Monday, October 31, 2011

John Tetzel - A Lutheran Nightmare

Wenn das Gelt in Kasten Klingt
Dann zu Himmel die Seele springt!
That's Johann Tetzel. He's the one. From second grade on, we learned about John Tetzel. Second only to Satan in evil, Tetzel was the poster-boy for Lutheran grade-school students' hatred of Catholics. Just two blocks away from the safety of our classroom (relative safety, if you counted Miss Taras's classroom), children were being marched straight through the Box Office to the Gates of Hell. Yes, Catholicism! Satan would see a Catholic coming, and say "Ah, a Catholic - come right in, we left the light on!".

Just two blocks away was St. Henry's - the church with the idol on the outside of the building. And an entire school devoted to the destruction of children's faith, the stealing of their souls. At St. Henry's, we were told in school, they worshiped idols, they prayed to dead people, they kept people in Purgatory and wouldn't let them go to heaven. The Rosary - an obvious cultic scheme to earn one's salvation by meaningless repetition. And those nuns, sneaking around in their penguin suits - what were they up to? And then there was Johann Tetzel.

October 31, 1517. Martin Luther's 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The 95 Theses formed a concise declaration of Luther's argument with the established Catholic Church at the time. Most of Luther's objections to the teachings of the day were embodied in the ministry of Johann Tetzel. Johann Tetzel sold indulgences If you bought an indulgence, your sins were forgiven. So, if you were a sinner, and for some reason wanted to go to heaven when you die, you had options. You could make nice with God, or you could buy indulgences. This was very popular among the organized crime bosses of the time, because they had their sins all arranged on the calendar at the beginning of each week, and it was a good way to streamline their operations. A translation of the caption verse above:
"When the Gold in Coffers Rings
Then the soul to Heaven springs"

Luther declared, in his Theses, that you couldn't buy the stairway to heaven, and, since nobody had ever heard of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at the time, Luther was correct. Coincidentally, the construction of St. Peter's Basilica was being financed by the sale of indulgences - so, when Luther was preaching against the sale of indulgences, he was rocking a very big-ga boat indeed.

In later years, we found out that many of the claims put forth by our grade-school teachers regarding Catholics were exaggerations and fabrications. We had more than enough in common with our Catholic peers to overcome some of our differences. But the doctrine of indulgences exists to this day. Here's a link to the Catholic Encyclopedia doctrine of indulgences, for further reading:

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Livin La Vida del Cerdo

One picture could have replaced this post.  As we all know, nothing says "Best Wishes to the New Piggly Wiggly on the south side of Milwaukee" like a 35-foot high pig.   But, I went to photograph the 8th wonder of the civilized world, and, you can see for yourself, nothing was there. Yes, I saw a 35-foot pig in front of the store a few days before when I didn't have the camera along - he was taller than the building - really, I saw this with my own eyes!  So, without the 35-foot porcine edifice, I'll attempt to recount how the Pig has changed my life for the better.

My journey to  La Vie de porc began when I was just a child.  Kroger's was Watertown's favorite grocery store, and schoolmate Karen's father was the manager.  But, in those turbulent '60s, Kroger, Inc. announced that it was pulling out of Wisconsin.  What were we going to do, now?  That would leave only A&P and National Tea and countless corner groceries.  Well, Karen's dad wasn't about to let us down, and soon there was a new Pig in town in the old Kroger's building.

Свинья Жизни - what more can I say?

Piggly Wiggly continues to serve the Watertown area, in a newer more corporate-friendly location on the edge of town.  Their prices were fair, their produce and meat were the finest, and once I even won $100 worth of groceries playing Pig Bingo. That was long ago, in the early 1980s.

So, it was with great delight that I learned that die Schweineleben was coming to Milwaukee.  At last we would have a friendly low-priced alternative to Pick n Shove.  Ever since that Monopoly incident, where Chairman Bob got ahold of my grocery list, and specially marked up everything I used, so I could get extra Monopoly tokens and win $10 at the end after losing hundreds in markups.  And that $4.70 quart of Miracle Whip still bothers me every time I go to the refrigerator.  It's $3.50, Bobbo, at the most - $2.50 on sale! $4.70 I had to pay - and it didn't even come down when the Monopoly game was over!

The Pig brought to town his own affordable brand of food, as well as Food Club and Valu Time brand.  There are Pig chips, Pig butter, Pig Peanut Butter, Pig Cheese, Frozen Pig Peas, Pig Yogurt - virtually everything a person could possibly eat is available in the Pig brand - you'll have to sort out the high-fructose for yourself - it's not for everybody. 
As if that weren't enough - thanks to the innovations of technology, vita porcus brings you:
Each week at checkout time, you present your Pig Card, and receive a detailed statement of your Pig Point Account - Talk about a sense of wealth!
Well, as the nozzle in the picture would indicate, these Pig Points will buy you gallons and gallons of gasoline, no doubt superior to the gasoline others motorvate with.  So, now the Pig is even driving us to the grocery store.  Truly, readers, it doesn't get any better than this.

Heigh Ho - The Pig Life!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't Give a Hell

Saturday mornings when you're eleven and it's fall!  You get up early, and it's still dark out. Inside the house, the oil furnace kicks in with a hot smell that's still new for the season. Outside everything is full of frost, and the grass is slippery when you run on it.  There's a smell of burning leaves always in the air.  And the freedom of two whole days away from school stretches out endlessly before you full of uncharted opportunity.  There were chores to do around the house, but since we put the wooden storm windows on the house the week before, (a mandatory full-family project.) the parents were kind of easy-going about anything that really has to be done today. Early Saturday morning!

I was rolling an inner tube around in the back yard. It left a track in the white frost that had formed on the grass.  "Hey, what ya doin?" My friend Max was here - somebody else liked getting out of the house early in the morning!  We took turns at the inner tube, and there were some other small baby buggy wheels below the garage.  Rolling the wheels around, devising different trajectories to run the wheels into one another.  There was a certain backspin you could put on the inner tube, and roll it up the slide on the neighbor's gym set. It came hurtling down the slide with twice the normal velocity. So one of us would roll the smaller wheels cross-wise, and the other would try to time the inner tube so that it could take out the smaller wheels as they rolled by.  Demolition!

Max wondered out loud if it was cold enough to freeze over the creek that ran in back of his house. We decided that this had to be investigated first-hand.  So, we put away the wheels and headed for Max's house.  My mother suggested we be back for lunch.  Max was delighted for the invite, and looked forward to it.  We walked.  Max didn't have a bicycle at the time.  And we'd have to stop at Max's house and ask permission in order for us to go to the creek.  This made the trip all the more adventurous - I'd never seen the creek. His dad might not be home, yet, He could ask Lil, though.

Lil?    I told Max: "My mother doesn't want us to call her by her first name"

"Oh, no, Lil's not my mother.  Lil is our 'housekeeper'"

Max's mother, it turns out had "gone away".  She wasn't dead, but he never saw her.  "Housekeeper" it turned out, was his father's euphemism for a live-in girlfriend.  In those days, especially among Lutherans, "living in sin" was something whispered behind someone's back.  And I could give you a list of Lutherans who never ran out of things to whisper behind people's backs!  Had my mother been as strict a Lutheran as some of my classmates' parents, I wouldn't have been allowed to play with Max. They would have considered him "wild", and a bad influence, visiting upon the children the sins of the parents, Thus Saith the Lord.  I didn't take any chances, and only filled in as much information as my mother asked me about.  Being with Max was being on the cutting edge of adventure!

We got to Max's house.  He told me to wait outside.  "I'll be back in no time".

Max had learned survival techniques for living in a broken home.  He knew that Lil would probably still be sleeping, if his father wasn't home, because she had no doubt stayed out late the night before.  Lil would be missing out on the freedom and frosty wonder of this glorious Saturday morning. Waking her up too suddenly would be a very bad idea, when there were favors to be asked...  I went around to the back of the house to wait, a dark olive wooden pre-fab with no basement.  The walls were very thin, and from the back yard I could hear Max walking around inside.  Something spoken softly, then, a loud cigarette-low bellow thick with sleep voice:  "You're not supposed to go there."  More soft spoken pleading, and then again, the Voice of Lil:  "Go ahead, then, and I don't give a Hell if you fall in."   Something all too sincere in that tone of voice.  I pictured the rest of the day wilting away into gray ordinariness, under the shadow of this moment.  To me, it sounded like a "no".  And it sounded like she really, truly did not give a Hell.

Max came back out.  I expected him to say that maybe we shouldn't go to the creek today. But he was wearing a slightly contrived grin.  "She said it was okay."  He didn't know that I had overheard practically the entire exchange.

"You sure?" I asked.

In a Curly-Joe Three Stooges voice "Wy, Soitenly!" and socked me in the shoulder.

The adventure continued -  we went to the creek, which was unaffected as yet by the cold temperatures, and actually not enough action for us.   You seen one creek, you've seen 'em all!  So, we continued cross-country to Spaulding Street.  Some low spots had water in them, which had frozen, some so thick we couldn't smash them with our shoes.  We hiked up the hill and across the railroad tracks to the Rock River Farm Co-op.  We got hold of some ears of dry corn that had missed the corncrib by the railroad tracks.  And shelled the corn off the cobs as we walked, stuffing the kernels into our jacket pockets, for what? for ammo? for duck food?  for exchange value?  I don't remember why we did it - we just did it because this was our glorious day of liberty, so we didn't give a Hell. We headed to my house for lunch.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Onions in a Box

Pig Tales - Adventures in the Piggly Wiggly
As I came out of the canned vegetable aisle, a lady was saying to two kids in clerks uniforms:  
"No, it's called French Onions"
Dum: "We have french fries in the frozen food section"
She: "No, it's not frozen, it's kind of dried  And it comes in a box, kind of a round box that looks like a can. It's called French Fried Onions"
Dummer "A baawx?"
She: "Not exactly, it's more like a cardboard can.  It's round."
Two simultaneous stupid looks. One of the kids was concentrating so hard, he started drooling.
At that point, I reached into my cart, and held up my own can of  French's Onions high in the air, so the lady could see them.  Give me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse...  
"THAT's THE ONES!  WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE!!!!" the lady pointed to me. 
The two clerks gaped stupidly. You begin to ask yourself, why are all these vegetables standing around in the meat section? 
"They're over there by the canned corn, on the top shelf"  I pointed.
Six eyes followed the finger..... voila!
I disappeared down the Coffee aisle.

Well, I know what that old lady was up to.  It's the Green Bean Casserole.  And I'm about to divulge her most treasured secret recipe:  

Green Bean Casserole
Drain a can of green beans, throw in casserole dish, 
Add a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, 
Add a can of sliced mushrooms.  
Stir it up. 
Dump the can of Durkee's French Fried Onions on top.  
Bake.until warm and congealed.
Instant Dish to Pass.    
And here's Esther's secret:  Sprinkle a little Lawry's Seasoned Salt on top for that extra savor.

"Now, FRESS!"* as my Grandpa used to say.

* german:  "Feed"

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Tale of Darkness, Bikers, and African Violets

I'm living happily ever after, now.  Still - whenever I see an African violet (Saintpaulia) blooming, it takes me back...

It was 1984, and I was in the process of making a huge relationship mistake, and couldn't see the way out, not immediately at least.

Working in Milwaukee! I got a job as an office manager for a heating contractor.  It didn't pay much, so, in addition to my office job, I took on a job as manager of an old apartment complex on Burnham Street, an industrial neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee. The maintenance duties helped pay the bills by giving me a rent break.  Having spent the first 32 years of my life in peaceful 14000-population Watertown, the unending vastness of Milwaukee was in some ways overwhelming.  But it was an exciting new life I was building for myself in the big city.  That's when I met D.

I had recently escaped from the a smothering engagement before it ended in a stifling marriage.  A life dominated by in-laws can only end badly - you have to live your own life - another story, another time.  D was there to listen to my tales of disaster, and to share her own disastrous life.  Disaster was what we had in common. There are some who try to put disaster behind them, and then, on the other hand, there are people who embrace disaster, and weave it purposely into the fabric of their lives.

There were dark times of trying to keep up with D's bar-time lifestyle, trying to be someone I could never be.  Many sad stories to tell there.  Soon I was spending lots of evenings home alone while she caroused the neighborhood bars with her "real" friends, as she called them when she was drunk, which was four nights out of five.  Kenny Rogers kept singing over and over on the jukebox: "♪ Know when to fold 'em. ♫". . . Why didn't I listen to him?

Within a year D had talked me into quitting the band I performed with on weekends for years. Next to go, was the Burnham Street apartment management job, and soon we were renting the upper half of an old wooden duplex on Milwaukee's South Side.

In the new apartment, although we had a spare bedroom, somehow there wasn't room up there for my extensive collection of old books and phonograph records, thousands of LPs, 78s, 45s, and old literary classics.  There was a small room down in the basement empty but for the washers and dryers - why not keep those old records and books down there?

As soon as we were solidly and irrevocably moved into the duplex, the trap sprang shut. I was financially paralyzed by the new lease just signed, no longer having the supplemental income from the music jobs and no more apartment management position to offset the rent,  The day job didn't pay enough to give me any margin of comfort.  In other words, a perfect time for D to unveil the "master plan".   D had a teenage juvenile delinquent son Jay.  He had become more of a problem than his father (one of the many ex-boyfriends), could handle.  We had a spare bedroom, and, conspiring without my knowledge, she invited Jay to move in with us.  What a coincidence, indeed.

There was no way out.  I didn't get along with Jay -- he ignored us both anyway, spending most of his home time tying up our telephone line. Any complaints about Jay's behavior was considered an attack on D.  So there was my option -- I had the right to remain silent.

I spent lots of time working with my plants - at least the plants show some appreciation when you're good to them.  I grew some African violets and brought them to work for the window sill in my office.  My boss was very interested - he had once raised African violets himself, and had some old grow light racks in his basement which he was no longer using, and these he gave me.  Bar none - it was the nicest thing that happened to me that entire year.  I found out later that he was in the early stages of leukemia, and clearing out his basement was a part of his long-term plan of "putting his life in order" for his wife.

I brought the racks home - they were the de Luxe racks made of sturdy tubular steel, with gravel beds for drainage and humidity control, and hi-UV fluorescent lamps which plants just loved.  I set the racks up in the basement room with the washing machines.  From then on, I practically lived in that basement room. Within months I had propagated and collected more violets than the racks could handle.  And I had one shelf on which aloe vera plants thrived like weeds, their fat leaves full of green healing.  I even had an old toaster oven, in which I'd sterilize batches of home-mixed potting soil.

And, when the planting was done for the day, I worked at cataloging the music collection in the storage room.  I wired some old stereo components together, so I had a place to "preview" my treasured 78s.  Paul Whiteman, John MacCormack, Leo Reisman, Hank Thompson and so many others soon filled my life with music, and the violets filled the room with bright purples, whites and all that lush fuzzy green foliage.  The music and colors seemed all the more vivid against the dark backdrop of the rest of my home life.

The other tenant of the duplex, Pat, came through the basement occasionally.  Bachelor, thirties, party hardy boisterous life.  He had a small workshop in the other part of the basement, where he'd occasionally work on his Harley.  We never spoke much, but we got along -- perhaps he thought I was a little crazy, and perhaps at that point, I was.  Some things make you act strange. Was I running away from my problems?  To me my life felt right.  

It continued that way for more than a year. An uneasy truce settled over the domestic routines. I was a stranger in my own home. The kid bought and sold used cars, even though he wasn't yet 18, came and went as he pleased.  D continued her bar life, her jobs came and went.  She'd sometimes disappear for an entire weekend.  I believed all her stories about crashing on sofas. After all, they were her real friends.

And the violets - more beautiful and exotic than ever.  I had connected with a local violet collectors club, and brought more and more exotic varieties of bloom and foliage into my bright warm corner of the world. Old planters found at the Salvation Army store became planted with exotic gifts for people I knew.

All too soon, came the day in January.   I got home from work - great to be inside from the breezy below-zero winter day.  Down the stairs to the basement.   Today it was extremely cold and drafty in the basement as well - and strangely quiet. Then I saw what was different -  the outside door was open!   The night before, Pat explained later, he had agreed to work on someone's motorcycle.  When the bars closed, they brought the bike over to the house, and loaded it into Pat's basement workshop via the door through the laundry room.  Pat apologized when he realized what had happened.  "We were both kind of drunk, and we forgot to shut the door."

I closed and fastened the outside door.  In the dazed stillness, feeling overwhelmingly weary, I went to the phonograph.  Starting the turntable, a 78 rpm version of  "Love's Old Sweet Song".  Slowly, I turned around and surveyed the damage. The leaves of all the violets were black and transparent and limp, frozen.  The aloe veras were all darkened, and drooping sadly over the sides of the pots.   All dead.
"Once in the dear dead days beyond recall, when on the world the mists began to fall.. . 
Though your heart be weary, sad the days and long, still to us at twilight comes loves old sweet song.."

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Friday, October 14, 2011

New Home for Fernanda

When Amy (not her name) moved out of our rental property recently, she left hardly a trace of her habitation behind.  Oven, floors, closets, refrigerator - all spotless!  Full refund of security deposit was sent promptly!   But, on the deck, Amy left two bushels of dirt. And this is a good thing!  Because that dirt happened to be Stern's Miracle Gro Potting Mix.  The bags were broken, but I salvaged the potting mix in buckets. 

Here's Syd helping to check in the consignment - only one tongue and so much to do!
I assembled my entire "family" of plants and planters, and re-potted the whole works.  It was such a sunny and pleasant day, and the moist fragrant potting soil and the verdant smell of plant roots took me back to a simpler more carefree time in my life, when I raised African Violets in the basement (an adventure that came to a tragic end, involving neighbors, bikers, drunkenness and doors left open at 3am on a winter morning... - I will explain in more detail some other time.)

I arranged the suspects smallest to largest, based on space requirements.  And I transplanted each into its proper-sized container, ever larger pots. The Spathes were so abundant that I divided them into three separate groups.  Fernanda, my favorite fern (second from the right ) has grown to twice the size she was after she recovered from an over-zealous pruning job by Syd. He couldn't remember where the plant started and the salad stopped.
There was some leftover potting mix, so I yielded to temptation and got some additional fern varieties at the garden center the other day... 

Back to the Garden! It's going to be a long cold winter.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

you always remember the first time

When I first moved to Milwaukee, in the mid-1980s, I usually had more bills than paycheck, so the Public Library system was a good fit for my life.  Along about 1990 or so, the libraries installed public computers in most of the neighborhood branches and the Main library downtown.  If you had a library card, you could sign up to use a computer for one hour at a time. Phone reservations were accepted.

My computer skills at that time involved an IBM-card driven Univac.  But this was a Personal Computer.  Yes, it was called a PC even though it was an Apple IIe, and compared to the basic FORTRAN instructions I was accustomed to, it was quite sophisticated.

It was an amazing time on this Earth - For 52 cents, I could purchase a five-inch floppy disk at GK Enterprises, which was in the back room of a laundromat in West Allis, and with that disk I could carry my work with me wherever I went.  Imagine 56,000 bytes of my own thoughts and creations all on one disk!  So, I could book multiple times at multiple libraries, and continue uninterrupted through all my free time.  Some evenings I would even book two or three libraries one after the other and "make the rounds".

My biggest project, after learning general PC principles, was to convert the index of my music collection into a massive database, a database which I use to this day. 78s, 45s, LPs, cassettes, all indexed so I could find them instantly, 30,000 titles presently. And soon the database took up multiple floppy disks, and the Apple software would accommodate this.  Assisted by supplementary reading, and a subscription to PC magazine, I gained a self-taught working knowledge of computers,  Enough so, that when my company finally put in a computer, I was able to automate most of my office functions immediately.

And it started on a Steve Jobs Machine - an Apple IIe in the Milwaukee Public Library. I'm a P.C. and Steve touched my life, too!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just ♫ PIcture a Penthouse ♪ 'Way Up in the Sky ♫

Hello, I'm back.  Here are a few photos from my "vacation".  After many many years, our favorite tenant bought a house, and vacated the Atrium apartment.  The Atrium is a cozy yet large apartment nestled between two other sections of our bank building.  It's very private, and very beautiful, and was very much in need of painting.  Of all the apartment rehabs my wife and I have done, this is, in my opinion, our finest.  A  wood-beam cathedral ceiling peaking at about 20 feet, a stairway leading to a rooftop deck, has lots of closet space, etc.

But this time around, we have a monumental paint job, it's September 28th and the new tenant is moving in on October 1st.  And after having to lift the ladders up the outside of the building and drop them to the floor from above, I still knew that my tallest stepladder was not tall enough to reach the highest walls. So, that's why rollers have poles on them.  
I only work with Sherwin Williams Pro Mar 200 Semi-Gloss in our apartments, because it covers in one coat, and is very durable and washable. And a Purdy three-inch brush. Advice to the novice:  Don't skimp on cheap paint and cheap brushes.  When Home Depot says "More Doing..." they are referring to your having to do it again in a few years because the cheap paint has faded or deteriorated.
Well, around my house, rollers aren't the only things that have poles.  I happen to have married one.  And my Pole, in admiring my paint job happened to mention,  "As long as you're all set up, wouldn't it look nice if we rubbed some stain on the ceiling? Just 'pschhtt pschhtt' with a rag.  It would look so much nicer"

So, "pschhtt pschhtt" it would be - those damn Poles and their consonents!  Did I mention, the ceiling is pretty high up there?  Much higher than the ladders I had. 'Way up there de the middle of de air', as Harry Belafonte used to sing.

So, very carefully, I found a way to caress each beam with stain.  A few could be reached by ladder, For one I had to stand on top of the bathroom shower.  And some I could reach from the walkway by reaching out, and letting my center of gravity go over the edge, catching myself with one hand on the beam, applying stain with the other hand.  That's fine until you look down, and then you wonder "What if I can't bounce myself back to the walkway? Maybe I could fly! Wheeeee!  I'm the Stain Fairy!  'pschhtt pschhtt' "

And, of course I finished on time.  The new tenant loved it, but she wants to bring in her own stove and refrigerator - more Adventures in Moving & Storage for me!

Finished the job with two gallons of paint less than I'd planned - another advantage of Pro-Mar 200. I should charge Sherwin Williams for the free advertising  ka-ching! And the smell of a newly-stained ceiling - heavenly!

So, as the new tenant settles in to the new apartment, I settle into a 2-day coma.  Good night.

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