Did I Mention Beer in that Last Post?

Here’s the haul from the Twin Cities

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Last Ride of the Mercury Land Yacht

The Mercury Land Yacht has blessed us for ten years with rather reliable transportation. However…

The CD player skips like a little kid when school is let out, the passenger seat belt binds up with out warning, the cruise control is likely to give out every 40 miles, and goddamn, this thing has about as much traction on snow and ice as the 85-year-old who once drove it. The giant deep trunk could hold as much a three adult corpses but was a back strain when you bent over to pull anything weighing as much as a twelve pack of beer. It was clear that Carjo and I were over our love affair with the Land Yacht experience.

The market for used/new vehicles, like everything else, has been warped beyond all recognition by the pandemic. A semi-conductor shortage crimped the production of new cars and high demand drove the prices of used cars to the stratosphere while reducing their supply. In addition, the lots in North Dakota had used domestic SUVs but they wanted far too much for their lemons. I wanted either a Japanese or Korean make with impeccable reliability and features that were more 21st Century. There was little to be found in this state and what there were had prices thousands above Blue Book.

I started shopping online using my brother’s Minneapolis zip code and the market abruptly changed. There was a lot more inventory but most three-row SUVs were still overpriced. But then my brother and I found a niche in the market. Luxury mid-size SUVs of 5-8 years old were plentiful and many were priced to sell. So on a Sunday in June the Mercury Land Yacht made its final journey to the Twin Cities. The old girl had no idea of her fate.

I spent the next Monday morning sprinting between car lots, test driving Acura RDXs and Lexus RXs while they tried to determine how much a Mercury Land Yacht in VERY good shape and low mileage is worth. Driving a modern and compact SUV was a culture shock after years in our beat up Family Truckster and the Mercury Land Yacht. In addition to the various luxuries and amenities these vehicles just felt solid and well-built. Everything not only worked, it worked really well given their respective mileage.

The winner in the sweepstakes was an obsidian black Lexus RX on an Audi lot in Minneapolis. They offered a very fair price for the Land Yacht and being they had a few used RX on the lot to move, they were ready to deal. By that evening I was driving towards ND in the vehicle below, playing CDs on what was apparently Lexus’ premiere audio system. Three cases of MN beer were in the back compartment. I spent the night in Fargo, went drinking with the Fargo Boys, and the next day drove home.

I do note that this vehicle burns gas more readily than the Mercury but that’s the price you pay for all wheel drive. I won’t be bitching about the gas mileage when I drive over snow and ice without the slightest wobble or slide. The chihuahua has a fleece blanket between the console though she likes to climb on the cooler in the back compartment, just like Pippin taught her. Carjo likes to ride once again though this passenger seat belt doesn’t like her either. She refuses to think it is her fault. Once again we have heated seats, which is a must in a land were is doesn’t get above O Fahrenheit for a month. Our small town has a few “foreign” vehicles, there’s a Honda dealer in Williston and Toyota is in Minot. But this is still a Ford/GM/Chrysler town. I’m getting a lot of looks. Ask me if I care.

I still have to sell the 1997 Land Yacht my mother-in-law drove. But a deal is in the works because our heating/AC guy thinks it’s practically an antique. Whatever gets it off the lot works for me. I’ll be driving out to the farm or to Bismarck in a slightly higher (and comfortable) profile.

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A Newer Girl in Town

So, shortly after Pippin left these shores for the Undying Lands, my neighbor took back his Gibson SG. He left the massive Fender Band Master amp because it’s such a back-breaker to move. I started playing the acoustic but it was really frustrating. Finally I took it to Eckroth Music in Minot ND. Their guitar tech/wizard/luthier did a complete set up and restrung it with some “warmer” strings. The action was lowered and man, it played and sounded so much better. I was content.

A few weeks ago I was slumming on the Sweetwater site. Sweetwater is sort of the Amazon for musical instruments, especially guitar-related stuff (except Sweetwater is not the crushing heartless monster Amazon has become). Guitars are in short supply these days due to the pandemic. It’s like so many other things: sourdough mix, buildings supplies, used cars. The wait for a new Fender or Gibson is several weeks right now. Then I discovered that Sweetwater sold demos from their store in Indiana. I also discovered that these demos are sold as soon as they appear on time. Hmm.

I began stalking for a Player-level Stratocaster with a Humbucker/Single Coil/Single Coil configuration. The singles would give me that traditional Strat bite but the humbucker pickup would give me some of that ROAR I found in the Gibson SG. Stalking became serious. I had some money saved up. I tried for a single coil Strat with a butterscotch finish and it was gone before I could finish the sale.

Then she appeared, like a dark vision. A black Player HSS Strat with some demo “scratches” that put a dent in the price tag. Carjo surprised me and said “GO FOR IT”. And like a fool I did. Then I endured the long wait. I tracked that damn package number from Indiana to Ohio (WTF FedEx) to Chicago to Minnesota to Billings Montana (???) and finally back to North Dakota. Then came the real torture.

The finish and wood on guitars are finicky things. They don’t do well with sudden temperature changes. This guitar had been bouncing around in FedEx trucks in a temperature right around freezing. Most say it takes 24 hours for a guitar to get warm enough to unpack, particularly in the dead of winter. Well, this was a little warmer than that. After six hours I took it out of the big box which left me with a smaller box. I let that warm overnight and opened it in the AM. That was about 16 hours and it seemed to be the right call.

So now I have a Stratocaster, in the color scheme preferred by the guitar gods David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore. It is taking me awhile to get my minimal electric chops back in line (my Whole Lotta Love riff now SUCKS) but it’s a work in progress. But she sings so sweetly and when I stomp on the pedals and slap it into the bridge pickup, she roars into battle, swinging a sword and crying “Death”. And Eowyn shall be her name.

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What’s Your Superpower?

I gave in to temptation this past weekend and finally began to watch the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League. I felt like it was my nerd duty to watch the thing even though I’m not exactly a devotee of Zack Snyder’s vision. But I used to be a DC reader in my formative years so Batman and I go waaaaaay back. I have to admit, I was also curious as to why so many were saying a rambling four hour epic was better than the original theatrical version.

I have to start with a brief piss-take on the original. It was a mess. Basically, director/writer/producer/all-around asshole Joss Whedon picked up the reins of finishing the film when Snyder withdrew after the suicide of his daughter. Whedon reshot a significant amount of the movie and added a lot of that trademark quip-laden dialog he’s best known for. It wasn’t a good fit. The plot seemed disheveled and despite his success, Whedon just isn’t the best director. He relies on fast moving spectacles with lots of dialog and an ensemble cast. For some reason, the ensemble didn’t seem to click, the dialog didn’t work, and Whedon’s pace seemed to grind against the story rather than propel it. In other words, it sucked.

The Snyder cut makes more sense. A lot of the humor is gone but there’s still a little comic relief, chiefly from Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/Flash. In fact, the secondary heroes like the Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg fare much better than the headliners Batman and Superman. Ben Affleck tries his best to keep his aging Batman relevant but the character is there to keep providing elements to move the story along. It’s not a Batman story. Superman, who is dead at the beginning of the movie, comes off a little better. At least his resurrection feels earned in the Snyder cut. But there’s precious little of him kicking ass until halfway through the final battle. The other heroes get their backstories expanded and all of the actors are more than up to that task. So that element of the epic works.

What doesn’t work? Well, Zack Snyder LOVES slow motion. You could easily sheer twenty minutes off this film if every slo-mo scene were speeded up. OK, you have to slow the Flash down but jebus, even that is over done. And we see it again and again and again.

The film is disjointed. It’s divided into six parts (felt more like ten) plus a triple epilog. You can tell Snyder was piecing together whatever remained of his original version was and the pieces don’t always fit. The epilog in particular includes a segment taking place in the future that is just a bleak pile of excrement that we really didn’t need to see. DC/Warners have already indicated they are not following up on this storyline/vision.

The studio not following up on this storyline is a good notion because the Big Bad of this movie is just mediocre. Steppenwolf is a pretty one dimensional villain and his master, Darkseid, doesn’t come off any better. The Marvel movies had Thanos, a villain built over a long series of movies who had built a considerable backstory and despite wanting to kill half the life in the universe, had his reasons. Darkseid and Steppenwolf seem pretty much motivated to do Evil because they’re Evil. Oh, one improvement Snyder did was have Steppenwolf suffer a fare more violent end than Whedon did. THAT was satisfying.

One more thing that bugs me and it’s not just Snyder’s fault. Like I said before, Batman and I go way back. As a supposedly smart kid, I was drawn to Batman because while Batman had no super powers he did have one consistent advantage. In Justice League, Batman is asked what his super power is. He quips, “I’m rich.” It’s true that Bruce Wayne can afford to be Batman because he is wealthy and can afford to bankroll all his ridiculous toys. But that isn’t his true leg up on everyone. It’s because Batman’s true power is his brain. He’s SMARTER than everyone. Even Superman, even the ageless Diana, even the gifted Cyborg. Hell, one of DC’s Batman titles was The World’s Greatest Detective. Batman figured shit out. He was always one step ahead of every master criminal, always untangled every complicated plot like a drug-free Sherlock. And most treatments of Batman, including this one, forget that. Batman does have a plan for the final battle but as Batman’s plans go, it’s mediocre. Kids like me were drawn to Batman because he was the SMART ONE.

Right now, a new production of Batman is being filmed. It features the young actor Robert Pattinson in the lead role and who knows, he might pull it off. And the director has hinted that this production would be more of a noir film. Does that mean Batman is a dark detective again? Who knows. But I would be on board if that’s the case. Someone needs to remember what Batman’s true power is. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

In conclusion, the Snyder Cut is fine. It’s bloated, it meanders, and it doesn’t come together all that well. But it’s better than the Whedon atrocity and given that it erases Whedon’s taint from the franchise, that elevates it even further.

Now bring me a Batman that solves crimes.

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The Best Dog He Could Be

It started last Sunday, in the middle of the night. Pippin woke me up with a coughing fit and some weird restless behavior, moving in a circle around and under the bed. He was not real steady on his feet. Because he was hard of hearing, I motioned to him to follow me down the hallway. The two of us had figured out a sign language to communicate. He trotted after me and I went to the front door to let him out.

I had a robe and slippers on, so I stepped outside with him, picked him up, and carried him down the front steps. He had grown to mistrust steps and we assumed it was part of old age, like the deafness. He was tilting his head to one side and I feared he had an ear infection. I put him down on the grass and he went over to the neighbors front lawn, listing to one side like a drunken sailor. He was moving in circles and finally he squatted to pee. This was starting to look familiar. He came back onto our lawn and starting circling again, in about a four foot radius. I had seen this before and I was shaken. We had seen this once before. He had canine ataxia.

Carjo called the vet in the morning. The soonest they could get him in was the next day, in the afternoon. He was much worse the next morning, he was barely interested in food and water which NEVER happened with him. The circling and tilting behaviors were excruciating to watch. And around 1:30 we loaded him in the car for one last trip.

Pippin lived for car rides. We hoped he would enjoy this one and he did. The vet was forty some miles away and a couple times I opened the windows for him, which got a snort from the little guy and his legendary “happy dance” in the backseat. And that’s what I want to remember the most.

I buried him in the backyard, just behind the garage. The cats that he knew first are all there: Jonah, Poca, Jasper, and Pip’s great friend Sneakers. It’s a spot that gets a lot of sun and overlooks an area of the yard he loved to wander in. His spirit will thrive there.

Pippin was a strange and wonderful boy. He came from bad circumstances, a rescue from a hoarding situation. His first year with us he slept fitfully, often marked his territory INSIDE the house, and freaked out when he was picked up or touched by surprise. He lacked enthusiasm for most things dogs enjoy, especially toys. Eating was an odd ritual, done only at midnight with no one watching. He never did learn to take a treat from anyone’s hand.

After a year, Pippin began to thrive. He embraced the joie de vivre that is the essence of being a dog. He slept soundly wherever he wanted, could be picked up without a fuss, and LIVED to go on rides, especially to the FARM. All it took was a touch of the car keys or a mention of the word TRIP to get boundless enthusiasm. He had a favorite toy. Pippin never had an enemy, never met a person he didn’t like. He became concerned about Carjo and monitored her closely, perhaps giving her a sense of calm. If you started howling, he broke into a song that would last for minutes. He loved his cats, even the chihuahuas Merry and then Lavender Brown. He even made friends with my mother-in-law, sleeping on her lap during those long viewings of the Weather Channel. Was he the best dog I ever had? I would say he was the best dog he could be.

So farewell our little love, our companion for almost eleven years. It was an exciting and exhilarating adventure that I wished would never end. Sleep well and soundly my love.

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One Year Gone, a New Age Begins

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the wheels falling off in North America. Despite the former president insisting that everything was fine and this would all go away, WHO declared that we were now in a global pandemic. The NBA pulled the plug on their season and they were soon followed by the MLB, NHL, and NCAA. For sports fans it was a dark realization that even their favorite games were caught up in the wave. Schools and colleges started closing entirely. Many began to work from home or just lost their jobs. And we all hoarded toilet paper.

Yesterday Carjo and I got round one of the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccinations were given by the Upper Missouri District Health Unit in a aircraft hanger at the old airport in Williston ND. We will get the second round in three weeks, on April 1st. So yes, we got our first dose on the anniversary of the US crashing and we’ll get our second on April Fools Day. Sometimes synchronicity and irony hold hands and sing.

We are both immensely relieved and grateful to get these doses. Even hermits like us get tired of living like hermits. I’d like to stand on the rim of the Painted Canyon at TR Nat’l Park and not have to worry if some yahoo is standing too close to me. I’d like to go through the grocery store and not be concerned by all the slack-jawed inbred wastes of tissue that go through the aisles unmasked and unaware. I’d like to not worry.

This weekend is the second of three state basketball tournaments. These were cancelled last year. They’re a kinda big ass deal here in this state. As I have noted before, North Dakotans watch the movie Hoosiers and think, “those folks in Indiana don’t quite take their high school basketball serious enough.” This weekend is the Class A state tournaments for girls and boys. That’s the big schools in what qualifies as big cities in this state. It’s an entertaining show, they leave it all on the floor. But next weekend is the truly insane tournament, the boys Class B.

Class B is the schools from small towns. It’s a madhouse. The number one seed can get pantsed in the first round to the number eight. A town so small they barely qualify to have a zip code can get in and make a run on sheer adrenaline. As competitive as the A tournament is, there is an intensity to the B tourney that is impossible to match. The girls B tourney, which happened last weekend, saw a couple teams shooting over 70% on three point shots with most of them raining in from outside the line for college players. Fans were losing their minds. In recent years, parochial schools and private schools have invaded the Class B, keeping their enrollment numbers just below the threshold of Class A. Those schools got PUMMELED in Class A. But more often than not, those private schools who make it in the run into a wall. It could be a co-op of a couple small towns, or one of the towns near Grand Forks or Fargo that pick up players who think they have a better chance in a small school. A couple years ago a private school ran an almost perfect season right up into the championship game, where they were disemboweled by a team that was from one of the Native American reservations. That was particularly satisfying.

So we’ll be watching this weekend and the next. You never know what can happen and it has all the passion (and none of the issues) of college sports. Sports are happening again. The world has not gone back to normal but the balance is returning in some ways. Baseball is in spring training and my Twins are loaded for Yankee-hunting. We’re not back where we started but I’ll stand at the rim of the Painted Canyon and celebrate it.

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It’s a New Dawn

John Legend sang an old song last night in front of the Lincoln Memorial and damn, it fit my mood.

Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel,

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, yeah It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good

I’ve been pretty down since Christmas. I haven’t been sleeping well and my back has been killing me. And I must admit, the Orange Shitgibbon has gotten me down. That terrorist attack on the Capital was the last straw for my psyche. I wanted to post something but I was so hurt, so disgusted, and just so wounded that I couldn’t do it.

Yesterday, the cloud lifted. Today I feel like I’m in my 40s.

I still woke up in the middle of the night, which usually means two hours of tossing and turning. But I got back to sleep far sooner than that – maybe 45 minutes. That’s progress. I used to get splitting headaches on Friday evenings after coming off a stressful work week. Guess what I had this morning. So I laid on the bed, listening to ambient music and eventually dozing off a bit. I woke with a clear head. I checked the news sites, emails, and social media. All my friends are happy as can be, some are even optimistic. The Twins even acquired a pitcher after months of inactivity.

My back feels pretty darn good. I thought, “this doesn’t feel like 63, more like 53”. I have been resolved to get going on several things and between Christmas and now, they haven’t gotten much traction. The tendinitis in my hands is being held at bay again, I played guitar for half an hour yesterday and I will again today. I had been struggling at the treadmill, straining to get even 30 minutes in. Yesterday I put some Springsteen into my headphones and went 40 minutes. I had some blocks on what I was writing and new possibilities in the plot are now over-running the dam. I might even get back to cleaning up the basement. The need to pop chocolate into my mouth every hour on the hour isn’t tapping its insistence today.

Yeah, I’m feeling good.

So thank you, Joe and Kamala. You’ve made me believe again.

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Happy Holidays and a Game Changer

First, a little business. Somehow Word Press has really screwed up attaching images to blogs like mine. It used to be easy to add media to these posts and I like to start off each post with a photo. But the controls have been reconfigured and hidden. Perhaps WP is trying to same some costs as hosting images is takes up more bits than just text. Or, like most tech companies, they just fiddled with something until it was all screwed up. Either way, the odds of ever seeing photos of the cats or Tricia Helfer’s bare bottom are going to be less until I figure this out.

Second, happy holidays to all how read this blog. It’s been a shithole of a year for everyone, but at least Carjo and I are emerging COVID free (knock on wood). It will likely be a while before we get vaccinated because of where we live and the fact that we are no where near essential to anything or anyone. So we wait. But hey, the Mandarin Mussolini has been voted out and there’s a chance that life will return to something approximating normal. Life will never be the same for many all across the world. Jobs have been lost, housing and food insecurity will continue to plaque us, and many will have to grieve friends and family that have fallen. But we stagger on. Humanity has a way of doing that. I look forward to seeing friends and family on the other side of the pandemic. It has been a long, long time.

The game changer referred to in the title is a little device my wife got me for Christmas. It’s a Rushead Max headphone amplifier. Basically, it makes an electric guitar portable. I plug this in where I would normally jack in the cord that leads to the amp or pedals and connect a pair of headphones. What comes out sounds like a full-throated amplifier and I’m the only one in the room that can hear it. This comes with a multitude of effects so I’m going to have a lot of fun experimenting with sounds. And Lord knows, I have plenty of time in quarantine to do that.

So happy holidays and blessed new year to all. Here’s to 2021!

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Back to the Old Girl

The ES 135 experiment has ended. It turned out that the guitar’s low output P100 pickups HATE the Soul Food overdrive pedal. The first few chords sound OK but then it degrades. If I stomped on the BOSS DS-1 it got even worse. So I texted the Rocker that the ES 135 sounded like a girl in his high school class that sang in church quite often. Oh, he got that reference immediately and returned the Gibson SG.

I plugged the SG a couple nights ago and tried it with the Soul Food pedal. Sweet mercy, it sounded like it was 1973 and I was a British guitar god. Albeit a guitar god that could only play cowboy chords. But hey, it still felt godlike.

My hands are hurting from various abuse: assembling a piece of furniture, setting up Christmas trees, and a couple very long drives. But they will recover in another couple days. And then I’ll be locked in for the winter. We plan no long trips over the coming months, there’s no more assembly in my plans, and if it snows, I can recover from gripping the handles of the snowblower within a day. So my winter is going to feature a lot of guitar playing.

Quarantine should work well for us this winter. Carjo has a couple projects and some reading that SHOULD keep her busy. We have a big slate of holiday movies and baking shows to watch. I am going to bear down once again on the guitar work, I have a metric ton of books to read, and my writing is going down strange and compelling paths. I’m kind of excited to be a hermit.

Today it is sunny and in the 40s. This will not last. All indications from the local meteorologists are that we may be in for both heavy precipitation and below normal temperatures. This is a La Nina winter and with the polar vortex screwed up by climate change, we’re going to be sitting ducks.

2020 has been a real bitch but that’s not a surprise. I had a classmate who had a major stroke and then caught COVID in the hospital. He died yesterday. I know of others in my community that have died as well. We went through a hellscape of an election season and a sixty game baseball season did not sustain us. My beloved bride is an anxious person who is prone to panic shopping. We are sitting on three large packages of Costco bath tissue. Don’t tell anyone.

But the end of 2020 has me feeling a little optimistic. The teeny peeny orange Jello Mussolini is staggering off the national stage, bellowing lies as he fades into irrelevance. Vaccines are coming. We can handle a terrible winter because we’ve lived through them before. And between guitars, books, movies, and love we can make it through to the spring of 2021.

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A New Girl in Town

My big mouth got me into this. This isn’t the first time that has happened. Anyway, about a month ago I told the Aging Rocker that the Gibson SG he lent me was going to need new strings at some point and I’d be happy to get them replaced. I should have seen his response coming because his responses aren’t of a player but of a collector. The guitar has factory strings, which is neither a plus nor minus for its value. Nonetheless, he doesn’t want to change a single thing. Hell, there’s still plastic protecting the pickguard (which sooner or later will discolor the pickguard). So he decided I should switch with a different guitar that had been restrung.

That’s the guitar you see to the right. It’s a early 90s Gibson ES 135, a semi-hollow body electric. The action is low and it’s relatively easy to play. Not as fast as the SG but then again, no one is mistaking me for Alex Lifeson. It has a really lovely clean tone, which a particular richness on the bottom end strings. My wife was really impressed with it. And I have to admit, it’s easy to haul it into another room and play it unplugged. But it is a real pain to get the ES to leave the church or jazz club and get to the roadhouse where the walls are sweating.

I tried my Boss DS-1 pedal and all it did was make it sound like the Church Lady with a little more vibrato. I tried playing with the volume on the guitar itself to make it overdrive the signal but it was only a slight improvement. I was getting discouraged. I took to the Interwebs and I found a video where a couple guitarists played around with an ES 135 and they managed to get a crisp crunch out of it using a pedal called the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food.

I did some research, watched more videos, and talked to a sales rep at Sweetwater. He said that unlike other overdrive pedals, the Soul Food would add some grit to counter the sweetness. If wouldn’t roar and howl like a solid body like the SG but it would at least sound like a rocker. So I ordered one and it came this week.

At first, it seemed too tame. I played with the controls, the amp settings, and the volume on the guitar. And yes, it began to hiss and spit. It’s an alley cat now. No one is going to mistake it for a mountain lion but at least it has some piss and vinegar in its profile. I can live with that.

My tendinitis was flaring up all summer so my playing didn’t advance at all. But it seems to have damped down as the weather got colder. I am still doing the same amount of exercise/therapy as I did this summer and maybe even a little less. So I think the weather change has something to do with it.

We’re in late fall now and the hammer is about to drop. The weekend will start with freezing rain followed by 2-6″ of wet slop. I just got our snowblower back from the shop so I’m ready for that catastrophe and every other one that will follow. And while the snow is falling I’ll be strumming the ES 135, with just a bit of nasty.

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