Friday, October 28, 2005

CSI: Ashland


It's that time of year again--time for pumpkin autopsies! This year, our crack cadre of criminologists descended upon Sarah's house to inspect, examine, and deface five gourdly victims. Interesting, they all seemed to die due to the same cause--blunt trauma to their stems. Our theory: that they were part of a pumpkin cult that committed mass pumpkincide to get onto a comet or something. (So our theory isn't all that well thought out...c'mon, we were clearly distracted by all the stabbing!)

Drs. Stephanie, Nick, and Sarah begin their examinations of the victims.

Scalpel?

Let the gutting begin!

Stephanie loves stabbing.

Sarah and the Batpumpkin!

This is what it looks like to the pumpkin.

Pumpkins reborn!

And the remnants of the carnage...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Zaireeka! (And bingo!)


If you've never heard of Zaireeka! , a quick explanation is necessary...

In the late 90s, a band called the Flaming Lips recorded an album in an experimental vein, which came out as a set of 4 discs. Different discs carry different parts of eight songs, and mixes & sounds bounce around--sometimes a disc has the melody, then on the next track it'll have feedback, on the next it might be silent for most of the song. The idea was, you could play as many or as few of the discs at a time as you wanted/could--but the ultimate goal would be to get all four going, synchronized, and hear what happens. The story is, even if you get them all synched up (it's harder than it sounds), it still rarely sounds the same twice.

I've had this album for a number of years--since college, at least--but tonight's the first time I've ever managed to get four functioning CD players into a room together, along with two other people willing to play along (it takes a few hands to push all the "play" buttons at once). Thanks to the enthusiasm & aid of my intrepid co-stars, Sarah & Nick, both flush after the excitement of another night of televised bingo (more on that in a moment), we got things rolling with only a few bumps in the synchronizing along the way...
The songs are...interesting, especially once the CDs start getting out of synch (I don't know how that happens, but it does). There's moments of your basic guitar/piano/vocals pop, but those moments usually morph pretty quickly into sounds of cars, airplanes, distortion, buzzing (Sarah screamed, "The bees! The bees!"), and not to give anything away or anything, but the last track ultimately breaks down into a cacophony of dogs barking. Kind of unnerving normally, but especially when you're listening to it in ultra-surround-sound in a darkened room.

Now that I've experienced it, the only word I can think to describe listening to this is "bizarre." Not in a bad way ("Different isn't bad, it's just different"), but well, as Sarah described it, "This is music that people on drugs make, and music that people on drugs listen to." And I think she's probably right about that. (Note: we are not on any drugs. Except caffeine. And chocolate.)

I've got to say, it's a pretty cool concept, and it while it isn't something I'm going to start making all my friends listen to when they come over, it did give a good Halloween-sorta-vibe to tonight.

Sarah and Nick, enjoying some Chipper sandwiches...and the music. (Well, Sarah's kind of enjoying it, I think, despite the cringing.)

"And what," you may be asking yourself, "do non-drug-using 20-somethings in Mary's hometown do with themselves when they aren't conducting strange sonic experiments and eating Chipper sandwiches?"


I'll tell you what we do. We play bingo. But not your grandma's bingo down in the church basement, oh no. (Although we could if we wanted to, for there are ample bingo opportunities available, believe you me.) We play along with TELEVISED bingo.

Sarah's got one o' them fancy satellite dishes, and with her service comes this magical, mystical channel called BingoTV. And once a week, on Wednesday evenings, this glorious station comes to life for two hours and broadcasts good, wholesome bingo fun across America. With BingoTV, you can play bingo from the comfort of your own home (or in my case, the comfort of someone else's home). There are prizes. Prizes like blenders, table saws, razors, snowblowers, and the occasional iPod. (The iPods are a little too occasional, if you ask me, but I digress.) And there's a weekly $1,000 jackpot that's currently up to a whopping $26,000 (because no one's won for 26 weeks.)

But do we play expecting to win? No, no we don't. Because judging by the surly people they get on the phone who do win, it sounds like it takes the average player about five years to hit the bingo jackpot, if ever. We'd be a little daft to expect any snowblowers in the mail anytime soon, especially being newbies like we are.

So why do we play? We play so that we can see failed theater majors say things like "B 4 - and after!" and "55, a pair of beavers!" and "I got here early to count the balls." We play so we can watch people say things like "What I like most about this snowblower is..." week after week, smiles forever intact, never looking weary of their two-hour grind even though good lord, it must feel redundant to basically say the same thing over and over and OVER again and to sound like the kids on Reading Rainbow. We play with the hopes that, like this week's Halloween special, there will be more occasions where the hosts dress up like idiots and amuse us even more than usual. And frankly, we play because the cards are free, the channel's already paid for, and we've got nothing else to do.

BingoTV, I salute you. Now make with the iPods.


Doesn't the guy on the left look like Meat Loaf?
P.S. I had to scrape off my car windows before I could drive home. The opening volley of winter has officially been fired.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Last Cowboy


Flipping through the channels tonight (all four of them!), I stumbled upon this documentary on PBS' Independent Lens series. And it's one of the best things I've seen in months.

It's about a rancher in South Dakota who had a filmmaker from NYC follow his family around for over twenty years, showing how their lifestyle changes as the economy fluctuates, and as their friends and neighbors migrate off their farms into towns & cities. It's one of the most down-to-earth movies I've ever seen about farm life--neither condescending toward nor romanticizing the lifestyle, just showing how real people live out on the great plains, the good & the bad. And man alive, the rancher (Vern) is a corker--hilarious guy, dark sense of humor, he's got a comment for everything. He reminded me so much of the guys I grew up around here, and of many people I met out in Montana as well.

If you've ever lived in the middle of nowhere, or just have an appreciation for good stories and salt-of-the-earth people, I'd highly recommend this--check out their website to see when it's re-running in your neck of the woods. (I think it'll be on a few times this weekend, and then maybe again in a few months...?)

Climbing up to the moon...


Taken about a week ago, or whenever that last full moon was...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

20,000 Leagues Under the Northland


This past week, worlds collided as I made an epic journey down to the southlands of Wisconsin to visit with two special guests in from Montanny--Emily & Owen! Let me tell you, it ain't easy for a bunch of country bumpkins to adapt to the fast-paced life of southern Wisconsin (nor their tailgating, speeding ways along the highways--seriously, people, simmer down!), but we did our best by immersing ourselves in eating, visits to Target, and even a frightening walk around a suburban mall. I can't decide what warped me against suburban living more--my upbringing in the middle of nowhere, or my four years in Montana. Needless to say, I won't be moving down there anytime soon, well, unless some graduate school down there wants to give me lots of money to do so. But that remains to be seen. :+)

Emily begins the Wisconsin Re-education Process by canoodling with a deranged hobo at the grocery store, where everything is painted green & gold and the cheese selection astounds.

A sign for a tawdry establishment apparently called "Beansnappers"...kind of a, uh, painful-sounding name for a strip club, I think, but whatever.

Some days, the butter gets a lot of calls. Some days, none at all.

This has to be breaking some international treaties with the little people. It just has to.

Out for lunch at a place called the Atlanta Bread Company, Emily discovers that their kids' menu characters display remarkable similarities to Cap'N Crunch and Snap, Crackle, or Pop. Paging General Mills...

There were syringe disposal boxes in every single public bathroom I went into down south.

Owen enjoys some quality time with the "very good turtle" at Target.

And last but certainly not least--an altar to our pagan god, the Pillsbury Doughboy. All hail the Doughboy!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Things'll be great when you're downtown.


On Thursday night, I went up to Duluth for an evening of carousing with my friend Maria. Maria and I met in college, as two fresh-faced but deeply surly students in the UMD English Department. I knew Maria was a keeper when I realized she could quote obscure Conan O'Brien lines such as, "Not cool, Zeus, not cool" and when she taught me how to make Jell-O shots. (She is also one of the few, the proud, the former members of the aptly-shortlived UMD Ricky Martin Appreciation Club. Not many are self-confident enough to admit that without blushing, and it should be mentioned that Maria not only freely admits her membership, she still has the Ricky Martin teddy bear she won at a meeting. Now that's commitment.)

Unfortunately, I didn't think to get a picture of Maria's badass anchor tattoo while I was up there (it is ultra-swank!), but I did get some pictures of downtown Duluth the following morning. (Don't worry, I'll be back up in Duluth sometime soon, and I promise to take more scandalous pictures next time.)

Looking toward the infamous "Antenna Farm" at the tiptop of the hill, as well as a number of downtown landmarks...

Looking northeast, toward a couple of hospitals & in the general direction of UMD & the east hillside...

Check out Lake Avenue...steep sonuvabitch, ain't it?

Check out my sweet parking space! Lake view, baby! (It's fun to take after my dad and to park fifty yards away from everything.)

Coming down Piedmont Avenue in the Central Hillside neck-of-the-woods--also, quite steep.

Another view down Piedmont--the big bridge down there is the Blatnik Bridge. It's tall enough that big ore boats can float beneath it...makes for some pretty wild driving conditions on windy & snowy days.

And one more--just down the road from our place, heaps & heaps of pumpkins!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fall (Literally)


It's almost that most-wonderful-time-of-the-year here at the Asbach compound...no, I don't mean shoveling season. Or rock-hauling season. No, I mean RAKING SEASON, of course!!!

Let's not rehash that old family story about how I once broke a rake in a fit of rage in the early 1990s, though...

The story on this chair: about ten years ago, my dad put this lawn chair way out at the edge of the "civilized" part of the backyard (long before the property line hits, but around the spot where he stops mowing the grass), right on the ridge of the big ravine that borders the eastern side of the spread. When people stop by the place & ask what the chair's doing out there, he tells them that's his "thinking spot." This, however, is a lie. My father's thinking spot is clearly in the recliner in the living room, where he spends hours & hours on end...well, between the napping, I imagine he gets some thinking done there, at least.

Behold, the Pumpkin King!!!

So you think this doesn't look so bad, right? Just some leaves on the ground, nothing too serious...however could this precious scene have enraged me so?

Okay. Well, magnify that leafy area by about four acres (not to mention the 6ish acres of woods/ravine that we don't rake), and you begin to see why this would start to get a little old. Especially to a cantankerous 13 year-old. (Believe it or not, I actually used to be more cantankerous.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Movin' (Grandma) on up...


Since around the time I got back to Wisconsin from Montana, we've been in the process of helping my Grandma Rosie move from her little house down by the lake into a senior citizen apartment complex up toward the center of town (by the Highrise, for those of you familiar with Ashland geography). Well, after many weeks of cleaning, sorting, packing, and hauling, we finally got everything wrapped up this past weekend with the closing of the sale on her house.

It's bittersweet, but I think for my parents and I (who did the bulk of said cleaning, sorting, packing, and hauling), I think it's more of a relief than anything else. I know that my grandma's sad to leave her house--she built it for herself around the time I was born, after my grandpa had died, and it was right down on the isolated little street by the lake that she grew up on--but at the same time, she's 86, and the place was getting to be a bit much for her to manage. And thus, consequently, a bit much for the rest of us to help her manage. She seems to be acclimating nicely to the new apartment--we fixed it up very lovely-like for her, and somehow managed to fit an alarming amount of stuff into those two big rooms so she's got all her essentials like her boombox, her sewing machine, and her NASCAR paraphernalia...(no, really)

Anyway, here's a few pictures from down at her old house this past weekend--my family went down there to move out the last bits of leftover furniture, and to give the place the final once-over before turning over the keys to the new owner on Monday.

My mom, upon realizing that no one had cleaned the fridge.

Nikko on his neverending quest for bargains.