Amazon vans mating on Webster St. in Racine, Wisconsin, April 4, 2023
Amazon vans mating on Webster St. in Racine, Wisconsin, April 4, 2023

Another Week: Number 15

by | April 9, 2023

Although the first official day of spring is always March 1, the moment of spring’s actual arrival at my home in any given year is highly variable.

This year, it came at 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4. As thunderstorms approached, the light changed and the grass was greener. Presto — like waking up recovered from an illness, winter was suddenly a memory replaced by a new circumstance, then vs. now.

Happy birthday to my beautiful wife Amy – and happy Easter to those who observe the Christian holiday named after a supposed Germanic goddess of spring celebrating an executed Jewish preacher coming back to life via frilly bonnets, chocolate rabbits, colored eggs, marshmallow chicks, and, of course, ham.

Funny story: Back in 1985 — early into my 40-year study of the Bible — I wanted to bring back the ancient lamb for Passover/Easter festivities instead of ham, so Amy’s dad obtained a dead lamb from the “goat lady” on Highway K near the Interstate. We bled it out in his basement, butchered it on her family’s kitchen table, and roasted the meat for Easter brunch.

It was delicious — and was never repeated. According to John 21:9-14, Jesus served fish at his own post-resurrection brunch. These days, Amy does eat some seafood, but she’s mostly vegetarian.

Below are some bonnes bouches from the past seven days.

Easter lamb hanging in a Kenosha basement, 1985.
Easter lamb hanging in a Kenosha, Wisconsin basement, 1985.

“A Hazy Shade of Winter”

Apropos of spring, my earworm all week has been Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 hit “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” which was covered by The Bangles in a 1987 version produced by Rick Rubin.

I like the harder Bangles recording better with its electric guitar riff, but it opens with some distant jingle bells, pegging the song as a midwinter reference.

Since the tune was likely triggered in my head by taking my annual photo of the last “patch of snow on the ground,” I prefer to think of it as a change-of-seasons moment, a metaphorical tipping point when the singer has a choice to see potential despite an apparently bleak situation:

Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That’s an easy thing to say
But if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend that you can build them again
Look around
The grass is high
The fields are ripe
It’s the springtime of my life

There’s also the line “Down by the riverside,” which is the title of an uplifting African-American spiritual about holy transformation that was used as an anti-war protest song during the Vietnam War — as well as the jingle in a McDonald’s commercial featuring white people and a white dog.

It’s hard to imagine that Paul Simon included that phrase by accident in 1966.


Can Republicans smother the will of the voters?

As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, hold a pillow over their face and hope they stop kicking.” Sure enough, a series of election losses has Republicans increasingly resorting to brute force in stifling the voice of the voters.

In January 2021, Wisconsin’s own Ron Johnson was involved in the fake electors scheme to retain Donald Trump even after Americans voted him out of office.

This past Monday, in a state where 77 percent oppose permitless carry legislation, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis quietly signed that legislation behind closed doors anyway.

On Tuesday, after Janet Protasiewicz beat Dan Kelly by 11 percent, Republicans immediately started talking about impeaching her via their gerrymandered supermajority — itself a thwarting of the voters.

Finally, on Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives, 75 percent Republican, expelled two duly-elected Democrats for having the audacity to speak up against gun violence after the recent school shooting in Nashville that killed six Tennesseeans.

One of the pitfalls of arrogance is that it precludes learning.


The price of buttermilk at Walmart

The oatmeal recipe we often make calls for buttermilk, which we can usually find at Walmart, along with most of our other groceries.

This week, reaching for the usual quart, I did a double take.

A quart of Kemp's lowfat buttermilk at Walmart selling for $7.
Seven. Seven dollars. Seven dollars for a quart of buttermilk.

That would mean the price of buttermilk is $28 per gallon. That’s crazy. I used the Walmart mobile app to scan the barcode and check the price.

Walmart mobile app: Price scanner price check on a quart of buttermilk: $7
It gave me the same result: $7.00 for a quart of buttermilk at this Walmart.

So we drove three miles to Festival Foods — generally thought to be a higher-end supermarket with more gourmet products.

There, the exact same quart of buttermilk was selling for $1.79.

Quart of Kemp's lowfat buttermilk selling at Festival Foods for $1.79.


Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence (2023)

Amy likes to watch cult documentaries. She’s seen all of Leah Remini’s Scientology series. We watched two different NXIVM docuseriesThe Vow on HBO Max and Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult on Starz. We watched The Way Down on HBO Max.

And so on.

So naturally, when Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence popped up recently on Hulu, it looked like something we would enjoy.

Amy didn’t seem to hate it as much as I did. I felt it was one of the worst streaming series I had ever suffered through.

I had heard a little about the case in the news. It concerns a guy called Larry Ray who moved in with his daughter and a bunch of her fellow students on campus at Sarah Lawrence College in 2008. He started giving them some strict life training that grew into brainwashing. Some of the students left him, but others stayed and got mentally pulverized by him. There was sex, physical abuse, financial extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion — and, of course, Bernard Kerik.

It would seem there’s an interesting story here somewhere, but unfortunately, it’s not in this three-hour, 23-minute series.

Instead, there are endless recordings of Larry’s victims babbling, B-roll of their disordered living quarters, blurred-edge vignettes of everything over maddening eerie music, emotional breakdowns, shaky camerawork, boring drone shots, random snapshots, dramatic pauses. Halfway through, I felt like the one being mentally tortured.

There are no psychiatric experts, no prosecution experts, hardly any details on Larry’s actual background, and no college administrators. The filmmakers are heard questioning some of the victims, but are never seen. It’s just a long cascade of mental illness, with some recovery at the end.


Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields (2023)

There was a lot of publicity for Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields on Hulu, so we bit. It’s a two-part, 2-hour, 18-minute documentary that traces the life of Brooke Shields from her birth to the present day.

It’s an uncomfortable story. There’s the unusual closeness of her mother Teri, who sets Brooke on a showbiz path from birth and deteriorates from a mom with a dream to a mom with a drinking problem over the years.

There are her Lolita roles in the movies Pretty Baby at age 12 and The Blue Lagoon at age 14, back when Hollywood men could make feature films using an underage girl as a sex object.

There’s her relationship with Michael Jackson and her seeming unawareness that she may have been used as a cover. There are her college years at Princeton, where she entered as one of the most famous people in the world — and acquiesced to having a book of tips on college life put out under her name that she had no part in writing.

Trying to find her way back into show business, Shields was raped in her early 20s by a Hollywood type she does not name.

There’s her first marriage to the controlling tennis star Andre Agassi — then in her second marriage, the postpartum depression she suffered after finally giving birth the first time, public criticism from Tom Cruise for using antidepressants …

It’s a lot of discomfort to take in. While her beautiful face keeps smiling pleasantly through her teens and twenties and thirties, present-day Brooke Shields is telling us how she was wincing inside.


The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Searching the web for things worth watching, one April 2023 list strongly recommended The Sisters Brothers on Amazon Prime Video.

Based on the hit, award-winning 2011 novel of the same name by Canadian author Patrick deWitt, it’s a western starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as assassin brothers on an odyssey into the San Francisco gold rush, chasing a man who’s got a chemical that makes gold nuggets glow in the dark where they lie on the bottom of streams.

This is the first film in English by French director Jacques Audiard and although it bombed at the box office, it has a number of great ingredients. Top among them is the interplay between Reilly’s philosophical brother and his angry, alcoholic sibling played by Phoenix. There’s some humor, a little violence, an obscure joke about the name of “Mayfield, California,” and maybe a metaphor about greed.

I enjoyed it. Amy stayed mostly awake.



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