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Thursday, June 30, 2011


to reproduce by budding was all the rage
When presenting nonsense, I have long chosen painstaking methods of expression. This here's a woodcut.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Cover image that nearly approximates Chowder and Mort, without me having to draw or paint them. I hoped to hire either Jeff Nicholson or John Severin to draw them, but Severin died and Nicholson now wanders the deserts of the Southwest without any ink.

I'm 50,000 words in and no end in sight. I don't know why I'm writing a Western when I've never really read one. Here is the first chapter. More available on Amazon for Kindle, which is of course adaptable to any device such as iPhone, using the Kindle App.

Chowder and Mort Head West

Chapter 1:
Lightening the Load

Autumn introduced itself to 1897 with a single cool breeze near the end of August. Chowder Crowder retired from the cattle drives of the Dakotas and said, “My bones are getting crooked and all this roping and riding is really startin’ to hurt my fingers. I don’t think I can weather another winter up here.” He decided to ride west to California, where he heard the gold was all claimed, but ladies walked around in their underwear all winter long. “Wouldn’t that be a sight, Mort?” Mort was his horse. Mort really didn’t care about anything Chowder told him, as long as he got his oats. He would have snorted a big NO to California if he’d had any idea how far away it was.

    Chowder sold his cattle for eleven dollars a head to Rawhide Johnson over in Sturgis. This was what they called a “friendly price”—the highest dollar you could ask without pointing a pistol. Chowder knew a thing or two about not only cooking meat, but raising it. That’s why he had a handful of the best looking cattle in the county. Rawhide had admired Chowder’s little herd for some time, so he was glad to acquire it.
    Chowder sold his cabin to a young couple just in from Ohio who wanted to raise a family on the frontier. Knowing this goal of theirs would be about as much fun as falling down a well—and twice the work of climbing out—he threw in his chicken coop and three old chickens free of charge. “Those hens are almost as old as me anyhow,” he told the couple. “If you study hard on the eggs they lay, you see little fossils and such… feed them extra grain and they’ll knit you mittens.” The young man and woman just stared at him. “You see,” he prodded, “because knitting is something old ladies do….” They still didn’t laugh. Chowder decided it was because they were so scrawny—they were probably saving their strength. He shook their hands and hoped there was a richer market for jokes farther West.
    At last Chowder had his place cleaned out, the last of his belongings wrangled onto a squeaky old cart. He looped a rope around the load a few times and cinched everything together in the manner of trussing a beef roast. Even tying knots made the cart squeak. “Even if I thought this cart could make the trip, the squeaking would drive me to tears.”
    “I never did like pulling that cart,” Mort said. “If you let me, I’d love to kick it over a cliff, or maybe just trample it to pieces.” Sometimes Chowder thought Mort had a bit of a problem.
    “Not till we get this last load to town. Hey, you need new shoes, buddy! Let’s get a wiggle on—we got lots to accomplish in town before we hit the trail.”
    One had to be careful. Mort was strong, even for a horse. He stood fifteen hands tall, muscular as any workhorse, with Quarter Horse legs for sprinting. Some might call him dark bay in color, or you might just call him brown. The small star on his broad forehead was often obscured by the forelocks of his generous mane, making him even more thoroughly brown. His lack of color seemed a match for his personality, often mired in the muck of melancholy moods, but he held a reserve of inner grit.
    Like most any horse, he could be high-strung. Equine blood ran hot, so even the muddy moodiness of a horse like Mort could quickly be overturned by the instinct to kick, buck, or bolt at the drop of a hat. People didn’t impress him much, nor did he have quick love for other animals. He had one hero, but it wasn’t Chowder: the legendary Morgan-Mustang horse named Comanche, the last horse standing in the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn. After the Indians sent Custer and his men to their ends, and likely captured a number of horses for their own, the only survivor from the Custer regiment was Comanche. An old photo of the famous horse was tacked on the wall of the Spearfish post office. These days Mort was a dead ringer for old Comanche. Chowder told him all about it. “You might have some Comanche blood in you, Mort,” Chowder told him, always careful not to point out that surviving such a skirmish might have more to do with dumb luck than any special bravery. 

    They pulled the rickety cart into Spearfish, loaded to the brim with the finality of Chowder’s household belongings. The cart was parked by the market while Mort stood under the big clock waiting for Bob Zipf, the local blacksmith, to finish pulling someone’s teeth. Spearfish wasn’t a very big town, so Bob was also the dentist. This was handy because both jobs required good grip, forearm strength, and a manly apron.
    Out the door came a gentleman with a mouthful of gauze and a red handful of uprooted teeth. Bob followed him out and waved goodbye. “Don’t eat or drink till tomorrow, Sam. Keep them clots in, you don’t want dry sockets.”
    “Yull neber shee me agaim,” Sam said, holding his jaw.
    “I know. You don’t have any teeth left.” Bob turned to Mort. “What can we do fer ya, Mort?”
    “New shoes, I guess.”
    “It does look like you need to be shod. Step inside while I don my chaps.” Mort considered walking away so he wouldn’t have to get his feet scraped, tickled and prodded. Kicking a farrier was always a high goal for any horse, generally worth bragging rights at any stable, except maybe with the most high-falutin Foxtrotters. But Mort also knew Bob Zipf was a canny old character. He might have a sleeve full of tricks to stop any horse from besting him, not to mention that knocking down a farrier mid-job would leave you with one shoe on, one shoe off, and maybe a nail or two poking out of your hoof. Best not to kick old Bob, at least not until the job was done.

Meantime, Chowder gathered his cartload of items he hoped to sell. According to plan, it was Saturday Swap time, so the other ranchers and townsfolk gaggled around like geese with their goods and their dollars. Even Old Shad, the poorest, hardest-of-hearing old geezer in town, was there poking around. He frowned at most anything put out for sale, because being penniless tended to make a man the pickiest of shoppers, at least until that point that it made him a beggar. Chowder had an item or two he would have given away to the old codger, but the yelling it would take to communicate this charitable discount would be too difficult and embarrassing for everyone involved.
    Otherwise, very little salesmanship was required, because everyone knew Chowder was leaving out. They would bend over backwards to relieve him of his unwanted possessions, and at fair market prices. Chowder considered this a township of friends and fine neighbors.
    Mrs. Gutwein had a linen-wrapped raisin bread which she gifted to him. He insisted she take something for it, and she finally went away with a tin ladle. Some extra rope went to Burl Jinkers, who loaned Chowder some rope once but believed it was never returned, even though Chowder felt different. Chowder gave two sauerkraut crocks to Nathaniel Dimble for a half-dollar, and a black trivet to Cora Corielle in exchange for two pennies and a coin purse which she said would hold money or dry medicines on a long trip. “Now, that there is a sound trivet,” he told her. “Chicago craftsmanship, with a little Art Nouveau in the cast iron. Ain’t yet found a pot that it won’t shoulder.”
    A pretty decent oak rocking chair went for sixty cents to the home of Rex Turpentine, who carried it away on his back, the curved runners over his shoulders. Rex said his wife and children had full run of his current rocking chair, and sometimes he might like to rock for his own relaxation. He planned on keeping it out in the barn for a long, slow refinishing job.
    Chowder traded a tarnished silver tray for a box of bullets, and threw a half-pint of molasses in on the deal. A shovel, a bucket, and a large skillet brought another quarter, another handshake from a rasp-callused palm. He traded a mallet for a sack of grits. He sold his hammer, but kept his hatchet for the trail. Finally, only the cart was left, and he’d seen most everyone he knew. He left it behind with a little sign that said, “Free Kindling.”
    He had better than fifty dollars now, and ten times that in the bank. All told, that was a terrible lot of money, especially to sport around on a ride across the continent. In a lucky turn, the Bank of Spearfish now transferred dollars to banks far afield—mostly back in the Old States. But ever since the Gold Rush, there were choices galore in California, several in San Francisco alone. For an exorbitantly high fee, Chowder could wire his money by Western Union’s “lightning line” and open an account far ahead of his actual arrival. He chose to do just that, but said, for the ten dollar fee, there best be a hot meal and a drink waiting for him when he caught up with his money. The Western Union clerk said he would see if that could be arranged.
    Time to pay for Mort’s new shoes, Chowder thought, walking back toward the town square. He took to the shady side of the street, passing a site two hundred paces away where men were building a bell tower, on the grounds of the new school. Within the scaffolding where stonemasons were still assembling the sturdy walls, someone rang the bell. The deep tone thinned out to a shiver in the hot, dry air; Chowder stood and listened for another strike, but none came. Was this the bell’s first clang? It was a grand old sound, never before heard in these parts. A wave of sadness came, filling Chowder up to the neck with the weight of water. Wherever he went from here, this town would grow, this bell would ring, and he would never hear it again. Still, he was glad he heard it once before heading out.

    Chowder returned to Bob’s just in time to see a limp man come flying out the open door. The figure collapsed in a heap, as if every bone in its body broke.
    “Ye gods, Mort!” Chowder muttered as he prepared to empty his wallet for Bob Zipf’s doctor bill… or casket.
    “That should tide you over, Mort!” said Bob’s voice from inside. Chowder looked down at the body, which wore Bob’s clothes, then toward the open door, and almost laughed out loud—it was as if Mort had kicked the poor fellow so hard that his flesh and bones parted ways with his voice!
    Chowder used his boot to probe the collapsed body, rolling it over with his toe. It wore a ratty wig over a pale muslin face, with dark blotches of walnut stain for eyes. The overall effect was somewhat horrible and unsettling. He trotted inside, saying, “That impostor is a dead ringer for you, Bob! But he seems awful tired. And his posture’s weak, spineless even. You’ll need a sturdier helper if you want to take time off.”
    Yes, Bob had made a scarecrow for the purpose of a kicking decoy. Horses he did not trust would get a surprise dummy from the rear, sliding on a pulley line right into the sweetest kick-zone. Bob used it to root out the ornery kickers, saving himself a lot of pain.
    “I made a deal with Mort—to let him kick it good, just for fun, once I finished the job.”
    “How did it feel, Mort?” Chowder asked.
    “It was okay,” Mort said. “It could use some bones or something that breaks when you kick it.” Chowder paid Bob double the going rate and told him he was the cleverest horse-shoeing dentist a man could ever hope to meet.

    After a stop at the General Store, Chowder packed the full complement of rations  into his gear and they headed west with a full half-day to turn horizon into known miles.
    “Well, looks like we’ll miss our old town, huh Mort?”
    “Naw. This town wasn’t so special to me.”
    Chowder thought back to the sad state Mort was in as a colt, when Chowder had bought him from a grubby old horse trader by the name of Humberton. Most of the old crank’s horses were half-starved, hobbled, and sick with botfly-worms. Chowder tried telling him he could get healthier prices for healthier animals, but the man didn’t see it that way. He wanted out of the business as soon as possible, and not to put a penny more in than he had to. Mort’s mother gave out and died weeks before, for lack of proper care, and her collapsed carcass lay within sight of the others until coyotes carried her off a piece at a time, tugging her hide off in strips. Chowder wanted to remind Mort that that old fool wasn’t even from Spearfish, it was just where Mort’s ma parted ways with the living . . . but he didn’t want to freshen up bad memories. 
    “Well, there’s a few good folks around here. Spearfish could have been worse to us.”

Before Spearfish was even behind them, they heard a familiar sound. Above the light curtain of noise from insects and birds came the squeak of the abandoned cart. They both paused and swore they heard the unmistakable sound, looking around for whatever was haunting them.
    “It can’t follow us, can it?” asked Mort. “If it does, I’ll stomp it to pieces.”
    “Naw—look!” Over a hill came Old Shad, knees goring out through his hillbilly pants, pulling the cart with a Christmas-morning smile on his crinkled, buckskin face.
   “Old Shad struck gold.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Style Wars

When I see footage of Mr. Khaddafi/Gaddafi, I get the feeling he wakes up thinking, "Am I having a Miami Vice Day, or a Star Wars Day?"

Sometimes you feel like a nut

Sometimes you don't
Maybe it's the same rule of flux that governs which spellings of his name he demands of foreign journalists.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Excerpts from an Actual Application Letter

Or, why I will never be hired into the self-serious ranks of academia:

Now to the obligatory brag (self-promotion is not my strong suit, hence the hammy tone which we pray will endear more than annoy): I have the minimum requirements safely in the bag, with a bit of variety. I have the poetry MFA from a “Top 20” program. I have, in lieu of two years college teaching experience, six years of part-timing, including tech writing, composition at two levels, one half-semester of fill-in-for-Jacinda on maternity-leave fiction workshop, and at least eight sections of poetry at two levels. I have full command of ENG 203, but I’m bendy to whatever new pedagogical sorcery is in vogue.

Demonstrated record of excellence in teaching? Well, it gets pretty subjective here, but my two or three detractors have been drowned out by a chorus of positive reviews (yes, I’ve saved all my evaluation packets). I was “recruiter” for such current hopefuls as Jacob Helton and Ashley Watson, both featured in the latest Moon City Review*. Several students have testified, post-finals, that my class was “the best English class they’d had,” which may mean little or may mean lots, but always heartens, especially in the case of Paul Johns, a sixtyish English major who spoke thusly from his Santalike beard with grandfatherly authority. The gravitas of this sort of testimonial helps support the idea that I’m offering a quality product more convincingly than the all-caps “WOODY ROCKS!” that concludes one of my evaluation sheets, but I like that too. I also have Facebook contact with Brian Brown, one of my past students who now writes articles for the Springfield Free Press.

My legacy arrives in tidbits, and here’s the strangest one. Drive south on Highway 65. A few miles out of town, there is an Adopt-A-Highway sign under the name “ALPHA BATTLE DRAGON LORDS AGAINST FOREST FIRES,” a Dada-style group founded by two guys—Cody Walker and Rich Valerius—partially in protest of my departure from their fiction class when Jacinda Townsend returned. Unfortunately, their preference for me was so strong that they essentially heckled a pregnant woman in the emotional aftermath of childbirth, which I did not endorse. At semester’s end, my wife and I had dinner with Jacinda and family at Garbo’s, and she appeared undamaged. Cody teaches English at a local high school, and says he will soon write the whole story of the ABDLAFF. He also claims their adopted mile of 65 is “the dirtiest mile of highway in Missouri.”

Oh well. If you can't get a respectable job, you can always be a detestable slob.

Just kidding. I fixed a rooftop A/C unit today. I'm more of an indispensable slob.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meet the Feeble

OK, poor creature. Goblin McNugget. Luck Running Out. Needs a tiny action figure to ride it like Arzach.

"Plucky, you sorry bastard."

"On your mark, get set—"


"Sleep, my child. Your mohawk delights me."

"Your gross sac-belly flexes every time you peep."

"I made you a new nest, now stay in it this time, dummy."

"Nature's coffin."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers' Day 2011

This year I'm giving my dad this bucket of bolts. This is the only sort of thing he wants.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Economic Might through Carrots

By sheer American determination and grit, I have turned 79 cents worth of carrots seeds into a harvest that may eventually challenge the $2.00 mark in edible carrots.

As long as I don't factor in my labor, I'm golden. I can also consider digging out the carrots as entertainment: they're fun to unearth, and some of them come out looking like Pan's Labyrinth root babies, with little rooty appendages.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Emphasis on Bacon

View of the night sky from Des Moines, Iowa

 No, not Kevin Bacon—savory, salty, porktastic bacon. If you are a fan of bacon, Des Moines may be your mecca. I did not go there looking for bacon, but it seemed to hold great sway over the town. Restaurants featured various bacon-wrapped appetizers, and one restaurant in particular dedicated serious square-footage to celebrating bacon in its boundless greasy variety.

anon. at the entrance to The Machine Shed

 The Machine Shed, a farm-themed restaurant on the outskirts of Des Moines, gives bacon its due. "Bacon is Meat Candy" t-shirts lead the way into a small shop's worth of bacon memorabilia and worship. In this place, one gets the idea that bacon does indeed have a world headquarters/command center, and that one is standing in it. Here are just a few of many bacon products you never knew existed.

the author demonstrates the use of the bacon band-aid

Friday, June 10, 2011

Superhero Chess, Checkers, and Rock-Paper-Scissors

SPOILER ALERT: Crucial beans of X-Men: First Class are spilled

One of the great things about the new movie X-Men: First Class is that the story deftly engages in what I call, for lack of a better term, Mutant-Power Chess. Always a hallmark of good X-Men stories, MPC not only made for unpredictable plot twists and surprising victories, I’m sure it was key to Chris Claremont’s decades-long tenure as the writer of Uncanny X-Men. I’m sure of this because other aspects of Claremont’s writing could get pretty tiresome: every character in every story unleashing his or her canned phrase(s) such as “I’m the best at what I do, and what I do ain’t pretty” (Wolverine) or tidbits of other languages like “Mein Gott!” (Nightcrawler’s German) or “Bozshe moi!” (Colossus’s Russian). All this was pretty cool the first few times, and it’s how Claremont made most every issue accessible to new readers, but after years and years it did tend to make for stereotypical characters and predictable exposition. Still, it was the most successful franchise in comics for most of my youth, because Claremont and his artists overcame these weaknesses with raw inventiveness. Tons of mutants, many cool powers, excursions to alien planets, foreign countries, magic(k), technology—and of course, Mutant-Power Chess.

Mutant-Power Chess takes place in struggles between multiple mutants, and it is of course that special ingredient that made the X-Men, as a team, greater than they could be as a sum of individuals. They could augment each other in surprising ways and new combinations. Two factors made the X-Men champs of this complementary meshing: training together in the Danger Room, and the constant leadership by telepathic link—if not Professor X, then Jean Grey or Cyclops-via-Emma-Frost, or whoever. You pretty much gotta have a telepath.

Sure, other super teams work together: in the Fantastic Four, Sue is always making protective shield bubbles for the others, and Reed always has to hammock out to catch an extinguished Human Torch; Cap leads the Avengers with smart tactics, and maybe Iron Man figures out how to recharge with some of Thor’s lightning; the Justice League does whatever they do, which is pray to hell that Superman doesn’t get kryptonited while leaving Batman alone so he can come up with the kill-stroke plan. Actually, I have no idea how the Justice League operates, except for Wonder Twin powers, which are actually pretty analogous to Mutant-Power Chess: turn into a pail of water while your buddy turns into an eagle to carry the pail.

The simplest Mutant Chess tactics (Mutant Checkers?) were habitual and commonplace. Very few missions went by without Nightcrawler teleporting someone to safety, or Shadowcat phasing someone through a bunker wall. The name-brand move in my X-Men reading days (Claremont/Byrne, Claremont/Romita Jr.) was the “Fastball Special,” where Wolverine was thrown by Colossus so he could poke something extra hard while overcoming his usual lack of flight. The Fastball Special was extra cool if done while Wolverine was smoking a cigar or eating a banana. This was also the golden age of Rogue, a relatively new character at the time. Since Rogue’s power is to borrow other mutant powers, she often slurped up friend or foe to become a mega-mishmash of punching, flying, zapping, and talking like a waitress from Biloxi, Mississippi, sugah. She could have anything but Wolverine’s claws, which were non-transferable (aspects of a modified human, not a mutant talent). Although she was a favorite angsty character of mine in my angsty teenishness, wadding everything onto Rogue is pretty easy as a plot device*, so it’s another example of Mutant Checkers, maybe even Rock-Paper-Scissors**. Rogue-A-Plenty was great fun for the artists, though: build a hot chick out of organic steel, a blue devil tail, striped hair, marshmallows and whatnot, and have her finally trash Nimrod the super Sentinel. A power like Rogue’s, however, can be key to a good game of Mutant Chess. It was used cleverly in the first X-Men movie to fix her own grievous injuries by borrowing Wolverine’s healing factor.

So, the full-blown Mutant Chess game must be built on several mutant powers interacting in surprising synergy. Of course this is just a manifestation of the writer’s creative complexity, so it might be a multi-tiered process, or it may just be a really surprising use of a superpower***, or both. Again, any super-team tales require teamwork, but many times you just see heroes and villains pair off in combos like Strong Guy vs Tough Guy, Fire Guy vs. Ice Lady, or Grippy Guy vs Slippery Sir. Such counterpart scenarios are often resolved by swapping partners square-dance style, at which point we learn that Slippery Sir is greasy, thus highly flammable, etc.

Among X-Men stories, seemingly unstoppable foes tend to require complex battle tactics comparable to chess—different players move differently, have different vulnerabilities. Professor X is very like a king in that his crippled body limits his movement, but all the other pieces revolve around him, and are lost without him. Wolverine is very like a queen, in that he becomes the versatile favorite of most writers as well as fans, doing the lion’s share of the killing. Lesser characters, like pawns, fall and become guilt for the heroes, or rage for the villains. Juggernaut takedowns tend to accumulate the critical mass desired for a cool fight, which must be navigated with care, like ferrying a fox, a goose, and a sack of grain across a river two at a time. The foe is stronger than any X-Man, impervious to attack, and immune to psychic control. It takes no fewer than three mutant powers to beat him, and in the right order: Colossus to wrestle him while Wolverine pops the rivets on his helmet, thus opening him up to Professor X’s mind control.

Such is the challenge in First Class: Sebastian Shaw, who can absorb and redirect any energy, even nuclear, is the villain, and he’s already assembled a team of evil mutants who know what they’re doing and have a telepath of their own. You know you’re in trouble when the enemy has an evil red Nightcrawler who slaughters people wholesale by teleporting them into the sky and dropping them: elegantly brutal, plus kind of fun if you hate people. Shaw also has an anti-telepathy helmet, so there’s no easy out by way of Professor X. Every teammate’s power plays a role, even that usually dispensable bozo, Banshee. In the end, Shaw is executed in the grimmest of poetic justice, not just by Magneto’s “bullet,” but by Xavier’s psychic shackles. Most dreadful and fascinating of all, the low velocity of the kill—sidestepping kinetic energy that could feed Shaw’s power—that final inexorable sliding into checkmate.

*Not to mention that it violates one of the premises of the X-Men: mutant talents are inborn, but are controlled and optimized through discipline, experience, concentration, mental focus, and self-control. Rogue should not be able to do much with other people’s powers other than blow her own mind, but in most stories she used them as skillfully as the rightful owners did. To be fair, stolen powers did sometimes backfire on Rogue, or overload her.

**Examples of Rock-Paper-Scissors include: kryptonite beats Superman, Spidey's mockery beats Doc Ock's fragile self-esteem, and Galactus beats Aunt May. Yes, this last one is ripe for a No-Prize, True Believers!

***In the “surprising use of a superpower” category, it is impossible to beat the speculation of the mad genius Alejandro Jodorowsky, who once fantasized about having Mr. Fantastic’s powers for purposes of sex with his wife, The Invisible Woman. He went well beyond the obviously juvenile, proposing the most ecstatically profane intercourse of all time: penetration throughout the circulatory system, leading to ejaculation within the woman’s beating heart. Factor in her variable transparency, and that’s a superpower checkmate if I ever heard one.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Showdown with Nature #2367: Shrubbery Ripe with Babies

When you have to trim about a linear mile of bushes at work, you mustn't pussyfoot around. Using powered hedge-trimmers is a must, and you don't have much time to think about all the feathered freeloaders who might be squatting in your demesne, especially when you are using electric plug-in shears that cut their own extension cord every time you drop your guard. 

Luckily, a crazy burst of flapping mother bird will alert even the most preoccupied bush-groomer when the shit draws near to the fan. One day, a lady mallard went pounding the pavement when I clipped her roofing to a smooth crop. She was keeping neat house, so I hope she reclaimed her brood before traffic came on too heavy.

Just days later, steady clipping through the canopy of a long hedge brought a beady-eyed dove to frantic escapism. She arced to the asphalt in a dismaying flap—look, I must have severed her wing! But no, she was only putting on her clever injury show, and in the nick of time: there, just inches from my aborted cut, were two runty pabulum sacks just beaming with oblivious victimhood. I just pruned around the little barf-beggars and sure enough, mom got back in the saddle in time for lunch. Not a single knothead was lost.
classic mother-ploy narrowly averts disaster for these squirts

Heroic Tiny Mushroom Takes Top of Fence, Impresses Local Man

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Party Wife Rides the Celebrity Tsunami

My wife's uncle, currently featured in a Kansas City stage production of The Odd Couple, just busted open the secret world of celebs and let my wife right in. After his play Saturday night, we were inserted directly into the celebrity vortex with George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) and Tim Kazurinsky (SNL). Funnelled backstage, we shook a few hands and my wife, ever prepared, got Tim K. to sign an old Saturday Night Live book after making him go find a pen. Then we drove around the corner to a saloony restaurant and snacked within chip-passing distance of the stars.

Heather, her uncle Herman, George Wendt, and cousin Cassandra
the cast celebrates a whole evening of no one yelling "Norm!"

These guys were pretty cool, but the big payoff was yet to come. By the uncanny observational powers of Party Wife, it was found we were in the room with another celebrity of more subtle fame. While my pedestrian eye identified a tall "sort of Adrian Brody looking guy," Heather steamed ahead with the full processing power of a 16-kilochannel TV brain. After a few minutes she had it: "He's the Meat Delivery Man from Strangers With Candy!" David Pasquesi is his name, and he was the secret bonus-round celebrity of the day.

yes, even the wily Meat Man can be lured into view
As for me, the only observation of consequence I produced was this: from my seat in Kansas City's New Theater, where lots of people ate lots of awesome food under a Vegas-style tiered ceiling of lights and speakers, I realized that this was exactly the sort of decadent venue that terrorists—at least, socioeconomically minded Hollywood terrorists—would blow up with righteous glee... and in some way, those watching the movie would say, "See, when you chow down like caesars and watch plays, that's when terrorists kill you."