Sunday, January 29, 2006

Stimpy: 1989-2006

My cat died the other day, and in this dreary, rainy, depressing gray day, I have to bury him.

His name was Stimpy, because, well, he was an eeeeediot. He was loud and obnoxious, but compared to my other cat, Chutzpah (who died a year and a half ago -- and Stimpy was never the same after that), he was really stupid. Would sneak up on prey, but let out a banshee yell right before pouncing, thus giving the prey a chance (which it usually took!) to get away.

I've been mentally preparing for this. Stimpy looked like hell the last month. About 2-3 weeks ago he was peeing indiscriminantly, and these past two weeks he suddenly dropped a bunch of weight. I was in fierce denial as I was working up the ooomph to do what I had to do, take him in and put him out of his misery. Just this week, he didn't have the strength to hop over the gate, and the past few days he could barely walk. Ugh. Gotta take him in, ok, I'll do it this weekend, I kept saying.

Finally, the babysitter comes over, and I'm showing her around the house. She's not the regular babysitter: her daughter is the regular babysitter, but she's covering for her since the daughter had a last minute conflict. So I see Stimpy on his favorite resting spot, and I'm introducing her, "This is Stimpy. He's dying, so its best just to leave him be," and I reached down to pet him and..... he's cold.


Its a dreary, cold, gray day in the fall of 1989 and I've just had a semi-satisfying lunch at The Coffee Trader on Downer, and I'd just told my companion that I really need another cat. "Chutzpah seems so lonely, especially when I'm gone for the day at work," I told her. I didn't think it was fair that there not even be another member of the species in the house you're stuck in all day long. I'm on my way to the bus stop, and I see a couple of adolescent girls next to a large box with the lettering "WHY must we DIE?!?!?!?!?!?!?" I peek inside the box and there's a bunch of mewing little kitties.

"Girls, I have to tell you, this pathetic attempt to elicit my sympathy by threatening us all with the prospect of the murder of these innocent creatures is really, really, reaching for it," I told them. Those poor girls had a combination of both disappointment and "ok, you're on to us. Our parents aren't REALLY going to makes us drown them in the river if we don't find good homes for them" look on their face.

Just to be an asshole, I turned and walked away for a split second and then came back. "BUT......"

They brightened up.

"BUT," I said again, "It just so happens that my cat needs a companion, so let me select one of your offerings." I picked this teeny little all black guy. "Oh, you want Young Turk," the dad said, smriking and I should have taken it as the friendly warning it was. Actually, I thought it was a girl (and named her Lucille) until a week later, when s/he had been properly sexed. He turned out to be quite the little sneaky guy. I named him at first, Whiskey, for that song "Whiskey, You're the Devil." But then he started being stupid, and my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) and I re-named him Stimpy, because he was such an idiot.

I want to stop writing now.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bucks v Raptors: Smokin' the black socks

The Toronto Raptors take the court, with red uniforms that feature tasteful black trim, especially on the sides of the shorts, which actually look good with the black socks. Some of them have red shoes, too which complete the look. Here, Miami and LA, this is how to do black socks and pull it off. However, this is contributing to my theory anyway, because finally, the Bucks smoked the Raptors, and Brian and I were there to see it! We were especially honored to learn that apparently the vocalist Ronnie James Dio is a shapeshifter, and this evening chose to reconsititute himself as a 7 year old boy sitting behind us. Wooooooooooooo Hooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!

We were, however, not there in time to see the anthem, so you'll have to rely on a family friend's report. He called it "sad." I asked him to describe in what way, and in doing so, he cut them a break and was able to enjoy it better. Apparently it was a classful of elementary-aged kids, and unless those kids happen to be yours, yeah, I guess having to listen to elementary kids trying to sing the anthem can be quite painful, but cute in the same way that watching William Hung sing is cute. They're having a good time, so there you go.

Speaking of smoking, what exactly was in the Bucks' publicity department's pipe when they decided to use this photo of Andrew Bogut as the one they plaster up on the jumbotron when he's being introduced? Bogut is, frankly, one of their most marketable stars for a variety of reasons. He's got the eastern euro lineage that really plays well in those "The International Language of Sports" documentaries. He was the number one draft pick and he's proving he was actually worth it. Plus -- and this works especially well in Milwaukee -- he's actually quite good-looking, you could almost call him "cute" in a "College Bound Senior Basketball Star at an Urban Catholic High School for which his parents took out a second mortgage to cover the tuition, oh, what a nice boy" sort of way. So why, oh, why are they using a mug shot that makes him look like he spent the afternoon at the Bong Recreation Area?

If you follow my link clicks ever, you know that I have a keen interest in all things obesity and nutrition, and it's bad enough that there's a promotion where, if the Bucks win, and they score at least 100 points, your ticket is good for a free quarter pounder with cheese at McDonald's. That's all well and good, I guess. But during tonight's Midwest Express Best Seats in the House promotion, there was a bit of a sad commentary. The Midwest Express Airlines promotion is advertising brilliance. They pick two random fans in crummy seats, and early in the 1st quarter upgrade their seats to a pair of nice wide leather seats (yes, these are the ones on a Midwest Express flight) placed as SW of courtside as you can get without losing $350 per game in revenue. It puts exactly the image the airline wants in your head: everybody instantly thinks, "Gee, I'd really like to be sitting in those seats." And right when you're thinking, "oh, is this really like being on a Midwest Express flight?" one of the Bucks Energee girls serves the winners the trademark ME warm chocolate chip cookies to decidedly answer "Yes! These ARE the best seats ever! For a game OR a flight, so book a non-stop to Orlando today!" So tonight they're interviewing the winners on their way down to the seats, and one is a kid, and they ask him what his favorite thing about being at a Bucks game is. And the kid answers "Because if they win with 100 points, you get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese!" That's it, kid? That's what you fought traffic, paid $20 for a parking place, risked seeing another heartbreaking loss and tolerated a horrificly rendered national anthem for? A Royale With Cheese? Geez, Morgan Spurlock should have something to say about this.

While we're talking about the Energee Girls, tonight they surprised me. Usually they do their 3rd quarter time out performance to some current but indistinguishably safe for the family hip hop thing, but over the loudspeakers comes the intro to Turning Japanese apparently to warm us up to an 80's New Wave mood, because out trot the girls, and what do they shake their booties to? The Clash's Rock The Casbah! And both Brian and I were impressed with the marvelous editing to keep it down to NBA timeout length. I'm not sure whether or not it's fortunate that Joe Strummer wasn't alive to see this. This Is Not KO-sher!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I'm late for a party Mike Lenehan's not at

And I'm late for this particular party conversation, but its only because I had to clear a few cobwebs out of my head to present my take on it. So, since the issue has come and gone in the blogsphere, I might as well lead with the backstory.

Back in 2002, I attended the Nieman Narrative Writer's Workshop, co-sponsored by the Poynter Institute (a resource tank for journalists) and Harvard University. It was one of the most cost-effective, productive uses of my time and money I ever spent at a industry convention in any industry. The weekend was crammed with seminars, from morning well into the evening , from which I took away real tips I could apply right away to my work. That is always the litmus test of an effective seminar. Was it "well this would be nice at my office, but it'll never happen with current management" theory, or "Here's how you deal with this and make your own work better" tips and ideas? The latter applied to the majority of the sessions at this conference, and pregnancy, postpartum and life with a toddler are the only reasons I haven't been back yet.

Having lavished all this praise, a weekend career seminar isn't a weekend career seminar without at least one dog of a session, and this one's was called "Consider the Alternatives: Placing narrative in alternative weeklies." It was going on at the same time as a session titled "The Storytellers: How to start a narrative writers group in your newsroom." As I wasn't employed in a newsroom, it didn't make sense for me to go to the second one. So I went to the one about Alternatives. I was already (and continue to be) sold on the importance of alternative weeklies in large cities' presscapes, and the alt-prestige of having one's byline in them. I thought it was going to be about how to do it. It started off with the standard "let's get a feel for who's here -- how many of you work for dailies? How many magazine writers? How many freelancers?" The speaker, Mike Lenehan, was clearly disappointed that there weren't any daily newspaper writers in his little session, because he clearly planned to discuss not how, but why you'd want to put your narrative in the alt-press. Well, what did he think was going through the full-time reporters' heads? I can't speak for full-time journos, but I can't imagine (although I've got to bet he was fantasizing) it was something like this:

"Hmmm. I have a full-time job with benefits at my city's daily newspaper. I'm interested in writing narrative, which is why I'm at this conference. Let's see, there's two competing café seminars I could go to. I could go to the one led by a guy who started a narrative writers' group in his newsroom, and he's going to tell us how he did it, how it encouraged more narrative writing at the paper he works at, how his narrative writing improved as a result, and give me tips about how I could start this up back home! Or I could go to this other one, about offering my writing to the alternative weekly in my hometown. Hmmmm. I want to learn how to risk violating my contract's exclusivity, non-competing media, or right-of-first-refusal clauses, thus jeopardizing my full-time union gig with benefits, just so I can get paid 10 cents a word to have my stuff run in the New City Paper Times Alternative. Well, shoot, I think I'll do that."

So Lenehan was stuck with us untrustworthy, untrained, dirtbag freelancers. He spent a good ten or so minutes shuffling his index cards, at a loss for what he was going to tell us about writing narrative for alternative weeklies, since we weren't the audience he wanted/needed to convince. Then came an annoyingly condescending question and answer period ("So do you have some advice on how to pitch our ideas to you or other alt-weekly editors?" "If you have to ask, you haven't read my paper." Oh, thank you. Thank you. Thank you very frigging much: "Read the publication you're pitching to." Wow, I've never seen that advice in any of the much cheaper than this conference books on the topic. Oh, thank you. That makes it all clear. Whatever. Just go back to wishing we weren't your audience instead of the full-time journos you really wanted to talk to, or, probably, admit it, be.) Then, finally he got to a point of reading a sample of the type of story that works well in an alternative paper, his example was a really good piece that held our attention, and he was a fine reader, somebody who could pick up a few extra $$$ as a voice for audiobooks. I left. I left with a renewed feeling that I didn't like: the reminder that there's a good portion of the underground (whether its music, journalism, art, etc.) that thinks it's too hip for everybody else, that thinks the "masses are asses" and that they are the only arbiters of good anything. It’s a shoot-one's-self-in-the foot attitude, and it doesn't win over the mainstream that it often not-so-secretly wishes it was. Lenehan and his ilk want it both ways: mainstream success with indie cred. You can have both, but not with that attitude.

I was supposed to write about this session for Poynter Online (as I did for about six other sessions at this conference), but I told the editor, "You've been so nice, and this conference has been so wonderful, to give me the chance to jumpstart my writing, that I really feel that at this point I need to follow the old 'if you haven't got anything nice to say….' adage and just not report on this." I told her why, and she agreed. I filed my other six stories, and left the conference energized, putting bitter old Mikey out of my head.

Later, I did what probably every other freelancer (and thus attendee) in that room did -- I started a blog. Granted, it took me about five years later to do so, (yeah, like this post, I'm late for the party but I'm not blaming bloggers). Others have been going on for a few years, and in that time blogging has expanded to the point where now the alternative weeklies have almost become part of the establishment, and bloggers have taken over the role of the hip, irreverent outsiders. Then I saw this little blip in Romenesko the other day:

To prove that bloggers and Google News robots can't do the work of trained reporters, Reader executive editor Michael Lenehan proposes a yearlong journalism strike. "I am urging reporters and editors around the world to put down their notebooks, close their laptops, hang up their phones. Lie down and be counted! Let’s have no reporting, no editing, no application of any human intelligence whatsoever to events public or private till January 1, 2007. I’m calling it the Year Without Journalism. Let’s all relax, let go, and float blissfully in the information-free state (excuse me, I mean free-information state) that our public awaits so eagerly. ... Let’s see if Wonkette can deal with the devious bastards in the executive branch any better than Judith Miller did."

I clicked on the link to the actual article Romanesko referenced, and while I waited forEVER for the PDF file to load, my mind flashed back. Mike Lenehan, Mike Lenehan, where do I know that name from, hmmm…. Oh yeah! He's the guy that was bitter because none of his peers, the "professionals," showed up for his patronizing little seminar! Now he's bitter because we freelancers-turned-bloggers are stealing his media's thunder! Once again, the big party is in a room down the hall, Lenehan's not in on it, and it's Making Him Mad. So now that bloggers hold the higher "indie cred" card, a card he used to jealously hold, Linehan wants to cash in his remaining chips and go home. (Never mind that he still holds some good indie cred cards.)

His idea of the equivalent of a professional journalists' hunger strike makes a great point. I value the professional standards that are taught in j-schools, and part of my plan to get myself back into full-time writing is to practice them. Fact-checking. Source verification. Spelling. Vigorous editing. Full disclosure. (Sentence fragment elimination, too). Of course bloggers aren't beholden to them -- but some are. And, not everybody in "mainstream media" follows these to the T, either. But generally, when a mainstream paper messes up, they fess up: just look at all the genuine apologies on the front pages of America's dailies regarding the West Virginia Mining Disaster's tragic survivor rate (or lack of, as we all learned later). They laid out a plate of Fettucini Crow and ate it up. Bloggers don't do that, by and large -- and they don't have to. Many bloggers make a mistake and either blow it off, or else make excuses, blame it on the great right/left wing media conspiracy, and shut off their open comments settings. Many, not all. That goes for both sides.

But like it or not, Mike, the journalistic landscape is changing, and like daily newspapers have had to adjust to the increasing competition from the 'net, you do too. You can cry and whine that your advertisers are finding that Craig's List is getting the job done for them, (as Mike laments in the full article) or you can give me a reason to download the PDF version of your paper or pick it up when I'm out at the bars or whatever. C'mon, if the only reason people pick up an alternative is to check the personal ads and see what band is playing Friday night, you deserve to fold. In fact, here in Milwaukee, I've learned NOT to trust the club listings -- our weekly, the Shepherd Express, is notorious for messing those up. (It's always worth a call to the club -- or the band themselves to confirm: "Hey, Fly, is it true you guys are headlining at Shank?" "No, actually we're opening for the Reverend Horton Heat." "Wow, better still!") But that's not why I pick up the Shepherd every week -- it's to read MacNally and Doug Hissom (the most criminally overlooked reporter in SE Wisconsin). Give me -- and everybody else -- a reason, and the advertisers will come. And that's where Lenehan gives himself away: it not this lofty journalism reinheitsgebot that has his panties in a bunch. He's ticked off because all his advertisers are joining Craig's Party List, so he's taking potshots at wonkette. As more than a few commeters are saying what I thought back in '02: Get over it, Mike. Maybe I'm late to this blogging thing and this particular issue, but I knew this guy's story four years ago and was too nice to tell it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

No distraction from another loss: Bucks v Bulls

As both teams took the court tonight, I breathed a sigh of relief: white socks, all! This means I can actually concentrate on the game! Stella claimed she didn't care who won, since she knows I'm from Chicago and in theory, this means I might be a Bulls fan. But I explained to her that I wasn't into pro basketball when I lived in Chicago, part of the reason being that at that time, the Bulls sucked, and I hadn't yet gotten into the concept of rooting for a team from a town or school other than one's own (except, of course, if that other team was facing the one that beat you for the playoffs).

Anthem this evening by the Holy Apostles Middle School Choir. Either Holy Apostles is an all-girls' school, or no boys are in this choir. They're good, but, as Simon Cowell would say, a little (!) pitchy on "rockets' red glare" and by the looks on their faces magnified on the Jumbotron, they knew they'd hit a clunker. Lesser girls would have let this defeat them, but the Holy Apostles soldiered on and managed to hit the even higher note of "laaaaand of the free" acceptably. Good reworthification, girls, and smart of you to not push yourselves and try to hold it obnoxiously. While this was going on, we get a color guard presentation by a cute as a button cub scout pack from Antioch, IL. Huh? What, are there no cub scouts in SE Wisconsin who could perform the honors? Antioch, IL? How'd they land this gig? Brian's theory is that we're trying to build up goodwill with Illinois so if Chicago lands the 2016 Olympics things are hunky-dry between us. That's a stretch, but its all we can come up with.

Bango the Buck's arm is no longer in a sling! Good for him! He actually sat down about four seats by us, so I took the opportunity to ask him how his arm is. As he is a mascot, he's not verbal, but he held out his palm and gave the "ehhhh" sign. He's probably got to ease it back in with some PT. Probably no aerial flips to dunk baskets with during a timeout for awhile, but at least the Applebee's promotion looked right again, all is well in the jungle. And for once, the promotion where two people duke it out on free throws was somethign to see. The winner was actually aiming, and once he found his shot, just pounded in something like 6 of 'em in the 24 second time period they give you. The winner of this bit gets to try to win a new car by sinking one from half court. For the first time ever, we're looking at a contestant who just might do it. (Usually the "winner" is some scrub who was lucky to be the one to get even one free throw.) He dribbles a bit, takes a few steps, he shoots, it actually hits the rim to the gasping of the crowd, but it doesn't fall into the net. Alas, no new car, just a round trip flight to Orlando.

Bucks started out slow, and I was OK with this, even though the Bucks don't put anything on the scoreboard until the clock read 8:13 -- and that was a free throw! Chicago pulls out in front strong and early, but I'm hoping that they'll be like the Bucks normally are and poop out leter. By halftime, they're tied, and gloriously so: Chicago lost an oppotunity to go into halftime leading due to some consistently good defense that's getting better and better. The passing game is getting better too, and I'm settling in for a night of some ferocious hoops, but they just poop out in the 4th quarter. Ach, this was especially frustrating since there were Bulls fans peppered about the place. Stella herself was wearing red (not because she is a Bulls fan, but because her favorite velvet shirt happens to be red). We had a good time anyway, mother and daughter. And the Bucks still have a winning record, and that record is still better than the Bulls' (a fact pointed out repeatedly by Milwaukeeans to Chicagoans as we made our way to our cars). But Brian and I spent way too much on this pack of half season tickets. Can't we get to see them win for once?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bucks v Cleveland, Is it me?

OK, let's get the black socks rant right out of the way. Black socks Cleveland came to Milwaukee tonight, and they all looked terrible in those socks, but No 11, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the worst. (He did quite a bit of damage to the Bucks, too, but that's later in this post). I know you're from Lithuania and all, but no, you are not going to convince me that your skinny white legs poking into those awful black socks is some hip and worldly Euro-fab look. This isn't a race thing, but if the black socks don't look good generally, they look especially bad on spindly, pale white calves. Coupled with his receding hairline, he's well on his way to the grampa-getting-ready-to-cut-the-grass look. But he's not old enough, so let's just call him an attorney on his lunch hour who doesn't have time to do a full footwear change, and needs to slip quickly back into his Allen-Edmondses before he heads from the court to the courthouse.

Anthem tonight from the Greendale High School band, who predictably played it perfectly straight. Word to my fellow clarinetists: always tune up right before playing, instead of more than 15 minutes before. Woodwinds have a tendency to go out of tune easily with humidity and temperature changes, and its enough of a change from the dark tunnel to the bright lights at mid-court that your failure to tune one last time came through loud and clear. You can get away with this outdoors on a football field, you cannot in the acoustic nightmare that is any indoor sports stadium. I learned this in basketball band in my high school. (Thank you Mr. Kocman for making us tune every time out.) "We tune because we care" is a good slogan to live by.

Bango the Mascot is still sporting a busted-up arm. This manifests itself most terribly during the normally clever Applebee's promotion. The jist is that you see Bango on the Jumbotron, picking up an order from Applebee's, then a video montage of him scurrying through the streets of Milwaukee on a Segway, through the stage doors, then through the tunnel, and then -- voila! -- here he is, delivering fresh hot Applebee's food to some lucky fan. Problem is, I can handle that he picks up the order in broad daylight, and its already night at the Bradley Center. I can let slide that the construction zone he zooms through is all done, and they've repaird that bridge and just this week are taking down the Wisconsin Avenue bridge over I-43. But throughtout the video montage, he's wearing a white (home) uniform and his arm is in perfect shape. Then he comes in, wearing a purple (away) uniform and his arm's all in a sling. This totally ruins the effect. C'mon Bango. C'mon Applebee's -- we can only suspend our disbelief so far.

And tonight apparently was Packers night at the Bradley Center. Ahman Green was sitting 10 rows or so behind us, while other Packers (I couldn't tell you who they were, my husband could, but this is MY blog, not his) were sitting courtside. Green was wearing a Bucks jersey, but with his name and Packer number on it. He was friendly and gracious to all around. Fox Sports Net chose to interview him, but geez, the guy's team had a crap season, and he just wants to chill out and watch some hoops from a nice, not at all ostentatious spot, and FSN has to call even more attention to him. Oh, and the huge Super Bowl T-shirt the FSN cameraman chose to wear while doing this was an especially salt-in-the-wound tacky touch.

I write all this to divert from the fact that tonight Brian and I witnessed yet another frustrating loss. Bucks come out strong in the 1st quarter, almost making me wonder if this was going to be a boring blowout. They're leading at halftime, with only one brief moment when Cleveland leads. They're leading by 5 into the 4th. And then they just run out of gas. They do this a lot, or at least a lot of times I see them. They come out like gangbusters, and then, poof, they're gone. But maybe it's just me. Maybe Brian and I are being punished karmically for leaving early the one time they come back with a miracle comeback win. Or maybe they need to actually start wearing some black socks.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year, New Look

I just changed templates. That black one was cool as all hell, but I decided it was too hard to read. Uh, I'm getting old, no?

Or maybe I'm just fickle and changing my mind a lot.