Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I was a lousy Girl Scout.

Me & Jenni at some Girl Scout function or another at school.
Align Center

I was a lousy Girl Scout.

No, seriously, I really was. Maybe at the outset, I had good intentions. There was the glamour of the uniform...the anal-retentiveness of sewing merit badges to a sash in predetermined sequences (which surely appealed to my Type A side). There was the promise of afterschool frivolity, of the learning of various skills...and cookies. Did I mention the cookies yet? Yeah, the cookies were a major selling point. (Probably because I didn’t quite grasp that in reality, I was about to become the selling point of said cookies.)

Of course, as was often the case when I was seven (and, let’s face it, it's often the case to this day), the picture I had in my head of what Brownies would be like was a much more richly-painted tapestry than the reality turned out to be. Before I’d even gotten my hot little hands on that sash, this union was doomed.

You see, my only observations of scouting of any kind prior to this were from watching my older brother hanging with his Cub Scout pack. And in Cub Scouts, they got to do stuff. They learned how to build fires! They went out in the woods and learned to find things (and probably got to stomp around in mud and puddles and stuff, to boot)! They got to build sweet cars out of scraps of wood and race them for fabulous prizes! They got to LIVE!

I don’t know how the Girl Scouts operated in other places circa 1987, but around Ashland our activity options seemed pretty damn limited. Let’s see--there were the singalongs. And various arts & crafts (most of which went pretty light on the “art” and “craft” parts of it, if you ask me). Sometimes after we did arts & crafts, we’d have a singalong. Then, after the singalong, we’d get really wild and have some arts & crafts. And after that, we’d get two hours of indoctrination on sales and marketing, because dammit, those cookies have gotta move, move, MOVE!

More thrilling Girl Scouts action, 1987.
(With puppets. Or maybe those are just bells. Eh, close enough.)

This was clearly not what I had in mind when I signed up. Where was the action? Where were the fires, both literally and figuratively speaking? This was like a washed-out version of the catechism classes I dreaded on Sunday mornings, for pete's sake, only without any talk of treacherous snakes in a garden or the titillating gore of the Stations of the Cross. The only fire I ever saw during my looooooong year as a Brownie was out at Prentice Park during mandatory summer day camp, and the only reason I can remember that is not because we got to make the fire or anything productive like that, but rather because one day we were commanded to bring “something” from home to add to a giant cauldron of “soup” which was to serve as our group meal. I HAD TO EAT FROM A SLOP BUCKET CONTAINING SPAGHETTIOS, FRUIT COCKTAIL AND CIRCUS PEANUTS, PEOPLE. To quote Homer Simpson, “That’s not America. That’s not even Mexico!”

Doing what we did 3/4 of the time in Girl Scouts--making puppets.  Sigh.
(With more puppets.)

It pains me to say this, but it didn’t help that those slick Girl Scout operatives had talked my mother into being my group leader, either. I mean, bless the woman for taking it on -- Mom’s not a joiner, either--but she had about as much interest in this junk as I did. Week after week, we’d meet in the kindergarten room at Beaser School, and I swear to god not a week went by that year where we didn’t make puppets. Sock puppets, paper bag puppets, puppets on popsicle sticks--we did ‘em all. In retrospect, I give my mom a lot of credit for trying to keep it interesting, but the deck was stacked against her from the get-go. I can still picture her leading our ragtag bunch of second graders through simulated cookie sales…the bigwigs had developed these paper dolls depicting typical Girl Scout cookie customers (old ladies, housewives, shut-ins), and we were supposed to play-act our way through the transactions. As a group, we were far more interested in playing with the paper dolls and concocting elaborate backstories for each of them ("This is Mrs. McGaffy, and she has eleven cats"). After about ten minutes of trying to get our attention, I remember my mom giving up and letting us have at it. Wise woman.

Cleaning up the park next to the post office, 1987.
(Out picking up trash in a park downtown. At least we got out of making puppets that day.)

And I don’t know if it was the fact that my mom was there, or my overall disgust with the whole operation, or just a rebellious streak about six years ahead of schedule--but during Girl Scout meetings, I was a holy terror. Oh my god, I really was. I remember crawling under tables and pouting, refusing to work on my puppets. Wandering off in the middle of projects to play with the kindergarten toys on the other side of the room. Making breaks for the doors to the playground outside, sometimes with my little brother in tow, him being far too young to be left home alone during the meetings (or to be ticked off at our mom for dragging him to a Girl Scout activity, poor dope).

Girl Scout party at our house, 1987.
(Brownie party at our house.)

Perhaps the most telling sign of my lack of commitment to the Girl Scouts was that I kept mixing up the Scout’s Promise with the 4-H Pledge. Generally, it wasn't a big deal since it was just in front of my mom and the, like, six other girls in my grade who'd gotten hoodwinked into joining. But I do remember getting some looks at the city-wide troop gatherings when they'd all be reciting in unison and I'd be standing there muttering something about pledging my head to clearer thinking. (But c’mon now, how many oaths can you realistically expect a seven year-old to memorize, anyway?)

Maybe that was part of the problem--I was used to 4-H, where dammit, we got results. Sure, sometimes we didn’t do our projects for the fair until two days before we had to prop them up in the exhibition hall, but dammit, we did something. None of this namby-pamby singalong garbage. And they didn't make me go out selling crap, either--yeah, we had to pay dues, but given the choice between singing for my supper and just paying for it outright, I'm gonna pick the path of least resistance each & every time. Plus, hey--no uniforms! (Although to this day, I'll never turn down a kicky sash.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pop culture moments of my generation that I refused to take part in, pt. 1.

There was a girl in my 5th grade class named Muffy (okay, not her real name) who was, objectively speaking, the most horrible person I’d ever met.

Muffy was one of those standard-issue dirty-blonde girls we have in abundance around this part of the country, with a face that looked like it’d been carved out of a log with a chainsaw, all harsh angles and blotchy skin. (In retrospect, she bore more than a passing resemblance to the Lady Elaine puppet on Mr. Rogers.)

It wasn't her horse face that made me hate her, though--it was her pissy little attitude. Maybe it was because her parents spoiled her rotten; maybe it was because, well, frankly, she wasn't going to get by on her smarts (or her looks--oh, catty!) in this world. I don't know, I'm no Dr. Phil. But what I do know is this: she was a raging bitch trapped in a ten year-old's body. This was the type of girl who was always on the lookout for the kids that looked even the slightest bit out of place, the tiniest bit out of the norm--too tall, too short, too fat, too freckled, too plain, too smart, it didn't matter. If you were too anything, you were going to get called out on it by Muffy and her little cabal of spiral-permed dirty blonde accomplices (who, despite her own unfortunate face, she held sway over through the sheer power of her bitchiness alone). And whoa, mama, I was definitely one too many "toos" for Muffy to handle.

But ultimately, it was her love of these five idiots that really did it.

Do you have any idea what it was like to be the only girl in my grade (hell, probably in my entire school) who hated New Kids on the Block before it was cool to hate New Kids on the Block? Oh, sure--people hear me say this now, and they assume I'm spinning some revisionist history--"Oh, come on, you probably liked them, you all did." You know what? In a way, I wish I had. I wish I could've ignored those idiotic looks on their faces (god, just look at them!) and past their horrible, horrible music and bought into it. And maybe bought a t-shirt and some of those ubiquitous buttons everybody had on, to blend in. Because believe me, it would've saved me a lot of grief. The New Kids-themed birthday parties...the New Kids-themed slumber parties...my relatives wanting to buy me New Kids-themed presents for holidays. They were inescapable, and my open contempt for them made me stick out like even more of a sore thumb than I already did.

(At the height of New Kids mania, do you know what my favorite song was? Do you? "There's a Tear in My Beer" by Hank Williams, Jr. Oh, I'm so not kidding.)

But Muffy...oh, Muffy. Muffy came to school every day, covered in NKOTB gear from head to toe. Hats, scarves, sunglasses, shirts, those damn buttons. I'm sure she had the pillowcases at home, and the dolls, too. She was a walking billboard for bad taste. And her love for that crap, and my disdain for it, meant that if I didn't already consider her nemesis material, I sort of had to from there on out.

On the first day of sixth grade over at the middle school, I didn't see Muffy. At lunchtime, I heard from someone that during the summer, her family had moved to the next town over after her dad ran his used car business into the ground. Me, I always liked to think that what really did them in financially was the vast amount of money they'd invested in New Kids t-shirts for their rat-faced daughter. That market was destined to bottom-out.

As for the New Kids...well, I never did come to like their music. And I still think they looked like a bunch of idiots. But, years later, when my college roommate revealed her long-latent extreme NKOTB fandom in the wake of the rise of N*Sync and the Backstreet Boys...well, I didn't shun her. As she dug out her memorabilia, I learned to appreciate the hilarity of "Popsicle" (it actually contains the word "fancyfree"! Mwahaha!), and I laughed when she went to the Mall of America to get Jordan Knight's autograph one summer (I don't think that comeback quite panned out for him, though). If memory serves me right, I even got her one of the dolls she was missing on ebay one year for Christmas. And if that act of kindness makes me a New Kids collaborator, then so be it.

Friday, January 18, 2008


After months of trying to place who my bossman's father sounds like when he answers his phone, today it occurred to me.

(I loved this show when I was a kid!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The (old) camera is dead! Long live the (new) camera!

My beloved, reasonably long-lived Sony DSC-P73 camera...is dead.

P73 and I came together in the fall of '04--it was my second digital camera, and easily became the most traveled camera in (immediate) Asbach family history. In our three years together, we went from coast to coast, north to south & east to west...we went across an ocean, and we covered miles & miles of ground in Montana and Wisconsin and all points between. There were good times aplenty, and adventures galore. But alas, all good things must come to an end.

Really, though, we were lucky. P73 never should have woken up from a barbaric thwack on some rocks in Duluth last April...and yet, awake it did, and it survived for another nine months. For that, me & my checkbook are eternally grateful.

Last known photo.
(P73's last photo: January 5, 2008.)

Goodnight, sweet P73. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, in that big photo lab in the sky...

...but, like a phoenix rising from the ashes comes something new. And badass.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mystery solved.

On Tuesday, we got a phone call from a movie location scout who was in the area. He'd heard from a gal at Northern State Bank that we have an old bank vault in our building, and wanted to stop by and take some pictures.

Now we know why.

Film company looking at city as possible site for "Public Enemies"; Johnny Depp would star as infamous robber

With god as my witness, we will crush La Crosse and Baraboo and we will get The Depp.

(It's still a pipe dream, but man, even if they just filmed here for a day or two that'd be a great boost to the economy up here.)

P.S. I told my boss we should totally get a cardboard cutout of The Depp and put it in one of our windows facing Main Street.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Honey, I'm home.

Every so often, I run into the guy I married in high school.

Actually, we might have been married twice. I know our Spanish teachers made us go through with it at least once, because I remember having to wear a doily on my head like a veil, a bouquet of fake flowers in hand as I sullenly marched down the aisle between the desks to some sappy Jon Secada song, my friends snickering in the back of the room, waiting to throw rice or chips & salsa at me or something like that. (Somehow, I imagine this is much the same as how any real wedding I have someday will play out.)

I’m pretty sure the groom and I were selected for two reasons. One, we were both passable Spanish speakers, if by “passable” you mean we could converse at the level of four year-olds. Alarmingly, in the case of my particular high school Spanish class, this made us the equivalent of Rhodes scholars, since most of our classmates (some with traditional Spanish names like “Nacho”) failed to progress very far beyond grasping what “yo quiero Taco Bell” meant. (And even that meaning was grasped rather tenuously, if you ask me.) In addition to our shortlived marriage, Tomas and I also shared the unfortunate distinction of having last names that start with the first letters of the alphabet. I’m pretty sure this fact was about 90% responsible for us being bound into unholy Spanish class matrimony, because for all of the four years we were in class together, whenever our professoras unleashed a request for assistance with an undesirable class activity and received no takers, they’d glance down at their grade books and BAM--there we were, right smack at the beginning of the list. Pobrecitos.

Alas, it’s fair to say that neither Tomas nor I were fully prepared for marriage at the tender age of sixteen (let alone a marriage hastily brokered by our Spanish teachers), and sadly, by the time we finished saying our vows, the bloom was already off the rose, so to speak. By next period, I’m pretty certain we’d both tried to put the whole ugly mess behind us. I know I had. No joint checking account for Tomas y Chiquita--just some chips y salsa, and the meager satisfaction of some extra credit points in the grade book. Oh, and the memories. Those precious, precious memories.

A few years after I graduated, my mom started working in the hospital kitchen where Tomas worked part-time during college. They got to talking, and when my mom found out he dreamt of moving to Montana someday down the line, I’m sure she talked his ear off about my misadventures in the lands to the west. I remember her asking if I knew him from school during one of our Sunday night phone calls, and regaling her with the story of our “wedding,” and then immediately regretting telling her about it for fear that she’d go to work and embarrass the crap out of the poor guy. Which, of course, she promptly did--but I’m told he took it in good stride, and they got a good laugh out of the stupid things one sometimes has to do in high school. (Besides, it’s not like he had to wear the doily on his head!)

Anyway, so Tomas and I bump into each other around town from time to time, and every time he sees me he asks how Montana is. And for the two years I’ve lived back in Ashland, I good-naturedly respond, “Well, I imagine it’s doing fine, but I live in Ashland again now.” And he always says, “Ohhh, that’s right! Where do you work now?” And we repeat this cycle, over and over and over again, to the point where every time I see him, I start pre-emptively giggling to myself. It’s like my own personal mini-Groundhog Day. And, it occurred to me today, when we ran into each other at the gas station, that weirdly enough, we’re acting like an old married couple. I keep repeating myself, and he doesn’t listen to a damn thing.

Somewhere, Jon Secada is smiling.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Two big burly men in flannel & Carharrts standing on Main Street, smoking cigarettes:

Burly Man #1:
Man, why is everybody calling me “Cupcake”?
Burly Man #2:
You don’t remember much of New Year’s Eve, do you?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cleanup in Aisle 12.

Best Buy, Duluth, 12/30/2007:
Clean-up in aisle twelve.
It took us a minute to piece together which came first: the dent, or the lift.

Answer: the lift. Definitely the lift.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

My three new favorite TV shows, in all their glory.

Not the most substantive post in the world, but it'll have to do for today.

1. Nathaniel's dance from the mind-numbingly awesome program, Yo Gabba Gabba (warped further by The Soup).

(If you liked that, try the Elijah Wood/"Numa Numa" song mash-up. You'll be glad you did.)

2. The crazy bird lady, as seen on BBC 4's How Clean Is Your House?

(If nothing else, please, PLEASE, watch from 1:18 until 1:55. I laugh until I cry.)

3. Last but not least, Flight of the Conchord's
"Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros."

Charlie Bubbles Bum-Bum Bird