Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Zen Arcade" by Hüsker Dü (1984)

I'll kickoff what I hope to be a weekly music review of some sort with an album that is not only one of my favorites, but is also one of Erin's least favorites -- Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü. I bought Zen Arcade at some point during high school, and I can remember listening to it a few times, but not really getting it. After not really listening to it much, I pulled it out again during college and immediately fell in love. This album is the bridge between hardcore and punk in the early 80's and what became "alternative rock" in the early 90's. It's played ridiculously fast and loud, ala hardcore, but there are actual meaningful lyrics and melodies underneath the noise. I've read that it was recorded by basically standing up and playing each song, as a band, in one take, and it shows. The drum sound has been described as "hitting muffin tins with chicken bones" which is also pretty accurate. But underneath the bleak sound quality is one of those albums built entirely on real, raw emotion. Bob Mould, now in his mid 40's, means every vocal chord shredding word, and it's the striking honesty of the whole thing that makes Zen Arcade work. For anyone who has written off "heavier" sounding music because it just sounds like inane screaming, Zen Arcade is one of those rare albums where a band showed that you could actually bend the rules and create something powerful, melodic, and loud.

"Something I Learned Today"
"Broken Home, Broken Heart"

Hüsker Dü website link
Allmusic Guide link

Upcoming Events

I've spent the whole week preparing for a business trip to China. It was supposed to be two weeks starting the Tuesday after Labor Day, including a free weekend of leisure time in Hong Kong and a stay in a nice, modern hotel within walking distance of a bunch of Chinese and Western restaurants. And then, bam. No go. Another meeting next week derailed my voyage. Oh well. I'd much prefer to have Erin along on my first trip to China, and I'd be even happier if we came back with an extra passenger. I've been told I'll have to go in three weeks, but this is the third or fourth trip that has been scheduled and canceled underneath me, so I guess I'll believe it when I see it. And to think that I had already packed my "Chicken Feet in my Tummy are Yummy" bib.

The next couple of weeks will provide a host of eating opportunities for me to post about. This weekend provides a bit of a challenge to hit all of the events. There's the Rib America Festival downtown, which in addition to filling my ribs and barbeque sauce quota for the month, features current musical greats Hootie & The Blowfish, the Charlie Daniels Band, Ted Nugent, and REO Speedwagon. I guess Lee Hazlewood was booked for the weekend. There's also the 97.1 HANK FM (can you guess the format?) Sky Concert downtown -- your best chance all year to sit on the contaminated banks of the White River to watch fireworks. And finally, there's the 32nd Annual Oktoberfest in German Park. (Keep looking...ahem. There is a link to the Oktoberfest on that page somewhere...) This festival takes place right around the corner from where I grew up, yet I've never been. "All that does is block up Meridian Street for two weekends" was my mother's reaction to the idea of the inlaws, parents, and Erin and I all attending this year's festival, so that probably says something about why I've never been. And since I'll be in town next weekend, we'll be hitting the 33rd Annual Indianapolis Greek Festival. The website proudly states "Donate blood on August 29th, get a free gyro!" Sorry I missed that. Nothing says, "mmmm....gyro..." like bleeding.

So who says there's nothing to do in Indy (as long as you're willing to eat continuously or listen to Ted Nugent?) Additionally, as part of our commitment to providing only the finest useless content available on the web, I'm going to start occasionally throwing up a music review. With the purchase of the iPod, I've begun rediscovering a lot of music that I loved and forgot about, plus there's lots of good new stuff floating around as well, if you're willing to look. Erin will chime in with her thoughts on this as well, and she may even start putting some book ideas up. She reads as much as I listen (can you guess who's getting smarter versus who's getting dummer here?) so she always is giving book recommendations to somebody. In any case, I may put up a CD review here later day, if I get some time. Enjoy! (or Ignore!)

Thursday, August 24, 2006


This is the sound we hear at night during the summer in our house. Just make that sound and amplify it to the approximate volume of a very loud lawn mower, and that's what you hear as you sit on our deck. It goes by approximately every 15 minutes from about 6pm until 9pm. Now I understand that people have hobbies, but I've seen some pretty narrow misses between Captain Minibike and full size vehicles in our neighborhood. It's not always easy to see someone 3 inches off the ground from the controls of an SUV at dusk. Plus, I'm not fully convinced that such a vehicle on a city street is really legal.

But, who am I to judge? I needn't worry. Eventually one of the other crazy hillbillies in our vicinity will end up running this guy down. In the past six months, the brick wall at the front entrance to our neighborhood has been driven through...twice. I'm at a loss to understand how someone drives through a brickwall, unless alcohol is involved. I don't know the particulars of the cases in our neighborhood, but the individual who hit the bricks this last time left a nice trail of oil right to their driveway afterwards. So much for fleeing the scene...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Bret impostor

Mr. Bean or Mr. Bret? You decide...

Monday, August 21, 2006

State Fair

This weekend, Erin and I attended the 150th Indiana State Fair with her parents. This has become an annual event for us, and it always provides a few noteworthy moments. Here are some of the highlights for 2006.

1. My father-in-law gnawing on a turkey leg. And honey ice cream. And apple cider. And maple syrup.

2. Seeing the world's largest pig (which my mind promptly divides into strips of bacon.)

3. Discovering the existance of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. My membership forms are on their way. Horseback riding, basketball, swimming, walking...none of these play to my strengths. But this... "Brothers, I'm coming to join you."

4. Staring at swollen pig parts and having my mother-in-law ask me "Is that a boy or a girl?" I need to have a conversation with my grandfather, whose days on the farm could answer a lot of questions.

5. My wife's irritation with the fact that my hands never leave my pockets when walking through the animal barns. I don't need some sort of llama bacteria jumping onto my hands and then onto whatever food-on-a-stick I might purchase in the next few moments.

6. Walking through the little-girl-beauty-pagent area and having Erin declare that our daughter will make a fine lacrosse player or perhaps a rodeo clown -- never a pageant least not at the age of six.

7. Having to make a decision between a cart advertising "Fried Vegetables" and another cart offering "Batter Dipped Ho-Hos." This is what truly makes the fair special. That and the smell.

And finally...

8. Stopping at Dairy Queen for Blizzards on the way home...because we just hadn't had enough to eat yet.

All in all, we had a great time, although I ate far below my usual quota of fried goods. Erin and I say we're going to start working out again, but it might have to wait until after my birthday and the Covered Bridge Festival. Until then, I need to stay at capacity.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I went to the supermarket this evening to pickup some 'tussin for the still-ill-wife and some deli meat for lunch for the next couple of days. I approached the deli where a nice, young lady was busily helping another customer. The other customer was ordering enough thinly sliced meat to blanket a small city, therefore the girl behind the counter called for backup. When the backup meat slicing lady arrived, she was older, and she was suffering from some sort of skin disruption that had left her with open, bleeding sores on her arms. This alone was enough to send me into a spasm, but then the unthinkable happened. She got one plastic hand cover on with little trouble, but as she was putting the other hand into a glove, the palm on her first hand brushed over a sore, smearing the blood onto the outside palm of the glove. After she got the second glove on, she promptly dove her hand into the ham and pulled out a wad to fill my order. I shuddered. Then I froze. I couldn't eat it. No way. I said, "That's plenty." I then ran away from the deli, squealing like a small child. I quickly deposited the blood ham into a refrigerator in another part of the store and made my exit.

When I got home, I began to feel guilty about the whole thing. After consulting with my wife, who laughed hysterically through her flu symptoms at my tale, I called the store and explained that a deli employee was putting a little too much of herself into the sliced meat. The obviously grossed out store manager said she knew who I was referring to and that the situation would be taken care of.


More pics

My earlier post about my co-workers insulting me started a flood of emails with more comparisons. Here's the original Sam the Eagle picture, for comparisons:

Additionally, this past year or so I had my hair pretty much buzzed all year. That garnered the following comparisons:

What a bunch of losers...

Time cards?

The cutting edge technology company I work for just changed to a new payroll system -- time cards. An actual time card...complete with the name of our company...from about 15 years ago.

A building full of engineers, and we can't come up with something better than this? Sheesh... Maybe we'll start work on this great new mobile audio device soon, too.

Faces of Bret

I've been working with the majority of my co-workers for approximately ten years now. In those ten years, we've gotten to know each other pretty well, and along with that, we've learned how to push each other's buttons pretty effectively. I remember about six years ago, we sat on a floor with another department of guys who had known each other for ages, probably twenty years or more, and we used to say, "We'll never be like those guys." You could frequently hear them belch, hollar at each other, and occasionally electrocute one another, all in good fun. (Engineers have a weird sense of humor that frequently involves watching their fellow man get injured.) That team has since dissolved and moved on to the Happy Electrical Engineering Lab in the Sky, while the predictions about our own group have proven false. It's a rare day now that someone doesn't pass gas in my cubical or try to hand me a live wire, so I guess I understand that other team a little better now.

Recently my coworkers have decided that I look like any number of celebrities. I have been telling them this for years now, but it took them this long to decide. Unfortunately they're not telling me I look like Brad Pitt or George Clooney (both of which, I'm told, are pleasing to the eye of the ladies.) Instead they've decided I look like any number of B-list actors (and occasionally actresses) to which I bare little resemblance. First, it was Sam the Eagle from "The Muppet Show."

Next it was Anthony Clark, the host of this season's "Last Comic Standing", and lead actor on "Yes, Dear" (has anyone ever really been a fan of this show? How does a show stay on the air for so many years with two people watching?)

And occasionally it's been Topher Grace from "That 70's Show" (although my wife recently informed me that she had an acquaintence who looks like Topher Grace who's "easily an 8 or 9." When I asked what I was, she replied "maybe a 6 or 7." Since then, she's been "maybe a 2.")

Somehow an image from one of my security badges made it onto the hard drives of my co-workers a few years back, and my likeness was placed in any number of situations including --

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (never get a zit on your nose around these losers)

Some poor hillbilly talking to the president

The Six Million Dollar Man (my dollar amount was reduced, as you can see)

And most disturbingly, on some set of nameless twins.

It'll be hard when this team gets broken up like those poor guys from a few years ago, but at least I'll have all of this documented evidence of the abuse I took. I can't even buy shoes. I bought the following pair of shoes and wore them to work this week.

I heard "When are you going bowling, Hawkins?" from about ten different people. Erin tells me not to be bothered when taking fashion insults from other engineers, and she's right. I have witnessed black socks with plaid shorts on more than one occasion in here, so my new shoes have nothing to fear.

Feel free to leave a comment on this topic, including your vote for who I look most like. I think my coworkers have taken bets on the results...

Monday, August 14, 2006


I bought Erin a guitar while she was away camping. She's been learning to play on a friend's loaner, but it appears her acoustic rock chick dreams aren't fleeting, so it seemed like time to buy her her own axe. I got her this nice, classic looking Fender acoustic. But now I'm thinking I should have bought her one of these. She'd sure look cute playing that daisy model.

Post-Raccoon Update

Since there have been a few questions regarding Erin's post-camping condition, I thought I would let everyone know what's up. As you may recall, I spent the end of last week sick with a cold. Erin seemed healthy enough when she got back from her trip, but she was starting to get a sore throat. Since then, she's had a fever on and off, an increasingly bad sore throat, and a set of swollen glands in her neck the size of golf balls. Needless to say, she's headed for the doc today. What a way to start a new school year, right?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

...and in the nick of time

Just as I was getting ready to head off to the mud and heat of Camp Tipsaw, Erin called and informed me that my services would not be needed. In an effort to escape the misery of camp, the kids had all piled into the bus and headed to Tell City for the Pizza Hut buffet, Dairy Queen, and free rides at Schweizer Fest (don't ask me what it is, just check out the link...the music alone says "Fun!") In any case, Erin's spirits seemed to be up this evening when she called. She decided that she could handle the kids on her own for one last evening, so I was saved, yet again, from camping. I suspect she thought that if I went down there and had a miserable night in the mud that I might poo poo any future camping trips, so this way she could prevent that from happening. But I'm not so easily tricked. I will poo poo future camping trips, DESPITE not having to be miserable this evening.

As a sort of karmic gift for my glee (I nearly killed 8 people as I raced into the Wal-Mart parking lot this evening to return the tent, air bed, etc) I have acquired a rather miserable head cold. Hopefully Erin won't mind nursing me back to health before she unpacks, gets ready for school on Friday, writes a massive blog entry giving her side of the camping trip, etc. We all must have our priorities.


My Camping Fun Begins NOW!

Wish me luck. My new tent, new sleeping bag, new air mattress, change of clothes, towel, fuzzy slippers, and an MRE are packed and ready to head to Erin's Camp-o-Fun at Tipsaw Lake. I haven't heard from her since yesterday morning, but at that point, it had been raining heavily for several hours. It sure sounds like a good time. If you don't hear from me in 48 hours, send in the troops.

And oh yeah, I also packed my raccoon sword.


Monday, August 07, 2006

The Raccoons Have Arrived

I received another call from the wife this morning. There's really almost too many funny things to put all in one post, but I'll do my best to consolidate.

-- The first thing she said when I picked up the phone was, "I want to die." This was followed by, "What the hell was I thinking" and "I'm working on 3 hours of sleep and sh***y coffee."

-- "I've never heard anyone sing '100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall' and get past about 75, until the bus ride down. They perservered and finished it."

-- Apparently around 2am this morning, the raccoons arrived to join the camp. She quickly moved most of the food to the bus and put some of it on a pole in the middle of the campground. This didn't deter the raccoons -- they climbed the pole. Knowing Erin's imagination, they probably then began hurling the food at her from the pole.

-- Since one of the raccoons was "obviously rabid," Erin relocated to the floor of the bus to try to sleep, but apparently this was unsuccessful. She also commented that she sat there thinking that wolves were approaching all night, following the raccoon attack, but it turned out to be owls. (Somebody's mom didn't buy her one of those little spinning deals that makes the animal noises as a kid.)

Apparently they're reconfiguring the campground tonight, so she'll have a tent to sleep in. I was ordered to purchase a tent before heading down on Wednesday. She said that despite all of this, she's still glad she took the trip, and the kids are having a great time. I think she's just bluffing in an effort to convince me that she still likes camping, in hopes of us going someday. I'll not be tricked. Hopefully conditions will improve today, hinging primarily on whether Erin gets a nap soon.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kids 2 Erin 0

I received my first call from Erin, and she arrived safely at her campsite. I was able to glean two bits of information from this call, despite the swearing:

1. If you have an odd number on a 7 mile canoe trip, make one of the high school kids take a kayak. If you're a 30 year old teacher who's never kayaked, now is not the time to learn.

"I can't feel my arms. I'm so damn tired. I can't even move."

2. If one, or even two, high school girls tell you they're bringing an extra tent you can sleep in, trust them like you would a CFO at Enron.

"Neither of them brought their extra tent, so I'll be sleeping either on the ground or in my camp chair."

It's going to be an interesting week.

A-Camping We Will Go...

After months of driving around looking for the perfect site and fending off questions about her sanity, my wife departed this morning with a bus load of high school students to go camping. In her absence, I immediately did the following:

-- Stopped and ate one of those Quadruple Stackers from Burger King. You know, the ones advertised as having "No Veggies" as though the vegetables might give you heart disease.

-- Rented a bunch of horror movies.

-- Got drunk.

-- Belched the alphabet in the car on the way home.

-- Smoked three cigarettes at once.

-- Listened to all the Pixies and Pavement CDs at high volume.

-- Drove really fast on the interstate.

-- Told a kid in the supermarket that "books are stupid."

-- Farted, and then laughed about it.

-- Watched South Park.

-- Scratched myself in public.

And finally…

-- Posted a blog entry entirely designed to embarrass the wife.

In reality, I went to church and now I’m sitting here trying to figure out what to do with myself all day. And in reality, I’m eating a frozen pizza for lunch, since it was all I could find that could be consumed with minimal effort. It’s going to be a long week.


(UPDATE: I burned the pizza while typing up this stupid blog entry. Looks like it's pumpkin pie for lunch...)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What can brown do for you?

Last night as Erin and I were driving home from the grocery store, we passed a FedEx truck which prompted the following bit of introspection from the misses:

"You know, the FedEx guy is like our OBGYN. He'll DELIVER our package containing the pictures of our adoptive match from China."

Now I will say that it is very, very hot here these days. We've had a week over 90 degrees, frequently closer to 100. The local utility companies have asked everyone to cut back on power usage with all the air conditioners running full tilt, and my employer has even taken the step of only turning on half of the lights in the building for the past few days (furthering the notion that this place is full of dim bulbs.)

I say all of this to suggest that maybe the wife was just a little crazy with the heat. I have a strong suspicion that if she chooses to present the package delivery guy with his new title when he delivers our next package (which will likely be either CDs or something from an informercial, given our track record), he'll probably not bother ringing the doorbell next time, choosing instead to quietly slip our package onto the doorstep and run stealthily back to his truck.

Now if she tells the owner of our local Chinese buffet that "it's like you're breastfeeding our child," we'll most assuredly have a problem.