Under Dreaming Spires To Itchycoo Park

On Sunday, a beautiful autumn day, we explored Lakeshore State Park, built on landfill to the east of the Sumerfest grounds and just south of the art museum. The kids got to ride their trykes, climb some rocks, and watch a family of four trying to lure the spawning fish in the inlet. Just before we arrived at the fishing area, a nine or ten year old girl caught a sizeable brown trout -- about the length of my arm. Across the inlet, trout and salmon were leaping up to the surface of the water like popcorn in the pan, which pleased our guys to no end.

Staring out on Lake Michigan and the few sailboats left braving October wind.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay brave the peaks of Everest, with downtown Milwaukee in the distance.

“Early on a difficult climb, especially a solo climb, you’re hyper-aware of the abyss pulling at your back, constantly feeling its call, its immense hunger. . . But as the climb continues, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head. You learn to trust your self-control.” -- John Krakauer

"Because it is there."

Along the Calatrava Motorway.

Caleb enjoyed watching the fishermen and ladies cast their lines, and took their floating green lures to be "FISH!"

Sam found some sea glass. Or part of a Pabst bottle. Either way: good find!


Every Day Is Halloween

Sam and Caleb play the low-rent, off-brand, and unplugged version of Rock Band. (The drum, by the way, did not survive the weekend -- look out, Neil Pert.)

Like Joe Strummer, Caleb's a lefty who plays right. If Joe is any example, this will lead to power chords and strong rhythm playing. If shopping early for Christmas 2019, here's a book Caleb may want.

On Friday night, we went to "Boo At The Zoo," one of my new favorite annual events. No ghost train this year, but dozens of Jack O'Lanterns and opportunities to see some of the animals up past their bedtimes. Even behind a fence, it's still an awesome and frightful thing to see the gleam of moonlight in the eye of a timber wolf.

Leo the Lion gave glow sticks to Sam and Caleb, which were then employed at bed and nap times for the remainder of the weekend, long after they'd lost their glow.

Caleb at the sand shark tank at Boo At The Zoo.

Caleb in his Thomas costume.

A rehearsal for next weekend as the kids pile out for the Halloween party at Asia and Kyle's house. Note that Red Dragons exclusively use inflatable Backyardigans microphones.

Asia with her mother Mary.

Kyle dressed as the kind of medical professionals that have been so helpful to him. Kyle has surgery scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday) so send him all your good thoughts.


Who'll Pray For Peter Pumpkinhead?

We discovered, while carving pumpkins, that we'd painted them with water-soluble paint, so we had to scrub them clean lest we stain red and blue the newly painted porch.

The kids' pumpkins, on the porch and tempting teenage vandals.

Kirsten got some Halloween-themed gels to stick on the windows...

...but the kids weren't entirely convinced they weren't candies...

...and ultimately it was more fun to pull them off the window and/or rip them in half than to leave them sticking to the glass."

Enjoying a new Thomas toy for the bath.

Caleb develops the next killer app.

Get your motor running.

Head out on the highway.

Lookin' for adventure.

Or whatever comes our way.


Hey Aqualung

Nicely done, Berlin. Way to get your Bowie back.


When I Paint My Masterpiece

Caleb, Sam, and Olin start their dinner party.

Painting pumpkins.

Q. Why paint pumpkins?
A. Watermelons are out of season.

Red Sox Red

Brahmin Blue

Caleb charts out improvements to the Green Bay Packer defensive line.

The 21st Century's Arthur Godfrey.

Kirsten and Caleb at the Jungle Jack Hanna show at the Pabst Theatre. Caleb wasn't initially certain he wanted anything to do with it.

Amelia and Chris, Sam and Brian at Jungle Jack Hanna.

Sam in new winter coat and summer haircut.

Caleb would like that camera, please.

Sam took this picture.


Stones of Your Father Standing Today

Two weeks ago, this book surprised me during a visit to the bookstore. Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, had written a historical novel set in the Boston of 1918-1919, and it had slipped past me in hardcover. As a fan of the American historical novel, and as someone eager to read Lehane after enjoying the movie versions of the two novels mentioned above, I don't know why I would have missed this in its more expensive form. (After research on the internets, I now know: because the hardcover jacket design was pretty danged awful. Design matters, people!)

The novel essentially follows events in Boston leading up to the police strike in the summer of 1919, after working through some pretty important events through the previous year -- the spread of the 1918 flu epidemic, Babe Ruth's last seasons as a pitcher for the Red Sox (and the piano he sank in a Sudbury pond), and the Great Molasses Flood, one of my favorite bits of weird American history. Lehane, who'd also served as a writer for HBO's The Wire, has an attuned ear for the kind of short-handed and slangy dialogue of the overworked cop, the pool hall narco kingpin, and the power-mad brass. One early scene, set in Tulsa, vividly channels Proposition Joe in the character of the Deacon Broscious:
"In my experience," the Deacon Broscious said, "the most memorable thing in a man's life is rarely pleasant. Pleasure doesn't teach us anything but that pleasure is pleasureable. And what sort of lesson is that? Monkey jacking his own penis know that. Nah, nah," he said. "The nature of knowing, my brothers? Is pain. Ya'll think on this -- we hardly ever know how happy we are as children, for example, until our childhood is taken from us. We usually can't recognize true love until it's passed us by. And then, then we say, My that was the thing. That was the truth, ya'll. But in the moment?" He shrugged his enormous shoulders and patted his forehead with his handkerchief. "What molds us," he said, "is what maims us. A high price, I agree. But" -- he spread his arms and gave them his most glorious smile -- "what we learn from that is priceless."

Luther never saw Dandy and Smoke move, but when he turned at the sound of Jessie's grunt, they'd already clamped his wrists to the table and Smoke had Jessie's head held fast in his hands.
Lehane's past work in the crime genre surely influenced the pacing and cliff-hanging, though this work isn't exactly on the mystery/detective spectrum. In fact, the work it most often brought to mind was Don DeLillo's Underworld, in that The Given Day works as a kind of survey of the culture both in the early twentieth century and the early twenty-first. With a plot that concerns the imagined dangers of American "socialism" and the real but over-hyped threat of anarchic or Bolshevik terrorism, it's hard not to find contemporary problems lying in this century-old setting. Lehane even refers to the WWI-era renaming of frankfurters as "liberty sausages," bringing to mind this decade's Freedom Fries.

Like DeLillo's book (or like Doctorow's Ragtime), you'll find imagined characters interacting with notables of the day. Babe Ruth, Samuel Gompers, Calvin Coolidge, Eugene O'Neil, Warren Beatty John Reed, and DeLillo's good ol' gay Edgar Hoover.

Further, in "Babe Ruth in Ohio," The Given Day contains the second best baseball-related short story masquerading as preface since DeLillo's "Pafko at the Wall." Read these first few pages of Lehane's novel while browsing at your friendly neighborhood independent bookseller, and you'll pretty quickly grasp this books' strength. As powefully as anything I can recall, "Babe Ruth in Ohio" manages to portray the Red Sox and the Cubs in a pick-up game against some African-American factory workers in a way that highlights the twin curses of privilege and race.


Then It's The Bomb That'll Bring Us Together

Carmine reports that there is a remake in the works of the 1984 cold-war epic Red Dawn. It seems to me that the only reason to remake such a film is to resituate it in the post-cold-war era of global terrorism. Quite a few movies from the last eight years have utilized the spectacle of 9/11 for purposes of creating gripping visuals or story-lines.

The Dark Knight already did this of course, recasting the Joker as a sociopathic urban terrorist. As with movies, comics books often attempt to be adult by incorporating "realism," usually in the form the kind of extreme and shocking violence. The Joker, ridiculous and purple in early Batman comics, had previously been re-imagined as a psychopathic cold-blooded killer and probably rapist in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and re-imagined again as aging Hollywood letch Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's 1989 movie. Okay, so there are thirteen ways of looking at the Batman -- my current favorite is the stodgy and rather goofy Batman, almost a 60's throwback, as seen in Batman: The Brave And The Bold, which I've watched with my three-year-old son.

So now I'm pretty sure that all awesome (and by "awesome," I mean "appeared often on cable television in the 80's") movies will be remade to reflect our nation's post-9/11 obsession with terror-as-spectacle:

  • Red Dawn: "Oh my god, they've fire-bombed the VFW Hall!"
  • JAWS: "Oh my god, a shark just flew into that building!"
  • Beverly Hills Cop: "Oh my god, they've fire-bombed the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre!"
  • Valley Girl: "Oh my god, Nic Cage has weird chest hair!"
  • Back To The Future: "Forget global terrorism, Marty! Your own middle-class bourgeois family has minor emotional problems stemming from privilege and apathy!"
  • Predator: "Oh my god, Malcolm Jamal Warner just flew into that building!"
  • Say Anything: "Oh my god, there's a trench-coated hoodlum on the lawn holding a Peter Gabriel bomb!"
  • Footloose: "Oh my god, they're going to bomb dancing!"
  • E.T.: "Oh my god, that alien has got a cell-phone bomb in his glowing chest. That's right, the E.T. has an I.E.D.!"
  • Fletch: "Oh my god, Tim Matheson looks EXACTLY like Jay McInerney!"
  • Wall Street: "Outsourced no-bid military contracting, for lack of a better term, is good."
  • The Terminator: "Is your name Mohammed Atta?"
  • Trading Places: "Oh my god, they've just flown a plane into Dan Ackroyd!"
  • The Goonies: "Oh my god, Chunk just flew into that building!"


God's Footballer

I won't pretend to know much about football, but my friend Carmine notes that tonight's game pits Brett Favre against himself. America will tune in to see whether this is some sort of space-age cloning procedure, or whether Favre has claimed the same sort of "All-Time Quarterback" position that Jamie from across the street used to demand in Summit Avenue pick-up games.

I'm sure I'll be able to follow the game just by listening to my neighbors shout at their televisions and recalling Bayard's open letter to Brett Favre, in which he encouraged Favre to just go ahead and coach the Washington Generals.


It's All Happening At The Zoo

Some pictures from last Saturday at the zoo. All of the men of the household were recovering from colds, and were therefore peckish, difficult, and needy. We are feeling better now, but have likely passed on our germs to the woman of the house.

Caleb refused to leave Thomas and the Magic Railroad at home. Or in the car. Or the stroller. He carried it all around the zoo that day, or at least up until the point where he pitched it into the koi pon. Giant goldfish swarmed around its plastic case, testing it to see if it was food. By now, I'd imagine, they've taken the DVD from the case and played it on their underwater televisions. "Holy Carp!," they are probably saying, "Alec Baldwin is in this?" (Caleb, by the way, recovered from this tragedy in time to enjoy birthday cake with me on Sunday.)

After a through examination, Sam was pretty certain that at least one of these people was a statue.

Watching the Oceans of Fun show for the eleventy-jillionith time.

A sea lion engaging in the kind of behavior that propagates sea mammal stereotypes.

It's a sad thing to look at these pictures and realize that summer was still going strong just last Saturday afternoon. Since then, it's dropped crisply into the 40's at night, leaves are falling, and some of us are wearing sweaters. It's hard to let go of the summer, because you know it means the steady progression into the other thing. See you next year, Chill on the Hill. Adios, sea lions. Godspeed, ye sweetcorn and tomatoes.