Thursday, June 26, 2014


It was three o'clock in the morning. I had been lying on my side my pillows scrunched tightly between my right arm and my face. A vision of a dessert dune had been blowing through my dreams, Lawrence of Arabia galloping through on a camel. It was the sand from the dessert that woke me. I couldn't get it out of my eyes and nose. It was choking me and my eyes felt as if they were being sliced by Nomadic sabers. As my dream dissolved in a storm of grains of sand I awoke with my nose running and my eyes weeping in searing pain. I willed the dream to come back and Lawrence to rescue me from the sand storm in my head. I held on for maybe fifteen minutes too groggy to rise, my fist now smashing into my forehead trying to physically force the pain away. A kaleidoscope of bruising blue lights had replaced the mirage of the dessert and Lawrence and his camel had galloped away. Sleep was now the allusion. I was awake and in excruciating pain. I threw the covers off and raised myself to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. Even in the dark of three o'clock in the morning I could tell my vision was compromised and blurred. I'm not one to go easily to a doctor but I could tell this was more than a minor broken bone or a brain tumor, the things that would normally have to occur to make me feel it necessary to consult a physician. My lacerated vision seemed serious enough that I had to find a way to get myself to a place where I could find some help. My immediate problem: I was my only source of getting there. I'd have to be my own chauffer. Rick was in New York, Emmy was sleeping and anyway she was a novice driver without a license as of yet. I was thankful it was 3:30, the roads would be relatively carless and the nearby Clinic's urgent care unit was only a mile and a half away. I got dressed and pulled the car out of the garage, very slowly. My vision was so clouded it felt as if a layer of Vaseline had been smeared over my retinas. I knew I was a danger to the roads but I thought that if I crept along as if I was in a school zone I could get to urgent care without rolling off the road or smashing into an oncoming car.
I turned into the clinic parking lot without having committed a major traffic violation. The lights in the clinic parking lot illuminated a lonely police cruiser parked in the middle of the open lot his lights on. Other than the police car the clinic appeared eerily quiet. The clinic lights had been extinguished; only a buzzing florescent flickered like an evening insect on a late spring night. Not knowing what else to do I drove up to the clinic's front door. I tried to read the printed hours on the glass door from the vantage point of my drivers seat. Even at the width of a sidewalk I couldn't make out the numbers. I put the care in park, got out and with my face inches from the rub-on letters I made out the seven thirty opening hour information. It also said the nearest 24 hour emergency room was going to be a good distance away. I was half hoping the police officer might see my predicament and come to my assistance until I realized he was sneaking a nap and completely unaware of my existence. My hope of  a police escort to the ER went unrequited. I had to weave my way past the cruiser and back out onto the road. The streets were still pretty bare but now I had to get onto a major roadway. Going thirty-five in a sixty-five mile per hour zone probably wasn't the best idea but it got me there without the aid of the escort.
I parked the car in the hospital parking lot and walked across the street to the emergency room. I startled the security guard who had fallen asleep just inside the entry when the automatic door automatically opened. He let me pass with only the slightest of once-overs. There was only one other person in the waiting room sprawled over two chairs and wrapped in blankets only his Adidas hanging out beyond the blanket and resting on the arm of a third chair.
There was no one immediately behind the admitting desk. Pretty quickly I figured out why. All the non-patients were racing to deal with a non-cooperative new patient who sounded to be about 250 -300 lbs and not willing to lie down and take his medicine. It was a coven of about six nurses dressed in pink and pale blue polyester pajamas stamped with smiley faces, teddy bears and tweetie birds that raced by to tackle and subdue the blitzed out Samson.
Once the giant was tied and shackled one of the pert hundred pound tough as nails nurses came back to the front desk to check me in. I went through my symptoms: razor blades running up and down my eyes, a hatchet wedged right above my left eye and a sticky film the consistency of aspic coating my vision.  She handed me over to another nurse who lead me down another hallway to a vision chart. She let me keep my glasses on and then with both eyes asked which level of the chart I could read. I said, "What chart?" She just took me back to an examining room and told me to take a seat, "The doctor will be right with you".
It took about fifteen minutes before the doctor pulled back the curtain to my examining room. I had to do a double take, the first words out of his mouth were, "Hi, I'm Doctor Quinn".  I had to squeeze my butt checks together to prevent the words, "Oh, Dr. Quinn Medicine Man?" from tumbling out of my mouth. I thought it was a joke, a doctor's idea of alleviating the tension but with a quick glance I could see it said, "Dr. Quinn" on the name tag on the chest of his scrubs. He was a little on the small side but if there ever was a male equivalent of Jane Seymour this one was it. He was thin but taught. He had a full head of dark hair with a surprising patch of snow white right on the back of his head. It was his imperfection that made him tantalizingly unique and close to perfect. He was also one of those touchy feely kind of doctors. His first move was to pat my leg just slightly above the knee as I lay on the examining table where the privacy curtain had been flung back to a closed position. After a quick run down of my symptoms it was time for the pain test. Out popped the question, "How would you evaluate the pain on a scale from one to ten." I was still focusing on his hand resting on my thigh and these questions always flummoxed me anyway. I didn't want to say a number too high, I wasn't in a near death situation yet I didn't want to guess too low and have him wonder why I would come to the emergency room in the middle of the night with a pain I should be able to manage on my own at least until the urgent care facility opened in the morning. I settled on "8".
I could hear him draw in his breath and then release an "Oooooh" as if I had overshot the mark. I felt my sissy side exposed. I must have over-exaggerated the pain level for my yet undisclosed affliction. This was, of course, all in my head. After the "Oooooh" he went right back into friendly chatter and to be safe had them bring in an eye examining contraption that looked more like a sophisticated torture devise. After he had applied an eye drop to both my eyes he had me sit in a chair placing my chin on a padded rest. My head was held in place by a vice like grip that tightened on both sides of my crania. This was supposed to hold my head steady. His next words were, "Focus on a specific point on the wall behind me while I look into your eyes."
I picked out a point but it was too close to his face so the minute he started examining my eyes I ended up looking directly into his. I was feeling more and more embarrassed by the minute. He was probably less than half my age but he was making a very strong impression on my foolish heart.
With the eye exam behind me and my palpitations subsided I seriously started looking for a wedding ring on Dr. Quinn's fourth left hand finger. I couldn't decide if it was exceptional bedside manners or unexpected flirting I was experiencing.
He then started babbling something about what he tells his wife in situations like this. I fell back to earth and realized my palpitations were only the dreams of an old man. The numbing drops he put in my eyes earlier had taken hold. I felt like a cuckold fool as he handed me a prescription for an antibiotic I could purchase from a 24-hour dispensing machine in the emergency room lobby. The pronouncement that all I had was conjunctivitis, pink eye, a viral infection normally relegated to the pre-school age bracket or Bob Costas during the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia seemed so minor. With that he flung the curtain open and he was gone, only the white spot on the back of his head as a parting memory.

Dissection Room, Medical School, Bordeax, France, 1890
Photographer Unknown

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I'm in love. I always had in mind it would be more of a George Clooney type of situation that would rekindle that passion which would make my mind spin with anticipation and desire, that adrenaline pumping force that keeps you up at two-thirty in the morning because you can't stop thinking about it. I didn't think I could feel this way again at my age but its happened. I'm in love and the object of my obsession is a store. No, it's not an Armani at the mall, or a Billy Ried or even a J. Crew for men; no - it's a grocery store
For months we've all been trying to figure out what they've been building up the hill in between the edge of the city and the cornfields that still remain before you get to the next bedroom suburb. We've speculated on a Target or worse another Walmart but then the building looked too high end for that. It was a mere month ago that a sign finally appeared saying Metro Market would be hiring for their grand opening in the middle of June. It was about that time that flyers went out inviting residents to a gala grand opening you had to rsvp for. I mean how grand could it be? It was a grocery store after all. We passed on the grand opening. After the fact, we heard there was an hour wait to get in. It shows you how starved for a party our neighborhood must be. I waited until the following day to give the store a once over. And then it happened. The parking lot should have been an indication that this wasn't going to be just any grocery store. The central outdoor pergola with its café tables and chairs, even the cart return areas where steps beyond ordinary. Sleek black carts with places to store your recyclable bags and drink holders all coming in two convenient sizes: one for family shopping and one for the "I'm only picking up dinner" crowd were neatly stacked in specially designed covered metal corals.
I still wasn't fully impressed until I stepped through the automatic doors and walked right into an aromatic spice corner. There's a scene in Love Actually where one of the characters is at the jewelry counter in Harrods trying to buy a necklace for his secretary before his wife comes to finds him out. The humor is in the wrapping of the gift; a series of special bags where rose petals are scooped in and lavender is hand crushed before the gift is tied up with silk ribbons and then wrapped in box after box as the recalcitrant husband's anxiety escalates. This spice corner was my jewelry counter at Harrods and I was hooked watching an attendant measure an exotic sea salt into a cellophane bag with a silver scoop as she stood before bags of spices that would have rivaled any Moroccan market.
The marvels had only begun. To my right was a produce market that danced into life with its organic fare and Gene Kelly's voice breaking into "Singing in the Rain" every time the faux shower turned on spritzing all the produce with fine little pearls of what could only be purified water.
The parade of specialty nooks and stations continued until my heart was fluttering like a teenage boy with his first Playboy magazine. The sushi bar,
the flower market,
and the gourmet chocolate corner with its hand-dipped strawberries and truffles was only the beginning of my love fest.
I no more than passed the freshly baked breads with asiago focaccias and braided olive loafs
than I was seduced by a lounge area with a roaring fire and two huge red club chairs
accompanied by a Jazz trio, a real live Jazz trio smoking out some hot rifts on a piano, bass and drum set. This was all happening in one little corner of the store.
I had miles of aisles yet to explore. Aisles so wide and clean I regretted all my New York friends would never understand that this is what grocery shopping could be.
When we first moved to Madison and were desperately trying to figure out what we were going to do I had taken some time to develop an introduction proposition to Lands' End. They are headquartered in Dodgeville, a town in Southeastern Wisconsin about forty-five minutes outside of Madison. My theory was that Lands' End was lacking an identity. The market for outdoor clothing stores was filled with look-a-likes like Orvis, Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean. Lands' End needed an image they could embrace that would set them apart from the crowd. I thought the way to do it was to take their Wisconsin heritage and develop a line of stores that took the shopping experience beyond just finding a flannel shirt in XXL and into a venue where you go even when you don't need anything else but to be entertained. I envisioned Lands' End stores with a Wisconsin north woods appeal; screen doors, stone fireplaces with big leather chairs, a man cave with sports reruns and a soda fountain selling Wisconsin root beers and cream puffs, all this in addition to their line of clothing. I sent it out cold to one of their vice-presidents who sent me back an email telling me he had shared it with his sales staff on how to do a cold call along with a contact to the next level of personal he thought I should contact. The next rung on the ladder got me a thank you note saying they don't use outside consultants but thanks anyway. If I see a new Lands' End opening with a screen door entrance and a root beer and cream puff bar in the back I'm going to be smelling a lawsuit.
Metro Market got the memo on creating a shopping experience that goes beyond just picking up tonight's dinner. They want you to want to come in their store and plan ahead for it the same way you'd plan out a Friday night at the movies.
They want to you to come and see the rows of olive oils in the world market aisle where the countries of Greece, Italy, Argentina and Spain are all gathered in a mini United Nations of oils
culminating in another tasting bar where an attendant hands out divots of crusty bread you can dip in saucers of various oils.
The wine and beer section can rival any selection from anywhere in the world.
Craft beers are available in cartons or individually where you can mix up a carton of Point Nude Beach, Milwaukee Brewing Company Bouyah and Potosi Snake Hollow Indian Pale Ale.
And then they hit me with a gelato counter where the tags read limone, fragola and stracciatella. I was back at the gelateria in Montelcino debating whether to get a vente or a grande cupa. It was almost more than I could handle.
But my favorite section and the one that sealed the deal was the meat and fish section. If you are shopping for this evening's dinner you need to hit this counter first. Take your time looking at the fresh steaks, chops and filets. Once you've made your selection the butchers will take it and grill it for you while you continue on with your shopping. All you have to do when you get home is plate it and eat it. I feel like that shopper in The Miracle on 34th Street who goes up to the floor manager and tells him how she wasn't a Macy's shopper before but this Santa gimmick, "Imagine Macy's sending customers to Gimbels. Well from now on I'll be doing all my shopping at Macys"
I know how she feels. I'll be grabbing my shopper in training cart and gleefully pushing it through the aisles of my new favorite addiction.

Vesuvio Bakery, Soho NYC
Brian Dube, photographer

Thursday, June 12, 2014


I saw her hair before I could clearly see her face but it was the beauty of all that blondness that let me know it was Emmy. Her High School colors are blue and silver. The interpretation of which shade of blue or how the silver sometimes morphs into white allowed for their caps and gowns to be a sea of baby blue all the more poignant giving the magnitude of this milestone.
As your baby turns from a newborn to a toddler or transitions from middle school to high school you know your child is still under your wing, but high school graduation is different. The choice of baby blue gowns only emphasized the rapid nature of time. Our daughter had somehow managed to grow from that helpless newborn into a young woman now ready for taking on all the responsibilities of a young adult. Children slip from one stage to another so quickly and before you can process the whole thing they've graduated high school and are looking toward a life where their wings are ready for flight, a life more centered on their own goals and passions, a life where their mistakes and successes are going to be tabulated on a slate you no longer control.
She smiled as she walked up the aisle past our seats and applause. We yelled as loudly as we could when she crossed the stage to pick up her diploma and cross her tassel from the right to the left. There was such joy and expectation as her class threw their caps in the air at the end of the ceremony, a baby blue sky of hope and expectation above their heads.

Midwest tradition has the parents of each high school graduate throwing a party for friends and family, a symbolic gesture, a rite of passage. We, of course, marked each birthday but none seemed more important than this event so, of course, we went whole hog or in this case: whole cheese. We are in Wisconsin after all.
We threw caution to the wind crossing our fingers against the weekly weather report that went from partly cloudy to thunder storms. At ten o'clock the night before the report was still forecasting rain at a 40% chance starting at eight in the morning. We'd scheduled the party from one to four in the afternoon. Things weren't looking good.
We woke up early Saturday morning expecting to see a blanket of thick wet grey wool blocking out the sun. The weatherman got it wrong again. The sky was cloudless and the yard was dappled with bits of shade sprinkled around shifting patches of verdant green.
We were off to the Farmer's Market for flowers and chocolate croissants for the late risers still back at home. We came back with lupine, peonies and irises that we arranged in French flower buckets and ironstone pitchers.
There's a new food cart on the Square called "Melt". It takes advantage of a new surge in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. I had checked with the owner about catering our event but we were too small and I don't think they liked my menu suggestions, so we hired a mother daughter team who had helped out with a previous event to be our chefs. It turns out Erin, our mother cook, was initially filled with fear about taking on the grilled cheese challenge. Apparently she had had a long history with burning her grilled cheeses. I had done a test the night before and we had Erin and Amelia show up two hours before the event so we could practice. They were terrific. We offered three different varieties.
The first was an Italian inspired version. We paired mozzarella with sliced beefsteak tomatoes, prosciutto, salt and pepper on a multigrain bread soaked in olive oil.
I took the time to test out various combinations of cheeses and ingredients. Then I scoured the net for info on grilled cheese prep spending my evenings reading about the best way of make a grilled cheese. As part of my research I ate so much cheese it's a wonder I wasn't constipated for weeks. What I found out was the best way to make a great grilled cheese is with thinly sliced bread and grated cheese. This way the cheese has the best chance of properly melting without burning the bread. You can use either butter or olive oil to grill with. Let the griddle get hot before you start and then use a wide spatula to press the sandwich into the grill. I happen to like olive oil. I spread the inside of the bread first then add my ingredients, close the sandwich and spread oil on the top outside slice. I use the oil on the griddle for the other side of the sandwich. This way I can pick up the sandwich without having to get my hands full of oil.
For a second selection with put together a more traditional sandwich with cheddar, Monterey Jack and asiago on sourdough and for that surprising little burst of tang we added a layer of Dijon mustard.
Our final concoction was a combination of sun-dried cherries, shredded arugula, chopped walnuts and feta on multigrain bread. It was our biggest risk but it turned out to be our biggest hit.
For those unwilling to leap into the world of gourmet grilled cheese we set up two quesadilla makers which basically made grilled cheese on a tortilla.
To finish off the meal and before dessert we set out Caesar salad
and hollowed out watermelons filled with mixed berries.
The dessert table was inside. For every one of Emmy's birthdays Rick has made her a chocolate cake based on a Martha Stewart recipe covered with Mrs. Milman's frosting. For her graduation Rick modified this into four-dozen cupcakes. We added fake s'mores on sticks stuck in a moss covered faux Appalachian mountain and two rhubarb crisps that were so good I couldn't even get a picture of them before they were gone.
Food is a big part of any party but the biggest part is the guests. Friends, relatives and classmates showed up in the dozens.
There's never enough time to have a meaningful conversation with all the guests, even a few of them but the sounds of laughter were coming up from the fire pit
and from along the twenty-four feet of harvest table stretched out across the backyard somewhere in between the sun and an approaching storm let us all know the party had been a success. We don't have to do this for college do we?
Oh, by the way she cleaned up pretty good.

Untitled, 1999
Gonzalo Puch, photographer
Represented by Julie Saul Gallery, NYC

Friday, June 6, 2014


Madison has its unique peculiarities. I've covered its political leftist bent, some of its more interesting eateries and its purple house cult. I've always appreciated its willingness to move north of normal. A good deal of its population is willing to take risks at looking foolish. I happily include myself in that demographic.
Although most homes and personal effects of the average Madisonian do safely rest under the traditional umbrella there are a significant number of those that are willing to take that step into the that uniquely unique category. I'm pointing a finger at all you pink homeowners. Painting your home pink takes a certain amount of daring-do.
The purple home cult has been well established but all you Pinkies need a certain amount of recognition for being bold enough to express your individuality on the gender bender abode color schemes you are unabashedly willing to display. When searching for Pinkies its best to stay away from Madison and its metropolitan area newer neighborhoods. They seem a little less willing to make a decorating statement.
It's the older more well established neighborhoods where the more expressive celebrants hang out. It's in the neighborhoods around Jennifer and Monona Bay where the devil wears pink. It takes a strong personality to buck the norm. It's an "A" personality that craves the attention that an out of the ordinary pink home will attract.
They'll have to suffer people like me parking their cars in front of their homes snapping pictures of the places they call their own personal safe havens.
Diane Arbus would never take a portrait of one of her subjects until after she got to know them. It's what makes her photographs less like intrusions on a life. Her photos are more a glimpse into a soul where you can empathize with them rather than gawk at freaks in a sideshow. I take the time to get out of my car when I encounter a Pinkie, walk around, touch the siding and sniff the surrounding air before I snap away. I want to feel their essence and have them accept me as a friend not just someone who's paid their nickel and stepped inside the tent of the bizarre.
I think my mom must have had a bit of that bizarre "A" personality. I didn't recognize it growing up. It wasn't until much later that I began to appreciate her boldness. After all I grew up in a pink house with slate gray shutters and never gave it much thought until recently. Now I can see how she marched to her own drum. I'm sure we must have had neighbors who thought we were three cards short of a full deck but I don't think my mom took the time to worry about it. I think she thought pink was pretty and that was all that mattered to her.
Back in the late seventies the students at the UW took the opportunity to show their pink when they filled the hill, Bascom Hill, with hundreds of pink flamingos. The University showed its true Madisonian colors when they didn't flinch but embraced the tradition and now use the flamingos as a fund raising event and an expression of an institution willing to show it more softer, pinker side. In 2009 by a vote of fifteen to four the Madison City Council adopted the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament as the official city bird. Miami may be a fun city but do you think they'd have the guts to make such a bold move?
There are some Mad City inhabitants that have taken uniqueness to even higher heights than pinkness. They've done their purple house one better, they installed a bowling ball garden complete with a Fiesta plate border.
Clearly the have been very discriminating in there bowling ball selection. I'm only imagining but like Rick spends his winter months nestled in the snug pouring over seed catalogues in anticipation of spring planting I envision this gardener checking out bowling alleys looking for the newest marbleized version of a twelve pound ball.
The garden is planned with forethought as to the right groupings of balls and how some would make a nicer ground cover will others would flower better as taller more showy balls perched on their slender stems.
From balls in your garden to giant chickens in your yard. This house doesn't appear to have a lot of planned out insanity here. It's just a giant chicken hanging out in the front yard of what appears to be an otherwise fairly normal tract home. Take away the chicken and you don't have much to write home about. It was a nice touch to add the giant corn. Even plastic chickens need something to nibble on.
The bird theme continues with this out of place "Little Duckie Car" I found at a strip mall on the much more conservative far west side of Madison. When our daughter was a toddler we'd fill her tub with a hundred of these little rubber duckies. I guess we didn't think far enough out of the box. Who would have thought that gluing them to our car would have been an option we might have considered? Little rubber duckies aren't just for bathing.

Three Circus Ballerinas, 1964
Diane Arbus, photographer
Represented by Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco