American Wake

Posted: April 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

Don’t have a viddy to post for the title,  a Black 47 song.  But here is one about Irish immigrants doing shit work for shit pay in America.  “Aww, mammy dear, we’re all mad over here, drinking in America”

I have been saying that Ireland is like Wisconsin, except with less snow; their life revolves around bars, eating, drinking, and music.  we added cheese.

But one of the most notable things about Ireland is how fecking OLD it is.  My house was built in 1904.  My office, in one of the oldest areas of downtown swampland that is now Milwaukee was built in 1852.  I am currently working on a building built in 1858.

Piffle.  In Ireland, they have bars that have operated continuously longer than that.  The have buildings that are 400, 600, 700 years old.  They have ruins that are older. They have been invaded by EVERYONE.  And then they sent them to us…

Ireland was a fertile land that was invaded, over and over, by Vikings and Normans and the English, and the lands were pillaged and the forests were clear-cut and the locals killed and raped and beaten into submission.  Over and over again.  You know, kind of what the white assholes did to the American Natives, except without the horrible consolation of allowing them their own sovereignty on uninhabitable lands.

Which is kind of interesting, in a weird way.  We did a bus tour of Ireland, and on the first evening introductory meeting, we saw people that we kind of recognized.  They were, indeed, from Milwaukee, and our sons were friends in grade school.  And the husband plays in one of our favorite local reggae bands, and the wife is part Menomonie.  Yes, it was Weird.  And yes, we did Milwaukee proud.

We got into Dublin with some time to spend, and so we went to Kilmainhaim Gaol.  This is an awesome stop, because the guides are superb; but also last year it was renovated for the 100 year anniversary of the executions of the rebels, including killing James Connolly who couldn’t even stand up, so the had to shoot him in a chair.  I said at the time, there are a lot of lyrics by Irish bands that start to make a fuck of a lot of sense.

Our bus tour hit some of the touristy things, like Blarney Castle (yes I kissed the damn stone,, but I dunno that you guys may welcome me being MORE verbose) But we also visited places like Kilkenny and Galway, and saw some great aspects of the environment, and we had a guide who told us many informative things about Irish history.

It will be noted here that, on my mother’s side, we have lore that indicates we have Irish blood.  Like it’s fucking breaking news.  But the funny thing is that going into Ireland, I had no real knowledge of whiskey,  I had no appreciation for Irish Coffee.  And now I do.  O yes.  On the cab ride out of Dublin, when I said this to the cabbie, he said “you obviously have some Irish blood”.

Have you ever been forbidden from singing, or dancing, or practicing your chosen religion?  That was Ireland. Their were fiercely religious, but since that was not the Official British Church, they went underground.  They had their dances and parties in the parts of the country that were inhospitable, and the English didn’t want to go there.

They kept rebelling.  They tried, and failed and tried again.  The fabled rebellion of 1916 failed, resulting in the brutal assassination of 16 rebels in Kilmainham Gaol, including a mortally wounded man who had to be propped into a chair to be shot dead.

And yet, they persisted.  The eventually won their independence.

And they are people who really love to enjoy life.  Music and drink and food and loving life.  They are awesome people.  They re incredibly friendly and the country is beautiful and exciting and they have stupendous ruins.

In America, we don’t really have any buildings that are as old as the ruins in Ireland.  We have never suffered the extreme plundering and abuse by an invading force (my apologies First Nations).  But in our immigrants, we have people that cannot contain their excitement and play music and sing and dance and paint and add vitality to this country that somehow, a lot of white people think is offensive.

As an architect and a designer. I once emblazoned a project in Grad school with a quote from David Byrne:  “we steal from what we like”. I am sure of that. I steal, borrow, compile and re-compile.  i will use what I saw in Ireland like the things I have seen in Mexico, Yellowstone, and many other areas.  I take it all in, and put it into the Designer Bin.  It all counts.

But here’s the thing.  The Irish people have been beaten down by the huge Hulks of their time.  They were basically quiescent farmers, who were at peace.  They were invaded by the FUCKIN VIKINGS  and the goddam Normans, and had all of their good stuff stripped.

So, like the First Nations, they had all their riches stolen.  And most interestingly, we were there with a Milwaukee person who was a First Nation heritage, who was married to an African American, whose son was a friend of our sons back in grade school, and that seemed kind of weird or pre-destined.

What I took from my visit, is that the Irish are tremendously resilient and they are amazingly lovely people that remind me of the people in my state.

And here is the takeaway:

  • They have spent generations being beaten down, having their lives and livelihoods stolen
  • They have had to fight, over and over again, in revolution.  They do not always win.
  • They never allowed any of that shit allow them to stope dancing and drinking and singing.  Even when that was illegal.

we elected a stupid person.  That was bad.  But at the worst, that is less bad than what the Irish survived.  And they made sublime whisky in the interim, not to mention the lovely music.

If we think we can’t survive the idiocy of Donald Fuking jerkwad Trump, our Irish brethren are mocking us.


I have a personal adage,  I use when I am working with my clients.  When I feel they are pursuing something that they shouldn’t, I make my best arguments against three times, in forceful but respectful fashion.  If, after all of that (and I have documented history of telling them it was a bad idea), and then go ahead with their bad idea.

I have been re-watching the West Wing; it gives me comfort for a time when we al thought competence and a functional, non-corrupt government was something of value.  And in the episode I am watching, they are talking to people who were part of various administrations.

And the brings me to a Facebook exchange I had with a Chicago architect who is now a pundit and critic.  I asked Ed “if your asked to be the Architect of the Capitol, would you do it?” and he responded by saying, flatly, “NO”

After watching this episode (which included Karl Rove, a man I loathe) I think my friend Ed is wrong.  I (who am in absolutely no danger of being asked to do so), if I was asked to be Architect of The Capitol, would do it immediately.

Because I am passionate about buildings at every level. I love old factory buildings. I love historic government buildings. I love cape cods built by people just trying to live one more season.

If i hd the opportunity, I would oppose him at every level, until he decided to give us money for restoration and preservation .

Yeah, I would be fired the first time I told him he can’t install gold plated toilets in the White House.

But I will tell you this:  I do not suck up to anybody, and while I am willing to compromise, fuck that selling out shit.

And I would be fired.  Probably the first tine I refused to allow a gold plated toilet to be installed in the White House.

Have I ever talked about my educational background?  I have what may be called a checkered past, maybe…..(scenes from a zombie’s school background):

  • I never passed an art or industrial arts class with anything less than an A
  • I took 4 1/2 years of math in high school.
  • I only passed college chemistry because I rode the coattails of a guy in the dorm room next to mine.
  • I took way more English than I ever needed in both high school and college, including a literature course in science fiction.
  • I had to request an academic probation in college rather than just abrupt dismissal.
  • In high school, my counselor looked at my transcript and was completely confuzzled, throwing his hands up.  I told him I was already working as a professional draftsman in a local engineering firm, so he said “sounds good to me!” and threw me out.
  • My father insisted I go to college (mainly due to the fact that he declined an opportunity to go himself because of a local antipathy to college boys) and I have thanked him for it ever since, believe me…
  • Because I didn’t plan on going to college, I hadn’t done the preparatory research, taken the good tests, or made applications.  So it was a matter of which colleges had majors that seemed like a good fit, had entry requirements I could meet, and available space (and also, which ones were out of town, so I could move the hell out).  And at that point, Wisconsin still believed in the value of affordable State colleges, so there was one or two that fit that definition (this becomes important almost immediately).
  • After all that, I graduated from SARUP undergrad and grad school, with two separate special studios at the high level of Master’s.
  • I have been invited back to the school as a participant in design efforts, student reviews, and special presentations.

Land Grant Colleges are an important and amazing idea in the history of our country.  They provided high level educational opportunities to people from moderate means across the country, and most of them, especially the University of Wisconsin (which was further supported by the incorporation of the Wisconsin Idea, which pledged the use of the resources of the college campuses to further and develop ideas in support of the public good. In recent years, the Dean of the Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning has been exemplary in using the talent in his school to foster free exchange of fresh ideas and progressive ideas.  It is no random happenstance that since he took Deanership, we have seen Milwaukee out perform the economic development of every other area in Wisconsin, and we have seen things like expansion of public transit, improvement of sustainability, development of spectacular puck amenities like the Children’s Museum, the Calatrava museum addition, expansion of Summerfest, continued development of the Riverwalk, making Milwaukee one of the best bicycle cities in the Midwest, and on and on.

So I find this a bit personal.

Turdwaffle , following on his ALEC-ordered attack on unions with Act 10, followed up by trying to avoid the huge public outcry and do this on the down low:  removing mentions of the Wisconsin Idea from his budget;  obviously the first step to removing it from all public documentation altogether.  This was in 2015.  It was of course, done, because he has a compliant Republican Lege, who fall in line like a bunch of big, stupid dominoes.

So now, Our Governor Fucknuckle has decided that the best thing for one of the highest regarded research and publicly oriented college system in the country now needs to be more oriented toward making it a fancy-pants technical school providing drink workers for the rich and wealthy.

Oh, am I being hyperbolic?  Here:

Walker wants UW campuses to compete for $42.5 million in new funding based on graduation rates, average time to degree, percentage of graduates who get jobs, and how many of them work in high-demand fields in Wisconsin, among other measures.

So these colleges, acclaimed worldwide and also offering amazing opportunities to people who might not otherwise have them, now have to go cutthroat about how many of their students get placed with work farms that are acceptable to the Wisconsin Government Corporate Masters.

So yeah, I feel this is a bit personal.  The existence of the UW system allowed me to go to college in a way that was not high-stress and was still access to an amazing education that opened up my fucking world.  And Turdwaffle says “let’s try to fuck this over!” because he is a dim, small-minded, Republican knee-walking shit-sniffing obsequious complete fucknuckle.

It’s not a Friday, but here you go:


Go Fuck Yourself Also Too

Hell No, I ain’t happy

Posted: February 6, 2017 in Uncategorized


Hey, how y’all doing?  I say y’all because I saw the Clash of the South, Drive By Truckers, with wife sublime and still hain’t settled down. The hit the stage under the strains of “Know Your Rights”, the keyboardist had a Black Lives Matter banner, and the spent time talking about the stupid airport bans and cheered on JOHN FUCKING LEWIS…this is rebel music, baby, this is the south finding a real voice.

BUT.  Let’s also talk about stupid southern shit. Someone yelled out “Freebird” and the band said FUCK YOU and then included an additional fuck you in the lyrics to the next song.  AND.  No one on stage was wearing a stupid cowboy hat, and nobody had confederate flags.

You know who NEVER avoids the opportunity to wear a big stupid cowboy hat?  You know who loves to ride a horse in the streets that do not really accommodate horses anymore?  You know who likes to have fun decorating his semi-fascist uniform with medals he invents?

Yeah, it is Fox News favorite wingnut black guy insane sheriff who was elected by white suburbanites, since he was one of the ‘Good ones’.  Yes, it is Sheriff David Clarke, poster boy for the beard color product.

Here’s the thing about Clarke.  He rode into office on the Scott Walker Racism wave, and he was One Of The Good Ones.  He was installed as Milwaukee County Sheriff, which is a very limited office.  That was not to his aggrandized opinion of himself, so he started to decorate his uniform with ridiculous and made-up medals and awards.  And then he started coloring his stupid wingnut face mullet….

Let’s keep in view that as County Sheriff in Milwaukee, he has not so many duties.  He has to oversee the freeways in the county, and the jail that puts people on ice until they get sent otherwhere.  That’s pretty much it.

So, yea, cutting to the chase. The overseeing of this asshole, and at least four people died included a fetus ARE YOU CLAIMING TO BE PRO LIFE, SHITWIPE?

Since then, he has not only used county officers to harass a person that just give him MILD shit about wearing Cowboys gear on a Packers flight, but ASSHOLE followed up with threats on official venues.

So, when fuckface is not spending time on Fox News talking shit about black people, and being bitter that his angling for being the token black lunatic on the Trump Circus Car, he has been watching that even the Walker-sucking Journal-Sentinel has said his polling for re-election is Not Likely, against any person that does not have felony convictions.

So, he decides that his only Wingnut Gravy Train os to move up to the fucking Congress.  And so, since Plastic Man RonJon is an automatically reliable vote for every horrible thing the Republicans ever dream, he imagines the only target is Tammy Baldwin.  And they launch the run by having third party insane fuckers attack her for her sexuality.

Let me tell you how stupid that is.  Her prior elections,lacal and statewide, she came out and has been openly gay for years.  She has been so effective as a legislator, that my parents, who prior to their deaths were vocally not comfortable with gays or minorities, still voted for her in state offices and national offices.

Stupid ass Fake Cowboy Clarke is an idiot and a hateful bully. He is trying to build off of Fox Not-news because his job is otherwise gong to result in his ouster.  But he is trying to move into a senate spot because he’s hoping racists in the out-state Wisconsin will vote for a black racist in favor of a white woman lesbian with a great track record.

Perhaps he can get a job as a cowboy.  He has the hats.


Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Posted: January 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

I grew up as stupid suburban white boy metal head.  But then, since we were adjacent to a city with a good radio station, I learned about punk and new wave, and I learned the lessons well, yes I did.

And I took those lessons to land-grant college, and immediately alienated my roommate roulette person, but found some people in an adjacent dorm. I continued to learn about punk an new wave, yes I did.

I lived in a house that was once of the only places that played the first REM album.

Later, I moved to Milwaukee and tried to culminate my professional degree. But in that time, I worked much with local music people and worked with Bruce Cockburn on one of his tours, and he was so nice to me, as I was just holding a ladder while they sound checked.  What a lovely guy.

I am not sure how much music can make a difference, in the coming hard rain.

But I know a couple of things:  the fascists have no music.

And they have no artists.

And if you don’t have music, and you don’t have artists, then honey YOU DON’T HAVE PEOPLE



It’s a World of Love and Hope

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

OK, I know that sounds all wrong for the Empire.  I would add a “fuck” in there, but it would make the joke not work.

Extra introduction.  I left a teaser back in the last Year of Hell, and this is just easing me in.  My music posts have always been easier than my political posts; talking about things I love is much easier than about the things I hate; unless I just went on an unrestrained primal scream of FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK…. (yes, I realize, I did that as well).  But I recently had a reason to dredge up the beginnings of the proto-Empire, and it was the constant horror of the Cheney Regime that made me start doing that. So I am thinking that  I will likely go to rage, horror, mockery and incessant zombie apocalypse jokes in Our New Reich (I promise to never refer to Orange Hands MicroPenis as “President”).  Heavy on the mockery, because that is what gets him the most irate.  In the interim, I am easing myself, and you, Dear Reader(s) into that with a music post…..

Here’s the source, a new album by Chicago Musician’s Band, The Flat Five.

Word of warning, it is music that will make you wonder if I took a blow to the head, as it is jazzy, poppy, unabashedly retro, and pretty much nothing that I normally like.  ZOMBIES, THEY DO THE UNEXPECTED!

But really, the band – Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, Alex Hall, Kelly Hogan, and Nora O’Connor- do hit me in two of my sweet spots; first, a bunch of musicians who truly love to do what they do, and second, an amazingly adept mix of stupendously talented singers making your hindbrain tingle with their harmonies.  They are a band that has been performing around Chicago for ten years (!) and this was the first time they played Milwaukee….

Here’s the crazy shit. I had been aware of Kelly Hogan for a bit of time, and when she did a show in the Pabst Theater (bar) Good Friend Rory and I went , and it was SUBLIME indeed, friends and guinea pigs, yes it was…and in the after, going to the merch table, I realized I had seen this amazing talent once before:

just out of college, in my first professional job I was delegated with one other guy to go down to Atlanta to a CAD convention try and find the best system for our operation.  And after a day or so of doing so, we went to what looked like a coolish pub to get food and drink.  And a band started playing, The Jody Grind.  I loved it.

And I recognized that she was the amazing vocalist that sang for that band, and she remembered the bar we saw her in.  She is a flat-out fucking ASTONISHING vocalist, and she is currently singing with the Decemberists, Alejandro Escovedo, and Mavis Staples.   But really, that is the story of all of the people in this band; they are the kind of band that other musicians say is the best band they’ve seen.  And THAT, is, of course, my ultimate sweet spot.

So yeah, Wife Sublime and I braved the fucking cold to see them on Saturday (not far from ZombieHome and directly next to one of my projects, yea!) with about 150 other people (in a venue that had insufficient toilets for that number of people, LOL, that’s what I notice)

The sticker on the band’s vinyl says “Chicago’s underground twisted sunshine pop vocal band” and while that sounds like adjective mania, it’s not bad.  The played all the songs off their new album, which are mostly jazz-pop (play them quiet, and they are easy listening) but an amazing array of covers; ranging from Beach Boys, to Phish, to Nilsson, to somebody they found on YouTube.

The thing about this band is that as a group and as individuals, they are all embarrassingly talented. they trade instruments, while Hogan mocks their inability to get their shit together.

And at one point, Hogan admits they have been playing together for ten years (What the FUCK Chicago; are you keeping them secret, as bitter retribution for your sports teams?  And now, with a World Series, you let us see them? I will need to see documents) and that a few years back, they decided they wanted to focus on, more positive, sunnier songs.  DAMN!  There goes my hope of seeing a stupendous version of the Magnetic Fields’ genius song “Papa Was A Rodeo”….

One of my favorite songs of all….

So anyway, here’s the thing.  The band admits this is dark times.  We all do.  And there is nothing wrong with that, recognition of Darkness On The Edge Of Town is an important element in being able to approach and deal with that fucking orange darkness… but I know my readers are not hopeless. Not lacking hope, I mean.  And even if you are feeling a bit down, then this band and their album is like a sweet sunshine ray of hope from the 60s and 70s to help you out.  The band, themselves, who have individually and together explored all kinds of musical genres (including gospel music that doesn’t mention Jesus. “short set list”, they say) said that they made the conscious decision a few years back to concentrate on music that has positive connotations.  Without being overly chirpy, you understand…

As you all two may know, I say that I think music is one of the most noble ways of making people better.  And after watching the Flat Five assault me with positive pop perfection, am I better?  Well, fuck me I am more cheerful and I treat that gassy orange dog better.  YOU TELL ME

The band played two sets, and Hogan said that as the daughter of a police officer, she knew she was playing with fire by playing overtime, but they felt like they had ignored Milwaukee for far too long (and you HAVE, Hogan, you have).  To our pleased amusement, Wife Sublime recognized one of the songs (Bird of Paradise) although she mis-identified it as a Phish song although it is a Joe South song (THANKS STEVE JOBS).

It was a helluva night, yes it was.  The band was as good as anyone could ever expect, and better than they have any right to be.  The songs were fun and varied and rendered with amazing versatility by wonderfully talented musicians.

And to circle back, they help me find a focus for the Empire going forward. As I have hinted, I feel like I have to re-invigorate the shit out of this damn ugly blog, and was looking at the worst days of horror, rage, spit, and breaking shit but I started to realize something…. the thing that aggravates the Idiot Bigot Brigades the most, is the fact that not only do we not knuckle under to their Reich, but we continue to NOT take them seriously, we continue to fight for our goals and our ideals, and continue to argue that they are objectively wrong.  They feel like they won, so we should perforce be obligated to acknowledge they are right.

Well, they’re not.  


But what they hate most of all, we continue to tilt against the Knights of Ni, laughing at their idiocy and mocking their shrubberies.  We continue to laugh at their ridiculous concepts, their laughable logic and imaginary science, their small hands and tiny weeping swords.  As Molly Ivins, a liberal in Texas, said, this is a fight that you can only take on with laughter in your heart.  We will lose battles.  Things will get horrible.  And I am not saying we belittle the losses of other Americans we care about who will be damaged and, yes, killed.  But, like vampires who shrivel in daylight, the Right is allergic to two things:  Facts.  And humor.

So, going forward, while I will not lie to anyone by saying that the Empire will not devolve into anger, Fuck You Fridays, and screaming Diz-Buster fits of pinwheel rage; I think my major effort will be to take Molly’s lead (Chthulhu grant me the blessing of a modicum of her talent) to make mock of them.  Make much mock of them.  Mock mock mock.

Jebus.  Lucifer, the Orange, Leaky Ass Dog Who Has Been Less Leaky Ass Of Late, is now leaky ass again.  I’m not looking forward to getting older….

It’s a Holiday Tradition at the Empire!  The Piano Story.  And, since the country started holiday drinking early, we have a new Un-President who is eager to get that nuculer war under way, so here’s a jolly little ditty:

In a more generous and Christmas-ey note, Milwaukee musician and Empire fave Trapper Schoepp got his piano this year.

Merry XMess

Recently, someone pointed me towards an online humor carnival. I didn’t throw anything into it, but it made me think about funny moments.

And one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen personally was such a minor slapsticky moment, it didn’t seem worth it. It was a time when my girlfriend at the time walked full into a glass door. Did you ever see a Star Trek Blooper where Shatner charges into one of those Enterprise doors, expecting the stage hands to pull them aside in time for him to lunge through, and they don’t? Shatner makes a thwock sound and bounces back five or six feet. This was exactly like that except funnier, and I fell over laughing helplessly.

Well, for some reason that girlfriend didn’t immediately drop me as an inconsiderate buffoon; several years later after getting married, graduating, getting a job and finding a real apartment, it was a good time to show how much she meant to me; it was time to find The Perfect Christmas Gift.

My wife constantly lamented her family’s inability to afford a piano as a child. As a good husband, one only has to mention something 3 or 4 hundred times before I clue into it, so I struck upon the inspired idea of giving her a piano for Christmas. A Piano!

….uuhhh, how does one go about procuring a piano?

Let’s start with the Yellow Pages! (pre-internet, kidsos, keep up here.) Ahh. A place right downtown called the Piano Gallery. Good place to start. Could I BE a bigger idiot? It was a friggin’ GALLERY. With Pianos, beautiful, gorgeous pianos of spectacular finish and epic, gorgeous tone; pianos that could make you weep. Both kinds: Grand and Baby Grand. Reconditioned, starting at eight thousand dollars. Whoops! Maybe this idea won’t be going anywhere after all. Let’s look at calendars.

Well, after puttering around a couple of mall-style stores that seemed to specialize in automated piano-like organs with automatic beats aimed at little old ladies to jazz up rhumba night at the retirement home, I resorted to the For Sale ads. (These are like an analog version of Craig’s List for you kidsos. newspapers used to have them. Ask your grandfather what a newspaper was.) Finally I found an upright for sale right in the sweet spot of my price range. Oddly enough, when I came to look at it, the address was…a waterbed store? Weirder and weirder. I went in and asked for Mark, who was apparently the manager.

He took me back to the loading dock, and I asked… “Why are you selling it ? And… why in a waterbed store?” Mark replied that he had moved to town recently, their condo did not have room, and so it had to go.

The piano was an upright made in Chicago by Camp & Company around 1914; the wood had warm golden finish that was soft and deep. There were some carved and applied wood details, that were more of a crude craftsman style; they imparted an unassuming , almost home built character. The ivory on the keys was yellowed, but smooth, evidence of its age and the thousands of fingers that had played it. As an architect, I am always sensitive to the way built items age and acquire historic patina; the instrument appealed to me on an aesthetic level.

He asked me if I wanted to play it, and I replied that it would be a gift for my wife, that I didn’t really know how to play and knew little of pianos. So he sat on the railing of the loading dock and pounded out some boogie-woogie, and a little christmas music. Although the instrument was maybe a bit out of tune, it had a lively, ebullient sound. (Later I found that through dumb luck, we had acquired an instrument that was well built with a nearly-intact soundboard and a serviceable action). It was obvious that he loved the instrument, it sounded passable to my tin ears, and I said it was a deal.

Now here’s where things get intricate, and I maybe tried to be too tricksy. I wanted to deliver it on Christmas eve, which was a Saturday this year. Mark said he would be able to work with that on two conditions: First, it would have to be in the morning, because he would have to open the store to get it; and second, that I pay him in cash, because he and his family were leaving for a Holiday trip that day. This seemed workable to me; how vainly optimistic one can be!

I arranged for a couple of friends, Mike, Rory and Jack to help me out, and spent several days congratulating myself on achieving the Perfect Gift. I was just counting chickens, friends and guinea pigs, when the eggs were alligator.

Saturday Morning, Christmas Eve. My wife got up and needed to do some last minute shopping; how perfect! I could barely keep from laughing and telling all in glee as I kissed her goodbye. My helpers were due to be here by 10 AM, so I had to get to U-Haul to get a truck. I have no compunction about mentioning the company here; you will soon see why.

The U-Haul store was a bit busy, but they had assured me they had a truck when I called. They certainly did: a nineteen foot delivery truck. NINETEEN feet. For a single piano. Of course, the advertised $19.95 rate was not available for this truck. The small truck with the $19.95 banner parked right next to this one? Not serviced; not available. Oh well, small concern, considering the cost of the gift. Gimme the keys. Took the truck home, to wait for my helpers.




10:45. By now, i started calling them. Rory? no answer. Jack? No Answer. Mike? Finally an answer! Hoarsely, “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it….” Rory? Still no answer. Jack calls back. Jack! He wasn’t going to be able to make it either, unless we could be sure he’d be done by 2 PM. Oh, no problem! Come on over! Okay, fine, after you’ve had some coffee. I didn’t tell you to go drinking last night.

So, Jack and I -just half of the movers I had anticipated as necessary – finally got back into the truck by about quarter after eleven, and got on the road.

Hah. Fooled you. It wasn’t that easy, of course. The truck wouldn’t start. Not a dead battery; it was a gap in the flywheel. For you non-gearheads, this meant that the starter would just spin away without turning the engine at all. I looked at Jack; he looked at me. Ummm. After fooling around for ten minutes, Jack had a brainstorm – he disengaged the gear shift, which moved the flywheel – just enough – that the starter caught and the engine started.    Wooo! Here we go. Down the highway, back behind the waterbed store and back up to the loading dock, killing the truck and running in to meet Mark, who was very impatient by now.

Now go back and read that last sentence again, and see if you can catch our mistake. Let the adventure begin.

I went in and paid Mark, and while Jack and I were securing the piano, Mark closed the door and hit the road. Jack and I laughed to see the piano – just an upright – sitting in that cavernous truck, roped to the side.  We could have fit a whole CAR in there and never touched the piano.

Back to the cab, ready to go. As you may have guessed, the starter was whiffing again. We tried the gearshift trick, but this time were not so lucky, it didn’t help. The truck was in a loading dock depression, so we couldn’t push it . Now Jack and I looked at each other and had little in the way of ideas. You know, keep in mind that at this time cell phones were bigger than bricks and cost thousands of dollars.

Settle in now, this is getting interesting.

Hey, there’s a phone by the gas station across the street. (station closed, of course). But who to call? I can’t call my wife, besides the awful giveaway, she’s not home. Try calling U-Haul? They’re no longer open. Isn’t there an emergency number? If I ran U-Haul, it would be plastered all over the inside of the cab. After half an hour of searching, we finally find it, in the small print of the Operations Manual. So I give it a call.

And get an operator. In Arizona. Who wonders whether it’s cold in Wisconsin. Ha-ha, yes, and we’ve got snow. And I’m standing outside in an open phone booth, trying to get help for the broken-ass truck that I rented from a Local U-hauler. Ha-ha, yes it’s not a good day for it, is it? Enough with the levity, let’s start discussing how you’re going to help me. You what? You need to call the local 24 hour service, who will get back to me? Fuck me sideways with a christmas tree, did I mention I am standing outside an open phone booth? By a highway? Oh, yes, please do try and get him to call as quickly as possible.

I run back to the truck to tell Jack that I got somebody, but now I need to wait for a return call.

And run back across the road to wait. It starts to snow.

While I’m waiting, Jack comes over to give his sister a call. It is now after 1 PM, and he’s got to get on the road somehow. After he calls, we notice a bar across the highway that appears to be open. Hey, just the thing! A nice hot drink, some brandy certainly, maybe a snack… we can call Arizona Lady back and give her the bar’s number. This works! We dodge the traffic to get across and tumble through the door, savoring the warmth and the welcoming smells of a tavern … aaaaahhhh.

“Hey, gents! Can we do something quick for ya? We’re closing down.”

Gaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh…… A quick explanation, and no, we can’t hang around even if they’re closed, whattaya, nuts? Gotta get home to the family!! So – it’s back to the phone booth. And the snow.

Now, this is the place where the Universe looks down and… decides to fuck with me. I mean more. As I stand and wait for someone, somewhere to dial this phone on an icy intersection in the deepening wintery gloom, there’s little to do but watch the cars go by. Lights change, cars go one way; the lights change again and they go the other. A fair amount of last minute shopping traffic, actually. The phone is close enough to the street to be able to see drivers clearly. Once in a while, one looks over at me; maybe one out of four looks at me in puzzlement, obviously wondering what in hell is possessing me to stand there. But most of them are just driving past, much more intent on finishing their shopping and getting the hell home. And as I am watching the cars, I see one at the next light that looks an awful lot like ours. At the time, we had a last-year-model Fiero, you see, and there were not that many of them on the streets. Kind of unusual. This one matched ours. I couldn’t make out the license plate, though, and as it swept around the corner, of course I saw quite clearly: my wife. In our Fiero. Driving blithely right past me. Stranded at an abandoned gas station, with her gift stranded in a truck across the street.

The impulse to try and wave her down came, but the car was gone before any frozen limbs could be cracked into action. She was one of the drivers who paid no attention, of course. If someone had driven by with an open window at that moment, they might have been able to hear a few cracked, desperate laughs through the wind and snow.

After some indefinable amount of time passed, the phone rang. It was Arizona Lady.

Well, things were going great down in Arizona. She had located the service company up in Milwaukee, and left a message for their driver….

“Hold on. Left a message?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your truck has left me stranded by a highway in the Wisconsin winter, and you left a message?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I know it may not seem terribly urgent down there in Arizona, but did it ever occur to you that I am sitting here with a defunct piece of shit truck, freezing while I’m waiting for help, and that maybe it could use a bit more effort than leaving a message?”

“Sir, I have done what I can. Why don’t you run the truck heater?”


“I AM sorry sir.”

“…yea, me too. Just….do what you can, OK? It’s not Arizona up here.”

The tow truck driver would be calling me at the pay phone number after he checked his messages; he would let me know when he was ready to come and get me. Thankfully and against all expectation, the driver called me within a few minutes, and after getting the location, let me know that it would likely be about 45 minutes, because he had another job to take care of first. Busy season, ya know. I agreed; next time I would plan my breakdown emergency better and schedule ahead.

Jack’s sister showed up soon with their car packed for their own holiday trip, full of clothes, gifts, and their two large dogs. Although cramped, we all piled into the front seat grateful for the warmth; the truck cab had gotten down to air temperature by now and we were chilled. Jack, his sister and I shared passed around…. well a little bit of holiday cheer, I guess you could call it; by the time they left for their own holiday gathering, most of my despair had been blunted, for a short time at least. It was three PM, and the sky was leaden gray, although the snow had mostly stopped.

I walked across the road once again to use that cursed open phone to call home and leave a message.

“Hi, it’s me. I….well, I’m having quite a day. I will probably be home in an hour or two. Nothing’s wrong, really; I’m OK. It’s just….well, I’ll explain when I get home. Don’t worry.”

Then, I settled into the cab alone to try and stay warm and wait for the tow driver, hoping this wouldn’t be too long.

I was a little surprised when I saw the tow truck pull into the parking lot. I had forgotten that U-Haul had given me the 19 footer. The tow truck was a 6 wheel monstrosity with dual booms, as large as a semi truck cab. It was about 4:30, and it had gotten fully dark by now. I stepped out and Chris introduced himself. He asked me what was wrong with the truck, and then spent some time looking it over. After a few minutes, I asked if I could sit in the cab of the tow, because I had been out here in the cold for hours.

“Oh, sure! Go ahead! Why didn’t you run the heater?”


Chris came back and said that the truck was in pretty bad shape. No news to me, of course, but I was just thankful to be warming up. Now, he started to explain to me that he was on a 24 hour call cycle from the Milwaukee Police department, and that all weekend he would be on call to clear accident sites for them. I was concentrating on getting warm, and didn’t really register what he was saying, until something like this came out:

“…so I would have to leave you and your truck and take care of it…”

“…wait, what?”

“Well, if the police call with a tow request, I’ll have to dump you and your truck and take care of their needs first. I just want to be clear about that before I start towing you.”

“Um. What’s the alternative?”

“I could try calling one of the other towing services for you, but I don’t know anybody else on call this weekend. It’s a holiday, you know.”

“I’ve been made aware. I’m gonna take the chance. Just one thing; if you get another call, can I ride with you, rather than sitting in that broken-ass truck?”

“Well…I’m not supposed to. But maybe…. OK, but just stay in the truck when we do, OK?”

“Fine. Great. Let’s go.”

So Chris turned up the heater for me, and went back to disconnect the drive shaft and get the truck hoisted. He came back into the tow cab to fill out some paperwork, and then he got back out to check the connections.  And then he put the hoist back down, because guess what? Yes, he got a call from the MPD. And off we went to an accident site.

It was a pretty minor fender bender, all things considered, right outside of a gas station. I sat in the cab and watch Chris and the cops work, and looked into the convenience store to see a clerk waiting on people for gas, beer, and cigarettes. When Chris got back in, he mentioned that the car was probably drivable, but the driver was DUI, so he had to tow it to the impound lot. Now warm, I could even muster a bit of humor; “Someone who’s having a worse Christmas Eve than I am.” I said. I asked Chris if he’d mind if I stepped out to use the pay phone and call home. This time my wife was home. Now, will it be possible to not let the secret out?

“Hi. I’m still having a bit of , umm, delay . Adventure. But there’s progress and I should be home in a little while.”


“Ummm, is Tom home upstairs?”

“…yea, I think so.”

“Could you ask him if he might be around a little later? I might need some help.”

“…ohhhh-kaaaaay….what kind of help?”

“just – umm,  help moving something. OK?”


Chris had gotten the car hooked up and we were off to the impound lot. Which is not the holiday destination you’d expect it to be.

It was after 7 by the time we got back to ‘my’ truck. Chris just had to hoist it at this point, though, and were on the road relatively quickly. I almost cried….no, I did cry. A little bit. After all this time, to actually be making some progress, some distance, in the direction I wanted to go….it was too much.

After about ten minutes of travel, the radio squawked. I looked up, startled, Chris looked at me and answered – another MPD call. Chris was apologetic, but duty called first and we dropped the crippled truck in a closed mall’s parking lot. It looked abandoned, sitting alone in the middle of the paving under a single light, no other vehicle around it. I worried, briefly, about someone burglarizing it. But what would they do with a piano? As we turned the corner, I wasn’t sure I cared.

This accident was a good deal less significant than the previous, and Chris just had to clear the street. Another tow truck was coming for the vehicle. So amazingly enough, we were back on the road toward my abandoned truck within half an hour or so. It was 8:30.

Again, Chris hoisted the U-Haul truck, and we turned out onto the highway. Chris was conciliatory at this point, and he vowed that if he received another call, he would make sure he dropped me off before answering it. I wasn’t terribly concerned at this point; I was warm.

He didn’t get another call, though, and just after 9 PM on Christmas Eve, we pulled up in front of our duplex. Turns out I didn’t need Tom from upstairs to help us move the piano. Chris was a large guy, and being sympathetic to the effort it took for me to get this far, helped me unload the piano and get it in our apartment.

My wife, of course, loved the piano and still does; it took several drinks to tell the story and still is a holiday favorite.  But I always find myself thinking to what it must have looked like to my wife, keeping a watch for me to come home through our front windows.  Eventually, the tow truck turned the corner, with it’s full array of running and flashing lights, and the lights of the U-Haul truck also lit up.  I have no idea what this 40-plus feet of contraption looked like, coming to a stop in front of our apartment.  Normally, it would be the results of some large, appalling accident.  But for this one year, at least, it looked like Christmas.
Epilogue:  THE STING
Chris helped me move the instrument into our apartment, and I insisted on tipping him all the cash I had left. He had performed above and beyond the call of duty. He asked whether I wanted him to drop the truck.“I never want to lay eyes on that vehicle again. If I see it out there tomorrow morning, I’ll probably set it on fire; so you could leave it at the U-Haul store, their repair lot, or push it into the lake, makes no difference to me.” He said he’d drop it at their repair lot.On the first business day after the holiday, I received a phone call from my favorite truck rental company.“Sir, we have you on record as renting a truck from us two days ago.””Uh-huh.”“Sir, we need to know where the truck is.”

Oh, let’s close the curtain on that scene; and you can just fill in the blanks for the rest of THAT conversation.

To all my imaginary digital friends, acquaintances, visitors and general pains in the asses, enjoy your own holidays, love your friends and family, and I hope someone brought you YOUR piano.