Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin — February 1, 2023.
Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin — February 1, 2023.

Another Week: Number 6

by | February 5, 2023

Most of this past week has been spent in front of my iMac doing hours and hours of tedious but necessary chores that will make things better in the long run. Sometimes you can sort of get into a groove with monotony.

Meanwhile out in the world, things seem disjointed and troubling. My neighbor reports seeing sheriffs around the corner running with assault rifles while walking her dog one morning. A mystery balloon from China was shot down off Myrtle Beach after snooping on us for days. Giannis Anetokounmpo has broken up with Chik-fil-A.

I think I’ll just keep my profile low for now and hope for the best. Below are my notes from the seven days just concluded.


Shrimp Cocktail, NFL Conference Championships

Twice now on successive weekends, at the suggestion of my brother-in-law Kevin, six of us have gathered at my mom’s house in Kenosha to shoot the breeze while NFL games played out on her TV screen.

This time, I decided to bring Shrimp Cocktail — my sister Lori’s favorite — after last week’s group discussion over which treatments of shrimp are delicious, and which are too buttery or otherwise disgusting. People have opinions, and Shrimp Cocktail seemed like the most innocuous approach.

For the best Shrimp Cocktail recipe, I turned to the one by former Bon Appétit video star Molly Baz, who has since started her own cooking club and YouTube channel. For the shrimp, Amy ran up to Empire Fish Company in Milwaukee and snagged us three pounds of wild-caught, Texas Gold 16/20 EZ peel brown shrimp. For the ice, I grabbed the 20-pound bag at Pick ‘N Save.

Shimps were enjoyed with both Molly’s cocktail sauce and Amy’s fresh guacamole, and they stayed nice and chilled throughout the games. Twenty pounds was too much, though, and I had no luck giving away the remainder to my relatives who, like us, had just spent the morning dealing with a foot of snow.

The 49ers-at-Eagles game was just sad, what with fleeting phenom Brock Purdy injured eight minutes into the game, and then fouth-string quarterback Josh Johnson concussed after that. You almost wonder whether the 49ers are still suffering some sort of karmic fate almost six years after releasing Colin Kaepernick — and in the immediate weekend wake of yet more sickening violence by police in America.

As for the Bengals-at-Chiefs game, I was slightly pulling for Joe Burrow, but mostly just wanted a close, hard-fought game. It was that. A little messy at the end, but such is life.


Tyre Nichols killed by Memphis Police

Of course, the entire week was overshadowed by last Friday’s release of the videos recording the beating of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis. Over and over, we saw the photo of him in his suit vest and blue striped tie, as well as the photo of him in the hospital, and heard analysis of every detail of that horrific assault.

What stuck with me, in addition to those two juxtaposed photos of his face, was his plea, “I’m just trying to go home.

A similar line from the Joan Osborne song “One of Us” kept echoing in my head: Just tryin’ to make his way home


‘He Gets Us’: $100 million ad campaign for Jesus

Speaking of God being one of us, this week confirmed my suspicions about all the slick, black-and-white “He Gets Us” ads appearing on TV and elsewhere in recent weeks. The spots use contemporary images and issues to draw parallels with the story of Jesus Christ and assert that “he gets us,” insofar as any building-tradesman-turned-preacher from 2,000 years ago in the Levant can truly get us, with our streaming and our ransomware.

The website for this  “He Gets Us” message is equally slick and vague — and has added some adversarial attitude in response to recent news coverage.

The news is this: This is a $100 million campaign, with a Super Bowl Sunday ad coming a week from now.

CNN: See the ‘big money marketing’ of Jesus that’s set to air during the Super Bowl

Exactly who’s behind it is unclear, as is what they’re hoping to gain from it. But in my experience, there probably is an agenda motivating this $100 million spend. “No matter how cynical you are,” Lily Tomlin has noted, ”it’s never enough.”

Like Dorothy’s little dog Toto pulling back the curtain on that balloonist humbug from Nebraska, it’s smart to be skeptical whenever anyone starts using God as their own ventriloquist’s dummy.

This reminds me that last year I saw a 2020 documentary on Amazon Prime Video called Marketing the Messiah. In one hour and 23 minutes, it distills gobs of revelations that took me 44 years of amateur Bible study to arrive at. If you want to understand the process by which an executed preacher from a subjugated ancient kingdom became a worldwide icon of morality to this day, Marketing the Messiah provides the best explanation I have seen.


Three Pines

On Thursday, we finished the 8-episode first season of Three Pines on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a murder mystery series set in the area surrounding Montreal and based on novels by Canadian author Louise Penny that we have not read.

The show is nicely shot, and the Canadian settings are unusual and intriguing, with fascinating interiors. It features a variety of characters — local eccentrics, rich families, indigenous people, a self-conscious local policewoman for comedy relief, and of course the detective — Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

The problem lies in the story content. There are four separate murder plots of two episodes each — plus another one that continues throughout the season — and I didn’t really care about any of them. Someone is dead, and Gamache begins investigating. Not a lot of deduction is required. Instead of the usual red-yarn-and-corkboard crazy wall of suspect relationships, Gamache stares at a neat grid of labeled portraits arranged on a whiteboard with four magnets each until a new clue interrupts, and eventually, the killer is revealed: Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the conservatory.


At times, this show feels more like a group book reading than a drama. Each character takes turns mechanically delivering another slice of plot exposition, somewhat like dolls in a dollhouse all being voiced by the same child.

Three Pines is fun to look at — but if there is a Season 2, I think we’ll pass.



Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Live at the Fillmore – 1997

On Thursday, I ordered Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Live at the Fillmore – 1997 from Amazon — the two-CD, 33-song set. There is also a four-CD Deluxe Edition box set, as well as MP3 and vinyl editions.

In any format, this is instant joy.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers played a 20-show stand at the legendary San Francisco venue in January and February of 1997. They were at full power, and this residency allowed them to just hang out, have fun, and jam on all sorts of cover song selections in addition to Tom Petty hits and rarities (like “Heartbreakers Beach Party,” for example).

They cover Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. They cover Bill Withers. There are guest appearances by Roger McGuinn and John Lee Hooker. They do “Louie Louie” and “Gloria.” Mike Campbell’s guitar is perfection in a variety of styles. Benmont Tench teaches a class in American piano. New drummer Steve Ferrone makes you smack things and bounce around. Howie Epstein is still in the band, still alive, still thumping his bass. Scott Thurston harmonizes wonderfully with Petty’s vocals.

I have always enjoyed Tom Petty, but I was never a fanatic. “Listen to Her Heart” was the first Tom Petty song that grabbed me. I saw him at Alpine Valley with Bob Dylan, and he was very good.

Suddenly, five and a half years after his death, I’m completely in.



Saturday night, we finished Branson, a four-part HBO documentary series on the life of Richard Branson, the multi-billionaire founder of Virgin Group known for daring adventures in balloons and space planes and whatnot. It was alright.

The series is made with Branson’s cooperation, and it culminates with his flight to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity in July 2021, so it begins with Branson recording his message from the grave in case of disaster.

Then we go back through his life in approximate chronology, seeing his childhood in London with a somewhat eccentric mother, his Student magazine, his record store, his record label Virgin Records, his airline Virgin Atlantic, and ultimately his Virgin Galactic space travel company. Of these, the Virgin Atlantic story is the most interesting because of the vicious competition from British Airways.

Mostly, though, Branson’s business is kind of glossed over. We learn that he is very smart, but exactly how he became a billionaire — the main thing that makes him worthy of a biographical series — gets superficial treatment.

What we do see plenty of is Branson generating publicity, making a spectacle of himself, and becoming famous. One of the main ways he does this is through intrepid stunt adventures including several balloon crossings of oceans. He repeatedly spends large sums on massive equipment and serious crews to stage missions that amount to flirting with death in order to get attention.

We also see his compound on Necker Island, the island he owns in the British Virgin Islands, destroyed by fire and then by Hurricane Irma to be rebuilt better each time. We hear that some very famous guests like Princess Diana have stayed there. Some of Branson’s charitable and humanitarian deeds are mentioned in passing, along with his role in The Elders, a group of global leaders joined together to save humanity.

One of the most interesting people in the series is Branson’s eventual wife Joan, an unpretentious woman of few words who is inserted now and then to say very little in her own modest way from the same chair every time.

The fourth and final episode, dealing with Branson’s race to space versus Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, is overly long and drawn out with odd, spacey music — yet interspersed with truly helpful insights from journalist Nicholas Schmidle (Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut). Along the way, Branson’s mother dies of COVID at age 96 and this is barely even mentioned. Amy and I looked at each other and asked, “So she died?”

Spending over four hours watching this series was not the worst waste of time ever — especially when you consider most Major League Baseball games — but you will not be missing a whole lot if you skip it.



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