Friday, August 29, 2008

10 Years ago, you couldn't have told me we'd come this far

Last night, much to her chagrin, I called Stella into the living room and made her watch Barack Obama's speech with me. She was pissed because she was right in the middle of some Neopets crap on the computer.

Lots of people who think they know me don't know that fundamentally, I'm extremely passionate about politics and the effect it has on this country which, actually, I love. But those who know me know that I rarely blog about it because I spent a good portion of my young adulthood actually working in it and it burnt me out and made it a tad (?) bitter. Last night was a good time to forget the bitterness. Until Stella started giving me an attitude about why she needed to be there.

"Look, Stella, lemme tell you something," I said to her, with that voice I get (and her accompanying eye-rolling) that indicates it's time for one of my big picture lectures. "When I was 9 years old like you are now, we all crammed into a room to watch Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon. We knew it was important, because we were told it was important, and we though it was fairly cool, but frankly, we kind of took it for granted because we had been watching Star Trek and all sorts of stuff like that, and we knew it was only a matter of time that it would come to this. But we still knew it was kind of cool, and there were enough adults who assured us that it was worth missing recess to see something like this, that this country could put this together, and when Neil Armstrom said 'One Giant Leap for Mankind' we finally got it. I'll never forget it, and I'll thank Mrs. Hartshorne forever for canceling recess so that we could drag the TV in the room so we could see it. And I have something in common with everybody my age who calls themselves an American -- I can tell people exactly where I was when I saw one of the most significantly wonderful milestones in our history happen.

"And here's the thing. You best believe my mom, your grandmother, when she was pregnant with me only 10 years earlier, would never have believed that we were only 10 years away from such a thing. Oh yeah, Kennedy said we were going for it, but really, that was just so out of the realm of thinking of the average person in 1960 that they all though, 'Well, that would be nice, but I'm not betting the farm on it' " So it was also a moment my mom and I shared when I got home from school, and I know she was amazed and happy about it too.

"You don't realize this, Stella, but when I was pregnant with you, you couldn't have told me that we were only 10 years away from having a black president. You couldn't have told ANYBODY that we could do something this significantly great, rise above our stupid divisive things, and even come as far as having a black person lead a major party ticket, and in fact, have his top contender for the spot be a woman. And you couldn't have told anybody in this cynical day and age that for once, we'd be voting for somebody who was smart, who we could actually vote FOR instead of voting against somebody else. And here he is, Stella, and we're all gathered around the TV to watch him make the speech that could very well make or break his shot at making major history. It's finally going to happen, this could be one of the most significant events of this part of your life that you share with everybody else in your generation and I have to ask you this:

"What do you want to tell people the rest of your life when they ask you where you were when Barack Obama made The Speech? Trust me, you don't want the answer to be 'Fucking around on Neopets Dot Com' for chrissakes."

I'm proud to say she lost her attitude, cracked open a soda, and cheered along with us last night.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beach Flambeau

Dig if you will this picture: I've finally braved putting my toes in Lake Michigan (and the rest of my body as well), and once you get about 10 meters off the shoreline you can't smell the algae anymore and its actually quite lovely. I'm frolocking with the kids in the waves, and there's some huge volleyball tournament going on the beach. And what's blaring over the Bradford Beach PA? Couch Flambeau! Jay and Rusty and Neil are blasting out the "hits" and I can hear them all the way in the water, and I'm riding the waves with Sammy, and I hear "Helvetica" in the water. Maybe that's why I couldn't smell the fishy overtones, I just was too happy.

We dried off and trudged up the beach to see a couple more sets, and ran into Andy Aeros Kaiser, who commented that he'd never really been to Bradford Beach before and, come to think of it, never had I until last Saturday. Oh, sure, I jumped in the water here back when I was pregnant with Sammy (which was the last time the water quality was good enough to risk it!) and I've ridden my bike past, but otherwise, no, never really explored it. I'd heard they fixed up the pavilion, and now I'm here and I'm really liking the design of the place, despite -- or maybe even because -- it's not completely renovated. It's just fixed up enough to be functional, retaining the rust and some of the grime of years of use since it's original design, which is actually way cool. It's beyond any beach house you could see dotting the Chicago coast. And every Saturday, they've brought out a different local band.

I just wish they'd tell some people that, no, if you're going to get some of the best local bands in the city to play, they're not going to play covers all day. Apparantly sombody complained to the band that they weren't playing "songs that anybody knows" and later they responded with a wonderfully snotty version of "Helter Skelter," because everybody knows the Beatles, right?

Series sponsor
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Still, it was a nice thing to hear, while watching some beach volleyball tournament (even though, after the Olympics, if I never see another beach volleyball game again in my life, I won't feel deprived on my deathbed), and heading down to the snack bar with the kids. "Who's that girl with the big forehead" is coming from upstairs and I'm pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food -- the chitpotle steak tacos are flavorful and reasonably priced -- and I've totally forgotten that this is the last weekend of the summer. I'm glad the park district has taken the steps to fix up this place, bring in the kinds of things that get people to come -- without forgetting to keep it all diverse. I couldn't help but laugh at this couple scavenging for cans and sitting their dogs under this sign and that's the mark of a good beach -- plenty of people watching was to be had, both on the beach, and reacting to the snotty musical act on stage.
In the meantime, the bikers are beginning to roll into town, and this makes me happy. Like the tink of a bat against a ball at the park across the street, the rumble of the bikes on the freeway near our house is a sound I associate with wonderful summer evenings, and parties. Just on my lunch hour, I ran into some bikers who'd come from Switzerland, and it's lovely to see people from all over the world. I know there's killjoys who are going to whine about the noise, (like the guys at the beach whining about the lack of covers) but I love being in the town where it's the place to be, and everytime Milwaukee plays host to the bikers, Milwaukee is the place to be. I actually get kind of choked up, hearing stories of goodwill and hospitality. Driving past 4 and 5 star joints with signs that proudly proclaim "Welcome Bikers!" Seeing the valets at the Pfister polish the bikes of their guests as carefully and skillfully as they'd perform this task for a Mercedes-Benz. Reading stories of in the paper about hometown hospitality. And just knowing how much good this does the tourism and hospitality industry should drown out the naysayers.

My only complaint? I'm sooooo confused about all the parties and stuff. I know Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is somewhere tomorrow night, and family favorites Blue Oyster Cult will be here this weekend, but trying to get a sense of what's going on overall is like trying to read the entire menu at a Greek family restaurant.
The actual true only bummer is that this is sort of the final gasp of summer, a summer that flew by too fast. This was hammered home last night at the last Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill, with Swing Nouveau playing us out. I think they're tied with the Swing-O-Matics as my favorite big band sound group. Amongst a bunch of standards, they piled on arrangements that were faithful to the sound, but with great little flourishes they used to put their personal stamp on. And they're giving the Swing-O-Matics a good run for their money in the terrific Zoot suit department -- these guys will keep Johnnie Walker in business for a while. Favorite take: a great big band version of "Caravan" that keep that cool big band sound and interjected a bit of danger as well. And I learned toward the end that my Sammy can really cut a rug! There's something about jitterbuging that just comes natural to American kids, especially those who haven't learned about self-consciousness. And I lose all self-consciousness when I hear big band jazz done well, anyway. Bravo, Bay View Neighborhood Association -- you did a great series this summer and I can't wait to see what's on the bill next year.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

C'mon Yolanda, What's Fonzie Like?!?!!?

Fonz Closeup
Originally uploaded by johndecember
Well, I gotta go with the guy in Stingl's column the other day who answered Mr. Winfield's question with "Alec Baldwin." Here's a shot of him, from flickrite John December (I've been so busy that I work 2 blocks from this and I still haven't had a chance to shoot this in person), and we all still can't believe it. Really, I never for a minute was expecting "art," and for all the whining Mike Brenner did (nobody in Milwaukee gives a crap about him anymore, so he went whining to the Associate Press in a story picked up by the Chicago Sun Times --who obviously didn't realize that Brenner's "I'm leaving if you put this up" schtick has gotten pretty shrill, which is why it didn't run in the JS.) I never thought it left a bad mark on the city at all. It's actually funny to watch Brenner still getting his panties in a bunch over $70K spent on a fun city toy, because if he knew anything about philantrophy, he'd know that $70K is nothing: Michael Cudahy shits $70K every day after breakfast.
OK,OK, OK, it's not art, but for $70K I don't think it's too much to ask that it not be butt ugly. It doesn't even look like the Fonz, not during the show, not even like Winkler (in age-weather wrinkled glory) now. According to all reports, Winkler was wonderfully, effusively gracious at every moment he was here, and according to Stingl's column: "When the veil was lifted, Winkler proclaimed the statue to be 'truly beautiful.' " Well, say whatever you will about Henry Winkler, but either he has no ego whatsoever or he deserves an Oscar for that performance -- anybody else would have broken character when the veil as lifted and screamed "WTF is that! You people paid $70K for that? That doesn't even look like me! That doesn't look like anybody! Jesus!" But Winkler actually convincingly acted like he was thrilled. He could teach us all a few things about acting -- and laughing at ourselves.

I guess the craftsman (see, Mike, I'm not calling the guy who made this an "artist" so just you pipe down) said (again from Sting'ls column) that he worked off one photograph. What, from some loser at a Fonzie impersonation contest? For $70K you couldn't have found maybe a few other snapshots online, or rented a few DVDs of Happy Days episodes? Really, do your research. And I won't even complain about the teal color of the pants. I'm hoping that they'll turn denim blue after a few winters of oxidation.

OK, Fonzie rant off. I like the idea, I liked the concept, and I think its fun and will continue to be fun. As they've been saying in the Olympics -- start value, 7.2; execution, well while the jacket is perfect, we're going to have to deduct a few points for the teal pants and that face, whoa, that's worse than falling off the balance beam. Overall score: 13 -- that puts it out of medal contention.

Last weekend was Milwaukee's answer to Chicago's "Taste of Chicago" -- Zoo A La Carte and I have to rank it very highly. Excellent portions of very good food for very reasonable prices -- nothing was more expensive than 10 tickets ($5) and you got your money's worth. I didn't try Aladdin's offerings, because I know how good their food is (but couldn't resist some rosewater lemonade, described by Stella as "What really nice lotion would taste like if it tasted good" -- and I have to say she nailed that). There was this really good beef mushroom stuffing tenderloin stuff from some place out in Waukesha, which I would rave about here, but the chick who served it to me was, well, let's just say this particular place didn't have their A list servers working Saturday evening. "Don't strain yourself" I told her as she finally worked up the energy to hand me my entree. Two booths later I'm capitulating and patronizing a chain outlet, Texas Roadhouse, and Waukesha joint, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You're forcing me to rave about a chain joint's service -- the Roadhouse has this thing down. And i have to admit, their ribs kick it.

There were plenty of good little acts dotting the smaller stages all over the zoo, and Lou "You're as Cold as Ice" Gramm was warming up by Lake Evenrude, but on our way out we passed the regular party stage to catch a few songs from the Love Monkeys, sucking the life out of an already dreary Tom Petty song. Do any of you Monkey actually love An American Girl? You sure didn't sound like it. You sounded (and had the stage presence to accompany) like you've been married to her for about 20 years, have grown quite bored with her but you're too lazy to ask for a divorce. I take back everything (well almost everything) I said about Bobby Way and the Wayouts: at least they're not afraid to look like they actually try. I'm sorry, I just don't get what the BFD is on the Love Monkeys. Hire them for a wedding? Perfect. Buy a T-Shirt or other Merch? Why? Honestly, why?

Thank God i live in Milwaukee, where there are plenty of excellent cover and original bands to drown out this mediocrity. coming up this weekend and future:
  • The Danglers are signed on for every other Tuesday at the Up and Under, starting September 9. I'll definitely get my fix this fall.

  • Live (or at least good DJing) is coming back to, get this, Quarters in the form of a Ladies' Night. The first Thursday of the month will be run by, and occupied by women artists.

  • Speaking of Ladies' Night, the Dark Horse project hits Club Anything on Friday.

  • Head out to the Dragstrip this Saturday, and see the Cocksmiths at 4ish. Perfect. "I love the smell of ethanol in the evening!"

  • Stella, who's been at Discovery World camp all week, learned about water testing today, and reports that according to her findings, Lake Michigan is now clear enough to swim in and support life, and the Ph is a solid 7. So I'll allow the kids to take a dip at Bradford Beach this Saturday afternoon, while Couch Flambeau plays at the Bradford Beach Pavillion -- they start at 3.

I feel better now. And it's Thursday night, which means DJ LoFi is at Kochanski's Concertina Hall tonight and every Thursday night. What a perfect pairing. It's, as Jules Winfield would say, cool.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chicks dig it

Originally uploaded by V'ron
Ah State Fair. I've said this before, I love it because it's the anti-Summerfest. It doesn't try to be anything but what it is: a miasma of farm animals, husband calling contests, deep fried everything, cover bands, and of course, carnival rides. We arrived last Tuesday and the first thing we did was hit the skyglider where we said hi to Bernie Brewer (and forgot about whathisname, that guy who's going to play QB for the Jets) and took it all in. We heard Eric B Ebert from the skyglider doing a convincing Neil Diamond tribute.

Tuesday was "Crazy Grazin' Day" and frankly, that was a bit disappointing. Most of the offerings weren't anything special or that I didn't know how they tasted otherwise -- like a hot dog for a dollar. I *know* how a hot dog tastes. Or, the offering wasn't a deal. There were exceptions, of course. One place offered mini-bratwurst corndogs (they were good!) and there was some pizza that was good, too. But the stuff you just wanted a little of -- likedeep fried asparagus wasn't available as a small, "crazy grazin" dish. Oh well. And then there was the argument I had at this one gyros stand, I'm sorry, I know you have to pay fees, but for $7, a gyro needs to have more than 3 ounces of gyro meat on it. And I found the gyro stand that delivered, and Sammy happily helped me eat it.
The Florida Yard dogs were once again installed for the entire run at what is no longer Shakey's Pizza ("they're not as good as Shakey's, but they'll do," Brian said of the acceptable but ultimately forgettable replacement -- and this begs the question, whatever happened to Shakey's?) and just a couple of doors over were sixthstation favorites the Five Card Studs. And there was eric Ebert, sitting in with them. When I was younger, I admit I was pretty snobby about cover bands, but right now, I really do appreciate cover and tribute bands done with love an authenticity.

Which, frankly, is more than I can say for Bobby Way and the Wayouts, a tribute band that I just don't get. It's a tribute to blandness, I guess. They material they do is the top notch classic stuff from the late 50s and 60s rock and roll roots era, but they manage to strip every ounce of excitement and joy from it, while at the same time just barely doing it well. I mean, I'm no big fan of, say, the Love Monkeys, but they're at least nondescript. Bobby Way is just mediocre. How do they get those gigs? Do people not know there's at least 30 bands in Milwaukee County alone who are doing this exact same stuff so much better? But I can't bitch too much about the music, because that's not what State Fair is about, and I've already said this is why I love State Fair. Still -- just the day before you had the wonderful Pupy Costello and his Big City Honky Tonk in their place. Why not today as well?

aerial fun at the fair
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Anyway, Stella and Sam didn't care either way. They had a ball digging the chicks and other animals, and playing in bins of grain (the wheat was something I wouldn't mind taking a nap in -- that stuff's comfy!) and of course, the rides. Sammy is old enough this year to go on more of the big rides with me, and Stella was tall enough to attempt the Big Drop -- a ride she's been both fascinated and repelled by since she was three. It's a good thing neither of us knew about the tragedy on a similar ride at Kentucky Kingdom before we went on. But I'll tell ya, *I* was scared coming down, like this would be the one time the hydraulic brakes didn't work. They did, of course, and I actually finally got this one crack in my neck I've been trying to get for weeks.
All that walking left me exhausted, such that I didn't have much energy to even write this blog entry for a week. Friday night I enjoyed another movie with the kids at Pere Marquette Park (this time it was Seinfeld's Bee Movie), and didn't even make it to Center Street's Rockerbox street party on Saturday. I did, however, manage to check out more chicks -- namely three female fronted (and mostly comprised) bands at the supposedly new and improved Club Garibaldi. Pillowfight started things off -- lots of fun energy (good cover of the Cramps' "Human Fly"). However, they are just short of formidable: their lead singer's style is fun for about three songs, but after that, one realizes that she's not going to vary much in tone -- and sudeenly the epiphany kicks in: the monotone gets monoton-ous. Up next, a quick set from Guido's Racecar, with Roni Allwaise setting her tone by going Grace Slick and growling out "White Rabbit" before kicking the rest of their originals in. They were clearly caught off guard when given the two-song warning, but they left the crowd wanting, which is what bands should do. Then, finally, I got to see the Barrettes, a four-piece of women who both conventionally and unconventially rock. The cello doesn't replace the absent bass-- it is a cello in and of itself, and the electric mandolins/ukeleles aren't used as the celtic or folky instruments they are usually employed as. The best thing about this band is that they do vary their approach, so you can't pigeonhole them. One minute, they're dissonant and angry, the next they're joyous and anthemic. And as I've not seen them since well before drummer Joolz' hand surgery, I'm very impressed with her work -- she's elegant and powerful at the same time, and she's massively improved since last year (and she was pretty damn good to begin with.) You could say that about the whole band -- they're certainly not standing still or resting on their laurels. I dug it.
Like I said, this all went down at the "new and improved" Club Garibaldi, which, actually, didn't need a whole lot of improvement to begin with, but I wasn't blown away. When the Cactus Club was "new and improved," people went, "WOW!" At Garibaldi, as best as I can tell, they put a black curtain behind the stage and installed permanent lights. That's not "WOW!" That's "Oh." And in fact, they may have devolved. I ordered a weissbier in the stage room, and I probably should have ordered it upfront where it would be served in a weissbier glass. 'Nuff said.
Finally, family was in town Sunday, and they wanted to see the new Harley Davidson museum, so I finally got myself in there before the crowds really show up in a few weeks. Admittedly, my favorite part was the hall where the culturally significant rides were -- Elvis' bike (very tasteful, not like this thing the Easy Rider bikes, some monstrosities, and a video clip of famous biker moments in movies (not only Easy Rider, but the part in Pulp Fiction that ends with "Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead."
I think the museum's nice, and I enjoyed it, (especially the wall of gas tanks) but as a local, I wasn't blown away. My out of town family liked it, but they've never been here when the bikers come, swarming in like cicadas in the year of the 17 year locust, parking everywhere, the buzz of the gear shift lullabying me to sleep every night, the thousands of variations on a basic theme of two wheels and a twin v motor. The museum is the official, historical document, but the upcoming homecoming is the blog, I dig it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Stuff and Things

I was at a lovely party on Saturday, a birthday party for our family friend Chris, and we were talking to other friends of ours (including our family friend Buzz). "I haven't really done any things this summer because I've had to do too much stuff," I said, knowing this was the vaguest thing I could possibly say to the question, "Whatcha been doin'?" besides the standard, "Not much, really."

But somehow, everybody at this party understood completely the difference between doing stuff and doing things. Stuff is stuff you gotta do. Things are things you wanna do. I usually get a lot of stuff done in the winter, so that I can do lots of things in the summer. But it was Buzz who figured it out: "I think since we had all that lousy weather in the spring, we didn't get all the stuff we'd normally do done in the spring, and it's bled over to summer." And I think he's right.

Well, one of the things I got to do this weekend, besides eat a pile of crawfish in honor of Chris' birthday, was grab the blanket and plunk it down at Pere Marquette Park for the first of four Friday night River Flicks. This year started out with The Wizard of Oz, and before the movie started, there was a magician whose act was geared toward the children who were gearing up for an outdoor movie. And because of this particular film's classic status, there were plenty of adults there, by themselves, almost on dates. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect night. However, we could have asked for more vendors. I was surprised -- there was only a Cousin's sub stand and a popcorn truck (who'd run out of popcorn right after they'd met the Cowardly Lion but before the poppies put them to sleep. Come on -- right about when they get to the Merry Old Land of Oz was when everybody really needed a popcorn fix.) But I'd counted on a bunch of food vendors -- on the order of those who normally show up on Wednesdays for River Rhythms. And I learned that the normally reliable Pizza Shuttle would not deliver to a park. (Can't blame 'em, but still -- they are known for delivering to just about anywhere.). So I called Rock Bottom -- whose pizzas are pretty darn good, and they whipped up a couple of 'zahs which we ran over to pick up just in time for Miss Gulch to threaten to kill Toto. Overall, a good evening. More popcorn, please.
Tonight I'm missing a perfectly good private party that's featuring the wonderful Danglers. I'm going to catch them soon again. It's been way too long, but I had a lot of stuff to do today.

So here I am, sitting at home, working on stuff, and one of the things I'm doing is watching what's turning out to be OJ Simpson revisited: Fox 6 is pre-empting The Simpsons for live coverage of Brett Favre's plane landing in Green Bay, and then him getting into an SUV (this one's a red Escalade, as opposed to a white Bronco) and driving at less than breakneck speed to some ordinary house. And all the fans are in the rain, watching this. "Family Packer night" probably won't go on because of the rain, but it's still pre-empting the good Simpsons.

And finally, I'm really saddened by this story, the rape of one woman and subsequent murder of three teenagers near Niagra, WI, just a stone's throw away from Iron Mountain, very close to where I was hiking with friends and family not four weeks ago, and just too close for comfort to where I spend at least a weekend, if not a whole week every year. It's a place I go to forget about the stress and pressure of the city, to just chill with nature, and to take in the beauty and serenity of the surroundings. And I suspect it's a place where people go to live for similar reasons. Not that this crap can't go down anywhere (this awful story reminds us of that fact), but we drive through Niagra every year -- a little strip of a town facing a pictureeque cliff over the Menomonee river, and it's the kind of place you would never expect such horror going down unless you were watching a film directed by David Lynch. I hate this stuff.