High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it, Is to Whip It

Telecommuniculturey was on the road this last weekend, visiting the scenic central California coast for the birthday of Brother D, and neither hell nor high headwinds could keep us from our destination.

Although we weren't quite on the o-dark-thirty flight from Midway, it was early for us, and we had dreaded "Group B" boarding passes, so we needed to be at the airport pretty early. In fact, M opted to deal with checking the bag while I went ahead and parked my ass concavity in the B line. I did, and we managed to be first in said line, freeing me up to relax and knit the shawl that will never, ever be finished.

Knitting in public seems to be equivalent to having a cute and fuzzy puppy on one shoulder, a cute and fuzzy kitten on the other, and a shirt that says, "Please talk to me. I love people." Clearly, I need to think of something that will counteract this before there are casualties. I'll let M speak for himself, but I'm pretty sure he was planning an exit strategy when he walked up and saw the entirely uncaffeinated Og talking to someone in the A line while knitting a lace pattern in extremely fine mohair on wooden needles. But Og later showed her by getting into a cheerful conversation about lamb mutilation with another woman in the B line.

Once on the plane, I switched to working on the Jayne Cobb hat in classic Packers colors, which was Brother D's Christmas present. I'd delayed making it, as I'd hoped to find a workable white yarn for doing the "G" logo on the earflaps, but alas it was not meant to be. The hat, save pompon, was finished by the end of the protracted flight (seriously, I have flown to California many, many times, and that was one long-ass flight).

When M had been checking the bag, someone had asked him if he was going to LA for "the festival" (a pair of words I cannot hear without adding "The festival? The festival!? You wish to go to the festival? The poor girl's mother had died! The festival." This is more dada than my being compelled to add "pig" every time I say "It's possible"). We'd noticed a pretty high concentration of musicians on the flight, and I've suddenly found an area in which I am extremely nosy: I wanted to demand that each and every gig bag be opened so that I could fondle the instruments. At baggage claim in LA, I feel certain that I recognized a guy lurking around: Frizzy black ponytails, striped suit, but I couldn't place him at all.

On the road north, our plan to miss traffic on the 405 was not as successful as we'd hoped, although it was a million times more successful than the same journey in May, when it took 90 minutes to go 6 miles on that stretch of fresh hell. Lingering at the Camarillo Sizzler and the Fry's in Oxnard (I have a newsflash: Oxnard smells really really bad. When considering this statement, please adjust your understatement meters for the fact that I work in freaking Gary) cost us around Santa Barbara when we hit very bad and inexplicable traffic. All in all, though, it wasn't a bad drive, as I had my endless shawl to knit, and M had edited the XM broadcast of October Robbie's Secret Country Show with John Doe (yes, that John Doe) and Nora O'Connor and put it on the iPod.

We rolled up to the homestead around 7:30 or so, and N was there to greet us. The resident bipolar cat, G, made me feel welcome by getting in a good, blood-drawing swipe at my hand, then, just to let me know it wasn't personal, giving N an even better slash to the fingertip. C, the new feline addition, was friendly at a distance, but proved to be a total slut for my green brocade Chucks. And who could blame her?

Later in the evening, we were joined by Brother D himself, fresh from the dojo. Apparently having sustained a head injury (I'm inclined to blame the hair he's growing, as it freaks me out), he immediately instructed M not to poke him anywhere in the chesticular region, as he was really sore. I think you need to brush up on your Brer Rabbit tactics, son. After some raucous chatting that thoroughly renewed my determination to seek out a dojo and a martial art this year, we realized that eating might be a good thing. This being, functionally, the middle of nowhere, Denny's was our only option, and we were lucky enough to come in hot on the heels of a party of 20.
Food obtained and no casualties suffered, we then headed back to the homestead and our life-sized, wife-sized, full-grown, blow-up plastic bed (which I find perfectly comfortable, incidentally, but which Brother D seems to think brings shame on his house).

Friday, I woke up with an incredibly rotten nonmigraine headache that felt rather like someone had grabbed the fascia over my splenius capitus and was pulling the whole works as far away from my dorsum as possible. A hot shower seemed in order. At first, this idea seemed truly inspired, because the water pressure at Fortress Surly seems to think that only hitting the epidermis is for wimps. Fortress Surly wants you to shower to the bone. This pounding with needles of extremely hot water is great for a muscular headache, but once that starts to wane, one finds oneself huddled at the back of the shower, completely at a loss as to how to get to the faucet to make the barrage stop. I pity the menstrual boobs of J.

After my coffee minion (Brother D has rightly learned to fear Og) had plied me with a few cups, we headed off in search of lunch. We found ourselves at Bon Temps, a creole restaurant that is far, far better than anything attached to a Ramada Inn thousands of miles from Louisiana has a right to be. I had a half muff with freshly made sweet potato chips, M had some very good alligator etouffee, and Brother D had the bacon and ham jambalaya, which is normally only available for dinner. Add to this delicious, steaming hot cornbread (served in a mysteriously cool cast-iron skillet), and you have a wickedly yummy meal. Our only regret is that we'd forgotten to try the boiled peanuts.

After lunch, we headed to my second Wal-Mart in two days, which is more Wal-Marts than I have entered in the previous 2 years. However, I needed to pick up some Claritin-D (having cleverly forgotten my Zyrtec-D), and M was in search of Ong Bak: Thai Warrior and The Protector for Brother D. Despite an additional trip to a nearby Hollywood Video, we were only successful in obtaining the latter.

Back home, Brother D began laying the groundwork for forcing M to buy an X-Box 360 by introducing him to Dead Rising. With the two of us looking on, M spent 4 hours playing the wrongest game ever. He'd decided from the outset that his mission as a photojournalist was to kill zombies and take pictures. To underscore this point, he killed the first survivor he'd inadvertently rescued, beating him to death with a golf club, after taking crotch shots of the guy's dead wife. Things got progressively wronger from there. But we all learned an important lesson: There is nothing funnier than a zombie frustrated by his inability to reach you because you've smashed a framed picture over his head and he's now wearing it around his waist, unless it's a zombie with fountains of blood streaming from the lead pipe you've installed in his abdomen.

Once M was well and truly dead in the area of the mall that under construction, we began to think about dinner. Although we'd initially thought of turning Japanese, the place was positively crammed. Fortunately (oh so very fortunately) Brother D recalled that Old Vienna was just up the road a piece. We had eaten there on our last trip out, but N was a Viennese virgin, and so we were resolved to take care of that.

From the street, we could hear music. I vaguely recalled there being a stage inside. Yet, even with these pieces of information, we were wholly unprepared for what we would find inside. The main guitar lick from Billy Idol's "White Wedding" is pretty well known to me, as we did that song for one of my guitar graduations. I assure you, you have not heard that lick until you have heard it on accordion with backing from an upright bass and drums. The band followed this up with "Whip It." If we retained any resistance after that, it was utterly broken by "Du Hast."

Shortly after this, they introduced themselves as Trio Internationale, and the bassist said the magic words: "CDs available." When they took a break between sets, they walked around the tables, chatting with folks, distributing buttons, and talking up Mardi Gras at Old Vienna (um . . . . ) and Oktoberfest (ok, an undignified American version, no doubt, but at least geographically sound). We traded jokes for a while and were soon regretful that we weren't able to meet Frantz, their regular drummer. As if major CD purchases were not already in the cards, I asked to have a look at "We're An Accordion Band," which has so many wrong things on it, it could be the soundtrack of our collectively wrong lives. (A track listing to follow, but I can't lay hands on the CD at the moment.) And as if this weren't enough, Michael/Freud enticed us with a sneak preview of the cover art for their upcoming CD: A donkey in lederhosen, kicking a tuba.

Despite having consumed more pretzels, spaetzel, and schnitzel than is advisable, we still needed to have dessert. It's not so much dessert as a pilgrimage to Doc Burnstein's, which has test tubes full of sprinkles and awesomely inadvisable flavor mixtures. (I also obtained an item that will make me extremely popular with a certain soon-to-be-four-year-old, but I will keep it secret and safe for now.)

On the X-Box front, zombies were abandoned in favor of Madden, which I somehow got roped into playing, despite the fact that my experience at this game consists of about 10 minutes of play on the PS-2 on Christmas Eve. Brother D kicked my ass as the Packers (I had foolishly failed to choose the 85 Bears 46 Zone Defense, in my defense), and I then kicked M's Patriots ass, with my 46 Zone enjoying a lot of tasty Brady sandwiches in the course of the game. I continue to really hate and be utterly baffled by these new-fangled controllers with 17 ways to control direction, etc. This is a problem, because I really, really want to play Dead Rising when the inevitable 360 purchase happens. M and Brother D then tried to freak me out by playing the Burger King games, but I studiously ignored them, and so to bed.

For the day of the main event, we backtracked to the Japanese place, where I enjoyed my rainbow roll and others partook of the generous lunch combos. To mixed regret and relief I did not investigate the "Monkey Balls" drink special. I feel certain that it had nasty-ass fake banana in it. Postlunch, we hung out at Fortress Surly for a while before heading Grandmaward for a surprise visit. Not that visiting Grandma isn't always a pleasure, this turned out to be a particularly fruitful and fortuitous visit.

You see, Grandpa Wolvie was a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator during WWII. We'd long known that he had drawn the Nose Art for the "Lookin' Good," (a woman in a green bikini bottom, hugging a bomb to her chest) and that Grandma had been the model. He'd also done copies of the art for the guys, offering to do individual versions of it with the hair color changed to match that of each guy's wife/girlfriend. Back in May, Brother D had asked about it, because he had some nefarious plans. Grandma said that she believed the original sketch had been donated to a museum, along with most of Grandpa's other things from the War. For whatever reason, she'd been rooting around in a hutch in the dining room the day before and voila! There it was. I don't think even having house guests like us could've ruined the birthday for Brother D after that.

After taking our leave of Grandma, we were headed toward Sanata Ynez and the Chumash Casino resort. There was something going on on our intended route and we wound up taking a dark, twisty, gravelly road through vineyards (which, by the way, look quite creepy with fog writhing around the sorry, blackened bones of trees in the dark of night), which did, thankfully, dump us out near where we wanted to be. At the restaurant, we met up with about 8 other friends, some of whom I'd met before and some of whom were newbies (I tried not to traumatize them unduly).

Dinner was fabulous. I did have a moment when I though my husband had been replaced by a pod!Zombie!King when he ordered asparagus as a starter. I then realized that it was asparagus wrapped in prosciutto that had been breaded and fried. It was crazy awesome. Also on the starter list were the world's biggest, tastiest prawns. The lobster bisque I had was good, but I've recently been spoiled by Susan Goss's bisque, so I'm snotty. For the entree, I'd waffled between the seafood lasagnette and the scallops and risotto, finally opting for the latter. Judging from the head-down-can't-talk-eating demeanor of everyone at the table, I'm guessing they were all as satisfied with their entrees as I was with mine. For dessert, most of us opted for the chocolate ganache. The vanilla gelato was superb, as was the chocolate-covered toffee cookie on top. The cake was a touch dry for my tastes, but overall it was yum. On top of the good food, they had a nice wine list with one of my favorite blends on it. Good stuff and I'm very grateful to Brother D's boss and stand-in mom, who treated us all.

After dinner, we gambled for a bit and experienced the joys of being in one of the few places surrounded by California in which smoking is still allowed. My lungs were unhappy all out of proportion to the smoke to which I was being exposed, although there was one gentlemen who seemed to be following me with his lit, but unsmoked cigarette. I wound up spending the bulk of the evening at a Blackjack table where I ended the evening $65 up, so I can't complain too much. Despite the giant meal we'd eaten, there was a general cry sent up for fried foods, and we made a visit to the cafe. Afterward, we split up and headed homeward where I was very happy to crawl into bed.

Sunday morning, Brother D proved himself to be a great host, a good brother, and an all-around mensch as he'd gone out to obtain doughnuts for M. (M has this thing about the dearth of maple [gack] bars and good doughnuts in our fair city. I really couldn't care less about doughnuts, and the more distance I can put between me and anything maple flavored, the better.) We then took in the first half of the Bears game (only after I plaintively asked Brother D to make the TV show me TV) before setting off for LAX.

On the drive, we found the local ESPN for a while, and Brother D was kind enough to text scoring updates to us. All in all, I'm glad to have missed the Saints runback for a TD and only heard the good parts version of the second half. We started to lose ESPN, but fortunately found a station out of Baja (!) broadcasting the game. Naturally, I'm stoked more than I can say to have Da Bears in Da Bowl, especially against the Colts. My Payton jersey and I stand at the ready for the Big Game.

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