Friday, December 4, 2015

In Praise of: Cafe Fraiche, Eric Wold, and the Second Breakfast

During the fall 2015 semester, I have been on a research sabbatical from Clarke University. In short, I’ve been writing. A lot. But I have aspired, most weeks, to accomplish my writing goals by Thursday (if not Wednesday), and that has left Fridays open for what Eric Wold and I have called Second Breakfast. Not every Friday, but more Fridays than not, Wold and I would meet at a local eatery for food and camaraderie that we did not get in early morning hollers across the hallway between our offices. You know, sabbatical. At home writing.

Late in the semester a new breakfast eatery opened in Dubuque, and once we found this place, it’s the only we dined. The joint is called Café Fraiche, and it’s located at 609 E. 22nd Street. It opened only several months ago (late October, I should think), and Anna and I made a run there during one of their first weeks, and we really enjoyed our meal. The décor is charming, and the food was both a) wonderful and b) so reasonably priced I often think I should order two (but in my attempts to slim down, I’ve thus far restrained). Get this: for $4 I get scrambled eggs, hash brown, and toast. Everything has been so darn good. I’ve been there with Eric, The Lovely Wife, and my buddy Kate. All have agreed that the food is totally top notch.

Because I’m coming from home and Eric is coming from Clarke, I often arrive well before him, sometimes as much as a half hour. And yet, the charming staff has been more than content to allow me to drink coffee and read in peace, and I must confess that this is rare indeed. Want to piss off a Village Inn server? Go there, sit down, and read/grade/chill for half of an hour without ordering food. After fifteen minutes you’ll get a line that sounds like this: “Is it time for you to order? Yet?” The ‘yet?’ part announces their frustration at their waiting on you without—as yet, at least—the reward of a tip beyond the cost of a cup of coffee.

But as good as the food has been, the dining experience has been as good. Here is the glory of eating at a locally owned restaurant: everyone is glad that you are there. The servers? Delighted to see you! The owner? Thanks for coming! Tell your friends! Come back and see us again! Little makes me feel better as a patron than a sincere expression of thankfulness for my business. And this thankfulness goes both ways. I’m delighted that they are open, particularly in a different part of town other than on Main St., on JFK, or the West End. I’m thankful for great food and even better service. I’m thankful for Second Breakfast and quality time with The Wold.

I’ve been thankful for the sabbatical, although not necessarily thankful that it’s almost over. I’ll be thankful if Eric and I can find time to visit Café Fraiche during the spring semester. It will be something to look forward to.

By the by, you can find them online at (check out the menu! Breakfast available from open until they close at 3P!). I can almost guarantee that you'll not only enjoy the food, you'll enjoy the experience. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In Praise of: Nine Great Years

More often than not, I wake up each and I have no idea what the day will bring. Thankfully, I am an optimist by nature, and I see each day as an opportunity of making someone’s day better. But I have no idea at 6A how this is going to play out.

I just hope it does.

I had no idea, for example, what Thursday 9 November 2006 would be when I woke up that morning. I was in Maryville, Missouri at the time, having begun my first job as an Assistant Professor at Northwest Missouri State University. To be honest, I can tell you very little about this day. It was an autumn day, the leaves were changing, the weather was crisp. But I cannot tell you anything about my day prior to 2P. I don’t recall what classes I had, what I did, if I ate, or to whom I spoke.

No, the things I can tell you relate to one simple fact: this was the day that Romey the Wunderbeagle came into my life. I rescued her from a very bad home.

Clarke University has a literary magazine, and I have contributed to it twice. The second time, some over three and a half years ago, I actually wrote about Romey. I concluded with this paragraph:

It is difficult to say with certainty how old Romey is.  She has been with me for more than five years now, and she was probably a couple of years old when I got her.  The veterinarian told me today she is between nine and eleven.  Her eyes are a bit hazier than I would like, and the knee replacement surgery (really!) from November 2010 means she will never catch the rabbits she chases behind Clarke University.  I suppose all of this has me mindful of her mortality and my realization that she will not be burying bones in the living room couch forever.  So I try to take to take her for longer walks.  I try to give her longer belly scratches.  I embarrassingly sing to her.  All the time.  Perhaps the most important thing she reminds me of daily: Tell Those Who You Love that You Love Them.  Everyday.

When I was asked to read at the release party for the Tenth Muse, I was happy to do so, and I even brought the hound. But when I got to the final paragraph, I broke down and openly wept. It would be easy to fall into a cliché and say that it wasn’t I who rescued her, but it was she who rescued me. So I won’t do that. But what I can write, with great confidence, is that this lovely dog was able to see me through some very difficult times. She wasn’t a perfect dog, to be certain. She loved to get into the trash. She always found a way to get the bread off the kitchen counter. For three years I had to secure my fridge with duct tape so she wouldn’t break into it (this sounds like a joke, but I have witnesses). But she was a very good dog; sweet and kind, if at times a bit indifferent to strangers.

Nine years from now, I am not sure what I will be able to tell you about Thursday 29 October 2015. But I know for certain I will recall—with great, gut-wrenching clarity—that it was the day Anna and I had to let Romey go.

This has been a long process. She has long since lost her hearing, and her vision is more absent than not. She has lost a lot of weight. Moreover, over the past two weeks, she has lost the desire to eat—even people food which two years ago she would have scarfed up without any remorse—and her front and back legs seem to be systematically breaking down. She walks with a great limp and only with significant effort. She frequently shakes and collapses, and she no longer is interested in going for the shortest of walks (for example, she hasn’t been beyond the borders of our own home in ten days). She seems to be in great pain, although she acts far more stoic than she ought, and for lack of a better phrase, she seems to have lost the joyous spark that so endeared her to those who met her.

Today I woke up, and I knew what today would hold, and I knew it would be hard. Today is the day that Anna and I let her go. It has been a woefully difficult decision. She currently snores next to me on the couch, as she has for nearly nine years, and it’s hard knowing this is the last time it will happen. But I’m happy that it happened today, and it has happened for nearly nine years now. I know we made each other’s lives better.

If there is a dog heaven (and there might as well be), Romey will be on the express train there. And that means that by tonight she’ll be chasing rabbits, barking at the UPS deliveryman, and dining on a never-diminishing loaf of cinnamon bread. And I take a certain solace in that that.

During our time together, many students and friends have helped look after Romey when I’ve been out of town, so while I am here, I would like to thank Krista, Kate, Jessie, Pete, Lynsey, Max, Sarah, and Danielle for their care. I’ve always appreciated your time with the hound.

Via con dios.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

In Praise of: The Moleskine Messenger Bag

There is a running joke in my house between my wife and I that I have a bag-buying addiction. I hate
to admit it, but I suppose it's true. I buy far more than I need, and use far fewer than I own. And still, I bet there is a good sporting chance that I might go shopping for another something sometime soon.

It's a weakness, I know. But some people's weakness is heroin, so I feel pretty good about my vice.

With a trip to Rome in the hopper for December, I was hoping to find a carry-on sized bag that I can have under my seat that might hold the things that I would want to use over the course of an international flight, things such as my iPad, headphones, a book or two, headphones, and my passport. I think I found a winner with the Moleskine Messenger Bag. It's cleverly designed with thoughtful features. So far I think it's a winner.

The video below shows some of the more interesting features (and if you want to watch me pack a bag, you can zap ahead to the midway point. Now that's riveting viewing!


Friday, September 11, 2015

In Praise of: (Many) Small Gestures

I want you to give me a dollar.

Actually, that's a lie. I want you to give Lauren a dollar.

Actually, that's a lie, too. What I really want (and by really want, what I mean is really want) is for you to donate one dollar towards Lauren's goal of raising $500 for the Children's Miracle Network, a wonderful charity that specializes in health care for children who are direly ill. It is a responsible and respected charity. Charity Navigator, an organization that tracks nonprofits, scores the Children's Miracle Network as a Four-Star charity (its highest ranking) and gives them an overall composite score of 94.1 (out of 100; 91.7 for financial responsibility, and a perfect 100 for transparency).

Just to give you an idea of what a great (responsible) charity this is, here are some statistics:
American Cancer Society: two-star rating, overall score is 76.4
Wounded Warriors: three-star rating, overall score is 84.5
American Red Cross: three-star rating, overall score is 81.0
Susan G. Komen: two-star rating, overall score is 79.0

Please note: I am not commenting on the worthiness of the causes represented, and am only making a remark about the level of responsibility of each charity. By any measure, the Children's Miracle Network is awesome. I mean, really: they provide care for sick kids. Kids with cancer. Kinds with HIV. Kids awaiting organ transplants. Trust me: they both deserve and would appreciate your dollar.

This this gets us to the cause of you donating just $1 to this wonderful charity.

Lauren Robinson--a brave soul, no doubt, for she suffered through not just one of my general education classes, but TWO--is currently raising money for a dance-a-thon that will be at Clarke University on April 2nd. She aspires to raise $500 for this noble cause, and in doing so will dance for ten hours. Straight. Needless to say, this is not something I could do, nor would anyone want me to try.

So this is why I write to you this evening. I want a dollar. Just one. If everyone who reads this would donate just one dollar to Lauren's cause, she would sail past her goal. And let's be honest about $1 really is. It's one-half of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It's change in between the cushions of your couch. It's 1/6 the cost of a beer (if you live in Dubuque) or 1/10 the cost of a beer (if you live in DC). Many small gestures can amount to something rather grand.

So how about you hop over to Lauren's page and donate $1. If you are a Clarke student and you don't have a credit card, get in touch with me. I'll find a way to turn your contribution into a contribution for Lauren. Many hands, dear friends, make light work.

You can find Lauren's donation page here.

Thank you so much in the advance.

In case the hyperlink above doesn't work, try this:

Friday, August 7, 2015

In Praise of: Actors with Great Five-Year Runs

I'm a college professor who (occasionally) teaches courses on film. This means I have both lots of time (during certain seasons of the year) to watch movies. It also means that I get to watch movies as a kind of 'work.' Most people would disagree that watching films could every constitute a kind of work, but it certainly is. When I put in a movie, I'm watching with a more engaged, critical eye than most who watch movies for the sake of entertainment.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy watching movies, of course. I do. But like traveling, too, I bring in a different expectation than the average person who walks into a gothic church or a museum. I love walking through the Louve, but I'm working when I do so. This is both wonderful, but it means that vacations are a quite a bit of work, too.

A few days ago I was chatting with a philosophy professor who is teaching a class in an upcoming semester on the concepts of the Self. He asked me if I might we willing to come in, show a film, and then discuss the construction of consciousness and self as it is explored in the movie. Many movies immediately flooded to my mind, but the first was Blade Runner. This is an interesting film for many reasons, not least of which is that it exists in nearly half a dozen versions. The theatrical (both domestic and international) from it's release in 82, a workprint and Director's Edition for '91 (give or take), and then the director, Ridley Scott, release a definitive edition in 2007. The changes between the versions are small, but profound.

So today I watched Blade Runner, the 2007 version. And while watching it, the thought hit me several times: Hot damn Harrison Ford had a great five or six year stretch of films, a run that is quite nearly unprecedented for an actor (please note that I am using this term in its masculine form). Check out this list:

  • Star Wars, 1977
  • Apocalypse Now, 1978
  • The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
  • The Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981
  • Blade Runner, 1982
Hot damn! To be fair, three of those films (Star Wars, Empire, and Raiders) are amongst my favorite movies. Ever.

And then I began to think about other actors who had a similar run of rather great of roles and/or films. And so where are some. I have, no doubt, left off some equally worthy thespians I have left off. But here we go. Movies in bold indicate that the actor received at least an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Jack Nicholson
  • Easy Rider, 1969
  • Five Easy Pieces, 1970
  • The Last Detail, 1973
  • Chinatown, 1974
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975
Tom Hanks
  • Philadelphia, 1993
  • Forrest Gump, 1994
  • Apollo 13, 1995
  • Saving Private Ryan, 1998
Peter O'Toole
  • Lawrence of Arabia, 1962
  • Becket, 1964
  • The Lion in Winter, 1968
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips, 1969
Brad Pitt (honorable mention)
  • Seven, 1995
  • Twelve Monkeys, 1995
  • Sleepers, 1996
  • Fight Club, 1999
But the grand prize winner, the actor with perhaps the best run--ever, I say!--is Al Pacino. It's a shame that Pacino has become such a shell of what he once was. Looking at his IMDB page for his performances over the past decade is an exercise in sadness. To be fair, there is little he has done in the past fifteen years that I care to watch more the once. He was great in A Merchant of Venice, but mostly because he wasn't acting like Al Pacino. Angels in America is great. Heat and Insomnia are great, but not necessarily because of him. Other than those, his oeuvre is a list of white hot trash. But my heavens, from 1972 until 1975--just four short years--he banged out some world-class performances.
  • The Godfather, 1972
  • Serpico, 1973
  • The Godfather, Part II, 1974
  • Dog Day Afternoon, 1975
If you have an actor with a better grouping of movies over so short a period of time, I want to hear about it. Comment below.

A twitter buddy, Dr. Shaw, makes an undeniable point (one, to be fair, I considered). John Cazale--who will forever be Fredo Corleone, was in three of the four movies that Pacino was in; both Godfather's and Dog Day Afternoon. And Cazale was effing great in all of them. He was then in The Deer Hunter in 1978--just a bit outside of the five year window, but only by a single year. Steven notes that The Deer Hunter is likely a better movie than Serpico, and I cannot argue (The Deer Hunter was 53 on the AFI top-100 list, and got 5 Oscar wins and four more nominations; Serpico was unranked and got only two nominations). Sadly, Cazele died shortly after finishing The Deer Hunter (at the age of 42). As an actor, he has nearly an untarnished record. Amazing talent that wasn't around long enough.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

In Praise Of: Melancholy Departures and the Power of Art

When I moved to Dubuque in 2007, I purchased a home right on Clarke drive, just about one kilometer from campus. Until I had a Lugnut to shuttle off to daycare, I walked to work just about every day. Uber hot? Windchill of -15? It didn't matter. I walked to work. I loved walking to work. And I loved my house, The 608. It was old--built in 1915--and a bit unusual. It was small (certainly no more than a one-child house). It was quirky. It had a great upper porch (that overlooked the river) and wonderful light. It had a garage. For two cars.

It was my home. I loved it. When The Lovely Wife got there (she was just The Lovely Girlfriend back then), it became our home. I loved our home.

But we've moved. We sold our home. Now to be fair, we sold our home to some wonderful people, and I get to drive by the house all the time and recall all the wonderful memories I had there. But I will still miss it.

I think The Lovely Wife understands this. How do I know this? Well golly. She commissioned a Clarke art major (the wonderful, talented, and charming Emma Duehr) to draw the 608. It was a kind of Father's Day/Anniversary/Birthday present that arrived the last day of July. Anna and I made a run to Galena to have dinner at Vinny Vanucchi's where Emma currently waits tables. During the course of the meal, Anna tried--unsuccessfully, I might add--to get me to spy the wonderful drawing that had been strategically placed within the restaurant. I never saw it. And when I finally did, it moved me (to be perfectly honest) to tears.

Art can do work, dear friends. It can move one to tears and can remind one of wonderful, wonderful times.

Emma, I, the 608, and some photobombing Vinny's waiter.

Friday, July 17, 2015

In Praise of: Falbo Brother's Pizza

I moved to Dubuque just over eight years ago and the post that follow is the result of eight years of systematic research. I've done my homework. It's time to present the results.

The project? The search for the best pizza in Dubuque.

And that written, allow me to explain some personal prejudices. When it comes to eating out, I generally prefer local establishments to national chains. So just to lay the cards on the table, I did not consider--not do I patronize--establishments such as Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Dominos, or (heaven help us all) Little Caesar's. To be honest, in eight years here, I've never ordered from Dominos or Little Caesar's, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have paid money at Papa John's or Pizza Hut. Not only do I not care for the pizza, I would rather give my pizza money to a smaller, local chain. We have some pretty good pizza options here in Dubuque, but the best as far as I can tell can be had at Falbo Brother's Pizza at JFK (3250 JFK Circle). If The Lovely Wife and I are going to get pizza, there is an 85% chance we're hitting up Falbo's.

Pizza need have three things in order to make it pizza. Crust, sauce, and cheese. Everything else is just toppings, and to my mind at least, toppings can do little good if the first three elements are crap. And this is where Falbo's so clearly excels. The crust is just wonderful (no leaving that uneaten in this pizza), and there is a crust for each kind of pizza lover. The thin crust is wafer light and crispy, the pan is deep and chewy. By The Lovely Wife and I usually opt for the stuffed crust pizza. Pan in depth, and then topped, then covered with a thin sheet of crust, then topped again. It's wonderful.

We have several favorites. One is the stuffed parm pizza; lots of tasty red sauce and huge chunks of breaded chicken, and lots of cheese. It really is like eating the lovely offspring of a pizza and a chicken parmesan sandwich. We also really like several of the chicken ranch pizzas. Rather than a red sauce they are smothered with a wonderful buttermilk ranch, lots of chicken, and more cheese than you feel they deserve.

Have you ordered a pizza from one of those national chains and then get your pizza home and then realize that it looks nothing at all like the pizza you saw on the television? Even Falbo Brother's pizza I've ever ordered looks just like you think a pizza should.

Want a really nice gluttonous treat? Order a large order of the cheese sticks ($10) and get some ranch to dunk it in. You'll be in heaven.

And to top it all off, I can nearly guarantee that every person you interact with at Falbos will treat you like gold. This is, I suppose, the glory of a local chain. The Powers Who Be there must realize that we have many places where we could spend our pizza dollars. I've always been treated as if they are thankful that I'm giving them my business, and this is a rather nice thing indeed.

So mad props to the good people and the good pie at Falbos. Many congrats; you have one happy customer who will be back again and again.

Yes, this is the chicken parm stuffed pizza. No, you cannot have any.

In Praise of: Turning 40, Jen Wold, and Clever Wren Cakes & Sweets

In January of 2012, the estimable Eric Wold--the graphic design wunderkind who has an office across the hallway from me--suggested that I start a blog. "You like to write and you have interesting things to say," he said. "It could be fun."

I'm at over 200 posts. Finding time to write is a bit more difficult than it once was--Lugnut both provides me with things to write and takes away time from writing--but every now and again I put pen to paper (fingers to keys) to write about whatever it is that has made me happy or pissed me off. To put a fine point on it, however: the reason this trifle of a blog exists is because of The Wold.

When I started this, I named the blog The Life of Bryan (you know, an oh so clever reminder of the Monty Python film) and subtitled it The (somewhat) rambling thoughts of a 30-something art history professor (because, you know, that's what I am).

Or, better said, was.

I was a 30-something in 2012.

But on 8 July--some nine days ago--I turned 40.

I am a 40-something.

And when I think about that, I cannot help but think of the epic rant that Mike Gundy, the head football coach at the Oklahoma State University went on back in 2007 that ended with the wonderful line, "I'm a man! I'm 40!" (fuzzy about the line? Click here.)

I am now a man.

Some people may shy away from getting older. Ask some how old they are, and they may lie, refuse to answer, disdainfully glare at you. Not me.

I'm 40.

If you would have told me at 21 what my life would be at when I turned 40, I suspect I would have called you a liar. At this midpoint in my life, I've completed a Ph.D, found a job that I love, found the girl (woman!) of my dreams, and fathered a wonderful son. We just bought a lovely house. My life is rich in people and experiences. I've seen a good chunk of the world, hope to see more of it. I've accomplished some pretty cool things from a professional point of view. My life is, quite simply put, wonderful.

Forty does not phase me in the slightest. Damn the torpedos. Full speed ahead.

But that written, I suppose that turning 40 is a momentous occasion, and And order to celebrate this once-in-a-life event, The Lovely Wife thought she should invite over three of my dearest friends, people coincidentally, I happen to work with. The Wold was one of them. And The Wold brought The Jen Wold. And as talented as Eric may be, I think Jen may have him beat. Indeed, Jen is the proprietor and chief cake-making goddess at Clever Wren Cakes & Sweets, and for my birthday she conjured up (conjured seems to be an odd verb, but to use the word 'bake' would be misleading, for what she made was nothing short of magical) the most amazing cake I've seen or consumed.

Eric and I both have the distinct honor of having both attended and graduated from the University of Arizona, and I take my pride in school very seriously. I think Eric is the same, perhaps not to the same militant extent that I am, but Eric clearly passed along my love of school to Jen when she conceived of and conjured up The Dessert of the Year. It was two glorious levels of cake deliciousness. The bottom part was four layers of chocolate cake with chocolate ganache. The upper tier was three layers of vanilla cake with vanilla frosting. It was constructed from colored fondant to look like a white button-up shirt accented with a red and blue bow tie (and pocket square!). On the back was the sahuaro cactus from the Arizona logo, the Arizona 'A', and an appropriately sized 40. To be honest, it looked too damn pretty to eat, and too damn pretty to stick candles in.

We did both. And on the eating front, it I was--to put it rather mildly--amazed. Goodheaveshotdamngivemeanotherpiece. It was amazing. In a pretty good sized kitchen, ten people were reduced to near silence aside from the mouthful-of-food questions that kept coming Jen's way. "How did you do this?" "What is that?" "How much time did this take" "Where do you learn to do that?" I've never heard such silence from people who like to talk so much.

And the best part? I have half of a cake left (I may or may not have had another piece last night at 11P and then another this morning at 8A). I am sure that there are plenty of bakery options in the greater Dubuque area, but I could not imagine having a better cake experience than we got from Jen and her Cleven Wren Cakes & Sweets venture (want to find her webpage? You should. Click here). I sheepishly admit that there was a time when I was somewhat addicted to shows on the Food Network, and some bozos made some rather visually extravagant cakes and you just knew were going to taste like room temperature cardboard. This cake will single handedly wreck my attempt to get to 178 pounds.

I could write another 1,000 words about how lovely and delicious this cake was, but I am going to go have another piece. Better yet, I'll go run four and a half miles and then have another piece. You know: I've got to earn it.

The Wold, The 40-year-old author, The Jen Wold

Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Praise of (and an apology to): Pancheros' Mexican Grill

Dear Pancheros Mexican Grill,

The words to follow are a bit of praise and a small bit of a mea culpa. I write, amongst other reasons, to ask for your forgiveness and to try to make amends for my egregious act.

As a way to begin, allow me to write that I moved to Iowa in June of 2007. Prior to that, I had lived in Washington, DC for five years (it was there where I completed my PhD) and before that I had lived in Tucson, Arizona for more than 20 years. By the time I moved to Iowa, I think it fair to say I knew a thing or two about a thing or two about Mexican food. And, to be perfectly frank, I had developed a deep and passionate appreciation for another burrito joint that may or may not rhyme with Old Bay. And so, when I found an (ahem!) Old Bay-ish place on the west end of Dubuque, I was immediately suspicious.

But one day, that June of 2007, I stopped into Pancheros and got a burrito. And after one burrito I was hooked. You've made me vanquish the longing I once had for your Old Bay-ish competitor. When people talk about them, I continually reaffirm one fact I know above most others: the burritos I've received at Pancheros have continually been--and I mean this--lights out fantastic. Any day I stop in for a burrito, it's amongst the best $7 I could ever spend.

Leading up to Father's Day--I am the wonderfully proud dad to a 13-month-old son--Anna, my lovely wife, asked me where I'd like to go for dinner (due to a family dinner on Sunday evening, our celebratory Father's Day dinner was going to happen on Saturday evening). My answer was simple and straight forward.

I want a burrito at Pancheros.

And so on Saturday, Anna and I packed up The Little Guy, and drove to the west end for our Saturday evening burrito. But by the time we arrived, two things happened. First, it was raining (and it was no mere sprinkle). And second, our son was soundly asleep in his car seat. So we did what any reasonable couple would do. I ran in to get the burritos while Anna stayed in the car. I ordered, got the bounty of our two burritos, grabbed some napkins, and as I was leaving, I grabbled a bottle of the (wow, wonderful!) Flavocano sauce (I'm from AZ; I like my burritos HOT!) so that I could more fully enjoy my meal.

Now when I did this, I had every intention (and I mean this, EVERY INTENTION!) of bringing that bottle of sauce back in. I did. I promise. But something happened while enjoying that wonderful burrito. I had poured some of the Flavocano sauce into a freshly bitten burrito when I noticed that some sauce was dripping down the side of the bottle. I did something that I both cannot yet can explain: I licked the bottle both on the side and up where near the cap screws on (don't tell my wife; this very well might be normal behavior, but I would rather her not know).

So I was left with one of two options. One: return a clearly unhygienic bottle of Flavocano. Or two: officially steal that bottle of savory sauce and not let it go to waste. At the time, option two seemed the better of these. However, I have become somewhat racked with guilt--to be honest, I spend much of my time trying to make sure I am acting in a way that my Mom would be proud of me--and it is for this reason that I write today. I would be more than delighted to pay you whatever it is that you would request of me so that I could continue to enjoy this flavorful condiment without the pang of guilt that comes from petty larceny. And if this not be possible, I would greatly appreciate absolution for my theft. Although I guess I did mean to steal the sauce, it was only because I could not in good conscience return it to the store (and, to my mind, I could not let it go to waste). Perhaps a nice compromise would be to only use it on future Pancheros burritos. As the picture makes clear, I use more than a dash in the course of consuming the Amazing Three-Pound Burrito.

In any case, Pancheros, do accept my thanks (for making happiness arrive in cylindrically-wrapped tin foil) and my apologies (for seemingly stealing from your establishment). I promise to order and consume more burritos. And I likewise promise to stop stealing.

My best regards,
Bryan Zygmont

And now a bit of an addition; 16 July...

Not long after I wrote this post I received a twitter reply from Pancheros. They then asked for my email address. They then wrote back asking for my real address. And they then sent me a Pancheros care package. To say that I was elated when it arrived would be to put it mildly. Heck, even the box was cool.

Someone at Pancheros is a very (VERY!) nice person. When I finally dug into the box I was thrilled to find some of the wonderful Flavolcano sauce. And not just one bottle. Six. This means that I will not have to (unknowingly) pilfer from the Pancheros joint on the Northwest Arterial from quite some time. But the burrito madness did not stop there (I"m just getting started!). I also scored two shirts (yes!), a dozen burrito-shaped koozies (yes!), a pen (yes!), a bottle opener (yes! How did they know I'm a beer fan?), some sunglasses, and a lovely note.

In all, it was a wonderfully kind gesture, although one not needed. I have been a fan of the burritos. But now, perhpas more importantly, I'm a fan of the company, and that's a pretty cool thing, too. What can I say? I'm an Arizona boy, but Iowa companies seem to get it right.

So thank you, Pancheros; I'm wonderfully thankful for the flavorful gift!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

In Praise of: Returns to Poland, and finding more Komes beer

I am back in Poland. But first, a quick story.

Several months ago I was in the beer aisle (how I wish it were a beer isle!) at a local liquor store looking for a new beer to try (but, more likely, I found an old favorite to take home). I was in the German/Czech section, when I a gentleman asked me, "Do you know where the good Polish beers are?"I smiled, and then said, "Sir, I lived in Poland for six months. And I feel I can say with confidence that there is no such thing." Now to be fair, this isn't entirely true, but there are few Polish beers that I would actually purchased in the United States aside from a desire to scratch the urge of nostalgia (Belgium? Now that, dear reader, is a different story). But there was a brand that I found that I not only enjoyed, I would purchase it again if I found them back home. I even wrote an "In Praise of..." post about them here. 
That gets me to today, 14 May 2015. I returned to Poland, and Lublin, to be more specific, on Tuesday to attend and present at an academic conference. The conference is called Wordstruck and it has been hosted by the Department of American Studies at Marie Curie-Sklowoska University (UMCS). The second day has just wrapped up (I was the first non-keynote paper, so I'm not just learning), and thus far the papers and collegiality have been wonderful. 
I must confess that I am a bit surprised to be back in Poland, but it has thus far been a really wonderful experience. What little Polish I knew when I left has somehow returned, and I've felt pretty confident (or, be it better said, as confident as I once was) at interacting with merchants and the like. And for whatever it's worth, the dollar is even stronger than it was when I was a Fulbright Scholar in 2013. Last night, for example, I went down to the hotel bar and had a beer; it was about $3. Lots to like about Poland.

Tonight I got home and decided to take a walk about Lublin; I haven't been here since 2010, and I don't recall walking about the city much when I was here five years ago. Just about back to the apartment, I walked past a liquor store with dozens of kinds of beers, not unlike the one that Anna and I found in Lodz about two years ago. When scanning the shelf I saw my old Polish favorite: Komes. So I bought a bottle each of the two I had when I was here in 2013: the white, which was a Belgian trippel, and the blue, modeled after a dubbel. I also purchased a bottle with the gold label. I have no idea as to what to expect from that, and the label is in, well, Polish. So it'll be a bit of a surprise.

So yeah; I'm back in Poland. Do I miss The Lovely Wife? Heck yes. Do I miss Lugnut? Well of course! But it's been a great conference, and I found some Komes. And it's summer break on the front end of a sabbatical.

Life is good.

Monday, March 2, 2015

In Praise of: Art Historians and the Beer Label Poster

Let me be clear: I am an art historian, not an art maker. Want to see me burst a blood vessel? Here's how.

When you ask me what I teach and I respond that I'm a art historian, say, quite simply, "Oh wow. I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler!"

When I can finally see straight, I'll say, "Yeah, me neither. Which is why I am an art historian and not an artist. Likewise, someone who teaches American Literature is not a novelist, and one who is an Economics professor does not work at a bank."

I'm a historian. I look at art.

I don't make art.

As an art history undergraduate at the University of Arizona, I was supposed to take Drawing I. I wanted nothing to do with that nonsense. Instead, I petitioned the Dean to allow me to take (traditional, wet) photography. So I did.

That's my one art class. Grade in that art class, by the way: A. Take that, art majors: his doorknob has a 4.0 in all my studio classes.

The moral: I'm not an art maker. And I'm fine with this. But when I was in Poland as a Fulbright Scholar, I did keep a kind of scrapbook where I collected train and airplane tickets, museum passes, and most pertinent for today's post, beer labels.

Lots of beer labels. They all got pasted in.
Beer Label Poster in process
When I got back to the States I had many duplicates and I thought I'd do some kind of project with them. And so the Beer Label Poster idea was born. During the fall of 2013 I found up in the attic an unused poster (it's dimensions escape me, but I'll guess it's about 28"x22". And so, armed with leftover Yes! paste and a paintbrush I had hijacked for an art professor, I set to fill this picture frame up with beer labels.

Completed Beer Label Poster
I am not sure how many different beers are represented on it--I've never bothered to count them--but I would guess it's pushing 70. Pasting them on was a laborious and time consuming process, and it took me more than a year to acquire enough ladles to fill it up, but once I did I must confess that I was pretty damn proud of it. When I was set to hang it in my work office, an art making colleague commented that it looked like hell because of the way in which I pasted them in. Now to be fair, you can see that they are adhered to the background with paste, but I was pleased with the image.

And then, about a week later, the Graphic Design professor told me about an art project he had worked on for his father. He had scanned in old fishing products and then made a kind of poster for his father. And then it hit me: HOT DAMN I COULD DO THAT WITH BEER LABELS!

And thus, the digital beer label poster idea was born. During December and January, The Lovely Wife and I spent 2 weeks in Belgium, and as you might guess, I drank more than a little bit of beer. I drank a lot of beer. It was wonderful. And I brought all of those beer labels back. And so, with a bit of training in Photoshop and Bridge, I began to create a 20"x16" poster of Belgian beer labels.

The goal? Etsy shop. That's right. I think the final product (and you can see it below in a low-res version) is so darn cool that others might want one, too. So I spent a few hours scanning beer labels in at 600 dpi, and then arranged them in photoshop in what I think is a pretty interesting visual way. And from there, I can print this particular image at photo quality (it was created at 300 dpi, which means the photo will look lights-out fantastic). Throw it in a standard frame, and whammo! You've got instant cool beer art for your bar or Man Cave.

So here's my plug: If you want in on this, let me know. The Etsy page is up and running, and if you have a request (you know, I hate Duvel; get rid of that label and add in a St. Bernardus 9), I can do that, too. What to take a look at the Etsy site? You can do so here. Have a question? Send it to

Here it is, Edition #1: Belgian Beer Label Poster; it's just a low-res screen shot.

There are 49 beers represented They include: 
Achel Blonde
Augustin Blonde
Augustin Brune
Brugge Tripel
Brugse Zot Dubble
Brugse Zot Tripel
Chimay Blue
Chimay Red
Chimay White
Ciney Blonde
De Verboden Vrucht
Ename Blonde
Gestse Strop
Gentse Tripel
Grimbergen Optimo Bruno
Grimbergen Tripel
Grimbergen Winter
Hoegarrden Grand Cru
Kasteel Tripel
La Trappe Dubel
La Trappe Quadrupel
La Trappe Tripel
Leffe Bruin
Leffe Royale
Maredsous Brune
Priaat Tripel Hop
Prior Tripel
Ramee Blonde
St. Bernardus Pater 6
St. Bernardus Abt 12
St. Fueillien Blonde
St. Feuillien Tripel
Stella Artois
Straffe Hendrik Tripe
Trappistes Rochefort 6
Trappistes Rochefort 8
Trappistes Rochefort 10
Tripel Karmeliet
Vedett IPA
Westmalle Dubbel
Westmalle Tripel

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The University of Phoenix: Making ASU Look Good Since 1976

A former student and all-around good guy, Tyler Oehmen, recently posted this Zen Buddhist koan on my Facebook wall:

What a fine question. And at first glance, this may seem to be a difficult one to answer, for if you know me--even in passing, I might add--you know at least one thing about me. I have a rather unabashed love for the University of Arizona. Love it. And a corollary of this, I suppose, is that I have a rather putrid hatred for Arizona State. These things go hand-in-hand.

And yet despite this hatred, I must admit something: despite its many shortcomings, Arizona State is, at least, well, kind of a university. They have an actual campus, professors who attended other universities (and not just ASU), and the seem to hand out degrees that students earn, and not just pay for.

I attended two schools (Arizona and Maryland). Here is where those two schools--and ASU--rank in various systems:

  • National Ranks: 28th, 73rd, 62nd, and 50th
  • World Ranks: 38th, 117th, and 97th
  • National Ranks: 46th, 250th, 121, and 64th
  • World Ranks: 86th, 215th, and 86th
Arizona State 
  • National Ranks: 46th, 362nd, 129, and 45th
  • World Ranks: 79th, 293rd, and 127th
The moral of this story, the University of Maryland, the fine institution where I earned my Ph.D, is rated higher than ASU in every single ranking. ASU only outranks my beloved Arizona in 2 of the 7 (one wonders what Forbes is smoking; how is Arizona the 250th ranked university in the world?). 

But the point of this is not to say that Maryland and Arizona are both better than Arizona State. Of course this is true. How could it be otherwise? The point, I suppose, is to point out a rather simple fact: at the very least, Arizona State is a university.

You might be wondering where the University of Phoenix ranks on these charts? They don't. Not at all. As a matter of fact, as best as I could tell, the University of Phoenix has a higher admission rate than Arizona State, and Arizona State let in roughly 90% of applicants between 2008-2012 (it sounds like I'm making this stat up, but it's true). I bet I could get admitted into a graduate program at the University of Phoenix in an area in which I haven't even taken a class. 


All they care about is getting your tuition money. Such is the blight that is the for-profit schools in the United States. If you are willing to pay, you'll get your degree, be it an undergraduate, a graduate, or God help you, an advanced graduate degree like a PhD.

So if the question is where would I have rather attended? Save my soul, but ASU. At least I would have attended a real university, had real professors who are earned really Ph.Ds and done real academic work, and earned a real degree, one that people wouldn't necessarily laugh at if I were to apply for jobs and list it on my resume.

So to conclude, let me write this simple mathematical equation:

Arizona State University > The University of Phoenix (and every other online, for-profit school).

Painful to write, but a truth. Dammit.

Friday, February 13, 2015

In Praise of: Satchel and Page

The Satchel and Page Map Case
I have many problems, to be certain, one one of those involves a predilection for leather goods and school bags. Back in 2011 I purchased a Saddleback Leather briefcase, a bag that has been my steady school companion for almost four years (and it's finally getting broken in; you can read that post here). But about a year ago I thought it high time to purchase something smaller; big enough to hold an iPad, and iPod and a book or two. This began my search for a tablet bag of sorts. As with my search for my professor bag, this was an intense, research-driven endeavor. I eventually landed on a website called Satchel & Page, where I found exactly what I was looking for, the Map Case (you can find it here).  
I was immediately smitten. The design is based on World War II map cases (I have this hope that my Grandpa Clark, a forward observer on a tank unit, had something like this), and it is nearly equal parts beautiful, functional, and antique. Yet despite the seemingly timelessness of the design, it's modern in its execution. There is an iPad sleeve (that at first only fit my iPad when it was caseless, but has been stretched enough to fit it when in the case, too), a slot for several pens and my phone, and enough space left over for a book and the case for my spectacles. 

It is the perfect (and I mean it: PERFECT) bag as a second carry-on for air travel. Most of what I need during the course of a flight can fit in here: my passport, a pen for immigration forms, a book to read, a iPad and iPod for entertainment, and my glasses in case I need them. The pocket on the back can hold boarding passes or a newspaper.

In short, it's wonderfully functional. But beyond that, it just looks so damn great. My pictures suck compared to those on their website, but I must confess that I receive compliments on this little bag whenever I take it out. It might seem to be a bit pricey, but its construction and materials (copper rivets, brass hardware) are so top notch that I'm certain it'll be around when it's time to pass it along to my son. And he's only nine months old.

Beyond that, Daniel, the owner, was wonderfully kind to me. We shared several emails about leather bags and Belgian beer. A wonderful dude and I wish him well with his leather endeavors. If the quality of this bag is any indication--and I bet it is--he's on to something grand. 

So if your'e looking for a leather bag, I'd strongly urge you to check them out. I'm thrilled that I did.

Big enough for a iPad, an iPod, a paperback (or bigger), passport, pen, glasses. All you'd need for a transatlantic flight to Belgium