Sunday, February 25, 2024

A Birthday in February

Friday was my father-in-law’s 70th birthday, which we ignored.

There was a plan. Don’t fret.

I’m not sure how much Daniel really noticed that we’d kind of skipped over the actual day, as we have celebrated his birthday as late as Labor Day. Holidays happen when you have time for them, after all. I’m sure he knew that something was up and was just waiting for it to snap into place, though.  He knows us well.

Because there was in fact a plan, as noted above, and for a number of reasons it couldn’t happen on Friday but it could on Saturday so Saturday it was.

As always with our plans, it involved food. All the best plans do.

In particular, these plans involved having Kim’s mom take him to dinner at one of those classic Wisconsin supper club places (you’ll recognize them immediately if you’ve ever been in one) not too far from their house by midwestern standards, and then we’d all surprise him there and Feast and Celebrate.

Lauren couldn’t make it because it’s the middle of the semester and two family events in one week is pushing hard on the limits of what can be wedged in between homework and exams, but Kim, Oliver, and I drove up to the supper club, stopping at Costco because we’re addicts that way and of course we did. Justin and Chris were already there, and Rory and Amy joined us not long after that.

And then we waited. They put us in a little back room where people were clearly expected to sit for dinner later – and, in fact, several people did filter in while we were there, which is why it was a bit puzzling that the lights would randomly dip every few minutes. Mood, I guess.

Eventually the guest of honor arrived and we headed into the main dining room – a cavernous place specifically designed to make it impossible to speak with anyone except whomever you’re sitting next to, which enforces a certain intimacy if you think about it.

We chose this place because it served lobster and this is what Daniel wanted, and according to those who also had it it was in fact quite good. But you go to these places for the prime rib, which came out in a plate-concealing-sized portion and was also deemed tasty by those partaking. I’m not sure what possessed me to have chicken parmigiana in a Wisconsin supper club, but we’ll chalk that up as a lesson learned.

Everything came with a soup and salad bar because of course it did. Quite rightly. Kim pointed out that you know you’re in a real Wisconsin supper club when the salad bar has bacon bits in a tub that you can just spoon out in whatever quantity you desire. Life is good that way.

We had a lovely time, sharing a meal and wishing Daniel a happy birthday. You only get these big round numbers so often, and you might as well make it a party.

If you go on your birthday and let them know, they’ll give you a very nice slice of cheesecake and your family can put candles in it and then sing Happy Birthday to you, and if you do that it is very likely that the entire restaurant will sing along and clap at the end, and of such small things are communities made.

Happy Birthday, Daniel!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Merry Grittmas!

It’s almost the end of February and we’re still celebrating Christmas around here. Not that I am complaining in the least, though the people who are still waiting for our Christmas cards have probably given up on us by now. Fear not! All will be made whole, possibly by summer.

Back on the Actual Christmas, Lauren and Oliver combined my Christmas present with my birthday present and got us all tickets to see my hometown Philadelphia Flyers play the Chicago Blackhawks, and a most lovely and fine gift that was!

Of course having all of us go together was part of the gift. Why would I have wanted to go by myself? I genuinely love the fact that we enjoy spending time and doing things together.

Yesterday was the game.

This of course took some planning. Oliver, Kim, and I had to leave work early and get the car ready. Lauren took the bus down to Our Little Town after her chemistry exam ended and we picked her up at the station before jumping onto the interstate and heading down to Chicago. We didn’t run into too much traffic, oddly enough – rush hour in Chicago generally starts at 6am and lasts for 23 hours, in my experience – but between the getting ready and the finding of a meal that all of us could actually eat (i.e. not something that would likely be served at the United Center, however fine their offerings might be) we got into the building about two minutes after the game had started, and then when we got to our level I made a wrong turn that ended up with us walking about 90% of the way around the stadium to get to our seats, but eventually we found our spots and settled in.

We were literally in the last row of seating, way up top, and the view was magnificent. Plus this way we could stand up without worrying about blocking anyone else’s view, which is more than could be said for some of the people in front of us. I’m looking at you, Beer Sales Guy. I know it’s your job and all, but yeah. Down in front.

The Flyers already had a 1-0 lead at that point – we heard them score about halfway through our walk around the stadium – but in the end it was a well-played game and we didn’t miss much.

We were, of course, decked out in our Black And Orange finery because you have to rep your team after all. You always wonder how you will be received by the home fans under those circumstances, but it has to be said that everyone was fine. It’s a game. You’re supposed to have fun. The Blackhawk fan next to us was happy to take our picture, which was nice of him.

The first period saw the Blackhawks get some quality breakaway chances and tie it up at 1, but the Flyers dominated the second period, scoring twice to take a 3-1 lead.

Perhaps the most interesting hockey move of the night actually came from Connor Bedard, the Next Young Phenom who plays for Chicago and is perhaps the only bright spot in their dismal season this year. There’s a move you see in soccer when a player has the ball down by the opponent’s goal and he’s trying to fake out the defender with dazzling footwork while not actually touching the ball at all, and Bedard tried that with his stick on a rush up the ice before finally pulling the puck back between his skates and then shooting. If Flyers goalie Sam Ersson hadn’t made a spectacular save it would have been on the highlight reels all night.

It’s always fun to see these things live. I’ve now been to four NHL games in my life as well as a few college and minor league games, and the energy in the building is something that never really translates to a small screen. Plus they play all sorts of silly games during the intermissions and timeouts. They had kids racing around the ice at one point and shooting pucks at tiny holes in a board in front of the goal at another. There was a song contest that ended up with the entire crowd singing Living On a Prayer long after the recorded music stopped. At one point they got someone to try to name all the NHL cities faster than a player could, which obviously didn’t work but the whole point was to get the rest of us to say that clearly we could have done that and to be honest that did work.

Of course not everyone found the intermissions so interesting.

The third period got a bit chippy as it became more obvious that the Flyers were going to win and Chicago tried to shake things up, but that's to be expected. As Garrison Keillor once noted, “The rules in hockey don’t say you can’t fight. They just say you have to sit down for a while when you’re done.” On the way out Lauren volunteered to take a photo for some Blackhawk fans who then returned the favor for us, and that was a very nice thing.

It took a while to get out of the stadium from where we were, but again we got lucky with the traffic and made it home pretty quickly, all things considered. Today was a very tired sort of day, but it was worth it.

Merry Grittmas!

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Let the Game Begin

We spent much of our Super Bowl Sunday at a bookstore because that’s just how we roll.

I’m surprisingly easy to shop for, really. I have a list of books that I hope to read in the near future, and if that isn’t enough there are always gift cards that can be exchanged for books. Last Christmas Kim got me such a gift card, and today was the day we decided to go spend it.

And then some.

We made a good haul, actually. I got a couple of books that were on my list and a couple of others that weren’t but looked interesting. My reading pace has slowed over the last couple of years as my working pace has sped up and the rest of the world has gone mad – it’s a bit of a distraction to watch your country spiral into overt Fascism, barely avoid a coup, and then to have an entire political party actively work to subvert everything that is good about your country while voting for the guilty bastard in the primaries. Takes up some energy watching that, really. I’d rather be reading, but there you go.

So now I have some new books to try to take my mind off things.

We did watch the game, though. You kind of have to. I’ve been slowly losing interest in American football for over a decade now – temporary bumps as my hometown Eagles did well now and then notwithstanding – and I really didn’t have much of a dog in this fight. Dynasties are boring and both teams could plausibly be labeled as such, Kansas City most recently and San Francisco over the long haul. I liked the fact that the San Francisco quarterback was the Mr. Irrelevant of his draft year (i.e. the very last player chosen) and I’ve got family in San Francisco, so I had a slight preference for the 49ers, but having the Travis Kelce And Taylor Swift Show on the Kansas City sidelines meant that if they won then the same right-wing halfwits who think treason is acceptable as long as it’s their guy doing it would freak right the fuck out, and for that reason alone I couldn’t really cheer against the Chiefs either. I could approach the game as a neutral and just enjoy it for whatever happened.

Plus the ads are always fun.

Super Bowl Sunday is also the day that no diet applies. According to the American Medical Association you’re legally allowed to eat anything you want on this day no matter what is on your MyChart, and you might as well take advantage of that fact. We had a festival of salt and fat and it was marvelous, but now it’s over and tomorrow there will be Nutrition again. I’ve reached the age where a significant percentage of what I eat is consumed for medicinal purposes. If I make it to the magical age of 80 I will live on aged cheese, Buffalo wings, and whiskey, but for now one must enjoy such things sparingly.

It turned out to be a good game from a neutral’s perspective, closely fought and with any number of interesting plays, and if the Kansas City victory means we’ve got another year of Dynasty reruns in American football at least I’ll get to sit back and watch the fragile dudebros melt down over Taylor Swift and the vacuous conspiracy theories they’ve invented about her and that has to count for something.

Merry Super Bowl to all who celebrate!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

A Good Week for Pie

This has been a good week to enjoy big old piece of Schadenfreude Pie. Don’t mind if I do.

For one thing, watching all the Fragile Dudebros melt down in puddles of impotent rage every time Taylor Swift’s name comes up on any form of media has been the funniest thing I’ve seen in months. The sheer volume of whinging complaints about two consenting adults having a relationship and one of them – the most popular recording artist in the world right now, as measured in tour revenue, and therefore an obvious focus of attention for any advertisement-driven entertainment industry such as professional sports – occasionally showing up on television during American football games beggars the imagination and delights the senses. The fact that this week was the Grammy Awards ceremony, where Swift set an all-time record for wins in her category, is just icing on the cake. Or whipped cream on the pie, I suppose.

Dudebros! News flash: nobody outside of your self-reinforcing little circles is taking you seriously right now. Not a single person! And every time you complain you look that much more pathetic, that much more weak, and that much more like the cringeworthy poseurs that you are.

Look. Dudebros. Guys. I’m having a great deal of fun right now at your expense, really I am, and I thank you for it, but you might want to consider being quiet now. It’s getting embarrassing. Not that I will stop being entertained by it for as long as you choose to keep it up, just that you should consider re-evaluating your life choices at this point.

We’ve still got four days before the Super Bowl and it’s only going to get worse for you and more fun for the rest of us. Just saying, is all.

Speaking of re-evaluating life choices, yesterday der Sturmtrumper’s argument that he is above the law and should never be held accountable for anything he does no matter how wretched, vile, or stupid it might be ran into a judicial brick wall when a bipartisan 3-judge panel unanimously told him to go pound sand with a definitiveness that one rarely finds in legal decisions.

Yes, indeed, fifty-seven pages of Sit Down And Shut Up, delivered by the US criminal justice system to its most famous criminal. It was the best thing I’ve read in weeks. Seriously – they should make a miniseries out of it.

Of course der Sturmtrumper has already launched into his inevitable temper tantrum over the decision, flatly stating on social media that any attempt to hold him accountable to the law is (in his view) problematic, though he did not use that word, possibly because it has more the three syllables. His explicit position is a poisonous combination of “it’s not illegal if the President does it” and “I need to do crime in order to do the job how I want,” which is of course exactly the combination you need to produce tyranny. Speaking as someone who literally has a PhD in the Founding Fathers, this is precisely what the Constitution was written and ratified to prevent. Somewhere right now whatever is left of James Madison is spinning so fast in his grave that you could use him to generate electricity.

I’m quite sure there is a Category-10 meltdown going on in his corner of the world even as I type, and really all I can say is that I wish every scrambled word-salad sentence and every misfiring condiment-throwing moment of it were being recorded for posterity because we’ve all had a very hard decade and we need something to cheer us up.

Der Sturmtrumper has been treated with incredible and unwarranted leniency by the law all his life and even more so in the last few years, but slowly, and with any luck with increasing momentum as his world crumbles around him, the walls are closing in. Will this be the time where at last he can’t slither out of it unscathed? Possibly! One can only watch and hope, fork in one hand and pie in the other.

Meanwhile the House GOP has ably demonstrated to anyone outside of their own self-reinforcing little circle (lotta overlap with the Fragile Dudebros on this one, just pointing that out) that they are both incapable of serious government and not at all interested in changing that fact. First, their attempt to impeach a sitting cabinet member for not adhering to an impossible standard of job performance that their own cabinet member in der Sturmtrumper’s administration couldn’t achieve either ignominiously failed. Given that the House GOP leadership went forward with this impeachment vote while openly admitting that they had no evidence whatsoever for high crimes and misdemeanors or indeed criminal conduct of any kind and that they knew very well this was an empty political stunt designed to rile up their base but would be dead on arrival in the Senate, this is of course the only responsible outcome. The fact that it got as far as it did is a damning indictment of the current state of the Republican Party as at best a lightweight irritant and at worst a subversive threat to the American republic. I already know that substantive policy is beyond them, but as a political move if you can’t even pull of your own empty stunt you really need to consider alternate employment.

For good measure, they also rejected the immigration bill that the Senate wrote to the House GOP’s specifications and passed with a bipartisan majority. The Senate basically called their bluff, and the House GOP panicked. On the one hand, this bill was a Nativist nightmare designed to coddle right-wing white fears of Other People and it should never have been suggested in the first place. On the other hand, it meant that the GOP also rejected aid for Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russian invaders, which should tell you whose side the GOP is on. It’s not the American people’s side – overwhelming bipartisan majorities of Americans favor strong and continuing aid to the Ukrainians, after all, but the right-wing extremists who have taken over the GOP do not. Ever since der Sturmtrumper kowtowed before Putin at Helsinki it’s been clear that the Republican Party leadership favors Russian interests over those of the United States. Poor Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – born too soon. As a historian I know where appeasing dictators leads. Hint: get ready for a larger war that could have been prevented now but wasn’t.

But for the moment the House GOP is left trying to justify rejecting their own bill without mentioning their current owners, and I hope they choke on it.

Not enough popcorn in the world.

Or pie.