October 23 - Engaged! (Donuts!)

Once upon a time, Lauren and I worked as comedy performers on a cruise ship.
On the 4th of July in 2008, we had the strange fortune of being at the northernmost tip of continental Europe.
Nordkapp, Norway.
It was cold up there.
We saw an actual reindeer.
We built inukshuks like the tourists do.
We drank hot cocoa like the Vikings invented.
It was a grey, grey, stupidly nice Independence Day in The Land of The Midnight Sun.
So at a gift shop in the oily port town of Honningsvag, I bought a postcard.
The postcard featured two trolls.
A boy troll presenting a diamond ring to a girl troll.
I bought it for Lauren.
In a few weeks, I would be leaving the ship.
Lauren would be staying on for another four months.
We didn't know what we were going to do.
All I knew is that I wanted to see her again.
I thought she might feel the same way.
So on my last day on the ship, I gave her the postcard.
Though the card contained goofy trolls, they could not offset the heaviness created by the presence of the diamond ring.
We hadn't even said "I love you" yet.
So on the back of the card I wrote:

Don't worry. It's not an engagement ring. It's a DONUT!

Kind of dumb.
But so is love sometimes.
We ended up each fitting an "I love you" into our big goodbye that day.

I brought the troll postcard with me to Door County.
My plan:
• Go to a donut shop
• Present Lauren with a donut and the postcard
• Say "Don't worry. It's not a donut. It's an engagement RING!"

The old switcheroo!

The only problem was I couldn't find a fucking donut shop in Door County.
There were some bakeries and coffee shops and this sort of thing.
But no donut shops.

So at the motel I grabbed a couple of plain dunking donuts from the continental breakfast station.
I wrapped them in a few napkins and shoved them in my bag.
These would be the back up donuts.
Lauren made coffee.
We enjoyed a brief, spartan breakfast in the vintage kitchen.

Washington Island was the destination for today.
I scrambled my brain like eggs (not included in a continental breakfast) for an alternative plan to the donut shop.
While racing up the peninsula to catch the 10 o'clock ferry to Washington Island, I came up with this:
• Find scenic bluff on Washington Island
• Have donut picnic from back of van overlooking scenic bluff
• Present troll postcard, "Don't worry", etc.

Ah, but we missed the 10 o'clock ferry.
So we grabbed coffee at the one coffee shop within ten miles of the ferry.
They had pastries and crullers and muffins.
Some things that resembled donuts.
I looked around.
The cashier girl seemed spacey and nervous.
Like she was on shrooms.
I looked around some more.
A child's playpen, all messy and shitty.
A big smelly dog.
A hippie guy rambling on about hippie nothing.
I think Aerosmith was yelling quietly on the radio.
I was not going to ask Lauren to fucking marry me in this UFO of boneheads.
We got our coffee to go.

The caffeine enhanced my jittery madness.
I appeared generally stressed.
Lots of quick nervous movements.
A pressing feeling of sands sifting impatiently though the hour glass.
We drove up to the ticket booth for the ferry.
$11.50 each.
Not bad.
The nice man in the booth informed us that the van needed to pay, too.
So to get to Washington Island it would cost us $50.
That suddenly seemed ridiculous.
So we left the van behind.
And with the van went my alternative plan.

The ferry was a magical ride to a magical place,
Our senses came alive, we felt the wind in our face,
It was a fun ride to great moments and memories,
The Washington Island Ferry-ee!

I had moved the ring from my bag to my person.
Specifically, the left pocket of my jacket.
I played with its velvety velourness while the ferry crossed Death's Door.
And looked for scenic bluffs.
A fellow passenger talked at us about life because she thought we were in our twenties. Her husband had been laid off from his job and was now working at McDonald's. She talked about hardships and struggles and the economy and job security.
All I could think about was that I was about to propose to Lauren and that this was it and oh no I still don't know how or when.
So far I hadn't seen any scenic bluffs.

It was a crisp, grey day.
The port of the island looked drab and flat.
We walked on its industrial non-beach.
That fringey coffee shop was looking better than ever.

The donuts were in my bag.
The troll postcard was in an inside pocket.
My hands were in my pockets, guarding the ring.
To my horror, Lauren reached into my left pocket to hold my hand.
I thought I felt her fingers brush against the plushy ring box.
Would I be forced to propose to her right then and there, on a dull patch of damp concrete for a handful of distracted drivers and nose-in-map tourists?
I reflexively boxed her hand out of my pocket.
It was of course very weird.
I gave Lauren a brainless smile and held her hand in the outdoors, far away from my jacket pocket.
She didn't seem too fazed by my psychotic quirks.
Momentarily relieved, I scanned the gloomy shoreline for any sign of romance.
I swore I heard the island laughing at me.

We decided to rent bikes.
At the visitor's center a woman showed us a map.
"Are there any scenic bluffs?" I asked.
"Umm," she stalled and vaguely pointed at a blotch of nondescript green on the map.
"Maybe over here?"
What a shit fire.
What was I gonna do?
Hopelessness poked its head into the frame.
My sweating ears heard her pointing out other landmarks.
"Ostrich farm", "stave church", "restaurant"...
Wait a minute.
Stave church?
You mean those tall, black, wooden Norwegian churches that look like Viking vessels?

In July of 2008, Lauren and I had the strange fortune of being in Bergen, Norway for a few hours.
We visited the Fantoft stave church.
It loomed large.
And pointy.
And black.
It was originally built around 1150.
But in 1992, a black metal kid burnt it down to the ground.
Undeterred, the town soon reconstructed it.
Later we listened to some black metal.
Those Darkthrone boys.
We weren't so into it.
But the spookiness of the stave church stuck with us and remained one of our favorite memories of Norway.

That was it!
I would propose to her at the stave church.
With that postcard from Norway.
And the donuts.
It actually made sense!

The bike ride was now fun.
We spun stressless through the damp Wisconsin woods.

Hmm though.
Now we were hungry.
And this bike ride was long.
And it just started to rain.
The thought of proposing while we were cranky hungry and wet would appeal to no one.
And donuts would guarantee a low blood sugar coma crash.
So I announced a plan.
Lauren does like donuts.
But she must have wondered why I was so obsessed with them on this trip.
"OKAY!" she said, now soaked.

It was beating down hard by the time we pulled up to Nelsen's Hall.
Built in 1899, it has housed a tavern, restaurant, movie theater, dentist's office, pharmacy, ice cream parlour, and The Bitters End Motel.
Inside it was brown, cozy, and dry.
We sat at the bar.
The bartender asked if we'd like to join The Bitters Club.
We said okay!
A shot of bitters happened.
Then we signed a book and were given membership cards.
Lifetime members to the bitter end.

Outside it still rained and rained.
We ate lunch.
It continued to rain.
We ordered a round of drinks.
Still it rained.
One more round of drinks.
One more round of rain.
I told Lauren I was determined to see the stave church, even if it meant getting drenched.
She swallowed and nodded supportively.
And finished her bloody mary.
We asked the bartender if they had any garbage bags to use as a raincoat for Lauren.
A jacket that had been in the lost and found for a year was offered.
It was a huge Chevy raincoat.
I was wearing a GM jacket.
Automotively eerie!

We got on our bikes.
This was it.
I was actually going to goddamn do this.
We rode through the rain for a mile or so.
It really was a dreary one.
We pulled off the road and rode over a small stone bridge.
There it was.
The stave church.
It loomed as large as the one we saw in Norway.
It was incredible.
Agh, but a tour group was all over the place.
We poked around among the crowd of Badger clad tourists.
I got nervous again.
C'mon, c'mon.
Scram already.
They eventually vanished, albeit slowly.
Now we had the whole stave to ourselves.

I found a little nook on the porch of the church.
I pulled out the troll postcard.
"Remember this?" I asked.
Lauren was surprised and intrigued.
I realized the donuts were still in my bag inside the church.
Too late now.
I made the executive decision to abort the whole dumb donut thing.

And I got down on a knee.
And I included her middle name.
And I asked her if she would marry me.

She said yes.
It worked!

Another couple approached the church.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at them.
They were polite and took our picture.

We rode bikes in the rain.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at me.

Back at Nelsen's Hall, I opened the door for my fiancé.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at everyone.
"SO DID WE!" yelled another gal.
Yes, another couple had gotten engaged that day on the island.
They had found a scenic stretch of beach!
Everyone bought us rounds.
We told our tales.
It was fun.

We returned our bikes in the neverending rain.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at the rental bike lady.
She didn't charge us.
So far, being engaged meant lots of free stuff on Washington Island.

We called our families.
Lauren's made celebratory noises along the lines of "woo hoo".
My mom thought I was playing a prank on her.
But she seemed happy, albeit shocked.

We had dinner at the restaurant that had been featured in Bon AppetĂ­t.
Lamb shanks, lemon risotto, white asparagus salad, Chilean pork.
The waitress did pronounce chipotle "chipolte".
But hey.
We're getting married.
Pronounce it however you want.

Lauren really liked the ring.
She used words like "perfect".
It ended up being perfect.
A truly perfect day.

Verdict: Win

October 22 - Peninsula Peregrinations

We sipped tea on the breezy balcony.
October was happening.
Lauren wore a down vest over her spotted robe.
She told me to turn off the production library music I had chosen as the soundtrack for the morning.
"Listen," she said.
All you could hear was the wind and the trees.
The nonsense of the stupid city was far away in its loud annoying importance.

For breakfast The Inn offered cherry stuffed french toast.
Good Morning America had declared it the winner of their best breakfast challenge.
If it was good enough for Joan Lunden and David Hartman, then it was good enough for us.

Back in the room Lauren flipped through a Bon Appetit while I researched places to ask her to marry me.
I still didn't know when or where or how I was going to do it.
The ring sat tucked away in a side pocket of my messenger bag.
I decided that tomorrow would be the day to do it.
So I had the "when" narrowed down.
And that I would do it on or near Washington Island.
There's the "where" sorta.
But how? Still didn't know.
I was having a hard time finding a donut shop in Door County.
More on that later.
Based on a letter in Bon Appetit, Lauren found us a restaurant for tomorrow.
I made a reservation.

We took an autumn drive through Peninsula Park.
It's a good park.
We caught the caboose of foliage.
Played in the leaves.
Ogled a lighthouse.
Climbed a 76-foot wooden tower on a 180-foot bluff.
The water looked Tahoe blue, like blue jeans.
We listened to the Kinks.
We took lots of pictures.
Just to prove that it really existed.

We poked around the peninsula some more.
Goofed with gourds.
Stopped for a beer at a Scandinavian pub.

Our second night's stay was in Sturgeon Bay.
The Holiday Music Motel.
Vintage furnishings, Elvis gold records on the wall, live music.
It was much easier for me to get it up here.
I didn't feel grandma's eyes watching us through the peepholes in the floral wallpaper.

The evening involved a haunted trolley tour.
We convened at a winery.
October did a decent impression of November.
The fat white moon made crisp shadows while we waited for the trolley.
A large group of annoying people cut in line.
Their children sang Christmas carols.
Fuckin' dopes.
Lauren cut in front of the annoying people and nabbed the bench by the driver.

The driver spoke in rich radio tones.
His cadence was cartoonish and ghoulish.
He wore a cape.
The trolley stopped at various haunts on the peninsula.
Harbors, lighthouses.
Lots of shipwreck tales.
He told us about a little girl that had died on Christmas Eve, and how the family displayed her corpse in their window beside the Christmas tree.
Many of his tales were of the odd and sad variety.
To counter this, he conducted sing-alongs of "The Theme from The Addams Family" and "Purple People Eater".
He took us to an old house and let us roam around in the dark.
Lauren said she felt someone reach into her pocket.
But no one was around.
I told Lauren that I love that she has an imagination.
Finally, the trolley took us to a graveyard out in the woods.
We saw the headstones for many of the characters in tonight's tales.
Our guide accidentally kicked over a small tombstone.
It felt kooky to dawdle around a remote graveyard in the wilderness underneath a full moon.
We relaxed back at the rock and roll motel.
Well, Lauren did.
I sat abuzz with thought.
Tomorrow was happening soon.
And I still didn't have a specific plan.
Where were all the donut shops in Door County?

Verdict: Win

October 21 - Don't Worry B&B Happy

My inner clock is that of a stubborn work mule.
I went to bed at 3.
I got up at 8.
Lauren continued to sleep.
I tiptoed around the house, packing, showering.
Lauren had to remain asleep until the jeweler opened.
Luckily, her inner clock is that of a gentle understanding kitten.
So when 10 rolled around, I was ready to jump out the door.
"I'm going to run some errands!"
I probably showed too much enthusiasm for running vague errands.
But Lauren was a bit foggy still, and surveyed the bedroom like a groggy owl.
"..okay come back.."

I put some gas in the van and filled the slow leak tire with air.
Then I went to the jeweler.
The ring looked great.
"Nice choice," said the golden voiced jeweler man.
"You did a good job," reinforced the nice jeweler lady.
So now it was time to settle up.
Only I didn't know that it was time to do that right now.
"Oh," I said very, very smoothly. "Um," very smoothly, "were we going to do a layaway on this?"
The nice jeweler lady had to explain the concept of layaway to me.
It turns out that layaway is not credit.
With layaway, you make little payments on the thing you want, and when you pay for all of it, then you can take it home.
Just like they did in 1987.
"Oh," I said less smoothly, and gave her my debit card.
My smirk of shame and I waited while the card was swiped.
The bank wouldn't authorize such a large purchase.
So I walked to the bank and made a few cash withdrawals.
I thanked God, Jesus and Moses (not Holli, Joanie and Sven) who had hired me as a PA in August and September.
If I were still messengering I would not have had the funds to pay for the ring.
And I don't want to think anymore about that.

It was our long awaited vacation.
Four days in Wisconsin.
A tour of Door County.
First stop: Fish Creek

We had reservations at the White Gull Inn, a B&B where we enjoyed a fish boil back in June.
B&B's are funny.
They look like your grandmother's dream doll house.
Frilly wallpaper, flouncy doilies.
Froofy potpourri.
Even the fireplace was a bit castrated, but it worked.
And so did the balcony.
We excitedly relaxed.
It was happening!

I didn't know how or when I was going to propose.
But it wouldn't be here or now.
We had just gotten here.
Besides, the environs were making it difficult for me to get it up.

Verdict: Win

Ray's Tap Plug

Uh oh.
I'm working again.
12-16 hour days.
For a week and a half.
That means this will get delayed again.
Who cares?
Ha ha!

In the meantime I wrote a piece for the Ray's Tap Reading Series.
This Saturday's program is entitled Gripes To Mike Royko.

About 5 years ago, a very good trash picker, the mother of my friend Josh Bartholomew found a box of papers in the trash of the Royko home in Winnetka. Mike Royko died in 1997 but it took a few years, I guess, for his wife to throw this box out. Judy Royko donated his letters etc... to the Newberry Library years earlier but I guess this stuff did not make the cut. What was inside?

Photos, notes, letters, legal documents and als
o a collection of letters/postcards responding to a call for his readers to send in their gripes. Royko wanted people to write in and complain about what bothers them about the world. And they did in something Royko called the Gripes of Wrath. And we have them all. (1/100th of them!) People complaining about driving in grocery store parking lots, too many pickles in a pickle jar, loud gum chewing, ethnic names, Don Zimmer, rap music, gays and more.

Please join us on December 11th for a larger than normal Ray's show. Our writers and artists are going to be digging into these gripes to create original stories etc...


Jill Summers, Matt Test, Dave Snyder, Tim Racine, Tony Mendoza, Josh Dumas, Natalie Edwards, Fred Sasaki, Mason Johnson, Daniel Shapiro, Margaret Chapman and Mark Chrisler.

Also featuring music by Alan Scalpone of the Bitter Tears.
Poster by Susie Kirkwood

So come on out, it's free.
Saturday, December 11 at 9pm.
Ray's Tap is located at 3047 N Kimball.

October 20 - A Failure's Caper

Tomorrow Lauren and I head to Door County.
Our long-awaited happening is finally vacation.
Tee hee 'cuz I have plans for the trip that Lauren doesn't know about.

You see.
Back in July we were stuck in traffic by Soldier Field and decided it would be a good time to talk about marriage.
We discovered that we were both up for mortal foreverness.
I told Lauren though that I felt I needed to be a success before I could officially ask for her hand.
She thought this was stupid.
But she didn't use that word.
Instead she used the word "well" as its own whole sentence.
In her following sentence I learned that she would prefer to be married sooner than later.
It made sense.
I'll never be a success.
This is a good thing.
It means I'll always have some sort of goal.
If I were a success, I would have nothing to do.
I would become depressed.
Like those spacemen when they came back from the moon.
Talk about bummed out cosmonauts.
How do you top that?
With a twist of lime, I guess.
I don't need a case of the moonman's glum.

Anyway, I'm going to ask Lauren to marry me this weekend.
Probably on Saturday.
I don't know where or how yet.
I've been researching a few donut shops in the area.
More on that later.

Good news though.
The jeweler called to tell me the ring was ready.
But I had to wait until Lauren left the apartment to get it.
Around 6pm she did.
I moseyed over to the jeweler only to discover that on Wednesdays they close at 5:30.


So tomorrow I have to figure out a way to sneak out of the house without Lauren around 10am right before the vacation begins to get this goddamn (beautiful) fucking (wonderful) engagement (engagement) ring.
This ought to be fun.

Verdict: Loss


I've lost the moment.
Detached from my own daily life.
Writing down ho hum notes for a future entry removed of the feelings from that day.

Today I was going to write about a dead night at the bar five weeks ago.
I was going to describe the bar.
But I lost my notes.

It's okay.
I'm working there tonight.
It'll be dead again and I can take more notes.

One more month left in this year.
But two for me.
I should be thankful.
I get an extra month.
Even though that month is just a rerun.

It's 8pm.
Time to get out of my pajamas and go to work.