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Welcome to Mike Redmond's home on the Weird Wide Web!

Greetings, Earth People. I'm Mike Redmond. Not the baseball player. Instead of making you guess the rest, I'll just go ahead and tell you who I am and what I do.

  • I'm a newspaper columnist -- formerly the feature columnist for The Indianapolis Star (back when you could call it a newspaper). I bailed out of the place about two years after Gannett bought it, and I still count that as the best decision I ever made. My creditors don't always agree.
  • Now I write for papers around Central Indiana, a magazine or two, and this site. I'm also a public speaker, a teacher, an historical (as opposed to hysterical) interpreter, a farm tour guide, and occasionally, when I can be talked into it, an author. They're all my favorite jobs.
  • This is where you'll find my online column, posted every Wednesday, unless I get ambitious and post it Tuesday. But don't count on it.
  • This is also where to look for news about speaking engagements, new jobs, friends, and stuff that strikes me as interesting. I'll probably throw in a few recipes, too. I get wild like that sometimes.
  • Take a look around. Let's have some fun.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spring Has Sprung, And So Has My Back
 

Ah, spring. Time once again to indulge our inner horticulturalists and agrarians, to till the rich soil and begin the journey through the long, rich days of summer to a glorious harvest in the fall.

Or, if you prefer a less poetic approach, time to dig up the yard, throw in some seeds, and hope that whatever you planted doesn't die.

I tend to go with the latter description. Not that I don't like poetry - I am known far and wide for my ability to compose dirty limericks on demand - but because I see gardening for what it is: Backbreaking work. I dug up the vegetable garden on a Sunday and it was Wednesday afternoon before I could walk upright again. If my back wasn't broken, it was severely bent.

Why? Because I turned the garden the old-fashioned way, with a shovel. It was the only alternative available after my yard-sale rototiller died with a rattle, a cough and a burst of black smog. I knew instantly that it was beyond saving. I had a lawnmower, an Oldsmobile and a chain-smoking great uncle who checked out the same way.

So there I was, out in the garden, turning the dirt with a shovel, pounding it with a hoe, grooming it with a rake, and reminding myself that in some parts of the world this is how they still plant crops.

(This, in turn, reminded me that in other parts of the world they have water buffalo to pull a plow. That led me to wonder if I could teach my dog Cookie to pull a garden plow. Answer, as I found out: Emphatic no.)

Now, you'll notice I am speaking exclusively of a vegetable garden. I'm not much for flowers. If I'm going to throw out my back, I want something edible to show for it. Tomatoes. Green peppers. A couple of radishes. I don't care, just as long as it's food.

Of course, getting the food from the garden to the table isn't easy, and I don't just mean all the physical labor involved. First, you have to contend with the occasional dud, where you follow all the directions precisely, right down to using special fertilizer made of pasteurized Tibetan yak manure, and still the plants turn yellow and die as soon as they reach three inches tall. So much for selling okra to the neighbors.

Which brings us to those who wish to share your bounty. I speak of the local squirrels, who watched me plant seeds and planned their shopping lists accordingly: "Look! He's planting fennel again! I love that stuff! I think we ate an entire row last year."

Note: They did, and I was none too happy about it. For one thing, I love fennel, too. For another, I only planted one row.

So now the long growing season begins. We look at our seedlings, tiny little plants just breaking the surface of the earth, and see cabbages. Where today there's just a piece of string marking a place in the soil, in fall there will be carrots. Ah, spring indeed. We cast our lot with nature (and the Burpee company) and begin the march toward bounteous autumn with hope in our hearts.

As in I hope the tomatoes don't wilt. I hope the squirrels don't eat all the fennel.

And I hope Cookie forgives me by then.

© 2009 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
Tue, May 26, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Know, It's Only Rock And Roll
 

At the end of every semester, I ask my college students to undertake a special project in our study of the History of American Popular Music. It's my way of seeing if they were really paying attention, or just sleeping with their eyes open.

I ask them to identify five songs that have meaning in their lives, representing turning points or fond memories, and to explain their choices. I also want them to tell me how their songs fit into the American Popular Music family tree.  For example, if they choose a rock and roll song, they should explain its musical roots, that R&B and country music had a baby and they named it Elvis Jerry Chuck Richard Fats Phil Don Buddy Bo Diddley Perkins, and how this eventually led to the end of civilization as our parents knew it.

I enjoy the experience and, after the customary amount of grumbling and complaining, so do the students. They get to play program director (a role I assume the rest of the time) and in most cases show off the more obscure selections from their music libraries: "When I was in seventh grade I got into this band called Splattered Gray Matter . . . " (whereupon we listen to some of the band's hit, "(Deleted)," for as much as I can stand, about 15 seconds or so) ". . . but when I was in eighth grade I got into The Carpenters" (whereupon we listen to "Close To You" for as much as I can stand, also about 15 seconds or so).

A student in my most recent class, however, threw a curve ball from which I have not yet recovered.

"This is a song I can remember hearing when I was in our car in my old hometown," she said. "I would be in the back, in my car seat, and when I hear it I remember those times."

I pressed the button on the CD player, and from it issued ...

"Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses.

Let me tell you what ran through my head:

* She couldn't have been car-seat size when that song was popular.

* Yes she could have. It charted in 1988.

* It was? 1988? You sure?

* Yes.

* She was sitting in a car seat listening to Guns N'Roses?

* What kind of mother lets a kid in a car seat listen to Guns N' Roses?

* Oh, wait. A 1988 mother.

* You know, my friend CJ was right. Axl Rose DOES sound like the lovechild of Jerry Lewis and Ethel Merman.

* Still a good song, though.

* Man, I'm old.

* Whatever happened to Raffi?

Total elapsed time: About a second and a half.

But in that second-and-a-half I realized how much time has gone by since I was a full-of-myself music critic for The Indianapolis News, and how much of what I saw and heard is still so vivid in my memory. I may not be able to tell you what I had for breakfast, but I can still talk about those concerts all day long. Or at least for a few hours Wednesdays and Thursdays, when I teach.

I guess Danny and the Juniors were right: No matter how old I get, rock and roll, the music of perpetual youth, IS here to stay, in my non-splattered gray matter.

Give the girl an A.
Tue, May 19, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Sweet Tooth In A Sour Economy
   

Maybe you saw the story about how the bad economy has actually been good for candy sales. Really. It was datelined New York and said that in the Big Apple, anyway, tough times seemed to have a direct effect on the sweet tooth: The worse things got, the worse the craving.

Isn’t that interesting? Your portfolio melts down and what do you do? Cash out and invest the entire bundle in a bag of M&Ms.

 You glance out the window of your investment banker office and there goes the boss, heading for the sidewalk on the express route, with a sign that reads “You’re next!”, and what’s the first thing you think? I want a Clark bar.

You come home and find your family sitting on the sidewalk and a big “Foreclosed” sign in front of your McMansion, and what’s your next move? Off to Trader Joe’s for a box of that really good chocolate coated toffee with the chopped nuts on top.

Well, that’s what I’d do, anyway.  I really like that toffee.

So what’s the deal, here? I’ve seen it explained that as times grow tougher, people look for quick and simple comforts. Makes a lot of sense to me. That’s the whole “comfort food” thing in a nutshell, after all. Nothing takes the edge off a bad day like chicken and noodles on a bed of mashed potatoes (Indiana’s No. 1 Comfort Food, as determined by the number of people who roll their eyes and make nummy noises every time I mention it). Unless, of course, it’s beef and noodles on mashed potatoes. Or fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Or meat loaf with mashed potatoes. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a mashed potato trend here?

Anyway, the thinking now is that there’s nothing like a Hershey bar to pick you up when the stock market takes a plunge. There may be something to that. Hershey stock is actually doing pretty well these days.

Of course, only a cynic would suggest that people are turning to candy to ease their pain simply because they can no longer afford the customary painkiller, Scotch. And we don’t mean the butter variety.

No, I think people are turning back the clock a little, to a time when the biggest problem on your plate was choosing between the Milky Way or the Snickers, the Mounds or the Almond Joy, the real licorice or that nasty stuff mistakenly called “red licorice.”

If you’re lucky, you can find your comfort of choice in a candy store near you. If you’re feeling nostalgic, I’d recommend a joint I found on the Internet called Hometown Favorites (www.hometownfavorites.com). It’s a grocery store full of hard-to-find and nostalgic products, with a candy counter that rivals the five-and-dime stores of my kidhood. They even have candy assorted by decade, which is convenient. A kid of the 50s and 60s like me won’t be comforted by later-era candies like Nerds and Laffy Taffy, but give me a Zagnut and a package of Teaberry gum and I’m a happy (if broke) camper.

Actually, I just took a look at my 401(k) the other day, and you know what? It’s going to take more than a Zagnut and a stick of gum to get over it. How bad is it? Here’s a clue: I’m eating red licorice.

Tue, May 12, 2009 | link 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

My friend Dan (no, not him; the other one) is in the market for what he calls a ladyfriend, again. And as usual, he's not having much success.

Dan's a little ... unyielding. He likes things his way, and his way only, and he deeply resists, to the point of resentment, attempts at change. This explains why Dan has so often been in the market for a new girlfriend in the 20-plus years I have known him. It also explains why none of his old girlfriends will speak to him. When Dan plants a resentment, he plants it deep.

So here is Dan, sitting in front of a plate of artery-clogging Man Chow, bemoaning his lack of success to anyone who will listen, which unfortunately happens to be me.

"I just can't seem to find the right woman," he says.

"Where've you been looking?" I asked, mainly so it appears that I've actually been listening.

"Bars, mostly, I guess. I tried one of those online deals but they're for losers."

"Says the man who hasn't had a lasting relationship since junior high. And these women you're meeting in bars ... what are they like?"

"OK, I guess. Some are real snotty. They act like I'm some sort of old lech for hitting on them."

"You are an old lech," I said. "Anyone your age who would ‘hit on them' is by definition a lech. How old are these women, anyway?"

"Oh, 25- to 30-ish, I guess."

"Well, there you go, man," I said. "You're 50 and you're not rich, handsome or super-intelligent. What 25- to 30-year-old woman is going to be interested in you? Stop shopping in the children's section. Why not try for a woman your own age?"

He shuddered. I swear, the man shuddered. Turns out he's scared to death of women his own age.

Women his age are, in my experience, strong, sexy, compassionate, intelligent, and in the best cases, somewhat smart-alecky. They won't buy his line about Having To Be Him, which means they're not going to stand for his I'm-Gonna-Live-My-Way nonsense. And yes, I mean nonsense. I mean, the man has a lids-up rule at his house. 

They'll let him have it with both barrels because a woman his own age has authority a younger woman does not. She's seen enough to know that you may as well tell the truth, so she will. And the truth is what he fears the most.

Fact is, a woman his own age would be the best thing in the world for Dan. She might get him out of that rigid set of  "me-first" rules he calls a life. She could demonstrate to him that there's much to be gained in hanging out with a partner who can relate to your age because it's her age, too. It might be a refreshing change from trying to talk to someone who wasn't anywhere when Kennedy was shot.

 But no. I'm guessing Dan thinks a younger woman will provide him with some sort of safeguard against growing old. But it seems to me that anyone who lives the way he lives, protected by a cocoon of requirements disguised as preferences, is old already.

Oh, well. It's his life. If he wants to dine on a constant diet of (justified) rejection, so be it. I'll take the Man Chow. But make mine low-fat, please.

© 2009 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

Tue, May 5, 2009 | link 


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By the way -- everything on this site is Copyright 2009 by Mike Redmond. If you copy it without my permission, I will hunt you down with either my dog or my lawyer. I'll probably go with the dog. She's smarter.

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