countries that aren't America. It's clearly not an inferior social networking site -- because would an inferior networking site boast, on its welcome page, that you could use it to hook into better, more popular networking sites? I think not.

The song, then, is about a guy who gets stalked through Bebo by some crazy girl that's in love with him and also may be kind of a Kathy Bates-like person who wants to kidnap and torture him (you caught that in the lyrics, right?)

My story was better.

Then again, I can't be sure the CATS weren't breaking in.

I am nothing if not cautious. Having grown up being raised to believe that everyone is a serial killer, and having lived in Milwaukee near actual serial killers, I believe in having my home be secure.

So I lock windows, I lock doors, I make sure that we have lights around the house, and I felt pretty safe, until the night I thought I heard someone trying to get into our living room windows -- low to the ground, away from the street -- during a time when people were having homes broken into in our house.

I did the only thing I could do: Grab the nearest weapon (A copy of "Doonsebury's Greatest Hits") and made my way downstairs to find... that it was the cats making noise.

That lesson taught me that it's important to have even more security than I thought we needed. I don't want to have to defend my family using a softcover comic - strip collection.

Protect America can give me the extra security I'd like -- and they can do it for a price I like... FREE.

They've got this wireless security system that can be installed, and while I was reading up on it on their site, I found out that for a limited time, the regularly-$295 Copper system is free to install, and only $29.95 per month to monitor. So for free installation, I can get a motion detector, three entry points protected, an internal siren and door chime, all with battery backup, window decals and a yard sign, and all controllable with one button arming.

If I'd had that system, I wouldn't have had to spend a night trying desperately to calm down after a couple of cats ran around our living room -- I would've known that nobody had tried to break in, because our alarm wouldn't have gone off. And if it had gone off, I'd have known that help was on the way.

Protect America has sold me. Their site has all kinds of information about their background and abilities. They've ranked top-1o in number of installations of security systems for three years, and they'll give a free quote on what kinds of systems you might want and how much it'll cost.

Plus, they even have a toll-free number to call and get information. Call 877-470-2751 to get more information on Protect America and how they can protect you. (Just calling that number entitles you to get two free keychain remotes with your order.)


Some lucky anonymous person will soon be a lucky anonymous person in a cool t-shirt!

The stats on today, show that TWO people have now bought Eclipse-- Lisa Pepin -- writer and Rosemary-alm0st-planter-- got her copy and now a new buyer who picked up a downloaded copy at the ultra-cheap price of... whatever it is. It's like $1.25.

I don't know who bought it, but odds are, you read my stuff, so remember, send a picture of you reading the story, and you get a free Eclipse t-shirt. (You, too, Lisa!)

Email it to: thetroublewithroy [at]

The rest of you: Eclipse is the haunting, scary, fascinating story of Claudius, who wanted to be the first man to reach the stars... and maybe he was.

Buy it at for almost free! Not convinced? Check out the free first chapter at Scribd. 310 other people already have.

Warning: This Headline (And Post) Will Create Disturbing Images Of A Grown Man In Pajamas Watching Cartoons All Day.

I'm slowly learning that it makes sense to ask questions. It's taken 40 years, but I'm getting there. For example, I've found that it pays to ask your boss "Hey, do you mind if I take the day off?" instead of just not going in and spending the day watching Spongebob Squarepants in your pajamas. And I learned that after only three jobs.

Another place it pays to ask questions? Finding out about web hosting sites. Web hosting is serious business -- as I've learned from other people, people who set up their sites on inferior web hosts and had nothing but troubles from them. You set up a website, you want it to work and you want it to work good -- but you don't want to pay through the nose for it, and who's got time to search through the probably-billions of web hosts out there and find out which ones are cheap & reliable?

WebHostingChoice, that's who. You don't have time to dig into the details of all the web hosts that can be found (there's Spongebobs to watch, after all) but they do, and they do because it's their business.

So if you browse around there, like I do, you'll find first a page that lists their Top 10 Web Hosting Sites, giving you right up front critical information, like the price and how much disk space they'll give you... so that you can find out the number 1 choice is almost free and has unlimited space. Then click on the review link for more information, and in minutes, even seconds, you're making an informed choice. It's an easy-to-use site that gives the information up in a helpful way, and deserves to be bookmarked even after you find your web host because it's got a FAQ section and all kinds of articles and information that'll be helpful in teaching you all about this whole "Internet Thing."

And it'll take you less time than it took to read this post -- which means, with all that extra time, it's back to Spongebob.

Question of the Day, 57:

"How is that ironic?"
-- Me, to Matt the other day.

My brother, Matt, mentioned to me the other day that he'd gone on a cruise with his family not too long ago. I asked him the same thing I ask everyone who I know has gone somewhere: "Did you send me a postcard?"

I collect postcards, you see. I have probably 200 of them from all over the world. So if I know someone's going somewhere, I tell them to send me a postcard. When I found out Matt (who knows about the whole Postcard Collection Thing) had gone somewhere, I asked him if he'd sent me a postcard.

"No, that's ironic," he said. "I had a postcard to send you, one I picked out and wrote and was ready to mail, but I just didn't mail it."

So I said: "How is that ironic? It sounds more like lazy."

It worked better than the yawn-and-stretch move.

Last night,The Boy suspected something was up. While I was out with the twins running errands, Sweetie had come home from working out, and had some ice cream she'd bought. She told me what happened:

She came in, told The Boy she had ice cream and that she was going to sit out on the front steps and listen to music and eat some ice cream.

"Why?" Said The Boy. "What are you up to? What's going on?" He was mystified by Sweetie's decision to just sit outside away, from the TV, away from the computer, just her and nature and the sky and her ice cream and some music. He found it very, very odd. So much so that when I said, on hearing the story "That sounds nice. Maybe I'll do it?" he exploded and said "What are you two doing out there?"

Sitting outside is an option that we have only near the end of April or beginning of May, though. We live near a lake, and have a ton of trees and leafy bushes and flowers and plants in our yard, plus on the other side of the house, a half-mile away, is a river and marsh, all of which means that our yard is, by mid-May, overrun with mosquitos and we are driven back inside (where at least The Boy is comfortable with us being.)

This year, I'm thinking about getting the "Mosquito Magnet." It's a mosquito trap that gets mosquitos -- and other biting bugs -- away from us without harmful poisons and electrical zappers and without wearing mosquito netting.

The "Mosquito Magnet," judging by the video I watched today, is just placed in the yard and draws mosquitos away by giving off carbon dioxide -- the gas that mosquitos follow to get to us -- and luring the mosquitos to the Magnet, where it captures them in a net. No noise, no poison, no fuss. Just CO2 and trap.

Which is, coincidentally, how I got Sweetie to marry me -- CO2 and trap. Ah, romance.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quote of the Day, 25:

"The people that suffer are Matt Stafford..."
-- One of the "Dan Patrick Show" commentators, this morning.

If you don't follow sports, you may not know that Matt Stafford is the college kid who just got drafted by the Detroit Lions and got a contract that guarantees him $42 million.

That's: $42,000,000. Guaranteed.

Talking about those salaries and the salary cap and that kind of thing on the Dan Patrick show this morning, one of the commentators made that absolutely leotarded (thanks, Dan Savage) statement that Matt Stafford, who is guaranteed $42,000,000, could somehow be suffering as a result of that.

Matt Stafford is guaranteed, at the age of about 22, to be paid $42,000,000 in his lifetime, even if he never completes a single pass, never scores a point, never does anything worthwhile in any sense of the word. Matt Stafford could toss nothing but interceptions from here on out until he is cut, and he will be paid $42,000,000.

To keep that in perspective: Matt Stafford is 22. He'll live, say, 60 more years. So he can spend $700,000 per year from here on out, and not run out of money.

He can spend $1,917 each and every day of his life for the rest of his life, and not run out of money.

He can spend $79 per hour, for every single hour of the next sixty years, and not run out of money.

He can spend $1.33 per minute, for the rest of his life, and not run out of money.

But Matt Stafford is in some way suffering?

That is an absolutely leotarded comment, Dan Patrick Show commentator. And you're an idiot for saying so.

Other things Matt Stafford could do with that money:

The median price of a home in Detroit is $7,500-- just $7,500-- so Matt Stafford could buy homes for 5,000 families, and have $4.5 million left over.

The median income for people in Michigan is $49,699 -- so Matt Stafford could pay a year's wages to 800 people and have almost $3,000,000 left over.

At this location, a single person can get primary health care for a whole year for $500. So Matt Stafford could pay for primary health coverage for 70,000 people for a whole year, and have $7,000,000 left over.

But, yeah, he's suffering. He's suffering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quote of the Day, 24

"The computer died... on the washer."
-- Sweetie.

Yesterday, seemingly everything went wrong at home. Sweetie called me up to tell me that the washer was not working. I was in my office, working on a brief. I said "Did you check if it's plugged in?" She said, yes, she had. I asked "Did you check and see if a fuse was blown?" She said she'd checked that, too.

I sat there, for a second, and then said "Well, I really don't know what else I can do."

Eventually, Sweetie decided she'd try to find the warranty information, then called me back and said "I called the number on the washer."

"What number?" I asked.

"The 1-800 number on top of the washer."

See, I would have called that first, before I called me. But she called and they sent a repairman and that resulted in Sweetie calling me, later, and saying the quote of the day, exactly as I've written it: "The computer died... [pause pause pause about two seconds long, which is a long pause]... on the washer." And in that 2-second pause, I nearly had a heart attack, thinking, First the washer, now the computer.

But it was just the computer that runs our washer; apparently, our washer is higher-tech than I thought it was. (I know nothing about the washer. I never run it and when we bought it, I spent the time chasing Mr F and Mr Bunches around the appliance store.) Our actual computer was okay.

But, on another sad note, our George Foreman grill died, too. Sweetie didn't break that news to me until I got home.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ninety-Four: Part Thirteen: Wherein I Foreshadow and Also Go To A Hockey Game.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. Once a week, I'll recap that year. This is part 13; click here for the table of contents.

Most of Washington, D.C., is kind of a blur when I try to think back on it. Day after day blended in, just as day after day blends together now. Trying to remember exactly what differentiates one day from another, 15 years later, is difficult, especially when most days weren't all that different from one another.

Each day, I'd get up and head off to the showers to get ready for the day. Ordinarily, my "getting up" would involve having a cigarette, and maybe a warm diet Coke, to get going on the day. I can't remember if I smoked in the dorm room or not, but I'm pretty sure I did, because this was 1994 and that was before the era when smoking became so forbidden and prohibited and looked down on. Back in 1994, people could still smoke in a tiny enclosed room they shared with a nonsmoker and nobody thought anything of it; most nonsmokers even then did not complain.

After a cigarette and some warm soda and a shower, I'd put on my dress pants and one of the dress shirts I had, and a tie, and head downstairs to walk over to the Metro stop and ride the Metro over to my office in Virginia. I usually had a book with me to read, because there was no place between the dorms and the first Metro stop to buy a Washington Post. The nearest spot to get a Post, I learned, was a department store about 5 or 6 blocks away, off in what was said to be a bad neighborhood around Trinity College. I found the department store by wandering around one Sunday morning looking for a place that was open and at which I could get a newspaper and something with caffeine. The store might have been a Shopko, if memory serves rightly. I know it was a weird department store, in my memory, "weird" meaning "not one that I had seen before." Living the provincial life I had, I assumed that everywhere else had the same department stores and grocery stores and restaurants and businesses I'd grown up with (just as I'd once assumed that everyone else must be Catholic.) It had never occurred to me that I might go someplace and instead of a Target or Walgreens I might have to get socks at a Shopko and coffee at a Krogers. It was strange to do that -- the stores were both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The layouts, the clothes and books and magazines and shoes and potato chips were almost -- but not quite -- the same things available back in Wisconsin, and were almost -- but not quite -- laid out in the same order, but there were subtle little differences: weird, regional foods or sodas, styles that were a little off from the styles I was used to -- that marked these as not my stores.

If it was unsettling then, it's not anymore -- I like little differences now, I enjoy seeing the small things that separate my known world from the unknown world. Or maybe it's that I no longer think that small differences are anything to be unsettled about. In 1994, those differences loomed larger (maybe because ... foreshadowing... I had not yet experienced real differences) to me, and now they don't seem to big at all, and I enjoy seeing the differences when I go to other places, differences that sound silly and mundane but which tell me that I'm somewhere outside of the norm and which make it enjoyable to me -- fast food restaurants that I can't get to at home, streetlights hanging by wires over the intersection instead of standing on poles at the sides of the intersection, palm trees instead of pine trees, radio and television stations whose call letters begin with "K" instead of "W" -- all little things that perk me up when I travel now.

Sundays were days that didn't follow the routine of either weekdays or Saturdays in Washington. Sundays were days that moved in weird rhythms. They began strangely, continued weirdly, and ended soporifically.

Sundays, I didn't go to work and I usually didn't go sightseeing. Instead, most Sundays, I began by getting up and walking off to get the Sunday Washington Post, smoking a cigarette as I did so and looking at the bleak urban streets that I walked down and back to get the paper -- warehouses and small houses and nothing much scenic, the "backlot" of Washington D.C., the place where the people who were too unimportant or too poor to not live in D.C. spent their time.

I was still working on quitting smoking, defining "working on" as "thinking about it and not doing much else about it." I was also focused on losing 10 more pounds, something that I almost would do in the time between January and June, getting down to 162 pounds from a beginning of 170. (I would drop those other two pounds, and a few more, in Morocco, but not because I was trying to do so.) I didn't mind the walk to the Shopko because it let me be alone a bit, and it let me smoke a little bit, and it served kind of as exercise, but not really.

I've always, since I first got into shape (and then got back out of shape, and then almost back into shape) been suspicious of "easy" forms of exercise, but it was in 1994 that my suspicion really took root and shaped me. After working so hard to lose nearly a hundred pounds, I was in great shape in Washington -- seriously great shape. I was working out 5 or 6 days a week, for nearly an hour at a time, and I'd been doing that for over a year. My workouts were mostly running, and it was a serious amount of running. Weekdays, I would jog usually about 4 or 5 miles, going at a pace that most people would say was "pretty good," until they found out what my warmup and cool down consisted of, at which point they would say it was not just pretty good but phenomenal.

My warmup, and my cool down, consisted of having a Marlboro Light. Sometimes two. I smoked probably at least a pack a day then -- which by smoker algebra means almost two packs. (Anytime someone tells you how much they smoke, multiply it by at least 2. If they admit to smoking more than a pack a day, multiply it by three, because smokers always downplay how much they smoke. If they're comfortable admitting to a pack-and-a-half a day, say, that just means that 1 1/2 packs of cigarettes is so far below what they actually smoke that it seems reasonable.)

I would get ready to run by putting on my shorts and a t-shirt and shoes (sometimes -- later on, in Morocco, I would run barefoot, doing so because I didn't have any running shoes there) and then get my Walkman with a mixtape ready, and then would pace around while I smoked a cigarette and listened to music. No stretching, no warmup, no easing into it. Just dress-smoke-go.

And I went pretty fast. I didn't usually have a route measured out in Washington, but I knew from experience how fast I was going, and I was getting faster all the time. Later in 1994, I would break the 7-minute-mile mark for over 6 miles, and I would do so as a smoker with pneumonia.

I'm not making that up. After D.C., after Morocco, to flash forward, I lived in Shorewood, Wisconsin, as I finished up undergraduate school and waited to begin law school. I still went running 5 or 6 times a week, and I had a route that I ran, a route I assumed was about 5 miles or so. I timed myself as I ran, and got times, as the fall went on, of 44 minutes, 43 minutes, then 42 minutes, then 41 minutes. I was frustrated that I couldn't break the 8-minute mile mark, and I was also concerned because despite all my running and the fact that I only weighed about 165 pounds at the time, it was getting harder and harder to do things like walk to school, walk up the stairs, and, eventually, walk across the room.

The day I finally found out I had pneumonia was a day after I'd gone running and got a time of 40:00 and some seconds -- definitely under 41 minutes. I went to bed that night and the next day woke up tired and groggy and sore, which was nothing new for me. I puttered around my apartment for a while, listening to talk radio and reading (I didn't have a TV at the time, so I mostly listened to the radio for entertainment) and then went to the one class I had on Fridays. After that class, I was even more tired and my head hurt and I was exhausted, so exhausted that I didn't go for my usual Friday routine of gyros and Ben & Jerry's ice cream for lunch. Instead, I walked home (about a half-mile) and climbed the three flights of stairs up to my apartment, ignoring the elevator as I usually did.

I had to stop twice to get up them -- once leaning down to catch my breath. All I thought about it was man, I've got to quit smoking. (Which tells you, then, how I did in quitting smoking in D.C.) Then I got into my apartment and sat on the couch and turned on the radio and had a cigarette, and then I went and took a nap. I woke up about 4 in the afternoon, dizzy and hot and tired and headachey, and I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to make some coffee (by this time, I was drinking coffee -- remember, this is a flash forward).

By the time I got to the kitchen, I was sweating and gasping for breath, so I decided to go to the doctor on campus and see what was wrong. I had to walk there (I didn't have a car) and, of course, I took my cigarettes.

At the doctor's office, they told me I had pneumonia, and a serious case of it. "You were lucky to make it here," they said. They sent me home with a prescription and an admonition to call someone. I called my mom, a nurse, who said she'd come and pick me up and I could stay with her for the weekend, which I did. After the weekend, feeling a little better, I got her to drive me home and before we dropped me off, I had her go drive my running route so I could find out exactly how far it was.

It was 6.1 miles. I'd run under a seven minute mile as a heavy smoker with pneumonia.

In D.C., I was already getting that fit (or unfit, depending on whether you look at the running or the smoking) and I ran all the time. Weekends, I usually ran about 12-15 miles, walking down to the National Mall to jog around it five or six times, but running that far takes a lot of time, so I didn't go that far on weeknights.

Sundays, though, I didn't work out much: just that walk to Shopko, or wherever, a walk that technically was exercise, but if you've run 15 miles the day before, walking five or six blocks isn't anything at all-- it wasn't challenging. I'd walk down to the store, then walk back, and read the paper while I waited for the Trinity College cafeteria to open up.

Weekdays, my breakfast was always a raisin bran muffin with a diet Coke and a couple of cigarettes, while lunch was usually something from the oriental buffet that had "all-you-can-eat" lunches for something like $4.95-- a very cheap price, especially for all-you-can-eat. Dinners were typically something from the bar/cafeteria that they had on the Trinity campus, a hangout sort of place where you could get hot dogs or nachos or burgers. I had to watch what I spent because I didn't have any money coming in and I was trying to stretch my funds so that I woulnd't need to work beyond my internship (which didn't pay.)

That was why, on Sundays, I always ate at the Trinity cafeteria, where the other students who weren't part of the internship program but who did attend Trinity college, ate. The Trinity cafeteria was also all-you-could-eat, for breakfast and for lunch. I couldn't make it to breakfast or lunch during the week, but I could make it to brunch on the weekends, eventually opting to do so mostly on Sundays, when a lot of the tourist attractions were closed and when the brunch was especially good. I'd wait until 11 and then go there with the remainder of the Sunday paper (or, of course, a book) and I'd eat as much as I could, having it serve as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like a snake downing a boa constrictor, I'd linger as long as I felt human decency let me, pacing myself to make sure I could get almost a full day's worth of calories in me for the one price, and ignoring what I sometimes felt to be the looks given to me by the other students, who maybe (I thought) felt I was hanging around too long, taking advantage.

In that way -- pancakes galore -- I could eat on Sundays for about $3, but it took a lot of effort to do that, and it left me full and bloaty and tired the rest of the day. A small price to pay for saving a lot of money and for all-you-can-eat pancakes and syrup, and a price I was all-too-willing to pay. I'd eat until I couldn't, anymore, and then I'd go back and hang around the dorm room, reading and writing letters to famous people asking if I could meet them and talking on the phone to my then-girlfriend or my family, or just watching TV in the lounge.

Not every Sunday was like that. There was the Sunday, for example, that Dave from Pinkerton took me to a hockey game, to be followed later on by a visit to a bar to watch the Superbowl. That day sticks out in my mind as both the day I saw one of the two hockey games I've watched in my life, and as the day that I somehow became the center of attention of an entire barful of people who would call me "Buffalo Boy."

That Sunday was early on in the D.C. trip, near the end of January, so I was still disoriented and not familiar with most people. After a whole week of going into the office on my usual routine and spending the day halfheartedly translating Spanish newspapers, scanning documents in and proofreading them, and trying to get Rene to tell me his secrets, near the end of the week, Dave had offered to take me and Eden, the other intern, to a hockey game.

Dave Johns was Frank Johns' son, and a very nice guy who was also a computer guy back when computer guys were still relatively unknown and geeky. Dave was very into computers; he might have built his own, even, and he was always working on computers. In 1994, "working on" computers didn't mean making iPhone apps and Flash games and blogging -- it meant actually working on computers, taking them apart and putting circuit boards into them and wiring them up and then doing it all over, and Dave did those things around the office. Dave also liked hockey, for some reason. It's strange to meet anyone who likes hockey, in the United States. How did they get into it? How do they follow it? Why do they get into it or follow it? But it was stranger, still, to meet someone in Washington, D.C., who liked hockey, because you don't picture people in and around D.C. liking anything except politics and maybe the Redskins. D.C. isn't a wintry city -- far from it. It's not north, and it's not very sporty at all.

I was amazed, then, to not only find out that Dave liked hockey but also to find out that he liked a Washington hockey team. When he offered to take us to a hockey game, I jumped at the chance: "Well, okay," I said.

I wasn't terribly crazy about the idea of spending a day with people I hardly knew. I already was spending most days with people I hardly knew, and spending my Sunday that way imposed a sort of gloom on me, a gloom not dispersed in any way by the idea of going to a hockey game. I'd never seen a hockey game at that time, though, and that was part of why I went (the other part being it was free).

My only experience with hockey, at all, in fact, was "swamp hockey," which we'd played as kids, taking our ice skates and hockey sticks and pucks back to the swamp that used to be part of "the field" and "the woods" behind our house. From our house on Hartwood Lane, we'd walk back past the maybe-poisonous apple tree into "the field," which at that time (we were about 8) was not yet the tennis courts and baseball diamond, but was a real field filled with real stinging nettles and sumac bushes (but not in winter.) Across the field and around "the canyon" (which I remember as being a very deep and steep ravine, but which was probably just a depression in the ground) and over by Kill Hill was "the swamp," which was just a swamp that froze over every year. We'd clear it off and play hockey on it, skating and falling through sometimes and trying not to hit the puck into the various bushes and tall grass and cattails that surrounded our makeshift and oblong court. There were no real rules, unclear goals, lots of arguments, until it got dark and take off our skates and walk back home.

That experience, surprisingly, prepared me perfectly for my first professional hockey game. We sat far enough up that I could see the whole rink, or ice, or whatever it's called, and could see the guys, but had no real idea where the puck was at any given time. The goals were small and mostly blocked by the goalie. I still have no idea what the rules of hockey are, although I did learn that day what "icing the puck" is.

When we were kids, "icing the puck" was assumed to be "getting ice on the puck," a penalty that we knew existed but which never got called, other than sometimes if the puck was hit into the snow we might call it "icing" when it was really out-of-bounds. I learned that day with Eden and Dave that "icing" the puck means "hitting it the length of the rink," or something like that, which struck me as dumb. Any rule in any sport that limits the ability to throw a Hail Mary is a dumb rule. If you wanted to hit the puck all the way down the rink, why couldn't you?

Of more interest to me than the hockey game was the drive to the hockey game, when we got stuck in traffic on the Beltway. I was overly excited to learn that I was going to be driving on the Beltway. Anyone who's interested in politics knows "the Beltway," that highway that surrounds Washington and defines the boundaries of it, politically speaking. To be inside the Beltway was to be a player in politics, then and now -- so driving on the Beltway was going to be exciting.

Only it wasn't. You don't so much drive on the Beltway as you do sit. It took us what felt like hours to get to the hockey game, most of it spent creeping forward inch-by-inch. Dave assured us that traffic was like that, more or less always on the Beltway. He said that's why talk radio and books on tape were so popular in Washington, an assertion I had to take at face value, since I had no idea if it was true or not. It made sense to me, the way he explained it: People are sitting in traffic for hours a day, so they listen to talk radio and books on tape. That's what I think of whenever anyone says "Beltway" now -- people sitting in traffic listening to books on tape. Washington D.C. workers are, in my mind, a very literate and well-informed, albeit largely motionless, bunch.

I would remember Dave's words, by the way, later in my life, when I would commute 48 miles one way to my job as a law clerk. To kill the time, I began listening to talk radio, just as Dave said the bigshots that live in D.C. did. Because I drove from Madison to Baraboo, Wisconsin, talk radio would fade out about 40 miles into the trip, and so eventually I began listening to books on tape on the drive to and from work, too. I'd leave work and walk a block or two to the Baraboo library and get whatever book on tape they had that sounded good. It was pretty slim pickings, as you'd expect from the Baraboo, Wisconsin public library's "books on tape" selection in the 1990s. The main thing was to distract me, though, and make the time go a little faster.

The hockey game, which was boring and hard-to-follow, was one of the two sporting events I took in that day, as it was Superbowl Sunday (which should tell you just how bad traffic is on the Beltway: It was jammed up in the afternoon, on Superbowl Sunday) and Rip and I had made plans to go down and watch the game at a bar that was kind of near the Capitol.

That, too, is kind of a blur marked by a few clear-cut images, but it wasn't blurry because it was the same as any other day. It was blurry because of beer. All my money-saving and healthy-living and weight-dropping did not prevent me from watching the game and drinking beer, and enjoying myself immensely even though the entire bar at one point became focused on me.

I was, then and now, a Buffalo Bills fan, and the year that I was in Washington was the fourth consecutive year that the Bills went to the Superbowl. It was also the fourth consecutive year that I had taken the Bills in my annual bet with my brother, Matt, and I was not hopeful. I'd watched the Bills, in my first year of being a Bills fan, lose a close Superbowl, and had paid Matt the $50 and team jersey we'd bet. I'd then watched the next year as they'd lost a not-so-close game and had paid Matt the $50 and team jersey we'd bet. Then I'd watched the third year as they lost horribly to the Cowboys, and I'd paid Matt $50 and the team jersey we'd bet.

Each of those games had been watched in a different location and under different circumstances, which is one way to differentiate experiences: Mark them by what Superbowl I was watching and who I watched it with.

I'd watched the first Bills' Superbowl, Bills-Giants, sitting alone in my apartment on North 21st Street in Milwaukee. I don't remember why I didn't go anywhere, or where my roommate, Pat "Flan" Flanagan had gone, just that I had watched it alone, watching it in Flan's room because the TV in his room was better than the TV we had in the living room, and there were fewer mice in his room than the living room. I remember being tired near the end of the game and barely awake or alert when the kick went wide right and the Bills lost.

The second Bills' Superbowl, Bills-Redskins, I'd watched at my old house where I'd grown up, on Hartwood Lane. My mom and my sister Katie and my brother Matt were there, too. My dad was not, as he and my mom were in the early stages of their divorce at the time, making for a tense, sad Superbowl experience. We watched it on a TV that was set up in the living room, the room we never used as kids. We had a living room and a family room, and the living room was strictly for special occasions. It had the good furniture and the fancy books and the knickknacks and glass coffee table, and it was where we put the Christmas tree every year, and nobody sat in the living room, ever, unless it was a special occasion. The room felt so off-limits that it was weird to go out there and practice the piano when I was a kid. Watching the Superbowl out there might have been okay as a "special occasion," but having just the family over was not a "special occasion," and the TV had been put out there permanently -- Mom had moved it there and used the room all the time, which I didn't like. I didn't hang around long after the Bills lost that one.

The next year, Bills' Superbowl three, Bills-Cowboys, I watched at my Mom's apartment where she and Katie lived, bringing my then-girlfriend Laurie along on what would have been our first or second date. Our old house was sold, a result of the divorce, and Mom and Katie had moved to a duplex and then into the two-bedroom, small apartment Mom would live in for the next few years, at least until Katie graduated high school. I and both my brothers graduated from Hartland Arrowhead High School. Katie would graduate from Pewaukee High School, something I find weird to this day. I have to remind myself that she graduated from Pewaukee, not Arrowhead.

I had borrowed Mom's car to go pick up Laurie and brought her to the apartment, where we'd watched the game with Mom and Katie and Matt, again. Matt and I passed the time making little side bets on the game. At one point, Matt said I bet you a dollar that the next pass thrown is an interception. As the commercials dragged on, he said And another dollar that the Cowboys will be the next to score. The game came back, with the Bills having the ball, and Jim Kelly threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. I handed Matt $2 and watched as the Bills lost a third in a row.

The fourth Bills Superbowl, Bills-Cowboys Again, I watched at a sports bar with Rip, a sports bar full of Redskins fans who were, inexplicably, rooting for the Cowboys. I'd always thought the Redskins and Cowboys were archenemies and had assumed that the Bills would get the D.C. fans' support, but that wasn't the case. As the game started, Rip took no real position and the whole bar, except me, began backing the Cowboys. I was the only person rooting for the Bills, at all, and it showed because the Bills started doing well almost immediately.

Ever yell "Yeah!" in a giant crowded sports bar that had just fallen silent? I have, and it's strange: everyone in the room turned towards me. "You're rooting for the Bills?" one guy said.

"Yep," I told him. Rip, who knew why I rooted for them and all about my bet, then told some people about the bet with Matt ($50 and a jersey, again) and about the three years' consecutive losses, and word spread around.

Did that turn the bar to my side? It did not. I have never been someone that the mass of the public rallies around, for some reason. There's something about me -- maybe my innate dislike of people, in general, and fierce loner-ish-ness-- that keeps people from fully committing to my side. It's just as well that I never really went into politics; I doubt I could have ever built a base.

But the first half went by with everything going the Bills' way, and they were leading at halftime, and I was both drunk and deliriously happy, the kind of delirious happiness that can only result from something that is utterly meaningless, in the long run. The Bills' winning or losing meant, means, nothing to me beyond the $50 and the jersey, but at the same time, it meant a lot, at the time. (It no longer does; in fact, one of the greatest games I've ever watched, now, was a game the Bills inexplicably lost on Monday night. They lost, but the game was very entertaining.) I invested a lot of emotion in that first half, cheering and raising my fist and being outspoken and taunting people and generally making a happy ass of myself, putting the same level of emotion and effort into that totally useless, completely meaningless effort as I'd put into deciding to quit smoking, writing letters to NASA, and losing 10 pounds.

I'd have been better off, I suppose, putting at least some effort into doing something in my internship beyond bothering Rene, or working a job to earn money, or at least paying attention in the one class I was taking. But I didn't. I put effort into losing 10 pounds and rooting for the Bills, and for the first half of the game, at least, it seemed to work.

It worked so well, in fact, that at halftime "I" -- the Bills -- was ahead, and Rip said "You should call your brother and tease him." The bar got into it, then, people near us saying Yeah, call your brother and finally talking me into it, and the bartender let me use a phone, so I called and got Matt and drunkenly and stupidly taunted him that I was finally going to win $50 and a jersey, that I'd be wearing my Bills jersey around, telling him he needed my address to send it to me, and generally being an idiot.

Then, of course, the game came back and the Bills proceeded to blow it, again, as Dallas took charge and the crowd in the bar turned on me again and began cheering and I got quieter, until the Cowboys took the lead, finally, and the bar went nuts and then got very quiet, and in the midst of that quiet, a guy yelled out:

"What do you think of that, Buffalo Boy?"

I didn't think much of it at all. Of course, by then I was very drunk.

The Bills lost -- all my effort and glee were for nothing, and the trip home was a hazy blur, too, a cold walk that may or may not have included a ride on the Metro. I didn't call Matt back that night. I did, eventually, get him the $50 and his team jersey that he wanted.

The Bills haven't been back to the Superbowl since. I've been back to D.C. one time since that, trying on a trip with Sweetie to recreate, in my mind, where I went and what I did, just as I'm trying to do here -- then, as now, able to pick out bits and pieces that stand out in my memory, for one reason or another. Things like the overwhelming brunches, and "Buffalo Boy," and the walk to Shopko.

Who can say why some memories stick harder than others? Sometimes it's repetition: do something over and over and over every day, and you'll remember that you did it, every day, even if you can't remember any particular occasion that you did that thing. Other times, there's something about a memory that makes it cling to your mind. It might be getting called "Buffalo Boy," it might be the way the swamp looked covered in snow as dusk fell, it might be the fact that the TV was in the living room. Whatever it is, the memories fall into their places, resurrected from the blur of a lifetime, snapshots that help piece together who we are.

Or who we thought we were.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm feeling critical today: (Sunday's Poem 14)

by Laurence Alma-Tadema

In summer I am very glad
We children are so small,
For we can see a thousand things
That men can't see at all.

They don't know much about the moss
And all the stones they pass:
They never lie and play among
The forests in the grass:

They walk about a long way off;
And, when we're at the sea,
Let father stoop as best he can
He can't find things like me.

But, when the snow is on the ground
And all the puddles freeze,
I wish that I were very tall,
High up above the trees.

I've been reading Shel Silverstein's "Where The Sidewalk Ends" to Mr F, three poems a night, usually, and I've come to a conclusion.

Shel Silverstein is overrated.

I had these memories of "
Where The Sidewalk Ends" and knew that everyone loved it and remembered the good poems that everyone remembers, but when you read that whole book, beginning to end, you come up with this: A lot of the poems are junk. They don't have rhythm, they're not very clever, they just... aren't very good.

Maybe it's that writing poems for kids, or in a kid's voice, is difficult for adults. Take today's poem. I like 75% of it, but then the last stanza wrecks it, if you ask me. It's such an abrupt change of mood and perspective. The first 12 lines are how great it is to be little and see things that adults don't -- and then suddenly the kid is wistful and wanting more, and then it ends abruptly? It would be a better poem if it had simply continued the theme the first 3/4 did -- or if, having switched moods, the poet had gone and developed the second mood and then tied it all together.