Racine, Wisconsin — Durand Ave. at Drexel Ave., January 21, 2023
Racine, Wisconsin: Open Pantry store, Durand Ave. at Drexel Ave. on January 21, 2023

Another Week: Number 4

by | January 22, 2023

Little by little, our little slice of paradise is emerging from the long Thanksgiving-through-New-Year’s tunnel — a meeting here, a phone call there, and before you know it we’ll be back to business as usual. Sunset is slightly later every day, and January is three-quarters done without any snow. We’ve got this, baby!

Below are my notes from the week just concluded.


Stable Diffusion: Stump the Band

I started my week with CBS Sunday Morning just like we used to in the good old days. There were some interesting stories — Rolley Hole Marbles along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani, who I had somehow never heard of but had a keen style, and the astounding odyssey of Master Slave Husband Wife.

The thing that caught me right away, though, was David Pogue’s piece on art created by artificial intelligence. In it, he mentioned Stable Diffusion, so I decided to take the Stable Diffusion Playground for a spin and see if I could “stump the band.”

It wasn’t easy — as you can see for yourself in this slideshow:

Bluebird on a rural fence post at sunset
Postcard from beautiful Racine, Wisconsin
A snowstorm in Florida
Second line in downtown Chicago
Drive-in restaurant on the planet Mars
Five tattooed ladies performing on the trapeze
A guitar and a deck of playing cards in the Old West
Dangerous man on a grassy plain
David Letterman on a train in Ukraine
Delicious chicken dinner with all the fixin's
Hank Hill barbecuing on a charcoal grill
Batman serving a TV dinner to Al Capone
Snoopy flies over the Grand Canyon
Paul Bunyan on a gondola in Venice
Jesus and his apostles walking around in the Swiss Alps
Jesus Christ talking on an iPhone
Mark Czerniec using a MacBook in Hawaii
William Faulkner at home in Mississippi writing a book
Bruce Springsteen reading a book on the sofa
Bob Dylan is the new quarterback for the Chicago Bears
The drunken politician leaps
Upon the street where mothers weep
And the saviors who are fast asleep, they wait for you
And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup
And ask me to open up the gate for you
I want you, I want you
I want you so bad
Honey, I want you
How all my fathers, they’ve gone down
True love they’ve been without it
But all their daughters put me down
’Cause I don’t think about it
Well, I return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chambermaid
She knows that I’m not afraid to look at her
She is good to me
And there’s nothing she doesn’t see
She knows where I’d like to be
But it doesn’t matter
I want you, I want you
I want you so bad
Honey, I want you
Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit


Super Wild Card Weekend

It was amusing to hear CBS analyst Tony Romo mischievously mocking “Super” Wild Card Weekend as opposed to all previous Wild Card Weekends. The games themselves were mostly exciting.

One moment I won’t forget for a while was Tyler Huntley’s failed quarterback sneak for the Ravens, with his fumble then returned all the way back for a Bengals touchdown. The backup QB, exceeding expectations at that point, was just inches from a game-winner, and then the whole thing curdled into the kind of disaster that only happens in nightmares. I didn’t have a favorite in the game either way, but that play made me ill. Poor dude!

The Monday night kicker was a dud — including Cowboys kicker Brett Maher, who missed four extra point attempts. But each of those was preceded by a touchdown, and the Cowboys snuffed out the Buccaneers 31-14. The Bucs were awful, beginning with 45-year-old quarterback Tom Brady, dragging their season and his career to a brutal and senseless end.

Because he’s so testy about his inevitable retirement, very little attention was devoted to this being the last of Tom Brady’s 383 total NFL games. Most of the spotlight was on his failure this particular night — unlike T.J. Watt, who scored sacks and got ovations as a visitor during his final few games.

Amy was happy to see Brady lose. “Gisele was right,” she called out to the screen.


Another shooting, even closer to home

In bed Tuesday night at about 10:50 p.m., I suddenly heard a burst of loud bangs, like someone attacking a steel trashcan with a sledgehammer in my backyard. Amy guessed it was fireworks since Independence Day and New Year’s celebrations never entirely end here. I felt it was gunfire, but not from a handgun. Two hours later, there was another burst.

In the dim Wednesday dawn, with Channel 12’s Matt Salemme circling overhead in his helicopter, I read and watched news reports about a 26-year-old man on the next block who was in his house with his kids, ages 1 and 3, and proposing suicide before sending his wife outside.

The man reportedly had an assault rifle. The first burst was him shooting into the air before police arrived. He also had a shotgun. The second burst was him shooting birdshot at four Racine Police officers and wounding two of them, who nevertheless remained on the scene until he was taken into custody at 1:22 a.m.

WISN 12 News followed this Racine story with an update on the 14-year-old girl shot in the head four or five times by her 14-year-old boyfriend 10 days previous, one mile east of here. She continues her remarkable recovery and her GoFundMe has topped $11,000.


Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (2022)

Wednesday night, I remembered another reason we re-subscribed to Apple TV+ — it was the only place I could find a promising documentary on Louis Armstrong, my dad’s all-time favorite musician. We heard plenty of Satchmo growing up and I had absorbed assorted biographical tidbits along the way, but I couldn’t recall an American Masters or similar profile of perhaps the greatest jazz musician ever.

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues features a treasure trove of scrapbooks, collages, and tape-recorded conversations that Armstrong personally produced and curated in his Corona, Queens, New York home.

Director Sacha Jenkins was given special access to these materials, and he interweaves them with archival film, video, audio, and interviews to tell the story of Armstrong’s impoverished childhood in New Orleans, his musical genius and greatest teachers, his migration to Chicago and tricky navigation of a show business world controlled by gangsters, his deliberately apolitical and innocuous public persona as an international jazz ambassador, and his private outrage at the heinous abuse he suffered along the way for being Black.


Vengeance (2022)

Thursday night, we streamed Vengeance on Amazon Prime and thoroughly enjoyed it. Its writer/director/star B. J. Novak (famous as Ryan on The Office) plays Ben, a promiscuous, liberal New York City writer summoned to Texas by the brother of a dead girl, named Abilene, with whom he once had a brief hookup.

What initially seems 100 percent like a standard intellectual vs. yokel comedy quickly folds out into something more, as the face-off between Ben and the Texans cuts both ways. Ben decides to make this adventure the focus of the podcast he’s been dying to produce for public radio network mogul Eloise (Issa Rae). Then things unfold again from there, prompting some very meta analysis by the two of them. Is it a story about America? Is it a story about a person?

And then things unfold some more — and again after that.

B.J. Novak and his incredulous deadpan Buster Keaton/Marty Feldman/Seth Meyers face are hilarious at every twist, and many of the movie’s lines and situations are either hysterical or fucking chilling. Ashton Kutcher delivers a riveting performance as Quentin Sellers, a local record producer who worked with Abby and has deep philosophical insights into musical moments and our national divide, among other things.

Vengeance is an outstanding piece of work that has received nowhere near the attention it deserves since its release last July. I have no idea why everyone is so obsessed with The Menu when there’s this. I would call it the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time — except that I saw The Banshees of Isherin three weeks ago.


10 years sober

Saturday marked 10 years since Barack Obama’s second public inauguration ceremony, and 10 years of my sobriety. As I watched President Obama on TV late that Monday afternoon, he was aggressively chewing his nicotine gum on the reviewing stand — and I was finishing the last of 36 cans of Boxer beer that I had bought for $10 the previous Friday to keep me in a low buzz through the weekend.

Enough was enough.

One thing that factored into my impulse was having recently read the Wikipedia entry on delirium tremens and realizing that alcohol isn’t something you just sleep off. Regular alcohol use recalibrates your body’s glandular and neurologic functions to the point where suddenly stopping can produce hallucinations, paranoia, and tremors because everything is so far out of whack. As a youngster, I had seen my dad go through the DTs.

Nevertheless, I got drunk with my cousin on my dad’s Michelob at my little sister’s first communion party. I grew catatonic on Southern Comfort in the park with friends as a teenager. I disturbed Tuscan villagers after gulping too much Brunello in my forties. I went on a passionate, Jack Daniels-fueled political diatribe at our neighbor’s Labor Day Party.

After finishing those final bland beers, I did none of the recommended recovery work. I sought no counseling, participated in no 12-step programs, and made no amends or even apologies. I suffered no DTs, nor any serious cravings.

But I have felt a slow, gradual improvement in well-being over the past decade. Mornings are less of a chore. Exercise happens more often. Sleep is less fitful. Emotional drama is reduced. Several thousand dollars each year are saved.

Meanwhile, Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer later in 2013 and I would have been even more useless coping with things had I still been drinking.



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