Diane got us a new cappuccino maker. I’m happy about that, but withholding judgment until we can get it to work better.

I love cappuccinos in the morning. Plain old coffee just doesn’t taste good anymore.

And I’m not talking about the cappuccinos you get at Super America and half the coffee shops in the U.S., which have nothing in common with a real cappuccino, which is simply espresso and a little bit of frothed milk. You go to coffee shops these days, especially out here in the hinterlands, and order a cappuccino and they give you a weak latte — one shot of espresso and about 12 ounces of steamed milk.

This problem has arisen through American gluttony. Real cafes give people real cappuccinos, and the response is “Whaaaaaat?! Is that all?! The Super America cappuccinos are 16 ounces, with caramel and chocolate and french vanilla and toffee flavors! This is nothing like that!”

So I often go into a coffee shop nowadays and order a cappuccino, and the barista says, “Are you SURE???” because they’re afraid I’m one of those who thinks a cappuccino is what you get in the machine at Super America, and I’ll yell at them if they make me a real one.

Ranting at 6:54. Must be the cappuccino.


Stuff I watched/listened to this weekend:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: I heard the star and writer (Jason Segel) on NPR’s Fresh Air. The interview made me want to see this movie. He seems like a genuinely good guy. It was funny. Refreshing to see some full-fronted male nudity. I really liked the female lead, who I think was the girl from That 70s Show. (Confirmed: Mila Kunis). My overriding impression was that Rob really needs to see this movie. Then I went to town and forgot to bring it back, which I found ironic.

James Bond, Quantum of Solace. Action has become incredibly boring to me. I like Daniel Craig as the new Bond, though I would’ve voted for Clive Owen, and the movie had some okay parts, but in general, 9 on the snooze meter. They’ve thrown out all the campiness of the old Bonds and replaced it with non-stop action and serious drama. Doesn’t work. Camp probably wouldn’t either. Maybe it’s time for one of those billion bullets whizzing past his head to hit its target.

I gave up on Man and Boy, a novel by some British journalist named Tony Parsons (I think). Boring and badly written. I picked up The Shadow of the Wind by some Spanish writer, and I’m enjoying it.

On my run, I listened to Fresh Air, an interview with the guy who wrote Clockers and some episodes of The Wire (a show I haven’t gotten into yet). He has a novel called Lush Life, which sounds good, about drugs and crime and yuppies on the Lower East Side. I think his name was Price. Then I listened to Bill Moyers interview a Washington Post journalist (Kaiser?) about his book on lobbying. Great interview again. Moyers is the only mainstream media TV guy really digging up good stories that everyone should hear but nobody else is covering. Then he talked to Parker Palmer, which didn’t do much for me.

Watched Villanova beat Pitt.

Joe Soucheray’s column in Sunday’s Pioneer Press: Ragged, disjointed boobery from the Twin Cities’ biggest boob. He used to be a good writer but made a conscious decision to appeal to idiots and jerks and thereby make more money as a radio guy. Wish I had the ability to do the same.

Liking “I’m Just Me” by Charley Pride.

“Slow down old world” and “So Much to Do” by Willie Nelson. (“My oatmeal tastes just like confetti…”)

Walked to the river and was blown away by the ice sculptures formed by the flooding, freezing, receding, thawing over the last week. Every time I bring my camera down to the river, I expect there to be nothing new. I’m always wrong.

Went to the Cities last Monday night and stopped into the 331 Club to listen to The Roe Family Singers. I really like that Dan Gaarder’s voice, and I wish I had 5 percent of his guitar chops. Saw my old buddy Colin and Sneaky Pete Bauer, who was doing sound.

Rachel getting married

I like movies about dysfunctional families and addiction. One of my favorite TV shows is Intervention. So I liked Rachel Getting Married. I also like Anne Hathaway, ever since I first took Cedar to see Princess Diaries, but I must say I liked her better before the makeover, when she was the frizzy-haired artsy nerdy girl.

It’s a good movie about a girl who gets out of rehab to go to her sister’s wedding, and her narcissism and recovery drama infect the celebratory atmosphere. Eventual you realize that the family tragedy goes a lot deeper than Kym’s addiction. It’s an interesting family of musicians and intellectuals, an interracial wedding, with intimate camera angles, and that cinema verite shakey-camera stuff, which is always a little annonying. Anne Hathaway is great and so is the actress who plays her sister, and the guy who plays the dad, and Debra Winger as the mom.

Diane also got Milk, so that’ll be my next review

Memories of kayak festivals past

This was originally published in Silent Sports magazine. It’s a true story.

When you’re not very fast – at running, biking, hiking, paddling – you find other ways to distinguish yourself in competition, other badges of honor you carry proudly through life.

The year was 1996. I had taken my new used plastic sea kayak for a weekend of paddling on the north shore of Lake Superior, and saw signs for the kayak festival. Since the waves were bad, I decided to sign up for the 18-mile marathon the next morning, where I would at least have someone to pull me out of the drink if I tipped.

That night we partook of a fish boil at Superior Shores resort, and I met some of the competition – a woman from Madeline Island with a nice fiberglass, custom-made boat, and a photographer from Minneapolis whose arms were as big as my legs. I was undaunted. I’d been paddling every day on Jackfish Creek by my home near International Falls. On weekends, I would take a longer journey out into the islands of Rainy Lake or into Voyageurs National Park.

I spent the night in my tent in the backyard of one of the organizers. By 7:30 a.m. I was lining up for instructions with about 30 other kayakers. One young college student I had met the night before look disparagingly at my paddle, a two piece, $25 Carlyle with an aluminum/plastic shaft and flat, straight blades. “You gotta jettison the log, dude,” he said. “That thing must weigh a ton.”

I looked around at the other paddles. Sleek graphite and wood with fancy aerodynamic shapes. I had seen them in the stores when I bought my kayak, but $100 seemed outrageous for a paddle. How much difference could it make?

At the starting line, I was fantasizing about a strong finish. I had never paddled with anyone else, so I didn’t know for sure how fast I was, but since I’d been kayaking every day, I fully expected to surprise myself.

Everyone seemed to know a guy in a racing kayak would take first, but second place – first in my age division – was still up for grabs. I checked out the rest of the competition. About a third in my age range (late 30s, early 40s) a third older men and women, and a third college-aged or 20-something, including a few cocky, buff boys and two giggling girls who would be paddling in circles within five minutes, I was sure.

The gun went off and we set out northeast along the shore. For the first five minutes, I was feeling good. The boat was moving just as smoothly as usual, and I had a perfect rhythm going in my strokes. But very quickly I began to wonder as I looked around at the other boats. The racer was way out in front, but a handful of others had already pulled ahead, and some that started behind had already caught up. I was paddling fairly hard to get a good start, yet the giggling girls were keeping up with me.

After a half hour, the awful truth had sunk in: I was slow. Not just a little slower than average, but painfully, embarrassingly, humiliatingly slow. Second place was not only a fantasy, but a fantasy along the lines of an Olympic gold medal or a Nobel prize. I was in last place, watching two little co-eds pull off in the distance. Giggling and tossing their curls.

Encampment Island was the midway point of the race. We had to circle the island then head back to Two Harbors. Long before I reached it, the racer passed me on his way down the home stretch. The Madeline Island woman and the photographer were in the next pack of five or six. Less serious marathoners came next, among them the co-eds. By the time I started around the island, everyone else had finished rounding it and passed me going the other direction. It felt like being lapped in a two-lap race.

I labored back to Two Harbors, finishing in something like four and a half hours, a full 45 minutes after my closest rival. As I paddled toward the dock, I saw the organizers taking down the tents. The announcer had not yet closed up shop. She spoke into the loudspeaker as I crossed the finish line. “Brett Larson from Ranier, Minnesota.” I raised my paddle above my head while the crowd cheered politely.

In this shining moment, I had accomplished something no one had ever done – indeed, something no one would ever do again. Not only had I come in last, but I had come in last with flair, with verve, with personality and guts. I was literally last by a mile. Three miles, maybe. I, Brett Larson of Ranier, Minnesota, was the first ever last-place finisher at the Two Harbors Sea Kayak Festival marathon. Take that, Lance Armstrong. You will never sniff my record.

Snake on the rocks, and other photos

I came home early to go jogging, but the cold weather made jogging seem miserable, so I went for a walk down to the river, where the ice is breaking up. The leaves are melting into the snow as their dark colors attract the heat of the sun. A garter snake had apparently slithered onto some thin ice, broken through and drowned. Reminded me of the canada goose I saw drown a year ago Thanksgiving. And I’m still waiting for the sun to set directly to the west, so it will hang red right over the end of the road.

late winter