Hello from the land of cheese

Hello from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I am here for the week, visiting Sarah’s family, and hoping we don’t get hit with a foot and a half of snow.  We flew in on Saturday, and took a relatively painless Southwest flight to Midway airport in Chicago, where we got a rental car and drove up.  Our plan is to spend the week here, and then drive to Indiana on the 26th and visit my side of the family for a few more days, then head back in time for work on the 31st.

The flight out proved to be the first test for the Kindle.  I sat in the airport in Oakland, browsed the store a bit, and picked up the e-version of George Carlin’s latest, which is an autobiography he had worked on for years, which was completed after his death.  No problems buying it at the last second in the airport, and I got about halfway through it on the plane.  Maybe I will save a future report for the actual end-to-end experience on the thing, but I find it pretty easy to get lost in the book.  You really do forget the interface and get lost in the writing, which I guess is one of the major concerns with any non-paper reading.  Probably the only major drawback with the Kindle is there is no old-fashioned way to give someone books for Christmas.  I guess you could give them a gift card, but I’m the kind of person who always ends up with many dead trees wrapped up and under the soon-to-be-dead tree during the holidays.  There’s no easy way to get around that.

I saw this funky documentary last night called Alone in the Wilderness, which was about this dude who went to Alaska and built a cabin, with the original plan being to stay there a year, but he ended up staying for about thirty years.  The whole time, he filmed himself cutting lumber and notching logs and building a fireplace and tracking the wildlife and surviving through a -45 degree winter.  Later, his son-in-law took all of this silent film footage, added sound effects and narration, and made it into a documentary. Its good stuff, and makes me wonder if I could ever do the same out on my land.  Of course, I don’t have a bunch of trees to cut down, and I’m not right off a lake where I could fish and haul my own water.  Still, very interesting stuff.

Time to get my act together and go off to a lunch.  Had a very good pizza for lunch yesterday, that ultra-thin crust type, from Balisteri’s.  I have no particular pizza religion between thin versus thick, but I always appreciate a good specimen of either, and this was good.

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The Wedding Party

I’m back. We left Friday for Milwaukee, for our big wedding party, which went well. After we eloped six months ago, we agreed it would be best to have some kind of party for the relatives, so my extended family could meet Sarah’s and vice-versa, and so we could see some of the distant relatives we’d normally only see in the event of a funeral. So Sarah’s dad planned the big Saturday night event, and her mom planned a smaller immediate family dinner on Friday, and we managed the list of addresses and tried to find out where second cousins once removed lived after 20 years of being MIA, and then printed and sent all of the invites.

The Saturday event was at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, and we got a room there for the weekend, as did many other people. The place is almost a century old, and still looks very old-school, from the lobby to the wallpaper to the phone booths that resembled confessionals in the lobby, similar to the ones in the Indiana Student Union. They also allegedly have very good pools and saunas and exercise equipment, but out exercise for the weekend was just keeping up with everything, so I never got down there.

We strongly stressed that this would not be a wedding wedding; there was no ceremony, no white dress or tuxedo, no wedding party, no vows, no flower girl, none of that at all. We also said no gifts, but that was largely ignored. There was music and a dance floor, but not a lot of dancing. Despite all of this, and that we didn’t do the planning, I was still very stressed out about what to wear and how to look and act, and all that. But we got in on Thursday night with no problem (other than a 22-inning Rockies game that I was trying to follow on the web, and eventually had to give up.) And Friday during the day was lax; I went to Miller Park with Frank (father-in-law) and Matthew (brother-in-law) and we attempted to take the tour. There was a high school baseball tournament, though, so we got to sit in the section behind the plate with maybe a hundred other people total in the stadium. It’s very weird to be sitting in a big-league park and hear the “plink!” of an aluminum bat hit after hit.

Both Friday and Saturday dinners went the same, but on different scales. On Friday, there were about two dozen people, so I got a chance to talk to everyone, and I think I’d met everyone there before. There were three tables, and people were seated strategically, so some folks would get a chance to talk to other folks and so on. Food was good, cake was excellent, and we got home unscathed.

Saturday was a much bigger deal. I think we had about 100 people total, and I knew maybe 30-40% of them. So there was a mad rush of people being introduced, and I had no chance whatsoever to get their names. Add to this that I had a slight cold and was tripping on heavy amounts of dayquil, which is not conducive to having the same conversation 100 times in a row. I barely got to eat dinner, and the desserts were all gone before I knew they were available. But a lot of people got to meet other people. I met a bunch of Sarah’s paternal side of the family, which I previously hadn’t. Sarah’s grandparents had a good time talking to my folks, and her cousin the children’s librarian spent a long time hanging out with my 10-year-old nephew Phillip, talking books. There were a lot of people that didn’t get a chance to talk to other people, but with that many and only a few hours, you can’t run all of the permutations.

Sarah’s friend’s Guy and Scott came out from New York, although I barely got to talk to them in the shuffle. Her friend Ben Mack came out and we talked more. A flew in from San Francisco, and Simms and the Bill Perry family came up from Bloomington. John and Helen drove up from Chicagoland. That was the group at our table, which made for some strange conversation. After the evening wound down, most of this group rolled over to Real Chili for a bowl of the Milwaukee tradition. (Simms’ is better, though.) We also had a beautiful Sunday, and Simms and A and I went walking around and wandered the public market a bit. (They had a Big Kahuna burger, but it wasn’t too great.)

And that’s that. Sorry the description was not that incredible – it was too much of a whirlwind to really get any more details down. I will have pictures; a dozen or so people with digicams said they’d hook up with me later on photo sharing, and there’s my camera (with almost no pics.) I also dropped off a dozen disposables last night, which will go to CD and get uploaded.

I have a hundred errands today, plus work, plus I will need to get started on an armful of thank you notes. So in advance of those, which will probably go out in June, thank you to all of you who came out for the party!

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End of year shuffle

Jesus Christ. If you dig around in the archives, you will find mention of the fact that every year, because of a design decision made back in 1997, I have to do this whole firedrill of moving all of last year’s entries into another directory, starting a new one, and of course, fucking it all up because I forget where everything goes because I only do this once a year. And yes, all of you fucks can start with the BUT WHY DONT YOU JUST SWITCH TO WORDPRESS shit, and I will write the clue on the end of a baseball bat and swing it into your eye: this was around before the term “blog” was even invented, let alone blog software. Also, it all sucks. So today, I started hacking away on a new scheme to put all of the entries in one big directory and somehow link it all together without fucking everything up. I think I have accomplished that now, although the archives pages are slightly fucked up at the moment. And I am sure it will all be broken on your browser, or if you type the entire swahili alphabet on the end of the URL, or whatever. But it’s largely functional, and I won’t be worrying about this as the ball drops.

Anyway, I am back from Christmas in Milwaukee. I did not announce it on this site (or did I?) largely because of the amount of unending shit I get whenever I mention even the slightest shred of truth on here. But we took off for about a week, and I had a lot of fun with Sarah’s family. I went to a Marquette basketball game, which was my first non-high school basketball game I’ve ever seen. (Okay, technically I saw a lot of elementary school ones when I played in the 6th grade.) The game was interesting because we had very good seats – Sarah’s grandfather taught law there decades ago, which means he has good season tickets. They played another team that may or may not have been a high school or maybe Ivy Tech campus, because they played like shit. I think our average 9th grade PE class teams could have beat them. But it was still fun to watch.

I also went to a hockey game the other night, Milwaukee’s AHL team against Chicago’s. I have no idea at all how hockey is played, aside from the fact that you get a puck in a goal, and it involves skating. Watching the game confused me even more. I don’t think any goal could have been anything other than an accident, because it took so much effort to get the puck across the ice, and then someone else would inevitably knock it back. I found it weird too that players go in and out of the game while game play is in motion, and when they are taken out for a penalty, they aren’t replaced, meaning lopsided teams. I was also amazed at the amount of general violence that is tolerated by the refs, and the fact that the AHL all but guarantees a fight per game. We had two fights, and they were all-out slugfests, while the refs stood an arm’s length away and basically watched. The violence and general fan atmosphere was very cool, but the fact that one of the guys I went with had been to a dozen games that year and still hadn’t seen the Admirals win was a big turn-off.

Christmas was good – I got a million books and some DVDs, including the Beatles Anthology set. I ate way too much, both in restaurants and at two family-cooked dinners. We went with Sarah’s dad’s family to a Serbian restaurant, which was way too much food, but a good house band and hilarious Serbian waitress. I ate at a diner where Clinton and Helmut Kohl ate in 1996, which was weird. I also had a pre-bball Friday fish fry, which is somewhat of a tradition in Milwaukee. We went to an IHOP twice, both times good, except that they make me miss having one just down the street, like in Seattle. My only bratwurst was at the hockey game, and it was fairly bad. Everything else was excellent, albeit too excellent, and I’m glad to get back on a boring and regular diet here.

The one other thing is that Sarah’s sister’s boyfriend had an ’84 Plymouth Turismo almost identical to the one I had that blew up. It was reddish instead of grey on the outside, but the interior was the same burgandy. His car had all of the same problems mine did: sticky doors, fucked up locks, shitty shifter linkage, messed up heater, busted dash lights, noisy CV, the whole thing. I should have told him to keep a fire extinguisher and/or a disposable camera in there, although he says he’s dumping it soon for something else.

Another thing to mention is that I have been wasting a lot of time playing Guitar Hero for the PS2. It is a game that comes with a plastic toy guitar that has five buttons on the neck, a switch where you’d pick, and a whammy bar. You plug it in the PlayStation, and then have to play various songs. It’s a lot like the dance-oriented things with the floor mats, where you step on different colors at different times, but instead, you’re pressing buttons on the guitar neck and strumming the fake pick switch thing. It has a lot of metal-oriented songs, and starts easy, then gets very hard. Anyway, lots of fun.

Okay, time to not think about this PHP crap and think about dinner.

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Back from Milwaukee

[Before I begin, does anyone know anything about WiFi? I have a router next to my Mac, and when I’m in the next room on my laptop, I’m lucky to have it work for five minutes before the signal drops. When I have a signal, it’s 100% excellent, no problem, but then BAM it’s gone. This happens even if the laptop is physically touching the router. There are a lot of other routers in the building, and I’ve tried fucking with the channel settings a bit, but to no avail. This is extremely frustrating, because every page I’ve found on google says “well, have you tried moving into a cabin in the woods with no walls?” as like step one. I also don’t want to dump a lot of cash into repeaters or antennae just to find out it’s a fundamental problem of living in NYC with too many hotspots. Oh, and I mention all of this because I already wrote this entire entry, and on like the last word, the connection dropped, and then when I went to the other computer to fix it, it overwrote the backup file with a blank file. I was seriously on the verge of smashing my laptop into little tiny pieces with a hammer. I still might. Anyway.]

So I’m back from Milwaukee, and the trip went well. We spent a lot of time with Sarah’s family, and that was all good. We also went to the art museum (where Sarah’s dad works), Irish Fest, the public museum, a Brewers game, and did a lot of driving around and seeing all of the places where Sarah grew up. We also drove down to Kenosha to meet up with John Sheppard and his better half. It was a pretty packed 4-day weekend.

Milwaukee, to me, seems like a Chicago-lite. It’s smaller, and doesn’t have as many of the big things, but it’s also easier to get around, it’s cleaner, maybe a bit quieter, and more relaxed. But a lot of things remind me of the Chicago I knew as the kid, like the little corner bars with the giant Old Style signs out front, the giant, old brick factories and chimneys from the breweries, and the general feel of the place, the way houses are built and how stores are laid out. It really made me think back to my grandparents’ old neighborhood (which is Larry’s current neighborhood.)

The only time I’ve been to Milwaukee was for the metalfest, in ’93. We drove by the big Eagles lodge that was the venue for that show, and I saw the only things I experienced on that trip: the hall, the street where Ray parked and we tried to sleep, the McDonald’s next door, and the quick pick minimart across the street. The other indelible event that I associate with Milwaukee is Jeffrey Dahmer’s capture. I remember in 1991, reading all of the news magazines in the Osco drug at Concord Mall, going over all of the facts of the butchery that he ran in his apartment. Turns out his lair at the Oxford Apartments on 25th and Kilborn was maybe three blocks from the metalfest. Oddly enough, when Sarah was born, her parents lived in a house just a couple of blocks down Kilborn. When we were driving around one night, we tried to locate the spot of his old apartment, but they tore it down years ago, and now it’s just a vacant lot with some old chainlink around it. Driving in the neighborhood was weird though, because I always pictured the area as an ultra-urban slum, like maybe where I lived in Washington Heights. But the neighborhood looked more like the rougher parts of Elkhart, by the projects.

The other big surprise was that I really enjoyed the Brewers game. I haven’t followed baseball since I was a kid, and even then it was only half-heartedly. I’ve never seen a professional game before, and this was my first. It was against the Astros, which is funny because my peewee league team was the Astrobowl Astros, and because of that, I was vaguely an Astros fan when they had the stupid-looking bright orange jerseys, the AstroDome (with AstroTurf), and Nolan Ryan on the mound. Now that all of that has changed, not really a fan, for whatever stupid reason.

We went with Sarah’s sister, and her boyfriend and group of friends that all had season tickets. We first went to their place and did some indoor tailgating, and they had some bratwurst grilling away in a soup of onions and peppers. Those were pretty much the best damn brats I’ve ever had, especially with some sauerkraut and a good bun. We ended up eating and listening to everyone’s bitchfest about the Brewers, and before long, we were into the first inning, but not yet at the stadium. We took off in different cars, and we paid the $12 for “preferred” parking. Dan and the others parked illegally at the back of the VA hospital for free, and we ended up walking up to the gate at the same exact time.

Miller Park is a pretty decent place to see a game. It has a retractable roof, modern seats and shops and all of that (no pee trough in the bathroom), and they have a lot of new LCD screens and score things everywhere, so you can always see all of the stats, and also keep up on other MLB games in progress. Lots of people were there. Lots of mullets. Lots of beer. I think I was the only sober person there, but that only added to the energy. I was surprised at how close we were for $38 seats, and watching a game in person is nothing like TV. In fact, watching on TV really sucks in comparison.

The game itself was sedate – it got tied at 2 by the second inning, and went on scoreless until the bottom of the 9th, when the Brewers got one in. But all of the little stuff made it interesting. Bernie Brewer, the mascot, slides down this huge slide whenever there’s a run. He used to slide into a giant beer mug, but I’m sure some parental nazi group got that taken out. There’s also the sausage race, where a group of people dressed as various kinds of sausages race across the field. (Italian sausage won.) The place went nuts when the first home run went over the wall. And at the very end, when they were getting everyone really riled up, they did this whole “more cowbell” thing on the video screen, playing the SNL sketch intercut with various home runs hit during the season, which was pretty hilarious. There were only 30,000 there, with a lot of empty seats at the top, but the crowd had a lot of energy (and a lot of beer), so it was a lot of fun.

Coincidentally, we were shopping at Target (so good to be out of NYC…) and I found a “more cowbell” CD, which has a dozen or so tracks featuring cowbell. It was a good buy at $8.99, although I’m a little don’t-fear-the-reapered-out for now.

Irishfest was also a blast. It’s the biggest one in the country, and it’s held at these fest grounds that are used for a lot of other festivals. So there were the same food courts and concert venues and all, but also a ton of tents selling Irish crafts and shirts and whatnot. I’d like to say I got some incredible food, but the lines were so long, I used the shortest-wait approach and grabbed a hotdog and fries. We saw two musical groups, one that was more drum-oriented, and we had a front-row seat for the Billy Mitchell Scottish group. They were bagpipes and drums, plus some dancing too. The whole thing reminded me of Simms and all of the times we watched So I Married an Axe Murderer. This alumnus of the group, who was 150% Scottish, was sitting behind us and making comments to a friend in his thick-as-hell accent, and it greatly tempted me to ask him to call Simms on the phone and leave a message on his machine, like “if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!”

In Kenosha, we met with John and Helen at The Brat Stop, which was also had a pretty good bratwurst. I also had some fried cheese curds, and I’m glad they aren’t available here, or I’d be pricing out bypass surgery by now. It was good to see John again, and also good to see tons of cheese and Green Bay Packers stuff available. We also stopped at the Mars Cheese Castle. Unfortunately, this was not a castle made out of cheese, but rather a store that sells a ton of cheese. Fortunately, there were free samples. We also stopped at the largest grocery store I’ve ever seen in my life. It had a beverage section bigger than most groceries in New York. And if you have been to a super-huge Kroger in the Midwest, well this place’s freezer section was bigger than this. It was truly awesome, except I couldn’t bring any of it back on the plane, so it wasn’t.

And that’s all. Well, we went to the museums, and the art museum has a pretty funky building, with these big spines that open and close, and no right angles in sight. And we had a lot of food, which was good. And now I’m back to the daily grind. And no, we’re not moving to Wisconsin. (I still can’t believe I can’t write about anything without someone mis-reading an ulterior motive into it.)

Anyway, pictures on flickr. Back to work.

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