Wednesday, December 14, 2005

American Girl Doll...$top the In$anity

I have two daughters. My wife and I don't plan to have any more kids, which means there are certain things I must accept. I will never cheer on the sidelines while my child scores a touchdown. I will never waste a weekend watching sports on TV with my child. I will never go to a Monster Truck Rally or attend a WWF Smackdown. I will never have the "what your penis is capable of" conversation. Wait, I take that back. I WILL have that conversation with every boy who wants to date my daughters.

I accept these sacrifices and I'm okay with it. Because, if I had boys, I would never tear up while watching them dance ballet in leotards. I would never attend the annual Daddy-daughter dance in the park district gym. I would never hear the sound of high pitched giggles over what, I don't know.

Yes, as the father of daughters, I get to savor the moments I have been blessed with. But each Christmas I must also put my manhood in the closet and leave it there while I visit the most hellacious, insidious store on the planet- the American Girl Doll store.


Okay, I got that off my chest. The American Girl doll is a sickening phenomenon that shows no signs of abating - kind of like karaoke. Several years ago some company started making toy dolls and somebody thought it would be cute to add two zeros to the pricetag. Whether this was done in jest is beside the point. What matters is that this idea stuck, which is why the American Girl Doll store can afford to be on (drumroll please) MICHIGAN AVENUE IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO.

That's right. Ensconced between Bloomingdales, Nike Town, Cartier and Gucci sits a store that sells FREAKING DOLLS! There is even a doorman who, thankfully for him, is not forced to dress like a doll. He looks very happy as he opens the door in subzero weather for customers. That's probably because American Girl pays him more than I make in a decade.

Both of my daughters have American Girl dolls. The funny thing is, neither requested one for Christmas. My wife and her relatives decided that each girl should have one. My oldest received an American Girl doll at two. As I remember, she was biting the heads off most of her dolls at that age. Therefore, an Ozzy Osbourne doll, complete with lifelike bat, seemed more appropriate. Yet my wife didn't share that opinion. So, when my brother in law asked if he could make the purchase, she cheerfully agreed.

That's the first problem with these dolls - they seem more geared toward mothers than kids. I don't know if adult women are trying to relive their childhoods but that seems to be the case judging by the clientele inside the store. And WHAT A STORE! The American Girl doll store is four levels. Besides the dolls and the myriad of doll accessories (I'll get to that in a minute) the store includes a theatre showing American Girl doll movies, a hair salon for the dolls and my favorite, a restaurant where you can eat WITH THE DOLLS! That''s right, the doll sits at the table, orders food and probably gets a bill with a 17 percent gratuity tacked on. I've never been but I've heard getting a reservation is impossible. Of course it is! Not only are there people in front of you waiting to be seated but dolls too!

That's the problem with this store. Everybody seems to think these dolls are human, which can get very annoying after about 15 seconds. As I entered I heard haggard housewives asking store personnel questions like, "Where is Samantha,?" "Do you have Elizabeth,?" "I need to find Molly." I wanted to scream, "hey ladies, for God's sake watch your kids. It's a busy store." Then I realized they weren't talking about lost children. They were talking about FREAKING DOLLS!
Yes, all the dolls have names - and stories too. Some probably have anorexia and bad cocaine habits that the American Girl company is trying to keep hush hush. My eight year old owns "Samantha," who, according to the web site, "is a wealthy girl living with her grandmother in 1904." Huh? All I know is that Samantha costs 87 bucks WITHOUT the paperback biography. I have no idea what the grandmother cost.

That's right, 87 bucks and you get a doll with one outfit. But, as we all know, today's dolls cannot have one outfit. Especially if you are wealthy and living in 1904. For an extra 22 bucks I could buy "Samantha's winter outfit." Samantha's "travel outfit and parisol" would set me back 30 bucks. I guess these outfits are needed. I wouldn't want Samantha to be subjected to "American Girl peer ridicule," which would lead to "American Girl therapy." I don't even want to know what that costs. Plus, I don't have time to schlep downtown once a week for Samanth'a group counseling.

Want to hear something worse? The doll's outfits come in human sizes too! That means you can dress your daughter AND her doll in identical clothes. That was last year's Christmas card - my daughters, holding their dolls, in matching outfits. They looked like they had just stepped out of a private school in the Hamptons. If the IRS ever sees that photo, they will immediately move me into a higher tax bracket.

My eight year old never really took to her American Girl doll. Most of the time Samantha sits alone in a corner of the bedroom, surrounded by several hundred dollars in outfits. Thankfully her head is still intact. She will make a wonderful Ebay purchase someday.

But just when I thought I was finished with this gluttonous example of corporate greed, my second daughter was born and I was introduced to the term, "Bitty Baby." Yes, the owners of American Girl decided they all needed to buy vacation homes in Bora Bora so they invented a line of little baby dolls for little baby girls. My three year old received her Bitty Baby doll from my giddy relatives shortly after her umbilical cord was cut.

Bitty babies don't have names - they simply come with descriptions. Forty-two dollars gets you "light skin, blonde hair, blue-gray eyes," or "dark skin, textured black hair, light brown eyes. " Come to think of it, that's how most babies are referred to in maternity wards. "Congratulations Greg. Which one is yours?"
"It's the one with the bald head, the closed eyes and the slightly yellow skin. Third incubator on the left."
"You mean, the one with the Bitty Baby next to it?"
"That's the one."

My three year old took to her Bitty Baby like American GIs to a Hooters waitress. She sleeps with her Bitty Baby, whom she has named "Emma," changes her outfits daily and pushes her in the official Bitty Baby Stroller (34 bucks)

So it was no surprise when she announced she would be asking Santa for "a big sister for Emma." That meant I would be journeying back to the American Girl Doll store to buy the 84 dollar brand, a doll named Kirsten. According to the web, Kirsten is a Swedish immigrant who settled in Minnesota in 1854. If I have done the math correctly, that makes her 50 years older than Samantha.

"Shouldn't we be getting a younger doll?" I asked my wife. "Kirsten may die soon and we can't afford an American Girl casket."

My wife finds none of this funny. Joking with a woman about American Girl dolls is kind of like making jokes about labor. YOU DON'T DO IT!

So off I went to Michigan Avenue, through the hordes of Christmas shoppers, until I had reached the American Girl doll store and was escorted inside by the multimillionaire doorman. I immediately approached the first store worker I saw.

"Where is Kirsten?" I asked in a panic. Trust me, dads don't browse in the American Girl store. They pounce on their prey and move on.

I was lead up two flights, where I saw Kirsten, smiling from her cardboard box, decked out in a calico dress, striped apron, stockings and fancy pantalettes. Don't ask me what a "pantalette" is. That's what the description said.

I hurried down the stairs, pausing briefly to ask sheepishly if there was an American Girl tavern in the building for Dads. A nearby Dad heard me and cracked up. The store worker never cracked a smile.

I was halfway out the door when the cell phone rang. It was my wife.

"Did you get Kirsten?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Good because I was just on the Web and saw that Kirsten's fishing set is on sale for 22 dollars. See if you can find one."

My mortgage can always wait.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mr. Mike, we miss you

Mike was the kind of guy who you would buy for your neighborhood if there was a way to order such a person.

All the homeowners would chip in some money, go to the "ideal neighbor" store and say, "do you have a retired guy who always has a friendly hello, actually wants the neighborhood children to knock on his door, knows everybody's business but not in an annoying way, and will give you the shirt off his back at a moment's notice? A guy who will march down to the village code enforcement office and demand action if he feels, for one instant, that his neighborhood is being threatened or mistreated by lazy homeowners or developers? But also a guy who will do it quietly to avoid commotion. Do you have a guy like that?"

The clerk would disappear into the stockroom and come out with Mike.

Three years ago I was mowing my lawn one Saturday when a car pulled up and a middle aged couple appeared. Noting the "For Sale" sign on my property, the man said, "you must be the guy moving down the block." It wasn't a question - he already knew the answer.

"Yes," I replied. "We love this neighborhood but wanted a little more space so we bought that lot on the corner. " Already I had revealed more information than I normally would when approached by a total stranger. But there was something about this guy - an approachability factor and one shared by his wife.

Within seconds I learned his name was Mike, his wife was Mary, he was a Chicago cop getting ready to retire, he was a lifelong Notre Dame and White Sox fan. And, unlike many of my existing neighbors, he didn't care that my allegiance was to the Cubs.

In the next minute, I told him everything about me. My wife's name was Sue. I had two daughters, 6 and 1. I was a comedian. I traveled extensively. I grew up in the Northwest suburbs before becoming a "South Sider."

I'd lived alongside a neighbor for seven years and never told him that much. Granted, Polish was his first language but we still had occasion to talk. But we'd only exchanged simple pleasantries.

"Well, we're going to be your new neighbors," Mike said as Mary beamed. "We bought the lot across the street."

I knew the lot well. It was part of a townhouse development that would face our new single-family home. Mike was chomping at the bit to get the house started. As a member of Chicago's finest, he was required to live in the city. Now, with retirement beckoning and, I'm sure, a well-earned pension, he was moving to the 'burbs for his little slice of heaven and to be closer to his only son.

As the months went by, our new house began to rise from the dirt. We sold our existing house, moved in with my in-laws 15 miles away and made frequent trips to the site to inspect the progress. Maybe it was coincidence but it always seemed like, whenever we were viewing our new property, Mike and Mary drove by. The developer still hadn't broken ground on their townhome but they cruised the neighborhood nonetheless, anxious for the day when their construction began.

Eventually that day came and we saw more and more of the couple. By now we were living in our new house. When I saw Mike inspecting his lot, I yelled across the street, "Come on Mike, we need some neighbors. It's lonely over here."

He'd reply with a friendly wave and eventually we'd meet in the middle of the street, talking sports and the current state of his townhome. Most of the lots had been sold but none had been completed. Yet Mike still seemed to know the names and backgrounds of everyone who had made a purchase. He'd told his police buddies about the new development and some had purchased lots.

"We'll definitely have the safest neighborhood in the state," I told my wife. "There's going to be an entire precinct living across the street.

Finally the day arrived. Mike and Mary moved in, completing their dream. My kids called them "Mr. Mike" and "Miss Mary." Within months, Mike seemed to become the unofficial mayor of the street. During the warm months I'd jog past his house at 6:30 a.m., and see him on his porch reading the morning paper. In the evening, he'd sit on the front stoop, or in his garage smoking a cigarette as Mary wouldn't let him smoke in the house. Whenever I'd return from an out of state show, he's see me pull in the driveway and remove my luggage from the trunk.

"Welcome home, Greg," came his booming voice from the across the street. "Where were you this time?"

Once this conversation occurred at 2 a.m. When your plane is five hours late and you get home in the middle of the night, you don't expect anybody to be making friendly conversation, much less being awake at all. But that was Mike for you.

After my reply Mike would bring me up to speed on neighborhood news, if there was any. I came to relish these conversations. He knew I coached girls softball and asked me how the team was doing as he loved the fact that I held practices in the vacant lot down the street. On college football Saturdays the Notre Dame flag flew proudly from his porch and we'd discuss the game's outcome even though I never gave a rip about Notre Dame football. But I could have talked to Mike about global warming, so approachable was he.

He watched my youngest learn to rollerskate as she practiced on his sidewalk and, occasionally, his driveway. He bought Girl Scout cookies from my older daughter. The townhouse development was eventually completed. We rarely saw any of the new occupants and, to this day, don't know their names. But Mike and Mary were not your typical retired townhome owners. On Halloween my girls trick or treated in the single family homes down the street where their friends lived. They visited one townhome. You know who lived there.

So last week, when I looked at Mike in his casket, I wanted to say, "get out of there."

He was all decked out in a black suit with a maroon pocket square. His police badge and a White Sox cap proclaiming "World Series Champions!" accompanied his body. The funeral home was, naturally, packed to the gills. Everybody came to say goodbye to Mike.

He had awoken three days earlier and offered to drive Mary to work. First, he needed gas so he drove to the local convenience store. On the way back he spied a neighbor and, naturally, rolled down the window to talk. The heart attack was massive and death almost instantaneous.

"Mr. Mike" is gone. And a big slice of our suburban neighborhood went with him. May God bless him.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hey, turn that off!

I know I have blogged about the iPod before but I feel compelled to rant again only because, since my last post, the minds at Apple have decided that the world really does want to watch video on a screen that's two inches by two inches.

And somebody else has decided that it might as well be x-rated video at that.

By now you've probably heard that Apple last month launched, with much fanfare, the video iPod. Immediately we were inundated with stories about how Apple had already signed a deal with ABC, allowing hit shows like Desperate Housewives to be available for viewing. As a Desperate Housewives watcher myself, I fail to see how downloading this show onto an iPod will improve its fortunes. This was a great show last year but come on...a guy locked in a basement? It took Happy Days seven years to jump the shark. The Housewives have done it in season two!

Anyway, the video iPod had debuted for all of about 30 minutes before I read an article about how some company was already moving forward to put porn movies on it. Why? Because that's the trend in technology: if it has a screen, it's capable of showing porn. Trust me, there's probably some sleazeball looking at the JumboTron in a football stadium right now thinking, "hmmmm, it's not being used at halftime, right? Maybe, just maybe..."

I have nothing against people living out their sexual fantasies through a VCR or DVD player. Heck, porn was everywhere when my wife and I conceived our second child through in vitro fertilization. Well, specifically it was in the "room" where I had to "produce my sample." I was happy to view the movies but I don't think the staff was too happy when I poked my head outside and asked for some microwave popcorn. But it did the trick, as evidenced by our three-year-old daughter.

But now it seems that porn is no longer something to be viewed in dark bedrooms. Instead, it should be viewed ANYWHERE, courtesy of the video iPod. And since people carry their iPods EVERYWHERE, the possibility exists that we can now watch porn while running on the treadmill, waiting for an airplane, walking in between classes or waiting for the kids in the minivan. We'll be able to take advantage of the iPod's nifty features, allowing us to categorize our porn into playlists, sort it by actor and genre, view quick clips and try to guess the movie, and even "shuffle" the porn with the push of a button.

Hey, look! Lesbian porn. That's what I love about this gadget. You never know what's coming. Or who, for that matter! Oh darn. The plane is landing. Guess I'd better turn this off.

As I write this, I realize that this might be a bad subject to put in a blog only because I've started receiving all sorts of interesting spam from people who have found a single word like "golf" in my past entries and are now sending me all kinds of offers for golf paraphenalia. So God only knows what kinds of offers I will get based on this entry. But I had to get it off my chest. I'm now going to sign off and buy a new charcoal grill on line. Maybe I can find one with a screen. Then I can enjoy the tantalizing aroma of ribs smoking on a summer evening...while watching porn.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Are we moving yet?

I’ll be home in an hour according to the pilot. But considering what I’ve already endured in San Antonio today, I’m not very confident.

First of all, I’ve endured being in Texas. Something about this state bugs me. They’re very into SIZE here. Everything is supposed to be BIG! I live in Chicago so I find it a bit obnoxious and trivial when I land in Dallas and somebody says, “Welcome to the BIG D.” If I’m in a good mood, I say, “thanks.” If I’m not, I say, “I just flew in from the EVEN BIGGER C. What’s your point?”

Even people who don’t live in the BIG D claim they do. My first job offer out of college was for a newspaper in Garland, Texas, about 20 miles outside of Dallas. I flew there for an interview and discovered the entire paper was eight pages long. One page was devoted to school cafeteria lunch menus. I think they employed a reporter to exclusively report on that. Stop the presses! They’re introducing meat loaf into the junior high!”

Two days later, the managing editor phoned asking me if I was “ready to move to the Big D.” What was he talking about? This was Garland, the tumbleweed-infested, deathly boring G. I declined the job.

Yet the size thing still persists in Texas. San Antonio isn’t nearly as pretentious as Dallas but they’re still hung up on size. I ordered a beer last night and the waiter asked me if I wanted the “regular” size or the “Texas size.” I ordered latter, figuring it would make me drunk faster and then I could pass for a Texan.

So I was in a hurry to leave Texas today when I arrived at the airport and found THE BIGGEST line I’ve ever seen at the American Airlines counter. It began in San Antonio and ended somewhere near the BIG D.

According to airport personnel, a cut telephone line was responsible for temporarily destroying the entire computer system at American Airlines. Be forewarned! At the San Antonio International Airport, a single telephone lets the check in department talk to the gate agents, the gate agents talk to the baggage handlers, the baggage handlers talk with the pilots and the pilots talk with the air control tower. There must be a REALLY long line for that phone!

Because this one severed line also caused the self service check in ticket kiosks to go kaput, everybody was forced to wait while the ticket counter personnel tried to figure out how to operate primitive devices known as “pens” and hand write everyone’s tickets. Somewhere, I thought, the terrorists are laughing their asses off at us. We knocked down their buildings and THIS is how they have improved things four years later? That’s a good one, Ahmet!

Americans, particularly business travelers, don’t do lines well. Tell a group of people at an airport to form a line and it resembles a line for about 15 seconds. Then it becomes a “group,” before turning into a “clump” and eventually escalating into a “mob.” The devastation caused by Katrina forced people to wait in lines. This occurred only because these people had lost everything. Had they been able to retrieve say, a cell phone from the destruction, they would have spent the entire time in line calling people and trying to figure out a reason why they should be exempt from standing. That’s what most people do while waiting in line – try and figure out a way to get out of it. Hey Bob, I’m in line at the airport waiting for a hand printed boarding pass. Can you download the pass on your PC, email it to my Blackberry and I’ll see if I can upload it to a printer in the airport business center. Great!

Often one line becomes several, as evidenced at most major hotels. Approach the check in desk and you’ll invariably find three or four clerks behind the counter, peering at computer screens that only they can see and which all say the same thing, namely that your room hasn’t been cleaned yet and you won’t be able to check in until midnight.

The sensible thing would be to form a single file line and the first person in line goes to the first available clerk, followed by the next person in line going to the next clerk and, you get the idea. Or maybe you didn’t get the idea because that’s not the way it works in hotels. An individual line forms in front of EACH clerk. Hey, this clerk looks smart. I’ll bet she works the fastest. So I’ll stand in her line.

Of course, that never works. The guy in front of me always seems to have about 500 “special requests.” He wants a high floor, a non-smoking king bed near the elevator, a room overlooking the pool, a wake up call, turn down service and, of course his credit card doesn’t work. Meanwhile somebody who arrived at the hotel 15 minutes behind me, waltzes up to the line next to me and checks in while I’m still standing there, picking my nose and vowing to bring a tent along on my next business trip.

Of course, then I’d have to wait in line for the bathroom and that could get ugly.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Mr. Chief Justice, what does this mean?

The most relaxed guy in the nation this weekend has to be John Roberts, the nation’s newest Chief Justice.

Before going further, I wonder how does a new guy get to be the CHIEF right away? Isn’t there a pecking order for justices? At the very least, there should be some sort of hazing. Superglue his law book pages together, give him incorrect directions to his office, order a robe that’s three sizes too small so everyone can see his boxers, or loosen the head on his gavel so it flies off when he convenes the new session,. Okay, forget that last idea as the gavel head would probably strike some court visitor in his human head, prompting the most ironic lawsuit in the history of lawsuits, namely somebody SUING the Supreme Court.

I’m not much of a Supreme Court watcher but I followed the confirmation process with gusto only because the senators kept referring to memos Roberts had written. Some of these memos were written 25 years ago. Can you imagine anybody saving things you had written 25 years ago and then using them as possible evidence against you? I can just see it now: Mr. Schwem may I refer to Exhibit A, this Post-It Note that you left on the refrigerator in your first apartment. I believe it’s directed to your roommate. If I may quote the note verbatim. “Dude, we’re out of beer and toilet paper. Can you spring for some?” Now Mr. Schwem, what exactly did you mean to infer in that note? Can this panel assume you have a drinking problem? Overactive bowels? WHERE DO YOU STAND ON ABORTION?

If lawyers and judges have to save all their memos, their offices must be more cluttered than my eight year old’s room. My wife and I got into a mild argument the other night as we were cleaning out the basement. Well, not really “cleaning it out.” That implies that things were going to get thrown away. We were merely moving things from one side to the other so the unfinished floor could be painted. When it’s done, I envisioned myself moving it all back and decided I didn’t feel like lifting everything again. Hence the argument.

Putting it bluntly, I told my wife she saves too much crap. We moved into our house 18 months ago and there are still unopened boxes moving cartons in the basement. Obviously what’s in them has little value, otherwise we would have actually gone LOOKING for the items and (gasp) USED them. Yet my wife sees it differently.
“It’s a basement,” she said. “What harm is that stuff doing down there?”

Unless you’re the one repeatedly lifting the cartons from one side to the other, nothing. I only hope I find some memos she wrote. Perhaps I can blackmail her into cleaning the entire house…by herself.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Everybody do the water slide

Summer is ending…and my back is eternally grateful.

Normally the changing of seasons and my body parts don’t have any correlation. That is, until this summer when my wife came home from Sam’s Club with the toy du summer for my kids – THE WATER SLIDE.

My wife, bless her heart, seems to make these purchases when I am traveling. It never fails. I’ll be calling from an airport in Portland just to “make sure everybody is okay before the flight leaves” and she will casually mention, in between updates on disciplinary measures, (Do you know what your daughter did today?) that she has purchased something that is a) inordinately expensive and b) requires assembly on my part. The farther away I go, the more expensive and technically complex the purchase. A talent buyer called me the other day and wondered if I was interested in performing in France this December. I hesitated only out of fear my wife will buy a “do it yourself” jet in my absence.

The WATER SLIDE was not a spontaneous purchase. She had actually researched it, meaning she saw one in a neighbor’s backyard and said, “where did you get that?” I’ve noticed that, in the land of suburbia, there’s no longer one kid on the block with the cool thing that every other kid wants and therefore, tries to befriend. That’s how it worked where I grew up. Mark lived four houses away. I always thought he was a weird kid; the kind who would just stare into space in the middle of a conversation, returning to Planet Earth a short time later with no explanation. But he had all the cool toys including a BB gun, Monday Night Football and an honest to goodness “fort.” Not a fort constructed from couch cushions or empty moving cartons. No, this was a fort built atop the rafters of his garage, complete with electricity. Yes, the average summer temperature above Mark’s garage was 182, but that didn’t stop me from asking him to “play” in hopes he would invite me to his house and eventually, the fort. The best I could offer at my house was a ping-pong table, a sport that didn’t agree with Mark.

Today, I live in a neighborhood where, if one kid gets a toy, everybody else eventually ends up with the same thing, albeit bigger and more ghastly looking. When my wife saw a slide go up in the backyard three houses down, naturally she decided we should own one as well. So while I earned a living 1,500 miles away, she popped by Sam’s Club and came home with the Bounce Around WATER SLIDE, which required two fully grown men to lift into her car. When I returned my first job was to move the box from the garage to my backyard and assemble it for word was out that the Schwems now owned the biggest WATER SLIDE on the planet.

Notice my infatuation with capitalizing WATER SLIDE. Trust me, if you see this behemoth, you’d do the same thing After hearing my hernia pop while lifting the box, I made it to the backyard and opened it. The first thing I saw was an installation CD. Bad sign, I thought. Most kids’ toys come with instructions. This one comes with video. I guess the manufacturers assume everybody has a computer in their backyard and can easily follow along while navigating the plethora of WATER SLIDE parts in the box. . This was not the type of slide that blew up in a couple of good sturdy breaths. On the contrary, when deflated, this slide resembled a tent that could hold Boy Scout Troop 344, all the Scout leaders (gay and straight) and any Grizzly bear wandering by the campsite in search of a dry bed. Add to this, a 15 foot “slip and slide” that attached to the slide’s base, eight plastic yellow stakes, and a motorized air pump that could, according to the CD, inflate the slide in under two minutes. All I could think was, “my lawn is gone forever.”

Now I don’t mean to sound like Grandpa growing up in the Depression but when I was a kid, we set up a sprinkler in the backyard and jumped through the stream. For hours, I might add. My friends who grew up in the city spoke fondly of the open fire hydrant. If I set up a sprinkler in the backyard today and told my kids, “go ahead,” they’d reply, “go ahead and do what exactly?” In just 25 years, backyard water fun has evolved from lawn sprinklers to 15-foot high slides that require a steady stream of water AND electricity, a combination that seemed like a bad idea.

Nevertheless, I soldiered on, pounding the stakes into drought-hardened soil, filling three plastic bags with water to anchor the slide, snaking a hose through the yard, coupling it to the slide and running an extension cord to the outlet in our porch. With much trepidation, I flipped the switch and the motor began to hum. True to the manufacturer’s word, the slide quickly rose from the grass higher and higher until it resembled a Macy’s Parade balloon. I turned on the hose and fountains of water cascaded over the roof, soaking the slide itself and the slip and slide. Within seconds my children scrambled up and hurtled themselves down face first, stopping at the yard’s end. Other children followed their “fun” radars and showed up in minutes, turning the backyard into the most popular daycare facility in suburban Chicago. It’s been that way for the entire summer, with the WATER SLIDE playing host to entire Little League teams, second grade reunions and numerous picnics. A neighbor has even borrowed it twice, showing up with a U-Haul to move it three doors down.

As I watched the backyard chaos, I could only wonder what kids will be playing with when my daughters have houses and children of their own. I wonder what it will cost to install a roller coaster that starts at the bedroom and ends in the pool’s deep end? The folks at Wal Mart probably have it on the drawing board now.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The iPod police have arrived

I've noticed cities all around the country are cracking down on cell phones use. For example, it's now illegal to talk on your phone while driving unless you have a hands free device like one of those pointy ear pieces that makes the user look like Yoda in the 21st century.

Personally, I think it's a good idea. Now if lawmakers would only start cracking down on iPod use.

I can't remember an invention that caused this big a commotion since Pac-Man. Now THAT was hysteria. I remember saving up quarters and running to the local arcade where I joined an ever growing line of kids who eagerly pumped them into the machine, hoping to beat the big yellow mouth, or whatever it was. Eventually I figured out the maze pattern (something that didn't exist when Ms. Pac-Man was invented. ) Yet it was still fun to know that I had outsmarted the game makers. Yes, Pac-Man was great. But eventually it had to end. I had to go home, I ran out of quarters or both.

Nowadays you don't ever have to LEAVE anything; you just take it with you. Our cell phones have become permanent appendages. Ditto for our organizers. Heck, I can even play Pac-Man on my handheld.

And now, thanks to the iPod, we don't have go home to flip on the stereo. We just take our entire music collection with us.

My wife recently bought me an iPod. It's a 20 GB model, meaning it can hold (DRUMROLL PLEASE) 10,000 songs. "That's good," I told my wife. "The next time I take a trip to, I dunno, the sun, God forbid I should hear the same song twice."

I quickly learned the iPod comes in handy when you don't want to communicate with anybody. When I'm seated on the plane next to the chatty insurance salesman, I put the little white buds in my ears and immediately send a message that NOTHING he can say will interest me. When the Hare Krishnas are heading toward me on a busy Chicago street, I stick in the buds and they walk right by. What a concept.

But there's a time and place for everthing. Hence, the idea of the iPod police. I was recently in Washington DC and decided to take a tour of the Holocaust Museum. Not a real cheerful way to spend the day but something I wanted to experience, nonetheless. As I roamed the exhibits I noticed a man in his early 20s taking in the sights as well. But he was doing it while wearing an iPod. At times, I even saw him bobbing his head to the music.

"iPod police, " I wanted to yell. "Confiscate this man's iPod at once." Seriously, does the Holocaust museum require a soundtrack? I think not.

So, if any lawmakers are reading this, here are a few suggestions:

No iPods allowed when you could be learning something. That means they're off limits in schools, museums and libraries. I was shocked to see Duke University provides every incoming freshman with an iPod. Might as well give them bongs while you're at it.

No iPods while driving. That's what radios are for. Remember them?

No iPods in restaurants. Of course, Starbucks is an exception because most people who listen to music at Starbucks are usually hanging out there for upwards of eight hours because they have no place else to go.

And finally, no iPods in Blockbuster. I saw that the other day. Make up your mind. Music or movie? Not both.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Head down, knees bent, screw you!

WARNING! The seven words that appear below this paragraph may cause men to shudder, to hyperventilate, to feel physically ill. Still want to read on? Okay, here goes.

I’m teaching my wife to play golf.

I warned you, gentlemen. You may now begin circulating the petition that effectively bans me from The Official Guy Club forever.
Golf, you see, is not a game most guys feel should be played by women. Oh sure, there are a lot of great women players out there. Annika Sorenstram, Michelle Wie and, closer to home, my sister, who regularly outdrives me even though I am a consistent mid-80s player. Go to a golf course on a typical summer weekend and seek out the first female golfer. I’d be willing to bet a round at Pebble Beach she could beat half the cigar-chomping, cell phone toting ogres who slog their way around the course on their way to 110s that included five mulligans and 11 “gimmees”, all the while insisting that, “last week, I was really hitting the crap out of it.”

These are the guys who feel golf is like hunting, but with Callaways instead of Berengers.

Women, men and golf just don't mix that well. How many men have entered the office on Monday morning and, when asked what they did that weekend, replied, “The missus and I played 36. Oh, we laughed, we talked, we chipped. I fell in love with her all over again.”
Heck, there aren’t even any golf JOKES that involve a wife. I’ve heard, “Two guys are playing golf…”, “A guy and Tiger Woods are playing golf…”, even “A guy and the Pope are playing golf.” I’ve never heard, “A guy and his wife are playing golf.” Wait a minute, I think I have heard a couple but the punch lines always involve the wife doing something sexual on the golf course or with the golf club. The 110 shooters no doubt authored these jokes.
Before deciding to take up the game, Sue had made one previous attempt to join me on the golf course. For my 35th birthday, I opened a box of Spalding Top-Flite balls, each containing the Spalding logo on one side and her PICTURE on the other. She had sent it to one of those companies that places photos on any object including mousepads, coffee mugs, shotglasses, lawn mowers and gun butts. “Now when you play golf, you can take me with you,” she said cheerfully as I held up a ball and tried to keep from laughing.
“Great idea, “I replied. “As long as you don’t mind being hit in the face with a driver, getting bounced off a tree, buried in sand or sunk in a lake.” Several years later I performed for the Spalding Corporation at an awards function and recounted my wife’s purchase to the head of product development.
“Oh so that was YOUR wife,” he replied. “We always wondered who fell for that idea.”
So I was taken slightly aback when my wife announced that she wanted to learn the game. “It would be a chance to spend more time with you,” she bravely said. I admired her will even if her reasoning puzzled me. After all, I have never said, “Honey, we need more quality time together. Please teach me to shop. I want to learn the intricacies of Lord and Taylor “
Of course the first thing you need to play golf is a set of clubs. Luckily my wife had some, handed down from her mother who has a bad back and no longer plays the game. “There’s a grand I can spend on lessons if she really likes the sport,” I thought. Golf and skiing are the two worst sports to “take up” because you have to spend about $1,500 on equipment before deciding whether you like them. That’s why bowling should be so appealing to the athletic novice. You only need to spend about 10 bucks before rendering an opinion. Okay, 15 if you spring for a pitcher during a beer frame.
Our first stop? The local driving range. Driving ranges serve two functions: learn to hit the ball AND put your newfound skills to use by trying to hit the guy driving the gadget that picks up balls. Other than watching NASCAR and hoping for a crash, this is the world’s sickest sports passion. I’ve seen five-year-olds turn into covert CIA assassins as they try and plunk these guys. But then again, you have to be pretty nuts to take that job in the first place.
BOSS: Okay, Bill you’re hired. All you have to do is drive this machine back and forth and the golf balls will pick themselves up and land in this basket. It’s really quite simple.
BILL: Anything else I should know?
BOSS: Not really. If you need pointers, you can call Dave, the guy who works the 8-12 shift. He’s in the County General neurosurgery unit, room 226.

So off we went. I bought a large bucket of balls for seven dollars and proceeded to try and teach my wife how to hit a 9 iron off a plastic mat. Those little squares of AstroTurf are where driving ranges blur the line between golf and an arcade game. I’ve played lots of golf courses but never one where you hit your teeshot down the middle and it’s sitting up perfectly on a blade of “grass,” made from the same material used to slipcover a couch.
Sue does have some natural athletic ability so her first few swings of the club were not bad. I contributed nothing to her humble beginnings. Although I am a decent player, I have never had a professional lesson so I am hardly qualified to give advice. I find it hard to preach about something when I don’t have all the facts. The only person who excels at this is the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
I learned the game from my Dad, who possessed the brilliant skill of dropping his cigarette on the teebox, hitting his drive and returning the smoke to his mouth all in one fluid motion. To this day, I don’t know how he does it. Golf is a difficult game to teach because there are so many body parts moving – and that’s before the beer cart comes around. I have played with guys who, after hitting a poor shot, lamented on their poor “thumb position.”
In reality there are two golf instructions: “Keep your head down” and “keep your knees bent.” That’s the advice given by most people who don’t know the intricacies of golf mechanics. A crazed gunman could walk into a country club and begin mowing down members and I’m sure that at least two of them, while diving behind tables, would tell him to keep his head down and his knees bent.
Therefore, as my wife flailed away on the mat, her teacher sounded like a skipping CD.
ME: Okay, head down!
HER: That felt weird.
ME: You’re doing great. Now bend your knees!
HER: Don’t laugh at me!
ME: I wasn’t laughing. And you shouldn’t be looking at me anyway. You should be keeping your head down.
HER: Why did it go over there?
ME: Probably because you didn’t bend you knees.
HER: This game is stupid.
ME: It just takes patience honey. Did I ever tell you about the time the Pope and Tiger Woods were playing golf…?
After a few buckets, some glares in my general direction and a promise that, following the lesson, we would go to dinner at a restaurant of her choice, I decided we were ready to move to the next step…THE GOLF COURSE. I’ve always thought more people would take up golf if the sport never progressed further than the range. No tee times, no six-hour rounds, no exorbitant greens fees. You just drive to the range at your leisure, hit a few buckets of balls, and shoot “four under,” meaning that you nailed the golf ball retriever guy four times.
The problem is that you eventually have to play golf in a public forum, with people in front of you, people behind you and a golf course “starter” in his mid –to late-100s, whose soul responsibility is to sit in a shack and embarrass you with a microphone. Most public golf courses employ the course starter. To say that these guys are mean would be paying them an extreme compliment. They ‘re the sons of prison guards who married cafeteria lunchroom monitors. Their voices sound like they’re in the final stages of lung cancer yet they still arrive at 6 a.m., take their place behind the mike, and proceed to humiliate every member of every foursome who dares tee it up.
“NO SWINGIN’ ON THE PRACTICE TEE!…NO MULLIGANS…NO HAVING FUN OUT THERE” are just a few of the nicer things that come out of their mouths. It’s like playing golf with that little kid from The Exorcist.
Luckily the course I chose did not have a starter simply because there was no room for the microphone-equipped shack. The course I chose was one of those “executive” courses that pop up after greedy developers erect a huge town home development and an acre of land is inexplicably left over. “Hey Ted, I think we can squeeze 18 holes on this patch. Okay, let me mow it first and then we’ll start building. Shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
Executive courses usually consist of a bunch of par 3s with an occasional 300 yard par 4 thrown in so you don’t miss out on an opportunity to hit directly into the group in front of you. These courses are great for beginners because, as I told my wife, serious golfers don’t play them. Serious golfers feel a true test of golf requires par 5s, sand traps, lakes inhabited by hungry alligators, a locker room, seven dollar beers and a starter who yells at you in person instead of from inside a shack. “We’ll probably have the place to ourselves,” I assured her.
Naturally, when we arrived, there were two foursomes ahead of us and one behind us. Guess how many women? The answer rhymes with “hero.”
My wife looked as if she had just stepped out of the subway in Times Square and realized she was naked. Even worse, we were paired with two total strangers, a concept that still puzzles me about the sport. Golf is the only game where you can arrive alone and end up playing with people you don’t know. This is a great concept if you have no friends or your name is O.J. Simpson. But for most people it can be more intimidating than the sommelier at your average Ritz Carlton dining room. Personally, I’ve never minded being paired up, as I play a pretty decent game. But what if I generally don’t like my new partners? What if they’re the kinds who feel a lost ball requires at least 45 minutes of looking? What if they insist on telling me “the Pope playing golf” joke? You can’t discreetly abandon somebody on a golf course. All you can do is pray for a lightning storm.
At last it was our turn. I introduced us to our partners, Stan and Jack, two middle-aged guys from the next town over. I got the feeling they played here often and, while used to the pairing system, weren’t particularly fond of it either. I caught Stan eyeing my wife as if he had just found a hair in his soup. I didn’t improve matters when I said, “Hope we don’t slow you down. My wife is just learning the game.” Sue shot me a look that would have cut diamonds. I explained that I did that solely for her. “I just gave these guys an out,” I said. If they want to go ahead of us and play as a twosome, now is their chance.”
Alas, they didn’t take the bait and off we went to the first tee. Because the ladies tees are typically about 30 yards ahead of the men’s, Sue would hit last, thereby ensuring that all eyes would be on her. I’ve always thought that the weakest player should hit first, no matter where the tees are. That way there’s still a chance that the other members of the foursome might be doing something else - like washing their balls, yakking on their cell phones or relieving themselves. But ladies ALWAYS hit last. If you don’t follow this rule, most golf course starters will remind you by firing a 38-caliber bullet just over your head.
So after all three of us hit our drives, my wife strode hesitatingly to the tee, teed up her ball and tried to remember everything I had taught her - in other words, head down and knees bent.
For what seemed an eternity Sue stared at the ball. I stared at her. Stan and Jack stared at her. She drew the club back, swung mightily…and WHIFFED.
It was the first time I actually HEARD an eyeball roll. Suddenly Stan realized he had forgotten about the chemotherapy he was supposed to start today. Could he and Jack play as a twosome, he asked, so he could get done with his round, get checked into the hospital faster and begin losing his hair and vomiting? Sure, I replied.
So we lagged back as our former friends gunned their golf cart and tore ahead of us like the field at Indy after the pace car has exited the track. Sue was inconsolable. At this point she would have preferred building a tower out of live dynamite sticks rather than learn anything more about this dreadful game that we men so cherish. “Come on,” I said. “It can’t get any worse. It’s just the two of us now. Let’s pretend we’re on our first date.”
“Okay,” she replied. “Now let’s pretend that I demand to be taken home because I’m not the kind of girl who plays golf on a first date.”
I convinced her to give it another try. With a brave face she re-teed, bent her knees, kept her head down and corked one right down the middle. The ball traveled far, straight and right past the legs of Stan and Jack, who were attempting their second shots. They looked back in sheer amazement. Was that a WOMAN who had done that? A WOMAN who had driven the ball farther than they had? It was as if a woman had pranced onto the field during the Super Bowl and sacked Joe Montana.
Their amazement then turned to anger as they realized that somebody had dared hit into them. “What’s your hurry?” yelled Jack.
“Sorry,” Sue yelled back. “That one just got away from me.” I marveled at her quick response.
Flustered, the two hurriedly hit their second shots, which went a combined ten yards. They hit their third shots, then their fourth shots. Sue still waited in the fairway, too polite to nail them again.
Finally they reached the green, putted out and roared off to the next tee. But not before Sue hit her approach shot to within ten feet of the hole. This time, I HEARD an eyeball pop out of its skull. After we had completed the hole, we drove to the next teebox to find Stan and Jack still there.
“Why don’t you guys play through?” Stan said.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “We’d be happy to play with you.”
“Nah,” Jack replied. “We’d probably slow down the missus.”
Sue beamed with pride as she headed to the teebox. With supreme confidence she teed up, took a few practice swings, addressed the ball, swung mightily…and whiffed. Undaunted, she swung again…and whiffed. She whiffed a third time.
“Keep your head down,” said Jack as Stan swore under his breath.
Finally Sue topped one that just cleared the teebox. “Have a nice game gentlemen,” I said as we made our way down the fairway, leaving our two former partners to wonder what the hell they had just done.
Since that day we have played golf together on numerous occasions. Sue even retired her old clubs for a new set of Spaldings although without my picture on the clubfaces. I’m almost ready to suggest we go on a golf vacation. Just think…four glorious days of me yelling, “head down, knees bent.”

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Get in the car...the movie's about to start!

I've been watching the space shuttle rotate the earth and listening to excited CNN anchors marvel at the technology aboard including the robotic camera arm that takes photos while the crew sleeps. I flip the TV off and yawn.

"Big deal," I think. "This thing has nothing on the Navi."

"The Navi" is our pet name for our new Lincoln Navigator. I purchased this behemoth, gas guzzling tank of a vehicle for my wife's 40th birthday. Because she is my wife, she insisted it come with every single extra that Lincoln had created so far. My wife looks at an accessory and then tries her best to concoct a hypothetical situation that would require having it aboard. Greg, I really think we need the machine gun turrets inside the rear bumper. What if we're on a date and we recognize Al Qaeda terrorists in the rear view mirror? Huh? What then?

The most pricey feature was the on board navigational system. That wasn't a tough sell because my wife's sense of direction is about as good as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. That way is a very nice way too. Of course some people do go both ways. Now, if she even feels lost, the screen on her dashboard shows her current location and can provide her with step by step directions to reach her destination. Inside the screen is, I'm convinced, the world's smartest woman. Yes, the voice is female and for good reason. If it were a man's voice, it would consistently say, "I know a shortcut."

Instead, "she" very calmly instructs my wife to "turn left at the next street, "proceed north approximately two miles" or "make a legal U-turn at the next intersection." That's her way of telling my wife she messed up. Again, a guy would not be so polite. He'd say something like, "women drivers are so stupid."

The navigation system is cool. It's the DVD player that bugs me. These days if you are looking for a family car, a DVD player is no longer an option. It's standard equipment, much like the steering wheel. My two kids sit behind us, in bucket seats that are more comfortable than a chiropractic massage chair, and, with the press of a button (either on their own personal dashboard OR by using a remote) a screen unfurls from the ceiling. Every time I hear the whirring sound, signaling that the movie theatre is open for business while we're traveling 70 down the highway, my mind drifts back to our family vacations in the 1970s when Dad piloted the station wagon to some obscure destination. For "entertainment," my sister and I drew the obligatory line in the backseat and then constantly bitched that the other person had crossed it. When we were in better moods, we spent hours looking for out of state license plates or trying to find find every letter of the alphabet on billboards. As I remember, 'q' was the toughest. Usually, we had to wait until Dad passed a liquor store.

Kids today would be oblivious if you passed Moses parting the Red Sea. That's because their heads are covered in earphones and their gaze is fixated on a screen which is no doubt showing a movie they've already seen at least 10 times. Recently, while driving at night, we pulled behind a car with two screens embedded in the seats. Worse, the screens were showing two different movies. Bravo to the car companies, I thought. You've just taught children that it's not necessary to communicate OR share.

My wife and I hate the DVD player. If we'd had a choice, we would have nixed it. But, as I said, it's standard equipment on the Navigator. So we've instituted the "90-minute" rule. No DVDs unless the car ride exceeds 90 minutes. If we're running out to Target for supplies, are kids will be forced to (INSERT GASP HERE) talk to us! What a concept. An actual conversation between two parents and their two children.

Oh, and of course one smart woman who occasionally interrupts to say, "turn left here."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Branson, we have a problem

I've been a father long enough to realize that, the more remote the vacation destination, the sicker your child will get.

Trust me, I could take the family to a campground in the parking lot of the Mayo Clinic and, by the end of the week, everybody would still be completely healthy. But attempt a vacation in an area where one bar on your cell phone qualifies as "nationwide coverage" and it's a sure fire bet that somebody will end up with a rash, a wound, or a disease that requires immediate attention.

The latest evidence of my theory occurred two weeks ago while on a family reunion to Branson, Missouri. I'm not sure why we chose this destination as none of my wife's family is from Branson. Somebody mentioned that it was a good central location as relatives would be driving in from Dallas, Chicago, Tennesee and Alabama. After I looked on a map, I thought a better central location would have been my backyard but nobody bothered to ask me. Instead, we strapped a luggage carrier on top of our Lincoln Navigator, giving the impression that we were hauling an upside down canoe, and pointed the car toward Branson, which is rapidly becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest, except that casinos have been replaced with Denny's.

You start seeing billboards for Branson attractions and "entertainment" about three hours before actually arriving there. That's always the first clue that it's going to be a long, boring drive. I remember taking a family vacation as a kid and, as we drove north from Chicago, advertisements for a South Dakota store called "Wall Drugs" began appearing somewhere around Lake Shore Drive. By the time we were actually in South Dakota, the signs were every 20 feet. "Only 300 miles more to Wall Drugs," "Wall Drugs is a short 100 miles away," "turn here for Wall Drugs," "hey moron, you just passed Wall Drugs. Can't you read?" Alas, the signs worked. We HAD to stop at Wall Drugs, which was simply a Wal-Mart but with hardwood floors. And it sold things you'd never find at Wal-Mart, like calf rope.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, that's how I would describe the entire town of Branson. The town is a steady stream of Airstreams, fifth wheels and mini-vans, clogging up State Road 76, a two lane nightmare of IHOP's, Denny's, all you can eat buffets and motels with pools that look as those they're cleaned once a year - in January. In the center of it all is a 24 HOUR WAL-MART, containing a magnetized force field that pulls every car off the highway and into its parking lot. After we settled in our condominium (the Schwem version of "roughing it") I went to Wal-Mart for "supplies," meaning everything except beer. I had to go elsewhere for that. I felt I had just entered the Broadway of Wal-Marts. People were actually taking pictures inside. Hey Gladys, get with the kids and stand in the chips aisle. Okay, SMILE!

Branson also is home to, according to the brochures, WORLD CLASS ENTERTAINMENT. I'm not sure what world these entertainers live in but I'd never head of 99 percent of them. I like country music so I vaguely recognized some stars such as Mickey Gilley and the Gatlin Brothers. But who were the Pierce Arrow Vocal Group, Dalena Ditto, John Tweed, the Lowe Family and Shoji Tabuchi? This Tabuchi guy bought up every billboard in Branson. I didn't see the show but, judging by the billboards, he is a Japanese guy with bad bowl haircut who plays the fiddle and is married to a hot blonde American woman. I wonder if Jerry Springer knows about them?

Most of these "entertainers" do their entertaining at 9:30 a.m. That's right, in Branson you can see world class entertainment AND have bacon and eggs at the same time. By noon you've put in a full day. Of course, my eight year old and three year old daughters didn't have much interest in seeing a Japanese fiddler so we opted for an amusement park called Silver Dollar City. We were all set to visit a water park the following day when Natalie, my eight year old, complained of a stomach ache. We'd lived through enough of these to know that Natalie didn't have your typical kid "I ate too much cotton candy" stomach ache. She'd been having bad pains for the last two months, which would linger for about 30 minutes and then disappear. Her pediatrician told us the condition could only be treated while it was occurring. "Wait until it happens again and then take her to an emergency room," he said when we called.


When the pain got worse, we relucantly loaded her in the car and drove her to Skaggs Memorial Hospital in Branson. Even the name "Skaggs" was ominous. I envisioned a medical facility run by the Skaggs Family. Hi, I'm Buford Skaggs. I'm the head doctor here. Ma Skaggs takes the X-rays, Pa Skaggs runs ICU and brother Billy Skaggs is the pharmacist. Only he's in rehab right now.

The Skaggs emergency room on a Saturday night is truly a thing of beauty. Think rednecks with injuries. Of the 12 patients waiting for treatment, Natalie was the only one not reeking of gin. A thirty something woman sat across from us in a wheelchair, with a bandage on her leg and a home made wooden splint on her wrist, which somebody had secuured with duct tape. She stunk of booze and informed us that she had "fallen down the stairs." GO FIGURE! Next to me sat a chubby girl, whose mother sat in a wheelchair and altnernated between laughter and tears. The tears flowed whenever the receptionist turned her way. I don't know if the woman was in pain or just trying to move up in the line by appearing more sick than she was. In any event, I asked the daughter how old she was.

"I'm seven but I'm fixin' to turn eight," was the reply.

"Fixin'?," I thought. "That's a pretty big word for a little redneck.

I quickly learned that medical procedures are not the same everywhere. A large sign in the emergency room said, "you are entitled to treatment even if you do not have insurance." In Chicago, I can't even get in the hospital parking lot without an insurance card. I wondered if the actual treatment would vary as well. Eventually we made it past the reception desk and met the doctor, who performed a battery of tests, gave Natalie some pain medication and instructed us to drive home the next morning and see her regular pediatrician. Natalie has since been diagnosed with severe constipation, although that required an overnight stay in our local hospital and a bunch of invasive procedures. She drinks a laxative with her juice every morning and we've promised her that, when she is better, we'll take her to see Shoji Tabuchi.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Comedian eh? Say something funny.

I’m sitting in my coach seat on the aisle, sizing up my seatmate. He is in his mid-40s, dressed in a business suit, wing tips and a blue and white striped tie that looks to be made from the same cloth as a Wendy’s Hamburger uniform. The tie is neatly knotted to the point where it could be silently choking him. My guess is that he will whip out his cell phone the moment the plane’s wheels touch the ground and inform the party at the other end that he “has just landed and is about to get off the plane.” I’ve always wondered why there is such urgency to relay such an obvious piece of information. I can’t imagine somebody in the terminal thinking, “Gee, I hope Stan remembers to get off the plane this time! Last time the plane headed back to Chicago and he was still on it.”
Once he actually gets off the plane, I envision him hailing a cab and journeying immediately to an important meeting. He will not check into a hotel, stop for a bite to eat or even visit the restroom. He’ll walk quickly through the terminal, a briefcase slung across his shoulder, while dialing his ever-present cell phone and telling the other meeting participants that he is now walking through the terminal and will call them back when he steps outside.
Currently he is sleeping, no doubt hoping that a few winks at 30,000 feet will keep him alert in the boardroom.
I am using this time to decide whether I want to talk with him when he awakens. I notice his briefcase contains an ID tag from a company that sells communication systems. Probably the sales type, I think. Therefore, probably a talkative type too. Do I engage him in conversation or wait until he makes the first move? Perhaps he is not sleeping but sizing me up through half-closed eyes and asking the same questions.
Plane conversation is inevitable. One rule of human nature is, the closer you are to someone, the more likely you must speak to that person in an effort to reduce the nervousness factor. A crowd of people cannot ride silently on an elevator. Someone eventually chimes in with a lame attempt at humor like, “Okay, we’re at maximum capacity here,” or “might as well press ALL the buttons.”
Air travelers are not very original when it comes to introductory questions. The two most popular are:
1) What brings you to (insert name of city here)?”
2) “What type of business are you in?”
I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to starting plane conversations. I take refuge in those two standbys as well. However, I’ve always wondered what the response would be if I turned to an elderly lady next to me and blurted out, “Do you mind if I trim my nosehairs?”
Children, of course, are exempt from question two. Their answer to question one is usually, “going to visit my Dad because the judge told me I had to.”
My rule for answering question two is simple: If I like this person and feel he or she could be a good conversationalist, I will answer truthfully and state that I am a stand-up comedian. If I feel the person is boring, I will answer something vague such as, “I’m a freelance writer.” If the person has already done something that annoys me, such as ask the flight attendant, “what do you recommend?” when she comes by with the beverage cart, then I will answer something really complex like, “I work in the IT department of a wastewater treatment and refuse removal plant.” Or I will just glare, mutter “CIA” and go back to reading Entertainment Weekly.
Let’s face it; comedian is one of the most interesting titles in the job market. Most people have never met one and those that have don’t typically get the chance to talk to him or her at length. “Comedian, eh?” they’ll say. “I once saw Jerry Seinfeld in a San Diego restaurant. Even from a distance I could tell he was funny.” I neglect to ask them how just seeing somebody qualifies them to make a judgment on this person’s character.
When I do divulge my true occupation, I brace myself for the inevitable question: “What’s it like when nobody laughs?” I don’t know why but people seem fascinated with a comedian’s failures. It may be the only job where people want to explore a worst-case scenario in detail. When you meet a construction worker you don’t say, “what’s it like when a large piece of iron falls on your head?” Or, “insurance salesman, eh? What’s it like trying to find a loophole in policies so you don’t have to dish out claims to thousands of people displaced by a tornado?”
However, there don’t seem to be any “off limits” questions when talking with a stand-up comic. “Where was your worst show?,” “what’s it like to bomb?” and “have you ever been heckled?” are all questions people feel they have the right to ask.
If I’m going to answer these questions, I prefer to do it surrounded by a group of friends who are also comedians. Then it becomes a hilarious form of group therapy. No matter how bad your worst adventure was, somebody in the group has a story that will top it. They don’t mean to one up your lousy story – they just feel a need to share and get it off their chests as well.
Okay, since you’re curious now, I’ll tell you my worst experience on stage. It occurred in May 1991 in Destin, Florida, a small Panhandle town near Eglin Air Force base. In 1991 you could have spit and hit at least five establishments that were devoting full time to comedy or having “COMEDY NIGHT!” at least once a week. Comedy was, and still is, cheaper than a band. Plus, the clientele often feel a need to drink excessively before the show begins. That makes the manager happy. So what if it terrifies the comedians? In 1991, towns that had not yet earned the distinction of appearing in a road atlas were still finding ways to bring comedians in to entertain the locals.
If you’re a history buff, you also remember that 1991 was the year the United States was involved in a three-month display of testosterone called “The Persian Gulf War.” It was an entertaining little skirmish, the first one to be covered start to finish by all the networks, with special bombing highlights at 11:30 p.m. “The Tonight Show will be delayed 15 minutes while we show you all the buildings we pulverized today.”
I remember snuggling into bed at the end of the day, grabbing the remote and being entertained as our country’s “smart bombs” intelligently leveled alleged Iraqi weapons depots. General Norman Schwarzkopf, highly decorated as “the first general who made war fun,” eloquently and humorously explained the carnage. Hell, on a good night, this guy was better than Letterman!
Although the war lasted less time than some women are in labor, the soldiers had been preparing at length. Desert Storm began in August 1990 as Desert Shield. It was then that soldiers realized how boring the desert was. Yet, as good soldiers, they took up positions in Saudi Arabia, anxious for the day they could knock down some Iraqi establishments, be interviewed by CNN’s Bernard Shaw and share a joke or two with Schwarzkopf. It wasn’t an easy existence – no liquor, no women, nothing that the fine men who make up our Armed Forces desire on an hourly basis. Even worse, the soldiers were not allowed to return immediately after Desert Storm was over and the war was renamed Desert What Do We Do Now? It took about six weeks before the government began releasing them to their home bases. When that happened, the population of Destin, Florida exploded.
Not realizing Destin was a military town, I arrived on Sunday evening, fresh from a five-day club date in Mobile, Alabama. That gig went surprisingly well and I considered Destin to be “found money.” Sunday is usually a slow night in the comedy club business, with many clubs dark. The chance to make two hundred bucks was enticing, considering that Destin was less than an hour’s drive from Mobile. Destin is a beautiful town, located on the Gulf of Mexico and popular with vacationing Floridians. Yet it’s not overrun with retirees who strain to see above the dashboards of their white 1975 Cadillac Eldoradoes while traveling 20 miles an hour on the interstate with their left turn signals on.
Through intensive therapy, I have managed to repress the name of this particular club from my memory. But I do remember that it was not a comedy club at all. Perhaps the pink neon lights, the stars and other celestial bodies plastered on the exterior and the “every night is ladies night” message on the marquee tipped me off. This place had DISCO written all over it. That should have been my signal to hit the gas and keep going until I was safely in Pensacola or at least outside the city limits. Comedy does not work in discotheques. Discos have hollow, echo-ridden sound systems that were built specifically to play one song at ear-splitting levels for an hour with a lyric such as, “YO, GET UP AND DANCE. YO, GET UP AND DANCE. YO, MUTHA AT TABLE THREE, GET UP AND DANCE”
I arrived at six, as instructed by the booking agent who, by now, has probably made millions promoting female Jell-O wrestling. The comic who would precede me on stage was also there. He looked as if he was doing this simply to earn enough money for his high school prom. We were ushered into the office of Mel, the manager, who had put a desk in between several empty beer kegs and labeled it an “office.”
“You the comics?” he asked as we entered. “Yes,” I said as my opening act nodded silently “Ya’ll sit down and we’ll go over a few things. Wanna beer?”
“I don’t drink before shows,” I said, while the opening act looked at his shoelaces. Mel seemed puzzled by this response, as if I had already broken the first rule of his club. RULE 1: IF YOU ENTER MY CLUB, YOU WILL CONSUME ALCOHOL EVEN IF YOU ARE HERE FOR AN AA MEETING!
“Suit yourself,” he said, popping a cold one from the refrigerator he kept between the kegs. “Okay, here’s how it’s gonna work. We’ll start the show about 9.” Pointing to the high school kid he continued, “You will go up and do about 15 minutes. Make it a good 15.” I wondered if this kid had a “bad” 15 or if he even had 15 minutes at all. Mel then directed his bloodshot eyes at me. “After Junior here does his act, we’re gonna stop the show for a few minutes.”
I sat upright. “You’re going to what?” I said. “Stop the show,” he replied. “I know a lot of the comics don’t like that but trust me, I’ve been in the business a few years and I know what works best.”
Mel failed to realize there is a distinction between the “get people hammered and take their money” business and the comedy business. Once a comedy show starts, it should not be stopped unless there is a grease fire in the kitchen. You simply can’t re-start comedy. If Jay Leno took an intermission during an hour set, I guarantee you the second 30 minutes would not be nearly as funny as the first.
“Why are you stopping the show?” I asked.
“So everybody can get another drink,” he replied, as if this were the stupidest question he had ever heard. “We’ve got lots of drink specials going on tonight. Ya’ll like it when they get drunk, right?”
I should have gone out to my car, thrown it in reverse and crashed it right through the dance floor. It would have been the most sensible thing to do. Comedians do NOT like inebriated audiences. Making a roomful of strangers laugh is difficult enough without introducing alcohol into the equation. It’s like walking up to a garbage collector and saying, “you like it when people don’t bag the trash first, right?”
I sensed that Mel, the know-it-all bar owner/comedy guru was not about to budge on this issue. At this point my greed took over, replacing the urge to leave. I wanted my 200 bucks and I was going to get it.
“Okay, after everybody gets a drink, then I go on?” I asked
“Not so fast city boy, “ he replied. “Then we’re gonna do our joke off. That’s where we go through the crowd with a microphone and anybody who wants to can tell a joke.”
Another Mel stroke of ingenuity! Allow inebriated soldiers a stage! Oh, this was getting better all the time. Could the Jell-O wrestlers be far behind? “Of course, we ask them to keep the jokes clean,” Mel added.
“Of course,” I replied, knowing full well that instructing a soldier to tell a clean joke was like telling the Rev. Jesse Jackson to make a short speech.
Alas, eight o’clock rolled around, Mel unlocked the doors and the soldiers began streaming in. Actually, whole battalions began streaming in. Some were still in their combat fatigues. I imagined the 82nd Airborne flying over the club on its way back from Iraq and the infantry commander instructing the pilot, “No need to return to Fort Bragg. We’ll just jump out here.” These guys were ready to PARTY, which is what they should have been allowed to do. But Mel decided everybody should be forced to watch a comedy show, which is what we were there to provide.
After the first drink special, “penny tequila hour,” the opening act went onstage. I had to hand it to the kid; he played right into their hands. He didn’t have material. Instead he opened with something like, “AMERICA ROCKS!” This prompted a roar from the dance floor that lasted about 90 seconds. Guys were high-fiving each other, punching each other and downing beers at the speed of one every five seconds. Then they quieted down to await the lad’s second joke, which was something like, “Doesn’t Pamela Anderson have great tits?” This kid was killing them! Meanwhile, I waited backstage, praying that Mel had ordered all automatic weapons be checked at the door. This couldn’t get any worse, I thought.
Oh, but it could. We hadn’t even gotten to the joke off.
After Junior finished his act, to a standing ovation I might add, the troops began to participate in the second drink special: ALL THE JACK DANIELS YOU CAN DRINK FOR A BUCK! From the safety of Mel’s office, I peered out at the horror that awaited me. By now guys were pulling tables together so entire infantry units could exchange pleasantries. Girls from the town mingled with the troops and consumed the same beverages. It was the first time I wished another war would break out. It would be the only way this show would be canceled.
The joke off began. It consisted of a bar waitress walking through the room with a microphone. Occasionally an inebriated serviceman would grab the mike, as well as the waitress’ ass, stand on a table and say the following:
“Hi, I’m Mike from Infantry Division 2744. I want to dedicate this joke to all the other guys in the platoon. Some are still over in that shithole but they’ll be coming home soon. Everybody knows WE KICKED SOME TOWEL HEADED ASS!”
A roar went up from the room that Saddam Hussein probably heard. Mike basked in the applause before continuing.
“Okay ya’ll shut up. Hey, shut up. HEY, SHUT YOUR ASSES UP. I got a joke to tell. Okay, here we go. Two penises and a vagina walk into a bar together…”
I neglected to hear the punch line as I was out in the parking lot, vomiting. Again, the urge to leave was overwhelming. I saw my car in the parking lot. It seemed to be saying, “Come inside me. Start my engine. Step on my accelerator. We’ll leave this place together. If you need 200 dollars that bad, I will stop at a convenience store and you can rob it.”
I walked back inside. Mel was waiting for me. “Sounds like a great crowd to me. You ready?” I nodded and Mel walked onstage to introduce me.
“The headliner tonight is from Chicago. That makes him a Yankee but we won’t hold that against him. He’s a really funny guy. At least, he had better be funny. Give a big Destin welcome for Gary Schwern!”
I walked into the lights. “How’s it going, Destin,” I began. “Say something funny,” came the reply from the one soldier who appeared to be listening. The other 499 were still yelling and wishing that the jokeoff hadn’t ended. “Hey, I just came from Mobile, Alabama, “ I continued. “I got to see a Civil War reenactment. It wasn’t real authentic. I don’t think Confederate soldiers sat around drinking Budweiser after battle.”
“You suck. Bring back the first guy. That guy was funny,” came the reply.
The show went downhill from there. Most of the time, the audience ignored me. Occasionally, they stopped to hurl abuse my way. If they had grenades, they would have used them.
Mel told me to do an hour but I bailed at about 35 minutes. I didn’t care if Mel never paid me. I didn’t care if the agent never booked me again. I simply wanted to get out of this establishment with all four limbs still attached to my torso. When I got offstage, Mel was waiting for me with a puzzled look on his face. “Boy, I don’t know what got into them tonight, “ he said. “They’re usually pretty quiet.”
Of course it’s bound to be quiet when your entire clientele is 5,000 miles away, fighting a war.
I ventured into his office to collect my payment. “Cash or check?” he asked. “Cash,” I replied. If a check bounced, it would mean conversing with Mel again, something I did not want to do. Mel counted out ten 20-dollar bills and told me to give him a call in a few months because he wanted me to come back.
"Sure thing,” I said, knowing that I wouldn’t call Mel until the next time our troops went into battle. The day we invaded another country, I’d be on the phone with Mel saying, “Can I perform tonight?”
That was 14 years ago. I’ve done thousands of shows since then. Some were outstanding, most were good, others sucked. But the night in Destin remains at the top, or rather the bottom of the list. Now that I have blogged about it, I feel better. Now that you’ve read it, maybe you’ll be quiet the next time you meet a comedian.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Steve Wynn has left the building

Twenty-four ninety-nine.

It was, by my observations, an ordinary ceramic coffee mug. Similar to the kind you find in hotel rooms stuffed with single serving coffee packets and that you hoped were actually washed instead of "wiped down" by a hurried maid.

But the price said $24.99.

Could it be because the cup had the word "Ferrari" emblazoned on the bottom? Not likely, I thought. I've purchased coffee mugs containing the phrase "Disney World" which retails for slightly more than a Ferrari and those mugs only cost about eight bucks.

Could it be the sleek red color? No chance. My kitchen pantry contains mugs of every conceivable color, pattern and hue. None cost that much.

Could it be because the mug sat on a shelf in the new Wynn Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip? BINGO! Now things were starting to make sense.

The Wynn is the latest creation from Steve Wynn, a guy who, depending on which Vegas cab driver you believe, is in the mob, out of the mob, fighting with the unions, saving the whales or is really Elvis. All I know is that he keeps building hotels, each one more ostentatious and ego-centric than te last one. And like any Vegas tourist, I feel compelled to visit each Wynn behemoth upon completion, which seems to be about once a week.

Wynn's latest "hotel" is called simply, "Wynn." The title implies that A) he has run out of ideas or B) his ego finally got the best of him. It's a skinny structure, flesh in color. When seen from a distance, it appears Wynn is giving the finger to the entire city of Las Vegas. Who knows? Maybe that was his intention.

I've stayed at, or visited all of this guy's hotels. The first was the Mirage. Actually, the first was the Golden Nugget but that's in downtown Las Vegas and the only people who go down there carry their life savings in plastic cups. When your life savings makes noise, it's time to get a new broker. So the Nugget sat there, looking lonely, while Wynn built The Mirage. The hotel was aptly named because it contained things that you would never find in the desert such as a tropical rainforest, colorful ocean fish and a bunch of white tigers whose favorite meal was a gay magician. They all kept that a secret for years until one day one of the tigers was really hungry and helped himself. The Mirage was the first Vegas hotel where directions from employees made absolutely no sense. Need to find your room? Okay, go past the shark tank, through the jungle and turn left at the penguins. You can't miss it.

I stayed at the Mirage and vowed never to spend another night at a Wynn property. I don't think hotels should be tourist attractions. You check into a hotel to sleep and let somebody pick up your towels. I relish both activities When I'm ready to sleep, I don't think the path to the elevator should be blocked by clueless tourists wondering if the tigers are going to escape. Plus, it's a little big. When the staff is picking up towels from 4,000 other guests, you don't feel so special. Also, I was disappointed with my view. The front desk clerk giddily told me that I had a "volcano view," like this was a primo room and I should show my gratitude by offering her many thanks or a ten dollar bill. Unfortuntely, I don't spend a lot of time in hotels staring out the window, except when my slumber is interrupted every 15 minutes by a hollow sounding explosion, causing me to part the curtains and mumble, "what the hell is going on outside?" Then I see the volcano. Speaking of the volcano, it lacks real lava which is definitely needed in Las Vegas. A thinning of the tourist population four times an hour would be a welcome relief.

Once everybody had figured out that the volcano wasn't actually real, Wynn went and built the Bellagio, which is Italian for "small penis." Wynn continued to stick with his "things that you would never find in the desert" theme including smart water fountains that appear only when Celine Dion sings. It also features a myriad of unpronounceable flowers in the lobby, all in expensive vases so smokers have choices when extinguishing their butts. That's my biggest problem with Wynn's hotels. No matter how spectacular they are, they're still populated with the typical Vegas tourist, complete with NASCAR hat, cutoffs and a 97 ounce margarita.

Wynn tried to correct that with the Wynn Hotel. Upon entering, I noticed a sign that said, "No Strollers." What's this? A RULE in Las Vegas? Bravo sir! Now hopefully the hotel will stick with the policy. I've noticed that rules tend to be relaxed if the alleged "rule breaker" has a large bankroll. Trust me, if any kid in a stroller flashes a wad of hundreds, I'll bet even money he'll be sitting at a Texas Hold 'em table in the Wynn within minutes, ordering free formula.

Basically the Wynn is just like the Bellagio, but with more shops containing products that nobody can afford except Steve Wynn. The ultimate is the Ferrari showroom/museum. Ten bucks gets you inside where you can gawk at the cars and, if the mood strikes you, purchase one. That's right, you have to pay to enter a car showroom. I don't remember Saturn doing that when I bought my last car. I assume the ten bucks gets credited if you purchase a Ferrari.

I did not have ten bucks to enter the showroom because I'd spent it on an extra small Wynn diet Coke in the lobby. But browsing the Ferrari gift store is free and lets you see a small portion of the showroom. I immediately noticed a Ferrari employee, scurrying quickly between rooms of the dealership. Who was this guy kidding? Was he trying to make people believe that he was actually busy? Were there really five people inside haggling over the same Ferrari? Of course not. It's Steve Wynn's policy to make all his employees look busy. So this poor guy spends all day long running between rooms, getting in great shape and selling nothing.

Except maybe a coffee mug.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I don't want to know about your workout..but read about mine

Okay, I've been a blogger for three days now. Which means I have to waste precious moments during the day reading other people's blogs so I can see what they're writing about and how mine stacks up. Some fitness nut wrote the last blog I read. How do I know he was a fitness nut? Well, the blow by blow description of his last jog in mountainous terrain - complete with split times taken from his stopwatch - was a clue. This thing was so detailed that I assume he must have been typing while running. I just know I never want to get cornered by this guy at a party.
So there I was running up the steepest slope in the Adirondacks and I saw that only 29.55 had elapsed. So I....hey, where is everybody going?

I joined a fairly upscale suburban health club a few years ago. Suburban health clubs are mostly populated with desperate housewives-types who schedule hour long workouts with personal trainers and actually work out about five minutes, spending the other 55 subliminally discussing their sexual fantasies.

TRAINER: Okay Margie, do one more set of sit ups.

MARGIE: Should I spread my legs like this? Or like this?

I don't feel workouts should be social events. Let's face it, you're sweating like a pig while attempting to contort your body into positions that only an infant can achieve. If that's social, people would come to parties dressed in Danskin leotards and muscle shirts and take turns doing curls with liquor bottles.

I'll admit I did hire a personal trainer recently. For some reason, I decided my "abs" needed work. Maybe it was seeing the glut of infomercials featuring well oiled, hairless men who, as far as I can determine, don't even own shirts. They just walk through life shirtless, even in January, so everyone can gawk at their rock hard, chiseled six packs.

My personal trainer was Dave, a guy who apparently left his neck at home that morning. I had asked Dave simply to show me some exercises that I could do in hotel rooms since I travel a great amount. Dave must have misunderstood because, within seconds, he was forcing me to do exercises that would leave me dead in a hotel room. All of them involved lying down (the easy part) and doing something (the hard part) Usually it meant lifting my upper body until my "abs" felt as if they would explode out of my "ass." Dave's job, for 50 bucks an hour, was to occasionally remind me to "keep breathing." Apparently somebody must have stopped breathing on his watch, hence the reminder. Or perhaps it was a reminder from the club's attorneys.

To make matters worse, Dave asked me to do these exercises while holding a medicine ball. This surely eliminated my chances of flirting with the desperate housewives. But, as Dave pointed out, a gallon jug of water could be substituted for the medicine ball so I could still do the exercises in hotel rooms. Of course, that means putting a milk jug in my carry on luggage but it seems a small price to pay for rock hard abs.

Okay, that's it. You can stop reading about my workout. Hopefully you did it in under 30:04:02.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

To Tivo or not to Tivo

Technology fascinates me, albeit not the technology that allows your turkey to cook in 45 minutes or makes your DVD spin faster inside your PC. No, I'm talking technology that produces instant gratification. And I'm not comparing technology to sex. Sex requires begging. No, I'm talking technology that, once you pick it up you can't put it down. I'm talking TIVO!

My brother-in-law was kind enough to give my wife and I TiVo for Christmas. Not just a TiVo box, mind you, but a LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION to TiVo. Personally, I'm not sure I want to own anything for life. It just makes the will more complicated. Now, when I die, relatives will fight over the TiVo box. Of course, I don't think TiVo will be around long anyway. In 10 years you should be able to reach into your television, tap Regis and Kelly on the shoulders, and pull them into your living room. But be careful with Regis because he'll be about 200 by then.

Okay, back to TiVo. When I received it, I had misgivings. "Why do we want TiVo?" I asked my wife. "We're not TV people. We hardly ever watch TV." Ah, but that's the beauty of TiVo. You see, TiVo FORCES you to watch TV, much like a bloody car accident forces you to look. And you WILL look. Even though you warn the kids, "don't look everybody, don't look," you strain your eyeball so far to the left that your cornea is temporarily dislodged, all so you can think, "GROSS! That guy is SCREWED. See what happens when you don't watch the road?"

Within minutes of activating TiVo - a three hour process that required my phone, television, cable company and electrical box to TALK TO EACH OTHER (insert laughter here) - the Schwems had joined the growing legion of families who now have one more thing to fight about. We quickly launched the "Season Pass" feature, allowing us to tape every episode of American Idol, (my daughter) The Apprentice, (me) Oprah, (my wife) and Caesar's 24x7 (also my wife) We also discovered that, because the average cable subscription comes with 342, 791 channels, these shows air almost continuously somewhere. The Apprentice isn't just on NBC. It's on MSNBC, CNBC, lo-carb NBC and uncut and unedited NBC. Okay, that last channel doesn't exist but it should. I'd pay a few extra bucks a month to see what Katie Couric looks like when she stumbles into the studio at 3:30 a.m.

Because our TiVo box holds ONLY 40 hours of programming, in a few days our box was beginning to bulge like a Kirstie Alley sitcom. TiVo politely informed me that there wasn't room to tape an upcoming airing of Goodfellas. I could rectify this problem only by deleting NEXT Monday's Oprah featuring a "frank discussion" on how to stay regular after 40. As my finger hovered over the button that would cancel the Oprah taping, I wondered about the ramifications and started to realize how Terri Schiavo's parents felt. Was it my LEGAL RIGHT to delete Oprah? Would I incur the wrath of the NAACP? WHO WAS I TO PLAY GOD?!

In the end my conscious got the best of me. Oprah remained and I drove to Blockbuster and rented Goodfellas for $4.29. I'll be watching it this morning at 4:20 a.m., the only time TiVo takes a break.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My first blog entry

As I write this, I'm sitting in bed. I keep thinking "Blogging in Bed" would be a great band name. Then again, "Bed Blogger" sounds like a psuedonym for somebody who is being sought by police.

It's 10 p.m. in Chicago and I'm thinking about actually going to bed instead of blogging. For a comedian, a job that occurs primarily at night, I don't keep comedian's hours. One of these days I'm going to fall asleep on stage.

I have a show tomorrow night for the Insurance Rehabilitation Study Group. I've been researching this group on line for about a week and still can't figure out what exactly they do. So far I've managed to discover that they are a bunch of insurance agents who deal in insurance so, if I'm walking down the street and a piece of a building falls on my head, causing extensive brain damage, at least I'll have insurance while I lay at home, trying to figure out how to use a spoon again. And now I have less than 24 hours to figure out how to make them laugh. Ah, the trials of a stand-up comedian who has fled the comedy club circuit and chosen to make his living performing at sales meetings, "breakout" sessions, and company retreats. At least the pay is better.

Okay, getting back to the insurance thing. How much insurance do I need? Terri Schiavo taught me I should get long term care insurance. I recently saw an informercial touting...are you ready?...FUNERAL insurance. Hey, what a great idea! Now I can have insurance for after I'm dead. It's gonna be tough to pay the premiums from my ash cannister.

Okay, that's enough for now. I'm going to stop blogging and start Tivoing. More on that subject in the next entry.