October 11, 2003

Burninatin’ the Peasants

Been spending the evening chewing through the Strong Bad Email Archives. There’s 88 of the buggers, now, and I’ve got 60 down. One of these days I will produce content on the Internet rather than merely consume it. Whatever I do will require at least a microphone and MS Paint.

Aren’t they supposed to teach classes for this sort of thing? I’ve been searching Google for “Make Yourself Awesomer with the Internet – Classes” and all I can find is teen angst over tuition prices, an archive of Klingon fan clubs, a fellow waxing and waning over soccer girls and bizzare blog entries:

meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow gimme food meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow pet me meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow i took a crap smell my butt meow meow meow meow meow i sleep all day meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow

Obviously the Internet is in dire need of someone to teach Making Yourself Awesomer with the Internet 101, and with the fresh knowledge I have acquired this evening I see no better professor than myself. Interested in taking my class? Remember that a professor can only do so much and it is ultimately up to students to chart the course. At least, that’s the way it works when the professor is busy and lazy.

Please let me know what you want addressed in Making Yourself Awesomer with the Internet 101 (MYAWTI101) and I will make every attempt to accommodate. If all goes as planned and ya’ll generate good questions, we should be able to fling together our first lesson plan on Monday.

See Me After Class

Here is the full text of Paul Bremer’s press release, six months to the day after invading Baghdad. Print this out and stick it on your fridge so all your friends know how proud you are of your little country. Write a grade on it in red ink if you feel it necessary. Give it an A, a B, a D-, I don’t really care. All I care is that you read it, scan it at the very least, and absorb something.

I don’t trust the media. The headline article in the Oregonian cited parts of Bremer’s press release, but used the facts only to set up rejoinders to nullify the good that had happened in Iraq. Electrical output currently exceeds pre-war levels but chaos reigns in the streets of Baghdad! Today there are 170 newspapers in Iraq and no Ministry of Information but no WMD’s have been found! This is actually one of the most objective stories I have seen on Iraq, but in my books a moment’s repentance does not cure a lifetime of sin.

I mean, please. Tell me this stuff. Tell me about the chaos. Tell me about the bombings. Tell me about the hospitals that have opened. Tell me about the religious festivals that are no longer banned. Just give me the facts, the bare facts, because right now I don’t feel like you can be trusted with anything else. I’m sick and tired of throwing the newspaper across the room in disgust. I can’t govern myself with the drivel you are feeding me… feeding me for what? For my own good? So I know how horrible the world is? My government is? Humans as a species are? Tell me things I think are good, and tell me things I think are bad, but please don’t preach. With sufficient information I can make up my own mind, thankyouverymuch.

And listen up. Optimism trumps pessimism and reality trumps delusion, every time. You are stinky little journalists, you are not a fourth branch of counter-government. Your job is to objectively document reality, not to construe and misrepresent facts to sway public opinion. Save your ongoing narratives that are inconsistent with reality for your disingenuous books that are making you a millionaire.

Immediate props go to a Balloon Juice, with halo props to Grotto 11.

October 9, 2003

A Graceful Transition to a Ballad

And it isn’t until you make it to your fourth mug of tea for the evening that you realize there’s no script for this thing. You turn your back on the one you were writing; not permanently, but you realize that your brain was getting too wrapped up in itself to push pen any longer.

The river cuts its own flow, that’s what we know. It’s daring moments of limbo such as this that inspiration strikes, but too often we are so busy listening to ourselves that we don’t hear it. The voice is faint, nearly inaudible. It is the sound of summer coming to a close, the melting sunshine crushed by rains that roll into town on wild chariots of boiling sky. We had a good run. A week and a half ago it was nearly 100. Now I step outside to a long-awaited rhythm pattering away on the pavement. It’s cold in the house and I need to wear gloves so we can save on the heating bill. This needs to be done until we can fix the leak in the bathtub faucet so we can save on the water bill, instead.

A week and a half ago I was entirely convinced I was moving back to Duluth, to Minnesota, to the Midwest. Home had an animal magnetism to it, but now I am aimless and don’t know how I am aligned against it. North or south? Should I be attracted or repelled? Such are the emotions that rage in all of us. Hell, even two days ago I was entirely convinced if not Duluth, at least Minnesota. But then. Then something happened, something magical, and though I’m not typically the one to let the star chart from a single evening set my course, I just may. Just this time.

Tuesday night I hung out with A/V geeks, punk rockers and a lovely occupational therapist in a dumpy venue that had exposed ceiling beams adorned with haphazard electrical wiring and a linoleum dance floor duct-taped to the concrete floor. And it was glorious. I found a crowd I had been hungering for since I moved out here. Geeks. Spastic nerd-wads. People who crack D&D jokes that can make an entire group burst out. People who were old enough in the 80’s to remember it, but young enough to remember it without disgust.

I only talked to a few of them; I didn’t need to talk, then. I just needed to soak in the presence. It proved something, something I needed proven before I could commit myself. And after Mates of State stepped off the stage, and after I had a few words with the members of I am the World Trade Center, I stepped out into the damp streets of Portland’s warehouse district, thinking. Thinking, “If Portland can play host to these lovely, eclectic people, perchance it can play host to me.” I decided that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t too good for Portland, and perhaps it was the other way around.

And yet this sea change of mentality masks a larger and more significant one that has been brewing within me for over a year, now. Where in the heck did my interest in emo come from? I have been in the jam band scene since I was fifteen. I love hanging out with chill hippies, not angst-ridden punkers. I love wild complex music I can chew on, with through composed sections in crazy time signatures, not bad lyrics and horrible distortion guitars.

Don’t I?

Honestly, Anton can take all the credit for introducing me to the emo scene. He go me into Death Cab for Cutie, Matt Pond PA, Dashboard Confessional. He introduced me to Kind of Like Spitting and Modest Mouse, both of whom I didn’t care for. But with what tastes he threw me I dove deeper into the depths of emo. Sunday’s Best. Mates of State. Decibully. Saves the Day. Creeper Lagoon. Ultimate Fakebook. All stuff I scraped out of the cracks and absorbed without apology.

Emo fills something in me. It’s the theme song for English majors. It doesn’t care who you are because it isn’t much of anything itself. It’s playing an out-of-tune guitar with a cigarette between your fingers. But then, even this explanation of emo isn’t sufficient, because just as there is raw emo like The Thermals there is refined emo like Matt Pond PA. What does a squelching trio that is busy sweating through stained white t-shirts have in common with a tiny chamber orchestra? Passion. Passion without apology.

I enjoy picking apart the words in emo as much as I enjoy picking apart the music in jam. The two genres are remarkably similar in many ways that aren’t immediately obvious. I love them both, which need not be a contradiction. I have found that Portland is more than dirty hippies and taxes, and I feel that so long as I can find this scene I can live anywhere indefinitely.

The mind has not made itself up, yet. The mind just now realizes that it needs something to keep itself busy, and anything that it finds to serve this purpose will be a delicious means to that end. So as the rains settle in Hood River and the sun sinks earlier and earlier off in the Pacific, we are still discovering new ways to keep ourselves busy around here. And whether that will continue here or there has yet to be determined.

There’s still plenty of tea left for this evening.

October 8, 2003

The Blood We’re Made Of

Last night we hit up Mates of State, I am the World Trade Center and The Thermals at The Meow Meow in downtown Portland.

Ever since I picked up their latest disc Team Boo (listen, buy), Mates of State has shoved their way into my top three favorite bands. I say top three with decided ambiguity, as my long-term memory is prone to forgetting important things like favorite bands in favor of its latest addiction.

I absolutely adore Mates of State. I love how their abstract lyrics weave around each other in a slow embrace. I love how all their songs are an eclectic mix of themes, rhythm and time. I love how two people behind drum and organ can generate such a thick presence and feel so delicate. Their music embraces everything I love about life, from the passion to the humor to the ironies to the darkness, and the entire evening I jammed alongside my fellow geeks with a wide crazed smile on my face.

The place was packed with A/V geeks, punk rockers and every convenient label in between. After spending the entire summer surrounded bronze meatheads (the coolest, sweetest meetheads you’ll ever meat, but meatheads nonetheless) these people were a welcome breath of fresh air. It was nothing but city air tinged with the smell of late night video game marathons, cold metal jabbed through flesh and general lankiness, but it was the most delicious environment. I was conscious of my breath and inhaled deeply to hold it, just so I could keep the atmosphere inside a little bit longer and let it circulate under my skin. It didn’t taste of anything strong or particular but it had a presence I could feel thickening my soul.

October 6, 2003

We can rebuild him.

I’m gonna see what it takes to rework the code around here a little bit. Things will likely look the same, but I’m gonna reset the underlying structure so that lazy designers like myself can make this thing look wildly different by giving it a hard stare.

For inspiration, go check out CSS Zen Garden. Lots of hard stares and chewed lips went into those designs.

fact-checking schmack-checking

If the Red Star is anything like the Oregonian you probably think the situation in Iraq is absolutely dismal and only getting worse. Not so, it would seem, according to people that aren’t in the business of selling newspapers. Instapundit has been doing a great job collecting links that show the good side of our progress in Iraq (something the media has been neglecting entirely).

Andrew Sullivan has the money quotes from David Kay that show Saddam was deliberately deceiving the U.N. as recently as 2002, with secret networks of laboratories that were merely waiting for sanctions to be lifted so they could be resumed with full furor. He also shows that the New York Times has been deceiving American citizens as recently as 2003.

I mean, seriously. I’ve calmed down a bit, but for me the media has since gone from bad to worthless. What ever happened to fact-checking and objectivity? Why must the media give a Procrustean spin to everything, chopping and stretching the facts so they fit into their own hysterical view of reality? When a free press lacks the presence of mind to give me all the facts I need to make informed decisions, I am dearly offended.

October 5, 2003

Witty Title Using Stupid Name

A group is pushing for the widespread use of a name for people who hold a non-religious worldview.

The widely respected philosopher Daniel Dennett and a number of others this past summer pushed for the adoption of a new term to signify someone who holds a naturalistic (as opposed to a religious) worldview. Dennett defended the need for such a term by noting that a 2002 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that approximately 25 million Americans are atheist, agnostics, or (the largest category) have no religious preference.

I’m all for it, but please don’t call me a “Bright.” We don’t conflate Christians with Catholics, or Jews with Muslims, so I see no reason why we are obligated to conveniently conflate atheists, agnostics and no-preference persons. Giving one name to a group of groups that have little in common (aside from the fact that all reject conventional religion) doesn’t go far enough. I think it is our duty to educate ourselves about the core beliefs of these three different groups, and simply lumping them under one gross heading does not facilitate understanding.

There is a huge difference between an atheist and an agnostic, and anyone who claims that they’re all the same because they don’t believe in religion needs to be thwacked upside the head. We don’t tolerate that sort of behavior in regards to race or economic status, and there’s no reason it should be tolerated in regards to naturalism.

October 4, 2003

Reality, Thought, Perceptions and Encoding

All of our interaction with reality depends on encoding. We never interact with reality directly; when we see something or hear something, that external information needs to be picked up by our senses, encoded into electrical impulses, and eventually decoded by our brains into whatever chemical reactions are appropriate for reproducing that particular sight or sound. There is always this necessary relay between us and reality; data will always be compressed into electrical signals that our body generates, and quickly decompressed into meaningful information by our brains.

Science deals with the gritty details of this encoding; how fast these impulses travel, what sensory perceptions will result in what physical and chemical changes, how reality is encoded and decoded by the various senses, etc. But even a complete scientific understanding of how the brain and body work together will not result in a complete understanding of how humans think. In dismantling the program we can figure out how and why it works, but we cannot learn how to work with the program. To figure this out we need human interaction.

Think of it as front-end and back-end programming. The back-end involves all the gritty scientific stuff about how humans accept, process and retain data about their world. Think of this as the code that makes up a computer program. You can look at the lines of code and say, “Ah ha! I have discovered the language of perception!” but realize that this discovery does not necessitate that you have learned to speak the language.

The other side (and the side that I am most interested in, not knowing very much about the scientific side and being a worthless CLA major myself) is the front-end interface of sensory information and encoding. What is it that we actually see? Once the code has done all its work and has been translated, what actually appears on the screen? Sensory information is unique in that we only have access to our own data. While computer programs can be copied and distributed and picked apart by any number of computer-savvy persons, I am unable to transfer my perceptions to another person. We can look at the electrical impulses in my brain and map out how all the neurons fire, but until we can transfer those, synapse for synapse, into another person’s brain that will decode them in the exact manner that my brain did, we will never know exactly how other people see the world.

Which is not to deny the belief that we can come up with an objective understanding of the universe. We are fortunate in that our perceptions seem to be consistent enough with reality that we can discover truth and falsity through our interactions with the world. Of course our perceptions are never 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time, but that is what meticulous forms of analysis and inquiry, such as the Scientific Method, have been designed for.

The Scientific Method deals with the back-end code of perception, the underlying structures of how the universe is formed, both in reality and in our minds. It deals with physics, chemistry, mathematics, quantum mechanics; the code of reality. It explains sight and sound and touch as a series of electrical impulses, which is not helpful when you’re trying to describe an experience to another person. Science deals with the back-end, but we interact with reality through the front-end of perception, where we actually see, touch and feel our surroundings. Until I can take a cord, plug another person into my brain, pump my experience into their head and say, “It was like this,” we will always need to find other means for communicating our perceptions.

And thus, not too surprisingly, my interest in writing. And photography. And music. The arts are currently the best means we have for communicating our thoughts with one another. I can’t make people feel exactly how how I feel (nor is there necessarily any advantage in being able to do so), but if I hone my skills enough so that I can accurately channel myself into some form of communicative art, I can come close.

Sure. You will never be sitting here on a wooden bridge over a tricking stream, breathing in the perfumed air of an Oregon autumn, near Lost Lake in the middle of the Cascade mountain range, but if I wanted to I could make a damned good effort to tell you what it’s like. And whether I do that in word, image or song, it would be an encoding of my experience. I would need to take my current perceptions, that which I wish to communicate, distill it down into a form that bears no resemblance to either my thoughts or the reality that created them, and transfer them over to you.

Reality > My Senses > My Brain > My Writing > Your Senses > Your Brain

A lot stands to be lost and gained through all those changes in format. What really is the final product? For that matter, what was even the product we started with?

As I look out over this stream I know I am not seeing reality. I am seeing an image that is captured by my eyes, translated into electrical signals and decoded in my brain. A lot of processing needs to take place to simply achieve the effect of a single visual image (such as generating one coherent image by stitching together separate feeds from each eye). But again, science has shown that our sensory perceptions of reality seem to conform quite well to the actual nature of reality. This can be doubted, surely, but I am in no mood to channel Descartes at the moment.

Also, my visual experience of these surroundings is limited by the physical limitations of my eyes. The resulting image would be different if I were wearing my glasses, or if I had the visual sophistication of an eagle. Or a turkey, as a Kentucky 12th grader once told me that a turkey was really smart and could read a book at 100 feet.

When I look over this stream, where are these images coming from? Where in my brain do I sense them? Do I feel the images existing on my eyes, in the back of my head, or where else? Can I move the image around to other corners of my skull? My vision needs to exist somewhere on some sort of mental canvas, doesn’t it? Keep in mind we’re talking actual perception, here, not where in the brain the electrical impulses are firing. The back-end synapse firing can be mapped. The front-end perception of consciousness is troublesome.

And what about when I close my eyes and imagine this scene? Or if I keep my eyes open and imagine another scene entirely? I can see it, but where do I see it? The only explanation I can come up with is that consciousness extends reality into another dimension that exists outside of the sensible physical world. Consciousness creates a new space where objects can exist and interact with one another, albeit inconsistently. Inconsistent, you say? Imagine two billiard balls that collide and as a result reverse direction. Now imagine two billiard balls that collide and turn into a squawking swarm of canaries. Welcome to the inconsistent reality of consciousness. The objects themselves don’t really exist and are not physical matter. They are just electrical impulses in the brain and can be created or destroyed at will.

But then, these words are just electrical impulses in a machine and don’t exist, either. These impulses can be arranged in such a way that these words exist in front of you (direct your browser to siskiwit.brainsideout.com/), and then arranged so that they do not (direct your browser to www.ihavehadenoughofyournonsense.com). In this, it seems that thought and perception must consist of the management of neurons; I tell my brain to do this, and then I tell it to do that. The gray matter itself is conserved, but the impulses change in order to produce different things. Everything, all energy, all matter, is always conserved in compliance with the laws of our physical reality.

Thoughts and perceptions are able to come and go at will, but the matter used to create the mind’s eye has existed since the birth of the universe.

What other powers must be at work, here?

October 2, 2003

Day III – Hooray Around the Room

I left for Duluth at 9:00 the next morning, as I had to make a meeting in D-Town by 1:00. I arrived with time to spare so I had a sandwich and soup at Sir Ben’s. Beautiful, beautiful, just as I remembered. I got the English onion soup, which looked like tapeworms drifing in a brown liquid but tasted like caramels and soy sauce. Gotta love the culinary prowess of them Englandians.

With still more time to kill I tossed the Petersen Family Van in the Technology Village parking garage. The parking garage doubles as a bum dormitory at night, and thus concludes the extent of technology companies attracted to Duluth by the Technology Village. I walked a few laps around the blocks of downtown Duluth, breathing in a gorgeous fall day as crazy people milled around me. I tried to raise a signal on my cell phone, which wasn’t working and would continue to be dysfunctional until it got a moment to suckle at some Duluth electrical outlets.

I went to my meeting, left my meeting, and on the walk back to the van deposited fifty cents in the calloused hands of a red-eyed, gray-haired bum. He told me the steep hills of Duluth were killer on an old man’s joints, and suggested that somehow being weighed down with a pocketful of other people’s change would clear up the malady.

I drove to UMD and parked in the paylot. It was Friday afternoon and parking was not in demand so the attendant waved me right on through. Even so, parking would have only set me back $1.25 for the whole live-long day. In contast, when I was taking classes post-secondary at the Twin Cities campus I would pay $6.90 for three hours of parking. This was a fact of life, and I had to do it three days a week. And yet, at UMD you don’t even bother running for student government unless you are promising a flying parking garage or a free limo service or asphalt fields that radiate for hundreds of miles from the hub of campus. We live for parking lots, waiting around for no reason.

Finally on campus, I started meeting people. Laura in the Student Association office was floored to see me, and said that the office has been dreadfully quiet without me barking in the Wooch! lounge every day. I have never heard anyone else use the word “dreadfully” and give it such positive undertones.

I drifted by the music department and spoke with some professors. I learned that Eric Johnson, one of our greatest guitar players ever, has skin cancer and is going through chemotherapy. I learned that the Duluth economy has been mashed into a fine paste and fed to bears during this recession. I learned that Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had become horrible places to live ever since the coal fields dried up, the economy dumped and the skies turned blue again. I learned once again that purple is a delightful color for an office, but must be reserved only for those truly memorable professors.

And then I met Dave Adams at the UMD Bookstore, and we revisited our traditional Friday Afternoon Loiter from the halcyon days of senior year. As always, he pretended to work, I distracted him, and we laughed ourselves stupid. I recoiled from the counter for some reason and got slammed by a gal cookin’ by in an electric wheelchair. I ran into many more familiar people, drifting aimlessly in the lazy tomb silence of a college campus come late Friday.

I met Dani on her way to work in the Dining Center and told her of the predicament I was in, a predicament that I often forgot during my wild fits of meeting lovely people. I needed to get ahold of the legendary Silent C, but my cell was dead and that was the only base of operations I had. I didn’t know the C’s address. I didn’t know his phone number. I didn’t know where I was staying this evening. I didn’t know if I remembered to write my name on my underpants. Dani had to run to work but she gave me directions to her house, where I would be able to find Silent C’s number and possibly meet Jen, who would love to see me as well.

I went to the house (which I had dubbed “Crazy House” during the summer, as it was the locale where Jen, Silent C, Jon and Commander Keane were holed up. Keane lived in the garage.) and Jen answered the door. We caught up on news, both old and new. I called Silent C and got directions to his house. They lived in Apartment C of Kensington Manor. As it turns out, I had just missed Silent C when I went by the planetarium looking for him, and likely just missed him again as he went for a sauna with the Commander. Shucks.

I went to Kensington Manor and got to see this kid for the first time in eight months. Silent C had left for Italy in January, and I left for Hood River mere weeks before he returned to Minnesota. But now, now we had finally both returned, and there were words to be had and plans to be sprung. It was getting somewhat late (as in dark, not late) and a few people had since bailed on the overnight camping trip we had been pseudo-planning for the weekend. A plan of a different order was in order.

But damn, we know time. We decided tonight would be Thai night, and people would be invited over for a rolicking party. We went back to Crazy House to grab a wok from Jen. We went to University Liquors and got Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and James Page Burly Brown Ale. When you pronounce it you gotta say it down low, all “BURHLAH” like, down in the throat. I ranted about Oregon and beer taxes for about five seconds with a fellow in the store. As we left, Silent C and I tuned into the clerk as he helped the next customer in line.

“Just the Bud Light for ya?”

It was said with the subtle and perfect blend of amusement and scorn. We laughed about it all the way back to UMD, where we were to pick up Laura from the SpHc. Laura was a long time in coming, and it required two recon missions on Silent C’s part to flush her out of the wilds. No matter; for the most part we pumped some live Phish shows in the car, sat back and relaxed.

Once we had all the necessary personnel collected we flew off to the supermarket to collect the necessary components for a ripshitkickass Thai meal. We got bean sprouts and then got distracted with sniffing pineapples for fifteen minutes. Finally, we needed peanuts. I wanted to buy peanuts but they only had them with shells. Hell if I’m gonna shell a fargin’ pount of peanuts for some measly peanut sauce! I ranted and raved about this. Loudly. Always with the Loud in the Midwest for some reason. I was home. I needed to shout to be heard over the loud rolling plains of Minnesota. I needed to be shout to be heard through the thick pine forests of the earth’s boreal crown.

And only in clumsy supermarkets across the nation do they manage to conflate Indian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese food under one heading CHINESE, PASTAS. I felt insulted, and was further insulted by the complete and utter lack of the Thai components that I required. I needed Phad Thai sauce and coconut milk. They had soy sauce and fortune cookies. We threw down all our gathered food in disgust and made off to Cub Foods empty-handed. Well, not completely empty. We had invested way too much time in selecting the perfect pineapple to just dump it in a fit of rage. We bought the pined apple creature and went to the Super Mega Food Store Ultimate of the Northland… TO THE MAX!

Super Mega Food Store Ultimate was nary better at Thai food than the shop before, and after Silent C made it clear that he was none too enthused about peanut sauce we backtracked to creating a teriyaki stir-fry. Rice Noodles. Chick peas. Bean sprouts. Three colors of peppers, including hot house peppers!

We went back to Kensington Manor and cooked up a stir-fry that rocked without apology. As soon as the rumors of free food took to the wind and spread throughout Duluth, our friends started showing up. We broke out the Leinies, the Page, the Moon, turned up the Widespread and String Cheese and talked and jammed and laughed late into the night. And me, loud and excited. Always loud, as though huge pressures had built up within my soul over the last four months, and were now able to find escape.

Silent C and Laura made a cake for me brithday, outfitted with photos that illustrated the many moods of the Burglar, the Hamburglar, Burgs, the Great Sun Ra, Eggbert, Cornelius Wallaby, Q-Bear, Dane Petersen, and all other aliases by which he is known. I have the best friends in the world and almost cried. Seriously. I got a tasty cookbook and an old red stuff sack. Everyone sang and I blew out a candle congratulating me for turning one. We didn’t have enough plates so we all grabbed spoons and scooped away rich chunks of chocolate cake until there was nothing left but full bellies and a mussed up coffee table.

Honestly. Best friends in the world. The night drove on and became saucy and crazy. Some girls had tattoos on their backs that I decided needed modification. Armed with a complete set of Crayola Non-Toxic Hyper-Washable Markers, I turned a cross into a cactus. I turned a moon and star into an outhouse. Thus inspired, I populated the outhouse with mountains, clouds and a happy sun. It was a masterpiece, and by the time she woke up the next morning she had forgotten all about it.

The evening dwindled and people left, so around 2:00 I fell asleep on the futon, using my jacket for a pillow.

And thus ended my first day back in Duluth.

October 1, 2003

Day II – Let Us Sing Out

Thursday had errands. We went to update the license tabs for the Green Dragon Wagon, a mission about which I had strong reservations. Last time I had to go to the Minnetonka licensing center it was a monument to inefficiency. Four workers were milling about, never presenting more than two of themselves to the public at any one time. Combined they did as much work as a man without thumbs. A paper ticket and some horribly patient red numbers stood between us and our meager goal for over an hour.

Any trip to the licensing center will remind you that the government is the most dangerous business of all, and it is the most dangerous because it does not need to compete with anyone. They will never be outclassed by a lean and efficient start-up. They will never have their bones gnashed by a Global Conglobulation Concern. Beware, anti-capitalists, as this is the world you wish for: government licensing centers that span the globe and deal in everything and offer nothing.

All in all, the visit was painless. Tab renewals operate on a completely different plane of licensing reality that requires no tickets and no numbers.

That evening Pip and Liz were kind enough to drift out to Hopkins and take me out for a night on the town. We parked in the Hopkins parking garage, up on the top floor where only one other car had dared to venture. It was a shiny new blue Mini Cooper, obviously parked away from the hordes to avoid door dings and other nasties that are visited upon new cars in the confusion of parking garages. We pulled up and parked right (right!) next to it. We leapt from the car and spun down a stairwell where many years ago, back in high school, my friends and I met a bum drinking a bottle of Listerine.

We hit up the bars in downtown Hopkins and caught up on camp news and gossip, both old and new. I explained kiteboarding on a cocktail napkin that ended up populated by Godzilla and an angry pack of protesters. Liz kept it as a momento.

Pip told glorious stories about the Twins, his eyes glittering with passion for a sport that I find ridiculous. Enthusiasm however, can overcome the nastiest of perceptions. This was a concept seeded and cultivated in the Midwest, of this I am certain. Who else would think to carve things out of butter? You can get away with loving anything you want, really, so long as you do it with conviction, zest and gumption. Love, always with the love.

As we talked the volume increased, and would continue to increase throughout my return to Minnesota. There’s something about the space, the wild plains of city and farm and suburb, that drives me to wild and passionate fits of shouting. Pip knocked over his water glass. I got a freaking pint of Honeyweiss. Liz flipped her new gone haircut. I almost broke the window shades. The onion rings were already cold when we got them.

We left the bar scene once the band started up, as it was a work night for two thirds of us and three thirds were in no mood to shout over Lynyrd Skynyrd covers. The lead singer was a real gone girl wearing red and black fishnet stockings. She reminded me of a girl I must have dated in a parallel life.

Tomorrow was to be in Duluth.