Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trebuchet Fun

This one's pretty self explanatory. We built a trebuchet. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When I grow up, I wanna be a wookie.

So, back to Robyn and Skeeter's house for another tale of my youth. At this house in the nether reaches of the great Blue Mounds, my family would gather for the Fourth of July yearly. This resulted in about 20 grandkids running around and playing with each other to varying degrees: some actually played together, some just sort of talked, and some just picked on the younger ones. I was one of the younger ones (not to mention the fact I was skinny with a rather freakishly large head), so I was picked on incessantly. Paired with my equally skinny and top heavy cousin Christopher, we were the butt end of all older grandkids' jokes. But sometimes, just sometimes, they would actually play with us! Lo, what grand days those were!

I think every kid around our age had one thing in common: at some point in their youth, they played out the Star Wars saga. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and Darth made an appearance regularly at our Fourth of July picnics, as I'm sure they did for most people. When the older cousins would say they were going to play Star Wars, it rang like incredibly nerdy music in my cavernous cabeza. Christopher and I would immediately run over to join the passel of kiddies, eagerly awaiting our assignment from the older cousins. Were we going to get to be Luke? Nah, that was for the older kids. Oooh, maybe because of our size, we could be Yoda? Ah, nope, there were older cousins of smaller stature that would play him too. Wait, we could be loyal legions to Darth as Stormtroopers! At least then we could have guns (sticks). Sure, we might die, but there's always a need for more Stormtroopers! We could respawn and have more fun and...

Oh, we're Ewoks? Again? Well, I guess that's okay. We get to carry sticks that represent, well, sticks. And we can throw rocks that are clever metaphors for, uh, rocks. But those rocks in the movie were a metaphor for, hmmm, something I'm sure. So, in a completely metaphorical way, we were metaphors for a simile that was representing something... I got nothing. We were fucking Ewoks. We were the background extras of the Star Wars universe: indecipherable from one another and even when we got the top billing, no one cared. We were a side note that happened to get a bit of glory killing inept henchmen. And then we sang fake words. Awesome.

But at least we were included! We got to play with the big kids. It was amazing. Well, amazing for about 10 minutes. It was then we learned where the Ewoks were to reside. "Why, it must have been the magical forest moon of Endor," you're probably saying incredulously. "It must have been amazing."

I assure you, it was not amazing.

It's worth mentioning now that my aunt and uncle were obsessed with their Burmese Mountain Dogs. For those of you that don't know what they are, here's there Wikipedia page. Basically, they're St. Bernards that have a slightly different coloration. They're big, lovable, and terribly expensive if pure bred because of genetic problems. They also require a lot of space, and if you're going to have them in a kennel, it has to be a rather large kennel. You also need to make sure if you have a kennel that the handle for the kennel is high so your dog can't trip it. And did I mention these dogs, being as huge as they are, will produce an inordinately large amount of waste? Well, they do, and their kennel definitely reflected that fact with its smell. How do I know what that dog kennel smelled like, you ask?

Because that was the magical forest moon of Endor. Yep, the Ewoks were based out of a dog kennel. The dogs were usually out running around at this point, so at least we weren't getting mauled by these huge, bloodthirsty mongrels (a quick note: these dogs were not bloodthirsty at all, instead they were rather docile and even-tempered). But it did smell like large dog and large dog bodily functions. What a wonderful moon we Ewoks resided upon. But at least we were being included and we got to play Star Wars!

Not exactly. The big kids basically locked us in because we were too short to reach the high latch on the gate (at least we know it worked for keeping something in). So my cousin and I would play Ewoks (hey, if were playing Star Wars, then we weren't going to waste that opportunity) while the older cousins ran around on Endor and Tatooine, fighting Rancors and Wampas, while they rode on their Banthas and Tauntauns (I'm a nerd, so sue me). All Christopher and I wanted to was be included as we loved Star Wars so much. To an extent, we were included, but stupid Ewoks never got to do anything. My older cousins were lame (but still so cool!).

All I know is that if my kids wanna play Star Wars, I will gladly play with them. They won't have to be Ewoks, they can be whatever they want.

So long as it's not Han. That role is taken.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Softball and my family

I love my family. They are a bunch of weird, loud people, all of whom I have something in common with (besides DNA), even if it's only a small thing. My father's side of the family happens to be a rather large family (Dad being number 8 of 10 kids), which nowadays doesn't usually get together all at once. Because of the sheer size of the family and the fact most of the grandkids have started their own families, it gets harder and harder to get everyone in the same place at once. But when I was younger, we had regular meetings of the entire Buehl clan, with upwards of 50 of us at once at the same place. Some of my favorite memories came from my Aunt Robyn and Uncle Skeeter's (his real name is Kent, but he's Skeeter or Skippy to the majority of our family) house near Blue Mounds, WI.

Now, I'm not surprised if you've never really heard of Blue Mounds. It has under 1,000 people in it. It's not a particularly popular tourist destination (but then again, neither is Wisconsin as a whole). But it is actually quite pretty, as it's the tallest point in Wisconsin. It's a village surrounded by a state park. My Aunt and Uncle lived outside of this place, in one of the many valleys surrounded by towering peaks (towering for the Midwest, anyway). And of course, as you would suspect, they had a couple of very large hills on their farmette.

It was on one of these hills my story for today happened. My uncle Kerry was at the bottom of the hill, hitting a softball to some of the older grandkids that were spread out on the hill face. I was about 4 or 5 at the time, so I was not participating in the game, though I was watching intently with my cousin Christopher (who is a week younger than I am). Now, I don't remember this as vividly as others do, so this is a mish mash of what I can recall and eyewitness accounts, but what I can tell you for sure is 1) this did happen and 2) it was hilarious.

So, my uncle Kerry is about 6'2" and over 200 lbs. He's not a small guy, by any means. And he could hit a ball very hard. In fact, he didn't really have a soft touch for anything; he was all about power. This was the guy who would throw a Nerf football at you (god help you if it was an actual football) and it would hiss as it came at you, a dull thud resonating from your chest as you tried to catch it but couldn't react fast enough to close your hands. And that was when he was throwing right handed. He would then get tired with that arm, switch to his left arm (which was his natural throwing arm), and bruise your chest even worse until you had a bruised rib or collapsed lung, which ever came first (often they came simultaneously). He was an ambidextrous merchant of death. Now apply that to him hitting a softball, and you understand why at 5 years old, I chose to stay out of the game.

Well, by all accounts, my cousin Jeremy (who would have been around 7 or 8) was trying to keep out of the game as well. Of course, he was trying to keep out of the game by playing on the same hillside, just not in the direct line of the ball. Of course, Kerry got a hold of a ball pretty well (as he did rather often) and the kids scrambled to catch the ball. The only problem was that this wasn't so much a pop fly; it was more a heat seeking line drive of unconsciousness. And try as Kerry may, he couldn't get any words out as the ball veered towards Jeremy's head like a smart bomb.

Bear in mind that we Buehl's are famous for two things: our senses of humor and our enormous heads. Both of those came into play as the softball struck my cousin's mondo melon and knocked him out of his Chuck Taylor's. According to some people there he was out like a light for a good minute or so, but others say that he began wailing immediately like a hydrocephalic banshee. In either case, he was hurt and my uncle Kerry was laughing while trying to show concern for what he had done. He didn't come off as particularly concerned when he started recanting the story almost immediately, complete with sound effects and hand motions, but eventually Jeremy was fine (as fine as you can be in our family) and everyone was fine with laughing at the story (that took approximately 20 minutes). And to this day, Jeremy still swears he can't remember it happening (probably because of massive head trauma), but everyone else in our family sure as hell can.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

State Tournaments

This past weekend here in Madison was one of my least favorite weekends of the year: State Wrestling Tournament weekend. It's my on my shit list for several reasons: it means that it's the start of all the state tournaments (basketball after this), it means that the spring thaw is coming (I like warmer weather, but mud and flooding run rampant), and most disturbingly, it means that the streets are flooded with mouth breathing troglodytes that have never seen a building more than 30 feet tall (unless you include silos). I mean, don't get me wrong, I grew up on a farm, but Madison was 30 minutes away. We spent every moment we could up there, getting away from our small town. But these people are looking at Potbelly's and Noodles & Co like they are restaurants they would "treat" themselves to (whereas they are a weekly staple for us here).

I don't care that these people come to Madison per se, nor am I trying to be condescending (but I am being condescending), it's just that they all flock here on the same damn weekend. And I see the same thing every time: the parents try to relive their "glory days" by bringing their kids here, watching their one match, then heading to the bars at 11 am to start their day and be drunk by 5 pm. And every year when I was working at a bar, I would have to ask a group of 45 year old males to get out because they were either too drunk or were creeping the college girls out. As they would look at me and call me a punk or say I was on a power trip kicking them out, I would remind them they were old enough to be my father. Maybe they should take a long hard look at their life and realize that someone that could be a result of a high school one night stand is kicking them out of a bar. I just can't stand it.

And to make matters worse, you have packs of slack-jawed teens walking around in their letter jackets, thinking they might be able to pass for college kids. No person ever wearing a letter jacket on a day besides Halloween got in to a bar in Madison (unless it's The Pub). So you have to kick them out with their bad fakes. But this leads me to an entertaining story that happened a couple years ago on one of these state tourney weekends...

As a friend and I walked down State Street (the main thoroughfare in downtown Madison), we were confronted by a passel of teens. They asked my friend and I, "Are you guys 21?" We informed them we were indeed of that magical age, so they asked us what every 21 year old loves to hear: "Can you buy us beer?"

What any good law abiding citizen would have said was no, but we decided to say yes. They looked at us with glee and admiration. Someone was going to buy them booze illegally! And strangers off the street no less! What fortune they had. We explained to them that it was of course going to cost them a little extra, which they said was fine (it had better be), and asked what they would like. They told us a "30 pack of cheap beer and a bottle of cheap vodka". We said that would be about $30 bucks with our carrying fees, and they said that was acceptable. We told them to wait just off State Street for us because it would be a little obvious if just handed it to them in the parking lot of the liquor store. We showed them where to wait, gave them a phone number to call if we were taking a little longer than normal, and took their money and went off to the liquor store. On that day, those high schoolers learned a valuable lesson:

Never, EVER, trust random college kids you meet on the street. We of course, walked towards the liquor store with their money and turned and went home. It was the perfect crime. The students didn't know where we lived, so they couldn't track us down. We had never given our names. We gave them a bogus phone number to call. They couldn't go to the cops because they were trying to illegally procure booze. And they probably felt pretty stupid anyway. My friend and I walked to my apartment (which was a 20 minute walk from State Street), went to a liquor store over in that area, bought ourselves some decent booze with the $30 bucks we had just made, and sat contentedly in my living while enjoying the fruits of our labor. I love naive high school kids.