The Song of Hotter Water

Lake Superior, the coldest of the Great Lakes, is warmer right now than many old timers can remember at the end of July. And it may set a record for high surface temperature yet this year.

Which turns tradition on its head.

But one thing remains the same. Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” is still the easiest poem on Earth to parody.

By the shores of Gitchee Gummi
By the boiling big sea water
Wrapped in towels there stood the bathers
Wrapped so not to moon the neighbors

There to feel the heat of sauna
There to feel the water bubble
In the Summer of the hotness
Came they there to sweat together

Watched they as the waves came crashing
Crashing on the rocks of Tofte
Black rocks baking in the sunlight
Water turns to steam at contact

Clouds of steam like in a sauna
Ancient steamy wood enclosure
by the lake it sits, neglected
With an A/C in the window

Father Nature pours his waters
on the rocks and steam arises
Now the Lake itself so hot
that bathers cannot breathe beside it

Now they’ve cooked themselves completely
Now they look for cooling waters
Waters right for skinny dipping
What the Lake once gave them freely

Gitchee Gummi, boiling cauldron
is the sauna now, a devil!
So the bathers run instead
inside where it is air conditioned

Shrieking as their skin is shocked
by air from Kenmore in the window
Shrieking as they did before
when jumping in the lake of yore.

Will this be the hottest summer ever?

Pirates at Seats

The London Olympics has an empty seat crisis. Fortunately, professional usurpers are standing by. Today’s post comes from International Fugitive From Justice Captain Billy of the pirate ship Muskellunge.

Artist’s Approximation of Captain Billy

Ever go to a thing where ya thought yer seat was reserved, only to find another booty in th’ bucket?


In all th’ realm of piracy an it’s various manifestations, attempted theft of a reserved seat is one of me most favorites! Why? Because it requires th’ perpetrator to do some actin’, an’ we pirates loves to act.

‘Tis a simple process. Ya picks th’ best empty seat ya can find an’ takes up residence there with yer best air of entitlement. If somebody comes along with th’ real ticket fer that seat, ya goes into yer act.

“Oh heavens me! That ain’t possible – this here’s me seat. Lemmee see th’ ticket. Hmmm. I’m quite certain me ticket has th’ very same numbers … though it ain’t in me pocket at th’ moment …”

An’ so forth an so on.

Eventually ya may have to move, of course. But along th’ way ya does yer best to get as many people as ya can to stand up an’ check their seat numbers. This time of confusion an emotion is th’ very best time to remove wallets from pants pockets an’ lift coin purses from handbags. Especially if’n th’ event is one of them what attracts th’ moneyed elite.

I can tell ya that there is nothin’ that calls out to me quite like a row of empty seats at a venue like them Olympics. All th’ majesty an’ pageantry of sport, plus all them Gold Medals! Not to mention Silver an’ Bronze! I reckon there’s got to be a vault somewhere on site what’s just loaded with precious metals, already festooned wi’ ribbons fer easy carryin’.

Aye! Me an’ me boys would surely love to be there.

I can assure ya that as spectators we is as lusty as they come – much more so than them English folks. An’ as men officially without countries, we’d be delighted to lift our voices for whomever. No petty allegiances will keep us from cheerin’ our hearts out fer th’ swimmer from Malawi, or th’ gymnast from Indonesia, or that random person who marched in with the team from India, minus credentials an’ wearin’ th’ wrong clothes.

An’ by givin Olympic tickets to th’ world’s pirates, there’s always a chance we’ll be so enthralled by th’ spectacle of sports, we’ll be tempted to join th’ law-abidin’ citizens of th’ world in livin’ upstandin’, responsible lives from here on out.


Yer Seafarin’ Buddy,
Captain Billy

I doubt the Captain and his crew will receive invitations to do spectator duty at these security conscious Olympic games, but it does raise the question – how big a problem is international seat piracy?

Ever find some stranger sitting in your place?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m happy when the Olympics come around, and also very, very sad.

I could have been on the U.S. Water Polo team at the Montreal Games in 1976. I had devoted myself to the task of becoming good enough – spending eight hours a day at the public pool in my town, pushing the other kids out of the way, taking their pool toys and throwing them out on the deck. I know it seems mean but these are the skills that lead to success.

Water polo is a surprisingly aggressive sport.

By the time the tryouts came along, I was toned and fit and fearsome. And things weren’t as systematic and regimented as they are today. There were no Water Polo Academies or WPL superstars saturating the gossip culture with their post-match escapades. It was a much simpler time when a common bully from the neighborhood pool could make the team, and I did!

I thought I was going to the Olympics! But I was wrong – our team was divided by infighting and several of the key players struggled with chlorine rashes. We didn’t make it past the qualifying round, and when the athletes marched in Montreal, I watched it on the black and white TV over the snack bar back at our local pool, crying while I took french fries off the plate of the kid next to me and dared him to complain about it.

I considered trying out for the 1980 team but my parents insisted that I get a job and then came the Moscow boycott. By the time the 1984 games came along, I had lost the kick in my legs and was useless in the pool.

I thought of offering myself as team equipment manager just to be in the arena, but water polo suits are so tiny there’s really not much there to manage. It involves carrying a suitcase, and anyone can do that. The coach had a girlfriend with a free hand, so my career was over.

Dr. Babooner, how can I learn to enjoy the Olympics, when all I can think of is What Might Have Been?

Still Treading Water

I told Still Treading Water that he might be elderly, but he sure hasn’t grown up. He needs to get over himself and let go of the past. Participating in the Olympics is special exactly because not everyone gets to do it. Still’s failure to qualify actually adds to the prestige of The Games, though not in the way he expected.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

What’s the Harm in Monikers?

Names are in the news again.


You really can’t fault the organizers of the campaign to banish the uttering of mass-murder suspect James Holmes’ name. If it turns out that he is, in fact, guilty, they want to keep him from becoming famous for committing an unforgivable crime. Shunning is certainly a painful and effective punishment – excruciating even for the most anti-social and maladjusted among us. And if one could truly be left without an identity and so completely erased as to have never existed, that would be profound. But you know how we humans are. We’re always going to slap a title on things, even if it’s “That Thing Without A Name.”

I question the wisdom of turning our backs on evil – it’s much better to remember it and, if possible, tell stories about how it got that way. For my money, the name “James Holmes” is rather ordinary and already quite close to invisible. Sorry for the offense to all the James’s and Holmes’s out there. It would be a mercy to them if the name’s connection with this horror was covered over forever.


A flashy name can be a marketing tool. Chad Ochocinco is a football player who used to be known as Chad Johnson, but he changed it to be a Latin echo of the number he wore on his uniform – “85”. He was pretty good as Johnson, but more flamboyant and memorable as Ochocinco. He played better as Johnson, got more press as Ochocinco, and was traded to the Miami Dolphins. Chad just got married and his new wife, Evelyn Lozada, let it be known she did not want to become an Ochocinco. So much for the show biz name – he’s going back to Johnson. “Chad Lozada” sounds nice, though. What would be wrong with that?

Mr. Leader

Over in London, Mitt Romney learned how difficult it is to be perfect when everyone is watching every move and examining each word. The British press is aggressive to begin with. They pounced on poor Mitt repeatedly. In one gaffe, the expected Republican nominee gave the head of Britain’s Labour Party by the wrong honorific. The Wall Street Journal says:

Unfortunately, as Mr. Romney was seeking to get back on track, Mr. Romney incorrectly called Mr. Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, “Mr. Leader.” This is not what he is called, as the local media was quick to point out.

Britain is so overloaded with titled people, it would be difficult for a visitor to keep track. I credit Romney with a good guess under pressure. Why not “Mr. Leader”? I don’t know how the British Labour Party chief is supposed to be addressed. His party is not the one running the government, so would “Your irrelevance” be appropriate? And what about the Brits addressing Romney? That can’t be easy. What do you call the presumptive presidential nominee (but not yet) of the party out of power in the executive branch but very much calling the shots in the legislative branch. “Mr. Squarejaw Pricey Pants”?

Clearly, names are frustrating, provocative and exhausting.

But a good one will take you far.

What honorific would you attach to spice up your name?

One Of A Kind

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.

My home is unusual in several ways, starting with the fireplace. It is so ugly that I have often thought about replacing or remodeling it. My home is feminine, with soft curves everywhere: in the roof, in the sidewalks, in the round-top front door, and elsewhere. But in a home where everything is Marilyn Monroe curvy, the fireplace is straight as a ruler. Most fireplaces are wide at the base and then they taper gracefully above the mantel. My fireplace is a straight column, like a big tombstone. Most fireplaces have some kind of mantel for visual relief, but not mine. It is just a big pile of bricks.

According to legend, the fireplace was designed by the architect of the home, Joe Lutz, a man who designed this house for his own family. Joe was a bricklayer as well as an architect, and very proud of it. I’ve been told that Joe sat cross-legged for almost a day on the living room floor, fiddling with bricks to design the fireplace. There are six ways bricks can be combined in construction—six and not five or seven. Joe Lutz finally created a design that would combine all six of those bricklaying techniques. So my fireplace isn’t just a fireplace; it is a showcase of the bricklayer’s art.

Because of its history, I’ll never change the fireplace. It meant a lot to the man who designed my home, and I’m compelled to respect his intentions. I am only the current custodian of this home, and the only appropriate program for me is to be humble about making big changes in the place. The fireplace has rights that are greater than my rights.

And it is one of a kind. I’ve got the only one like it in the world.

US Highway 2 cuts across northern Wisconsin, running east and west. It’s a famous road. Not famous is the tiny town of Oulu, which lies just north of US 2. If you want to go to Oulu, you drive a bit east of Brule to Oulu Rock and follow the big blue arrow on it to Oulu.
Oulu was created and is mostly inhabited by folks of Finnish ancestry. They have names like Aho, Lampinen, Kohlemeinen, Reinikainen and so forth. The town doesn’t have much going for it. Its one unusual feature is a glass-blowing gallery. Other than that, Oulu is another tiny unincorporated Wisconsin town just like a thousand other such tiny towns.

And yet there is one other distinctive thing, something in which Oulu’s residents take great pride: the Oulu Rock.
A very long time ago, people needed a way to spot that little road that runs north from Highway 2 to Oulu. Citizens of Oulu placed a large rock at the intersection and painted the rock white and blue, the colors of the Finnish flag. And they painted “Oulu” in large letters, with an arrow to point the way.

Not long ago, the Wisconsin Highway Department informed the folks of Oulu that their rock had to go. Highway design specifications require the erection of a standard highway sign to point the way to Oulu.
The highway bureaucrats were unprepared for the ferocity of Oulu’s response. They didn’t want no frickin’ highway sign and they didn’t need one because they already had a frickin’ rock. Almost nobody ever wants to go to Oulu, to tell the truth, and if they do want to go they probably know the way already! The Finns of Oulu told the highway department folks just where they could stick their standard highway sign.

The highway department countered with all the predictable arguments. They argued for the virtues of standardization. They said a reflective sign would be easier to read than a rock. They said they operated under mandates from the legislature and didn’t have the power to make an exception like this. They said The Law demanded that Oulu accept a highway sign. End of argument.
Cynics say you can’t beat city hall, but Oulu beat the Wisconsin Highway Department. Civic pride and Finnish obstinacy crushed the bureaucrats and their boring laws. When Highway 2 was widened recently, the Wisconsin Highway Department even helped move the rock a few feet north. And it is there today, proudly pointing the way to Oulu.

No other town in Wisconsin has what Oulu has. There are a thousand unincorporated villages in the state, but only Oulu has a highway rock. It is one of a kind.

What have you encountered that is absolutely original . . . one of a kind?

Some Songs by Steve Goodman

Today would have been the 64th birthday of the Chicago singer and songwriter Steve Goodman. Not that we need a reason to spend some time listening to him, but any excuse is good enough to detour into the Goodman archive.

Steve Goodman was born in 1948 and only made it to age 36, but what an amazing accomplishment that was when you consider that he was diagnosed with leukemia at age 20 and fought through the illness and fatigue to make such a lasting impression. It could not have been easy to project the kind of energy and enthusiasm he did through all the pain and discomfort that comes with the disease.

He did it with his pen, writing a song that by now has been in the world longer than he ever was – “The City of New Orleans.” It will still be here after all of us are gone.

Steve Goodman also amazed with his abilities as an interpreter. This is his version of Michael Smith’s song “The Dutchman.” It’s also a treat to watch for the clearly loving and respectful interplay with the great Jethro Burns.

And Steve Goodman wowed us with his dexterity and good humor on old standards you wouldn’t expect a folk singer to attempt.

Steve Goodman was a funny, inspiring and entertaining fellow. And he still is. After they are gone, the world mourns musicians in varying degrees – mostly in proportion to their record sales. I know people who are still broken up about the loss of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Buddy Holly – great talents all. The size of their following doesn’t matter as much as they way they connected – like all music it’s still a matter of individual taste and it becomes a rather senseless exercise to contrast and compare.

But if I could bring back one musician from among the legions who left too soon, I think I’d most enjoy hearing more from Steve Goodman.

You have the power to resurrect the singer of your choice. Who?

Metrics Confounded Compounded

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde.

When science and math people put on a strong push for adoption of the metric system a few decades ago, Isaac Asimov jokingly proposed we needed some other metric units. He proposed several, the only one of which I remember was the Milihelen, which is the amount of beauty it takes to launch one ship. When I worked as a lab tech, my lab mate and I, in response to Dr. Asimov, invented many of our own, especially on Friday afternoons. Most of them I have forgotten, or am unwilling to repeat. Two of them I have included below. I got to thinking we could use a few right now. So here are my offerings:

  • The kilobachman could measure so many things. Lets say dishonesty and insensitivity.
    • The microcheney equals a common everyday lie.
    • The decabeck describes a thumb skewed ten degrees from opposable.
    • The macromartha is 1,000,000 hours of pointless media time.
    • The unbiddenbidenbabble is 15 seconds of careless comment.
    • A mccain mile is the distance is decent man goes to find the larger view. (But the mccain mile has some potholes, the depth of which are measured in decapalins).
    • A Yankee penny equals $1,000,000 of player salary.
    • A nanodale meters the speed of cleverness.
    • The Connelly Constant expresses an ever-lighthearted point of view.
    • The Clyde Constant expresses an ever-lightheaded point of view.
    • A decacoffeesnort is a small bit of humor.
    • A kilocoffeesnort is too crude to discuss.
    • A kilobartholemew reports on the contents of TGitH’s closet.
    • A squarerenee measures yard space turned into garden.
    • Dynohollies express Utube searching skill.
    • Hemisemidemiquibbles are needed to measure rudeness on the Trail.
    • Gusgrits measure the rate of a Northerner’s adjustment to Southern life.
    • The lurker curve is a line below which are hidden unknown wonders and a too-quiet goatherd.
    • A decakilobaboon is a 100-post day on the Trail.
    • Centiblevin equals a ten degree forward nod of the head from boredom.
    • Thirteen duorhondas helped out with Steve’s tree.
    • A centitim equals 100 typing errors.
    • A megahurts measures fibromyalgia pain level.

    • OMGdro’s number: number of pointless text messages sent everyday in America (6.022 ×10 to the 23rd power).
    • Potatoes cubed is what I am working on for supper.
    • An angstdrum holds 120 gallons of fret and worry.
    • Kilowhats measure, well . . . some folks just don’t get it. At all.

I could not think of a good measure for basic human goodness, which says something about me, the state of the times, the media, or all of the above.

What would you name the unit for human decency/kindness/generosity?
(Or anything else I missed.)