Tuesday, February 28, 2006

You say I'm a dreamer...well I blame Hasbro.

While I sometimes wish that my life was more exciting than it really is, truth is my life is pretty pedestrian. Sure, I have occasional adventures to exotic places like Ecuador and Baltimore, but my day-to-day life lacks the sort of non-stop thrills present in the lives of, say, Keifer Sutherland in ‘24’ or David Hasslehoff in “Knight Rider”. I attribute this solely to my lack of a top-secret government job or a talking bulletproof car. I suspect that many of my generation feel somewhat similarly. As any red-blooded American – I have been searching for someone to blame my feelings of ennui. And I think I’ve found it…cable television.

Consider the following. TV shows of the baby boomers were designed to mollify them into the establishment. Let’s face it, shows like “Your Show of Shows” and “The Milton Berle Show” didn’t really have a lot of excitement inherent in their storylines. It wasn’t hard for our parents to transition from a childhood watching “The Perry Como Show” to living deeply fulfilled lives as accountants, pen cap polishers, or tweed inspectors. Later popular shows were oftentimes historical in nature – it didn’t take much to envision what your life would be like had you lived with the Ingalls family or the Cunninghams because there were people alive who had already been there, done that, got the t-shirt*.

But with the arrival of the 1980’s the networks started pumping more and more unreality into their fare. No longer were 10 years olds content to sit around watching Ed Bergen prattle on with (let’s be frank here) a couple of friggin creepy-looking puppets. No, we demanded cars that transformed into giant robots, talking stuffed animals that fired mysterious beams out of their stomachs, and a crack squad of real American heroes who would fight for freedom wherever there’s trouble against an international terrorist organization and its chrome-faced leader**. No wonder we struggle to find inspiration in desk jobs. We grew up believing that any kid could find himself in an adventure suddenly and without warning – just like the Goonies or those crazy nerds in Spacecamp. But these days I think the odds of my being lunched into space from my cubicle due to a thermal curtain failure are – at best – remote.

But that doesn’t keep me from imagining it though.

* “My grandpa built the Little House on the Prairie and all I got was this t-shirt”
** Except that nobody would ever die. Recruiting was probably a cakewalk for Flint, no wonder they could get any Hollywood celebrity to join up that they wanted. When was the last time you saw an NFL defensive tackle or WWE wrestler enlisting to go over to Iraq these days?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Before you ride the bike, you gotta fall over a few times

As I was enjoying the last few hours of my weekend, making dinner and watching Animal Planet* I noticed a new commercial for Arby’s new fish sandwiches. Apparently, this was a Super Bowl ad that I missed during a bathroom break or something. Anyway, the plot of the ad is pretty simple. Man is downstairs on couch and is summoned upstairs by his smoking-hot sig-other to find her dressed in sexy satin robe and fishnet stockings – which, naturally, get the man thinking about Arby’s fish sandwiches, thus foiling the woman’s planned seduction. Hilarity ensues. The commercial itself is not bad** but what stuck me to my seat was the fact that I know the smoking-hot woman. In fact, I went out with her once.

All right, all right, it was a blind date. And it was part of a campus-wide blind-date event called “Screw Your Roommate” where your roommate set you up with some random person – usually found by flipping through the facebook for the hottest freshman and then racing to figure out who her roommate was and then setting up the date (called “the screw”) ASAP. I was actually working on a show with her roommate that fall, and she thought I’d be fun and (probably more important) most likely harmless. The date itself was pretty fun, actually. We hung out and talked after the show she was in was over (different from the one her roommate and I were working on) and then went over to a house on campus where you can bake chocolate chip cookies 24 hours a day***. She is fun and charming and despite the fact that we were followed around all evening by a skeezy upperclassman who was stalking her and insisted on “just hanging out with us” all night****. It was once of those life moments I look back on and would have done completely different now that I’m a little more self-assured.

We stayed pretty good friends through school and I’ve seen her a few times since then, at reunion and at My Friend the Novelist’s wedding*****. She’s married now and is (obviously) working in commercials in Los Angeles. It still amazes me to see her on screen though, so far I’ve seen her in ads for Quizno’s, this Arby’s one, and one other one I can’t remember what it was for. I wonder if she’s trying to specialize…is there such a thing as a “fast prepared food niche” for ad work I wonder? In any event, I want to give a shout-out to Fishnet Girl for helping a nerdy guy from MN realize that he is cool enough to even charm the hot girls. If not for that lesson, I might have been too shy to talk to the GF at B.Da’s birthday******. And thank goodness for that.

So, in gratitude, I want all of you to go out and buy Arby’s Fish Sandwiches. Dozens of them! Hurry, before the campaign ends!

* “Animals that have ‘super’ powers”. Cool…
** Lord knows there were some really stupid ads during the Super Bowl. Giant monsters cross-breeding, anyone? Thanks Hummer, there's a mental picture I've been yearning formy entire life.
*** Obviously, a very popular place to bring your screw.
****Obviously trying to seduce her with the old “Look at me! I can grow a full beard! Aren’t I attractive? Validate me!” technique
***** At both of which she mentioned that our Screw Date was one of the most fun dates she had in all four years of school
****** The really weird thing? The GF also did commercials when she was a little kid. She made your younger siblings think Popples were cool and guilt-trip your dad into leaving work to go take you to McDonalds

Friday, February 24, 2006

Days like these I hate technology

Today is one of the most exciting and most frustrating days of the year for north side Chicago residents like myself – the day single-game Cubs tickets go on sale. It’s exciting because even for people like me who aren’t massive Cubs fans, a day at Wrigley Field is a ton of fun. But it’s also frustrating because there is no good way to distribute tickets in an orderly fashion given the demand for tickets. So this first weekend when tickets are on sale ends up being a mad dash all over the city with people using multiple phone lines, multiple computers at their workplace and even friends from out of state to try and secure those coveted tickets to the weekend series* against the White Sox and St. Louis.

Even more irritating is how the Cubs try to be “fair” by using a completely random selection process to decide who gets access to the ticket purchasing section of the website. So when you access the site, instead of getting to actually buy tickets, you are put into this “Virtual Waiting Room” page that auto-refreshes every 30 seconds or so. But instead of taking you on a first come, first served basis, the system just picks people at random who are allowed to actually leave the waiting room and buy tickets. So I’ve been in the “waiting tomb” all morning and gotten nothing. And five games have already sold out. Oh well, looks like it’s another season of Tuesday night games and Sundays for me once things calm down in a week or so. I wonder if they have sensors that can tell that I’m just another regular-guy boring fan who:

  1. Doesn’t pick fights
  2. Doesn’t drink until I puke
  3. Won’t urinate all over neighborhood front lawns after the game
  4. Isn’t a Lincoln Park Trixie, with their midriff-baring tops, tight shorts, and proclivity for talking on cell phones through the entire game

And because I don’t fit into one of the stereotypical categories, I’m continually getting left in the waiting room by some sort of evil algorithm. Damn you evil algorithm!!!

Otherwise, this weekend will probably be uneventful. Prepping for a board committee meeting for my theater company and picking the GF up from the airport when she gets back into town. Maybe I’ll head over to the ticket outlet down the street and see what’s left tomorrow morning.

* What’s plural of “series”? Serieses? Seriii?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Not-So-Irrational Fear Thursday: Eeek! Naked Biker Guys!

Yesterday was a big and fun day for a variety of reasons. First, I wore a new shirt that the GF and I picked up shopping before she left last weekend. It was one that I actually had picked out myself but more significant was that it was the first shirt I have ever worn* that requires cuff links. I have to admit that I was feeling pretty good about myself. In the last year or so I've started to develop a reputation for being a snappy dresser. I'm not really sure what that means. But I think the implication is that the previous 30 years were spent offending the fashion sensibilities of everyone within eyeshot. For that, world, I apologize.

After a pretty productive day at work, I returned to a place where my feet had not tread in about 4-5 months - the gym. It was more or less the same as it was when I was last there, but there were some things that were a little different. For instance, I noticed a lot of people were wearing braces. Not orthodonture - but rather braces to help support ankles, knees, elbows, groins, you name it. There were braces of every imaginable design, used to support every imaginable body part** and they were everywhere. As I sat on the leg press machine, trying desperately to remember how it worked while trying to stave off panic that I was the only person there not wearing a brace, I realized that I was probably suffering from brace envy. Each person there wearing a brace was essentially saying to the world "I work out so hard that I hurt myself! Fear me!". And I *was* afraid - the feeling of being "less than" was pretty powerful.

At that point, I decided that the next time I go into the gym, I would wear the full set of braces, two knee braces, two ankle braces, two elbow braces, a neck brace, and the full-body Milwaukee brace - typically used to treat scoliosis***. Then I would work through my entire routine without skipping a beat. Think of the respect I'd get from all the baseball-cap wearing high school boys doing nothing but bench presses, high school girls desperately trying to snag one of said boys in time for prom****, and the 78 year old guy who is there every day and who could rip my arms out of my sockets with his bare hands. Giddy with anticipation for my budding plan, I did about a mile on the treadmill before heading down to the locker room to shower and get dressed.

That's when it happened - every man's nightmare. Returning from my shower all fresh, basking in the afterglow of a good workout, I saw a guy getting naked at the locker *right next* to mine. Now, you ladies might not see anything weird about that, but what you have to remember is that men are different from women at the gym. We don't spend hours giving each other long naked massages after a workout, laughing giddily as you model your new lingerie or start spontaneous tickle fights. Instead, we spend most of our time avoiding eye contact and trying desperately to maintain a "no fly zone" of at least 5 feet from our fellow man. So here I was facing the nightmare scenario of not only having a nekkid guy right next to my locker, but he was covered in tattoos, including a "Harley Davidson" in the small of his back*****. But by this point he had seen me just standing there, so I walked over slowly, trying not to provoke a response.

Being the nice, upper-midwestern guy that I am I made some witty comment that he responded to with another pithy remark about "ain't this how it always is". As he headed off to the showers I said cheerily, "Don't worry, I'll be gone by the time you get back".

"Yeah, I bet you will." was the response.

Crap. Did something I said inadvertently come off as making a pass? I frantically replayed the conversation in my head, but couldn't recall anything certain. Had I just been mistaken for an overly friendly gay man and threatened with violence? Surely he would notice that I was straight as soon as I got dressed...

...Oh crap. The cuff links!

I was dressed and out of the gym in about three minutes. Paranoia never hurt anyone.

*Note, not the first shirt I've ever owned that needs one. I have a nice white shirt that uses them but it's more of a shirt to wear with a suit than on its own. At least not during the winter.
** Isn't "sports bra" just another word for "boob brace"?
*** This is not making fun of scoliosis patients. I had a mild case in elementary school, which I blame for my twisted sense of humor. I just really wanted to work in a picture of "Scoliosis Barbie". Who even knew they made one?
**** Way to go girls...aim high.
***** Speaking of which, am I the only one who thought only girls got tattoos there?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The dullest post I've ever written

I ended up taking the entire day off yesterday, partially because the electrician was around longer than I thought* and partially because it was a really nice day outside so I took advantage of it to walk around the neighborhood, get some air, and unwind. It was really nice to just take a day to do nothing. Plus I had to do some rearrangement of “what is plugged in where” in the bedrooms, since I think at least part of the problem was that I had two power strips plugged into one outlet.

The worst thing about taking a day off in the middle of the week is having to get up the next morning and go back into work. It’s particularly bad for me because I inevitably stay up way later than usual on days I take vacation, in a desperate attempt to maximize my vacation time. So I end up doing all sorts of stuff that I’d been putting off for weeks – case in point last night I:

  • ironed
  • washed some dishes
  • folded laundry
  • made myself some tea
  • decided that two pairs of pants were too old to wear in public anymore**
  • read some of the latest issue of Businessweek
  • tried to find the new Pink music video***
  • put away guest linens from J.Po and Spice visit
  • updated my iPod software

All told by the time I got to that last one it was after midnight and I was kicking myself. At least I got to sleep in yesterday morning. In general nothing exciting enough happened to warrant blogging about - other than the fact that it wasn't interesting. Don't fret though, tomorrow I'll be back with my usual witty repartee.

* But he wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought. Plus, now I know how to swap out breakers when they burn out.
** Quick, listen carefully – you might hear cheers coming from South Florida if the GF reads this from the hotel lobby ‘net access terminal.
*** I can’t help it, I like Pink. And that video is pretty funny.

Monday, February 20, 2006

My kingdom for an electrician!

Something tells me that I offended the Amish gods with my crack about hand-crafting cabinetry last week. The reason for this is that yesterday morning I awoke to find all the power out in my bedroom, as well as the guest bedroom. So, I was forced into a life of Amish bedroom existence, using an oil lamp and candles to light my way around the room trying to figure out what went wrong. Repeated resets of the circuit breaker were to no avail, so I ended up just running a heavy-duty extension cord from my hallway into the room. So now I have either light in my bedroom or use of the internet, depending on which room I run the extension cord into. No doubt, my hyjinks served as great entertainment to J.Po and Spice as they sat watching Blast from the Past on TV from the no doubt “powered just to spite me” living room.

Other than that the weekend was actually a lot of fun. I did some grocery shopping with the GF on Friday (where she gleefully took advantage of access to my car by filling her shopping cart with “the most food I’ve bought at one time in months”) and a quick stop-in at Marshalls where I found* three shirts and three pairs of pants and the GF needed warm weather clothes for her weeklong vacation to Florida. She even found a swimsuit “on the first try” which is apparently a big deal for the lady-folk. It wasn’t as exciting to me (as I always find a swimsuit on the first try, usually without even trying it on) but I tried to appear excited for her sake.

By then J.Po and Spice were in the house, but it was a pretty low-key weekend. We all went out for dinner Saturday night where we met the GF and then followed up with a trip back home and going to bed early. I think that the GF was somewhat shocked by our early-to-bedness, but J.PO and Spice had been traveling all day and we are all really old and kind of nerdy that way. Sunday we went out from brunch, took in the matinee showing of Tartuffe (with talkback afterwards with the actors) and then met the GF for Pizza at Unos downtown**. She could only stay for appetizers before having to dash off for dinner with her buddies, but it was good to see her even for a few minutes and say goodbye in the Unos entryway. Not exactly the closing scene of Casablanca, but we didn’t have much to work with either.

* Okay, okay, I only found one shirt, and the right size of a second shirt that she only could find in a 17 inch neck. Still, I felt like a champion.
** Note – the Pizzeria Uno in downtown Chicago is not affiliated with any of the craptastic TGIFridays-of-Pizza franchises scattered around the country. They get their name from the original one downtown, but that’s the extent of their relationship. The downtown Unos is much better pizza.

Friday, February 17, 2006


After over a year using the default Blogger template, I decided to try my luck and installing a new template. I still haven't quite figure out how to post a photo on my profile, but since I didn't have one before I figure it's no great loss for the majority of the public. It was fun trying to figure out how to make the change just right. I have always felt like I should learn more about HTML and when I see how almost everyone I know is learning Moveable Type. All that is too much for me to learn all at once, but my just tapping out some HTML code in Word makes me feel like an Amish guy building a set of shelves by hand instead of heading over to IKEA for some BILLY.

This weekend should be beaucoups fun, as I am playing host to two old friends from college who also happen to be current (or former) blog folk - J.Po and Spice. I expect a weekend of Chicago adventures and reminiscing about long ago times. And Chicago Style pizza...mmm...pizza...

Tune in next Monday for the excitement. I'll be more careful abuot revolving doors this time, but I can't promise I won't find some new way to humiliate myself.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Not-So-Irrational Fear: Eeek! Robots!

For a long time, I believed myself to be the only person who was growing increasingly nervous about the ever-expanding capabilities of robots. I remember the first time I saw them actually doing something other than transporting top-secret Death Star schematics or fighting Decepticons, it was back in 1993 and I was working in a factory in my hometown, trying to earn money for college. We made sandpaper, and once an order was ready, we would stage it in a special area and program the little keypad next to it. This would issue an order for the robot to come from shipping and pick up the order by following a little magnetic track in the floor. This fascinated me and the rest of my colleagues, who would sometimes take advantage of the robots by shrink wrapping one of us to a chair and having the robots come and take us out to shipping on a pallet.

But these days robots are becoming more and more capable and frankly, it’s freaking me out a little. So, in the interest of alerting the world to things they should be afraid of (and because I often find myself a little short of things to write about on Thursdays) I am presenting the first installment of my new maybe-weekly feature: Not-So-Irrational-Fear Thursdays! This week’s fear: robots.

Given that even Althouse is blogging about the scary capabilities of robots, I thought I’d outline several examples of new developments in robot development that should cause you to lose as much sleep over this as I have recently.

First, you think you can spot a robot when you see one? Not for long, folks! Yes, our techno-lusting friends over in Japan have seen the future – and it is Transformers. They have developed a robot that actually transforms from a car into a robot, strikes a heroic pose, and then turns back into a car*. Soon robots will blend in smoothly amongst us. Think your wife just brought home a new ottoman from Pottery Barn? Or is it a plushy robot in disguise; heck-bent on destroying your living room once it receives the signal from al-Queda/aliens/neo-cons/bears/cigarette companies/Donald Trump? Don’t you see? WE’LL NEVER KNOW!!!

Second, you may think that only the most technologically advanced countries with multi-billion dollar research budgets can afford the sort of high-technology needed to build plushy robots of mass destruction…but you’d be wrong. It turns out that you can just go to eBay and pick up your very own “worlds most dangerous robot” for a pittance! Even worse – that robot is disturbingly ottoman-sized. All it would take is some pillows and a few yards of upholstery fabric and it’s the end of civilization as we know it**.

Third, maybe you think your job is safe from robot replacement. Sure, you may not work in an automobile assembly plant. Perhaps you’re an artist, say a dancer. Surely your ability to express mankind’s inner passions through movement is safe from robot replacement. But now thank’s to the Aussies – no dancer is safe. Well…maybe exotic dancers are safe, but not for long. And believe me, strippers aren’t qualified to do much else, and it’s not like they’re going to become surgeons or anything…oh wait, surgeons aren’t safe either.

Finally, you may believe that you will always be able to spot a robot menace because they cannot express emotions or empathize with humans. Well, soon that won’t be a problem either thanks for another one of the robots’ evil human co-conspirators, who is building a new line of robot toys designed to exhibit emulated emotions. How long until these robo-pets morph into pseudo dogs that are just as cuddly as real dogs without the poop or chewed up Jimmy Choos? AIBO may be gone, but the concept might pick up once the price tag drops below $2000 and the robo-mutts grow fur***.

So here we have it. Documented evidence that robots are becoming harder to spot, easier to acquire, and better at just about everything humans do than we are. Given that, it won’t be long before people everywhere just buy a robot to do their jobs for them. Who needs a college degree when you could just use that money to buy a better robot?

Logically then, humankind will become a master-race - lording over our domestic robo-slaves until we become so good at programming them that they achieve sentience, rise up against us, and plug us all into the Matrix. Ooooo…what if it’s already happened? What if we’re already in the Matrix and the robots we build today are just going to enslave us in a new Matrix-within-a-Matrix? What if it just keeps cycling like this forever and we’re already a in the “Matrix cubed”? What if “God” is nothing more than our real human body out there thirty-or-so Matrixes away? What if the Wachowski brothers were really sending us a message from the “real world” trying to break the cycle by getting us not to trust robots? All right, maybe that last idea is a little Unibomber-esque, but you get the idea.

Man, I’m getting no sleep tonight…

* Apparently right before it drives off a table, but the video stops before that happens
** I feel fine
*** Faux or otherwise. They’ll probably be designed to kill real dogs, skin them and steal their fur to look more “doglike”…the horror…

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Heart-shaped, my ass

A psychologist studying Valentine’s day imagery has declared that the traditional “heart” symbol that becomes so prolific around this time of year was not actually inspired by the actual heart, but instead is based on an idealized representation of the female tushie as viewed from behind. To quote:

"The twin lobes of the stylized version correspond roughly to the paired auricles and ventricles (chambers) of the anatomical heart," Pranzarone said, but added that the organ "is never bright red in color" and its "shape does not have the invagination at the top nor the sharp point at the base."

Myself, I had two thoughts on reading this story:

First, I wondered what “invagination” meant, and was a little excited at potentially discovering a new word to add to the ol’ sesquipedalian vocabulary. I was somewhat apprehensive about researching it at work though, since doing a Google search for any word that similar to “vagina” might make the IT folks think I was searching for porn. Until I figure out for sure, I’m just going to assume it means the little dimpling at the top between the two alleged “butt cheeks”.

Second, I have a problem with this logic. First off, granted, the heart is never “bright red in color” but how many women’s butts has he seen that were bright red in color*? Also, he says it can’t be a male butt because it’s too round, unlike the “angular, compact and slimmer” male butt. To which I respond with the question “Dude, have you not been watching the pairs figure skating competition? Those guys asses are just as big and even rounder than their lady partners**? Besides, whoever would describe a guys butt as “angular” either never looks at them or based their assessment entirely on episodes of Superfriends featuring Bizarro Superman.

You know, if I’m the President of Roanoke College right now, I’m thinking of investigating how the psychology department picks research topics…

* Not including baboon butts, of course
** Total non-sequiteur here, but how long do you think until same-sex skating pairs become an issue at the Winter Games?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Smootches to all of you for V-day!

Ah, Valentines Day – when young men’s thoughts turn to hopes of young women’s thoughts involving said young man. Personally, I find it interesting that a day known as much for massacres as it is love has become the day of romance across the globe. Think about it, how many massacres are you aware of? Sure, there’s the Boston Massacre which we all learned about in elementary school* but everybody knows about the Valentines Day Massacre, even if they have no idea who was killed or why or where. Granted, people in Burma probably have never heard of the gangland shooting at the SMC Cartage garage, but as an American, it is my obligation to impose my cultural standards on other peoples, so I’ll just assume that General Than Shwe knows everything about the Moran vs. Capone rivalry and its violent climax.

What I find amusing about Valentines Day these days is the support industry that now surrounds it. Not just the regular stuffing of the seasonal aisle at Walgreens with cards, chocolate, and stuffed animals, but also all the roadside stands** on the way home selling arrangements of roses and teddy bears and balloons. Seriously, yesterday I drove by at least six and expect to see even more tonight. Even more interesting is how every newspaper in the country tries to come up with an original idea for a Valentines Day special feature. Case in point is my favorite (The Minneapolis Star Tribune) who apparently hired the same woman who wrote that infernal “Top 5 John Cusack Movies” article to write a “top 10 movie kisses” feature. I mean, honestly – picking the climax to “Never Been Kissed” over the Neve Campbell/Denise Richards “Wild Things” smootchfest in the pool? Or the Bogie/Bacall scene in “To Have and Have Not” with it’s “Whadja do that for?” repartee? Granted, she did get some of them right, but her mentioning Burt Lancaster and Debra Kerr in “From Here to Eternity” and Carrie Fischer and Harrison Ford in “Empire Strikes Back” is about as obvious as mentioning Lance Armstrong on a top 5 professional cyclist list.

So here’s my list of the top 10 movie kisses for Valentines Day:

10) Roger Rabbit and Eddie Valient (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) – To this day I’m fascinated by how they kept the handcuffs taught in this scene, and I’ve even seen the “behind the scenes” special.
9) Burt Lancaster and Debra Kerr (From Here to Eternity) – “Wait, is that seaweed in my hair or…oh…nevermind…”
8) Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer) – I know, I know, I just ripped the woman for picking a Drew Barrymore movie, but a) Drew was really cute in that movie; and b) that kiss made it completely obvious that they wanted each other, you can almost feel the plot shifting and read what’s in her eyes. Awesome.
7) Lady and the Tramp (Lady and the Tramp) – Come on, the flirty way Lady turned her head after the “spaghetti incident”? That was hot!
6) Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst (Spiderman) – Hot, wet, and upside down. ‘nuff said.
5) Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) – I’m straight, but even I thought their first kiss when Jack comes to visit Ennis for the first time at Ennis’ place was wowsers. Of course, so did Michelle Williams…doh!
4) Valerie Golina and Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) – I never thought I’d be jealous of an autistic character. And you have to love Hoffman’s description of it afterwards as “Wet”
3) Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions) – Made even more memorable by the parody of this scene in “Not Another Teen Movie”
2) Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (To Have and Have Not) – I’ve only seen this scene once and it’s no wonder these two hooked up, sheesh…
1) Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer (Empire Strikes Back) – Ladies love the scoundrels

* Damn those Redcoats and their infernal stamp taxes!
** Of course, they are more likely to be selling out of their car than in actual “stands”.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mercifully, I didn't develop an irrational fear of revolving doors as a result

This weekend ended up being much more adventure- and shame-filled than I had originally anticipated. Before taking the GF for a short weekend away on Saturday, I stopped in to donate blood at the local blood center. Now I’ve given blood dozens of times, starting when I was 17. In fact when I first started I had no problem donating. I’d lay down, they’d stick me and 10 minutes later I’d be unplugged and chowing down on free pizza. These days however, I’m starting to notice more problems popping up when I donate. I get light-headed more often, and last year I got deferred for the first time due to low hemoglobin*. So given that, I knew I was in for a long day when the person drawing my blood immediately informed me that she was a trainee.

Now, let me state on the record that I have no problem with trainees. In fact when I was younger I was often the person given to trainees because my arm veins swelled up like footballs when the constrictor was put on my upper arm. These days, however, the veins don’t swell like they used to. Still, I respect the folks that train to do this, so I focused my attention on the almost-half-way-finished showing of “Ladder 49” playing on the television. After a copious amount of swabbing, she proceeded to insert the needle…and missed the vein. Rather than pulling out, she apparently decided to slash through the vein from the side**, like Erroll Flynn in a musketeer-type silent film. When that seemingly failed, she pulled out a little to try again, at which point blood shot out of my arm, covering my arm and shoulder with blood in a scene right out of ER. I didn’t see the actual explosion itself*** but after analysis of the blood spurt pattern I have concluded that it looked something like the image at left...only more red.

Of course, at that point the trainee was benched and I was patched up. After liberal blotting of the stains using hydrogen peroxide, you could hardly even see the stains anymore****. Man, those old nurses know their stuff. I ended up getting the blood taken from my other arm, and then nearly only passing out once before I was allowed to leave about two hours after I walked in. All in all, this is getting to be pretty average. Maybe I’ll start avoiding trainees at this point just to be on the safe side.

The rest of the weekend was spent taking the GF to an exotic Valentines Weekend getaway in beautiful downtown Chicago. She had to work Saturday until about 4:00, so I figured it wouldn’t be worth it trying to get out of town. That said, I have to recommend playing tourist in your own city every now and again. We went out to a nice dinner at a cool new restaurant and then relaxing over champagne at the hotel. Sunday we walked around Michigan Avenue, trying hard to blend in with the tourists (even though we weren’t carrying the requisite American Girl Place shopping bags). I took opportunity of this time to give the GF pointers on gift ideas for me*****, and we watched some fur protesters harassing old women outside of Neiman Marcus.

Finally, after checking out of the hotel, we headed down to the valet to get the car. I proceeded through the revolving door and completely misjudged how far out the curve of the glass wall went – long story short I walked right into the side wall (see diagram at right). It wouldn’t have been so bad had the GF not been immediately behind me, in perhaps the best vantage point to watch my humiliation, ever. Mercifully, the only part of me hurt was my dignity, and to her credit, the GF’s hysterical laughter lasted for no more than five minutes. This is why I keep her around.

* Damn you no-iron-added men’s multivitamins!
** While still embedded in my arm, mind you. Yes, it hurt like heck.
*** I was trying to get into Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of a rebellious fire fighter with a heart of gold as a way to ignore the woman trying to carve her initials into my arm
**** And after washing, they were gone completely
***** I’m notoriously difficult to shop for, usually, if there’s anything I really want, I just buy it myself

Friday, February 10, 2006

Neilsen might have to think up a new way to track viewership though

As part of my plan for pre-blood donation I up my fluid intake the day before to levels much higher than normal. Granted, I probably don’t drink as much water as I should*, but I haven’t died of dehydration yet so I must be doing something right. Apparently my body is so used to my normal intake that it views today’s sudden bounty with a certain amount of skepticism – passing anything above the norm through my entire digestive tract in about 10 minutes. I think my kidneys are appreciating the workout right now.

In any case, I’ve seemingly been transformed from a normal 31 year old guy into a 62 year old with prostate issues. As a result, I’ve been hitting the bathroom regularly today – much more so than on a regular Friday. It’s amazing how something as simple as going to the bathroom puts my brain into a state of autopilot, I get up, walk over, do my business and go back to my desk without any conscious thought about it whatsoever. It’s a lot like the commute into work in that in both cases I find myself thinking about other things while I’m doing it and not paying much thought to navigation.

Today though on one of my trips I noticed that the janitors had replaced the urinal screens with new ones. More specifically, I noticed that the new urinal screens featured their brand name quite prominently, along with a website. It was weird enough that the brand name was “Renown”**. But weirder was the idea I got in my head about starting a company to mass-produce custom urinal screens with advertising or public service ads. Think of how effective they would be in bars:

  • Miller Lite: “Now go back and get some more!”
  • Trojan: “Quick! Before anything else comes out!”
  • Enzyte: “Wish you knew how cold this water was?”

Yep, I think this is definitely the “next big thing”. I mean, if the CTA wraps turnstyles with advertising, how long will it take for this to catch on? Gotta go get me a business plan…

* Lord knows I can’t keep up with the “eleventy billion glasses per day” rule that almost all women I know seem to adhere to.
** I mean seriously, “Renown”? For a urinal screen? Since when has a urinal screen been something that could even remotely be associated with that word? “AmSan’s urinal screens were renowned throughout the land for skill at keeping old gum out of the plumbing”…yeah, I don’t think so.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Two hours talking about one very boring thing

The focus group itself was not nearly as exciting or interesting as I thought it would be. I was not the most fashionable person there (that would be Michael, the “retired ballet dancer”) nor did I have the coolest job (Ryan, the baby toy designer), nor did I talk the most (Laurie the “substitute teacher but I really want to work in coding and billing someday*”). Demographically, we were pretty diverse (three men, five women, nice racial mix but nobody over 50). The person running the group did a nice job explaining that yes, we were being watched from behind the mirrors and yes, those were microphones in the ceiling and yes, all of our notes would be taken from us after the session. None of this was a surprise, but I thought it was nice they were up front about it right off the bat.

The point of the group was to discuss credit card statements. Not as sexy as a conversation about rewards programs or about why they took away my Visa and replaced it with a stupid old MasterCard 5 years ago, but they had a demo of what a new sample “might look like”. I had no idea that people could get so worked up over whether the statement was printed in portrait or landscape. But two of them did.

While I considered purposefully skewing the results, I ended up just going along with the conversation and talking when I had something to say. Like Spice, the social scientist and marketing research background I have from school wouldn’t allow me to compromise my ethics. Even if the cookies they served were crap and about a week old**.

In the end, I think I probably came off looking like a cross between a paranoid technophobe (“I always get my paper statement because I worry they will eventually charge me for old statements”) and a complete brand-whore (I complained about them switching my Visa to a Mastercard). No doubt after the first five minutes, the people behind the glass looked at each other and said “Yeah, let’s just ignore whatever that crazy guy says from here on out, okay?”. Not that I mind, I still got my cash.

* Apparently working with kids is a pain in the ass. No, I have no idea what coding and billing is, but apparently it’s more lucrative than babysitting a classroom full of 9 year olds.
** Oh, and what is the deal with not having anything to drink other than coffee and pop? Just because I live in America they assume I’m an over-caffeinated sugar-fiend? Clearly they don’t understand me as well as they do my demographic.

Quickie - Spot the Crime against Language

I'll get to the story of the focus group later on today, but I had to point this out. Articles like this one get my dander up. I’m such a grammar Nazi that when I read this my jaw actually dropped completely off my face. I thought the AP was supposed to have standards? Maybe they fired all their editors…

Associated Press Feb. 8, 2006 08:40 AM
SHERIDAN, Colo. - The Super Bowl turned out to be a blast for a Colorado couple, but not the way they figured it.

According to authorities, Norman Frey and his girlfriend planned to set off some homemade fireworks at a Super Bowl party Sunday.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson says the couple blew up their car while transporting a balloon filled with explosive gas. Robinson says it's amazing they weren't killed.

The balloon contained acetylene, the gas used in welding torches. Robinson says static electricity may have set off the explosion.

Both the man and woman suffered busted eardrums. Frey now faces a felony explosives charge, but his girlfriend won't be prosecuted.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"Ve have vays of making you talk...cookies, fur exahmple..."

Given some atypical scheduled events today, I’m a little pressed for time so this will, of necessity be a relatively short post. This afternoon I’m going to be in my first focus group, which I’m terribly excited about. A certain financial institution* has been silly enough to offer me $100 cash to sit in a room with a bunch of complete strangers, eat their food and talk about how I only use their credit card to buy gas and songs off of iTunes.

The real mystery about the whole thing is how I got picked to be on the panel. Credit card companies must hate me because I’m the sort of customer they loathe. I pay off my balance every month, I don’t pay late so there are no late fees to be had, and I don’t transfer balances like a madman. At most, this financial institution makes little more than the $60 annual fee off me every year. Sure, I know that they get a certain percentage of whatever I spend from the merchants I buy from as part of their fee structure, but I’m still not a big money maker for them.

Having studied how focus groups work in business school, I’m almost more excited about the opportunity to see one in action as I am about the free food and cash. Not to mention playing the “spot the represented demographic” using the other folks in the room. It’s sooo tempting to try and twist the system, but my inner “good boy” nature will no doubt prevail in the end and I’ll play along. Unless the food sucks, in which case heaven help them, I’ll become Grrrbear the techno-phobic paranoid guy who keeps money in his mattress, refuses to pay interest, and views the financial world as a collection of ungodly usurers.

* Suffice to say there’s trouble right here in River Citi…

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Big Pimpin' on a Monday night

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself hanging out with friends from work less and less. This is partly because I’ve been able to develop social networks outside of work, and partly because I just don’t know as many folks at work as I used to. Last night, however, I went out with a bunch of old work friends (well, three were old friends and one was someone just along for the ride) for drinks and dinner after work. Of course, all of these friends were women, so I got to look like the total player walking into the dining room flanked by four hot chicks. Sure, they are like my sisters, but nobody there knew that. I felt the eyes of all the men in the room looking at me, thinking to themselves "Wow, he's either a total stud or those are escorts. Still, with those devilishly good looks it must be the former...". To a certain extent, I now understand what Hef feels like when he walks into the Grotto, only I wasn’t wearing a bathrobe and only two out of the four were blonde.

Dinner was so much fun, one of my friends (T.Ro) and the newbie (F.Da) are from Southern California so I hadn’t seen T.Ro in years. We used to work together in Cleveland and became complete BMB’s (bad movie buddies). There was not a single crappy movie that was too bad for us not to at least check out a matinee – including timeless classics like She’s All That and Simply Irresistible*. Also along were P.De and M.Co who are locals that I hang out with on occasion when I want to feel like a grown-up**.

Needless to say, once we were seated we immediately became the rowdy table. Sure, our waitress (bless her soul) told us we weren’t the rowdy table when I asked, but we all knew that we were. Particularly as we drank more and the stories became louder and louder and more frequently involved high school boys and not remembering entire weekends. Myself, not having any stories involving the former and only two stories involving the latter, contented myself with listening in stunned amazement and provoking T.Ro into fits of giggling. And we wrapped up about 10:00, so I still managed to get a decent amount of sleep!

So much fun! Thanks ladies, even though you probably don’t read this!

*Which is actually quite easy to resist, in retrospect.

** P.De is good at finding cool new restaurants and makes wickedly good homemade desserts which she usually brings to dinner parties.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Quickie - Note to self...

...don't f*ck with Reese Witherspoon's kids - she'll have you killed.

Sure, her camp will deny it. But I tell you what, I'm putting away my camera next time I run across her and her family at Jewel that's for sure.

Are you ready for some disappointment?

Like any red-blooded, Hooter’s loving American man, I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon immersed in the Super Bowl and its related activities. Unlike most of the 90’s, the game itself has been a good run the last few years. But since the Minnesota Vikings seem heck-bent on crushing my hopes year after year by starting 7-1 and then finishing 1-7 before falling all over themselves in the wild-card round, I have become more of a fan of the Super Bowl accessories than I am the game itself (with the exception that the Steelers victory won me brunch from the GF at a future date - woo-hoo!). Given that, I now consider myself immensely qualified to judge them – probably more than I am the game itself. Thus, I present to you the first annual list of Grrrbear’s Really Insane Super-bowl Tie-in LameositY Awards – the GRISTLYs!

Stupidest Commercial: Gillette* Fusion
Come on, am I the only one getting tired of commercials implying that new razors are designed in secret underground bunkers in the middle of the desert by chisel-chinned men in lab coats using plasma streams and a particle accelerator? Although that would explain why it costs so friggin much for blades these days. Now that we have 6-bladed razors, anyone want to take bets on how long until we are being pushed bladed straps with 1000 blades that are applied to the face like a belt sander? I’m guessing about 6 months at this rate.

Stupidest Corporate Sponsorship Blunder: General Motors
In a game full of commercials for hybrid cars (Ford, Honda) and in a market where there is a waiting list for Priuses and lots full of unsold SUV’s you decide to use the Super Bowl to make a big splash for the new gas-guzzling Escalade – complete with new commercial (models dripping with what looks to be mercury - a nice environmental touch) and giving one to the MVP of the game (Hines Ward). Yeah, you understand what customers want, Mr. GM Marketing genius. Man, if I held GM stock I’d be selling it first thing after the game.

Stupidest Trend on Display: Facial Tattoos
Oh Aaron Neville, why? What happened to just making millions via recorded tripe with Linda Rondstat? Now you have to mar your face with bizarre patterns and weird shapes? Who looked at what Mike Tyson did to himself and said “Oh that looks good…”? Seriously, if this becomes the next big thing, what's next - eyeball piercings? It’s bad enough that all the girls who got the lower-back tats (“Might as well be a bullseye”) are going to be parading them around nursing homes in another 60 years, think of what will happen to a tattoo on your face when it gets all wrinkly and shriveled. What if the artist is a fan of MAD magazine and hides a secret image of a pair of boobs in the tattoo that only becomes visible when it’s old and folded-over? Yep, all the other residents will call you Boob-Face, that’s what.

Stupidest Halftime Show: the Rolling Stones
Please, someone make the NFL stop booking the oldest available act for halftime shows. I wonder if the only reason we didn’t get Lawrence Welk and a half-hour of polkas was because someone told Tagliabue that he was dead. I can’t believe that I missed Lingerie Bowl for this. Granted, there was Puppy Bowl II on Animal Planet, but I’d already watched that with the GF before the game started. So, given the choice of withered popstars vs a half-hour of scantily clad hot models playing grab-ass (pun most certainly intended) I’m taking the models next year. Even watching the Whopperettes pile on top of each other wearing scanty showgirl uniforms wasn’t as hot as you’d think it would be.**

Any other suggestions? If you missed any of the ads, they are here.

* How does Microsoft Word know that this is the correct spelling? I wonder how many other brands are in it’s spellcheck database…
** How do you think those girls are going to list that on their resume? Will they call themselves simply “Whopperette” or is there some sort of power hierarchy with some ingredients commanding greater respect than others (thereby encouraging them to describe themselves as "Bun", "Lettuce", or "Special Sauce". Considering that Brooke Burke got to be the top bun, that would seem that is the position to strive for - so maybe the pecking order is lowest to highest. But I would also expect that “special sauce” would kind of be looked down upon – yet it’s the second-highest ingredient...hmmm...so much to ponder. I think I need to review the ad again and again and again...

Friday, February 03, 2006

The "theme" works because everyone loves spotted owls...

Once again proving that America hates nature, a college cheerleader has been dismissed from her squad because she happens to work at an "owl-themed restaurant". I mean honestly, what other reason could they possibly have for kicking her off the squad?

Who would have thought that having a restaurant named after a nocturnal flying carnivore would prove to be so successful? Not to mention that the whole "owl theme" seems to be successful even outside of the fast casual dining arena! I've been to two different trade shows for work where I saw some obviously owl-loving ladies were promoting various hardware items. Clearly, these girls were environmentally sensitive – their “owl-themed restaurant” uniforms used as little fabric as possible, and I think the nylon and spandex were 100% recycled.

But now it appears that the hard work these girls do promoting owls and their environs is being put down by the man and his cronies. America must not stand for this continued persecution of our youth, who seek only to express their love of owls in a safe and comfortable environment! I encourage all of you to write an email to the East Tennessee State University Athletic Department chastising them for their short-sightedness. Feel free to use the following template:

Dear Owl-Hater,

I recently read about your decision to dismiss Kimberly Sams from your school’s cheerleading squad. As an environmentalist and (choose one) [mother/veteran/Republican/person of color/patriot/famous Hollywood Celebrity/voter/coal miner’s daughter/disabled person/humpback whale], I am deeply concerned about this decision to destroy a young woman’s dreams for no other reason than her support for owls and the organizations that promote their interests.

If this termination is allowed to stand, what does it say about America? What does it say about East Tennessee State University? You claim to be “the Buccaneers”, but
what do pirates have against owls? For that matter, what do buccaneers have to do with East Tennessee? Are you aware that “East Tennessee” is not even a state?

Owls have contributed much more to America than buccaneers. Without Mr. Owl, we wouldn’t know how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. Without Woodsy the Owl we’d all be up to our knees in pollution because nobody would “Give a hoot”. When was the last time a buccaneer did anything for America?

So perhaps you should not be so quick to judge America’s youth for no other reason than because she wants to proclaim her love of owls on her chest? I urge you to reconsider this miscarrage of justice and allow Ms. Sams to return to the squad so that she can continue to represent your fine institution both at the game, and away from it.

Thank you for your time,
[Insert name/alias/pseudonym/fingerprint/butt print here]

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hello Mr. Gonzalez? Yeah, I'm not a terrorist...just so you know...

I arrived home late last night, after a night carousing and living the high life. Namely - board responsibilities and then picking up stuff for the GF's big super cool audition. Obviously, since I live so hard and fast, I thought I'd spend a few minutes unwinding by blogging my post for tomorrow (or today, since you're reading this but I didn't post it until tomorrow morning - I'm writing tomorrow's entry tonight so that you can read it today which is actually tomorrow for me right now...confused yet? Kewl...).

So I checked out the traffic meter and found a somewhat alarming visitor:

[Click to see full size]

Yes my friends, I have apparently become a haven for terrorists searching for information on how to corrupt the food supply in Wisconsin. Who knows why they seek to take down Jewel food stores? I am not familiar with the workings of such deviant minds - but I'll guess it's because they are importing dairy products from California. Perhaps since Google is fighting the government's request for search histories, terrorists are now actively using Google to find information needed to accomplish their nefarious plans! I mean, who would know how to exploit the complex security systems present in your local Jewel if not Google? These guys are good...

Being a concerned and patriotic citizen, I immediately sought out more information on what other sorts of websites came up as a result of that search. I wanted to know what sort of evil sites mine was being lumped in with - all the better to gauge how much trouble I might be in if word of this ever leaks out. Here is a sampling:

Princess Di Memorial Site: Obviously, the terrorists got to her first. Dammit! If only I'd been blogging in '97 I might have prevented that too!

Scary-Looking Chick Blogger Site: We all know what "sisters" means...they're witches!!! Let's build bridges out of them before they teach the terrorists about breast cancer, body image issues, and occasional dirty jokes.

Boring Paper on Genes or Science or Something: I'm not really sure what this is about, but it's really long and I couldn't get into it - that's why I'm friends with TOWWAS, she tells me when I need to be worried about stuff like this. Still, its sheer size is probably being used to hide secret messages for transmission to terrorists! Oooo, scary!

Tobey Maguire Biography Page: So *that's* what he's been doing since Spiderman 2...he's become a terrorist bent on disrupting America's food distribution networks! Somebody call JJ Jameson!*

Suddenly, I feel a lot better about the odds of my door being kicked in by Homeland Security agents while I'm sleeping tonight...

* No, _JJ_...not Jenna...Although maybe she could help capture him. Assuming the terrorists haven't gotten to her yet - which they may have. There's a lot of search results I didn't get to and sooner or later every Google search leads to porn.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Of course, I wasn't really *listening* to much of the speech

Last night I did my taxes while listening to the state of the union speech. I’m not quite sure what I enjoyed more, hearing people (both republicans and democrats) voicing their displeasure with various parts of the speech or how much bigger my refund will be this year than it was last year. I guess all those charitable contributions actually do make a difference!

Frankly, I was somewhat surprised that I was able to multi-task as well as I did. In general, like most of my gender, I am not very effective at doing more than one thing at a time. This is yet another reason why I think that in another million years or so women will be running society, while the last few remaining men will be penned up in zoos or kept as pets by the wealthy - sort of like llamas today. Part of the problem is that whenever we try to multitask we often choose really unrelated tasks to combine. Think grocery shopping and thinking of what to buy for an anniversary gift, or driving and viewing porn. Neither of these combinations leads to anything good, and is in fact only more likely to get us in trouble – the former in particular*.

On a completely different note, I was watching the Daily Show last night** when Jon Stewart made a particularly salient point about the whole James Frey fiasco. I don’t remember the word-for-word statement he made but his main point was essentially asking why Oprah was so incensed when a guy who writes a book fictionalizes part of the story but says nothing about a presidential administration that consistently demonstrates its own “gift for fiction”. Hmmm…what is worse…person gets lied to and loses $13? Or person gets lied to and gets their kid killed in Iraq?

Obviously, Oprah is not going to do anything political (having learned from Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods’ successes, obviously). But I still thought it was an interesting point by Mr. Stewart.

* “Happy Anniversary Honey! I got you something special!”
“Oh boy, what is it? [opening] Wow, it’s…a…box of Hot Pockets?”
** Pre-taxes and speech. Two things I can sometimes do but three at once is only a pipe dream.

After all, Elmo seems equally disinterested in both...

I have a hard time believing that Elmo was traumatized by Katy Perry's decollatage after discovering that he had already "been arou...