Monday, July 31, 2006


Do you have certain Frequently Asked Questions which people keep asking you all the time, over and over and over again? Well, I do— honestly, I get asked each of these questions at least two or three times a month— and so I thought I'd list my FAQs here for ongoing reference:

Q: Do you have a garden?

A: Nope, check out my back yard, no garden in sight. Any plant I cast my shadow on had better run for its life if it knows what's good for it.

Q: Do you hunt?

A: No. My grandfather was a hunter, and so is my cousin, who's 3 months older than me. But I've never used a rifle except to knock tin cans off a fencepost.

Q: Do you fish?

A: Not since I was 16. Back in those days I used a bamboo pole sans reel, and a worm on the end of the hook. But it's been a long time since then.

Q: Do you play golf?

A: No, perish forbid! I know I must be the only pastor on the face of the earth who's not a golfer, but it's true. I'm not a golfer.

Q: What does your brother do for a living?

A: He works for a company which manufactures pest control products.

Q: Are you a good cook?

A: Gaaaackk, no!!! I know a few random good recipes, but for the most part, the ease of popping packaged food into the microwave is all that stands between me and starvation.

Q: Can you clear the viruses off my computer?

A: Yes, probably. And I can install free and effective anti-virus and anti-spyware software, too. I might even install some goodies like Firefox and Thunderbird, if you ask me to.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: In a small town in Wisconsin, up north of Madison. Honestly, you wouldn't believe the name of the town if I told you. The US Postal Service got the name mixed up way back in the 1800s due to messy handwriting on a government form, and they never got it straightened out.

Q: How's your Jeep running?

A: Runs like a dream. (Whew! At least there's one question that has a simple, straightforward answer...)

Friday, July 28, 2006

And Did I Mention, It's Hot Out?

Friday evening. Hot. Like, up into the 90s for the umpteenth time.

Saving my energy. Tomorrow morning it's over to Decorah (yeah, that Decorah) to ride on our Lions Club float in the Decorah Nordic Fest parade.

Like I say, hot. Just resting. Saving my energy for tomorrow.

Oh, and I've got something really cool coming by UPS. I'll blog on it, with pictures, next week. If and when it ever arrives.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Synchronicity Strikes!

Oh dear. My apocalyptic little rocking horses have come to life in a cartoon...

(h/t Dean Esmay)


Call Us with Your Concerns, Tuesday through Saturday

Yesterday I was over in Decorah, and ate at McDonald's. Must be the first time I've eaten at a McDonald's in almost a year. Little unfamiliarities struck me, such as the flat-screen TV hanging on the wall— must be the first time I've ever seen a TV playing for the benefit of customers in a fast-food joint.

But somehow what really struck me was the sales receipt. I sat there staring at it in wary, horrified fascination as I ate my double quarter pounder. A sales receipt designed by committee. Designed by a bureaucratic committee. Designed according to an opaque, indecipherable schema. Like I say, designed by committee.

And like so many things designed by bureaucratic committee, one is left with the vague impression that many of the incomprehensible features of the sales receipt are there, not to meet any known human need, but rather primarily to ward off potential lawsuits.

At the top of the sales receipt it read, "McDonalds of Decorah, 913 Short St, Decorah, IA," with whatever zip code. Note, only one McDonald's in town, so besides giving the full address, they somehow have to specify in addition "McDonalds of Decorah." Just so you didn't get confused, and lawsuit them for damages due to emotional anguish, from being ambiguously misled into thinking that the only McDonald's in Decorah, Iowa might somehow actually be the "McDonalds of Chicago" in Decorah, Iowa, or the "McDonalds of Amarillo" in Decorah, Iowa. No, make no mistake about it, the one and only McDonald's in Decorah, Iowa is none other than the "McDonalds of Decorah."

Though I see they left an opening for potential lawsuits in the non-use of an apostrophe, "McDonalds" instead of "McDonald's." Might this not lead to a lawsuit for damages due to emotional anguish among the orthographically challenged? "I was misleh-eh-ehd into a misspell-elling! Wahhhh! Wahhhh! Sob, choke!" Then again, in these illiterate latter days probably nobody will notice a mere misspelling.

Next on the sales receipt comes the maudlin, Dear-Abbyish notification: "Please call Scott w/ comments and concerns at 563-555-5555, Tuesday through Saturday." Oh, really? Why "Tuesday through Saturday"? Isn't that a bit odd, and just the sort of indecipherable specification you'd expect from a committee? I mean, why not Monday through Friday? Why not Monday through Saturday? What's this with "Tuesday through Saturday"? Isn't that a bit like "call us Tuesdays through Thursdays, Saturdays, and/or second or fourth Fridays in months that have an 'r' in their name"?

And call Scott "w/ comments and concerns"? What is this, a crisis hotline run from a fast-food cash register receipt? Rrrring, rrring, phone rings at McDonald's of Decorah, sobbing choking voice on the other end of the line: "Ohhhh, hello... may I speak with Scott? Becau-au-ause I'm just so-oh conceh-eh-eh-erned! I can't sta-and it! It's the french fries! Oh-oh-oh-oh, wahhhhhh! Choke, sob, gasp, wahhhhhhh! Oh, the fries, the inhu-ooo-manity of it all!!! Gasp! Wahhhhhhhhh!"

Yes, call Scott on the fast-food crisis hotline with your conceh-eh-erns!

Though why specify Scott? I mean, won't any random employee or shift manager do? Oops, sounds to me like an opening for another potential lawsuit, due to breach of implicit contract and damages due to emotional anguish! Sorry, this is 8:00 AM, and Scott won't be in until nine! Broken, sobbing, gasping voice: "Oh-oh-oh-oh! Sob, choke! I just have to speak to Scott! Wahhhhh! It says Scott on the sales recei-ei-ei-eipt! Wahhhhh! Waaahhhhhhhhh!!!"

Then after the Dear Abby crisis hotline notice on the sales receipt, the next item is... the name and address of the fast food joint! McDonalds, 913 Short St, Decorah, IA, zipcode. What, didn't they just give that same info not an inch away further up on the sales receipt? Yes, they did; but you see, this is a sales receipt designed by bureaucratic committee.

Then comes, in slightly smaller letters... the name and address of the fast food joint for a third time, followed by a phone number. Yes, just in case you didn't get it the first two times around, this is indeed "McDonalds Decorah IA", and its phone number is indeed... well, it's the same phone number already given on the receipt for that ersatz crisis hotline where you can call and sob and moan and choke over the horrors and inhumanity of the fries, though only from Tuesday through Saturday.

Next comes the order, with date fully specified: "Jul.26,2006(Wed)12:56PM" I like that day of the week, "(Wed)", crammed in there like an afterthought, as if to ward off lawsuits lest someone years down the road should come across this sales receipt amongst their treasured mementos, and suffer emotional anguish due to not being able immediately to tell which day of the week "Jul.26,2006" fell on. Or more likely it's to ward off lawsuits over damages due to emotional anguish from being unable to tell immediately whether the sale was made on Tuesday through Saturday when Scott (ask for him by name) was available to take sobbing phone calls on the french fries crisis hotline.

Then comes my order, summarized in such a cryptic code of abbreviations that a person might well lawsuit them for emotional anguish due to being unable to remember whether "DBL QTR CHR" stands for "double quarter pounder" or "double quarter pounder value meal"; along with an added fee of 36¢ levied as an "eat-in tax." What, McDonald's now adds an extra fee of 36¢ to cover the privilege of sitting and eating your meal in their establishment, instead of ordering to go?!

I also note that the emotionally overwrought could sense a potential lawsuit in the fact that the name of the fast-food joint was given three times on a sales receipt not over five inches long; while the phone number was given only twice, and not at all anywhere in the bottom half of the receipt. Imagine the damages due to emotional anguish from taking a tenth of a second longer to locate the hotline phone number, because one happened to glance first at the bottom half of the sales receipt, instead of at the top half of the sales receipt where, in the first two vertical linear inches, the phone number is given twice! Oh, the agony! Oh, the anguish! I've just got to call Scah-ah-ahtt on the crisis hotline to express my conceh-eh-ehrn! But only on Tuesday through Saturday.

Yeah, I know. Sheer lunacy. But that's the way a bureaucratic committee "thinks," and it was evidently none other than a bureaucratic committee which designed this incomprehensible sales receipt.

Oh, and please, somebody convince me that on the way out the door, I didn't sight on that flat-screen TV a commercial for McDonald's. As if now it's not enough to pay them for burger and fries, with an additional 36¢ park-your-ass-on-our-seats eat-in tax— no, now you also have to be subjected to on-site McDonald's TV commercials while you're eating your Big Mac! Agghhhh, that may have been a flight of my horrified imagination.

In concluding, let me specify that this blog post was written with purely satirical intent, don't lawsuit me, and it is not intended to reflect poorly on any fast food chain, imaginary fast food chain, actual fast food chain, or fast food chain as depicted in a work of fiction. Opinions are solely those of the author, and fall under the protection of satirical treatment of public figures, publicly well known corporations, and other such shadows and penumbras of First Amendment rights. Don't lawsuit me! Speech herein is not subject to the terms or conditions of the McCain-Feingold Act. Sales receipt being quoted from memory, wording may not be exact or perfect, disclaimer of all responsibility for speech except as satirical commentary, don't lawsuit me!!!


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Well, I'll Be...

Last night I actually survived my first dinner meeting as President of our local Lions Club.

You would not believe how I've been sweating bricks over this one the past few weeks. Visions of standing up there, freezing up, stumbling around, hemming and hawing, everything swirling down into blackness, as the world wobbles off its axis and time itself skids to a screaming, horrific halt.

But in the event, the meeting went quite well. Will wonders never cease?!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pennies in the Fountain

It was the summer of 1979. I was 22 going on 23. I was a graduate student in math at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I was spending the summer doing as little as possible.

I'd made enough as a teaching assistant during the school year that I could afford to coast through the summer. I did have a small summer job, grading papers for a few math classes. But this took me at most an hour or two a day. The rest of the time I hung out on State Street, drifted around Madison, hit the various campus libraries, or sat in my apartment reading books and drinking Point Special beer with the air conditioner running.

I was young. And I had deliberately planned things so as to have the summer free. A three-month vacation! I thought, why wait till I'm old and grey to enjoy retirement? Take retirement on the instalment plan early!

Apartment. On Langdon Street, up above the KK, right across the street from Memorial Library. Just a block off State Street. Sometimes on a summer afternoon or a sunny evening, I would drift down to hear a street preacher rhythmically chanting, or watch a juggler juggling flaming torches on the State Street Mall. Someone would ride by on a unicycle. Hey, this was Madison, the Berkeley of the Midwest, in the late 70s. And you know that the late 70s was the most mellow of times.

Less than a block from my apartment was a large fountain, on the vast open stretch between Memorial Library and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. A big fountain, I'd say 15 or 20 feet across. And if you looked down into the water of the fountain, you'd see pennies here and there. Pennies which passersby had thrown into the fountain.

So. One hot summer afternoon, sitting by the fountain, I got a bright idea. You know, 22 going on 23, let the normals gawk if they will, I thought. What I did was, I took off my shoes and my socks. And in shorts and T-shirt, I stepped over the edge right into the nearly knee deep waters of the fountain.

Wading around now out in the fountain. Bending over, reaching down into the water. Picking up pennies out of the fountain. A penny here, a penny there. As Ben Franklin might have put it, a penny liberated from the fountain is a penny earned.

People were indeed gawking as they walked by, at the sight of a young fellow wading around out in the fountain. Fortunately no campus police happened by. One bluenose, no older than myself, sniffed, "I hope you're finding enough money to make it worth the embarrassment!"

Ah, I thought to myself, a blinkered slave to the ossified conventions of society! Let him rot in the darkness of his own enslavement to blind social conformity! Like I say, I was 22 going on 23, and rather contemptuous of those who meekly submitted to good citizensheep.

Had I come along a generation later, I'm sure I would've had tattoos and/or body piercings. As it was in those now long ago days, I expressed my dissent from the trammels of bourgeois society in nothing more radical than hair that hung down to the bottom of my shoulder blades. That, and fishing for pennies in the fountain.

If I remember, I made a grand haul of 23¢. Which in those days would've put me better than halfway toward the price of a hamburger at McDonald's.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Japanese English

From a logo emblazoned on a frying pan: "CHARMY! We have a talk about our the party. It is pleasant to cooking with Miss Rabbit of the Charmy series."

And many more mindbending examples, to be found here.

Friday, July 21, 2006

And the Little Rocking Horses Came...

little rocking horse
...all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it... And the war came.

—Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
The porch door creaked, the rusty door spring groaned, as the hot summer wind caught the unfastened porch door again and again. Creeeeeeak, grrrrrrrrooan. Creeeeeeeak, grrrrroan. A stronger gust of wind caught the door and blew it out a ways on its hinges: crrreeeeeeeeeeeeeak, grrrrrrrrroooan, slam!

The porch door stayed unfastened day and night, summer and winter, because there was no one left to fasten it.

On the back porch floor several dozen little tiny rocking horses sat, soaking up the sunlight which shone in through the glass of the porch windows. Little tiny rocking horses, each no larger than a housefly. Little tiny insect-sized rocking horses, equipped with wings. And equipped with tiny hair-thin rockers on their legs. Rocking horses. Little rocking horses, like houseflies, like horseflies, lazily sunning on the back porch.

It was dead silent out on the porch, except for the occasional creak and groan of the porch door. Then, bzzzzz, bzzzzzzz, one of the little rocking horses sprung, sprung, sprung on its flexible little rockers, as it beat its wings and took to flight.

The little rocking horse flew buzzing through the air. It flew across the back porch, and into the house. Into the kitchen. Bzzzzzzzzz, its wings beating like a little tiny ornithopter. The little rocking horse buzzed across the silent kitchen until it came to rest again in a patch of sunlight on the kitchen counter.

Several other rocking horses were already sunning themselves there on the kitchen counter. The little rocking horse which had just alighted spread its wings toward the sun. It rested, still and unmoving in the afternoon sunlight.

The kitchen was bare. There was not a crumb of food in it. Any food which had once sat in this kitchen had long since been eaten, devoured to the last speck by little rocking horses.

Silent. A silent kitchen, a silent house. In the doorway between the kitchen and the living room lay a human skeleton sprawled on the floor. Another skeleton lay on the floor in the middle of the living room. Their bones were coated with years of dust and grit. The skeletons had long years since been picked clean of any trace of flesh or soft tissue, picked clean by the microscopic mandibles of ravenous little tiny rocking horses.

Summer sunlight shone in through the living room windows, shone on the hardwood floors. Once there had been curtains on the windows, but the rocking horses ate the curtains. Once there had been carpeting on the floor, but the rocking horses ate the carpeting. Round about the living room stood the hardwood frames and metal tubing and metal springs of what had once been household furniture.

The rocking horses could not eat hardwood, anything but soft pinewood was too hard for their little mandibles. They could not eat metal. But the little rocking horses could and did devour any trace of fabric or cushions. They had stripped the walls clean of wallpaper. The house had stood empty like this now, silent and empty, for years.

Out in the yard there was a low buzzing. For out in the yard thousands of little rocking horses covered the ground almost like a carpet. A horde of little rocking horses, rocking gently on their tiny rockers, their wings spread toward the sun to collect and store solar energy.

Store the sun's energy. For there was virtually no food left in these parts, no food for the little rocking horses to eat. Not a blade of grass. Not a leaf or soft twig on tree or bush: the trees and bushes had long since died. Not an animal lurking in den or dell: the rocking horses had long since swarmed on any animal they could find, swarmed and devoured and picked the bones clean. There was not a blade of grass left anywhere within a hundred miles of this house.

And so the yard was hard packed dirt, gullies washed through it here and there by years of rain. The high hill up beyond the house was clean rock and dirt, ochre gashes of erosion washed down hillside by years of rain and not a plant left.

The little rocking horses sunned themselves on the bare dirt of the yard by the house, sunned themselves in the hot sunlight of a summer afternoon. Soaking up solar energy with their wings. Without food, the rocking horses could not reproduce. But with solar energy they could go on and survive almost indefinitely. The little rocking horses were not like the organic life which had once walked and crept and flown over the earth; they were an improved model.

Only far off by the seacoasts nowadays did little rocking horses still breed and reproduce. Only by the seacoasts, or perhaps by an inland creekbed which ran dry. For only along the coasts did sea life wash up on shore, where little rocking horses could descend upon it in a buzzing cloud, descend upon it and devour it. Then the little rocking horses would breed, or bud and divide, or code up copies of themselves directly from template. The little rocking horses could reproduce indifferently according to any of several different modes of reproduction; for they were an improved model.

In the depths of the sea, unlike on land, organic life still survived. Survived unless it was washed up on a beach, or picked off by scavenging rocking horses skimming above the surface of the ocean waves. The little rocking horses had not yet managed to mutate and evolve so as to survive in the depths of the ocean. Not yet. Not yet.

Now the thousands and tens of thousands of little rocking horses spread their wings, sunning themselves, in the yard beside the house. A close inspection would reveal that the rocking horses came in several colors. White, red, black, and pale green. Pestilence, war, famine, and death. The four little rocking horses of the apocalypse. Once upon a time, someone in a laboratory had had a sense of humor. Someone in the laboratory where the little rocking horses had been coded up from template.

A stronger wind came up, and now with a low buzzing roar like a horde of locusts many of the little rocking horses arose from the bare dirt of the yard. They arose into the air, and a cloud of dust followed after them. The little rocking horses could sense a windstorm coming. Violent windstorms these days, howling simoon duststorms across the bare Midwest, now that there was no longer any plant life to anchor the soil.

The little rocking horses took refuge in a rock cleft on the leeward side of the hill. They dug in, they linked together with the tiny little rockers on their legs. Now the wind came, and the dust which obscured the sun. Howling, roaring, winds up to eighty miles an hour. But the little rocking horses rested secure in their rock cleft, where they could outlast the storm for hours, days, weeks, even months. A little rocking horse could go into hibernation for years, and emerge again unscathed when the gentle touch of solar rays lit on its wings. For the little rocking horses were an improved model.

In the roaring wind the porch door went snap, slam! Snap, slam! Snap, slam! The groaning of the rusty door spring could not be heard above the howling of the wind. A wind like this might tear a door right off its hinges; and if it did, there would never again be anyone in the world to fix the door or put it back on its hinges. That era had come to an end. Now there was only the sunlight, and the rain, and the wind, and the little rocking horses.

(Tenniel pic from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, courtesy of Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site)


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday Is Moss Green

Odd but true fact: I've always known which color each day of the week is.

Monday is light brown, Tuesday is violet, Wednesday is red, Thursday is moss green, Friday is yellow, Saturday is luminous red, and Sunday is white.

Somehow in this schema Monday is the first day of the week. Oh, and Thursday's "moss green" is sort of a variegated mix of different shades of green. The "luminous red" of Saturday is a red lit up from within, as if by shining light, versus Wednesday's red, which is just a plain red.

An interesting example of the psychological phenomenon of synaesthesia.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The View Looking South

looking south
From my back porch, that is. Tree. Corn. Hay bales out in the field. Blue sky. Gravel road wending its way down along the backbone of Wheatland Ridge.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TV Interview with Acidman

Over at Blog d'Elisson you can watch a May 2006 local TV interview with the late Rob Smith, alias Acidman.

(h/t Steven)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mirror Time

I've recently made the odd discovery that, when I see my watch in the mirror, I am able to read the time, the hours and minutes, intuitively and with no trouble at all.

However, the seconds are another matter. I cannot decipher the seconds in the mirror. Granted that the second hand on my watch is located in a little dial off-center, but still— I can read the hours and minutes just as easily as I breathe, but I cannot for the life of me read seconds in the mirror.

People Who Interrupt

Glad to be back home and among people who will almost unfailingly let me finish a sentence. Being away at that Regional Youth Event most of last week reminded me all over again how there are some individuals in this world who simply will not let you finish your sentence in progress. They interrupt, they cut you off, they ride right over what you're saying, like a prerecorded videotape when the "play" button is hit off cue.

I've always found people who interrupt to be extremely annoying. To say nothing of rude. The worst is folks who ask you a question, and then before you can get more than half a dozen words out, they interrupt you. Sometimes on a completely different tangent, sometimes (and this the the very worst of the worst) finishing your answer for you in their own words, which seldom amount to anything you would've said, left to your own uninterrupted devices. I'm like, if they didn't want to leave me to answer their question in 25 words or less, then why the hell did they ask me in the first place?

Really. There must be a special circle in hell for chronic and habitual interrupters. If I didn't fear God and the law, I would be strongly tempted to deal with such folk by pulling out a sawed-off baseball bat and beating them into roadkill with it. People who interrupt! Talk about annoying. To say nothing of rude...


It got up to 98° up in La Crosse yesterday. It's been hot around here. Hot. Now today it's supposed to get up to at least 90 again. And humid. I see there's a chance of rain later today. Good, we need it, the corn needs it. When I was younger, I used to like hot weather. Now I only just barely tolerate it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Back Home

Yeah, I'm back from a week spent at that Regional Youth Event. Got back yesterday. And now I've got a busy Sunday ahead of me. Regular blogging to resume by tomorrow or Tuesday.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Traveling at the Speed of Light

This past week was a rush, and now this week is going to be even more of a rush. Have to make travel preparations today, also get ready to moderate a Lions board meeting this evening. Then tomorrow morning we hit the road, and I'll be away, and computerless, at a UCC Regional Youth Event the rest of the week.

Whole first half of July is going to drop right out of my schedule.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Longwave Radio Dreams

longwave radio dial
I've always been strangely drawn to the radio, listening on a dark night to those distant voices coming in across the buzzing static as I tune up and down the glowing radio dial. Tuning in AM stations from across the country. Tuning in shortwave stations from around the world. It always sends a tingle up my spine, like being in touch with some mysterious level of alternate reality.

And I've always regretted that we don't have broadcast stations on longwave here in the United States. You know, longwave radio, way down below the bottom of your AM (mediumwave) dial. Imagine an extra band on your radio dial, the longwave band, starting way down at 150, and running up to around 280, 300, 350, or above.

In some parts of the world— I believe it's Europe, north Africa, the former Soviet Union, and Mongolia— there are broadcast stations on longwave, 153 to 279 kilohertz. BBC Radio 4 from Droitwich, UK on 198 kHz. Allouis, France on 162 kHz. Kalundborg, Denmark on 243 kHz. And many more.

Over the years, I've had several strange dreams about longwave broadcast stations in the United States. Herewith I append my longwave radio dreams...

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Longwave Dream #1

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

I had an intriguing dream last night, that stations had started broadcasting in longwave in North America, and that I tuned my radio to the longwave band and was pulling in longwave stations through the deep ether-buzz static of the longwave band, 151-281 kHz.

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Longwave Dream #2

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

I had a dream the other night that actually there are longwave broadcast stations in the US, only somehow all these years I had never realized it. There was even an old radio in the storeroom upstairs which had a longwave band on it, right above the desk where I used to sit when I was a kid listening to AM stations on that old Stewart-Warner tube radio, only somehow I had overlooked this other radio, or at least I had never realized that it could receive longwave.

In this dream, the idea was that FDR started the longwave broadcast stations as a public works project in the Thirties, during the Depression. Then after WWII the longwave stations were retained as a sort of Conelrad network. Of course, as a government program, these stations had been continued as a legacy up to the present day, long after use and interest declined. Most people nowadays, I dreamed, were no longer even aware of the continued existence of these longwave stations, and many had never even heard of them.

Indeed, since the late Forties it was almost impossible to find a radio any more with a longwave band, Some radios from the Fifties or Sixties might have a "Conelrad" button, preset by the dealer to pull in a local longwave station.

In this dream I saw, as if on a map of the US, that the flagships of this longwave network were five stations which, between them, blanketed the entire continental United States, outside of a small patch of Montana and North Dakota. Five stations, in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Amarillo, and San Francisco. Beyond these five stations, there were a more numerous group of "regional" longwave stations around the country.

In the dream, I took this old radio of ours, and I turned it on. After a minute, the tubes in it warmed up, and it hummed to life. I turned it to the longwave band, and started tuning around. And there, in the middle of the afternoon, I heard a voice, with station identification: "This is Longwave 207... WJZ, Chicago."

I got a station from Texas just above 250— in broad daylight— then I woke up.

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Longwave Dream #3

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

Odd dream last night— listening to longwave, and discovering a station, "This is WSDB, longwave 400 from Chicago"— mixed format, sports, talk, rock.

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Longwave Dream #4

Once several years ago I had this dream, as is recorded in my Book of Dreams:

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream that I was living out in the open, as if amidst partitions of corrugated sheet metal. It was a refugee camp, somewhere out on the Great Plains of Kansas or Nebraska or Oklahoma, in a time after things had fallen to pieces. I was like some character out of a Kerouac novel, dirt poor, beat, grapes of wrath, trampled down into the dust by the press of vast events, and I was living there in this fellaheen refugee camp with this woman, and a young daughter of hers. And I had this radio I had gotten somewhere, a big gigantic oversized silver boom box type radio, with all sorts of arcane controls and buttons and knobs and dials on it.

And then I couldn't find the radio, only this woman showed me where she had hung it up on a hook up high, on the corrugated sheet metal, out of sight of the random pilgrims roaming around in this sheet metal settlement. And I was filled with warmth that this woman, my woman, had understood me so completely and cared so much as to put my radio up out of harm's way like this. And I got it down as she busied herself with the cooking and the wash, her wavy black hair and her snapping black eyes, spaghetti boiling in a large open four-gallon metal pot above an open fire, wash strung out with clothespins on clotheslines strung amidst the walls of corrugated sheet metal.

And then this woman went off somewhere on some task or errand, walking barefoot, her sweet dusty feet, and I sat listening to the radio, with the young girl listening with me. And somehow this scene brought a misting of tears to my eyes, at the warmth of this impoverished refugee life we lived amidst sheet metal steel.

And then the radio had a longwave band on it, and I was pulling in one voice broadcast station you could receive even by day, on 315 kilohertz from Olathe, Kansas. By night this longwave station would come in loud and clear, and you could also get broadcasts on more distant longwave stations from all over North America. And it was some Bible-thumping religious broadcast, warning us to flee from the wrath to come, warning us to flee from the wrath which was already upon us, "and pray that it come not in winter." And I understood that this station had simply gone on the air, without a license, and without fear of reprisal in these latter days.

And then I woke up.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Well, our Lions Club Fourth Of July event went well yesterday, drew a huge crowd. But I'm bushed, and I've still got to head back into town this morning to help clean up. So I'll leave you for today with a rerun...

The Unbearable Lightness of Living Right Next to the State Line

I grew up in a small town in southern Wisconsin, up north of Madison. Which meant we were safely situated in the bosom of Wisconsin, and nowhere near a state line. The Illinois state line is something like an hour's drive south of Madison, so throwing in the time it would take for us to reach and then get past Madison, we were probably almost two hours from Illinois.

When I was a kid, I always viewed Illinois as something of a den of iniquity. Wisconsin was not as squeaky clean as Iowa or Minnesota, but Wisconsin was an arcadia of virtue compared to Illinois. I mean, Illinois, lottery tickets, the Daley machine, Al Capone, tommy guns, street gangs, bookies and horse racing, a general atmosphere of shiftiness and graft, and condom dispensers in men's rooms at service stations along the tollway! (This was back in the days before most states had given in to the temptations of lotteries and casinos.) I could not imagine living in the sordid state of Illinois.

In fact, even less could I imagine living near the state line. One of the many quirky ideas my brother and I came up with when we were kids was the notion of the horror of living right next to the state line. Imagine being able to see the state line right out your living room window, only a couple hundred yards away. Imagine pacing back and forth, back and forth, like a smoker deprived of his cigs; then peering nervously out the window with the thought that the state line is right over there, just across the road... There it is, just on the gravel shoulder of the road, or just slightly down into the ditch, and it's there just a stone's throw away, whether you're waking or whether you're sleeping. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. For the state line neither slumbers nor sleeps.

My brother and I used to think that living right by the state line could be enough to drive a person mad. I remember hearing or mishearing that it was illegal for a person under the age of 18 to cross a state line without parental permission: I had visions of young scofflaws who lived next to the state line, crossing back and forth in much the same the spirit as stepping on cracks on the sidewalk. Step on a crack, break your mother's back.

In fact, it seemed to me that crossing a state line was like incrementing some vast metaphysical odometer: cross over into Illinois, click, 192; cross over into Indiana, click, 193; cross over into Ohio, click, 194; cross back over into Indiana, click, 195. It was not to be done lightly, or too often. I could not imagine living next to the state line, and recklessly incrementing your state-line boundary-crossing odometer on a daily basis, click, click, click, click, click...

Now we move on to the early 1980s, when I lived for three years in Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque, you understand, is right on the state line: on the eastern edge of Iowa, right on the River. (Dubuque was where I first learned that, along the Mississippi, when you say "the River," you mean "the Mississippi.") In fact, Dubuque is in the Tri-State Area: the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, if extended west across the Mississippi, would run right through Dubuque. I remember nervously examining city maps of Dubuque, to see whether this imaginary westward extension of that state line would run right through where I was living in Dubuque. Talk about a sense of horror and foreboding...

Somewhere in that same time frame, I spent a year living out in Washington State, the Cascade Mountains of south central Washington. I lived up into the mountains, just three or four miles off the Columbia River. Yes, the Columbia River: the state line between Washington and Oregon. Once again, I lived just a few miles from the state line. I remember I used to drive over to Hood River to do shopping, because there was no sales tax in Oregon.

Then, mid 1980s, I found myself living for two years in a river town in northwest Illinois. Yes, my front door was only three blocks from the River. I couldn't see the state line from my living room window: an apartment building across the street blocked my view. But from one corner of my front yard, yes, I could see the River. And the state line.

After that, I lived various places round about, but I did not live near the state line again until I moved here to northeasternmost Iowa, seven years ago. And now I'm really living on a razor's edge again. Because, you see, the Minnesota state line runs just two cornfields to the north of me. Once again, I can't quite see it from my living room window: buildings intervene. But if I step out into my front yard, I can see right into Minnesota. Just two cornfields away.

And Wisconsin isn't far, either. I live six miles west of town; the town is right on the River; and right across the River is Wisconsin. I've been told that on a clear day, if you know where to look, you can see the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the River from my place. I'm not convinced of that, but I do know that from my house you can easily see the plume rising from the power plant over in Genoa, Wisconsin, not too many miles from here as the crow flies.

Yes, this is another Tri-State Area. Have you ever wondered how many "Tri-State Areas" there are in the US, in all? How many radio and TV stations across the country cheerfully report, day after day after day after drip-drip-drip-Chinese-water-torture day, on "Tri-State weather"?

I have never been to the American Southwest, where four states meet and the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah state lines all come together in a single point. I've never been there, I don't think I could bear it. I don't know if out there they call it "Quad-State weather," or "Four Corners weather," or "Four Points weather," or what. I'm not sure I want to know. I remember many years ago reading a comic book story about these crooks who dumped a guy out of an airplane, aiming to land him right where those four states meet. Idea being, there'd be no way to prosecute the murder, because whose jurisdiction would it be in? Yeah, that sums up my feelings precisely. Except (criminals are always so stupid about these things, aren't they?) it turned out to be a federal case.

Well. Actually, these days, I've pretty well gotten used to living right next to the state line. I've heard of people around here who have an Iowa mailing address and a Minnesota driver's license, or vice versa. In fact, imagine someone who was born in a house that stood right on the state line. Half of the house in Iowa, half of the house in Minnesota. Which state would you put on the birth certificate? Or if this were one of those state lines that also was a time zone boundary, how would you set the clocks in the house? Clock in the living room an hour earlier than the clock in the dining room?

I can hardly imagine it. Tick, tick, tick, tick... How can you come to lunch, when it's noon in the dining room, but still only eleven o'clock in the living room? Staring, staring at that invisible state line which cuts right across the oak floorboards in your house. Pacing, pacing back and forth, like a smoker deprived of his cigs; and, without even setting foot outdoors, running up insane totals on your metaphysical state-line boundary-crossing odometer, click, click, click, click, 1,919,032... 1,919,033... 1,919,034... 1,919,035...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Fourth of July

Here we are, the Fourth of July. I don't need to be in town until the forenoon, though perhaps I'd better head in a little earlier if I want to find parking. In the meanwhile, I'm taking the morning easy.

Things went well at our Lions Fourth of July Family Fun Fest yesterday. In preparation I smeared myself thoroughly with sun screen— a prerequisite for one as fair skinned as I, if I don't want to get burned to a crisp. Then in to town mid afternoon. Some of the flea market booths were already open; I bought from one of them a 1958 Houston County atlas. Houston County, Minnesota: some folks hereabouts still pronounce that "Hoosston," instead of "Hyoosston."

By a stroke of synchronicity, Harley showed up right at that point in his pickup, with the new inflatable bouncy houses. We went down and set them up, down beyond food stand #2, down by the tennis courts. I'd brought a heavy hammer with me, handy for pounding endless stakes into the ground. We scared up some extension cords, and sure enough, the bouncy houses (one large and two small) inflated. I deflated & unplugged them, wouldn't need them until the evening, but now they were set up.

Bummed around the rest of the afternoon. One fellow comes to the flea market every year with a big trailer thing that opens up into a shop from which he sells all sorts of doodads. I buy a knife from him every year, different styles but all made in Pakistan, and all with wooden handles dyed multicolored layers of red and green. This year I got a very nice locking folding knife from him, for only $3.50.

Ate up at food stand #1. Came down and ate some more at food stand #2. People kept greeting me, "Congratulations, Mr. President!" (Yeah, I'm the new President of our local Lions Club; I'm not sure if congratulations or sympathies are in order ;-) Two kids from our Youth Fellowship showed up to supervise the bouncy houses around five. I plugged the air compressor motors in and threw the switch. Oddly enough, hardly any kids showed up there until going on 6:30.

At 6:00 I began a three-hour shift as a "floater" at food stand #2. "Floater" meaning "gopher, and doer of any odd jobs that need doing." They had several more people working at the food stand than they needed, so some of us were spending much of our time twiddling our thumbs. I did however see that our customers were kept supplied with (1) napkins and (2) onions for their hamburgers, pork burgers, hot dogs, etc.

A bit past seven the tractor pull got underway. Yes, I was right, that's NTPA sanctioned, as in "National Tractor Pull Association." People stood at attention for the national anthem, hey this is flyover country, and not some jaded cynical blue state. Immediately afterward the sound system returned to, guess what, country music of some sort, as the tractors went BRRRRRAAAAP, BRRRRAAAAAAAPPP! Vast clouds of black smoke belching into the clear blue sky, tractor pulling down the dirt track...

At nine I finished up at the food stand, went down and deflated the bouncy houses, stored the air compressor motors inside the food stand just in case it should rain overnight.

And home. And collapsed into bed. And slept soundly.

Now this morning in town they've got a breakfast at the Community Center. Softball tournament continues. Volleyball tournament begins. Chicken dinner at the Community Center. Fourth of July Parade at noon, old cars, floats, tractors, horses, marching band, it'll probably run purner an hour and a half.

Early afternoon, demolition derby, cars roaring back and forth, vrrrooom, roarrrrr, CRASH!!!

Karaoke contest. Sawdust pile with coins in it for the kids. Into the evening, a combine, pickup, & minivan demolition derby. I supervise food stand #1 from 8 to 10 PM. Then comes the fireworks show, szzzissst, flash! ka-boom! spark showers of stars, blooming burst like celestial chysanthemums, pop pop pop pop as they twinkle scatter toward the earth, BOOM!, screeech, flash across the sky, and everyone goes ooooooooohhh

Monday, July 03, 2006

Bracing for the Fourth

Late afternoon today our local Lions Club's Fourth of July event gets underway in town. I've got some work to do this morning, which will take me up to the La Crosse area.

Then early afternoon head into town, and set up the inflatable bouncy houses, which the kids enjoy jumping on— sort of like a trampoline. And hope the high schoolers I lined up to supervise show up for their alotted time slots.

Six to nine this evening I'll be helping out at food stand #2, down near the tractor pull, which this year for the first time is sanctioned by the NTPA. I assume that stands for "National Tractor Pull Association."

All this is just the lead-in to all day tomorrow, on the Fourth, which will be several times as busy. In short, blogging is going to be light in these quarters for the next day or two.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fourth of July, Part 2

Fourth of July, Part 2
...Beware the sound of wooden teeth clacking in the dark!

(Movie poster artwork, courtesy of my brother Steven)


Yesterday evening our Youth Fellowship went on a hayride. Down the ridge here. On down into Sleepy Hollow where we sighted a number of deer. Up and on down to Mt. Hope. Back up along pavement down in the valley. And back up Renk's Hill and up the ridge again.

Afterward we roasted marshmallows over a crackling fire until the mayflies showed up and started swarming all over. (This was around 11 PM.) I never knew before that mayflies are so stupid: swarming and divebombing into the open flame of a garden torch, one after another after another, like nature's own kamikaze insects.