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Festive Friday and milquetoast

Friday, December 15th, 2006

How many of you get “Casual Friday” at work? At my company, we don’t. However, the other company, which is in this same building and in fact is separated from us by only a half-wall, does. It’s also a bigger company than ours, so some two thirds of the people here get to dress in jeans or whatever they want, whereas we still have to dress nicely. The dress code here is not terribly formal — I usually wear slacks and a button-up shirt (no tie) or sometimes a polo shirt. But still, it would be nice to be able to wear jeans. We almost never have clients in the office, so I’m not sure why we can’t.

So, in lieu of “Casual Friday,” I have started a tradition I like to call “Festive Friday.” All this really means is that every Friday, I wear my “festive shirt.” The thing is, I really don’t do festive, and even if I did, the dress code wouldn’t permit it. So, my “festive shirt” is an off-white, silk, short-sleeved shirt, with an extraordinarily subtle pattern of palm trees on it.

We are talking uber subtle here. The palm trees are defined only by a slight variation in the texture of the fabric. It’s barely even noticeable now that the shirt has been washed numerous times. You have to look really close and even then you still might not see it. I may try to take a photo of it later, but I’m not sure it’ll even be clear enough to illustrate my point.

The funny thing about this is that even though my “festive shirt” isn’t really festive at all, I still walk around all day feeling subversively celebratory. I really feel I have successfully circumvented the lack of Casual Friday. I need to try coming up with other traditions like this to see if they are enough to slightly alter my mood.

In completely unrelated news, I keep seeing the (non-)word “milquetoast” on various Web sites. I swear I’ve seen it 10 times in the past week. I had no idea what that meant, and it’s not even really worth knowing, so I won’t link to a definition. It’s just one of those words that I hate. For a while, “blog” was one of those words for me. I eventually got used to it because it is a convenient, concise way of saying “weblog,” and everybody says it. I still have problems with “blogosphere.” But right now “milquetoast” is driving me insane. Google turns up an astouding 348,000 results for “milquetoast.” Well, 348,001 now, I guess. Damn it!

Six weird things about me

Monday, December 11th, 2006

I got tagged by Van to do the “six weird things about me” meme. Here’s what I’ve got, in no particular order.

  • My favorite animal is the moose. When my sister and I were kids, our parents took us to the Milwaukee Zoo. When we were done walking around, they asked if we wanted to go back and see anything, and I said I wanted to see the moose again, taking them completely off guard. This was followed by many years of impossible-to-find moose gifts (many of which, in hindsight, were actually reindeer).
  • I am conservative. That’s not that weird in theory, except that as an amateur musician and photographer, I’m in a very small minority. I’m not a typical Republican, though, leaning toward Libertarian. Let’s put it this way: in college, I worked for the conservative campus newspaper even though I had two tattoos and nine piercings at the time.
  • I grew up listening to classical music exclusively, and in high school, I dropped that and started listening to metal pretty much overnight. Since then, I’ve gotten into electronic, hip-hop, jazz, blues, folk, and even a little country music. I don’t listen to a lot of classical or metal music now.
  • I have both the distinction of having gone to Northwestern University and the stigma of having dropped out. That leads to some very interesting discussions.
  • Cheez-Its have long been an obsession of mine. I just love those cheesy snack crackers. In high school, a friend and I made an hour-long movie, Oliver & Lopez, in which Cheez-Its were prominently featured. Another friend and I started The Cheez-It Circle, which was supposed to be a Web ring dedicated to Cheez-Its. The Cheez-It Circle never took off, but Oliver & Lopez debuted in our school auditorium to a crowd of over 200 people. We still hope to release Oliver & Lopez on DVD someday.
  • I’m a pilgrim! I have at least 17 ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower. I know this because my grandparents were into genealogy, and they connected our family to numerous Pilgrims. I even have a certificate from the General Society of Mayflower Descendents saying that I’m a descendent of William White; the rest of them have not been proven (really this means that not enough paperwork/fees were filed). If you are related to one Pilgrim, that pretty much makes you related to a bunch of them.

Food, fiddlin’, and fun … plus caskets

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Sarah and I had quite a day of photography again yesterday. It ended up being sunnier than expected, and it was warm, so it was a good day for it. Sarah made breakfast after we got up — bacon, eggs, and toast with apple butter. It was delicious. I drank some coffee even though I have to be careful about that before shooting, since being jittery makes photography damn near impossible. I’m going to talk about the whole day in sequence, if you want to skip to the food, fiddlin’, fun, and caskets, go down to the Crazy Joe’s Trading Post heading below.

We had no real plan, and I suggested that we go past the lake and past the school buses we photographed before. This was what we intended to do yesterday before we got sidetracked on a smaller road. We drove for a while, and spotted the roofless remains of a building, with some other run-down buildings nearby, and stopped.

The stuff we found there wasn’t the greatest, being basically a brick/cinder block building, but it did kind of look like some sort of ruins. There was also a small shed nearby. Check out my Flickr page for some photos.

There was a barn nearby that looked great, but it was too close to a home/business and we didn’t feel like trying to get permission to shoot there, so we kept going. We drove around for a while, basically scoping out a few places before choosing which one to shoot. Most were too close to inhabited homes and/or had prominent no trespassing signs, which was discouraging. We ended up going back to a house. It was across the street from some inhabited houses, one of which had some guys in front of it with chain saws and whatnot, cutting down some trees.

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Abandoned house — I used my circular polarizer on this shot, you can kind of tell by the unevenness of the sky.

Photographing the house was cool — much creepier than most of the other places we’ve shot, probably in part because someone used to live there. Of course, the chain saws across the street and nearby gunshots from hunters didn’t help.

But probably the spookiest thing about it was that on the front door, there was a sheer curtain, but it was only attached at one upper corner, so it kept flapping in the breeze. The sun also reflected off of it in a weird way. All of this had a very ghostly effect, as you can see.

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Sheer curtain that was waving in the breeze. Chilling.

There was also a really old chair that was falling apart in weird ways, with small pieces of fabric either already on the floor or peeling off of it.

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The disintegrating chair; you can also see the front room and the yellow bedroom from here.

We both got a lot of cool shots; I am not going into more detail about them here — check out my photos (start at the end and work backwards) and Sarah’s photos.

Crazy Joe’s Trading Post

After we finished photographing the house, we decided to stop at Crazy Joe’s Trading Post, which we had passed earlier and seen signs for, advertising “food, fiddlin’, and fun!” I told Sarah that those were all good things, and we should stop. Actually, the real reason we stopped was to get some soda and use the bathroom. Sarah would later describe the place as “horror movie friendly,” and you’ll see why.

We parked and got out of the car to find a big dog checking us out. He seemed friendly, and I like dogs, but I’m inherently wary of dogs I don’t know, especially when their owner is nowhere to be found. We walked to the door of Crazy Joe’s, trying to decide if it was open, and the dog just sat down in front of the door, obviously waiting for us to let him in.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to assume that the dog was allowed inside, but I also couldn’t get the dog to budge with attempted diversions. I wasn’t about to try pulling him away from the door, thinking he might freak out. Some dogs are fine until you try to move them. Sarah somehow managed to slip inside without letting the dog in, but I couldn’t seem to duplicate her success. A man said through the door that it was OK to let the dog in, so I did. Not surprisingly, it was Crazy Joe.

Sarah and I got some bottled drinks and went to the register to pay. Crazy Joe offered us samples of his new donut recipe. We tried them, and they were pretty good, although he explained that they were better fresh out of the frier. A woman who worked there, who I later learned is Crazy Joe’s sister, gave the donuts a glowing recommendation, saying “They’re almost as good as the ones from Indianapolis,” referencing some specific bakery there whose name I can’t remember. That Indianapolis bakery must make some mighty fine donuts. Why the fuck was I at Crazy Joe’s?

Crazy Joe talked to us a bit while ringing up our drinks, a bit too much, really. He asked if we were going to church, which of course we weren’t. It seemed to me to be a bit late in the day for that, since it was 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I said we were going for a drive, he asked where we were from, and I said Bloomington. Thankfully, Sarah didn’t tell him we live “close to the mall,” like she did Bob Jones. These guys already think we’re city slickers, telling them we live by the mall isn’t going to help our case. Anyway, Crazy Joe asked some question, and Sarah said that she had to use the bathroom. He responded, “I didn’t ask about that!” and told her where the restroom was.

What do men do while women use the restroom? Talk business, of course! Crazy Joe launched into a description of all the cool stuff that goes on there, live music several nights a week including bluegrass, country, rock, etc. He started handing me flyers left and right as he was talking, to the extent that he had to look at the flyers he’d given me to make sure he didn’t give me two copies of the same one.

He showed me the dining area, talking about how they had dinner and dancing, then walked over to where some instruments were and asked if I played anything. I denied any musical knowledge, afraid he might try to get me to play. He said “You don’t play anything? Piana maybe?” No. “Guitar?” No. “Washboard?” No, but maybe I could learn to play that one.

Next, Crazy Joe turned to me and said, “Now let me show you our caskets!” He walked over a little bit — still in the dining area — and pointed at two caskets, one on either side of the fireplace. “You can tell one’s for a man and one is for a woman,” he said, “because one is taller.” Only $850!

I had no idea what to do at this point. Crazy Joe insisted on showing me the inside of one of the coffins, including the wood chip lining in the bottom. Crazy Joe explained that these coffins were made by Amish people in Michigan and shipped here, and that you get your choice of “wood chips or genuine Amish horse shit!” for the lining. “We chose wood chips,” he reassured me. At this point, his sister came by and exclaimed, “Our daddy is buried in one of those!”

Sarah came out of the bathroom, and Crazy Joe showed her the piano and washboard, and then the coffins. He gave her the same line about the horse shit. Then he asked if we wanted to buy a coffin, and Sarah said we didn’t have room in the car for it. I was just going to say “No thanks,” which would’ve worked better, because Crazy Joe kindly offered to tie a coffin to the roof of our car. He got that we didn’t want one, though, and gave up on that sale.

We went to leave, and were almost out the door when Crazy Joe stopped us and said, “Wait a minute … come back here.” Reluctantly, we did, and he showed us a photo of a tower, asking if we’d been there. We hadn’t. He proceeded to tell us where this fire tower was, not terribly far from there. Finally, we left without incident.

Crazy Joe
Crazy Joe (not my photo)

Crazy Joe’s photo above was taken from his profile on the Monroe County Democratic Party Web site — Crazy Joe ran for Polk Township Trustee/Assessor. He lost. According to his brief bio on that page, Crazy Joe “traveled the Western United States looking for gold. [He] searched the Superstition Mountains of Arizona but did not find any.”

Believe it or not, after all that, we decided to go to the fire tower. That turned out to be a good decision, because the fire tower was cool as hell. Crazy Joe had mentioned that it was about 8 miles down a side road, but he neglected to say that that was a gravel road. I don’t mind gravel roads too much, but 8 miles is pretty far to go on one.

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Hickory Ridge Fire Tower. Notice the “NO ALCOHOL” sign at the bottom.

As it turned out, the tower was near the Hickory Ridge trails, which you can ride on a bicycle, although I haven’t done so. We decided to go up in it, and at first were unsure if we’d made a wise move — the second flight of stairs was pretty rickety, prompting Sarah to tell me to “stop doing that!” thinking I was shaking the stairs, when they were really just swaying a little bit on their own.

Once we got past that second flight, though, the rest were more solid. It was really tall and there’s a great view from up there. Well worth the trip!

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View from Hickory Ridge Fire Tower

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