Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My two cents on Michael Richards

The questions started at six this morning. I was at my health club, getting ready to tackle a set of 20-pound curls when a tennis buddy interrupted.
"Hey Greg, what did you think of Michael Richards?" he asked.
The topic arose again a few hours later. A neighbor pulled up to my curb and yelled from his open window.
"Greg, how aboout Kramer? What was that all about?"
I guess when a comedian goes completely ballistic, spewing racial venom as if it were still 1850, it's only natural to ask the opinion of another comedian.
So here's mine.
By now everybody not hooked up to life support equipment knows what happened to Michael Richards, better known as Kramer from Seinfeld. He was attempting stand-up comedy at the Laugh Factory, a showcase comedy club on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. (I say attempting because Richards has never been known as a stand-up comedian. His background is in improv, not stand-up. The two are radically different) During his act, a few African-Americans started heckling him, yelling that he wasn't funny. Richards responded with a crack about a pitchfork and an ass. That generated a few gasps from the audience but some laughs as well.
Then Richards did the unthinkable in today's society. He, a white man, used the dreaded 'n' word. He called the heckler a "nigger."
In a matter of moments, Michael Richards' career had ended.
Three months ago, in a drunken stupor, Mel Gibson went off on Jewish people. The jury remains out on Gibson and whether he can revive his career. My guess is that Mel will rebound but only because his time these days is mostly spent behind the camera, as a director. In other words, people no longer have to look at him.
Richards knows no such luxury. He is a performer and obviously misses being in front of people. How else to explain his sudden urge to do stand-up comedy at a small club where open mic hopefuls share the stage with established Hollywood celebrities and the pay for a 20-minute set is probably around 10 bucks. Richards went in there to revive his career. He left with a reputation that will stay with him the rest of his life, just as Pee-Wee Hermann entered an adult movie theatre to get off with himself and left branded a pervert. When I see an old Pee-Wee Herman movie on cable, I still can't get over the image of Pee-Wee playing with himself in a dark theatre, while porn played onscreen. That was over 15 years ago.
Richards went on the David Letterman show three nights later and attemped to apologize. But it had the air of Clinton apologizing for doinking Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. You don't call somebody a nigger and then, days later, claim that you're not a racist and not the kind of person you are made out to be. When Richards said "nigger," he became a racist. When he attempted an apology, he became a liar and a racist. It's been rumored that Richards may donate a bunch of his Seinfeld syndication money to Katrina victims. That makes him a hypocrite, a liar and a racist.
I've tried to get inside Richards' mind in an attempt to figure out why he said what he did. Obviously I'm not condoning his behavior but every controversy has two sides. Did Richards use the word because he was desperate or because he is an old school comedian who still thinks racial insults are okay, if delivered in a comedy club.
Thirty years ago, guys like Don Rickles, Lenny Bruce and Foster Brooks packed nightclubs with routines that roasted minorities and, in Brooks' case, drunks Rickles and Brooks were regulars on the Dean Martin celebrity roasts. Numerous clips can be found on YouTube. Their routines were hilarious; audiences roared and applauded. And no group demanded an apology the next day.
Would those guys even have careers today? It's doubtful. Today our society is accused of being too thin skinned and I agree. Elementary schools are outlawing "tag" because, some say, it encourages bullying. A college mascot runs onto the field dressed as an Indian chief and some Native Americans deem it offensive. The scope of things that Americans find funny is narrowing and, like it or not, comedians have to recognize it. Richards clearly did not.
Now lets talk about the hecklers. Has anybody asked them to justify their actions? All we hear about is the party of African Americans who went to a comedy club to be entertained, sat in the balcony and left humiliated. That may be true. But one also has to realize that none of this would have happened had the group members just kept their mouths shut. Again, I'm not defending Richards in the least. But why heckle? Why not just wait around for the next act? The Laugh Factory is a showcase comedy club, meaning there are LOTS of comedians on the bill. You would be hard pressed to find an audience member who finds EVERYBODY funny. If I'm an audience member and one comedian doesn't suit my tastes, I go to the bathroom or step outside to the bar. If I were a smoker, I'd consider a bad act the perfect excuse to light up. The group could have done any of those things. Instead, they chose to place themselves into Richards' show and then started crying when he didn't take kindly to their participation.
Any comic will tell you that it's no fun being heckled. I've come out on the winning and the losing end of hecklers. When a heckler decides to interrupt the show, the comedian is immediately on the defensive. The audience wonders how he will respond. And they expect the response to be hilarious. Plus, now it appears the comeback line has to be hilarious AND politically correct. That's a tough mountain for any comedian to climb.
Richards, unfortunately, chose not to even set foot at the mountain's base. Instead, he went right for the jugular and it cost him dearly.
Unlike the days of Rickles and Bruce, it's no longer considered entertaining to do material about minorities unless you are a minority. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle say "nigger" in their acts 50 times and the audience, both black and white, doubles over in hysterics. If an African-American heckled Dave Chappelle and Chappelle responded by calling the heckler a nigger, laughter would rain down from the rafters. But Richards should have known better. Nigger is an ugly word and he is living in a fantasy world if he thought uttering it would not have consequences.
I do stand-up comedy for business groups. The rules are simple: no profanity, no jokes with any hint of ethnic undertones and no sexual innuendos. I get reminded of these rules before every show. The client always includes the phrase, "we got burned by a comedian once."
What amazes me is, most of the time, the comedian who did the "burning." was a celebrity. An insurance company I worked for hired Dennis Miller for a private event a few years ago. He was specifically warned not to say "fuck" during the show. Five minutes into his performance, Miller violated the rule. Then he violated it again. And again. And again and again and again until a high-ranking company executive walked onstage and made the "cut" sign across this throat.
My point is, celebrity entertainers, like professional athletes. often have a twisted view of reality. Athletes beat up women, shoplift, commit assault and drive their Maseratis 125 miles per hour while drunk. Then they can't understand why there is talk of (gasp) a suspension! For one game! Celebrity comedians, who have made millions of people laugh, need to be careful and remember that notoriety doesn't make everything funny. The rules apply to everybody. So if you are going to venture into unfamiliar territory, there could be consequences.
A few weeks ago I caught Roseanne's new HBO special. She was going on and on about global warming. The audience was not laughing. There were two reasons for this. One, the material wasn't funny and two, nobody wants to hear Roseanne talk about global warming. Roseanne made her millions portraying a fat housewife who talked about her family. I remember watching her Tonight Show debut where she charmed the audience with a story about how fat moms dealt with their daughters' depression.
"Lets eat pudding, marshmallows and Oreos, " she said. "By the time you come out of that sugar coma, it will be a brand new day."
The audience roared. Within months Roseanne had a series of Pizza Hut commercials. Two years later she had the number one show on television.
Now Roseanne has returned to stand-up comedy. The audience expects to hear that type of material. Instead, she makes them suffer through her views on world events rather than giving the audience the material that made her famous in the first place. I may get an argument from other comedians but I feel that's the way it should be. The audience made you famous so give them what they want!
Which brings us back to Michael Richards. He may be trying to break the Kramer mold but it made him a very rich man. And no doubt when he walked on stage that night at the Laugh Factory, the audience expected to see a Kramer type version of stand-up comedy. I don't remember Kramer ever crucifying African-Americans on a Seinfeld episode. To the contrary, he always seemed to be hanging out with them.
So shame on Michael Richards for not thinking before he spoke and for not realizing that, in today's society, certain words denote hatred. Shame on the Laugh Factory management for letting the hecklers have their way with Richards. Shame on the hecklers themselves for dogging a comedian from the safety of a comedy club balcony. And shame on their attorney who feels the hecklers deserve money for their role in the incident. An apology from Richards? Absolutely. But financial compensation? Not in the least.
I can only think of one person who, at this moment, is thankful for Michael Richard's tirade. That would be former Congressman Mark Foley, who, like Richards, was a public fiigure who was convinced he could do whatever he wanted and nobody would care.
When will they ever learn?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smile and mean it this time!

The air is getting cooler, the leaves are turning color and shorts have been packed away in favor of sweaters, sweatshirts and wool socks. All these signs point to one thing:
We need to get our asses in gear and take a Christmas photo.
Ah yes, the holiday photo. An event the Schwem household looks forward to about as much as a roaring case of hemorrhoids or our property tax bill. Each year we vow to get it done early and every year, we blow it off until it’s Christmas Eve and we are stuffing photos of our girls into Federal Express envelopes, thereby ensuring that the pictures actually get there by Christmas.
First, let me point out that the Christmas card photo does not include my wife or me. I’ve never understood families who feel compelled to put EVERYONE in the picture. Christmas photos are supposed to be a chance for people to see how things are GROWING i.e. your kids. They are not meant to showcase things that are RECEDING i.e. your hairline, your abs or your breasts. The only place for parents in a Christmas photo is safely behind the camera.
I have mixed feelings about receiving Christmas photos from our friends. Sure, I love seeing how the kids have grown over the year. And I love the creativity some parents show in selecting the proper environment. Last year one neighbor put all four children in matching Christmas pajamas and posed them leaning on an oversized holiday gift box. Another friend donned Wild West outfits for their children. As cute as these photos are, I look upon them with a sense of envy basically because my kids never seem to photograph that well. If our kids looked that cute in a photo, I’d sell them on eBay.
Personally, I think the worst Christmas photos are from people, usually childless, who send pictures of their pet. I can barely remember my kids’ names. Please don’t ask me to remember a pet and then ooh and aaah over how different the pet looks. How much does a pet change in a year? Growing up, I had a cat who looked exactly the same at age two that he did at 22. Sure, he’d lost all his teeth but cats rarely smile, nobody knew.
During our first year of marriage, before we had kids, Sue and I sent out a Christmas photo of ourselves. We climbed into one of those “ball pits” at a place called “The Discovery Zone.” Basically, it was an indoor playground that charged money so kids could run around and blow off steam. My kids do that every day at home for free, thank you very much. But the founder of the Discovery Zone apparently thought the play experience was enhanced if it came with a 10 dollar price tag.
So off we went one cold November day to the Discovery Zone. We told the manager what we wanted to do, he complied and then we shooed all the other kids out of the ball pit so we could snap some pictures. Since Sue and I were 28 and 31 respectively, and the average age of a Discovery Zone customer is six, we didn’t get a lot of resistance from the other ball pit visitors. They stood outside, sucking their thumbs while we threw some balls in the air and giggled like the two carefree newlyweds we were. The manager himself took the photos. We thanked him, left and went out for cocktails. How many people go directly from the Discovery Zone to a bar?
I think we meant for the pictures to show what a cute and fun couple we were. Many people wrote that in notes following the holidays but I’m sure they were lying. Most of our friends probably received the photo and thought, “these two desperately need some kids. Or at least a pet!”
Growing up, my parents were never much for Christmas photos. They sent them out until my older sister Julie and I were about eight and 10. Then the practice subsided until my mother inexplicably revived it one year without telling us. When we were 15 and 17, we both had dates to the high school Homecoming dance. At 15 my looks resembled a cross between a computer nerd and “Jaws,” the character from the James Bond movie. So pronounced were my braces that they more closely appeared as one large “brace” over my teeth. My wire rim glasses with Coke bottle lenses always seemed to attract the full effect of a camera flashbulb. The tie I chose to wear that night was not a clip-on but it may as well have been.
Julie fared only a little better. Sure, she had ditched her glasses and braces two years earlier and had finally developed some semblance of a breast. Yet she chose to wear a salmon colored, sleeveless dress that unfortunately showed every tan line she had earned the previous summer. My mom snapped some photos and we went to the dance, convinced that only one, if any, would actually be developed.
We were so wrong. I came home from school two weeks later to find 250 copies of said photo on the dining room table, accompanied with a Santa logo and the text, “Merry Christmas from the Schwems” nestled underneath. A more appropriate caption would have been, “Merry Christmas from the Dork Family!” The envelopes were already addressed and sealed. A stamp was the only thing separating Julie and I from embarrassment beyond our wildest dreams.
Oh, how I longed for a match and a can of gasoline.
Unfortunately, I never found either and my mother mailed them out the next day despite our threats to run away and become (choose one) a hooker, a drug dealer, a Hare Krishna or a Democrat.
Since my mother believes in having all her Christmas tasks completed by Halloween (including shopping and gift wrapping) we were blessed with reading notes from friends whose subsequent holiday cards to us included comments about our photo.
“Love Julie’s tennis tan,” read one of the nicer ones.
“Greg’s braces are soooooo shiny,” was one of the not so nice ones.
“We hate you,” was another one. Wait, that was the card Julie and I sent to them.
Now fast forward 25 years. I have kids of my own. I am determined to make the Christmas photo experience as simple as possible. All Sue and I want is one lousy, stinking photo of our kids; a task that would be made all the easier if the kids would cooperate in the least. Yet it never seems to happen.
It wasn’t always this difficult. Our kids are five years apart so Natalie, our oldest, had the entire Christmas card to herself for four years. And because parents take approximately 10,000 photos of their firstborn, we always had plenty to choose from. We always chose a “beach” theme. I used to perform my stand-up act on cruise ships so we usually snapped a good one somewhere in the Caribbean. Our best one, in my opinion, was a shot of two-year-old Natalie, in pigtails and a bathing suit, sitting at a swim up bar, holding a virgin Strawberry Daiquiri. Even though the drink was non-alcoholic, our friends weren’t buying it, as evidenced by the notes they wrote after receiving the photo.
“Raising a drunk, are you?”
“I see she’s taking after her Dad.”
“Did you take this right before she fell off the stool?”
When another child enters the picture, the difficulty of getting a cute shot multiplies exponentially. How do parents with four or five kids do it? If I had that many kids, I’d wait until the youngest was at least 16 before ATTEMTPING a photo.
Plus, I don’t work cruise ships anymore so the Caribbean theme has disappeared. Even worse, Sue has become a fan of an actual “Christmas” shot, meaning one where the girls are dressed in holiday outfits and the background reeks of the holidays. For the past three years, we found the perfect Christmas background at (are you ready?) THE LOCAL MALL! We dress the kids up, hop in the SUV and drive over there, hoping to take the perfect shot in front of the gigantic, fake Christmas tree next to Santa’s chair. We should have plenty of time to do this since most malls begin putting up Christmas decorations around the Fourth of July, Santa appears shortly thereafter and doesn’t leave until 11:45 on Christmas Eve. How do you keep a kid believing in Kris Kringle when a department store Santa is becoming a six-month job? With benefits and a retirement package!
Two years ago we bought outfits from the American Girl doll store. We also bought identical outfits for the dolls, which both girls held for the shot. At least the dolls cooperated. We took approximately 192 shots without getting a single one suitable for a Christmas card. If one child smiled, the other scowled. If one laughed, the other stared at her shoes. If one summoned an adorable grin, the other looked as if she were about to get vaccinated.
The picture process is always a two man operation. While Sue holds the camera, I stand behind her, urging the kids to “look this way” and say “poopy pickles” or some other asinine phrase that I hope will get them laughing. Instead, it merely draws gasps from shoppers and, eventually, a stern look from store security. Santa himself even paused from his duties to turn his snow white beard our way and cross me off the “good” list for the year.
Eventually, we got what we wanted. As we left the mall, I thought, “next year they will be older and this won’t be as difficult.”
That proved to be about as correct as President Bush telling the nation that “we are winning the war in Iraq.”
The next year we returned to a different mall with a different Christmas scene. Sue had noticed a sled, stuffed full of presents, sitting between the men’s department and women’s fragrances. A perfect spot for a Christmas photo, she thought.
Our kids, now three and eight, were again dressed in cute Christmas outfits but without dolls. I was determined to get the photo fast this year and didn’t want the dolls to interfere.
What I failed to realize is that Natalie now seems to enjoy having her picture taken about as much as Sean Penn. Point a camera at her and she instinctively juts out her lower lip or clenches her teeth, revealing a smile about as forced as the one on Hillary Clinton’s face when she stands alongside Bill.
Nevertheless, we sat the kids on the sled and began to snap like we always do. The kids, in turn, did what they always do. They poked at each other, snarled at the camera and, in most “un-ladylike” fashion, spread their legs just wide enough so their underwear was visible in every shot. Finally, we called a brief “time out.”
While we regrouped and, in a matter of weakness, promised the girls ice cream if they could smile, a startling scene unfolded. A woman strode up with five children, all decked out in Christmas attire. The oldest was, perhaps, 10. The youngest looked as if it had just left the delivery room incubator two hours ago.
“Do you mind if we use the sled?” asked the mom. “I just want to take our Christmas card shot.”
“Be my guest,” I replied. Then I turned to Sue and whispered, “this ought to be good.”
No sooner had those words escaped my lips than the woman had completed her task. In the space of approximately eight seconds, the kids knelt down, smiled on command and waited for the flash. Even the newborn smiled!
“Thank you,” Supermom said before collecting her brood and herding them away.
Sue and I stood there with our jaws on the floor. Had we actually just witnessed that? The woman snapped ONE picture. We were recharging the digital camera.
“Did you see that?” I said to Natalie and Amy. “Did you see how easy that is? Why can’t you do that? Now get back on that sled, listen to Mom, smile and LOOK LIKE YOU’RE HAVING FUN!”
Miraculously, the kids complied and we achieved Christmas card 2005.
This year we are considering a “Fall” background, meaning no snow, no fake Christmas packages with colorful bows and no holiday lights. Instead, we want bright colored foliage and the sights of October.
That gives us two months to take the photos, look at the proofs and, if all else fails, Photoshop somebody else’s kids into the picture.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My second chance

How many times have you heard the phrase, “there are no second chances in life?”
It sounds like something your parents say to you when you bring home your first ‘F.’ Or when you are grounded after failing to heed curfew. Or when you are handed a pinkslip after being unable to meet a deadline, never mind your reasons for it.
All I know is that today I was given a second chance and it’s already resulting in memories that will last a lifetime.
I am sitting in room 431 at the Vail Marriott Mountain resort, looking out at some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever witnessed. My nine-year-old daughter Natalie is sleeping in the next room. She fell asleep at 11 p.m., exhausted after an early morning plane ride, a two-hour car trip from Denver, a spectacular mountain ascent in a gondola, swimming, dinner, another gondola ride, microwave popcorn and the movie "RV – all with her Dad.
That was day one
On tap for today? Horseback riding, more swimming and who knows what else? There is still whitewater rafting to experience tomorrow before returning to Chicago and the start of fourth grade.
We weren’t supposed to be here now. This trip was supposed to be a distant memory. True, I have memories but of the nightmarish kind that all parents wish never existed. For this is our second “daddy daughter” trip to Vail. We were here 13 months ago and hoped to do all the activities I mentioned above.
We never saw the outside of the room.
Unlike her father, Natalie is a bit on the reserved side. She doesn’t always wear her emotions on her sleeve, preferring to keep things inside of her. Hurt feelings are released in veils of tears only after constant cajoling from her parents. She has a ton of friends, makes good grades and, like most kids her age, doesn’t have a care in the world.
Except for her stomach.
Last year she started having stomach pains. They’d last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour, often disappearing after some “couch time.” They weren’t pains from a hypochondriac kid who was simply trying to skip school. They were real and they hurt. But we didn’t know what to do about them.
Like most parents, we figured they would go away.
They didn’t. Instead, they flared up in Branson, Missouri forcing us to cut short a family trip and return to Chicago, where our daughter spent a horrible night in the hospital, enduring countless needles, a tube in her nose, and numerous procedures from doctors trying to get to the root of her problem. Was it an ulcer? Her appendix? Nerves? Something more serious?
The diagnosis? Constipation. “Okay,” we thought, silently rolling our eyes. This didn’t seem like something that could be cured in the bathroom. But we went along with the doctor’s game plan, mixing laxatives in her juice and milk in hopes nature would take away her pains. For awhile, it seemed to work.
Then came our trip to Vail. I had been invited to perform for a bunch of hardware store owners. We decided Natalie was old enough to accompany me. Oh sure, the whole family had tagged along with Daddy when he performed in Orlando, Phoenix and aboard cruise ships. This was different – a part of the country Natalie had never experienced and some one-on-one time with her Dad. Some fathers go through their kids' entire childhood without doing that. In spite of my hectic travel schedule over the years, I’ve always been determined to never look back and yearn that I had spent more time with my children. I have enough friends who are headed down that road.
The morning of the trip, Natalie awoke doubled over. Her tears only seemed to make the pains worse. But we had no choice. “Just get her to the airport,” I thought. “She’ll be better then.”
Throughout the day, my thought process never wavered, except for the location.
“Just get her on the plane.”
“Just get her to the rental car.”
"Just get her to the hotel.”
Unfortunately, the pains persisted all day. We spent our first night in the Marriott without ever leaving the room. Outside, the mountains and the streams beckoned but Natalie lay in bed, her knees pulled up to her chest. She nibbled at two French fries for dinner.
“Tomorrow things will be better,” I hoped. My performance time was 10 a.m. and I was hoping to bring Natalie with me to the show. She would sit in back, wearing a dress we had picked out. It was to be one of her first chances to see, up close and personal, what Daddy did for a living.
It didn’t happen. The next day arrived and she was no better. I was forced to leave her in the room for an hour while I put on a happy face and performed stand-up comedy for hardware store managers. When I returned, she was still in pain but unwilling to tell me where it hurt or whether she was feeling any better. I noticed that she seemed well enough to watch two pay-per-view movies in my absence. Now I was starting to wonder. Is she really sick? Is she nervous about spending time with Daddy and a bunch of adults? Was she nervous about riding a horse? Again, these are the kinds of things parents have to figure out for themselves when their daughter keeps things bottled up inside.
Alas, the pains seemed so real that we packed up, called American Airlines and came home two days early. The entire ride down the mountain, my thought process returned.
“Just get her in the car.”
“Just get her to the airport”
“Just get her on the plane.”
By the time we landed the pain seemed to have subsided (naturally). But we spent the next day in a specialist’s office, who ran more tests and ended up prescribing more “laxative type” medication. Slowly her pains went away but, to this day, we aren’t sure why. Unlike the physicians we saw, Sue and I think Natalie is simply a nervous child who turns little problems into big problems. One year later we see a ton of improvement in her mental state and hope things continue to get better.
When we boarded the airplane last year for our return to Chicago, I promised Natalie we would come back to Vail. But could I make that happen? Any parent knows that a summer with kids flies by faster than a Jennifer Lopez marriage. Look at the calendar the day they get out of school and, it seems, the days are already committed. Soccer tournaments, Fourth of July reunions, All Star games and before you know, it, it’s time to catch the bus for the next year.
I found one weekend where we could squeeze it in. True, there was no comedy performance to offset the cost of Vail (arguably one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the United States, even when it isn’t snowing). And true, our finances were a little tight since my summer is typically the slowest time of the year. But that seemed trivial for a kid who missed out on horseback riding and whitewater rafting and for a dad who missed out on quality time with his daughter. I thought about postponing the trip another year since it seemed I was slamming this one together in an effort to beat the school deadline. But who knows what next year could bring? Natalie could end up on a (dreaded) traveling All Star softball team. Her Dad could be offered a tour opening for a musical act. Worse yet, Dad might be considered a dork by his daughter and not someone to spend FOUR WHOLE DAYS WITH. WITH NO IPOD!
So I am relishing my second chance. As I finish this essay, Natalie is awake, sitting next to me in bed, and polishing off room service pancakes.
Damn, that kid can eat.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Is lunch ready? Hot dog!

I don’t consider myself a jock by any means but I’m a firm believer in sports participation. I work out actively at my health club, play tennis, golf and am willing to try just about anything that doesn’t involve heights, the possibility of drowning or getting large objects thrown at me (read: Dodgeball). More important, I encourage my kids to actively participate in athletic pursuits, also known as “sports.”
However, after flipping on ESPN this past weekend, I may point them towards learning a musical instrument, drama, the chess team or some non-athletic pursuit.
The reason for my sudden repulsion with “sports” is that ESPN, the 24-hour SPORTS network, was televising the World Hot Dog Eating Championships from Coney Island, New York. The rules are simple: eat the most number of hot dogs in 12 minutes and you win. There are cash prizes awarded which, I’m sure, are used to pay medical premiums.
By the way, I was watching a rebroadcast of the event. Apparently this was such a riveting spectacle that ESPN was showing it again. The Super Bowl, the world’s most watched event period, is only shown once. But throwing hot dogs into the mix and is worth multiple viewings in the eyes of cable executives.
I had heard of these people who dub themselves “professional eaters” and even saw the reigning hot dog champion, a meek looking, Japanese punk rocker type named Takeru Kobayashi, appear in an ESPN commercial. Wearing a headband and looking remarkably similar to that kid who stood in front of a tank during the Beijing uprisings o a few years back, Kobayashi eats three hot dogs in the network cafeteria while one of ESPN’s plastic, perfectly-coiffed anchors looks on bewildered. The commercial was funny but I still find the whole idea of competitive eating repulsive, particularly in light of the horrible famine problem that persists in our world. Millions of people in Ethiopia and the Sudan desperately need food; what they DO NOT need is cable for they should never be forced to watch this sordid excess of gluttony.
Nevertheless, I was transfixed when the show came on. It was 11 p.m., my kids were asleep and I had eaten dinner about six hours previous. I was not hungry – merely curious.
The World Hot Dog Eating Championship occurs on July 4 because, according to Nathans’s Famous COO Waynbe Norbitz, “it epitomizes the spirit associated with summer each year.” Of course it does Waynbe, if that’s your real name (my spell checker disagrees). After all, what better way to celebrate our nation’s independence and freedom from tyranny than with a massive waste of food? The only thing missing from the event was the “Trump” logo.
Unfortunately, Trump didn’t move fast enough on this contest. Nathan’s Famous, which also owns Miami Subs and Kenny Rogers Roasters, won the bidding rights. No word yet on whether the company is planning a “world subs eating contest” or a “world roasters eating contest” but I’m sure the suits in charge are eyeing Christmas morning as a possible date because “stuffing your face with chickens epitomizes the spirit of giving and celebrates the birth of our Lord.”
What kept me from pressing the TV remote in search of better cable fare, like watching Titanic for the 84th time, was the excitement surrounding this alleged “sporting event.” Nathan’s and ESPN had pulled out all the stops to put hot dogs right up there alongside March Madness in terms of spectacle. Numerous cameras were positioned, not only to capture the contestant’s every chew, but also to pan the crowd, consisting of THOUSANDS of people who weren’t invited to any Fourth of July festivities in their neighborhoods. And no ESPN event is complete without an ANNOUNCER. For this event, ESPN rolls out some guy named Paul Page who, according to Wikipedia, has “called” the event for two years. Page’s background is in motorsports announcing and he has called several Indianapolis 500s for ABC, ESPN’s parent company. I can only assume Page’s reassignment is due to the fact that he’s losing his edge or he has some serious dish on a high-ranking ESPN executive and therefore must be kept on the payroll.
Nevertheless, professional that he is, Page brings a veteran announcer’s enthusiasm to the event, which has not been without controversy. Through the years disputes have erupted over whether contestants started too early or had actually finished entire hot dogs. That’s why the event employs “judges” who must peer into the mouths of contestants and pray nothing comes out.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that an ANALYST assists Page in the broadcast booth. “Perfect,” I thought as I sat in my La-z-boy. “I need a color man to explain the intricacies of jamming hot dogs down a gullet. Besides, what if Page can’t see all the ACTION? Another set of eyes will no doubt help.”
One by one, the roughly 20 contestants were introduced to thunderous ovations from the crowd. Two things struck me as I watched them take their positions. First, all were of average build, including the ladies (Yes, women take part in this event too and I’m sure there are men out there who find them attractive. This may have something to do with the fact these women are eating hot dogs). I expected at least one contestant to look like that guy from the Guinness Book of World Records who tipped the scales at over 1,000 pounds, wore overalls the size of a military tent, and was buried in a piano case. No, these contestants looked like they could easily say, “I’m full” after two dogs.
Second, many of the contestants had impressive resumes. Apparently hot dogs aren’t the only food worthy of a championship. Joey Chestnut, a 22-year-old engineering student at San Jose State, holds records for pork ribs (5.5 pounds in 12 minutes), waffles (18.5 in 10 minutes) and jalapeño poppers (118 in 10 minutes). The latter probably earned Chestnut the “bathroom” record (15 trips in 10 minutes) but I couldn’t find any documentation of this.
Suddenly, onto the stage strode the aforementioned Kobayashi, who is something of a God in the eating world. Nicknamed “Tsunami,” Kobayashi had won the event five years running, eating a total of 246 dogs and change. His best year was 2004 when he consumed 53 and a half. The previous year was his lowest total. Only 44 and a half. Perhaps he had eaten too big a breakfast that morning.
Unlike most sporting events held in America, there is no intimidation factor in competitive eating. No stare downs or trash talking. Kobayashi speaks no English but I was hoping Chestnut would at least add a little flair by hurling a few “yo mamma so fat” insults at his Japanese rival. Then again, what would he say? “Hey Kobayashi, yo mamma so fat she eat hot dogs as a sorbet.” If Kobayashi understood English, he would probably have smiled politely, bowed and thanked Chestnut for honoring his family.
Finally, the contest began and announcer Page was forced to begin his 12-minute workday. Under his watchful eye, I learned Kobayashi was on “world record pace” but Chestnut was closing fast. The “analyst” educated me on “chewing technique,” something that competitive eaters experiment with much the same way that Tiger Woods experiments with his swing. Supposedly doing chewing exercises increases jaw muscle strength. After all, who wants to go to the beach in summer with a flabby jaw?
In spite of Chestnut’s best efforts, Kobayashi soon jumped to a “two dog lead,” armed with only a glass of water. Kobayashi’s champion technique involves folding the bun slightly and dunking the dog before consuming it. This had to repulse the folks at Nathan’s. “Ah, there’s nothing like a hot dog from Nathan’s Famous. Lathered with mustard, sprinkled with celery salt and immersed in water. Mmmmm good!”
By the way, condiments were nowhere in sight during the competition. Neither was beer for that matter. Why have a hot dog eating contest if you’re not going to eat them the right way? Personally I think the contestants should have to grill the dogs over a scorching pile of charcoal before consuming them. Nathan’s does not agree.
In a THRILLING finish, Kobayashi retained his title and bested his world record by a quarter of a dog. Chestnut was a close second with 52 dogs consumed. I was repulsed that I was still watching but I had to watch the end, namely an interview with the champion. That’s right, Page actually had to stand next to Kobayashi and ask him questions through a translator. As far as I’m concerned there are only two questions one should ask somebody who has just eaten 53 hot dogs.
1) Are you going to throw up?
2) Are you going to throw up on me?

Page, professional that he is, asked neither. Instead he peppered Kobayashi with questions about “the wall,” an apparent reference to a moment in the contest which every eater experiences. Eaters hit “the wall” when they feel they just can’t eat another hot dog but have to fight through this absurd feeling in order to continue. I would have hit the hot dog wall just watching the employees at Nathan’s Famous bring the hot dogs to the table. I have hit the wall with other foods simply while preparing them. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese comes to mind. My kids love this stuff and we serve it to them at least once a week. But I don’t eat it because that would mean consuming a packet of bright orange powder that the engineers at Kraft call “the cheese mix.” It looks like something astronauts eat.
Kobayashi, a little short of breath but looking none the worse for the wear, patiently answered Page’s questions and then left the stage, presumably to stick his finger down his throat. Chestnut seemed dejected but vowed to return next year and wrest the title from his Japanese foe. I turned off the TV, went downstairs and ate a cracker. It was satisfying.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I know a guy...

It was two hours before showtime and I was halfway through a shower. Suddenly, the thought occurred to me.
“Did I remember to pack pants?”
I don’t know why I had this thought mid-rinse. Why does anybody have those types of thoughts? It’s like when you’re at the airport, ready to board the plane for a two week vacation and you suddenly wonder if you turned the stove off? It’s not as if you passed a stove in the airport that triggered this thought. It just…happened. And quite often, the answer to the question that just popped into your head for no apparent reason is, “no.”
That was the answer to the pants question.
I spend about 100 days living out of suitcases. Percentage-wise, I think I’m a pretty good suitcase packer. But about five percent of the time, I show up and realize that I’ve neglected something that is vital to the show. Some items are easy to replace; socks for example. I can do without a tie for if I have to. Ditto for underwear. But shirts and pants are a different story. I usually travel in the most comfortable clothes possible, meaning a T-shirt and jeans. I often take the return flight still wearing my stage clothes if it's a morning or afternoon show. Of course, I always feel sorry for my seatmate because, whether a show is good or bad, comedy makes you sweat just slightly less than your average marathon runner.
Needless to say, a T-shirt and jeans aren’t the best attire for doing a corporate comedy show, unless the corporation happens to be the Truck Stop Owners of America. I once had to perform for a bunch of insurance agents in my T-shirt/jeans attire because the airline lost my luggage. Other than funeral home directors, insurance salesmen are the last consistent suit wearers in the world. Every other industry has adopted the “business casual” approach, meaning khakis that make all female employees’ asses look too fat and shirts with the company logo. I always thought “business casual” attire was supposed to make you feel more comfortable at work as opposed to make you feeling like a clone that could be replaced at any moment with somebody else who looked just like you.
But insurance guys still wear suits. And, judging from the tepid reaction I received when I bounded onto the stage in my T-shirt and jeans ensemble, they only feel comfortable around other people in suits. I tried to make a joke out of my attire but the audience just looked at me as if to say, “you’re not one of us.”
The audience on this particular night was Nikon Instruments, a bunch of people who sold microscopes. I assumed they would not be wearing suits. After all, they probably spent most of their day in dark laboratories where nobody could see them anyway.
But they still wore pants, thus I needed them for this job. Sure, speakers are supposed to imagine the audience in their underwear but you don’t say, “and vice versa” after that. I dashed to the bell desk at the Doral Hotel in Miami and inquired where the closest mall was. “About three miles,” was the reply.
The bell captain hailed a taxi. I dived in and instructed the driver to take me to the Dolphin Mall. “And wait there,” I ordered. Never in my life had I instructed a cab driver to wait. I thought this was something that was only done in movies. In spite of my panic, there was something cool about my instructions. It was almost like jumping into a cab and saying, “follow that car.”
The driver looked at me, sensed my panic and asked what I needed at the mall.
“Pants,” I replied.
“You need pants? For you?,” he said.
“Yes for me,” I answered. Trust me, if anybody besides me needed pants, I wouldn’t have been sweating profusely.
“Forget the mall,” he said in heavily broken English. “I’ll take you someplace closer. I know a guy.”
“I don’t need a guy,” I said. “I need pants.”
Seriously, when has a transaction that included the phrase, “I know a guy” ever included a happy ending? And yet we fall for it all the time. We all have a relative or a friend who, no matter the request, “knows a guy.” This friend/relative/soon to be enemy never misses a chance to brag about what I call his “labor network.”
“Need your satellite dish installed? I know a guy.
Want a better deal on a car? I know a guy.
Can’t get your son into Stanford? No problem, I know a guy.”
I think the only transactions that should involve the phrase, ‘I know a guy,” should be for cable, stereo equipment or any product that could get you 10 to 20 in a state penitentiary.
The “I know a guy” conversation also usually includes the tagline, “and when you call him, mention my name.” As if this is going to make “the guy” drop everything he’s doing and move you to the top of the list. "Oh you know Jimmy? Great. I’ve been waiting for one of Jimmy’s friends to call. I haven’t worked in a couple of years because he keeps forgetting to mention me."
Naturally, the “guy” the cab driver knew was accessible only by taking the most heavily trafficked streets in Miami. I nervously looked at my watch every five seconds, wondering if it would have been smarter to ask the concierge if I could borrow his pants for a few hours. Heck, this was the world famous Doral Golf Resort. Weren’t they supposed to do things like that?
“Just past this light,” said the cabbie, motioning to a red dot ahead that looked as if it might as well be in South Carolina. By the time we reach that light, I thought, the audience will be heading to their rooms for the evening.
But we made the light and the cabbie turned sharply into…The Men’s Wearhouse! This was where “the guy” was located, I thought? He knows “a guy” who works in a chain clothing store? What if I had forgotten my toothbrush? I’m sure he knows a guy who works at a Walgreens.
I dashed in, picked a size 36x32 pair of khakis (so I’d blend in with the group) off the rack and paid for them without even trying them on. I was back at the hotel in under an hour and onstage shortly thereafter. Crisis averted.
I’m heading to Atlanta tomorrow. This time, when my daughter comes into my bedroom when I’m packing, I will tell her wait for a few moments until I’m absolutely sure that I have everything. And if, by chance I forget something, I’m sure there is a guy waiting who can get me whatever I want.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Read this article now! Don't put it off! Are you done yet?

I’ve been blogging for about a year now and I have mixed feelings. I like the fact that I can write anything I want, using whatever writing style I choose, and nobody is there to grade me. Heck, if I want to use the word “bullshit” to describe something, as in, “this blog entry is starting off to be bullshit,” that’s my prerogative. Nobody is waiting with a red pen to tell me that “bullshit” is not an appropriate word for this sentence and perhaps I should have chosen “suck-ass.”
That’s the part I like. What I don’t like is the absence of deadlines. If I want to write one blog entry a day, that’s great. If I want to write one word a day, so be it. Of course that may change if I ever get a loyal blog following. But considering that, at last count, there were 5 billion people on earth and 10.3 billion blogs floating around the Internet, I don’t see that happening.
So I blog at my leisure, writing dynamic prose whenever the mood hits me. That's why I think my blog sucks.
I work best when there’s a gun being held to my head. I think everybody does although many will disagree. Sure, there are those of you reading this and thinking, “not true. I don’t like pressure. Pressure brings out the worst in me. I like to work at my own pace”
Now stop and ask yourself, when have you ever HAD the chance to work at your own pace? Life is one big deadline: Wake the kids up by 7, get them on the bus by 8, get to work by nine, soccer pickup at 5, game at 6, dinner at 7:30, blah blah blah. We’ve been dealing with deadlines ever since our first day of kindergarten when the teacher said, “write about what you did over the summer. And it better be on my desk in 20 minutes.”
Okay, maybe the teacher didn’t say it like that, unless of course you attended a Catholic school run by the Eldest of the Elder Sisters of the Holy Pandemic. But your assignment did have a due date, right? And even at five years old, you knew that you had better put something down on the page pretty soon or there were going to be consequences. Even though, at five, you had no idea what “consequences” meant.
In college I immediately hated professors who assigned a HUGE project on the first day and then announced it wasn’t due until the end of term. Usually it was some hip, pony-tailed dude who got stoned in the parking lot moments before entering the lecture room, introduced himself as Professor O’Malley but preferred the students call him “Chaz,” and reminded everybody - especially the female students - that his office door was “always open,” even on Friday nights. Then he’d explain the class and the accompanying assignment, which was something like “pick five neighborhoods in the surrounding community, each with a different racial and economic makeup. Review census data and form hypotheses about past and present conditions. Predict the future of each area and support your prediction by interviewing politicians, business leaders and clergy members. Draw a topographical map of each location and use color-coated pushpins to identify high-crime areas, future development possibilities and areas currently undergoing gentrification. Figure out what “gentrification” means. Using a pencil, sketch plans for a new, state-of-the-art high school. Include a pool. Run for mayor of at least one neighborhood. Extra credit if you win. Double extra credit if you can prove you won without offering or accepting bribes.”
Professor Chaz then lit a cigarette and announced that attendance for the rest of the semester was “optional.” And every college student, myself included, left the hall thinking, “Whoa, I’ve got PLENTY of time to do that. Let’s drink!”
Of course, this assignment followed me around like paparazzi following Britney Spears. No matter what I was doing with my free time – attending a basketball game, playing intramural football, hanging out in the fraternity on Sunday afternoon, whatever – that assignment was constantly in the back of my head. And as the weeks went by and I still had done nothing, it moved to the front of my head where it became a migraine. Suddenly, the due date was two weeks away and I was sweating profusely as I tried to identify actual neighborhoods and pleaded with local politicians to give me five minutes of their time somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m. Inevitably I’d meet a classmate who, I hoped, shared my predicament and could vent with me about how there just wasn’t enough time to finish this ridiculous assignment. However, the classmate would usually burst my bubble by saying, “oh, I finished that months ago. I would have been done sooner but it was tough to nail down that interview with President Clinton.”
But somehow I’d finish it and pull a surprisingly decent grade. That’s when I realized that I work best under pressure. Procrastination accomplishes nothing. I just read that China is currently building eight cities the size of Houston, Texas. Eight freakin’ CITIES! I just visited New York and, four years after the World Trade Center bombing, the site still sits vacant, a gaping hole to remind everyone that we can’t get our shit together. The Chinese would look at that hole and have a replacement structure built within an hour.
If you don’t believe that amazing, well-crafted work can be done on deadline, flip through the pages of Cosmopolitan. I recently went to pick up my wife at her hair salon. I’ve always thought that a "salon" was no different than Supercuts, except for the extra zero on the bill. Ath both places you get your hair cut, return home, look in the mirror and decide the finished product looks like crap. The difference is that Supercuts achieves this mood in 10 minutes while salons take up to eight hours.
When I arrived my wife was sitting in a chair with foil on her head. She looked like an enormous leftover. Of course, thirteen years of marriage has taught me to keep these observations to myself.
Sensing that the foil was not going to be removed until her hair reached medium rare, I perused the magazine on the coffee table. Since this was a hair salon, no copies of Golf Digest, Esquire, GQ or Guns and Ammo were in site. So I picked up the May issue of Cosmo. On the cover was that cute little actress, Mandy Moore, who started appearing in teen magazines when she was about 14.
But next to cute Mandy in the May 2006 issue of Cosmo was the screaming headline “ORGASMS UNLIMITED. HOW TO ACHIEVE A FEEL GOOD EXPLOSION…AND THEN ANOTHER…AND ANOTHER! I read later that Mandy was upset with the cover because the placement of the orgasm headline implied that Mandy knew how to have non-stop orgasms. No doubt Mandy received some interesting fan mail in May. Then again, her publicist should have reminded sweet innocent Mandy that this was Cosmopolitan not Home and Garden. Seriously, what did she expect? “HOW TO ACHIEVE UNLIMITED HIBISCUS!”
Ladies, I’m not going to go into detail about how to achieve UNLIMITED, FEEL GOOD EXPLOSIONS, because I don't have the issue with me. (I stole it and put it under my wife's pillow) But the article, written by Cosmo scribe Theresa O'Rourke, was superbly written. Theresa coined phrases like "moan zone," "bliss coma" and "full body earthquake." Heck, it even diagrammed orgasms with charts featuring wavy lines similar to the ones you’d see on an EKG or at an seismology center. The pink wave looked like a roller coaster track and in fact represented "a series of roller coaster-like waves that are 2 to 10 minutes apart." Miss O'Rourke dubbed this line "sequential multiples." Then she drew an orange line, which looked like a corkscrew laid on its side. This was the "serial multiple" line and symbolized "rapid-fire shots of pleasure with only a few seconds of interruption."


The article did what I think it was supposed to do, which was turn me on! I wanted to make love to my wife right there in the salon, foil and all! And as I continued reading, all I kept thinking was, somewhere Theresa O'Rourke is walking around. Maybe she was in the Cosmo offices , accepting accolades for her stellar work.
'HeyTheresa, nice job on the serial multiples piece. I liked it much better than your 'how to get diamonds from your man on a yearly basis'
And because Theresa works for a monthly magazine, she had to write about orgasms ON DEADLINE! At a staff meeting, the editor said, “Okay, who wants to write about rapid-fire pleasure shots. How about you, O'Rourke?”
After Theresa agreed, she had to go home and start thinking about the article. She had to conduct reseach and I don't even want to know how she did that! Was the reseach conducted at work?

BOSS: Jesus O'Rourke, get off the copier and put some clothes on. And how did those two guys on top of you get past security? What the hell are you doing?

O'Rourke: Research sir.

Theresa also had to look at her calendar and realize she had a set amount of time to write about multiple orgasms. Maybe one day at work she opened up an email from the stressed out editor that read, “I need multiple orgasms on my desk by Thursday at the latest.” And dammit, she did it! Wow, did she ever. What if Theresa didn’t have a deadline? What if she chose to write only after she’d actually HAD an orgasm? Would the article have been written that fast. Probably since I get the impression Theresa is able to climax simply by doing routine tasks, like laundry.
But let's suppose Theresa didn't have the ability to put her money where her orgasms were? What if she had broken up with her boyfriend or divorced her husband only days before receiving the assignment? What if her prospects for sex were about as low as President Bush's approval ratings? The article could have taken forever! That's why deadlines are so cruical to good work. Set a deadline for yourself in whatever you do. It can be truly multi-orgasmic.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wipe that smile off your face!

I had to chuckle the other day when I opened the paper and read the plight of Boston resident Deborah Elizabeth Finn.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly what Ms. Finn wanted me to do.
Deborah Elizabeth Finn (a perfect name, by the way, for someone who lives in Boston) has posted a pledge on http://www.pledgebank.com/HelloBoston asking everyone to do what she does – smile and say hello to passing strangers on the street. Ms. Finn, it seems, thinks people are just too darn grumpy. Then again, Bostonians live in a city that’s home to a construction project known as “The Big Dig,” which was started about the time Paul Revere announced that the British were coming. The last I heard, the Big Dig was scheduled for completion shortly after an asteroid obliterates the earth – give or take a few years.
It appears Finn’s idea is picking up steam. Already 68(!) fellow residents have signed her pledge. Some gave their full names. Way to go, John Hoang Sarvey and Cynthia Carr Gardner (again, great Boston names!) Others like “Lyn” and “Sarah” gave only their first names, probably out of fear of having their asses kicked by residents who don’t share Finn’s sentiment.
Well today I tried Finn’s approach. And the following is my report.

Dear Deborah Elizabeth Finn: How is your campaign going? Did you greet lots of strangers today? Me too! I started this morning by greeting the bus driver who drives my nine year old to school. Normally I’d never lay eyes on the bus driver since my daughter gets picked up a mere block from our house. But we both know that sexual predators can be lurking just about anywhere and nobody in my neighborhood wants to take the risk of letting our kids out of our sight. So after my daughter had boarded, I smiled at the bus driver, mostly out of relief that my little girl had made it onto the bus safely. I just hope the driver has had a thorough criminal background check.
My next object of facial affection was the stranger behind the counter at the gas station. I gave him a smile although it was through gritted teeth since I was paying him 85 bucks for a tank full of gas. And the “full” part is a stretch. The gas gauge needle swayed away from the ‘f’ shortly after I left the parking lot. But who cares? The point is, I smiled at the attendant. I felt good because a smile is a universal gesture, understood in any language. Even to the Pakistani gentleman behind the counter who spoke zero English.
Next it was off to the mall, as I needed some new summer clothes. You would have been so proud of me, Ms. Finn! I smiled at the stranger working in the men’s clothing department. Problem was, I don’t think he saw me because he was too busy yakking on his cell phone, oblivious to the fact that I had three items in my hand waiting to be purchased. Once he hung up, he rolled his eyes repeatedly upon realizing that I wanted to (GASP!) exchange an item. Apparently this transaction fell well outside his line of expertise, leading to his advanced state of annoyance. But I continued smiling in spite of my overpowering urge to take the pins out of newly bought clothing and stick them in his eyeballs.
Well, nothing makes me hungrier than shopping so it was off to a fast food drive through. I didn’t smile when I was ordering a “number three with a diet Coke.” Remember, a smile first requires eye contact and it's impossible to make eye contact with somebody talking through the other end of a muffled speaker. But upon pulling around, I gave a big smile to the stranger in the window, who took my money and handed me a “number six with coffee.” I hate to admit this but my smile faded ever so slightly when I told her the order was wrong. She immediately corrected it by handing me decaf coffee. I believe I was still smiling when I pulled away 10 minutes later. Oh, and I also smiled at the restaurant manager who came to the window probably because he wanted to know why everybody behind me was leaning on their horns.
Next it was off to the airport to catch a flight to San Francisco. Lots of strangers in an airport, right? What better place to put the Finn pledge to good use? I smiled at the first Transportation Security Administration official I encountered while she compared my photo with the name on my ticket and decided that yes, it was the same person. I smiled at the second TSA official, standing just 10 feet away from the first one, who checked my ID and ticket again. And I smiled at the third TSA official, standing just 20 feet away, who, you guessed it, repeated the process. None of these people smiled back, by the way.
I emptied the contents of my pockets into the gray bin and gave a big smile to the stranger manning the metal detector. Upon seeing my smile, he immediately pulled me aside for private screening. Smiling apparently raises a red flag among airport security personnel. To them a smile means, “I am carrying box cutters in my carry on and my gleeful look is only a front to distract you.”
But I wasn’t deterred, Ms. Finn! I smiled at the fifth TSA employee – the one with the rubber gloves who asked me if I had any “sensitive areas” before he patted me down. I’ll admit he gave me a strange look when I smiled while he patted my inner thigh. But obviously this guy has never been to your web site.
Walking through terminal three at O’Hare I smiled at everybody including the courtesy cart driver who nearly ran me over, the college student who would find out very soon that his backpack would no way in Hell fit in the overhead bin, and the gate agent who told me to “sit down sir,” because there were no first-class upgrades available. At least she called me sir.
I boarded the plane and smiled at the stranger next to me. Might as well be friendly since our elbows and shoulders would be touching for the next four hours, right? I thought I remember reading something about how American Airlines had reconfigured their planes to offer “more room.” Must have read that in the Enquirer. My seatmate didn’t smile back because he was pecking away on his laptop.
I had one more chance to smile – at the flight attendant who served me my four ounces of diet Coke and the bag of Pretzels which constituted my in-flight meal. Guess what? She smiled back. Of course I think this was because she knew she only had two more rows to serve and then her “workday” would be over.
Now I’m in San Francisco, about to turn out the lights in my hotel room. I’ll be in Boston in three weeks and I hope we get a chance to meet. I’ll know it’s you, Ms Finn. You’ll be the stranger giving me a big smile.
And I will be the guy who responds, “eat me!”

Friday, April 28, 2006

On my honor...I will strive to keep Sumo where it belongs

I recently went to Tokyo where I attended one of the oldest and most popular Japanese sporting events. And no, I’m not talking about karaoke.
The sport was Sumo wrestling, an athletic pursuit that dates back nearly 1500 years. The Japanese love Sumo because it is a sport based precisely on their culture, meaning it is rich in symbolism, rich in history, rich in honor.
That’s why we should never attempt to bring it to America.
Trust me, if Sumo wrestling ever appeared at the local “United Airlines/PSI.net/Tropicana,/OJ Simpson” arena, we would ruin it faster than condominium developers ruined the Florida coastline. How, you may ask? One only has to watch Sumo for an hour or two before realizing how American greed, corporate marketing and sheer hucksterism would combine to put this sport just above roller derby on the “honor chart.”
First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about Sumo. It’s not a bunch of fat guys running into each other while wearing diapers, which is how most Americans, after seeing snippets of it on SportsCenter or Marv Albert’s blooper tape, would describe it. Sure the guys are a bit “proportionally challenged” and yes, their attire looks like something that holds draperies in place, but there is so much more.
Also, Sumo is not an everyday event. I assumed that hefty Japanese man (and trust me, you have to look hard to find them in Japan) got together somewhere every weekend to carouse, blow off steam and get away from the kids. In America we do that all the time. It’s called “golf.”
No, the yearly Sumo schedule consists of six “grand tournaments,” occurring in four “grand Japanese cities,” with tickets costing “a grand fortune.” Out of sheer luck, I happened to make my first Tokyo visit during the September tournament. It took place at a stadium known as Ryogoku Kokugikan, which means, “expensive taxi ride.” Bob, my best college buddy and also my host thanks to his international assignment for a large advertising agency, scored the tickets. Bob did not tell me what he paid for our tickets, which were in the last row of the arena. However, he did make sure I knew what the front seats cost. The crème de la crème seats of a Sumo match are not seats at all. They are red mats, arranged in groups of four to form what we refer to as a “private box,” but without a dessert cart coming by every 20 minutes full of good ol’ sporting event chow like lobster tail and crème brulee. I didn’t see the thrill of sitting on a mat. Hey, at least I had a seat, with a seat back! If I wanted to squat, I would have visited the Japanese toilets, or what Americans call “a freakin’ hole in the floor!” Besides, I could never have afforded a mat, which cost (drumroll please) $850 U.S. dollars or enough Yen for the average Japanese to purchase something really pricey – like China.
A Sumo tournament lasts about six hours and the audience is free to come and go as they please. We arrived about four o’clock. Actually we arrived about two. We found our seats about four. Even though Bob’s Japanese is excellent, he apparently missed the Berlitz class where they taught how to read seat locations in kanji characters.
Had we been there for the start, we would have been able to see the “doyo-iri,” known in Japanese as “entering the ring.” The “rikishi” or “fat guys” enter the ring wearing “kesho-mawashi” or “colorful aprons.” Once everybody crowds in, the “yokozuna” appears. I’m not sure what yokozuna means in English but I think he’s kind of like the football team equipment manager, meaning he probably wanted to Sumo wrestle in high school but couldn’t make the team on account of his thighs weren’t large enough to hide small children.
The yokozuna claps his hands together loudly. This is supposed to attract the attention of the gods. Or maybe it’s just his way of saying, “grab a beer, we’re getting ready to start.” Oh yes, you can drink Asahi, Suntory or numerous other Japanese brews while watching Sumo. But you have to get it yourself. You can’t raise a finger, yell BEER-SAN (Mr. Beer Man) at the top of your lungs and then pass Yen down the aisle until it reaches its destination. The Japanese may make better automobiles but we definitely outrank them in the beer vending department.
Now the bouts begin although when they actually “begin” is anybody’s guess. Two wrestlers remove their “kesho,” leaving only their “mawashi,” which barely covers their “private parts.” Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the mawashi was first designed. I’m sure the idea took many seconds to create. “Hey Mito, should I take this scrap material to the dumpster?”
“How much is left?”
“Only about enough to fit around the waist with a little left over to cover the butt cheeks”
Not only do the rikishi wear these garments proudly, but they do a lot of bending at the waist prior to their bouts. When this occurs, all cameras cease operation for obvious reasons.
Once the rikishi disrobe and enter the ring, they engage in much symbolism. They rinse their mouths with water and wipe their bodies with paper towels to purify themselves. They throw handfuls of salt into the ring, to purify it as well. Upon deciding that the ring is pure enough, they squat and face each other in the center of the ring, like opposing linemen on a football field. They glare, they arch their backs, they make menacing gestures and then…they retreat to their corners and DO THE SAME THING AGAIN! Apparently Sumo wrestlers are very picky when it comes to purity. The “drink, throw, glare, arch, repeat” routine occurs several times until, at last, the dohyo is as pure as an Osmonds’ family reunion.
Now the match begins. Upon the signal from the yokozuna, the rikishi run full steam into each other and then basically grope with more gusto than the average Duke lacrosse player. Step out of the ring or touch the ground with anything other than your feet and you lose. That’s why most Sumo matches last about five seconds. There were a few bouts when one rikishi fell down at the moment of initial impact. Sorry, match over, you lose. Next two fat guys, please! What amazed me is that, no matter how brief the match, no matter what dimwitted Sumo mistake the loser may have made, he never seemed upset. Nobody stomped their feet, pulled out their pony tail, kicked salt on the yokozuna or worse, removed their mawashi and threw it at the opponent. Both winner and loser bowed and exited the ring. And the audience ALWAYS cheered the outcome, even if they were in line getting beers and missed five bouts.
Anyway, the rikishi in the grand tournament do this every day for two weeks, putting in workdays of up to 15 seconds if it’s a real grueling match. At the end of the tournament, the guy with the best win/loss record is awarded the Emperor’s Cup, which he probably takes home, fills with Suntory and begins training for the next tournament.
That’s it. That is Sumo wrestling. And in spite of my sarcasm, it was fascinating to watch in person. I found myself marveling at the ceremony, the pageantry, the symbolism and the bouts themselves. I didn’t want the bouts to end. “No, please,” I thought,” don’t step out of the ring. Don’t fall to one knee. I want MORE!” Why did I want more? Because I MAY NEVER BE BACK IN JAPAN. AND THAT IS WHERE SUMO WRESTLING SHOULD STAY. PLEASE DON’T EVER BRING THIS HONORABLE SPORT TO AMERICA!
To prove my point, let’s pretend it did exist here. For starters, let’s say you didn’t have a ticket but really wanted to see the matches. You’d go to the stadium where, about 100 yards from the entrance, some guy would be holding up tickets, saying “who needs two?” He’d offer you grandstand or the coveted “red mat” seats at prices roughly two hundred percent over face value. You’d pay the outrageous prices and curse yourself for not first checking Ebay for seats.
Upon entering the stadium you’d be accosted by souvenir vendors, selling everything from full color Sumo programs to Sumo bath towels to Sumo chocolates. I hate to say it but these vendors exist in Japan too. For 1300 yen, (about nine bucks) I purchased a pack of Sumo playing cards, each containing a picture of a different rikishi. They looked like the “most wanted” playing cards that circulated after we bombed Iraq. But, unlike the Iraqi criminals, it would be no trouble finding a Sumo wrestler in Japan. In a country where the average man stands about 5 foot 6 and weighs 147 pounds soaking wet, a 6 foot 5, 450 pound man wearing a fuchsia diaper tends to stand out.
Souvenirs and beers in hand, you make your way to your seat. Unfortunately it is right behind some guy yakking on his cell phone, saying something profound like, “Hey Vinnie, guess what? I’m at Sumo. No really, I’M AT SUMO! EVER BEEN TO SUMO? I DIDN’T THINK SO. Yeah, I’m using the company tickets. Hey, I think it’s about to start. I’ll call you back in a few. Later.”
And at that moment, Sumo does start. Everyone can tell because a blonde bombshell with fake breasts and a bikini has just entered the ring. The wrestlers follow her in, each wearing colorful kesho mawashi laden with corporate advertising. The Pfizer wrestler walks behind the Target wrestler, who walks behind the Home Depot wrestler, who walks behind the Valvoline guy. As they parade into the ring, they are greeted with hoots and catcalls from the audience, saying things like, “Yo, Advil boy, my man Winston cigarettes is going to kick your fat ass into the next dohyo.” While the opening ceremony takes place, Vegas bookmakers closely eye contestants, occasionally whipping out their cell phones and reshuffling the betting lines.
Finally a microphone falls from the ceiling. Michael Buffer grabs it and yells, “LET’S GET READY TO SUUUUUUUU-MO.” The crowd goes wild. The first two rikishi take off their ceremonial robes, revealing their diapers. The crowd oohs and ahhs in amazement upon seeing the strategically placed location of the Preparation H logo on one rikishi’s mawashi. The two rikishi begin their pre-match ritual. One rikishi verbally taunts the other rikishi, loudly saying, “Yo baby, you in my dohyo now.” The other rikishi counters with, “Yeah? Yo mamma so fat, she need a mawashi for each toe.” Enraged, the other rikishi picks up a handful of salt and throws it into his opponent’s eyes, causing brief blindness and eyeball purification. Both Sumo coaches charge into the ring, along with a few fans from the $850 mats, who have been drinking Asahis and Suntorys in the parking lot since 8 a.m. The ensuing brawl prompts minimum-wage security guards to appear and “get the situation under control” with chokeholds and illegally obtained taser guns. Alas, the ring is purified.
The contestants enter the ring. They squat, they glare, they await the signal from the yokozuna. They charge each other. One contestant slips and falls to his knees. Match over.
Immediately cries of “fix, fix” permeate the arena. Empty Asahi cans litter the ring. One fan calls the loser “Peter McNeely.” While the winning rikishi struts around the ring holding up 10 fingers which means, “only 10 more bouts to go,” Jim Gray snares an exclusive interview with his opponent, who does his best Oscar de la Hoya impression in announcing that his knee never touched the mat and he plans to launch “a full scale investigation” and file a protest with the National Sumo Federation. To further his point, he then lays down in the dohyo for 15 minutes, refusing to move. Eventually he rises, flips off the yokozuna, and retreats to the locker room where he ingests a handful of ephedrine and awaits his next bout.
Meanwhile, 500 miles away, a 38-year-old office worker logs onto the Internet, sees the match’s results and lets out a cry of disgust because the losing wrestler was part of his fantasy Sumo team.
And that’s Sumo in America. Oh, I almost forgot. Bravo Network would hastily prepare a show called, “Queer Eye for the Sumo Guy” in which five gay men teach a wrestler the finer points of food, drink, décor and personal appearance. I can almost hear it now…
“Oh Lord, that mawashi in no way matches your eyes!”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The world's worst jobs

Unlike the majority of the human race, I love my job. Of course, when your job involves poking fun at people, what's not to love? The fact that I get PAID to do it only makes it more satisfying. Also, the fact that I work 45 minutes a day. Okay, that's not really true but that's typically the length of my shows. I've always felt guilty when the show organizer says, "Greg, you want anything up there on stage? A stool? A glass of water?" How can I say yes when my audience works ten hour days and probably doesn't get refreshment and relaxation breaks?

Very rarely do I get up and say, "I don't want to go to work today." Actually, in the 17 years I've been doing stand-up comedy, I'm not sure I've ever said that. Sure, there have been times when, midway through the day, I've thought that it would be more comfortable to stay home rather than drive downtown and hang out at a smoky comedy club for five hours. Or stay in the hotel room instead of heading down to the meeting room and performing a dinner show for of a bunch of salesmen, who are drunk and sunburned from the afternoon golf outing.

But I have no complaints. There are people who toil daily at truly miserable jobs. For some it's by choice. Others have no choice and no career options. But as I travel around the country and see the different ways people make a living, occasionally I want to scream, "why are you working here?"

So, in no particular order, I'm going to list what I consider to be the 10 worst jobs in the work world. I won't list them all at once for I haven't yet identified all ten. So check back to this blog often and I'll try and come up with a new horrible occupation each week. Or feel free to email me your contribution. Even if it's YOUR job.

Before we go any further, I have already identified who has the BEST job in the world. That would be Jim Nantz of CBS Sports. He's the lead broadcaster of March Madness. Then, after two weeks doing play by play for about a dozen nail-biting, buzzer-beating, college hoops games, he flies directly to Augusta and broadcasts the Masters. Probably gets to play the course too just so he can unwind. 'Nuff said.

Count your blessings Jim Nantz - you could be stuck toiling at one of these gigs:

1) Check in clerk at the Hooters Hotel in Las Vegas. It was only a matter of time before Hooters put its big greasy, spicy thumbprint on the Vegas strip. The web site for the hotel says, "imagine yourself in a beach house, in the middle of the desert, having a party with the Hooters girls." Oooh, just the kind of people I want to hang out with. Hooters even has its own airline to transport its guests directly to Vegas - and on to the hotel. That's why I feel for the check in clerks. They are the first humans the arriving guests come in contact with after their long flight on HOOTERS AIR! I can only imagine the conversation.

GUEST: Hey doll face. You looking to party tonight? Just gimme a room key and keep one for yourself so you know where to find me. And hey babe, nice hooters!

HIS TRAVELING COMPANION: Uh Jim, why are you hitting on the bellboy?

2) Daytona Beach hotel maid during Spring Break

Eventually there is going to come a day when all hotel rooms become self service, meaning you'll have to clean your room yourself. If you want to leave the room with the bed unmade, towels all over the floor and the toilet unflushed, so be it. But you'll return to the identical scene six hours later.

I stay in about 100 hotels a year. And every time I see maids pushing huge towel-laden carts down the hall, I wonder what they were thinking when they applied for the job. Surely they can't enjoy cleaning up after people who become pigs just because they think they're entitled to. And I put myself in this category. At home I use one towel for four weeks. At the Marriott, I use four towels for one shower. If you're a maid, you're stuck in a vicious, never-ending cycle of back-breaking labor. Think about it - it's your first day on the job. You arrive at work and open the first door on your floor. You wipe the mirror, mop the tile, vacuum every inch of carpet, crawl under the bed until you find the TV remote, pick dental floss off the bathroom floor, wipe pubic hair from the sink (while wondering how it got there), replace the stolen shampoo and do it all in 20 minutes. Your back is pounding, bile in your throat is rising and you've probably been exposed to numerous diseases. But the room looks spotless! And your supervisor checks your work and says, "That was wonderful. Now go do it again 13 more times. And if you continue to perform at this level, we'll let you clean the Penthouse Suite."

See what I mean? Eventually even Third World immigrants will look at this profession and say, "Screw it. I'm going back to the Sudan."

However, if you want to be a maid, at least pick a cool hotel. Pick the Four Seasons where some fat cat businessman might leave a 100 dollar bill on the nightstand. Pick a honeymooner's paradise in Hawaii where the guests might not leave the room all day, enabling you to go home early. But DON'T pick anything in a Spring Break destination like Daytona, South Padre Island, Cancun, or any other location where college students (read THE FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY) go to get drunk, throw up off balconies, plummet from balconies and die.

I speak from experience on this one. I went to Daytona Beach on Spring Break during my freshman year at Northwestern. I vowed never to return yet found myself back there two years later. Each time six of us crammed into a hotel room referred to as a "double," meaning it would hold two comfortably. Four slept in the beds, and two on the floor, laying on the sand that we tracked in each evening. At least one of us was throwing up each night while the others tried to help with remedies like, "Dude, you gotta have something in your system. Have a Bud."

Eventually morning light came and we slithered out of the room and down to the beach, leaving the maid with a pile of filth and disease more suited for Abu Ghraib than a Florida hotel.

3) Lost luggage airport employee

What is customer training like at this job? Joe, welcome to the lost luggage department. It will be your job to stand behind this counter and try to locate luggage that has been misplaced somewhere in the world. Keep in mind that everybody who approaches you will be a...pissed off, b...late...and c...personally blaming you for their lost bags even though you are nothing more than a minimum-wage employee who we hired just because we couldn't find anybody else who wanted the job.

Seriously, do these employees ever encounter non-hostile people? Does anybody ever approach them, smile and say, "if it's not too much trouble, can you try and locate my bag? It's black, has a handle and contains the suit I plan to wear for my interview. Oh, it's on its way to Shanghai? Okay, just get it back to me at your earliest convenience. I'm sure my prospective boss will understand why I'll be presenting my resume wearing shorts and a "blow me" T-shirt.
I consider myself a fairly accomodating person but I have definitely given the lost luggage employees a piece of my mind on occasion. Since I don't have my piece of luggage, this is the best I can offer.

4) Bricklayer

Notice that this job doesn't come with any stipulations. I didn't say, "bricklayer in San Francisco during an earthquake" or "bricklayer in Iraq seconds before a missile strike." No, bricklayer is truly a shitty job even if you are a "bricklayer at Scarlett Johannson's home while she sunbathes naked."

There is a home being built next door to mine. It's one of those massive suburban structures known in realty circles as a "McMansion." I came across that term several weeks ago while reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune. The trend these days in the 'burbs" is to knock down a tiny home and replace it with a MONSTER home. A home where the garage is bigger than the whole house that preceded it. A home that requires help from Mapquest to get from the bedroom to the kitchen. I can't figure out this trend. When it comes to cell phones, we want one that is so small, it fits between our eyebrows but when it comes to living space, indeed we like our SPACE. And somehow we manage to fill it. Our current home is more than 1,000 square feet larger than our old home yet, within months, we had filled every square inch with "stuff," leading my wife to fret that we skimped on dimensions. The reason we have no room left over for other things (like a place to eat) is, like most women, my wife saves every personal possession she ever acquired. Nursery school drawings, Girl Scout projects, high school letters, you name it, it's somewhere in our house. Her wedding dress sits neatly folded in a large box on a basement shelf. She saves it so, according to her, our girls can wear it at their weddings. I question this logic. Since when do kids want to wear anything that belonged to their parents? I don't think I've ever said to my Dad, "Gee Dad, thanks for the argyle sweater. I think I will step outside now and get the crap kicked out of me."

Anyway, back to bricklaying. This is a profession with technology that has changed not one iota since the Middle Ages or whenever brick was first invented. Okay, maybe they used stone back then but the building process was the same: Cut one, slather on some mortar, stick it on, cut one, slather on some mortar, stick it on. Eventually, Westminster Abbey is completed!

Now fast forward 800 years. We can build a car using robotic arms, send documents around the world by clicking a mouse and prepare dinner in 45 seconds. But the guys outside my window are building a house by cutting a brick, slathering on some mortar, sticking it on, cutting another one... It's like trying to schedule jet landings at O'Hare using a sundial. I just hope bricklaying pays well. Maybe if these guys hustle, they can make upwards of 20 shillings.

5) World Cup soccer referee

Soccer fans in Europe and South America are, how should I put it, TRULY FRIGGING NUTS when it comes to cheering for their favorite team. So why would anybody want to be in a position that determines the outcome of these games? Let me tell you how crazy soccer fans are. I was in New York City in 1998 when the World Cup was played in the United States. I happened to walk into an Irish bar in Greenwich Village. The great thing about New York is that, unlike most cities, "Irish bar" doesn't mean they serve Guinness on tap and have a neon shamrock in the window. "Irish bar" in New York means every stool is occupied by an Irish citizen. Except during World Cup season when the ENTIRE BAR is occupied by Irish citizens, and all are rip roaring drunk.

When I walked in, the place was up for grabs to say the least. Everyone was wearing soccer uniforms. I thought the actual Irish World Cup team had stopped by to hoist a few. Irish songs were being sung. Of course, not everybody was singing the same song, but who cared? It was like Irish karaoke was breaking out all over the bar. Guys with full beers were running into each other while singing. I stood out like a doughnut at a diabetics convention. And since. like 99.9 percent of America, I didn't follow World Cup, I had no idea what they were celebrating although I had a good idea. Over the din I yelled to a half-drunk patron, "I guess Ireland won today?"

He replied, "No, Ireland didn't even play today. We just found out that Ireland made it to the next round."

I wondered what the bar would have been like if Ireland had actually COMPETED that day.

Yes, this was my entry into the passion of soccer. Now I imagined all those bar patrons turning their wrath on a referee who dared make a call against their team. I envisioned "pieces 'o ref" strewn up down a street. No thanks.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cover that up!

I took the family to a water park last week
My kids are in detox this week.
Okay, I lied but not by much. After two days of plummeting down slides, bucking the tide in a wave pool, and getting sprayed on every bodily orifice, the kids were definitely in need of some downtime.
I was in need of a drink - with alcohol, not chlorine.
The more popular waterparks become, the more disgusted I become with them. My disgust stems from three simple words: too much flesh. Let’s face it: people, Sports Illustrated supermodels notwithstanding, look lousy in bathing suits. And after receiving this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in the mail today, I’m not sure they look that hot either. Mostly because, in the majority of photos, they aren’t wearing anything at all. The only thing that makes the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue different from Penthouse is a strategically positioned wave. And the Forum letters. When Sports Illustrated starts running those, I’m canceling my subscription. Dear Sports Illustrated: I am a senior lacrosse player at a large Midwestern University. You will never believe what happened to me while showering in the co ed locker room.
Okay, back to the waterpark. We journeyed there with three other couples from the neighborhood - four couples in two condos. Eight adults and eleven kids. That’s right…11 KIDS. All jacked up on sugar, Coke and pizza. These kids didn’t see a vegetable for three days. Besides, who had time to sit down for a meal when the WATERPARK awaited. Someone needs to explain to kids that waterparks are PERMANENT FIXTURES. In other words, they won’t disappear from existence if everybody doesn’t get to the entrance the moment it opens. Nobody explained that to our brood, which is why everybody was in bathing suits and screaming by 9:55 a.m., anticipating the park’s 10 a.m. opening. Most Saturdays, the only thing I’ve accomplished by 9:55 a.m. is a visit to the bathroom.
So at precisely 10 a.m. we strode – rather, RAN into the waterpark along with about 2,509 other families. The reason for this is most waterparks only have 14 chairs and three tables. Luckily we were able to grab one chair for all 19 of us. First mission accomplished.
Mission number two at a waterpark is grabbing a raft so you can go down slides. By now it was 10:05 which meant there were 4,000 people fighting for 26 rafts. If you don’t get a raft, waterpark etiquette says that you wait at the base of the slide and whoever comes plummeting down gladly hands you their tube. That would be the case if we lived in a civilized country. But we don’t. So my daughters and I waited while tube after tube came down and its occupants played dumb – and blind for that matter.
Finally we secured a tube and marched up the steps. We made it about five steps before the line came to a stunning halt. From there the line moved at approximately one step per minute. In between, I was wedged shoulder to shoulder with more flesh than I ever care to come in contact with. And because we live in 2006, most of that flesh is tattooed. This gave me and my two young daughters something to read while in line. Get ready girls. It will be our turn right after bitchdog.
Finally, it was our turn. A bored seventeen year old sat at the top of the slide, getting paid to look down and determine when it was safe for us to begin our journey. He gave our tube a gentle nudge and we descended into darkness, pitching, rolling and getting splashed before slowing down in a pool. The entire journey lasted about seven seconds. We surrendered our tube. We’d been in the waterpark for one hour, the population was now about 10,000 and we had been down one slide. Not bad for 29 bucks a person.
This continued all day long. The kids eventually disappeared to be with their peers. I retreated to our “area,” which had swelled to four chairs. I never asked how we secured three more chairs. I assume three people drowned and we were just in the right place at the right time.
By day’s end, the kids reeked of chlorine and were already planning their return trip tomorrow. I had consumed five beers, peed about six times and was making plans, with the other adults, on where to get that night’s pizza. One neighbor was already checking with the front desk to see if we could rent the same condos next year.
I’ll pack my Speedo.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reasons I will no longer watch the Olympics

Because the Chinese beat us at pairs figure skating. I read somewhere that half the people in China don't have running water. Yet somehow they managed to find enough of it, freeze it and still kick our butts...because I don't understand how one bobsled can beat another. Take a sled and push it down a hill. Why does one go faster? And what does the guy in back do other than push? He jumps in and then does NOTHING. You shouldn't get a gold medal for being a passenger...because curling is not a sport. It's shuffleboard with brooms...because nobody at NBC had the guts to ask Shani Davis the question on everybody's mind: why do you have a bug up your butt?...because Bob Costas' hair gets darker every day...because I don't need to see Matt Lauer laying on top of Al Roker while riding a luge...because everybody except the gold medal guy fell in men's ice skating. Hey, I could fall while doing a quad toe loop. Why aren't I in Torino?...because Bode Miller was a loser even before he came to Torino; he just reinforced it during the Games... because the girl who hotdogged in the snowboardcross and lost the gold medal blew it by not facing the cameras and saying, "I screwed up. Kids, if you're watching, don't do what I did."...because I will always know the results of every single event before the NBC broadcast occurs, unless I live in a cave or unless the next Olympic site is in my backyard... because I neither shoot nor cross country ski so the biathalon seems useless to me...and because I don't want to look at snow when I can just look out my own window and see far too much of it. Bring on the Spring Olympics!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Random Thoughts from the Road

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE - Sitting in my hotel watching the Grammys. Dave Chappelle just introduced Sly Stone, who supposedly has been a “recluse” for 19 years. Some advice for Sly: If you don’t want to be noticed, lose the white Mohawk and the purple coat. .. Chris Rock beat Larry the Cable Guy for best comedy album. Having those two in the same category is like inviting Bill Clinton and the Tri Delta sorority house to the same dinner party…I still can’t believe Larry the Cable Guy is Dan Whitney, the guy who started doing comedy with me in West Palm Beach, Florida; the guy who hung out at my apartment in Florida, and later in Chicago; the guy who was the most high maintenance houseguest I’ve ever had..Jamie Foxx has now won an Oscar and a Grammy in the same year. I’ve lived in my neighborhood for seven years and still can’t win the neighborhood golf tournament…I’ve stayed in three Marriotts in three different cities this week and the toilet hasn’t worked in any of them…are there any bald people in Tennessee? Everybody seems to have lots of hair – and perfectly coiffed. And what’s the life expectancy in that state? Forty-three? The main breakfast ingredient seems to be cheese. Your cholesterol count triples before you even get to work…I was going to see Brokeback Mountain last night but I didn’t think Tennessee seemed an appropriate state to watch a movie about gay cowboys…the only other time I felt uncomfortable in a movie theatre was when I saw Goodfellas in New York City. When Ray Liotta smacked his wife around, the audience cheered…people in the South smile too much. It’s nice at first but eventually I feel like I’m talking to a state full of used car salesmen…I still laugh out loud when I watch ‘Airplane.’ It may be the only movie where it’s impossible to choose a “favorite line.” And I still see things I’ve missed in past viewings. I watched it about eight times before realizing that the ambulance carrying the sick little girl crashed after she made it safely off the plane.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Can we go now? How about now? Now?

The clock said 8:30 a.m. Or did it?

The digital age has allowed clocks to be within eyesight from just about anywhere. In my house, I can always see the time. All I have to do is look at the toaster oven, the VCR, the DVD player, the clock radio, the PC, the washing machine or the iPod.

Problem is, they can’t agree with each other.

I think my wife is behind this. Like most women, punctuality is not her strong suit. Men are often called lazy but we're way ahead of women when it comes to getting our butts in gear and heading out the door.

It’s almost as if she is afraid to be on time. If, for some strange reason, the planets line up and she is actually ready at the appointed departure time, she will check her email, review her eBay listings, or wipe crumbs off the kitchen table. Then, checking the clock and seeing that we are now 10 minutes behind, she’ll announce that she is ready.

At least she realizes that tardiness is a fault. However, her way of correcting it is to set the clocks head five minutes.

“Why do you do this?” I ask her. “You know what the time really is by looking at the clock and subtracting five minutes. All you’re doing is adding math to the situation.” It’s like hotels that don’t have a 13th floor because of the negative connotations associated with that numeral. Do hotel employees really believe the guests on the 14th floor have no idea which floor they are really on?

The primary target for our tardiness is church. Our church service starts at 10 a.m. which, for the Schwems, means 10:10. Every Sunday we fly into the parking late and park illegally over a portion of blacktop adorned with horizontal yellow lines that say, “don’t park here.” Yet my wife drives a Lincoln Navigator, which lives by its own set of rules namely, “this car can go wherever the hell it wants.”

At 10:12 a.m. we march down the aisle, usually in the midst of the choir’s performance. Because all the pews are taken except the very front one, our tardiness is noticed by everybody. It’s simply impossible to avoid detection when you are late for church unless you can manage to sneak into the balcony without the sound of your shoes on the steps. This flaw has definitely been noticed by church personnel as we are no longer asked to be ushers, greeters, offering collectors or anything else that requires showing up before the rest of the congregation.

I have no patience, sympathy or compassion for anyone who is chronically late. It may be the one affliction that can be cured without drugs, counseling, 12 step programs, trips to the Caribbean or intervention from Dr. Phil. Yet I feel tardy people find punctual people annoying. After all, the first person to arrive at a party is looked upon kind of strangely by the host. Why is that? Somebody has to be first! Don’t sweat it. The next time the Schwems throw a party, come at 7:30 if that’s what the invitation says. I’ll be ready.

My wife will just be getting out of the shower.