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Archive for March, 2009

Kenosha diner sign

Kenosha diner sign

There is a  reason I like to go out and talk to people about my books. Yes I like the sales, and the refreshments are often delicious. My gig last Thursday at the Burlington Antiques Club offered cheesecake and fresh fruit. The. Best. But what really got my boat afloat occurred after I finished blathering and took the opportunity to listen to the 10 people who had gathered to see me. That is when the good stuff always happens. 

This time was no exception. I found out that the host of the meeting, Laurence, grew up in the same town as the Lima Ax Murderer featured in my Strange Wisconsin. And that the murderer, after he went to prison for bashing his two elderly uncles to death, faithfully sent Laurence a Christmas card every year from Waupun. Touching!

I also learned that another of the attendees was the wife of the prinicipal who hired me for my first real art-teaching job, many moons ago, and that they had been following my book publication trail. They had been making a pilgrimage around the state to key sites related to the books and she had brought  their map to prove it. Seeing that was even better than the cheesecake.

This wasn’t unusual. People have told me all sorts of things at signings. One woman had a doctor’s diagram to prove she’d been molested by aliens. Many have related their family ghost stories, or that they have seen unknown, upright canines. The sweetest are those who share that their kids who never read sat down and read Weird Wisconsin or The Beast of Bray Road. Out loud. To their little brother.

Due to the inconvenience of there being only one of me, I sadly can’t attend all the events I’d like. But every time I have to say no, I wonder what I missed. What innermost secret did I fail to learn from some blessed reader?

For it really is true. Get enough cheesecake into someone, and they’ll spill their souls. With raspberry sauce.

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birthday zebra child

birthday zebra child

 

Well, they don’t actually say it’s your birthday, they say it’s mine, on this Spring Solstice Day. Loathe as I am to claim the number that goes with it, I admit the word “birthday” still gives me a thrill. It’s that childish mystique; parties, cake, presents, the birthday song…

Some might call it shtick.

Not everyone does birthdays like modern Americans. My German grandmother always told me her family was too poor for birthdays. Years came and went; who even knew how old anyone was?

My relatives in Prague say they don’t care much about birthdays, either. There the big deal is “name day.” Everyone named Marie celebrates one day, all the Miloslavs party the next. That’s why most Czechs have traditional names…how mean would a parent have to be to name their child something too weird for an official day?

In Norway, they fish for ice cream bars. In some African countries, they ignore birthdays altogether and instead stage group initiations that involve things like decorating themselves with white paint.

Come to think of it, Starbuck dreamed she did that in Season Three of Battlestar Galactica, and it looked like fun, even if it did involve kissing a Cylon named Leoben.

My point, if there is a point hidden under all this icing, is that birthdays are really what we make them. And these days I don’t feel like making them too much.

Let me just wake up and realize that hey, I’m still around, and that purple crocuses are in bloom out there. I’ll take a crocus over a candle any day. I’d much rather wish everyone Happy First Day of Spring! Guaranteed shtick-free.

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It’s been a couple of harried weeks, and I won’t schlep through the long tale of what’s kept me from blogging. But sometimes a video just says things so much better, and here is one that, while it has nothing to do with anything, conveys the feelings from my little timeout. Its first line says it all. And since it’s experimental animation, prepare for strangeness. I am not the creator, kudos go to guerilla You-Tube artist Narfin1000.

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Cream, Wisconsin

Cream, Wisconsin

There is a windswept intersection in Buffalo County called Cream. I drove through it one day, lingering where State Hwy. 88 meets Cty. Road E. All the 
buildings, a clustered handful, are painted the color of cream. On a blue sky day they are like clouds pulled to earth and given wooden skeletons. Pristine as sea salt. The crimson of even a lone cardinal’s wing would look garish against all that white.
But imagine the road in the photo turned to dirt, picture it in the year 1872 when Buffalo County’s first fair was held right there in the street. Those stark cream frames  a melee of horses, buggies, oxen, pigs and dusty-booted pioneers. Animal grunts, piles of manure and a table set with berry pies and cornbread.
One of those buildings housed a dance hall in 1903, and in its time it held masquerades, turkey shoots and medicine shows. It was the Broadway of Buffalo County.
The  clot of  dwellings was once called Eagle Valley, which is strange because Cream and Buffalo County are now home to hundreds of golden eagles that never used to live there. Bald eagles are native, goldens are not. No one knows where they came from. Scientists  presently  stalk them, to band their thick legs and follow them home.
As I drove through Cream and turned around and drove back again, I slipped  my Cream-the-rock-group CD into the dashboard player (truth!) and listened to their tune, “Crossroads.”
Surreality.
fl000006

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