Freaks and Geeks Lunch Club Memorabilia

I didn't think I'd like seeing people beat each other up. But when the Engineer of Pain took to the ring wearing our lunch club's t-shirt. . . . . Well, let's just say I caught the fever watching that shirt get splattered with the blood of his unfortunate opponents.

*technical color support:  The Abbotts


Dangers of Blogging #76

My mother judges my well being by how much she likes my blog post.

She'll like this one.

(drawing by Eleanora)


Three Tales from The Birkebeiner

It snowed all day Friday.  We made tracks under the North Wood's pines.  The kids who weren't crying or pooping in their diapers stayed out sledding until after dark while the adults huddled in the kitchen, pouring wine and telling naughty stories.

On Saturday, we drove all the way to Hayward where we parked the van and hustled down to Main Street, hoping to see our husbands finish the 50k ski race.  The woman skiing in her wheelchair was the first to make me cry.  Then came the two teenage girls in matching ski suits, giddy to see all the people lining Main Street, ringing bells and cheering.  And the old man who looked like Grandpa John with the big white beard, stopping before the finish line to take out his camera and film a panoramic view of the crowd cheering and waving, as he pumped his fist in the air.  And when we saw our guys, we cheered extra loud, jumping up and down.  It was our eldest who said to his dad when we finally caught up with him in the chow tent, "There were a bunch of old grannies who finished before you."

Sunday morning the pines were blanketed with snow up to the blue and sunny sky.  With our snowshoe tracks, we drew a giant smiley face on the lake while the kids sled down the winding snow mobile trail.  The women waged a snowball fight against the husbands.  But what's even more satisfying than nailing your man's ass is getting the kids smack on their stocking caps.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Gallery Walk


"Obviously this guy has a lot of time on his hands."

"Someone please explain to me how this got in here!"

"I think it's beautiful," Bernadette finally spoke up.

"It's just a bunch of scribbles." Bigsley was incredulous.  "What could possibly be beautiful about it?"

"Oh, the lines, the movement, the spontaneity."  Bigsley scoffed.  "Let me guess," said Bernadette.  "You could do better?"

"You got that right, Baby. Get me a bucket of paint and an old mop, and I'll paint you something just as good for a fraction of the price."


Cabinet Grand

The piano, I retrieved from an evangelical church out by the highway.  Free to anyone who would come take it away.  I recruited five guys from the Freaks and Geeks lunch club.  One, The Engineer of Pain, a hyper intelligent computer engineer who had several side careers including children's book author and amateur heavyweight boxer, bore half the weight of the cabinet grand.  We've hired movers twice since, and every tuner is surprised at how well it's weathered all the stress.  It's not easy for my son to understand why I like it.  He tells me every week after his lesson, how nice the music store's piano sounds, how much better he would play if we got one of those.  But I prefer Howard.  

How many others have loved Howard? Perhaps his first lover was the daughter of a paper baron, a stout man who stood primly at the doors to his salon, unable to restrain a smile or to take his eyes off his golden girl in the silk dress and the leather slippers as she played Chopin for his guests at the annual company ball.  

But the girl broke her father’s heart and moved away, and the Baron divorced and the house was sold at an auction.  Who knows why they bought it, whoever they were, because the house remained empty for many years.  There was the squirrel who thought that Howard might be trustworthy enough to store nuts in.  The squirrel’s first steps onto the keyboard sounded a minor bass chord that so startled the squirrel he tumbled right off and fell to the floor.  Hours later, when he grew brave, he scaled Howard’s other side, cheeks stretched full with nuts. When he struck the highest keys, he was startled anew, but this time kept his balance and scampered down the keyboard.  He leaped off the bass keys to land on the music stand, his heart thumping out of his skin.  He held very still, twitching his tail.  After a long while, he stretched a single paw, but not being quite long enough, reached too far and his hind end crashed onto the keys.  As he scrambled to get up, his leg repeatedly hit middle C.  

He learned to not only not be afraid of the piano, but also to look forward to running back and forth across the keys as he went to store his nuts, inexplicably delighted by the sounds. Each time he crossed the keys, he lingered longer and experimented more.  It is a shame that no one ever heard him play because he got pretty darned good for a squirrel. 

But then one day, the doors flew open, the squirrel ran off, and the sun poured in. Howard warmed to the occasion.  Two movers wrestled him onto a dolly and took him to a windowless damp room in a church’s basement where children with sticky fingers banged and climbed on him while their parents were upstairs praying for them.  Howard missed the squirrel. 

And then the piano sat in our house for three years before someone played it.  My husband kept threatening to get rid of the damn thing.  He thought it took up too much room.  Just wait, I urged.  Wait and see. 

When our first child was seven, I took him to his first piano lesson.  The teacher told him that the piano is a percussion instrument.  Then she invited him to play the black keys in any order.  “However you please.”

Something inside me that had never sprouted, suddenly bloomed.  I went home and played the black keys for three hours, however I pleased, until my husband begged me to stop. 

At some later date, I tried the white keys.  And one courageous evening, I played both. 

On Common Sense #387

I catch my daughter starting to wipe up some spilt yogurt using the sleeve of her shirt.  "Don't do that," I scold.  "Why would you do that?" I harp.  "It doesn't make any sense."  I get the sponge from the sink and as I sigh and wipe up the spill, my daughter very quietly rebukes, "It does to me."


That Would Be a Good Blog Post

"That would be a good blog post," says my husband about some little piece of nonsense he's just fed me. "But then again, what wouldn't?" He claps his hands together and points at me with two thumbs up. "You should blog about that. Great idea, right? Quick. Go get a pen and paper and write it down before you forget!" I always fall for it. "And what do you do with all these little scraps of paper?" inquires my husband breathing over my shoulder as soon as I get to scribbling down his idea on the back of a piece of junk mail. "Have you ever considered storing them in the cloud?"


X-Ray Vision

The writer tells you that she can't make anything up, that she isn't good at that, but then she tells you she hates sticking to the facts.  She tells you things, that if you know her, you recognize to be true.  But then she tells you things that surprise you about her, and if you know her, you think, "I didn't know that about her," because you so easily forget that she said she hates sticking to the facts.  For some reason that you have never been able to discern, it is much more interesting if the story is true and not made up, even though you know that often times, it is more "real" when the writer makes it up rather than sticking to the facts.  Trying to sort through your ideas on this issue turns your thoughts to knots. It seems like it should be very simple, yet, when you get too deeply entwined, you wonder what does that even mean, "sticking to the facts." So ofter your facts have proven to be completely different from the facts of another witness, making it difficult to unravel what is real and what is not, "real" being as slippery as an eel.



"You can't return the pie," the baker said.  The gall of this woman, trying to return a pie in this condition.  Obviously, it had been ravaged.

"There were 24 black birds in it," the woman said, sternly this time since it seemed that the baker was some sort of fool.  

"But Madam," the baker said.  "That is the nature of the pie."

tad neuhaus, guitar
joanna dane, vocals, flute


Bigsley and Bernadette: Karaoke Night

How is it that certain birds fall into the good fortunes Bigsley did that winter? Some might call it dumb luck. But Bigsley preferred to credit his wit and disposition. He felt like Zorba in Crete. At any moment he might take up the santuri. Every room brightened when Bigsley walked in. The senior gals especially dug him. Never had he known such carefree days, strutting the beaches, lunching with the all-female bingo clubs and bridge groups, starring in every karaoke night on the strip.

To what should a bird give credit for such positive turns in one's life?  Two for one cocktails for starters. But Bigsley was pretty sure it was all those years of good karma that he had been dishing out, finally paying off.

And what kind of a bird discovers in his arch enemy, Herman "the Chirpster" Stutterbird, his musical soul mate? A bird like Bigsley. It had started off as a dare by Bernadette their first night south of the 15th parallel. That was all the boys needed. They alighted on the stage and sang the most moving version of "Endless Love" that anyone had ever heard. Now it's their go-to song at the close of the night. Almost always, they get a standing ovation. Here they are at El Piqueno Perico on the edge of the sea, where the tiki lights glow, the warm winds blow, and the margaritas are cheap.


Local Man Purposely Buries Sleds in Backyard

It was a beautiful winter's day in Appleton, Wisconsin, this past Sunday, when Joleane Drasket got an email from her daughter's girl scout troop leader.  Troop 2428 was meeting at Reid Golf Course at 10am for sledding and hot coco.  Mrs. Drasket told her husband before he left for a three hour training ski at Iola Winter Park, nearly a one hour drive each way, that she was planning to take the girls sledding.  Mr. Drasket thought that sounded like a lovely idea.

Mr. Drasket on the ice rink before the emergency.  Note wooden toboggan in background.

Mrs. Drasket spent the morning hours, gayer than usual, excited at the prospect of an outing.  After kissing her husband good-bye, wishing him a safe trip, cooking pancakes for the children, and cleaning the dishes, she spend some time checking email and reviewing her blog stats.  At 9:55, she told the children to get into the van, they were going sledding!  Hooray, the children shouted, and buckled in without any arguments.

Where are the sleds? Mrs. Drasket asked, opening the back of the van to find it empty.  No one knew. She checked the front porch and the garage and the basement.  Finally, the eldest son remembered. "Daddy used them to reinforce the banks on the ice rink!" Mrs. Drasket turned to the rink and narrowed her eyes.  Oh that Mr. Drasket!  That was weeks ago when there was almost no snow.  Since then it had ice stormed and snowed and ice stormed and snowed over three feet deep.

Mrs. Drasket demanded her eldest show her where.  They dug quickly.  The car was running and low on gas.  They dug down to ice until the son realized he had the wrong place.  They tried again.  This time, they found the old wooden toboggan.  It was much longer than they remembered as they dug and dug.  Though Mrs. Drasket was wearing her finest snow pants, the exertion caused the elastic to slide up over her boot tops.  Snow was down her ankles, wetting her socks, as the two of them tugged at the toboggan that creaked under the strain.  The hooking front section was bound in by ice.  The son went to the garage to get the ice pick.

Oh you Mr. Drasket!  Mrs. Drasket held her fists to the sky as sweat rolled down her sides, her heavy down jacket exhaling the stink of goose.

The toboggan's rope, frozen straight, whacked Mrs. Drasket across the face as her son gave the final tug that released it from the snow bank.

Regardless, Mrs. Drasket, with the lingering guilt of being a negligent girl scout parent, saw her one opportunity to regain some respect in the troop leader's eyes.  Determined to arrive at the sledding hill prepared, she demanded they try to dig up one of the plastic sleds as well.  The big orange sled was under the buckthorn, her son said.  They dug and dug catching their jackets and gloves and ears on the bushes' thorns.  Finally, they got down to the tarp.  Where is it? Mrs. Drasket asked.  "Daddy wrapped it under the plastic rink liner," said her son.

Oh you Mr. Drasket!

Why? Mrs. Drasket wondered, Why would a man use the children's sleds to reinforce the banks?  And why would that same man wrap the sleds under the ice rink's plastic liner?

Mrs. Drasket spent the next half hour trying to dig up the orange sled to no avail.  The girls were screaming at her to hurry. Fine. She would just bring the wooden toboggan. But the wooden toboggan, she had forgotten, is too big to fit into the van. It would have to be tied to the roof.

Oh you Mr. Drasket!

That night, when Mr. Drasket got home from his ski trip, relaxed and energized from his day of recreating, Mrs. Drasket calmly recounted the story of why they were late to sledding, why they only brought one sled with a frozen rope that the girls used exactly once.  Mr. Drasket found nothing remarkable about the story.  It was an emergency, he shrugged.  Water was flooding out of the rink. "What else was I supposed to use?" he asked.

Mrs. Drasket could think of a thing or two.

The children's favorite green sled.  Unrecoverable until spring.


Mary Went to Therapy

Mary went to the library to check out a book on Middle Eastern cuisine and, of course, the lamb went too. But the lamb wasn't allowed in the library and that made Mary very upset.  "Of course lambs aren't allowed in the library!  How stupid of me," Mary said, a little too loudly.  Three homeless men looked up from their cigarettes and smirked.  Mary was prone to bouts of sarcasm, a very unbecoming characteristic for a young lady, her mother liked to scold.  Which only made it worse.  It was the dumbest thing Mary had ever heard.  Weren't there hundreds if not thousands of references to her inside this very building?  Didn't everyone know that everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go? "It's not just a cute little rhyme people!" yelled Mary.  A woman grabbed the hands of her young children who were reaching out to pet the lamb and pulled them into the library.  "It's my fate!"  Mary knew she was having an episode.  That's what Dr. Bahb called it.  They had been happening more and more frequently.  Just last week at the bank, Mary had spit at that sweet teller who was just trying to do her job when she informed Mary that the lamb would have to stay outside.  "You try being the object of everyone's collective cultural upbringing!" Mary had screamed. Dr. Bahb had advised that she try to identify where in her body she felt the anger coming from.  At first, she thought that was an idiotic suggestion because it didn't come from her at all, it came from everyone who didn't have a clue. But then she noticed that when she got really mad, she felt like her face was about to explode.  Is that what Dr. Bahb meant?  There was a pressure behind her eyes and a crackling in her hands, and a surging in her heart.  The lamb said, "Baaaa.  Baaaaa."


tad neuhaus, guitar
joanna dane, vocals, banjo, happy apple


August 22, 1485

Parking lot skeleton
These medieval reappraisals
Five remains
Beneath city lot 20
Lain in haste,
Naked him they slew.

Thrown by the river,
Two velvet officials
Locked in unappealing blows.
32 at his death,
Barely found among descendants
Conclusively, fate and oblivion.

The cloven skull askew,
Likely Richard III.
Quiet did the pending exhumation
With evidence of scoliosis
Found, common man and damning novels,
Murderer in the priory ruins.



Have you ever noticed that girl in the park who swings so high it seems she might fly? Actually, she is more woman than girl. Still, she swings.  Even in winter her long blond hair flies free.  With headphones on, she notices no one.  Whether the park is full of kids or completely empty, she swings to an internal rhythm marked by a motion of her hand and a tilt of her head.  Her silhouette is unmistakable. I've glimpsed her from blocks off, swinging late into the night.

I figured she must be special, the way Aunt Lynne is special, playing her harmonica while waiting for her car to fill with gas, handing out CDs of her improv band at Christmas.  Or maybe it's not that complicated.  Maybe she's just another ordinary girl who swings because she likes it, the way other people like playing solitaire, watching TV, braiding hair.


Insert Here

An old black man with a bulldog of a face slowly approaches the stand where I sell racing programs and forms at the Aksarben horse racing track, site of my first real job.  I am 15.  He puts down a dollar without saying a thing. I know it's for the program because programs are 75 cents and forms are $1.50. I give him a program and slide a quarter across the stand.  He lowers his eyes to the quarter, as if it is something unexpected. He takes it between his immense thumb and forefinger.  And then he lifts it and slides it into his ear. He nods at me, tucks the program under his arm and slowly heads for the track to watch the horses gathering for the next race.

This image returns to me often, at odd times, for no apparent reason.  Is it stored in a place in my brain that receives a lot of traffic, where a neuron firing close by, jolts the memory alive?  Is it that the unexpected conclusion to a rather ordinary event presented at that particularly informative time in my life was so striking it continues to reverberate?  There must be others in this vast world who store quarters in their ears, though I have met only one.  Why tonight, does reading the first line of the last story in Joyce Carol Oates' collection The Assignation revive this nearly three decades old image? "There was a man, no longer young, though not yet old, who, traveling alone in northern Europe, began to feel that his soul was being drained slowly, almost secretly from him, drop by drop."