The Orioles

Well. The Yankees are in the midst of a 1978 Red Sox style collapse. They fell apart today and lost a series to the Orioles. They’ve had a lot of injuries but, man, somebody needs to pick up the slack.

Speaking of the Orioles, I see this year they’re back to uniforms with bright orange trim, white-fronted caps, and the cartoonish-looking oriole. In the 1990s they changed to a more somber-toned uniform with an “ornithologically correct oriole,” as Yankees announcer Michael Kay called it. The Orioles promptly went down the tubes. Back in the 90s, though, a lot of teams went with serious-looking black uniforms. I guess they were trying to look bad-ass to Generation X fans. While I hope, say, the White Sox never go back to their awful uniforms from the 1980s (they looked like a women’s softball team), I’m glad to see the Orioles wearing what they wore when they were a winning team.

I don’t want the Orioles to succeed at the Yankees’ expense, but it’s nice to see them winning again. They used to be such a great franchise. If Buck Showalter plays his cards right, maybe Baltimore can win a World Series before he pisses everybody off and has to leave. I see he’s nearing his shelf-life of three to four seasons, which has been long enough for him to turn a team around and not quite long enough to reap the benefits.

Christmas in Minnesota

We crossed the state line into Minnesota around 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night and it immediately started snowing. This was our first legitimate trip to Minnesota (I don’t count flight layovers). The small towns we drove through all have nice welcome marquees that are lit up at night (Stewartville: The Future is Bright!). I ate walleye and wild rice and discovered that many Minnesotans do talk like the characters in “Fargo”.

We spent a night and half a day in downtown Saint Paul. After breakfast we walked up to the Minnesota State Capitol, another fine palace of democracy. Excepting the gilded horse  sculptures the outside is serious and gray like the December sky, but the inside is spacious and bright with many colorful varieties of polished stone. We also walked to the Cathedral of Saint Paul, a compact domed basilica perched upon a hill overlooking the city core.

On the long, dark drive from Saint Paul to International Falls, we stopped in Virginia at the heart of the Iron Range, for dinner. Northern Minnesota with its forests and mines certainly doesn’t look like Iowa. The most intriguing road sign of the trip was north of Virginia:

EMBARRASS
BABBITT
EXIT 69

I thought it was a message to the former Secretary of the Interior but apparently Embarrass and Babbitt are two little towns off the same exit of U.S. Highway 53.

Because of the dark winter evening we didn’t see much of the North Country until the next morning when we woke up at the lodge just outside Voyageurs National Park to our view of a frozen section of Rainy Lake. A couple of inches fell overnight. It was not enough to ski or snowshoe on, or at least not enough for the park ranger at the visitor center to rent us skis. He did recommend some trails for hiking and told us a little about the bears, wolves, and moose in the park. The bears were asleep for the winter but the wolves and moose were out and I hoped to see some. Lore was glad the bears were asleep and not was as enthusiastic about the wolves and moose. The gray wolves in the park are pretty big (there was a huge stuffed one in the museum exhibit) but the ranger said they stay away from people.

International Falls was cute but didn’t smell so nice. I suppose the massive paper mills on the riverfront were the reason. The supermarket was busy on the Friday of Christmas weekend. The old lady behind us in the express checkout lane eyed our 14 items suspiciously. It’s fair to say we didn’t look like International Falls residents. People kept asking us why we were so bundled up in our hiking fleeces and snow pants as it was unseasonably warm in the high 20s and low 30s. International Falls looks like more of Carhartt town anyway.

The area around International Falls is quite the winter wonderland, though. There were snowmobiles and ice fishing huts and even a couple of ski planes parked on the lake. On some state trails we found plenty of snow to ski on, but since the national park was the only rental game in town we contented ourselves with trampling over the ski tracks with our boots until some old guy chased us off.

Our big day of hiking was along the Blind Ash Bay Trail near Ash River, a trek highly recommended by our ranger. The day started out cold but the sun came out around 10:00 a.m. and stayed out for a few hours. The trail was four miles round trip through conifer forest. Judging by all the tracks in the snow it looked like an animal highway. Right at the trailhead were some canine-looking tracks, the closed thing I saw to a wolf all weekend. The extent to which deer, cats, mice, squirrels, and rabbits shared the trail with humans surprised me. Then again, maybe trails are trails for a reason. One tiny animal’s tracks ended abruptly in a dent in the snow made perhaps by an owl’s underside. We saw some chickadees and red squirrels but otherwise all was very quiet except for some woodpeckers and snowmobiles in the distance on the lake. Our best sighting was a ruffed grouse which crossed our path. It let us get pretty close before we went our separate ways.

The trail ended at Blind Ash Bay, a little cove in Kabetogama Lake. It was completely frozen over and covered with snow but we didn’t venture out onto it. The sun was out in full winter force and the white lake dazzled us as we stood among dried cattails and looked across. We moved uphill to a clearing for a snack, where it was warm but not blinding. We made the two miles back in just over an hour and drove to the next trailhead for our leftovers sandwiches at Beaver Pond Overlook.

When we got back to International Falls, we stopped for some soup to warm up. The waitress, seeing us in our fleece and snow clothes, asked, “Are you on foot?”

“No, we drove here.”

“Oh,” she said, looking perplexed. We explained we were hiking. She pointed out what a nice day it was. She was wearing a tee-shirt.

On Christmas morning we woke up early, exchanged gifts, and then hit the trail again. We parked at the boat ramp near the visitor center and walked across Black Bay. For Lore’s sake I pretended to not be afraid but I’ve never walked across a frozen lake before either. The ranger said it was fine to walk across but there was still a mental barrier to cross. Instead of following the snowmobile tracks we walked the short way straight across to Kabetogama Peninsula and followed the shoreline north to the dock where the hiking trails started. Once on shore we picked up the hiking trail and walked about half a mile to a frozen beaver pond. We sat in the snow overlooking the pond and ate our trail mix and granola bar breakfast with ice-cold water (the food was not the high point of the weekend).

That was it for hiking. We went back (by now old pros at crossing ice) to the lodge for lunch and naps. We kept catching the “A Christmas Story” marathon on TBS at the same part of the movie where Ralphie beats up Scut Farkus and had to return to it a few times before we saw the whole thing. The staff had deserted the lodge and, as on the trails, we were by ourselves. It was a beautiful and quiet Christmas.

Gold

I never would have guessed how much fat I was storing in my fingers, but I’ve dropped an entire ring size. I’ve been wearing our wedding ring on my middle finger for a while now, so it’s time to get it (the ring) resized.

I asked the lady at the jeweler if they would have to remove metal from the ring. She said yes because it was being downsized quite a bit and then measured off a segment of the ring with her fingers about the size of, oh I don’t know, a whole peppercorn.

This tiny segment being gold and not an actual peppercorn I naturally asked, “Can I keep the piece that’s removed?”

“Well, no,” she said and explained that the sawed off bit falls into a tray and if they had to keep track of every little piece they would have to raise the price of resizing for everyone.

Either she hadn’t quite convinced herself of that rationale or I had a very incredulous look on my face, because without either of us saying another word she wrote on the envelope with my ring: he wants to keep the piece.

I’m glad she did that because I would have raised hell otherwise. Jewelers must keep track of similar or much smaller flecks of precious stones and metals all the time; measuring and weighing them, buying and selling them. I can’t imagine a jeweler shrugging off a little crumb of gold like it was an extra scrap of cloth on a altered pants leg. If I was out prospecting and I found a peppercorn-sized nugget of gold I would probably dance a celebratory jig in my squalid little claim.

Orange

I need a new raincoat so I’ve purchased an orange one. As a very little kid, orange was my favorite color. Lots of stuff was orange in the seventies. When we moved to Long Island, the walls of our new house were painted orange. We had orange dinnerware. I think we even had orange furniture. Then it went out of fashion for a very long time. My new raincoat is not bright international orange, but what Crayola might call burnt orange. The raincoat’s manufacturer calls it “Copper Canyon”. :roll:

So when’s avocado green coming back?

Mustaches

Are mustaches coming back into fashion? I’ve seen Brad Pitt sporting one on magazine covers in the grocery checkout aisle. But here’s the thing: Brad Pitt could strap on a Toucan Sam nose and still look good. Yet I’ve been seeing a few people around town–mostly university students–with them. The kid behind the coffee shop counter, for example, had one. It was absolutely terrible. He must have been 20 or 22 and would have been pretty good looking but for this horrible thing on his lip. What’s going on?

Very few people look good with mustaches, probably because good ones require some attention. If you are going to grow one, please follow these simple rules:

  1. You must, must, must be a man.
  2. Be at least 40 years old.
  3. Do something with it, trim it or shape it or something. Don’t let it grow like a weed, for heaven’s sake.

By the way, there is an American Mustache Institute. According to the organization’s website:

AMI continues to battle negative stereotyping that has accompanied the mustache since those glory years of the 1970s – the peak of mustache acceptance – fighting to create a climate of acceptance, understanding, flavor saving, and upper lip warmth for all mustached Americans alike.

Two movies

Expecting rain this afternoon, I rented a couple of films: “Inside Man” and “Trans America”. Both were okay, but I was really impressed with Felicity Huffman in “Trans America”. She played a man who was trying to become a woman. Fascinating. The plot was all right, a little slow.

And “Inside Man” didn’t make any sense. It was slow too but it held my attention well enough. I was watching an interview with Denzel Washington and Spike Lee. Man, is Spike Lee aging badly. He’s getting fat, but he looks like an old black man who dresses like a teenager. Kids must look at him and think “What the hell is wrong with that old geezer?”

My own taste in clothing is definitely changing as I get older. That’s why I can never understand these Hollywood types who feel they always have to look the same. For most of my life I’ve been watching Robert Redford shrivel up under his Bobby Kennedy hair-do. On the other hand, it seems to work for Woody Allen, probably because he always looks terrible. And on the far other hand there is Mr. T, who genuinely doesn’t seem to give a shit what people think. I can respect that if it’s personal taste, but not if these people are afraid they’ll become irrelevant somehow if they change. I think it shows a lack of capacity for personal growth.

Ugh, show biz. Thank God I never had anything to do with that morass.