Portable Tropical Vacation Checklist

Hawaiian shirt.

Bermuda shorts.

Flip flops.


Day pass to community pool.

Souvenir "coconut" thermos (with pre-mixed pina colada).

Mango scent air freshener.



The killing floor at the swine slaughterhouse was a metal grate, below which was a massive plexiglass walled collection tank for the blood and gore. The pigs were hung upside down by their hind legs from chains attached to tracks in the ceiling far above us. A cutter slashed open a pig's throat and windpipe with a razor sharp machete, terminating the beast's terrified squeals, and swung the animal out over the grate where the freshets of arterial blood coursed over its head and splashed into the tank below.

"Bacon. Phase one," said Rex, the night manager. He led me down a flight of steps adjacent to the killing floor until we stood beside a wall with windows that looked into chamber where the blood collection tank resided.

"We keep it dark in there at night," Rex said. "At dawn we can turn on the lights and go in." He looked at his watch. "Just a couple more minutes."

A couple minutes passed and then a bell chimed somewhere and the fluorescent lights inside the collection chamber flickered on. Adjacent to the curving white plastic walls of the collection tank was a swank looking bar with dark wood finish and several bar stools stood between us and the bar, scattered randomly about.

Three large brass spigots stuck out of the blood collection tank wall behind the bar.

"OK, should be safe," Rex said. He led me to a door several paces down the outer hallway and swiped an access badge across a panel in the wall to gain entry to the inner chamber.

On closer inspection, the floor of the inner chamber had some puddles of semi congealed blood and the bar and stools also had some blood spatter.

"So your job is basically to mop the place up and get it looking respectable before dusk," Rex said.

"Where do they go during the day?" I asked.

"I'll show you," Rex said. "We keep all the cleaning supplies in the same storage area." He walked me around the circumference of the blood collection tank to a large steel door on the opposite outer wall of the chamber. It resembled the door of a walk in cooler, with a levered handle, which Rex pulled to open the door.

Inside were shelves with cleaning supplies - bleach, disinfectant, rags, buckets, mops, rubber gloves. In the back of the storage room, resting vertically, were seven wooden coffins, all closed.

"They sleep in those...totally catatonic during daylight hours," Rex said, nodding at the coffins. "Just make sure you are out of here with the main door locked before dusk. Otherwise you might end up like your predecessor."

"What happened to him?" I asked.

"Her," Rex corrected me. "Let's just say there were only six coffins in here before last Thursday."

I nodded my understanding.

"On the bright side..." Rex smiled. "Every Friday is free chocolate covered bacon in the break room."


Just Write

I'm at a new writer's meeting. It's new in both the sense of not having existed for very long as well as the sense of this being my debut appearance at this meeting. It's called JUST WRITE! and the intent is to pound out words for a couple hours and then celebrate achieving some word creation afterwards. As it turns out, the turn out is light, basically just me and the meeting host, Diana by name, and we are not very well acquainted because after initial introductions, we are just pounding out words on our respective writing devices in our own worlds. I suppose I could have accomplished some writing on my own, but the idea of this group is peer motivation, and there is definitely something to that.


Beach Party All Year Round

Deborah and I joined the Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton WI last Saturday, and it has turned out to be a surprisingly good thing.

With its four pools (three of them indoor) and close proximity to our house, it's like having a mini pool party on demand.

Granted, the main purpose of joining the health club is to get some exercise and achieve fitness and weight loss goals. But unlike a conventional boring gym that fails to compel good attendance, this one has heated pools, whirlpools, and a sauna. The latter things compel me to go to the athletic club and thereby do some exercise, be it swimming or other exercise (usually followed by swimming).

I need an inflatable palm tree to bring with me when I go to Harbor so I can simulate a tropical vacation, even in the middle of the brutal Wisconsin winter. I am not looking forward to the cold.


Palm Connection

Is it possible for a human being to have a spiritual affinity for certain kinds of trees? Because I think I have such an affinity for palm trees. I didn't always, but I definitely do now. Whenever I am anywhere near palm trees, I am filled with feelings of contentment. Without exception, palm trees make me happy and I enjoy looking at them. There is no specific palm tree or species of palm tree that I am most drawn to. Any type will have the same positive effect on me.

The case could be made that this is the result of simple Pavlovian conditioning over time. Since I live in Wisconsin, where there are no palm trees, the appearance of palm trees in my surroundings usually correlates with being on a trip somewhere tropical, most likely a vacation destination involving lots of fun activities.

It's a strongish theory. Even though my life is basically one big vacation filled with friends, family, and fun on demand, I love the novelty of traveling to other places. But there are a couple significant flaws in this theory. I also like traveling to places sans (without) palm trees and I don't have the same spiritual affinity for, say, the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (exotic and amazing though they are), even though I had loads of fun when I was there. Also, I have an affinity, albeit somewhat attenuated, for the various varieties of palm fronded friends that inhabit the botanic gardens right in my home city of Madison WI. So the palm tree connection would seem to be only weakly linked to geography.

Another possible basis for my affinity for palm trees - and one that seems to address the problems of the aforementioned theory - may have to do with the mood boosting effects of Vitamin D. Most places with palm trees tend to be sunny places and sun exposure ramps of levels of Vitamin D in the human body, which has putative beneficial effects on mood and well being and general good health. Wisconsin (as well as Ireland) is in the northern latitudes of the United States and sun exposure, the only natural way to achieve healthy Vitamin D levels without supplementation, is reduced, especially in the winter when we are all indoors or bundled up to hide from the cold. So the availability of palm trees and my internal levels of Vitamin D may be highly correlated, and if my Vitamin D levels are directly correlated with my mood, this could explain why I am drawn to palm trees.

Do you have alternative hypotheses? Please leave a comment and expound.


Nigh Upon Us is the End

Armageddon came unexpectedly during the night. Both timing and form were surprising. There were no suggestive clues beforehand. Even the scientists admitted being baffled.

"We're quite baffled," they collectively said.

The media was quick to sensationalize.

"Scientists failed us," said the pundits. "We should never have believed them."

The President pointed something out though. "God failed us too," he said.

Failure to believe brought the End. Without belief, there was only chaos.

In truth, collective belief sustained reality.


Weekend Gupdate

My band GUPPY EFFECT played a show on Saturday evening and it may have been the last performance for a spell because we need to go on indefinite hiatus while our guitarist Stefan adapts to fatherhood. His wife Kat is expecting a baby Stefan or Stefanie in the next few weeks.

If you weren't able to see the show on Saturday, there are snippets floating around on the Internet, most notably on Ustream (search for Cactus Joe Productions there).

In the interim, I am working on a new project with Derek Reynolds and Cody Smalley called SKOOLNITE BENDER, which will play mostly 90s hard rock covers. And just tonight I discovered I may be auditioning for the bass player role in Kelsey Miles' band, FIGHTING FOR, although talks are still very preliminary and there is no guarantee I'll make the cut.*

On September 10, I will be guest rocking on bass with YOUR MOM, a cover band that is the brainchild of one of my musical contemporaries, Phil Dickert.

I am still not sure of the status of classy punk rock band EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE, but I am hopeful that will pick up again at some point.

*Disclaimer: My chances are probably pretty good though.


Black Beans Matter

I rode my bike about 15 miles (round trip) this evening as a two-fold enterprise to 1. get some much needed aerobic exercise and 2. see my buddy Tyler's band MUDROOM perform at a little outdoor park off State Street. Both goals were acieved.

During the band's performance, I sought out some foodstuffs on bountiful State Street, and scored a burly black bean burger panini at some coffee shoppe near the park. I was impressed by the high amount of food and the relatively low cost.

I made it back home before sunset and now I'm about to read my library book as I anticipate some thunderstorms that are moving through our area. I thank Mother Nature for holding off on the storminess until after m'ride.

Going Nowhere Faster

Andy gunned his BMW and shot past the right side of the Prius just before the two lanes of the highway entrance ramp merged into one. He cut in front of the Prius and as soon as he got past the concrete barrier on his left, he swerved across three lanes of commuter traffic to reach the carpool lane (speed limit: INFINITY), notwithstanding that he was alone in the car. He flicked on the Fuzzbuster attached to his dashboard with two rubber suction cups and floored the Beamer up to 80, zipping past the poor sots in the slower lanes. Since the car had heavily tinted windows, he felt confident that he wouldn't get pulled over for violating carpool lane etiquette and the Fuzzbuster had never failed him in eluding speeding tickets.

"You're late," his boss said as Andy strode into the conference room and sat down.

"I know. Sorry," Andy replied turning his palms ceilingward. "Traffic."


A Jam Packed Weekend

I'm performing at a house concert on Friday night in Ames IA. This is a preable to attending my buddy Nick's wedding on Saturday afternoon, also in Ames. Nick and I played in a band called FLYING TAXI in the 90s, whose other members will also be at the wedding. So you see where this is going. Some time during the reception, we're going to usurp the hired band's gear (with their pre-approval) and rock 5 or 6 of the songs we used to do.

On Sunday, I'll cruise back to Madison in a timely fashion in order to rock a short set with SKOOLNITE BENDER, my new hard rock cover band with Derek Reynolds and Cody Smalley, at the Funks Pub open stage. We are debuting 5 new (for me) songs, never before performed together. We learned them all on our own time. They are challenging tunes and I'll probably spend Friday morning honing them before I hit the road for Iowa.


6 Word Novel

Jesus ordered drinks.

"Two waters, please."


Sunday Funday 080716

Today, we shall abide the glorious weather provided by Big Mama Nature and get on our bikes and ride.

Normally our Sunday bike rides head in the general direction of West, toward Riley and/or Mt. Horeb, WI, and take place during the time frame known as AM. However, there are frequently variations to this trend and today's variance is that the ride will transpire in the PM time frame, though still in the westward orientation as indicated by a conventional compass.

There is an establishment in Riley, known as the Riley Tavern, that offers up a traditional Sunday morning pancake breakfast until 11 AM. Due to certain self imposed dietary guidelines that Deborah has, and a general distaste on my part for flapjacks, the low grade culinary offering from this country pub provides only a nominal compulsion to ride bikes there early enough to consume the high glycemic index fare - fare that quite handily negates the health benefits gained from riding bikes in the first place.

Riley is something of a way station en route to the grander destination of Mt. Horeb, generally, and the Grumpy Troll Bar and Grill, specifically. The latter venue offers no less a negative impact on wasteline girth and insulin metabolism than the former, but the combined additive effects of both venues are to be discouraged when possible regarding efforts aimed at good cardiovacular health and weight control.

The mildly altered time frame of today's bike ride was driven by the discovery that a musical group (aka a rock cover band) led by one of my contemporaries (aka Phil) will be performing an afternoon repertoire (aka set list) of proscribed compositions (aka cover songs) at Riley Tavern, starting around 3 PM. The consumption of rock-n-roll music is generally recognized as safe, except for people with certain pre-existing conditions,* and may actually contribute to improved mental and physical health and wellness, particularly when consumed in conjunction with booty shakin' (aka dancing). As such, we decided to ride our bikes to Mt. Horeb starting about 1 PM and upon our return journey we will, hypothetically, decamp to the Riley Tavern for a rock-n-roll aperatif.

Our plan is to transport ourselves and our bikes, via car, to the Verona (WI) Park and Ride lot, which lies about 6 miles east of Riley, arriving there at approximately 1 PM. We will then tool (aka ride bikes) the 13 miles along the "rails-to-trails" Military Ridge bike path westward to Mt. Horeb for a repast (aka food and drink) at the Grumpy Troll, bypassing Riley on the outward leg of the journey. On the slower (due to increased net weight and lethargy) return trip, a rest stop at Riley Tavern for some restorative rock-n-roll will most assuredly be deemed desirable. We plan to conclude our ride back at the Park and Ride lot between 5 and 6 PM, allowing me ample time to prepare for my appearance at the Funks Pub Sunday night open jam at 8 PM.

A fun day indeedy!

*Pre-existing conditions that are contraindicated for rock-n-roll consumption include, but are not limited to, the following: bluegrass snobbery, fundamentalist Christianity, drunkardism (not to be confused with alcoholism), douchebaggery, having sensitivity to loud noises, wallflowerism, being your mom, lack of inner monolog, lack of "soul" or "party spirit," and/or delusions of grandeur regarding ability to sing and/or play tamborine, cowbell or other rhythmic/percussive instruments with an unfamiliar rock band.


Zen Mind

The instructor of the Zen meditation class had told Carla not to expect much from the first session of "sitting," as they referred to meditating at the Buddhist Center where the introductory classes were offered.

"It can take months or even years of daily sitting to achieve what we call enlightenment," said Britney, the spritely millenial with dreadlocked hair and a thickish aroma of patchouli oil leading the class.

Years? thought Carla, bemused. They should try harder.

"What exactly is this enlightenment we are trying to achieve?" Carla asked Britney. "How do we know when we've achieved it?"

Britney tilted her head slightly to one side and scrunched up her face, apparently contemplating how to answer. "That's tough to answer," Britney replied. "It's probably the question we get asked the most and the answer is that there is no clear answer. It's different for everyone.

Britney pointed at a placard on the wall behind Carla, who turned to look.


The words were attributed to a Shunryu Suzuki, a name vaguely familiar to Carla from her reading up on Buddhism before signing up for the intro class, though she could not immediately place it.
In any case, Carla wasn't sure how the quotation was particularly relevant to her question, unless it was Britney's passive way of telling her she was a newb and had best leave the tough questions to the experts.

"Do you need to rent out a sitting mat today?" Britney asked.

"I brought my own," said Carla, holding up the tattered lime green throw pillow she had grabbed before leaving her apartment.

"OK, well it's about time we got started," Britney advised.

Britney led Carla and a handful of other curious novices into a dimly it sitting room that looked a lot like a yoga studio. The participants sat on their sitting cushions and crossed their legs as illustrated by the remarkably limber Britney.

"Don't worry if you can't do the full Lotus position," Britney consoled them as they struggled to hook their feet into the crooks of their knees. "Just cross your legs as best you can and try to keep your spine as straight as possible."

They placed their hands on the tops of their thighs, palms up, with the option to gently touch together the tips of thumb and middle fingers.

Britney told them to focus on their breathing and to visualize their third eye and if their minds wandered, they were to refocus on the breath and the eye.

Carla found her mind wandering to wondering when Britney would shut the @#$% up so they could actually focus on their bloody breathing.

"Breath in through your nose...out through your mouth," Britney cooed lacadaisically. "Deep breaths."

At that moment, Carla achieved complete enlightenment, as much a surprise to her as it was to Britney, whom she informed of this when the class was over.

"Are you going to be signing up for weekly sessions today?" Britney asked when they were back in the center's reception area.

"No need," Carla replied. "Totes just achieved full enlightenment. You do great work."

Britney looked perplexed and started to say something but fully enlightened Carla had already levitated and floated out the door.