Saturday, August 30, 2008

I Love These Guys.

Jamie and Adam are on my hero list. Part and parcel proof that Geeks and Engineers are the masters of the modern age. Stick around to the end, the high-speed shot is incredible.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sun Prairie Corn Festival

I hate corn.

As an educated Foodie, I can talk your ears off for hours about the destructive effects of Monoculture and evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup. I can expound on the health and economic effects of cheap, unhealthy Corn Fed, feed-lot, mass-produced cattle that makes up 98% of the beef we consume and is a leading contributor to our countries unhealthy diet.

It is, however, not Corn's fault that it has been misused so. For whatever our current tribulations, many good people have made good livings with Corn and in the City of Sun Prarie, Wisconsin they take a weekend every year to celebrate the joys of Corn. Sweet Corn to be exact, and while I may hate Corn for its many crimes, tasting bad is not one of them.

So this morning around noon, my Bride and I locked, loaded and headed out around the beltline to Sun Prairie, one of Madison's most popular little suburbs and probably the biggest. As the years have gone by, I've watched Madison sidle slowly up to Sun Prairie like a batch of spilled pancake batter creeping across the counter top. Once the Eastside stores made the salmon-like upstream LEAP across the interstate, it was only a matter of time before Sun Prairie was assimilated like a cheesecake buffet under the baleful gaze of a fat Borg. Right now I think one single, nervous cornfield stands between the two cities. Soon they will mate like a pair of raindrops and Sun Prairie, like Fitchburg and Monona, will loose some of it's identity.

But for today, Sun Prairie was out on display, freaks, geeks, soccer moms, Nascar dads and everyone else who isn't so neatly looped up by a demographic, all with the air of the usual convivial Wisconsin charm.

I love fairs. I love the idea of fairs. I loved our county and city fairs as a kid. I lived in a small enough town where, while I didn't know everyone, I could count on running into a number of peers. Parental supervision was lax (beer tent), mischief was in rich supply and there was an understanding amongst my peers that with a little co-operation, mischief levels could be exponentially increased with very little effort. The Carney's were fair game for cheats and tricks because we all knew damn well that they were trying to trick us. Use a cork gun to knock over a pack of cigarettes that the operator will not show us or turn around huh? Of course it's weighted and of course nobody will mind if one of us nips home, grabs their BB pistol and with the virtue of a little timing and coordination, we managed to strip the nice gentlemen of several worthless stuffed animals before he cottoned on.

Beer was snuck, tickets were stolen, gates were circumvented, rooftops were accessed and any number of bases were gotten from any number of girls in cornfields, backseats and underneath bleachers.

So I still get a little thrill from fairs of any kind these days. I found myself wishing that we went at night instead of mid-day. Once the sun went down, it's so much more fun.

The centerpiece of the Corn festival is, of course, The Corn. $1.50 an ear for you Wimpy McPussypants, 6 dollars for a boat of 8 or 9 ears, unshucked, steamed. I shudder at the idea of anyone eating 8 ears of corn by themselves (I also shudder at what that would do to their digestive tract), so my Bride and I split one. They must process a few thousand people through the line and therefore have something approaching a brigade system in place to cycle people though. First you meet the nice Corn Ladies who grab freshly steamed ears off of a conveyor belt and hand them out a boat at a time to hungry corn seekers.

Afterward, you spend a few seconds testing your pain thresholds while you attempt to shuck the steaming hot corn before crying like a little girl. Then it's off to the Butter Girls...

If there is anything about the Sun Prairie Corn Festival that deserves the attention of the nation (or at least that part of the nation that is in possession of a, shall we say, trumpet and skittles), it is this. I don't know the history behind this. I don't know if this has been done in other places, but I really do have to take my hat off to the undoubtedly male genius who had the idea of using all the cute, female, high-school seniors to perform the ever so efficient and convenient act of seasoning your delicious cob of sweet corn by rubbing it around in a tray full of butter.

I could write fifty pages a day for the rest of my life, and not cover all the innuendo you could derive from just... that... picture. I leave the final word on the subject to my Bride, who, settled at our picnic table afterward, thanked me for not being "That Guy."

"What do you mean?" I asked, bewildered.

She replied, "Thank you for not going up there and saying something like, 'Hey Baby, ya wanna lube my cob?'"

The fair offers up a lot of local, currently fashionable crafty booths for your shopping pleasure, the usual retinue of carnival rides and food alongside the food offerings by local civic and fraternal groups. After stuffing ourselves on corn, we both wound up indulging in a post-corn snack, corn-dog for me (it's an addiction) and fried cheese for my Bride. We also treated ourselves to some Real Fruit Smoothies. Honestly, we didn't need the fair food to make it a fun day and I left wondering what kind of freaks go to a Corn Festival and DON'T eat corn.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Well Done Repast...

Quite often, I have found myself wishing, “Why couldn't I have been born Rich instead of Beautiful?”. Despite my stunning callipygian physique, I am often found wanting for those nice stacks of hundreds that others use to heat their houses with.

Though, honestly, I don't ever want to be “Rich”. Rich, to me, sounds frightening. From everything I've ever been able to see, it makes people crazy, and not the normal kind of crazy, a contagious crazy that affects them and is transmitted to the people close to them. Very few I have seen have been able to resist this virulent strain of silly and my hat is off to them. Me, I'd rather not take the chance.

As such, I have made it a lifelong project to seek out the best in life with little or no price tag. They say the best things in life are free... that's somewhat true. Sitting around, laughing with a group of friends after a long hard day at work is a very, very satisfying feeling. Doing so while whipping across the water in a million dollar yacht is probably more fun... or so I suspect. But it's not so much more that I feel like I'm missing out. In the strange, analytical lobe of my brain, I figure it breaks down :Me (50%) + Friends (25%) + Beer (10%) + Hard Days Work (10%) = 95% of the fun. Environment and amenities add about 5% onto that equation. Let's be honest here, even a yacht can't make up for crappy beer.

I offer up, as proof of this equation, my dinner last night. After a long, crappy weekend full of disappointments, my Bride and I got a last minute call from our friend Corrie who was in town and floated the idea of dinner.

Shouldn't go, should save money....

Bugger it, crappy weekend.

Elements Of A Good Dinner Out With Friends.

1.Everyone must be in the mood for or have the need for a Good Time.

Ulterior Motives are such ugly things. There is no networking, there is no kibitzing, there is no feuding or fuming. Open heart, open mind, loosen collar, crack knuckles, focus on nothing.

2. Good Food and an Appetite.
This is not the time for your diet. If you are going to cheat, do not cheat at 3:00am in front of the fridge where it benefits no one but you. Save your splurge for Right Now. Order by taste, order by what sounds good, what's your favorite, what you are dying to try, just don't order with calories or carbs or fat or appearance in mind. Order too much and take home leftovers, they will make you happy the next day with good memories. Also, this is not the time for fussy, fancy food. The food should be mutually accessible and non-threatening. Taking the fussy eater out for sushi is a buzz-kill. Last night we ate Russian at our favorite local eatery Arbat.

3. Liquor
I have a rant building that will explore the evils and goods of sweet, sweet alcohol. For now, let us say that I am a big believer in the social lubricating powers of a modest amount of hooch. To drink and to be a little buzzed is a pleasure. It's a pleasant, legal euphoria that one deserves from time to time as reward for hard work and BDW (Bullshit Dealt With). So long as it handled responsibly, a few cold beers are a balm to the soul. Last night we drank Baltika #2 and our mandatory shots of Vodka (it was a Russian restaurant after all).

If you follow these simple guidelines, you will be blessed with a night much like mine. Laughter, both at ourselves and others, expressions of admiration and regard, relaxation, happiness. It's sweet, it's fleeting, but it made my weekend.

There is no palace on earth, no four stared chef, no yacht big enough or venue fancy enough to improve upon three friends, sitting around a tiny Russian restaurant, drinking cheap Russian beer, eating Pelmeni and telling dick jokes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Citius, Altius, Fortius.

It is sometimes hard for a thinking human to keep their faith. As humans, we have a built in survival-based compulsion to focus on the negative aspects of life. We lap up headlines about murders, violence and tragedy and our media happily responds with more and more because, hey, it sells papers and advertising. So often do we hear such negative information that a saturation point is quickly reached (usually about the late teens) where we start thinking that the whole world is nothing but a sea of horror and bloodshed. People sometimes wallow in this cynicism and ennui for the rest of their lives.

The greater tragedy is that they sometimes grow to like their little shells of cynicism. Hope takes effort and risks disappointment, something they fear they cannot stomach again. But in order to ignore hope, they must ignore the thousands of small victories and small blessings going on around them every day.

In a city of 400,000 people such as I live in, on any one day in 6 months their might be a murder. Though the tragedy of this cannot be summed in words, the greater tragedy is to ignore the 399,999 other people who didn't die. People who raised children, loved one another, earned some money, built some stuff, fixed things, created things, believed in things or just held their shit together for one... more... day. Do these little victories mean nothing? How short we sell our wonderful world to dismiss this collective victory as insignificant.

People are far too ready to believe that everyone is selfish, the world is doomed, and that there are no good people in the world.

But today, this week, it's a little harder to do that.

I am a round-heeled pushover for the Olympics. Whatever you may think about the origins of the symbolism, the inevitable politics that go along with any endeavor of this size, or the attitudes of some of the participants, there are so many participants and organizers who so obviously believe in the Olympic creed and Olympic ideal that it warms the heart. I sat, watching misty-eyed as the Parade of Nations, some nations with a smaller population than the seating capacity of the Olympic stadium, marched past, smiling and waving, proudly holding their flag, their symbol of national and cultural pride aloft.

In a time when the global market is a-changin', when the UN is floundering and alliances are shifting rapidly, the Olympics are going strong. More and more smaller countries are amping up for a hosting bid. Cities like Lima and Baku in Azerbaijan, Delhi (which will hopefully spur the India Olympic movement as a country of over 1,132,446,000 people only fielded a team of 57 athletes for 302 events) and Rio de Janeiro, the darkhorse candidate for the 2016 Olympics siting the fact that South America has NEVER hosted an Olympics, ever. They've got me cheering for their bid over Chicago's bid, even thought that would be Teh Awesome.

Even though I do, strongly believe that the concept of “Nations” is outdated and often dangerous while we are all, quite obviously, residents of the same, small, fragile blue marble floating through an unfriendly vaccum, it's fun to watch people's shift, split and mingle allegiances during these games. I've got friends who are cheering for Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Spain and so on. I myself shall be cheering for the U.S. (obviously), France, China, Ghana, Great Britain, Ireland and any small country that hasn't won a medal yet. Especially Micronesia and Lichtenstein.

The Olympics might not be perfect, but it's a reflection of us. Humanity is not perfect, but we're all trying to be better. We're trying to live up to our ideals and though we may not make it 100% of the time, we keep trying. We deserve credit, we deserve hope and we deserve a little satisfaction for those little victories. Maybe if we recognize our successes, it makes it easier to keep trying. Yes this is corny, but for today, for this week, I dare ya to believe it.

Citius, Altius, Fortius.