The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


A Fan Fiction (based on Wapsi Square by Paul Taylor)

I always used to think that the Holiday Inns in the downtown areas of major cities were better than the ones you'd find in the outskirts, just off the Interstate or turnpike. Maybe it was because I'd stayed in too many of the Hotel 6-type pre-fab motels, and not enough of the big ones in major cities.

My preconceptions were shattered, however, when I had to attend a convention that was housed at the Minneapolis downtown Holiday Inn. Convention may not be the right word; it was more or less a lecture session involving methods of mediation after critical situations – something that I had only volunteered to attend at the behest of my local union, due to my status as a steward. The hotel's meeting rooms were not the greatest in the universe. Heck, they weren't even that great for grade-school standards. This surprised me, considering the place's location so close to the Metrodome and most of downtown.

Fortunately, there was a lot of down-time after the first session on a Friday morning. I decided that I was going to do some exploring that afternoon, since we didn't have any training scheduled after lunch. I had heard a lot about the Lake Calhoun area, and asked at the front desk for a quick directional as to how to get over there from downtown.

I headed south out of the downtown area on Cedar, then swung west on Lake Street towards Calhoun. There was a marked difference in the neighborhoods after I drove under I-35W (the section south of downtown, not the section being rebuilt over the Mississippi – which I could see from my hotel room). The homes seemed a bit nicer, a bit brighter. I saw a sign for a parking area for Lake Calhoun along the eponymous parkway of the same name, and pulled in to take a brief walk around the north shore area.

The day wasn't too bad – a brisk early March day, which could be bitter cold in the Twin Cities, was turning out to be decent at just above freezing. I took in the sights as there was still some ice on the lake, and only a smattering of people were out and about: a couple of joggers, one brave soul who was biking around the lake, two people walking their dogs.

I headed up towards Lake Street, seeing what looked mostly like a strip mall that faced the lake just north of the park. The strip mall pretty much encompassed a triangle-shaped block between Lake and Excelsior Boulevard, facing towards the lake. I didn't really pay attention to the little mall, mostly because I was more intent on getting across the intersection of Lake and Excelsior to the Subway on the other side. When I finally got clear of the Lake Calhoun park area, though, I was in for a surprise

At first glance, it appeared that there was a Mexican restaurant of some sort at the one end of the strip mall – which, upon closer inspection, was nothing more than a series of buildings that looked somewhat old compared to a typical "strip mall" façade. When I took a second look, however, I saw that it was decked out with coffee-cup designs alongside its southwestern motif. The sign above the door clinched it: Mucho Mocha.

I looked at the building with more than a quizzical glance – surely this couldn't be for real, could it? – yet I found myself making way across the street to reach the coffeehouse. I looked around briefly, as if to see if there were any strange creatures or stray dogs (or cats!) in the area, then mustered up my courage and went inside. The Mexican-theme to the place continued inside, with some relicary photos and a sombrero-type "chandelier" hanging over the order line. I wasn't sure what to expect from behind the counter, but I looked to see what exactly was on the menu for coffee.

"Good afternoon!" a voice said to break my reverie, "Can I help you?" This younger, skinny gal with a choker necklace and a ponytail smiled at me from behind the counter. I froze for a second, as deer in the headlights. This can NOT be real, I told myself.

"Uh, yeah..." I stammered a bit as I pondered what to drink. "I'll have a caramel latte with skim milk and an extra shot of espresso, please," I told her.

"All righty," she smiled, her fanged teeth evident in her smile. "You looked more like you wanted a mocha latte with an extra shot, though," she said with a querying look.

"Heh, no," I said, trying not to look into her silver-gray eyes. "I prefer caramel in my coffee to mocha, thanks." I shrugged a bit as I fished some cash out of my wallet. "Guess I'm not that easy to read."

She finished pouring the steamed milk and looked at me with a studied eye. "No, I think you had mocha on your mind when you came in here," she said. I shrugged with a half-smile as I accepted the coffee from her and my change.

"Well, I wasn't quite expecting a coffee house with your exterior décor," I told her. "I was somewhat surprised by the word mocha on the marquee instead of tacos or burritos." She chuckled a bit at that.

"I get that on occasion. People walk in here thinking it’s a cantina or something, and they end up walking out with a double latte," she smiled as she relaxed against the servery. She looked up into my eyes for a second. "Something troubling you, hon?" she asked with a hint of concern.

"No, no, not really," I said quickly. "Just I never imagined I'd meet such intriguing people in Minneapolis."

"Ohhhh," she said with a nod. "You're from out of town. Wisconsin, I take it?" as she pointed to my sweatshirt, which had my alma mater's logo emblazoned on the front.

"Yeah," I replied. "Whitewater alum from '89. Up here for a conference." The bell on the door rang as another customer wandered in, thankfully ending my conversation. I nodded a thanks to her and walked off with my coffee to a seat in the cafe.

Thankfully, I didn't recognize the person that just came in, nor did any of the other faces in the café appear familiar. Good, I thought to myself; I'm not sure I could handle running into any of the others – or especially the golem girls.

I took a while with my latte, perusing a discarded copy of the Star-Tribune and looking over some of the various things on the walls of the shop. There was a bulletin board near my table where various want ads and for-sale notices were placed. I saw a small notice for a one-room flat "to rent, recently vacated; Wapsi Square Apartments, 2701 Bryant Avenue South" and some tabs for the phone number.

I stood there gaping a bit as I saw that notice; I thought that Wapsi Square was just a fictional locale in a cartoon, and not a real place. Of course, as I looked around the coffee shop, I never thought there was such a place as Mucho Mocha, either – until today.

I made a mental note of the street address, and took one last sip of my drink before rising to head out. This was getting to be too much for me. I had to at least check out the apartment building, to see what it looked like. Who knows who I might see there – maybe it was the building that Paul managed, and he just renamed it for the strip he writes? That's what it had to be, I thought to myself. Paul just based the coffee shop on a real one in the Calhoun Square area – which, as I started back to my car, I saw a sign that noted this was Calhoun Square – and it's all just a little laugh on me.

I headed over across Lake Street, not paying attention as a young woman trotted gracefully across in the opposite direction. It wasn't until I got to the opposite curb that I stopped for a second, and slowly turned to look back across the street. A young woman, appearing to be about her early 20's, was strolling across to the coffee shop in a business suit. Just then, a shaggy-haired guy in a tie came jogging up to her, and the two hugged briefly as they sauntered towards the café. I tilted my head for a second, then shook it as a bus whizzed past to block my view. After the bus drove off, I saw the two entering the café – and I saw her look back across the street towards me.

Was that a glint of gold I saw from her stare? I thought as I suddenly got the urge to run, not walk back to my car.

I settled into my car with a deep exhale, as if I'd been holding my breath for a while. This is getting too weird, I thought as I pulled out onto the street and headed back over to Hennepin. I remembered seeing Bryant as one of the cross streets on Lake; I vaguely remembered that the numbered streets went down as you headed back towards downtown, so I turned left onto Bryant and headed north. Sure enough, two blocks down on the right there was a modest, six-story apartment building with a sign out in front: Wapsi Square Apartments.

I pulled around onto 27th and into a small parking lot behind the building. The apartment was a bit older, but in basically good shape; there were some interesting window treatments on the upper floors, but nothing too ostentatious. I pulled into one of the visitor spots and stepped out for a moment. There was still a bit of a snowbank left over from the winter towards the one side of the lot and against the building proper. Looking up, I saw what appeared to be a shed of some sort on the roof, accessible from a set of fire escapes on the one side of the building.

I didn't want to stay too long, in case I was in someone's parking spot, so I pulled back out and swung around to the entrance off of Bryant. Just as I was about to sneak back out onto Bryant, a dark-colored Volvo pulled into the driveway next to me. There wasn't a whole lot of room, since there was still some unmelted snow on the one side of the fence, so I pulled ahead and out to let the car get in. I got a brief smile from the driver, a dark-haired female with a rather sunken facial expression.

It wasn't until I was about a block down Bryant that it hit me who that was... or was it? I was already doubting myself over all of this, but come on – everything that I'd seen to that point was telling me this wasn't just some joke. It was real. How, then, could something as simple as a comic strip be coming to life around me?

I was shaken from my reverie again as a horn sounded to let me know the light at 26th Street West had changed. I turned down the street to head back to Hennepin. I thought for a moment and decided to head back south on Hennepin. A half-block later, I finally realized this wasn't just some dream: there, at the corner of 28th and Hennepin, was Darren's Pub.

I laughed a bit as I pulled on to 28th, trying to see if there was parking behind the bar. There was an alleyway that looked promising, so I quickly turned in – only to discover that it simply divided the short block into two halves, without any parking. I sighed as I pulled up to 27th, noticing a cat laying in the window of the buildings on my left. I made the turn onto 27th, then had to stop right away at Hennepin. As I was trying to see if I could get onto Hennepin, I saw the sign for Amanda's Photography – "Commercial, Contractural, Conceptual" was the script under the old-style camera logo. I shook my head again as I saw an opening and eased onto Hennepin. Luckily, there was a parking space halfway down the block, and I snuck into it easily.

When I got out, I saw that Amanda's studio was actually on the top floor of the end building on the block; there was a small antique store below it. "So that's where the antique store was," I said to myself. I walked down the block, past an Indian cuisine restaurant promoting its "All-You-Can-Eat Curry Bar", and climbed a short set of steps to Darren's pub.

There was a small vestibule inside the door, where a gum machine and some local for-rent papers sat. There was also a little bulletin board with some notices and a pub menu. There was also a whiteboard next to the entrance urging people to try the "Pub Burger and Fries" and announcing they had Guiness on tap. When I stepped inside, the place was basically empty – this was two in the afternoon, after all – and was laid out pretty much like most other corner taps I'd seen before. Main bar on the left, with a couple of stand-up tables, a couple of dartboards on the one wall; a slightly-raised stage in the back corner, some video games and a pool table set to the back. There were several flat-screen TV's that all had on ESPN – which was showing a spring-training ball game, Yankees against the Red Sox from Florida.

I stepped up to the bar and took a peek around, just in time to see a tall, black gal with neat braids peek out of the back room. "Hey there!" she called as she stepped back behind the bar. "What can I get for you?"

"Is the grill still open?" I asked, as I noticed the name on her shirt said "Simone".

"Sure thing," replied Simone, "we keep it open until three. Need a menu?" I nodded in assent and she slid one in front of me. "Can I get you anything to drink?"

"Just a Diet Coke, please," I said as I reviewed the menu. She smiled and scurried off to get a glass from the other side of the bar. I pondered my options, and decided to just get a grilled chicken sandwich with some of the pub fries. I squinted as I looked at the menu, seeing something that made me pause. "What's the Monica Burger?" I asked as she returned with my drink.

"Oh, that's named afer one of our regulars," she said. "Petite girl with a high metabolism. It's a half-pound burger with cheese, onions, lettuce and jalapenos. She's downed a few of them in a row at times. Not too many people order it, though – too spicy." I chuckled and gave her my order. She sauntered off to the back and the kitchen, and I sat back and watched some of the game.

It was late in the game, which meant that the players all were wearing numbers in the 60's and 70's – and more than likely wouldn't be anywhere close to playing in the majors by next month. The last out was made, and just then Simone returned with my sandwich and fries. I thanked her for and paid up my tab. Just then, a bald-headed gentleman with a trimmed beard peeked in from the back.

"Simone," Darren called, "the rep from the beer distributor will be here in a few minutes. You remember how many kegs we need?"

"I think we only need a couple," she said. "Lemme go check," as she strolled off and around in another direction in the back room. Darren stepped out and smiled to me as he went over to the till to check something. The front door opened and the sounds of Hennepin Avenue came rushing in as a pair of women came into the vestibule. I was munching away on my sandwich as Darren turned to see who came in.

"Hi, ladies! What's up?" he asked as he walked around the bar to

"Darren," one of the girls replied, "we wanted to know if we could put up this rental notice on your front board?" The voice sounded vaguely like a younger version of Eartha Kitt.

"Yeah," came the other girl's voice – this one sounding more like a teenager – "We're helping our old landlord try to sell our flat over at Wapsi Square Apartments."

I immediately perked up at that phrase.

When I turned to look, I saw a short, mousy-haired blond girl with a stringy figure and a taller, more muscular black girl with a mid-size afro talking to Darren. Darren was helping them put the notice on the board, and waved at them as they headed back out the door and onto the busy corner of Hennepin and 28th. Darren turned to head back to the bar, and looked at me briefly, puzzled.

"Something wrong?" he asked – as I realized I was staring out the door gape-mouthed, with a half-eaten bite of chicken sandwich still in my mouth.

"Uh, um," I stammered, swallowing and turning to swig down some of the Diet Coke, "No, no... it's just that I think I know those gals," I said quickly.

"Yeah, Acacia's a sweet girl," he said, swinging back around the bar. "Don't know how you might know her, though, since you don't appear to be from around these parts," he said with a judicious look.

"Oh, uhm, I know a few people around here," I said. "Never met them in person, though – internet stuff," I said, hoping that would explain it. His raised eyebrow made me realize what that sounded like. "Oh, no, not that way – from some hockey message boards," I said. He nodded solemnly.

"Hey, doesn't matter to me," he said. "I don't go online very much. I don't generally have the time..." A buzzer sounded in back. "That's the delivery guy," he said as he bopped back into the kitchen. "Simone! He's here!" I took the opportunity to swig down the last of my soda and gathered my things to head back out the door.

I got back to my car and headed back down towards Lake Street, and turned east back towards the Interstate. The stretch of Lake between Calhoun and just about Colfax was a series of shops, bars and restaurants – a typical retail district. At the corner of Lyndale and Lake, I saw a sign for Punk Yoga, along with the ensuing billboard with the heavily-tattooed female figure next to the stylized logo. I turned down Lyndale, seeing the address on the sign as being back on Calhoun Parkway. A couple of blocks down, I got ready to turn onto 36th Street West to head back to Lake Calhoun when I noticed an auto repair shop on the right.

That wasn't out of the ordinary, of course – there were a few repair shops that I'd seen up on Lake – but it was the sight of a white '68 Camaro with a blue rallye-style stripe down the middle in the parking lot that gave me pause. The sign said it was "Minneapolis South Auto and Repair" – which had my head shaking once again. I didn't get a good look as the light turned green, but it appeared that there was a rather well-built girl talking to a customer just inside the garage doors.

I figured I would need to collect myself once I got back to Lake Calhoun, and thankfully, there was a parking area right across from the building where Punk Yoga was housed on the East shore of the lake. The small parking area was immediately adjacent to a boat launch and a beachfront – both of which were closed at the time due to the weather. I parked my PT Cruiser and just sat there for a minute or two. When something that you have always thought was just a story – a piece of fiction, a fairy tale, whatever – suddenly starts to come to life around you... well, you start to question your sanity.

A horn started honking loudly across the street. A little red Mazda Miata, parked just next to the studio, had its lights flashing and horn honking. I saw a short, somewhat pudgy bespectacled lady peer out the front door of the studio, look around furtively for a moment, then reach into her pocket to press the alarm button on her key fob. She looked around again over the top of her glasses, as if she was looking for some hidden menace. I shook my head and decided that I definitely needed to take a walk.

The mid-afternoon sun had warmed the Twin Cities to the point where it was a relatively mild day. The lower 40's was probably as nice as it had been in the area for several months now, and there were a few select people out enjoying the day as well. A random jogger passed by as I strolled along the lakefront. After a bit, I found a bench and had a seat. Though the snow melt made things soggy at times, the bench was dry from being out in the sun; it was still a bit chilly, however.

I looked out across the lake as I pondered my afternoon. I'd seen most of the main characters of an online comic strip in a relatively short period of time, and had my preconceptions of these supposedly fictional characters dashed. Ironically, about the only person I hadn't seen was the main character herself – and I had absolutely no idea where she lived. I suspected that she was probably still at work, wherever that was. I'd actually toyed with the idea of heading over to the Museum of Natural History on the U of M campus before heading down here to Lake Calhoun, but I wasn't certain that was where she would have worked – if she actualy worked there.

The sound of sniffing brought me back to my senses, and I looked down to see a dog inspecting the far corner of the park bench. I looked over at the dog, and saw that he didn't appear to be on any sort of a leash. I surveyed the area and didn't see anyone who was anxiously chasing after a dog, and I turned back to see him sniffing another corner of the bench.

The pooch was a bull terrier, sort of like a Spuds McKenzie-type dog without the black circle around one eye. I thought for a moment, and tenatively called out, "Dietzel?" The dog looked at me for a moment, then came over to me with a questioning look on his face. "Dietzel," I said again, and he looked up at me. "Where's your owner?" I asked. He looked up as if he didn't want to answer that question. "C'mere, boy," I said as I took a peek at his collar. "Lemme see if we can find out where you're supposed to be."

He struggled a little bit as I looked at his collar, but I found a dog tag that identified him as Dietzel. The tag said, IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL M.VILLAREAL, (612) 555-2292. I looked at Dietzel and smiled. "We're gonna give Monica a call and get you home, boy." I pulled my cell out of my pocket and dialed the number. The number went through, but after two rings I got her voicemail:

"Hi, you have reached Monica and Dietzel. Please leave your name and number at the tone and we'll get back to you as soon as we can." She sounded a little different than I'd expected – something that surprised me enough that I realized I'd missed the beep.

"Uh, hi, my name's Joseph Houk, and I believe I have your dog Dietzel here. He was wandering around Lake Calhoun without a leash. You can give me a call on my cell at..." I left my cell number with a thanks and hung up. "Now, let's hope your mistress gets home soon and calls back." I tried to pet him, but he was a bit tenative. "C'mon, boy, I'm no meanie." I paused for a second. "Of course, I'm not the bimbo from Papa's Pizza, either." When I said "Papa's Pizza", he let out a WOOF and started looking around, as if he could see the driver coming down the street.

"Oh, you like Papa's Pizza, hey?" I said with a laugh. "Well, let's see if we can find the closest one, and maybe they can tell us where you live, okay?" He let out another woof, which I took as an assent. I grudgingly took him over to my car, popped him into the back seat and encouraged him to lay down. He sniffed around a bit, but managed to let me get into the car.

We drove around a while, going up to Lake Street where I vaguely remember seeing a pizza parlor – and I was right. Right at the corner of Lake and Stevens, just before I-35W, was Papa's Pizza. I pulled into the parking lot and Dietzel was all smiles and tail-wagging. Just as I was wondering how I was going to get the address, my phone rang. I answered it right away, "Hello?"

"Is this Joseph?" came the voice on the other end. When I responded in the affirmative, she asked with a bit of a tinge of fear, "Do you still have my dog, Dietzel?" When I responded again in the affirmative, there was a very audible sigh of relief.

"I'm so sorry, I don't have the slightest idea how he got out," she began. "Are you still over at Lake Calhoun?"

"Uhm, no – we're over here at the Papa's Pizza on Lake and Stevens," I replied.

"Oh jeez, his favorite pizza place," she said. "How'd he manage to get you over there?"

"Long story," I said. "Hey, do you want me to drop him off somewhere so you can get him?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah, sure, you can drop by here. I'm over on Bryant, 3333 south. Look for a little two-story with a porch. He'll let you know when you're there."

"I hope so," I said as Dietzel started to lick my face. "Hey!" I said as he slu-uuurrped me.

"Dietzel! Are you being a bad doggie?" she said through the phone. He stopped, turned and sniffed at my cell. "You sit down and be good for Mr. Houk." He stopped and went back on to the seat, and curled up on the bench. "Is he off of you now?"

"Yeah... affectionate little guy you got there," I said.

"Oh, he's just a softie at heart. I'll be here, it shouldn't take you too long to get over here."

A few minutes later, I was pulling up to 3333 Bryant Avenue South with Dietzel in tow. When I stopped, I made sure not to let Dietzel out right away, and swung around to the street side of my PT and opened the car door. Dietzel tried to run off, but I managed to snag his collar before he got out of the car. "C'mon now, buddy," I said, "No running away this close to home." I guided him up the walk and the stairs to the front door, and was surprised to see Monica at the door waiting.

"Dietzel!" she said when she saw him. She kneeled down and squeezed him tight. "What were you doing wandering around? You could have been hurt or worse!" She looked up at me. "Thank you ever so much for bringing him back," she said. "What do I owe you?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing," I said. "I consider it my good deed for the day." I reached down and extended my hand. "Joseph Houk, at your service." She rose up slowly and accepted my hand, scooting Dietzel into the house.

"Monica Villareal," she said – and immediately tilted her head a bit. "Boy, you're short." I laughed when she said that.

"I'm taller than you, though," I said, making a motion that cleared my hand about four inches over her head. She gave me a silly look and then a serious expression.

"Really, I should give you something for your kindness. Let me look in my purse... oh, come on in, it's not all that dirty in here," she said, motioning me to step into her house.

I took a step into her home, and immediately recognized the staircase and the hallway. It wasn't as big as I had imagined, but it was a decent size. The living room was larger than it seemed, and the TV in the corner was tuned to... the Weather Channel. I laughed a bit.

"Big fan of Storm Stories?" I asked. She paused as she ruffled through her purse on the coffee table.

"What? Oh, that – I just like to keep tabs on the weather," she said. "I've gotten rained and snowed on so much in the past that I make a point of checking it before I go anywhere." I looked around a bit, seeing a photo of her and Kevin, and a few copies of The Journal of the MesoAmerican Historical Association.

"Here we go," she said, handing me a 20 dollar bill. "It's all I've got right now, but it's the least I can do." I nodded, though I had some regrets about accepting cash from her.

"I'm not sure about this," I began. "I mean, I don't know if I can take cash from you after all you've…" I stopped myself, mostly because I realized that saying any more would really freak her out.

"All I've what?" she asked. Damn, she caught me.

"Uh, all you've been through, with your dog coming up missing," I recovered quickly with a smile. She looked at me a bit strangely, then nodded.

"Well, I was going to go grab a bite to eat over at Gut Bomb before heading over to a party for a friend's birthday," she told me.

"Say no more," I said with a bit of a flourish. "Dinner's on me," as I waved the bill and put it in my pocket. "Of course, I think you might have a better time trying to navigate the streets of Minneapolis, though." She laughed at that.

"You're right. I'll get my keys and we can drive over to the one on Lake. I'll be right back," she said as she sauntered into the kitchen. I stood there in the hallway, looking around at her house. I peeked into the living room, half expecting to see a little blue guy with bunny slippers on, watching the TV – but no such luck. She came back in and waggled the keys – "All set," she said. "And this time, Dietzel's staying right here, aren't you, sweetie?" Dietzel appeared a bit non-plussed, but didn't move.

We stepped out and got into her car. I noticed the museum parking tag on her windshield . "Yeah, I work at the U of M Historical Museum. Just busybody stuff, nothing major." She got the car cranked up and pulled out. The car was a little Toyota Echo – "just something that gets me to and from work," she told me – and was just roomy enough for her and me. I doubted anything else could possibly fit in the car, though.

The Gut Bomb was your typical fast-food place, and I was amazed at the amount of food she was putting away as a regular order. "You really must have a high metabolism," I said with a chuckle. She shrugged as she munched down on her Buster Burger. We talked a bit about things; I gave her a brief rundown about my job and why I was in the Twin Cities. She was suitably impressed, saying that there's no way she could work at a job like that.
"Nothing personal, hon," I told her, "but I doubt many of my kids could see past your… well, more obvious attributes." She made a silly face and tossed her hair to the side.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "My lovely auburn tresses? My winning smile? My outgoing personality?"

"More like your outstanding chest size," I said with a laugh. I let go with a sigh. "Most of my kids don't see women as anything more than silly 'hos' to be used and abused. Sad, actually."

"That's a hard thing to deal with on a regular basis, I'd bet," she said. I nodded in agreement. "I barely manage to deal with the corporate politics of working in a public museum."

"Now politics, that I understand," I said. "I'm a state employee, what can I say?"

We talked for a while longer, and then she said she needed to get going. I understood, and we both headed back to her car and back to her place. I thanked her for the ride, and waved goodbye as she headed back into the house.

I pulled away into the early evening twilight and back to the hotel. I wasn't sure exactly if any of this had been real, but it'd been a fun experience. And, best of all, I'd gotten away from the drudgery of having to deal with other CO types for a while.

Back in my room, I snapped on my iBook to check my e-mails. The wireless router the hotel had given me wasn't exactly lightspeed, but it was fast enough that by the time I had gotten comfortable, I was able to log in and do a bit of web surfing.

For some reason, I surfed over to the website for the comic, The comic was still the same one as it had been that morning – something about Brandi and Bud and their new apartment. I wandered over to the discussion forums, and poked around a bit over the threads in the Wapsi Pub section.

There wasn't a whole lot of new stuff on the forums, but I did come across something in the thread, Messages In The Wind. The thread's topic is basically things you wish you could say to people who will probably never get them. There was a new post by a person who didn't have a lot of posts to their credit – someone I hadn't seen posting on the forums, anyways.

The reply was from a poster named LatinaBabe:

To the guy who found my dog: many thanks, and a big "you're welcome" for the burgers afterwards. It meant a lot to have conversation with someone outside of my social circle for a change. Hope you have a safe drive home.

I read that a couple of times, and kept shaking my head. Nah, couldn't be. That was when I realized I had something in my pocket. I reached down and pulled out a menu – for Darren's Pub on Hennepin – "Home of the Monica Burger."

NOTE: This is a work of fiction. The locales and people mentioned herein are all the creation of Paul Taylor, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead - except, of course, the author - is purely coincidental.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I nearly had a replay of the infamous Wii Sports Baseball Bat incident last night.

The collar of the bat attachment developed a crack just above where it connects to the base at the release button of the the handle.

Here's a closeup of the handle. It's not easy to see, but there's a crack on the bar between where the bat connects to the handle and the "release" tab - which means that if you take a Jeromy Burnitz-like swing, the bat section is going to go flying.

I've sent an e-mail to PDP, the maker of the Wii Sports Pack, and told them about the crack. There's also a small crack on the connecting tab itself; I'm starting to think that they didn't do a durability test on the handles or the connectors. Meantime, I've settled on either not using the bat, or using tape to hold the bat collar on.

On the subject of annoyances: I'm getting a bit perturbed over a little "design feature" in Excel 2007. In the latest edition of Microsoft's spreadsheet program, you can now sort items by more than the default three items of past versions.

Only one small problem: if you are editing a 97-2k3 spreadsheet, and you have a default sort order that you've used previously for columns (like, for example, date/time/item with me and my food diary, or date/time/miles for a gas mileage log), they disappear when you open it in 2k7. And, if you sort the columns in 2k7, when you go to open it in an older version of Excel - they disappear as well.

Methinks that was probably part of the "bloat" in Excel spreadsheets that Microsoft decided to cut out, but it's a major annoyance for those of us who use the Sort function regularly. (Yeah, yeah, I know - both of us, right?)


Monday, February 18, 2008


Yeah, yeah, I know - I'm not a basketball fan. However, my stathead interests knows no boundaries, so without further ado:




What the stats are:

SHER is Shooter Efficiency Rating; add field goals made and free throws made, divide by the total of field goal and free throw attempts, and multiply the result by points. * - second only to Kobe in the NBA.

MEPR is Most Efficient Player rating; add up all positive events (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks), subtract all negative events (missed field goals, missed free throws, turnovers, fouls), multiply the result by 100 and divide that result by minutes played. A player needs to play in 984 minutes or 21 games to qualify for the leadership in this category. Players with a 60+ MEP rating are generally having an All-Star season. Players in the 70's are having MVP-type seasons.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blogging Tag

Sheesh… one of my MySpace friends, Amy, has "Tagged" me to do a "tagged" blog of ten facts about me. Normally, I don't blog on MySpace, but I guess I'll have to make an exception (though I will cross-blog this on my "View from Wisconsin" Blog):

10. Biggest regret in my life was that I didn't get to say goodbye to my mom.

9. Best moment in my life (other than my wedding to Sarah): June 6, 2004. You ever taken a phone call from a drunk Latvian who just won the Calder Cup? I did on this night. And a few short nights later, I got to place a nice wet sloppy one on that oversized fondue pot.

8. I have over 45,145 sports and other collectible cards, and over 600 different card sets from 60 different years. That's from a 1949 Bowman Baseball card (Jerry Priddy) to 2008 Topps and Upper Deck baseball cards.

7. The lady that I got "tagged" by and myself share something – even though I've never personally met her. That something is our birthday, October 6.

6. My alma mater high school has won two WIAA Division I Boys Football championships – both after I graduated from Racine Washington Park. They also have produced three NFL players since I graduated – one of which was in my graduating class (Jerry Woods).

My college alma mater did something they'd failed to do in the last three tries: win the NCAA Division III National Championship game, aka the Stagg Bowl. And the new head coach of the UW-Whitewater Warhawks, Lance Leipold, was one of my classmates at UW-W when I went to school there back in the 1980's. In fact, he and I had a class together in my first year of post-grad studies.

And, to add to my preoccupation with local football, I have a second cousin (Jerry Mertens) who was an NFL defensive back in the 1960's. Two odd things about him: first of all, he didn't go to Park (he was a St. Catherine's HS grad, same as my mom); second, he was the guy who wore the number 80 for the 49ers before that one guy did in the 1980's and 90's. Can't remember his name...

5. Worst job: that would probably have to be my first "real" job, which was busboy at the Denny's Restaurant of Racine. I'll be honest: I hated it. I also don't look fondly back on my days as a Milwaukee Journal paper carrier (especially on those really cold Sunday mornings where I had to deliver those extra-large copies of the Journal). I do laugh a bit more about my two summers working at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois – except for when I came down with a case of the chicken pox during my first summer there.

4. I have been a season ticket holder for the Milwaukee Admirals since their last season in the IHL, and was also (briefly) a season ticket holder for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002-03.

3. The job I held prior to my current job with the state of Wisconsin – other than my bus driving days – was a part-time sports writer for the Racine Journal-Times. I covered mostly high school sporting events and took stat information on Friday nights. I did the Golf Preview for two years (1992 and 1993) under Sue Shemanske.

2. I have two strange medical conditions: a Patulous Eustachian Tube and Raynaud's Phenomenon. One is more annoying than the other; one is also caused by the next fact…

1. I have lost over 100 lbs. since 2006, and weigh less now than I did back when I was in high school. And, I did it by doing what you're supposed to be doing – eat less, watch calories, fat and carbs, and exercise more. My motivation was simple: I didn't like the prospect of being a Type II diabetic. I've fluctuated back up to about 165-168 lbs. again, but I'm still a lot lighter than I was in years past.

I'm going to "tag" ten people in hopes they'll send out a similar one to find out info on them (and those people can't TAG me back, but let me know that you have filled one out).


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Fun with Genealogy

Genealogy can be fun sometimes - if not a bit hilarious.

In doing some updating of my family history over on, I found some of the very deep English roots that I have on my grandmother's side of the family.

My great grandfather, John Ross James, was originally from Mineral Point, Wisconsin. He moved east to Milwaukee and later Racine around the turn of the last century. His middle name is his mother's maiden name, Mary J. Ross. Mary Ross was born in New Diggings, Wisconsin in the 1850's; her mother, Elizabeth Ann Binks came to the US right before Wisconsin became a state. I suspect that both her and my great-great-great grandfather, John Ross, met here in Wisconsin - since he was an emigrant from Northern Ireland, and she was from County Cardiganshire, Wales.

Anyways, Elizabeth Binks was the daughter of Reuben Binks and Elizabeth Wilkinson, who was from Barnard Castle, in County Durham, England. How the two of them got together - especially since this was the late 1820's we're talking about - is a mystery. However, they did get together, assumably with the blessing of Elizabeth's parents, William Wilkinson (junior) and Susannah Barker. Susannah was from Ovington in County Yorkshire, while William was from Mellerby in County Cumberland.

Here, however, is the humorous part: William's mother was named Hannah. She was born in Barnard Castle in 1732 (pause to think about that for a moment). Ah, but that is not the funny part. See, Hannah's maiden name... was Huck.

So, in a very twisted way, I share something with my mother's mother's father's mother's mother's mother's father's mother - a corrupted last name.

And, considering that it was 235 years later, you'd think someone would have learned to spell it correctly.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Word About Webcomics

I figured I needed to make this a completely separate post to do it justice.

You all may have noticed, if you peek around my website a bit (both at my two Go Daddy sites at and, and my main page at Roadrunner), that I have links to some really great comics on the web.

Several years ago, I started keeping up with some strips via Yahoo's MyComics options so I could read some strips that were no longer being offered in the daily rag here in Milwaukee. This led me to my subscription to, which is the home of United Feature Syndicate on the web. If the name sounds familiar, it should be: it's the long-time home for Charles Schultz's Peanuts, which (if you know anything about me) is my favorite comic strip of all time.

In my perusing of their various comics, I came upon two separate strips - Brooke McEldowney's Pibgorn (which I've dissected here before) and Sheldon by Dave Kellett. Dave's strip actually led me to two others - Wapsi Square by Paul Taylor and Starslip Crisis by Kris Straub. Straub's collaboration with Scott Kurtz at Halfpixel led me to reading PvP (and realizing that I was very familiar with Kurtz's work from Dungeon magazine - hey, the comics were half the reason I bought the magazines in the first place) - and, pretty soon, I had a whole ream of webcomics that I was reading on a daily basis.

I also frequented the forums over at Blank Label Comics - which was the home for Kellett and Straub until they joined forces with Kurtz - and got into the swing of commenting on the strips and admiration of what these guys do for a living.

I was a bit surprised over the last few weeks or so that changes to Straub's website had been slow in coming, but was even more surprised at the reason - something I had completely overlooked when he switched to the new website domain.

I guess, in looking back, I never really appreciated what these guys do for a living. Yeah, it's not rocket science, and I'd bet that none of these guys would want to exchange jobs with me. (I'd give an example of why, but I'd have to go into more detail about things.) These guys work hard, give me a good laugh in the morning when I'm usually in need of one, and make me care about characters they've put their hearts and souls into making. Kurtz talked about this with his characters a few months back when he was having server issues.

I've done my share of supporting these guys - I've bought all of Kellett's books (except 52% More Awesome - sorry, Dave, didn't have cash at the time), and all of Paul's books, too. Straub and Kurtz, though, I haven't shown as much financial support. I have pre-ordered one of those lovely Jinxlets from SsC, but I haven't been much help for Kurtz's endeavors. I think with PvP it's the sheer size of his body of work (I know, Scott, you thought I was going to stop at "body", didn't you? [laugh]) that has intimidated me from picking up PvP books.

The point I'm trying to make here is this: these guys are trying to make a living at making people laugh and enjoy themselves. And I'd say they're doing a pretty damn good job, if I'm any indication of it. I'd encourage anyone out there to at least check out their sites and their comics. Who knows, it might lead you to looking at some other comic, which would lead you to another, which would lead you to one you couldn't imagine possibly not reading.

And Kris: all isn't lost just because you had to go back to work for "The Man". You've got talent and a great head on your shoulders - and with Erica by your side, you've got another great mind helping you on your journey. Keep it up and stay away from the ledges - because that's where all the bird poop is.


So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

This winter is starting to get to all of us, I think. Last night at work, the small warm-up that we had in southeastern Wisconsin led to a whole bunch of really slick patches on the roads.

Unfortunately, the institution's roads were no better. As I was being delivered up to my cottage, I was told that there'd been several accidents with patrol vehicles just trying to get from point A to point B in the institution. I just chalked that up to the joys of working on the side of a glorified "mountain" (1,233 feet, highest point in Waukesha).

The fun began when I got out of the van at the front porch of the cottage. To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (and accommodate one of our social workers), they had to dig up part of the blacktop of the driveway to install a wheelchair ramp at the end of the porch. They filled in the crack, but constant wear, tear, freezing and thawing left a hole between old and new sections. With the water coming off the edge of the roof, it pooled up in the that hole and formed a nice little ice puddle.

Guess where I stepped when I opened the door to get out of the van. It was all ice, and if the door hadn't caught me, I would have fallen straight down - and probably would have slid all the way down the driveway to the road. After finally getting my footing (easier said than done) and doing "baby steps" to the porch, I immediately went over to the salt container and spread some salt down on the offending patch of ice. Like hell if I was going to let that happen to anyone else.

I have to laugh here, because with Sarah's problems of falling on the ice, she does the same "baby steps" thing that I did. I always teased her for that, but I'm not laughing anymore.

Now, here's the "forgot to laugh" part: I get inside, situated and everything; I log on to the computer system and check my e-mail. One of the e-mails is a memo to all staff requesting that we "not use salt on the porches and driveways," because we are running short on salt.

Like I said - so funny I forgot to laugh.