Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Holidays

Happy Holidays to All and Best Wishes for the New Year!

I am not a Christian so Christmas as a religious event means nothing to me, and I admittedly have issues with the commercialization of the holiday. But, at least for Americans, it is the single most important time for family and friends and I certainly can celebrate it for that.

This year I decided that, even though I was now living closer to my family than I have for years, I would forego the Xmas eve and day family gatherings and instead spend time with three special friends here in Milwaukee.

But I did spend some time a few days before Xmas with family. My youngest sister Erika was in Chicagoland from Seattle and I visited her at my sister Lisa's house and spent some time sipping tea in a coffee shop and chatting with her before she and I were joined by Lisa, my brother-in-law Randy and my mom for a movie - Slumdog Millionaire. The movie was followed by dinner brought by my stepfather Joel and some games.

Christmas Eve was a relaxing day that culminated in a surreal evening at a secret location in Milwaukee. Bill and I have a friend here who is an exotic animal breeding colleague, and he invited us to a gathering that included a professional Santa Claus and photo opportunities including an assortment of exotic mammals, reptiles and arachnids, not to mention four Tibetan Mastiff dogs (also known as Do-Khyi). So Courtney, Bill and I spent the evening with Santa after all.

On Christmas Day, Bill and I - along with Hound Dog Taylor - loaded my Jeep with wine, beer and a huge array of grilled vegetables, hummus, pesto and other delicious fare and drove to Waukesha to meet Courtney's family. We had a very warm and relaxing afternoon playing Wii video games and watching canine interaction between Tay and the Bell family's gorgeous Weimeraner, Sophie. Anne briefly dropped by with her dog Oliver and we had three dogs for amusement.

Last night Courtney and Bill and Anne and I went out for an evening of bar-hopping, bowling and a little pool. It was an awesome, amazing, awesome night that lasted until the wee hours of this morning. I smile recalling each and every moment. And now I must sleep.

My best to all, M

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Cold

First post December. Alright, so this is a very irregular endeavor. Sorry.

I don't want to resort to weather reporting, but my frigid location had me scraping the
inside of my windshield to go get groceries this evening and, as you can see from the accompanying photo, my poor little short dog's strolls through the park now resemble moon walks. She is no fan of the icy sting of winter air or the salt in the footpads. Neither am I, especially the paw thing.

In an attempt to actually go on-topic with "kiss my big hairy spider" talk, has again bred the most coveted tarantula in the hobby,
Poecilotheria metallica - the Gooty Sapphire Ornamental. Fortunately for me, the sales of these pricey creepies is brisk and I am enjoying increased sales work at the same time that things have slowed at the museum. Ah, that's enough spider talk. Too many years, too little interest now.

Friday night was our work holiday party at the museum and I had a blast. I actually worked a bit - or should I say volunteered as there will be no forthcoming compensation for my efforts. My bartending that night started my favorite way, just serving glasses of wine to my three favorite friends, and then - due to a prank from our
chef de cuisine, Nick - evolved into my actually getting behind my usual bar to assist the two "rent-a-bartenders" who were serving that night. Regardless, I enjoy doing it and the evening was awesome, especially taking photos with everyone [will maybe post in next blog?]. Afterward, Bill, Courtney and I went to the Olive Pit for a vegan pizza [de-lish!] and I retired earlier than usual.

Other than that, not much to report: there have been many, many, many wonderful evenings with friends, none more special than our inaugural "Movie Night", not to mention my third tour of Lakefront Brewery, but I think I'll keep those memories to myself without further detail. This really wasn't supposed to be a diary.

In closing, the "holidays" are upon us but I don't celebrate, observe or partake in xmas and am at odds with New Year's. So, it is a weird and very disconcerting time for me, especially after returning to the Midwest and being nearby family again. I did make it down to my sister's rather large dead turkey day party where I ate nothing but carrots, beans, and Brussels sprouts and drank many glasses of Malbec. But, methinks that's my family commitment for the season. Well, that's not completely true. My other sister, Erika, will be visiting from Seattle and I look forward to spending time with her; hopefully the logistics will be painless. As of this writing, I hope to spend both the 24th and 25th with three special friends... we'll see.

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. - Henry David Thoreau

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Snow, The Donkey, The Party

It's been a long time since I did the stroll...

First post November. Part of the impetus for my blogging is my passion for writing, but with all that has transpired since my last infrequent post I'll have to resort to Cliff Notes.

The Snow First snow, Midwest return. Last night's snowfall wasn't substantial, but it is still on the ground and that is more than Taylor and I saw in Seattle or, for that matter, during our 6 years in Nashville. My little weiner schnitzel of a dog isn't quite buried in it yet, but that will be fun.

Today I will finally publish the online version of the seventh issue of Arachnoculture magazine, which is solely devoted to my "In Search of Costa Rican Tarantulas". I just need to add the photos and upload. Then I will announce and figure out how to proceed with the project. Thanks to Nico Pedersen in Denmark who was eager to see it go online and would send me inquiry messages to light a fire under my ass.

The Donkey Saturday night Bill, our friend Anne and I drove out to an incredible farm near Madison for a amazing birthday party. The guests of honor were Krista, who works at Mke. Art Museum [MAM], and her boyfriend Brad. Brad's family raises and shows champion Belgian horses. They are magnificent beasts that weigh about 2000 pounds and make most horses look like ponies (Belgians are draft horses that are the strongest of the heavy breeds). The party was in the main barn, which has a lodge-like barroom full of ribbons, trophies and photographs. Food was catered and they had full bar service. We toured the barn and fed carrots to the horses. Krista led us to her riding horse (not a Belgian) who was sharing a stall with the creatively named Donkey. I pet him as well and he began to nibble on my finger, which I didn't discourage, which led to him clamping down on it like a vise to where I thought it might snap. Fortunately, all he did was break the skin both sides of my left index finger knuckle and make me bleed. Bill snuck off at one point and was able to ride one, although they aren't really saddle horses. They are so broad that you'd almost have to do the splits! Anne and I were enjoying our wine and didn't get to watch Billy bareback on a 2300 pound horse.

Things have slowed down a bit with museum events. I am off all week, but did work four parties last week. There haven't been any weddings in November, which I suppose is normal but I got married in November and our friend Courtney was in a wedding party Saturday night (and therefore couldn't join Anne, Bill and I for the horse experience) so I know weddings take place year-round. It should get busier with the holiday season, but the economy definitely has caused many corporate events to cancel, no doubt to look for less expensive venues.

I have been playing a lot of online poker and doing quite well, especially with single table sit and gos. With the winter setting in I will spend more time with my indoor passions like poker, guitar, books and movies, but I will look for any chance to get outdoors, hopefully to play a little disc golf when it isn't too cold or windy.

I took Bill to see Gov't Mule here in Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago and it was a great time. The first set was especially great. It was nice to "reclaim" the band for myself. I was quite passionate, even obsessed, with this band for some time and it is how I met my ex-wife. I believe this Mke. show was my 43rd ass-kicking, as Gov't Mule shows are referred to. Anyway, post-separation/divorce I stopped listening to them for the most part, but then decided to "reclaim" with a show during my brief stay in Seattle. That didn't go too well as I went alone and just felt freaking lonely. So, taking Bill and having a good time was awesome and I now can enjoy Warren Haynes and Company again!

The Party Our Helloween Bash was a good time and we had a pretty good turnout. I have some photos up on my Facebook page. I enjoy hosting parties, especially bartending and making people special drinks. My pumpkin martinis went over very well - too well for a couple people. We had a blazing bonfire in the backyard and many people were introduced to the household critters, some touching a tarantula for the first time.

The End I guess there was less to report than I thought. In closing, congrats to Barack Obama, please view Earthlings [nature, animals, humankind - make the connection] (I haven't eaten meat since watching it and won't) and remember to sing a new song and tip your bartender.

Respect and protect, MJ

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Pre-Party

Tomorrow evening Bill and I are hosting a Halloween party; more specifically, our Helloween Bash. We made up invitations and posted them at Café Calatrava so the crowd will be primarily comprised of serving and kitchen staff from the museum, but hopefully there will be a smattering of "outsiders".

I laid out the text for the invite, promising "crocodile apple bobbin'", "big hairy spider kissin'" and "drinking gamez". To further highlight the whole stick your face in a tub of water filled with apples and a juvenile crocodile, Bill showcased his flair as an illustrator with a wonderful rendering of a croc in a wooden barrel with an apple perched on its snout. He pasted his art into the body of my layout and, voila, invite created.

Monday we were both off of work so we spent the day running errands to prepare for the festivities. [Actually the day began with a spider show for 5-year-olds in the classroom of the son of two of our museum friends, chef/kitchen manager Nick and his wife (and part-time bartender/server) Amy, but that kindergarten foray is a whole 'nother story]. We had a blast getting completely carried away in the liquor store, and also hit dollar shops, etc. for decorations. Bill bought an amazing selection of local beers with a strong showing for the delicious Lakefront Pumpkin Lager and I bought the booze to craft some awesome pumpkin martinis and chocolate martinis. That evening we sampled everything and the following night our friend Gary, who makes his own Kahlua, stopped by again and brought us a bottle so we made up some Autumn Russians. (If you're familiar with a White Russian, add pumpkin liquer). The past couple of evenings have been spent cleaning and decorating. I've also programmed a 100 song soundtrack for the evening. Tomorrow night let the games begin.

Not much else is new... I continue to work on creating the online version of my Arachnoculture magazine. Next week I should launch the "Costa Rica issue". Next week is election day and I am not voting. I feel bad about that, but it is impossible. Since I have chosen to live like a vicarious vagabond and have bounced from state to state, I am a bit behind on little formalities like getting a proper driver's license, much less registering to vote. I still have a Tennessee driver's license and my best bet would have been to try to absentee vote in TN, but I procrastinated and now cannot cast my vote. I am so apolitical that I don't even like to bring this up, but I certainly wish I could cast a vote against the Republifucks, if not for the whiny Libs. In the end, since I live in my own little cosmos and pay absolutely no attention to... well... anything else, I wouldn't have actually made an educated vote, but my apolitical self certainly is very left-leaning and I wouldn't vote for a Republican at gunpoint.

Now that I've brought up politics I guess I'll close with some song lyrics that focus on the ignorance of just one US policy. Enjoy.

Excerpts from "Prison Song" by System Of A Down
lyrics by Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian

They're trying to build a prison
They're trying to build a prison
For you and me to live in
Another prison system
Another prison system
For you and me to live in

Minor drug offenders fill your prisons
You don't even flinch
All our taxes paying for your wars
Against the new non-rich

All research and successful drug policy show
that treatment should be increased,
and law enforcement decreased,
while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences.

Utilizing drugs to pay for secret wars around the world,
Drugs are now your global policy, now you police the globe.

Drug money is used to rig elections,
and train brutal corporate sponsored dictators around the world.

They're trying to build a prison
They're trying to build a prison
For you and me to live in
Another prison system
Another prison system
For you and me to live in

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Fashion Show, The Superwedding

Friday and Saturday evenings. Two events. Glamor and elegance. I bartended both nights and the adrenaline was pumping afterward so that I couldn't sleep until 5 am either night.

Friday was a runway fashion show that they sold 700 or so tickets to. We had two bars on opposite sides of Windhover Hall and there was a frenzy without lull as we mixed and poured non-stop all night long. It was a beautiful crowd with gorgeous women en force. It was a complete blast with all movement energized by the DJ and lights.

Saturday night was an extravagant wedding for 225. The linens alone must have cost a fortune. The flowers were worth more than everything I own combined. The band was a 10-piece with strings and horns, plus four lead singers. Dinner service was white glove and synchronized. Food was catered by an outside company that does most of the events that the museum doesn't do in-house. Our museum staff, myself and four others, provided beverage service from two bars. Brandy old-fashioneds with olives seemed to be the family drink and we served loads of other standards, but I made plenty of cosmo and lemon-drop martinis, as well as an awesome Godiva white chocolate martini. Afterward I had my own Rusty Nail and then hit an Irish pub with two of my coworkers for a beer and a shot of Jameson's as a nightcap. That still didn't mellow me and when I finally got home I was awake for hours.

Our guilt, our blame,
I've been far too sympathetic.
Our blood, our fault.
I've been far too sympathetic.

I am not innocent.
You are not innocent.
Noone is innocent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Return, Revisited

Half way through October and this is my first post of the month. I will herein randomly ramble.

I've never seen so many neck tattoos in my life. Yesterday was a grueling day of people watching, forced upon me by a trip to the DMV and two, count 'em two, trips to the Milwaukee Tow Lot. And the observation of the huddled masses that has stuck with me most is the whole gruesome neck ink thing. Oh, there were plenty of bad tattoos on other parts of the body, but when I see the prevalence of neck tattoos I can't help but wonder what these people were thinking. Twenty, thirty, forty years from now there are actually going to be senior citizens with tattoos on their necks. Not to mention grandmothers and grandfathers with giant holes in their distended ear lobes, but that's a whole 'nother rant. I have two tattoos, but they are on my calf and ankle where they can easily be hidden by long trousers as the situation dictates. When your neck and hands and even head and face are decorated you have made a whole different commitment to your personal aesthetic.

My Jeep was towed. I thought it was stolen, as I couldn't imagine how it could be towed from the curb in front of the house. Turns out Milwaukee is a tad militant about towing vehicles with a few unpaid parking tickets. And here's the kicker, I never even saw one single parking ticket on my SUV and was oblivious to my transgression. A nighttime parking permit is required on all streets of Milwaukee. We live in a residential neighborhood without driveways so all parking is on the street. It took 2.5 months to accumulate four unseen parking tickets, which is crime so heinous that my Jeep was yanked from the curb and deposited in the care of the city. I had the pleasure of calling the tow lot to find out if I vehicle was there, and sharing some unpleasantness with a rude and sarcastic civil servant. She was just the first of several similarly gruff individuals I would interact with throughout the day. Fortunately, Bill's bike was in the shed. He often takes it to work, but I was able to borrow it to pedal the 25 blocks to the tow lot. It was the first time I had been on a bike in many years and I was glad the lot was within striking distance. After waiting for an hour I was told that they wouldn't release the Jeep to me because the title I had was signed over to me, but never registered in my name. I never registered it in Washington after I bought it because I knew I would leave the state and I didn't want to have to pay for title transfer and plates in WA only to have to do it all over again elsewhere. So... I jumped back on the bike and pedaled all the way home where I called the DMV. I then rode the bike a couple of miles the other direction and waited an hour again for the opportunity to experience the charm of the sour woman who I dealt with at the DMV. There was further hassle due to the way the title was signed over and, short story long, I finally got $261 worth of license plate and title and began the double-trek all the way back to the tow lot where they discovered the VIN number had an error. But they released it to me anyway at the bargain price of a hundred bucks, sold me the requisite nighttime parking permit that would have circumvented the entire horror, and I was on my way. So now the vehicle is legal, but is stuck at the curb because it needs brake work and those funds went up in the flames throughout the day.

But the bike ride was fun, providing both exercise and an environmentally sound way to transport my carcass. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I want a bike. And now I have one. Coincidentally, my dad was visiting yesterday evening. I regaled him with the above story with even more excruciating detail and he told me if he had known I would ride a bike he would have loaned me his. So this morning he made a return trip to bring me the bike and I now have alternate transportation. So the brake-challenged gas guzzler can sit... weather permitting, of course.

What else is new...?...? Well, I have been working to get the online e-zine version of my ARACHNOCULTURE magazine going, and continue to work on it today. I am first creating the web version of the seventh issue, which was dedicated to my 2006 trip to Costa Rica. I will eventually get the six previous issues online also, but probably not until after I create a brand new 8th issue. Keep your eye on my Exotic Fauna website, especially the ARACHOCULTURE page.

I'm excited to report that I will again be joining Andrew Smith on a tarantula expedition. I was unable to join him on last year's field trip to the Pacific coast of Mexico, and won't join him this year for his return to Mexico either. But, in 2009, about 13 months or so from now, I will again be part of the team as we travel to Africa to search for tarantulas and other critters in Sierra Leone!

All the best, MJ

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Chill

Is it snowing yet?

Autumn. It has always been my favorite season. Growing up in the Midwest, the cool air of October has always been a welcome respite from the humidity and heat of summer. It's also a prelude to the frost, but that isn't at the forefront of my thoughts when the colors begin to change and cozy nights shrouded beneath blankets bring incredible sleep. Of course I have spent the last 8 years away from the risk of frostbite and shoveling. It's easier to welcome the autumnal air in its crisp delight when there is no impending brutal winter. Nashville in fall was incredible and the eventual winters mild.

But now me and my seal pup of a dog are going to experience our first real winter. For me it's been 8 years, for her a lifetime. Nashville only had the rare snow flurry. In our time there together Taylor only had a single opportunity to frolic in white fluff, and it melted within hours. We did make one visit to Chicagoland in February. As I recall, the temperature was single digits and the short dog was up to her belly in icy whiteness.

Winter will have to wait. For now, I still have the windows open and am able to achieve a deep slumber beneath the weight of several blankets. It's a great time to sleep and I love sleep. As a second-shifter of sorts, with bedtime often at about 3 am, it is blissful to lie comatose until 10 am surrounded by a cool breeze.

The worse part of cool weather for me is the whole long pants thing. Trousers. Slacks. Jeans. I wore shorts 365 days a year in Tennessee. And I just now put on jeans.

On other subjects, since I haven't written in a couple of weeks:

1) We toured the Lakefront Brewery a couple of weeks ago. Bill and I are going to go again today. Bill has lost track of how many times he's gone, but it is more than a dozen. It's great beer, especially the Pumpkin lager, and a fun place to visit. It's not anything like other brewery tours and it begins with a beer, more beer in the middle, and more at the end. Plus a pint glass. For 6 bucks. Try that at a bar.

2) I do want a canoe. And a bike.

3) The three other items on the Great List of Five Possessions I Need to Find Money To Buy Some Day are: a new Mac laptop, a nice digital camera and an electric guitar. But I really want a canoe. And a bike.

4) We've been busy with events/parties at MAM and I enjoy my mixology forays.

5) Bill and I have been playing disc golf every morning he's off work. I had 10 pars and 8 birdies yesterday, a performance that is far from necessary to enjoy walking in a beautiful park in early autumn with a great friend and the best dog in the world.

As always, remember to tip your bartender,


Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Memorial

Who will notice when you are gone?

I don't spend much time pondering my mortality. I certainly don't consider my legacy. And, without offspring, there isn't much to live on when I am dust. As an atheist, afterlife also doesn't enter the picture.

But last night got many tongues to wagging about life and death and who would notice our individual worldly departures.

This past September 11 (yes, 9/11), one week or so ago, two men and their pilot were killed in a small plane crash in Vilas County in northern Wisconsin. I've spent a lot of time muskie fishing in that neck of the woods. It is beautiful country and the two men were en route to their cottage on Star Lake. The men were both business and life partners. A couple together for more than 20 years. Curt and Jon, 40 and 50 years of age, respectively, operated Milwaukee's premier interior design firm and were patrons of the arts. They were benefactors of the Milwaukee Art Museum where their public memorial service was held last night. 1000 people were invited and well over half that number attended. Maybe 999. I had less than 30 at my wedding.

Now I don't know about you, but I doubt I have met one thousand people in 44 years of life. It was incredible to see how many turned out for the service. These guys had obviously touched many people and lived life to the fullest.

Not that there is anything wrong with anonymity. I don't want to give the impression that I am bemoaning the fact that a memorial service for me wouldn't require the space of MAM's Windhover Hall. But sometimes perspective smacks you upside the head. And our catering crew last night, who laid out hundreds of rows of candles perfectly aligned with flutes of rose champagne for the mourners, couldn't help but talk about how popular the two gentlemen who perished in that plane near their weekend getaway truly were, and whether our own lives have touched others. Maybe we were just passing time before clearing the empty glasses.

“If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character...Would you slow down? Or speed up?” - Chuck Palahniuk


The Whirlwind

I have a confirmed third reader.

It has been a website week. The shiny new website I created was launched earlier in the week and I launched my new Exotic Fauna website this morning. Both are state-of-the-art XHTML/CSS thingamajigs. The site is a complete overhaul of a site owner Alex Orleans launched in the mid-90s. Since I am still working with him and, and the designer of the original site has long left this spinning Earth, it was time to create a fresh web presence. As the new site showcases the clean tableless CSS layout that most sites use today and I have been studying, I felt it was time to upgrade the EF site to match. Please visit both sites and shoot me an e-mail at exoticfauna[at]gmail[dot]com if you have any comments.

I won't expound too much today on my magazine and DVD projects and how I let them wither. I have to be brief as I need to shower and shave for my gig at the museum tonight. For now I will just say that I have been thinking of ways to resurrect them for months now and have kicked some ideas around with Billy over the past week.

Suffice it to say that the buggery DVD that wouldn't play in all but MY OWN DVD player has been converted to a QuickTime computer movie. I can't afford to have it professionally mastered for DVD player use, and I want to at least get it out there, especially to those who ordered the faulty original. I was further motivated by my creation of the aforementioned site. I tried to add as much content as possible, focusing on frequently asked questions from beginners. Of course, this was also self-serving as I grow very tired of answering the same questions over and over via email. So, through the process of adding written care information to get the neophyte tarantula keeper headed in the right direction, I decided to add a Care Videos page and I uploaded four excerpts from my DVD project to YouTube and embedded them into the page. The same clips are embedded into the Video page on the Exotic Fauna page. So, I have now started the ball rolling on getting the footage I spent a great deal of time with before I left Nashville out for public gawking.

As for ARACHNOCULTURE magazine, creating the seven print issues was quite an accomplishment. I will always be proud of them and the positive feedback they received worldwide. But producing them was cost-prohibitive and labor-intensive so I am now focused on an E-Zine version that will be available online. I haven't worked out all the details, but it will likely be available as a password-protected download at no cost to my past paying readers and at a nominal fee to new readers. Since the magazine was small format [half page], I am currently laying out the most recent issue as a full page PDF file and will take it from there.

I just realized that this post was actually on-topic; at least about exotic animals if not about kissing large hirsute arachnids. I will have to return to disc-golfing, brewery-touring, movie-going and longing for a canoe and bicycle in my next vomitous blog. See you then, MJ

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Unneutered Cat

Allow me to spray like an unneutered male cat:

1] Mexican music is absolutely horrendous. Just vile, annoying, utter crap. Blaring brass and freakin' accordions in chaotic entropy. And, boy, do they like it loud. I'm far from a xenophobe or ethnocentrist. I'm just stating fact. When you live in a Hispanic neighborhood, between the music and the Mexican doorbell (aka beeping a car horn for five minutes instead of walking up to a door and knocking like a civilized person) you will lose your mind. One day I will play some Norwegian black metal at the same volume and I expect the police to haul me away.

2] Who is my audience? So far, all I know is my mother and an ex-girlfriend-of-sorts has popped in here. Is there anybody out there? I'd write more often if I had a readership. Or maybe I should abandon this project... TOO!

3] OK, you won't believe this... as I am typing this a car raced up in front of a neighbor house and blared the horn. I wish I was deaf.

4] Happy Birthday to my sister Lisa who turns, well... one year younger than me [shouldn't disclose women's ages], tomorrow!

5] And Happy Birthday to my parrot Jesse! She is 18. She doesn't mind if I tell. I don't know her exact hatch date, but it was right around the middle of September so I use my sister's birthday as Jesse's for convenience's sake. And my sister's son Alec is 18, the same age as Jesse so it makes it real easy for me to remember. I have had Jesse since December of 1990 when she was still being weaned from hand-feeding formula. She's a Dusky Pionus [Pionus fuscus] and shows no signs of aging.

6] I've turned Billy on to my favorite outdoor activity - disc golf - and we have been playing quite often. In fact, on Labor Day we played 3 times on 3 different courses. The PDGA website [pro disc golf assoc.] has a course directory and there are plenty around Milwaukee. The site lists 2700 around the country! We've been playing mostly at Abendschein Park just south of the airport. It's a beautiful course and the other day Taylor joined us for some fresh air and sunshine.

7] I'm now working at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I do bartending and serving at special events. Last night I bartended at a gallery opening, Monday we had a corporate dinner for 315 people and last Friday we had a wedding party for 160. The museum is beautiful and the view of the lakefront is incredible. The staff is great and it's just good to get out of the house. We've been fortunate to enjoy some of the good food at the end of the evening, not to mention a little leftover vino!

8] Tonight Bill and I and hopefully some young ladies will be going to the Lakefront Brewery for a tour. Lakefront makes some wonderful beers. The Riverwest amber lager is a new personal favorite and the seasonal pumpkin lager that they have right now is delicious. It's the only pumpkin lager in the US; all others are ales. Their tours are supposed to be very entertaining and we're doing the fish fry before or after so it ought to be a nice night.

Until next self-indulgent post to myself and 2 others, MJ

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Hogs

Harleys and swine. It's been that kind of a weekend.

Milwaukee is inundated with rumbling motorcycles in honor of the 105th Harley Davidson Celebration. I've never seen so many bikes in my life, and I've driven the highways near Sturgis during its peak. Every sidewalk downtown is row after row of shiny chrome two-wheelers, looking like one little push and the dominoes would fall for hours. Billy's brother Mike and Mike's wife Diane have a "chopper" of their own and visited from Minnesota. The four of us partied down on Brady Street Friday night, which is a happening little area of nightlife on any summer weekend, but had become a parade of motorcycles featuring some world-class people-watching. You can actually walk out of bars with a beer in your hand and thousands of people on and off motorcycles packed the street. Squealing and a cloud of smoke announced each burn-out as another biker would trade a couple hundred bucks of good rear wheel rubber for the cheers from the crowd. It was a surreal experience.

Yesterday the steel hogs were replaced for me by the bacon kind. I joined a little family outing to the Walworth County Fair near Lake Geneva where my dad and his wife live. We toured building after building of barnyard animals. I think the people-watching experience even surpassed that of the Harley weekend here in Milwaukee. The penned beasts seemed much more civilized. What a slice of Americana.

Big man, pig man, ha ha charade you are.
You well heeled big wheel, ha ha charade you are.
And when your hand is on your heart,
You're nearly a good laugh,
Almost a joker,
With your head down in the pig bin,
Saying "Keep on digging."
Pig stain on your fat chin.
What do you hope to find.
When you're down in the pig mine.
You're nearly a laugh,
You're nearly a laugh
But you're really a cry.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Return

After an initial three consecutive days of rambling, I took a few days off. I lost my Internet access for a day or two and spent the weekend painting the living room and bedroom. I even decorated. I may be nesting.

Bill and Bruce made it back from their Daytona adventure yesterday morning. I tagged along with Bill when he dropped Bruce back off home, about a half hour north of Milwaukee in Cedarburg. It's a beautiful and quaint little town popular with tourists, and Bill and I enjoyed lunch and a coffee. They shared tales from the trip, including being hassled by clueless FL fish & wildlife officers who wanted to bust them for not having a reptile selling permit to sell tarantulas.

I hope to make it down to Daytona next year. Right now I'll look forward to the Chicago [Tinley Park] NARBC show in October and, probably, the December show in Hamm, Germany. Still, reptile shows aren't as enjoyable for me as they once were. Herpetoculture has changed a great deal. There is such an emphasis on mutants. All sorts of selective [in]breeding goes on to produce animals that look nothing like the beautiful creatures favored by natural selection. Everything is a "morph". Some - the "spider" ball python springs to mind - have serious problems, but are still bred for their pattern or color. This phenomenon isn't exactly novel. All sorts of domesticated animals have been manipulated by humans to produce freaks. I'll stick with "wild morphs". At least arachnoculture doesn't have albinos and piebalds and triple het for reverse creamsicle polka-dot.

Until next time... listen to more Pink Floyd, MJ

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Reptile Show

As I type this the gates are open at the biggest and longest-running reptile show in the country. Probably, the world. The National Reptile Breeder's Expo [NRBE] has been produced by Wayne Hill since 1990.

Of course, I am in the land of beer, cheese and whitetail deer, not in the cesspool that is Daytona Beach. Don't get me wrong. I like many parts of Florida, just not the part where the show takes place. Of course, it started in Orlando, itself not exactly the crowning glory of the retirement state. I remember that first year well and I went on to exhibit there the first three years—1990-92—before going into an extended hiatus only to reemerge in 2005. I did those first shows with my old snake breeding buddy Scott Michaels, who still is operating his "Serpent City" in the Chicago suburbs. We had a great time and it certainly was the heyday of herpetoculture. Scott and I also traveled together to many of the IHS [International Herpetological Symposium] meetings, which took place in different host cities each year. Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, St. Louis, etc. were all part of our run. But it was the NRBE that showcased what the reptile hobby had become.

I recall Scott and I renting a white convertible Mustang to cruise about Orlando and make a trip down to the Everglades. The sporty little car seemed like such a perfect choice and certainly was a heck of a lot better than what either of us drove back home. But, as soon as we left the airport with it, we realized that we needed the top up and the air conditioning blaring to keep our boxes of baby snakes in comfort.

That first year I had a bunch of baby boas to sell and I don't remember what I spent the proceeds on. I do recall Scott buying an incredibly expensive trio of Baja Ratsnakes, then called
Elaphe rosalie. I also recall a canoe trip Scott and I went on along with his friend Corey. I believe it wasn't too far outside of Orlando, but my memory fails. What I remember most is diving for big turtles like cooters and seeing three foot long alligator gar everywhere, as well as the occasional real alligator.

In the 80's and early 90s I was breeding a lot of snakes and the early NRBE was Disneyland for me. Or is it Disneyworld in Florida? I can never keep the two straight. But after those first three years I stopped attending the big show. Eventually it outgrew its Orlando home and was moved to Daytona Beach. My trips to Florida were timed at other parts of the year, especially when it was cold up north. Instead of a show full of people, I made private little sorties to places like Glades Herp [when Bill Love was still there], Tom Crutchfield's Herpetofauna and Gulf Coast Reptiles [right after Chris and Eric left Crutchfield's employ].

By 2005, I was focused more on my arachnid and lizard interests than snakes. I no longer had venomous snakes due to the state I lived in [Tennessee] and I had burned out on boids and colubrids. I sold the last of my "hot" snakes to Hank Molt and he was running the Daytona Venomous Expo in conjunction with the NRBE. He would have a separate show upstairs and, since table space was sold out in the main show, I decided to drag my wife down to Daytona if Hank had space for my "Michael Jacobi's Spider Shoppe" in his venomous expo. He did and the beater van was filled and chugged south. Unfortunately, the show within a show wasn't that successful. Only a small percentage of the NRBE attendees ventured into the upstairs venomous show, which was 18 and over only and eliminated the family element. There was a steady trickle of gawkers, but most of the people seemed to be vendors at the main show and hardly interested in buying a tarantula from me. Most of what I remember is how much my ex-wife Stephanie and I hated the motel we stayed in, its slimy Karaoake bar-restaurant, and the littered beaches and sidewalks. Then there was the Chinese Buffet visited by a large group of tarantulaphiles. A horrible dining experience in itself, made even worse by my wife's purse being stolen along with a bunch of our sales proceeds. We got the purse back empty after a few phone calls with the staff feigning an inability to speak English, followed by my forcing my way into the now closed restaurant where amazingly their English had improved. Somehow the owner ended up giving us the lost money.

And that little Chinese buffet memory is now my lasting impression of my recent NRBE experience. Bill and Bruce are at the show right now, hopefully selling a bunch of spiders, and when I spoke with Bill on the phone yesterday he said that Bruce had just brought up the story of the Chinese buffet. I hope they eat better this time.

Bring the boys back home, MJ

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dreaded Followup Album

Sophomore jinx? Could Jimi Hendrix ever top "Are You Experienced", which is quite possibly the greatest debut album in history? Anyway, here I am composing the second blog and I have already spent myself with the whole bumper sticker saga.

I'm in Milwaukee. Wisconsin. Not too far from my hometown Chicago, but still it has to be a bit odd that I landed here. There wasn't really a plan. I've now lived in 4 states in 12 months. Geographic states, that is. There have been oodles of emotional states.

About a year ago I was still in Nashville. I was transplanted there by my former wife's career and enjoyed a six-year run in Music City. I really did love it there. But all good things implode, and post-divorce I ended up needing a change. Next thing I knew my life was condensed down to what fit in a minivan and I was driving across the US to live north of Seattle and work for Alex at Zoological Supply. It was a return to Washington state as when my ex and I first got together she was finishing grad school at WSU in the eastern part of the state. I lived in Pullman, WA, among the rolling wheat fields right along the Idaho border for 14 months in 2000/2001. But now I was on the other side of an incredibly topographically diverse state. I was living on the coast, enjoying the breathtaking views of the Puget Sound, vast stands of evergreen and glacier-draped mountains. Then the gloom set in. Mindset and weather. The dreary grey mist of the Pacific Northwest "winter" did me in. Seattle's a great city, but not if you love sunlight. Six months of bleak drizzle and stifling overcast ensued. I wanted to be anywhere else — definitely not in the big, expensive, lonely unfurnished apartment I had stupidly rented.

A plan was hatched that allowed me to continue to conduct sales and operate the website for from a remote location, and before long my possessions were again distilled to single vehicle capacity, this time in the Grand Cherokee I bought when the minivan died. After a short 9 month stay in Seattle, I was again relocating, this time headed back to family—and I thought a promising romantic relationship—in the Chicago suburbs.

I think I'll spare you the details of the two post-divorce relationships that contributed to my Bedouin nomadism. Let's just leave it with the fact that there was one at the beginning of my Seattle run that burned hot and fast like a chemical peel, and another at the end that contributed to my departure before its own fizzle. They're a huge part of the story, but let's move on shall we?

Regardless of romantic woes, the path led me back to my hometown and some much needed time with family and a few friends. I stayed with my mom and stepfather for a couple of months and I am still regrouping. I needed my own space, especially after being so unsettled since leaving Nashville. Actually, after my wife and I split I lived in my dingy little "Spider Shoppe", taking showers in my landlord's warehouse, so the unsettled feeling actually goes back further. I needed to unpack my boxes, many of which were still sealed from Nashville, and find a new home for me as well as my dog Taylor and parrot Jesse.

When I returned to Chicagoland I quickly visited my friend Bill Korinek of Theraphosid Breeding Project in Milwaukee. Billy and Bruce Effenheim operate TBP together and are extremely successful tarantula breeders. It was good hanging out with them again and, as luck would have it, Bill had recently purchased a duplex and the lower apartment was available for rent. Over beer and wine and good food we discussed the possibility of me moving in. What is more homey than a house already full of thousands of tarantulas, chameleons, leaf-tailed geckos, roaches and monkey frogs? I couldn't resist. I knew more beer and wine and good food would follow too! So the worlds of Theraphosid Breeding Project, Exotic Fauna Enterprises and a part of collided into a sort of exotic animal frat house on the south side of Milwaukee.

And that's how I ended up in Milwaukee. I'm less than 2 hours from family, but have my own little home, something I have been without since my marriage ended. Taylor has a little backyard to enjoy and we take long walks in the park right across the street.

Until next time...

Swing low sweet chariot, MJ

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The First Act

Kiss my big hairy spider! Really, please do.

I suppose we should begin with the name. It's really just something that came to me one day. A little irreverent, yes, but nothing more than a pseudo-clever statement of attitude all the while drawing attention to a passion. The idea was to 'catch the eye' as the slogan's genesis was my envisioning a bumper sticker suitable for the beater van I was driving at the time. Big, old white cargo van with a vile polluting V8. Cheesy as hell. What better canvas for a bunch of obnoxious bumper stickers? So I had them printed.

Of course, I was, and am, an exotic animal man. Purveyor of creepy crawlies. Having a bunch of glossy black and white stickers displaying the bold "kiss my big hairy spider" sentiment created was not much of a stretch. I immediately saw the marketing aspect. I could sell them and make nothing. Actually, they just seemed like a cool thing to stick in the box when shipping out orders of tarantulas and scorpions and scaly things. The thought that they might be viewed by some geezer at a random suburban intersection certainly had its appeal.

My first batch was distributed. I wondered where they rested. Then the first ArachnoCon occurred. I'm sure I'll expound on ArachnoCon plenty in future blogs, but for now let's leave it as the coolest gathering of arachnid enthusiasts in the US of A - an event that happened twice so far, in July of 2006 and 2007. As I walked through the parking lot of the host San Antonio hotel that first year, I saw a couple of vehicles bearing my silly sticker. The word was being spread. So, for ArachnoCon 2007 I had a second batch of stickers printed, this time with an artsy font and "" and "ArachnoCon 2007" in fine print. They were included in each welcome bag along with a possibly cooler official AC sticker and other swag. Maybe you have them.

So, the blog. Did one once a while back and abandoned it. I do that. But I've been meaning to get back to it. I've been playing with creepy crawlies for about 35 years and have loads of stories and lessons to share. That's why I create websites and publish a magazine. I even made an instructional DVD. [Special note: I'll write much more on the 7 issues of Arachnoculture magazine, the interminable hiatus and its future in coming blogs, and even more about this buggery DVD project that if I can't fix soon I will just release as a freakin' free QuickTime movie]. For those who may not know me, surf on over to There's a bio page there. I also handle the sales and website for [new site to debut soon]. And there's my two web resources: The Tarantula Bibliography [database of tarantula species with bibliographic references] and The World Of Atheris [dedicated to the African bush vipers and kin]. You can visit me on Facebook too.

What I'm going to do with these posts is cover a wide range of topics. I will ramble. I warn you now. Focus will be on arachnids and reptiles, especially tarantulas, geckos, chameleons and snakes with many nature-oriented subjects thrown in and regular off-topic tangents followed with blind ambition and reckless abandon. You can keep your religion and politics, but I may digress about other human interests.

I hope to educate and occasionally entertain. To facilitate the former I hope some of you will email me questions at exoticfauna[at]gmail[dot]com. Subject it "Blog Question" or something like that. I want to answer one or two with each post eventually, and will give preference to those that ask a specific question about keeping and breeding exotic fauna. So, welcome, please return, thanks for reading.

Drive fast and take chances,

Michael Jacobi