Category Archives: Madison

Crash! Bang! Meow!

We had sirens around midnight. Kid B and I were trying to figure out what was going on. A pretty intense thunderstorm was coming through, but no wind to speak of. The power would go out, then go back on again. I couldn’t get the weather to come up on the internet. Well, I didn’t try all that hard. Since everything looked okay, I went back to bed, and just lay there and listened to it for a while.

Then this morning I went for a run down by the lake, and, dang! I must have seen a dozen whole trees down, either broken off near the bottom or uprooted. Plus quite a few large branches, one of which had taken out the corner of someone’s roof. The homeowner was outside talking to a neighbor about homeowner’s insurance, so I guess everyone was okay. In some places everything looked fine, while in other places everything was a mess of downed power lines and trees and neighbors standing around talking.

All of this was between half a mile and about three miles from my house. I’m pretty sure a tornado actually touched down. Meanwhile in our neighborhood, everything’s neat and tidy.

On my run and subsequent trip to the doctor, I saw:

– A building blown down. The roof had slid off, pulling the walls down with it. It was a printing business in an old corrugated metal building.
– A trampoline (not a little kiddie one, a big one with a mesh cage) blown 50 yards into a park
– A car with a tree on top of it
– Uprooted power poles
– One power pole that had broken in half
– A streetlight sticking sideways out of the shrubs in someone’s yard
– Three park playgrounds with equipment destroyed by trees
– Four stretches of street blocked off so workers could untangle downed power lines from the wreckage
– A public canoe storage rack blown into the lake
– At one home, all the old house paint had somehow blown out of a storage area and into the street, and some of the cans had dumped into the gutter.

So, that was something.

And yeah, I did have to go to the doctor. I usually stay away from those kind of people. But I was brushing Scarlett yesterday and must have hit a bad spot, because she turned around and bit my hand. My right ring finger got a nasty gash, the pinky just a nick. But a few hours later I noticed the pinky swelling. So now I’m on antibiotics.

The doctor, who seemed to be a very nice and competent lady, says you don’t mess around with cat bites. Cats have a number of nasty things in their mouths that love to infect humans.

I seem to be able to type okay, but other things I use my hands for may be difficult, especially writing with a pen.

Spring (or at least March)

You can tell spring is coming — the quality of the snow is different. It’s icier now, less flaky.

Actually, it got above freezing yesterday and the day before. Monday I think it got up to 50, warm enough to have the door open at work. It’s nice to have the fresh air, and the open door helps draw in customers.

Sometimes I’m not sure it’s worth it. The customers it brings in tend to be people just wandering around enjoying the warm weather; they don’t even necessarily have any money on them. One guy came in who appeared to be a homeless guy. He had all the teeth on the upper left quarter, all the teeth on the lower right, but not much else, dentally speaking. Alcohol on his breath, and he sort of reeked. It was early evening, and I was in the store alone.

He held out his hand and showed me two pennies. “Somebody gave me these. Any chance you could spare a little more?”

I emptied the penny dish into his hands, quadrupling his net worth. “There you go. Good luck to you.”

He thanked me profusely, but wasn’t in a hurry to leave. “I get paid tomorrow, then I’m going to come in and buy a couple rings. I want one with an OM and a pentacle. Maybe you could fit me for those now and put them aside?”

For somebody else I’d do it, but I’m not about to keep this drunk in the store any longer than I have to. “Nah, why don’t you just come back tomorrow and we’ll do it then.”

“Well, okay.”

“‘Bye now. And keep your eyes on the ground, with the snow melting and everything. I found thirty-five cents this morning.”

“That’s true. Hey, guess what I found on the ground this morning.”

The possibilities are endless. “What did you find?”

“Take a look at this.” He pulled a gun out of his jacket and set it on the counter.

I don’t know much about guns. It was black, and looked real enough to me. Like a pistol. I picked it up, thinking it would be light and plasticky like a toy gun, but it wasn’t. It was cold and heavy. “What is this?”

“It’s a CO2 gun.”

I’d never heard of a CO2 gun before, except for paintball markers, and the ones of those I’ve seen are larger, rifle-shaped and often colorful — and plainly are not real. I looked it up later and found out there is such a thing as a pistol-shaped CO2, but I’m still not sure what you’d want one for. Especially downtown, which I’m assuming is where a homeless guy would find it. It looked like the kind of thing you’d carry if you wanted people to think you had a gun, but didn’t want to get in trouble for carrying a real one.

“We actually don’t allow guns in the store. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”

Yeah, good luck on that one. He kept talking for another five minutes, while I kept trying to politely but firmly get him out the door. Drunks don’t respond well to tact, but I didn’t want the guy mad at me.

Finally he left, and no harm done, but I wonder if I should have called the police or something. The whole thing was a little weird.

You don’t even need to be Jesus

madison in februaryThis is what I love about the upper midwest: If you try walking on water in California, they laugh at you; here, they just figure you’ve got your dog out there somewhere.  Because if you’ve got a dog, there’s nothing better than a frozen lake.

(Well, maybe a frozen lake with a dead fish in the middle of it. For rolling, ya know.)

I don’t actually have a dog anymore (sniff), but I still like going out on the lake a couple times a year.

It was cold enough today that I even put my hood up. I’ve had this winter jacket for three or four years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever put up the hood. I hate things around my face–it’s got to be pretty damn cold before I’ll wear a hat or a scarf, and don’t even start with me about jewelry. But you get out there on that lake ice and there’s nothing to stop the wind.

I think about California all the time, about how much I miss the ocean. But if I ever went back, I think I’d miss winter more.

Snow + Rain + Cold = Ice

This is what the sidewalk and our street look like today:





Please excuse my existence.

I just realized I’ve now lived about half my life in Wisconsin. I still feel like a transplanted Californian. Real midwesterners don’t enjoy snow. It just isn’t done.

The craziest thing about the midwest is (with one big exception) how stinking polite everyone is. No, not exactly polite–more like deferential. You can’t go out in public here without being asked, “Am I in your way?” and “I’m sorry, did you want to use this?” and just plain “I’m sorry!”

I understand this, some of the time. If I, say, get to the squat rack at the exact same time as someone else, it makes sense for the two of us to figure out who’s going to use it first. But if I took off my plates and walked away five minutes ago, you really don’t need to ask my permission to use it.

On Saturday, I was waiting for the druggist to pack up my levothroid at the Community Pharmacy, so I wandered over to look at the books. Only I couldn’t look at anything without this nervous-looking guy jumping out of the way. He was trying to read a magazine, only he was too busy jumping out of my line of vision to have possibly been paying any attention to what he was reading. Finally he blurted out, “Am I in your way?”

I said, “No, you’re not in my way. You are a human being. You have a right to take up space.” His nervousness was making me nervous, but I didn’t want to make him feel worse, so I toned it down. “You’re fine. I’m just killing time waiting for a prescription anyway.”

The worst part is, even though their intent is to be polite, people who do this make me feel like I’m in their way. I mean, say I’m walking down the sidewalk and another person is walking the other way, and when our paths meet, the other person makes a show of cringing off to the side and saying “Sorry, excuse me.” It’s not like I really take up the whole width of the sidewalk, or even half of it; we can share. But in acting like he expects me to want the whole sidewalk, my co-walker makes me think he really wants it. It’s like we’re all walking around wearing fat suits of unseen personal space.

The one exception is, all bets are off when it comes to driving. Some midwesterners drive the same way they act around people when they’re not driving–like they should have a second horn just to say “Excuse me!” But then there are the ones who use driving time to vent their frustrations. Brrrrrr. Dr. Jeckyl in the parking lot, Mr. Hyde behind the wheel.


English: Proxima Centauri, the closest star to...

English: Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth other than the Sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wasn’t sure how to approach this thing [Follow the Leader, a blogging challenge I’m participating in on another site] as a writer, rather than a spectator, but this one’s a gimme. Biking and making up stuff, that’s what I do anyway. I thought I’d bike to the store and back, see what there was to see, and take it from there. Maybe the person who drops all the banana peels on the sidewalk of the bridge over the Starkweather is conducting a cruel experiment. Maybe the person who carefully picks up their doggie poo-poo, wraps in a plastic bag, and then leaves it lying there has some interesting mental illness.

But nah, turns out I found about a hundred pages of somebody’s journal down by the lake. They were soaking wet and squished together, intermingled with the pages of a microscopically printed New Testament. It’s in the oven now, drying out while I put away the groceries. Haven’t read any of it yet–the handwriting was too small for me to read with my contacts on. So, let’s see what’s there.

– A list of stars, in order by their proximity to Earth. The nearest, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 lightyears away.

– Bible verses copied out, some in Greek, with MEM in big letters at the top of some. Whoever wrote this has memorized a good portion of the Bible.

– A list of all the known moons in the solar system, with their stats.

– In big letters: Remember our Mother Earth She’s just as important (Interesting observation, for a litterbug.)

– A list of all the James Bond movies.

– The ingredients of air.

– A poem. [first two lines are illegible]
…the same deeds he saw all a similar path
an itching of a few centuries
the socks are warm and softly pleasant
soon ice will form in a week or two
certainly the way to the throne
his itchings are in the innermost particles
the outmost form the dome of pinpoint light
the tranquil base where the eagle landed

– More information about Van Allen radiation than you really want to know.

– Notes about sermons, either his or someone else’s.

– A handout about a free Thanksgiving dinner at a church.

– The Athanasian Creed.

– A bunch of other really boring stuff about church history.

– A list of every Wisconsin regiment that fought in the Civil War.

– A list of all the moon voyages, including the names of the astronauts and the lunar features they explored.

So, tons of data–more like a notebook than a journal. A lot of work went into it, so you’ve got to wonder why somebody left it behind. It could have been stolen from the person who wrote it, maybe along with his wallet or briefcase. Or maybe the writer gave it up as a voluntary simplicity thing. Or maybe he’s got a terminal illness, and is casting off all his worldly possessions before he dies.

You’re right, that’s not what I think.

I think he often came to sit by the lakeside at night, enjoying the light of the full moon on the water and pondering the stars. Then, last night, they came for him.

This is starting to get strange.

The neighbor lady has stopped having hour-long screamfests on the deck in the middle of the night, but things still are not well. She stays out in her SUV all night with the engine running and Mexican pop music blasting. She first started doing this back in September, when it was still warm enough that I wanted my windows open overnight. So after a couple nights of being disturbed by her music, I went over there around three or four in the morning to ask her to please turn it down. She had the SUV running in the garage, with her windows down and only the side door of the garage open a little bit. She barely looked up from her laptop when I talked to her, just said “I turn it down” and did.

Later on she had the door closed all the way. I was outside hanging laundry at the time. Her husband knocked, but I guess she told him to get lost or something because he didn’t go in. A few minutes later her little girl came out, dressed and ready for school. She knocked, but the mom didn’t even answer. As soon as the husband took the younger kids to the bus stop and then drove off to work, she came out of the garage and went in the house.

This has been going on ever since. She stays out in the car all night long about every other night. Her husband and kids now just leave her alone out there. For a while she ran the car in the driveway, so I wasn’t too worried, though of course the music’s louder that way and I had to hold my breath passing their house because of the exhaust fumes. But I don’t sleep with my windows open most nights anymore, so it’s not really my problem. I mean, it’s passing weird that this woman wants to stay up all night out in her car, but not any of my business.

This morning when I got up the music was awfully loud, even with my windows closed, so I figured she must be outside in her car, even though I didn’t see her headlights on. But when I went outside (something I’ve always done when I get up, to keep track of the moon and the stars and the weather), she was parked in the garage again, this time with the door all the way closed. I went back in to read and drink peppermint tea until it was light enough outside to go running (don’t have to go to work today, so I’m too bloody lazy to go out in the dark). But I felt like I ought to do something. What if she’d gone to sleep in the closed garage with her engine on? I decided I’d get into my running clothes and go over there–at least try knocking on the door, or see if I could wake up her husband. By the time I got dressed and looked over there, though, she’d opened the side door of the garage.

This is totally none of my business. It’s no-win for me: I feel bad about butting into their problems, and I feel bad about not doing anything. I don’t even know whether she’s passively suicidal, or whether (more likely) she’s just too stupid to realize how dangerous it is what she’s doing.

Seeing the elephant


politics (Photo credit: Asoka G M)

I can knock off seeing a president off my to-do list now, I think. You had to get down there when they opened the gates at 7:00 to actually get into the rally, and no way was I standing around for three and a half hours for that. But I went later on and stood behind the barricades, from which position I could see President Obama… on TV.

The whole scene was kind of cool–crowds of giddy and positive Madisonians, tickled that the president would choose our little city for an appearance on the day before the election. He didn’t have much to say but the usual political blah-blah-blah, but I felt all patriotic sitting there listening to in for once. Springsteen sounded good. Never seen so many cops in my life. Oh, and they had lines of snowplows blocking off the streets–how Wisconsin is that?

On my way onward to buy groceries, it turned out I was riding my bike along the motorcade route. Since they weren’t going to let me cross the street anyway, I hung around and watched the motorcade go by. So I kind of saw President Obama then, only he was behind tinted glass.

I’d care about politics a whole lot more if it weren’t so divisive. Sometimes I feel like real-world problems are just made worse by the way we talk about them in this country. It’s more like people yelling at each other, as opposed to dialog. And anybody who wants political power had better adopt the fixed positions of one of the two major parties on every single issue, or else forget about it.

My favorite personal story about politics is from back when I was training Danny on how to answer the phone. He must have been about ten. We were working on some homeschool stuff together when the phone rang and he answered it. He listened to the person, then called out to me, “Mom, are we a Democrap, or a Republicrap?” I was laughing so hard that by the time I got to the phone, they’d hung up.

Wisconsin is revolting!

Well, today’s the big day, when we either un-elect Scott Walker or fail to. Here in Madison, this is a huge occasion. We’ve had so many phone calls and people coming to the door reminding us of election day, I was starting to feel like a recording:

Yes, we know there’s an election Tuesday.
Yes, we plan to vote.
No, I’m not going to tell you who we’re voting for. (And how tacky of you to ask. . . didn’t say that part, of course.)

Every other house has a yard sign: Elect Tom Barrett, Recall Walker, Stand with Wisconsin. I know of one truck usually parked in front of a lakefront home that has an I Stand with Scott Walker bumper sticker (nicely cancelled out by the I Can’t Stand Scott Walker sticker I saw this morning), plus two houses with pro-Walker signs. Other than that, the governor doesn’t have much to show in this part of town for all the money he’s poured into this campaign.

Which is, I’m sure, just fine with him. Madison never votes Republican, so why should he care what we think? The pro-recall crowd can have the streets; he’s got the money for media adds. I had to sit through one before a YouTube video yesterday–Dropkick Murpheys, I think it was. Wait, no it wasn’t , it was Feist’s big song, 1234. Anyway, I was surprised to find a pro-Walker ad on YouTube, but from what I understand I’d be bombarded with the things if I watched TV or listened to the radio.

This is also Kid B’s first day on the job, so I’ve got the house to myself. I feel like I should be running around the house naked, singing opera to the houseplants, but instead I’ve been out all morning running errands. The program he’s involved with either lasts one or three months (Kid B was fuzzy about the details), and includes all kinds of counseling, job prep and help getting going with school if he chooses. He also gets paid, which will be the first time in his life he’s ever earned a paycheck. He is a very shy Kid, so he never got the experiences with petsitting Kid A did. I really think–and really hope–this program is just the thing he needs to get him off the ground.

Just the kind of thing, come to think of it, Scott Walker would probably like to get rid of.

State Street Summer

We had the shop door open yesterday, and these two men were passing by having a near-violent argument. One guy was swearing and saying stuff like, “I’m gonna kill you, man.” The other came into the store, trying to get away. We let him use our phone to call the cops, and the whole thing took its predictable course over the next couple hours.

The thing is, both of them were known heroin addicts. One had a wad of cash, the other had a knife. This wasn’t some random occurrence between strangers (although that’s what wad-of-cash guy was trying to claim), and this was neither the beginning nor the end of their argument. Kids used to mess around with pot and coke and acid, later ecstasy and crack. Now it seems like even the university undergrads are doing heroin, and a lot of the street people are long-term junkies. Even if heroin’s not as scary as some of the crap they cook up in labs, it’s bad enough, because people on heroin just don’t give a shit about anyone else.

I didn’t see what happened with the argument because it was right by the door, and the view of the door is blocked from my seat at the cash register. So I saw the wad-of-cash guy who came in, but not the knife guy. On my bike ride home I tried looking for him; he was wearing a huge green pack, so he should have been easy to spot. I didn’t see him, but while I was looking I must have seen more than a hundred other street people in clumps, hanging around in noisy groups in parks and bus stops and other public places. Almost all of them were men. This isn’t New York or Chicago or LA. There must be a lot of heroin addicts out there to share around, if we’re getting this many of them in little Madison.

The other day Luna (a coworker) had this person standing outside The Soap Opera (the other store where she works) just yelling for two hours. Just standing on the sidewalk, screaming at the top of his lungs about god knows what. The police didn’t do much–in fact they handled it badly, going into the store to question them when she’d specifically asked them not to.

It makes me realize how vulnerable we are. If junkies with knives wanted to come in and take all our money some evening, I don’t see that there’s much to stop them. Even less, if someone wanted to throw a brick in the window after hours and come on in to help themselves. To stay in business, we rely on people being basically honest and civilized. I don’t really like thinking about the alternatives.