Friday, July 30, 2021

The Return of the Fair

The Fair is back.

In what may be one of the last signs of normality for a while, as the Delta variant and the tidal wave of Unvaccinated Stupid in the US threatens to undo a year’s worth of progress in fighting the pandemic, the County Fair has returned after missing a year. We’ve been looking forward to this and as long as things are still generally okay we’re going to enjoy it while it lasts.

This is Lauren’s last year to be an exhibitor. 4H has an age limit, and once you’ve graduated high school you are mostly considered to have aged out. In theory you can come back for one more year but that’s pretty uncommon, so it’s nice to have a chance to go out with a Fair.

It’s a bit smaller this year than before, which is probably okay given the general tenor of the times. I suspect a lot of kids weren’t thrilled with the Zoom format of 4H meetings last year, and a lot of vendors weren’t sure if the Fair would happen at all or if they wanted to participate if it did – these decisions happen well in advance of the actual Fair, after all. The handmade lemonade stand isn’t there this year, for example, or the church tent that served the best breakfasts for the early morning kids tending their animals, or any of the radio stations. But there are a pile of exhibits from the 4H kids, almost the usual number of livestock, and the gyro salad place still rocks.


As usual, the Fair actually starts before the Fair starts. There are projects to be created and animals to be prepared, after all. Lauren entered in four categories this year – old favorites, so we already knew how to get things ready.

There was the photography project – a single photo of her friend Aleksia, which if I’m not mistaken was taken by the soft serve ice cream place (nobody else in town has that lighting). I thought it was a really nice photograph, though the judges gave it a pink ribbon for some reason. We read the comments on the card and they were all positive and therefore provided no enlightenment or even constructive criticism, so we’ll just chalk it up to the unpredictability of judges and move on.

She did win a Top Blue for her houseplant project, though. It is adorable, after all. In a year where the County Fair didn’t overlap with the State Fair it might have gone on to the next level, but perhaps that’s for the best.

The big things are the animals, of course, and this year Lauren was showing in Rabbits and Poultry. For us that meant that the Fair started this past Saturday when Kim and I went to the Rabbit barn to help set up cages. It’s an art form setting those up without slicing your fingers to ribbons, one that I have mastered over the last decade, so I focused on that and let others take the set cages to where they needed to go.

And then it was time to bathe the chickens.

We do this every year, and every year we come to the same conclusion: there is nothing on this earth quite so ridiculous as a wet chicken. They’re not even “mad as a wet hen” really – they’re pretty calm about the whole thing. But absurd nonetheless. They stayed overnight in our garage because a chicken returned to the barn is a chicken that needs to be bathed again, and then we took them in the following morning.

Tuesday evening was Rabbit judging, and of course that was the hottest day of the week. But we all piled into the Stock Pavilion to see the various classes and breeds parade by. Lauren ended up on Table 2, with the fun judge (a man who managed to snag a rocketing rabbit out of midair at one point, to the great applause of the assembled crowd). Lauren always ends up in the very last category being judged so we were there for a while, but it was a good night. Miley got a white ribbon when all was said and done.

And the next morning it was Poultry judging time.

This is a much quicker process than Rabbit judging as entire classes (or multiple classes if they’re small enough) are brought out at once and the judges go through them at a clip. Lauren entered five chickens and ended up with three blues, a red, and a pink for one bird that apparently would have been a blue but had a single disqualifying feature.

And then it was done.

The Fair will continue until Sunday, and no doubt we will be there to wander around for a while. Last night the grandstand featured a polka band so Kim, Lauren, and Aleksia got the party started on the dance floor they set up for just that purpose. And after that there was a large group of teenagers on brass and a wide variety of other instruments as well as vocals and dancing – a statewide organization, apparently – that Kim and I stumbled into on our way out and ended up watching for an hour or so. They were really good.

But as far as Things That Have To Get Done, we’re pretty much through. Next year we’ll go back as guests, with no exhibits to prepare. It will feel strange.

It’s been quite a ride, all these County Fairs, and it’s good to go out on a grace note.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Olympics? Really?

So apparently there’s an Olympics going on?

Does anyone know about this?

I looked into it and yes, in fact, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are happening even as I type, though the logo has not yet been updated to 2021 and at this point I supposes it never will. That makes sense. They didn’t change the European soccer championship logo either.

I normally enjoy the Olympics, being as I am a great fan of all things weird and pointless (go ahead, ask me about Eurovision). There are entire categories of events that feature things I have never heard of, things that only qualify as sports because there’s no other category of human activity into which they can reasonably be put, things that make sense only to the initiated and the inebriated, and that’s really the joy of it.

Last night, for example, I watched the first half of the men’s team handball match between Brazil and Norway, and – rather like my experience watching a cricket match in England thirty years ago – I still have no idea what exactly happened other than that the announcers would periodically get very excited and when I left Brazil seemed to be leading. I consider this time well spent.

It amazes me to think that these athletes – who clearly have put a great deal of time into this and honed their skills far beyond the likes of mere mortals such as you and me – must do this even when there are no Olympics being broadcast.

They must, mustn’t they?

Surely there are Team Handball Leagues around the world, with Team Handball Playoffs and, therefore, Team Handball Championships. Someone must set these up. Someone else must watch them. I cannot fathom this, and yet there it is. And good for them, I say.

Oh, they’ll get to the usual things – the gymnastics, the soccer, the track and field – and those are always fun. But it’s the weird things that define an Olympics.

The thing is, though, that this year’s Olympics have rather snuck up on me, despite the fact that in theory I’ve had over a year’s warning. They were supposed to happen last summer, after all. A lot of things were.

It’s hard to get into the Olympic spirit right now, to be honest. There are no spectators. Nobody seems very happy about any of it. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, even if it has shifted from a threat to everyone to mainly a threat to the unvaccinated – a largely voluntary group in the United States for whom I have little if any sympathy. If you’re willfully trying to commit suicide by virus, you just have at it and stop bothering the grownups. I’m sure there will be outbreaks among the athletes – I believe there already have.

It’s been a long and draining year and a half, and for a number of reasons it is going to get longer and more draining for me before that changes and I just don’t have the energy to give to the Olympics right now. Maybe I’ll change my mind as events unfold. Maybe I’ll go back and see who won between Brazil and Norway. Maybe I’ll watch the soccer and gymnastics and track and field. The lure of the weird is ever present, and the lure of the rest of it is there too.

We’ll see how it goes.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

News and Updates

1. Total elapsed time between putting down the new living room rug and the cats treating it like a bar bathroom in the middle of a three-day bender: three weeks. All things considered with cats, that’s probably not bad.

2. We decided to put our vaccines to the test yesterday and went to the newly re-opened RenFaire here in southern Wisconsin. We had a very good time, it has to be said – we saw some familiar acts (Barely Balanced, Moonie) and a new one who was very good (Broon), Oliver managed to catch some of the jousting, and somewhere in there we even got food, which was a neat trick since apparently everyone in the southern Great Lakes region had had the same idea we did for a trip and the lines stretched back to the interstate. I spent much of my time people-watching – there is no better place in the world for that than a crowded RenFaire – and I got a pewter pin with a rising phoenix above the word “vaccinated” that I may just wear all the time now. So all in all a good time.

3. The night before I left Philadelphia to come back to Wisconsin I realized that despite having made many visits to the local supermarket while I was there I had not managed to obtain any Cooper Sharp cheese to take back with me – a clearly unacceptable situation that would have resulted in rebellion back home should it have gone unrectified. So I went down to the local Acme and arrived just as the deli counter closed. Fortunately the guy behind the counter was sympathetic and had not yet cleaned his slicer, so he was willing to cut me a break and some cheese. We had a very nice conversation while he did so – he’d like to visit Lambeau Field someday and was pleased to hear that a) I had done so, b) in my Eagles gear, and c) that while I had gotten some grief from Packers fans it was the good sort of grief that you get from people who are having fun with you and not the stupid kind of grief from idiots who forget that it’s a game. So perhaps he’ll come out here someday. It’s been less than a week since I returned and there have been significant inroads made in our Cooper Sharp supply, so we’ll count that as a success.

4. The Milwaukee Bucks are in the NBA finals and I have been trying to follow along since they are the local team and haven’t won anything in half a century and also Lauren is a fan so it’s something we can talk about. I haven’t actually been watching the games because basketball is a sport I do not understand at all once you get past the “bounce bounce score, bounce bounce score” aspect of it, but I’ve been pulling up the live score display on Google during the games and keeping track that way. So far it looks like there are all sorts of interesting things going on for those who do follow the sport and much conversation has happened to me about these things and now I understand what other people are thinking when I start discussing soccer, hockey, 18th-century American political culture, or Middle Earth. But hey. I’m trying. Go Bucks! Go do that, um, basketball thing you do!

5. The last 90 seconds of a professional basketball can take up to six months to play out. I think they should take a hint from American football and have a 10-second clock run-off every time a trailing team fouls someone. Also, they should define what exactly is a foul. The last time I watched a basketball game on television (admittedly some years ago) I saw three identical plays where the offense was called for a foul on the first one, the defense on the second one, and nobody on the third one. Kim spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain to me how the plays were not identical at all, to no noticeable result, so I think I am just Basketball Defective that way. Oh well. Go Bucks anyway!

6. We seem to have a robin’s nest perched on the light by our front door. It has two little robins in it, in fact, and a mother robin who spends most of her time flying away in a panic every time one of us gets close to the door, or a car goes by, or the earth rotates on its axis by more than a few inches. Whatever. My office is right by the door so I hear this symphony all the time. I have no idea how long it takes for baby robins to grow up and fly off, but I’m hoping for their sake it isn’t that long.

7. Every Fourth of July the meme I created a few years ago goes viral again, which is a nice thing really. It got about a thousand more shares from my FB page this year, for example, bringing the total that I’m aware of to about 65k, and I’m happy about that. It’s a good thing to create something to be shared and then discover that people will actually share it unprompted by you. Sometimes I try to see who has forwarded it along, and every once in a while I get surprised. This year a performer I once booked down at Home Campus shared it on his personal (as opposed to professional under his stage name) page – I have no idea if he made the connection back to me or not, since it was one gig in a long career for him and he was sick the entire time he was here (but performed like a consummate professional anyway). And apparently a while back a heavy metal singer whose name I actually recognize shared it on his Twitter page, called it “amazing,” and said it gave him chills to read. Win!

8. That’s not a humblebrag, by the way. That’s a straight up brag. It’s nice to be able to have one of those now and then.

9. We did actually have our annual Fourth of July picnic as well this year, after a one-year hiatus for the plague. Various family members and friends came by, tasty and moderately non-lethal foods were prepared, and we all got to watch the fireworks arc gracefully over the cardiac ward of the local hospital as per local tradition. We left most of the set-up from Lauren’s graduation party intact because why do things twice when you don’t have to, so it was pretty easy to pull off. Apparently I took no pictures because reasons – probably too busy with the grill and what have you – but it happened and we had a good time.

10. When I went to Philadelphia I took one of Kim’s old laptops and a little red jump drive with a pile of my folders on it so I could do work while I was there (or if I had to extend my stay). When I packed to go back to Wisconsin I took the jump drive out of the laptop so it wouldn’t snap off in transit and tossed it into my shoulder bag. But when I got home it had disappeared. I emptied that bag and found nothing. Oh well. Most of it was backup files anyway. On Thursday morning I drove to campus and went to my office there, since that’s where I plug in the mics for the remote part of the class I’m teaching – they need to be recharged after every class. I picked up the mics and went to class. Several hours and tech issues later I returned to my office to plug the mics back in again, and there on the floor of my office was my little red jump drive. I have no idea how it got there.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

That Old Stage Magic

We went to the play last night.

There was a time when this was simply part of the rhythm of our lives. Both Oliver and Lauren were involved in theater during their time at Local Businessman HS – backstage, mostly carrying on the family tradition of running a spotlight – and many of their friends were as well. We’d go see the latest musical (generally an extravaganza with a budget bigger than what my high school spent on theater during the entire time I was there, even adjusted for inflation) or play (smaller scale and less polished, but often more fun because of it), sit among the sold-out crowd (Our Little Town supports these plays incredibly well) and enjoy the experience.

That was before the pandemic, of course. We’d actually planned to see the spring musical in March 2020 – even had tickets for the second weekend, because you have to get them in advance if you want to get them at all – and while the first weekend went off well the second weekend got canceled because the world caught fire in the interim. They eventually did put together a livestreamed version with just a couple of parents in the actual theater for an audience and it was lovely but not the same.

So it’s been a year and a half since we went to one of these.

Also, Lauren has now graduated and the way the summer theater program works is that you can only participate if you’ll be back in the fall. They do take younger kids – there were a few middle-schoolers up onstage last night – but not older ones. Plus she spent her junior year abroad and her senior year mostly online, so she knows very few of the younger kids. None of her friends were involved. All of Oliver’s friends have long since moved on. Honestly the only person I recognized onstage last night was the daughter of some friends of ours, who did a marvelous job as one of the female leads.

I’m used to looking for familiar faces. Time moves on.

But there we were, surrounded by people we hoped were as fully vaccinated as ourselves, taking it all in for the first time since 2019. They did a good job with it – quite possibly a better job than the play could really support, but that is the fault of the writers and not the cast and crew. We had a grand time.

There is something about being in a theater watching a play that cannot be matched through a screen, even with a livestreamed performance. We are collective beings, we humans – a fact that we forget at our peril and which entire political ideologies do their best to make us forget. The shared experience of things is what makes them come alive in ways that the thing itself cannot equal on its own.

Slowly, haltingly, and against great resistance from far too many people who seem to think that if they believe something strongly enough it will magically become real, it seems that we are working our way back toward some semblance of socializing again. It can still be lost, but for the moment it is good to celebrate progress.

We went to the play last night. It was good.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

There and Back Again

I spent most of the last week out in Philadelphia, visiting my mom.

This is something of an achievement, really, given the realities of both summer classes and pandemic travel. But things lined up – my summer class didn’t need me for a week, I had no advising appointments or important meetings to attend, and you can actually travel these days after a very long time where that was not true – so away I went.

I flew out on Thursday last week after my class was over. Kim took me down to O’Hare and I ended up on a mile-long plane seated next to two immense sumo-wrestling manspreaders which made the trip rather more intimate than I really wanted but there you have it. The Lyft driver on my ride out from the airport turned out to be from Haiti – a nation very much in the news this week – which was a fascinating conversation and that made up for many things.

I spent a week out there, and it was a lovely low-key sort of visit.

We told stories and caught up, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. And at one point we were joined by my brother and sister-in-law, as well as my niece, and we all went out to celebrate my mom’s birthday. We were going to do a big bash last year for her birthday in honor of one of those Round Numbers That End In Zero, but that, like so many other things, got lost in the pandemic. This year it turned out that a small gathering of family was in order. The food was good and the company was better, so there you go.

You take these opportunities when they come up because they are finite and to be celebrated.

I got back last night and today it was back to the usual whirl of classes and grading and advising appointments and such. Those things never go away, and I am fortunate that way in this economy.

But for a while I was visiting, and it was good.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Things that go Boom in the Night

It’s the night before American Independence Day here in the great midwest and the place sounds like a war zone. Not that I have been in an actual war zone, of course, but this is what they’re supposed to sound like according to the movies so I’ll take that as close enough.

Every year this happens. The annual War For Darwin’s Basement kicks off around the middle of June and slowly builds to a crescendo in the days leading up to the Fourth of July. On the Fourth itself everyone waits until the official town fireworks are over and then rushes back home to see if they can outdo the display – a process that usually lasts until the wee hours, leaves the town enveloped in a cordite haze, and costs several people their garages and/or fingers. After the Fourth things calm down slowly, mostly because there is less to set off with each passing day. The last fireworks usually go off around the 20th or so, and then all the guys nicknamed Lefty, One-Eye, and Claw put everything away for next year. It’s a cycle. You get used to it.


This year seems to be especially intense, it has to be said. Maybe it’s that I’m getting old and crabby and it just seems that way. Or maybe it’s that after a year of lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing, and stress of all kinds, people are ready to BLOW SHIT UP. It’s not quite up to the level of last year, when a significant chunk of Our Little Town spent their entire stimulus check and most of their savings on fireworks and kept things going until nearly dawn, but it’s getting there.  Once again the place smells like gunpowder and sounds like the inside of a popcorn machine. This summer comes after twelve more months of necessary restrictions and wholly uncalled for stress followed by a general loosening of restrictions among the vaccinated (though somehow not any less stress), so set out the alcohol and let the fireworks fall where they may, I suppose.

The barrage has been pretty constant for the last hour now, which at least makes sense as it is now dark and you can see them when they go off. Why people have been setting things off since lunchtime, when the sun was shining brightly, is a bit of a mystery to me. I suppose the boom is just as loud, but still.

Sometimes I wonder what this experience would be like for a visitor from another country where gunfire in the streets is considered uncommon. Honestly I don’t even ask whether it’s fireworks or firearms anymore, and this is a pretty safe town.

I’ve always liked the fireworks, though. Every year when I was a kid I’d head over to the local display with my dad and brother.  They’d shoot them off from one end of a public park that was completely surrounded by dense residential housing, stores, and a commuter rail line and just hope for the best, I guess.  It was a different time.  As I got older I would go with friends instead.  We'd picnic in the park all day so we could get a good spot for the evening. Eventually I went as part of the fire brigade, standing in the street in turnout gear next to the trucks in case something weird happened and we needed to unweird things in a hurry. They also serve who stand ready to unweird.

They’re planning to have the town fireworks as usual this year, which is a nice thing. Our Little Town puts on a pretty respectable show for a town this size and it’s always fun. We’ll have our usual little barbecue and head on over when it starts to get dark so we can watch the big ones arc gracefully over the cardiac ward of the local hospital before exploding, and then we’ll make our way back home through the haze of Lefty’s best efforts, and another Fourth of July will be in the books.

Sunrise, sunset.