Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Best of 2007...if you ask me

I try not to open a newspaper, read a magazine or surf the Internet this time of year because I’m always left feeling unfulfilled.

The reason? Everywhere I turn, I come across those “Best of” lists containing movies I didn’t see, TV shows I didn’t watch and CDs by musical artists I’ve never heard of. Then I read obituaries of people I didn’t even know expired in 2007. When the heck did Brooke Astor die? For that matter, who was Brooke Astor?

So, as the ball gets sets to drop in Times Square and usher in another year, I figure I had better prepare my own “best of” list so others can I see what I DID accomplish in 2007. Here goes:

Best movie I saw in a theatre: None. I have children and, by the time my wife and I secure a babysitter, pay full price for two adult tickets and a “small” tanker drum of popcorn, the movie costs close to $100. Get the point?

Best movie I saw on DVD: American Gangster. Okay, it’s not available on DVD yet. Let’s just say I know a guy. We will leave it at that.

Best stupid comment from an airline employee: Upon landing, a United Airlines pilot took the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived early. Please remember that the next time you fly United and we’re a few minutes late.” Can you imagine a doctor using that logic? “Mr. Schwem, you survived the operation. Remember that the next time we operate on you and things don’t go as smoothly.”

Runner up: An American Airlines gate agent who announced that, because my flight was cancelled, personnel were trying to “locate another plane.” I didn’t realize jets got lost that easily.

Best “proud to be a parent” moment: My 10-year-old daughter who, suffering from incurable stage fright, played flawlessly at a piano recital.

Best “being a parent is tough” moment: Two minutes after the recital concluded when she announced she would “NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!”

Best “I’m doing this because I love my kids” moment: Driving my daughters 90 miles to Milwaukee during a Chicago Bears playoff game to see “High School Musical Live,” driving them back home, catching a flight to Los Angeles, sitting at the airport surrounded by thousands of delirious, beer-soaked Bears fans, waiting on the tarmac for two hours, arriving in LA at 1 a.m., renting a car and driving to Palm Springs for a 10 a.m. show. I recite that story verbatim every time either of my children complains about unloading the dishwasher.

Best moment without kids: A weekend in Cape Cod with my wife.

Best hotel stay: The Paradisus, San Juan Puerto Rico. The client put my family and I up in an oceanfront bungalow complete with 24-hour butler service. Everybody should be pampered like that once in their lives.

Worst hotel stay: I used to like staying in hotels until a friend made me watch After seeing it, all hotel stays sucked. Except for the Paradisus. I’m pretty sure the butler washed the glasses.

Best story to share with my buddies: Being propositioned by a hooker in the lobby of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas at 6 a.m. I reminded her that the National Rodeo Finals convention was in town and I’m sure she could do better than a middle-aged guy dressed in shorts and flip flops who was not searching for gratification. I just wanted coffee.

Best audience: The Self Storage Association at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Who would have thought that a bunch of people who manage large sheds where people store their crap could be such a riot? Plus it was at Caesar’s Palace. That’s cool in itself.

Toughest audience: A dozen Wells Fargo engineers, sitting around a conference table littered with laptops, cables and half eaten lunches. I stood at the head of the table and tried to make them laugh for 45 veeerrrrry looooooong minutes. Nice people but I felt like I was interrupting a meeting.

Best road meal: Peter Luger’s steakhouse in Brooklyn. The steak was too rare but the ambiance was priceless.

Best “puff out my stomach” moment: Driving the green on the 336 yard 14th hole at The Falls in Las Vegas. Okay, the tee is on a cliff and you shoot down into a valley but I still hit the crap out of the ball.

Best invention: I’m sorry but it’s still the iPod.

Best invention this year: Probably the iPhone. I don’t own one only because I would probably leave it in a cab or a hotel room, thereby losing my phone, music collection, address book, photo album and internet connection all in one moment of stupidity.

Best celebrity encounter: Chatting backstage with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien in New Orleans. Hard to believe this sweet, funny woman was the same person who relentlessly grilled former FEMA director Mike Brown following Hurricane Katrina.

Best reasons to look forward to 2008: Coaching softball, my first show for Microsoft and the fact that I still have all my hair.

Reasons to dread 2008: Iraq, the presidential election, inflation and the fear that I might slip up and say “Google” during my first show for Microsoft.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Be careful what you keep

I was hauling the Christmas decorations up from the basement the other day when I came across a large plastic crate. In my Mom’s handwriting one word was printed on the front: KEEPSAKES. Basically, it was a large box of awards, photos, papers and accolades accumulated during my youth that my mother saved. My mother could have easily discarded the entire box when I went off to college and I would have never known – or cared, for that matter. But mothers can’t do that. I can almost hear my mother now…
“Greg will probably never need his 5th grade safety patrol pin but you never know.”
So my mother saved the contents and then gave the trunk to me when my parents moved out of THEIR house. And, for some reason, I couldn’t throw the box out either. So it’s remained in the basement, next to the approximately 57 boxes of holiday decorations that my wife has collected and is determined to display for six weeks out of the year. We now have enough Santas, snowmen, candy canes, holly, icicles and lights to decorate not only our house but Bill Gates’ as well. Unpacking Christmas decorations is not a job I relish so it was a no-brainer to take a break and peek inside the keepsakes box. Even though I had peeked before, it was still refreshing to journey down memory lane. Here was my high school varsity letter, earned while playing tennis. Under that was a yellowed newspaper photo of an “invention” I’d created in first grade, consisting of a garden hose sprayer and a single sunglass lens. Still further down, a printing exercise in which I drew the letter “t” over and over on the elementary age writing paper – the kind with three horizontal green lines drawn across the entire page. Not one of my t’s strayed outside the lines, earning a gold star and a “super job” from my kindergarten teacher.
I closed the box and put it back on the shelf, vowing to revisit it in January when I bring the Christmas decorations back to the basement.
And then I heard about the latest hijinx coming from the Hillary Clinton camp.
Somebody from Senator Clinton’s team apparently got hold of a paper that Barack Obama had written in, (are you ready?) kindergarten! A paper titled, “Why I would like to be president.” Because Obama has maintained all along that running for President wasn’t a lifelong ambition, Clinton’s people thought they had caught him in a lie. The paper was PROOF that he’d been angling for the job ever since he was writing on green lined paper!
Clinton’s team of mouthpieces immediately went on the talk shows to claim the comments were made in jest. But it still caused me to look at the contents of my keepsakes box in a different light. What conclusions could people draw from me based on what was inside?
What’s this? An eighth-grade photo of Greg in Oklahoma. Wasn’t that a musical about settlers staking their claims in uncharted territory? Didn’t those settlers push Indians off the land? Greg Schwem must hate Indians!
And what have we here? A photo from Greg’s first Little League team. Look closely. Are there any African Americans on the team? How about Hispanics? Asians? Nope, just white kids. How could Greg associate himself with ANYTHING that lacks racial diversity?
Here’s a crude cutout of a bird that Greg made in third grade art class. Interesting color choice on the feathers. They are all red – the color of BLOOD! The Audubon Society will have a field day with that one.
Where did this swimming ribbon come from? Some quick digging reveals that Greg earned it while swimming for a country club team. Hmmmm, don’t country clubs have exclusionary policies?
And if that wasn’t enough, here is a photo of Greg with some fraternity brothers at Northwestern University. A photo taken during a yearly event known as “wheelchair races,” in which two-man teams race across campus in wheelchairs dressed only in their underwear. Is that Greg in the wheelchair? Greg’s not handicapped, is he? Merely by sitting in it, he is belittling handicapped Americans everywhere. And because Greg is not afflicted in any way, that wheelchair could not have been obtained legally. Greg must have stolen it.
It is a good thing that, unlike Barack Obama, I have never had any aspirations to run for President. Who would want to vote for a racist, animal hating, elitist thief who may have homosexual tendencies?
My daughter is currently in kindergarten. I may have to start home schooling her

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Schmoopsy for President

So last night I watched the latest of the roughly 1,291 presidential debates that will take place before we actually elect somebody to run against somebody else, thereby subjecting the American people to approximately 3,598 more debates. And that’s providing Al Gore doesn’t change his mind.
This debate, featuring eight Republican contenders, including two guys who I didn’t even know were running, was co-sponsored by CNN and YouTube. That marriage makes about as much sense as the Pope co-sponsoring a mass with Britney Spears. CNN calls itself “the most trusted name in news.” YouTube’s slogan is “Broadcast Yourself” but it might as well be “broadcasting unemployed people who own video cameras.” Most of the video submissions from YouTube are from people who don’t get CNN. Oh sure, they receive it on their cable dial but they still don’t get it.
The debate was hosted by Andersen Cooper, who seems to have replaced all the other CNN anchors by himself. Personally, I think there are three Andersen Coopers because how else could he be in so many places at one time? Look, there’s Andersen interviewing front line troops in Iraq! Five minutes later Andersen Cooper is LIVE in New Orleans. The next minute he’s yukking it up with Jerry Seinfeld in Las Vegas. Get the point?
Don’t get me wrong. I like the guy. I think I like him because he’s the son of Gloria Vanderbilt yet he still goes to work every day and earns a paycheck like the rest of us. I’m sure Andersen Cooper could have retired when he was about six months old if he chose to.
However, Andersen Cooper Vanderbilt whatever really needs to decide whether he wants to be a comedian or a news anchor. And, as NBC’s Brian Williams proved during his hosting stint on Saturday Night Live last month, you can’t do both.
Yet there was Cooper, onstage in St. Petersburg, Florida, facing the following presidential hopefuls: Rudolph “9-11 is my middle name” Guliani, Mitt “Brylcreem Poster Boy” Romney, “ Fred “I’m a better actor than Ronald Reagan” Thompson, “ John “Full Metal Jacket” McCain,” Mike, “delicious shake for breakfast, one for lunch and a sensible dinner” Huckabee, Ron “I’d be honored to be your next on-line President,” Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter. I don’t have nicknames for the last two guys because, as I previously mentioned, I didn’t know they were running.
The eight stood there, smiling nervously, while Andersen Cooper proudly mentioned that over 5,000 questions had been submitted via YouTube. Cooper made reference to some of the weird submissions that did not make the cut…and then promptly showed them. The candidates continued to smile as they watched questions from an animated snowman, a UFO, the “ghost” of Richard Nixon and a cartoon dog named “Schmoopsy.” Fred Thompson probably co-starred in pilots with all of them.
Finally, Cooper called the debate to order. Actually, a guy named Chris Nandor or “Pudgenet” as he calls himself on YouTube, called the debate to order by playing an original song that supposedly introduced all the candidates. Included were brilliant lyrics like, Rudy’s leading all the polls but can he win the base? Mitt changed on abortion; history he can’t erase.” As each candidate heard his name mentioned, the fake smile grew even more fake.
Once Nandor’s 15 minutes of fame ended, the first YouTube question was asked. It came from “ejxit,” a 59-year-old New Yorker whose video looked as if it were shot in a basement around 4:30 am. The question was for Guliani and accused him of providing illegal immigrants with a “sanctuary city” in New York while he was mayor. Guliani denied it, Romney refuted the denial and finally the debate started to take on the appearance of an actual debate.
As the questions continued, I started wondering whether the stars of this “debate” were the candidates themselves or the YouTube interrogators. One guy asked a question about gun control while cocking a weapon that looked like it could wipe out a small country. He was promptly scolded by Congressman Hunter for handling the gun the wrong way. Hunter, by the way, is a gun owner and believes strongly in the Second Amendment.
A rather scary looking gentleman held up the Bible and asked, “do you believe EVERY word of this book? And I mean specifically every word of this book I am holding in my hand? Do you believe this book?”
The question was so repetitive that it prompted Cooper to switch to comedian mode and quip, “I think we got his question.”
My favorite part of the debate was when the questioners magically appeared in the audience. The singer Nandor was present as was openly gay retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, who asked, not surprisingly, about gays in the military. After two candidates had answered the question, Cooper invited Kerr into the debate by asking him if he felt his question was answered. Suddenly there were nine candidates vying for airtime. I thought the whole thing was weird; it reminded me of the Jerry Springer episodes where the betrayed spouse is backstage and appears after her ex admits to about six affairs. Heck, Guliani didn’t have that many!
I finally turned off the TV, no closer to making a decision when I go to the polls in February. But the ghost of Richard Nixon is looking pretty good.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear Santa

Dear Santa:

I saw you yesterday at the mall. November 15th and you're already here? Seems like you show up earlier every year. Heck, I'm still trying to eat the kids' leftover Halloween candy. It's not going well. Instead of cookies this Christmas Eve, you may just get a plate of M&Ms, Starburst and Dum Dum lollipops. Please don't hold it against me.

I've been pretty good this year. Okay, there was that one day when I told my wife I had "appointments" in the city and played golf instead. But she's guilty too. You probably know that she goes to "the gym" sometimes and comes back with a carload of shopping bags!

So if you will forgive me that one minor indiscretion, I have a fairly extensive list this year. Please note the specificity of each item. Here goes:

One chartered jet to take Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears to Mogadishu where they will help children orphaned by the war

A tuition freeze among all educations of higher learning. It must remain in effect until 2024, when my youngest graduates from college

Non-fat cheese popcorn

A presidential nominee whose platform includes eliminating all youth activities - including travel teams, practices, competitions and pep rallies - on Sundays. I feel so strongly on this that I will even vote for Dennis Kuchinich if he makes that promise.

Anything that doesn't come with an AC adapter. I recently rounded up all the mystery adapters we have laying around our house. I have no idea what any of them power so I've decided to use them as tinsel on the tree.

All of our troops home for Christmas. If they have to return, so be it. But send them back on Air Force One - with President Bush riding jumpseat.

Mysterious fires that wipe out every ticket scalper office and computer. If you tried to get Hannah Montana tickets this year, you know what I mean.

A golf ball with a GPS device.

Ten fewer pounds

One year without the following television shows: The Biggest Loser, The Bachelor, Kid Nation and To Catch a Predator. Regarding the last one, we get it! There are perverts on line.

On that note, please try and eliminate on line perverts.

Finally, a dog. Because dogs don't care about the war in Iraq, the broken healthcare system, the mortgage crisis, cyber bullying or Brad and Angelina.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Get Bangalore on speed dial

I haven't blogged in months. No excuses really. Just a lack of time. However, I have found time to begin reading Thomas Friedman's, "The World is Flat" the phenomenal best-seller in which he defines events that have allowed the rest of the world to catch up, and often pass, the United States in terms of productivity.
Friedman's first chapter deals with outsourcing. In vivid and often humorous detail, he describes how major U.S. companies like Microsoft and Dell have outsourced sales, technical support and customer service, to Bangalore, India, the Silicon Valley of that Asian nation. Young, highly-educated Indians clamor for a chance to sit in a call center in the middle of the night and sell Americans credit cards or answer questions like, "I accidentally deleted my hard drive. What button do I push to get it back?"
While Americans look at call center employment as about as desirable as dental surgery, Friedman points out that Indians view outsourced jobs as steppingstones to bigger and better things.
Hmmm, maybe I can help them achieve their dreams
It's Saturday morning and I'm going over my checklist of activities on what is supposed to be a day of relaxation: my ten-year old daughter Natalie has gymnastics from 10 a.m. to 11:30. During that time, I'll run to the dry cleaner, the grocery store and return home briefly to make sure my my five year old Amy takes a shower. Once she's clean, we'll pick up Natalie, drive to a bowling alley and participate in a fundraiser for Amy's cheer tumbling team. That lasts until 4, at which time we'll dash to Natalie's 6 p.m. piano recital. Did I mention lunch? Oh yes, we'll eat if there is time.
Sunday is no different. Up at 7 a.m. No church because we have to attend a cheer tumbling tournament that will last into the afternoon. Then somebody needs to get Natalie to her volleyball lesson at 4 p.m.
The pace is exhausting, to say the least. And I'm sure other parents look at my schedule and consider it to be a walk in the park. My next door neighbors moved in last month. They have four kids and I'm not sure if they have even lived in their home yet. Rather than spend the money on a 5,000 square foot, four-bedrooom home, they might have been wise to invest in a Winnebago.
My wife and I often refer to ourselves as human busses, chauffeuring our kids from one event to the next. It's tiresome, it's drudgery and it seems like a perfect outsourcing opportunity! Rather than sit in a cubicle all evening wearing a headset, I'm sure a bright Bangalore native would be happy to come live with our family and take over the driving duties. In fact, I'm thinking of putting an ad in the Bangalore papers:

Do you want to get ahead and experience daily American culture? Then the Schwem family wants you!

Hours: Change daily. On call 24x7

Requirements: Must hold valid driver's license and own cell phone. Must be capable of talking on cell phone while operating car seat buckles and straps

Must own car with GPS System and enough trunk space to carry sports equipment, musical instruments, art supplies and numerous overpriced uniforms which will most likely be worn once.

Must be willing to wait in parking lots with car idling, needlessly wasting gas while children dawdle inside

Must be able to consume fast food while driving

Benefits: The thrill of seeing a child score a goal, do a cartwheel, play Beethoven (badly) or succeed in some other skill that requires countless hours of coaching, teaching and specialized instructions.

Pay: None

If interested, respond to this blog. All messages will be returned sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight as this is the only time the employer is home.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Never mix baseball and technology

Each year during baseball season I play hooky for an afternoon and attend a major league game. There are two professional teams in my backyard – the Cubs and the White Sox – and it doesn’t matter which team I watch. The point is, the weather is warm, I’m watching baseball and I get a chance to reflect on childhood memories.
Flash back to 1973, my first ball game. I attended it with the other members of Den Five, my Cub Scout troop. Thankfully we did not have to wear our Cub Scout uniforms to the game, as there really is no reason to attend a ball game wearing a knotted yellow scarf. Instead, we dressed like the normal, wide-eyed kids we were, as we descended on Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs do battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I brought two items from home: my baseball mitt and a ballpoint pen. Like every boy, I dreamed of snaring a foul ball from the likes of Ron Santo or Ernie Banks as if it were as routine as catching a pop fly during a Little League game. The cameras would zero in on me as the fans applauded. I’d take the ball home, put it on a bookshelf in my room and go to sleep every night staring at it.
I could dream, couldn’t I?
The ballpoint pen represented a more realistic goal. I was determined to get an
autograph, any autograph, of a major league ballplayer. I knew from watching pre-game shows on TV that players liberally signed before beginning their jobs. This was my chance to not only meet one of my idols, but also come home with proof.
As Den Five made its way into Wrigley, I immediately stopped in front of the man yelling, “SCORECARD!” I purchased one for a dime; this was now my official autograph book as there was plenty of blank space surrounding the lineup box for signatures. Once we got to our seats, I immediately began scanning the field, in hopes a Cubs player would make his way to the stands and sign.
Suddenly I spied a real live Cub. Not just any Cub but my favorite player at the time, left fielder Billy Williams. I darted down the steps with my card, where more than 50 kids had already assembled near the dugout, all with the same intention – get Billy’s autograph.
For a ten-year-old boy, the scene was intimidating to say the least. Dozens of outstretched hands held programs in Williams’ face. He would randomly pick one, sign and thrust it back into the mob, where the card’s owner took it. Stretching my arm as far as I could, I did the same with my card, thinking that it was hopeless.
Moments later, I felt a tug on my scorecard, as if a fish had just nibbled my hook. I had a bite! Not just a bite but it appeared I was about to hook the mother of all fish as I saw Williams’ light-brown hand on MY card! I let go. As Williams signed, I wondered if I would actually get the card back. “He’s just going to stick it back in the pile,” I thought. “There are older kids here. Surely one will grab the card.”
But nobody did. Williams completed his signature, placed the card back into the mass and waited for a tug. That tug came from me. I had the card. With a whoop of delight, I retreated to my seat. It was like a simple movie premise: boy sees player, boy gets scorecard, player signs scorecard, boy get scorecard back, boy lives happily ever after.
Now flash forward to 2007. Picture a ten-year-old Cub Scout trying to do the same thing and lets see how the scenario would play out.
Having successfully raised $800 during the winter, Den Five finally has enough money to afford baseball tickets. Or so they think. The den mother’s plan to purchase tickets on line goes awry when she pulls up the seat map for the game and sees the only tickets left are behind a support beam. A hasty bake sale/car wash/canning drive is organized and the troop raises another $200 that’s needed to purchase seats through a ticket broker.
The boys arrive at the ballpark and endure the formalities of getting inside. Their bags are searched and they are wanded for explosives. One boy wanders over to purchase a scorecard even though he is breaking the den mother’s first rule. On the bus ride she clearly stated, “under no circumstances will you go anywhere without adult supervision.”
Thankfully, one of the chaperones walks over and the boy completes his transaction for the simple white cardboard square that looks exactly the same as it did 34 years ago, albeit with more advertising. The other scouts decline to purchase scorecards, as they don’t want to part with $3.50.
The youngsters take their seats and eagerly await the arrival of the hot dog vendor. But the scout with the card has his eyes on the field, desperately looking for a player, any player, who is signing autographs. There are none. Yes, there are dozens of players on the field but none are talking with fans. Instead they are talking with men wearing expensive suits and carrying two cell phones.
Speaking of cell phones the boys get a lesson in swearing when they are forced to listen to a spectator sitting directly behind them in company-purchased seats. He is having a loud, profanity-filled conversation with somebody with the following names: “son of a bitch,” “dickhead” and “asswipe.” A disapproving glance from the den mother proves pointless.
Suddenly a lone player wanders over to the stands. The scout has no idea who it is. Truth be known, it’s a minor leaguer who was called up yesterday for a ten-day assignment. But all the kid knows is that a professional baseball player is actually going to SIGN AUTOGRAPHS. He charges down the steps, pursued by the assistant den mother who is trying to heed the den mother’s aforementioned rule. She will have her hands full as an aggressive-looking mob, consisting primarily of middle-aged men holding multiple balls, baseball cards and jerseys, has already assembled.
The boy thrusts his scorecard into the pack. Tears form in his eyes as his feet are stepped on and his ribs elbowed. He is ready to give up when suddenly he feels the tug. Yes, the player has grabbed his scorecard! He lets go, the player signs and places it back into the pack.
The boy reaches for the card Suddenly another hand appears from nowhere and grabs it. The hand belongs to a grown man with a shaved head and tattoos adorning both shoulders. One is a Confederate flag logo; the other simply says “BITCH.”
Clutching the autograph in one hand, the man races up the steps and returns to his seat. Using his digital camera equipped Blackberry, he snaps a photo of the autograph and prepares to upload the image to eBay for a “Buy It Now” price of $30.
Meanwhile a security guard consoles the sobbing scout. The kid relays his story and points to the thief, who is now drinking beer with his friends, showing them the autograph and freely admitting that he stole it from “some dorky looking kid who probably came with his gay scout troop.”
Three guards ascend the stairs and confront the thief, who replies with his middle finger. One guard reaches for the program and the thief pushes him. The guard pushes back. A scuffle breaks out, another guard tasers the perpetrator and he is hauled away in handcuffs, freely screaming profanities at anyone within earshot. Another spectator, sitting two rows below, records the whole scene using the video camera contained in his cell phone. Within moments he uploads the images to CNN where a graphics editor slaps on the phrase, “EXCLUSIVE: BASEBRAWL!” and forwards it to a news producer, who makes it the leading story on the Noon News Round Up. Half an hour later, the video has been viewed over one million times on YouTube.
Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton reports, incorrectly, that the beating victim is a distant cousin of Lindsay Lohan. Website, citing “sources close to the brutal attack,” reports that the victim is 1/82 African American.
By the third inning, Jesse Jackson is leading a protest march outside Wrigley Field. The Rev. Al Sharpton has already appeared on every major network and cable outlet, demanding the firing of the security guards, the ballplayer, the entire Cubs front office, Bud Selig and Abner Doubleday. He also says “serious discussions” are needed in the Cub Scouts organization.
Meanwhile the scout has returned to his seat, sans autograph. Cameras hone in on him and plaster his face on the television. An alert tipster calls the network with the boy’s name and soon he is being identified on screen. At home, his mother wonders why the phone is ringing so much? Furthermore, she can’t understand why the first call is a death threat, the second is from Anderson Cooper and the third is from a producer for The Late Show with David Letterman.
A Cubs public relations official finds the boy in his seat. He apologizes profusely and tells the den mother that, if the child agrees not to sue, he will get a tour of the lockerroom and an autographed jersey signed by every Cubs player.
The scout says he has to think about it.

I still have my Billy Williams autograph. I took it out the other day and wept on it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

We're All In This Together

I don’t have any sons. Therefore, watching Sunday afternoon football will never be considered a “bonding experience” in my house.
Which is why, last Sunday, as my beloved Chicago Bears put the hurt on the New Orleans Saints and earned a long overdue trip to the Super Bowl, my favorite football recliner was empty. The high definition flat screen was dark. The chips and salsa remained in the cupboard.
For I was 100 miles away, in a Milwaukee basketball arena with my daughters, watching the modern day equivalent of The Beatles.
Yes, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL was in town!
If you don’t have children under 13, chances are you have never heard of High School Musical. If your cable package doesn’t include The Disney Channel, you’re also, most likely, in the dark. But my girls are nine and four, which means the Disney Channel would remain on even if nuclear missiles were headed towards my subdivision.
Girls, turn on CNN so we can see if we need to take shelter.
No way Dad. Hannah Montana just started.
High School Musical – The Movie debuted on the Disney Channel in January 2006. It’s a simple story: high school jock meets brainy girl and both discover they have a passion for singing. They audition for a high school musical in spite of pressure from their friends – athletes and academics – who try and prevent it from happening. Both groups are convinced that singing is for losers, which is puzzling because everybody in this high school sings and dances at various points during the movie.
Eventually they all learn lessons about being oneself, not bowing to peer pressure and pursuing dreams. It’s kind of like Grease except nobody dresses up like a slut at the end in order to get the guy. Are you listening, Olivia Newton-John?
Once Disney Channel executives realized they had a big hit on their hands, High School Musical began running, as far as I can tell, on a continuous loop. Every once in awhile, the producers would throw some tricks into the movie so audiences thought they were watching something different. Monday was High School Musical with dance instructions, Tuesday we were treated to “pop up” High School Musical, on Wednesday, gather around for High School Musical with Spanish subtitles and so on and so on. I’m waiting for High School Musical with the alternate ending, where the jock misses the big shot at the buzzer, breaks his ankle while auditioning for the musical and then announces he is gay.
A few months later, Disney executives realized they had a HUGE hit on their hands. And, because they work at Disney, it became necessary to exploit the movie even further. I can’t understand why Disney seems so intent on running everything into the ground. The other day I saw a billboard announcing the pending release of…Cinderella III. That’s right, Disney has made not one, but two Cinderella sequels. The last time I saw Cinderella, she was dancing happily ever after with the prince. What’s in the other two movies? An affair? A bitter custody battle? I guess I’ll have to rent the DVDs.
So after releasing the High School Musical board game, the High School Musical clothing line and announcing that a script for High School Musical 2 was in the works, Disney executives decided they all needed winter homes in Aspen. Lo and behold, they created HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL” THE CONCERT! COMING TO YOUR HOMETOWN!!!
That would have been okay except Milwaukee is not my hometown. The tickets in my hometown, Chicago, sold out in – are your ready? – THREE MINUTES! I spent three minutes getting dressed this morning. In that time, Disney sold 15,000 tickets.
Luckily my wife’s Internet fingers were fast enough to get three tickets in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, they were for the same day that she would be on a plane, returning from a Vegas trip with her girlfriends. Hence, the chaperoning duties fell upon me.
“But the Bears are playing,” I pleaded.
“That’s why we have Tivo,” was the response.
Damn Tivo.
So on a snowy afternoon, I arrived with my daughters in tow, an hour before showtime. As we sloshed our way to the Bradley Center, I noticed that I was the only male in the surrounding area. Carloads of little girls, usually with one or two moms in tow, descended on the arena. “At least the traffic leaving the arena won’t be bad,” I thought. I made this prediction based on the fact that more than three quarters of the audience could not legally drive.
Once inside we saw a crowd at least eight deep clustered around a table. Screaming girls were buying T-shirts adorned with the High School Musical logo or plastered with images of the show’s stars. They were Disney priced at $35. I opted to treat my girls to a show program. For $20 I now know that Ashley Tisdale DOESN’T LIKE MAYONNAISE and Vanessa Hudgens is a SELF PROCLAIMED SHOPAHOLIC and Lucas Grabeel LIKES SMILES AND DISLIKES FROWNS.
As the magic hour of 4 p.m. inched closer, the mood resembled Times Square five minutes before New Year’s Eve. The kids and I passed the time by playing a game that I invented called “Count the Dad.” In a sports arena that held 20,000 people, we eventually reached double digits. But it took a lot of looking. Binoculars helped.
I stole a glance at my Blackberry. Bears up nine zip after one quarter.
“What’s the score,” a male voice behind me said. I turned to see a Dad that I neglected to count. I began relaying the information but my voice was drowned out as the lights went out and the loudest, most ear-splitting scream I had heard in my 44 years on earth shook the rafters. The stage lights went up, canned music began and out walked…JORDAN PRUETT.
“Who.?” I asked my nine year old.
“She’s from The Disney Channel,” my daughter replied.
Miss Pruett, the opening act for High School Musical, began her set with the question, “Do we have any teenagers out there?” Half of the arena stood up and screamed.
“Do we have anybody who wants to be a teenager?” was her follow up question. The other half stood and screamed. I started to stand up and scream but felt a twinge in my back and, wisely, sat back down.
Jordan Pruett sang five songs, reminding audience members in between each song that she could be seen regularly on, you guessed it, The Disney Channel. A 20-minute intermission followed, which was more than enough time for the audience to buy Jordan Pruett T-shirts.
Thirty minutes later, the main event began. If possible, the audience screamed louder as a massive video screen was unfurled and began showing scenes from the movie. I marveled at the screen’s clarity and couldn’t help wondering how awesome the Bears game would look on it. Instead, the images switched to the event at hand and focused on the movie’s six stars, who ascended from a trap door in a cloud of smoke.
The opening number was something about “sticking with the stuff you know.” I holstered my Blackberry and prayed that Tivo was working. But Disney, in spite of its expertise at sucking your wallet dry, has a way of making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I looked at my daughters. My youngest was singing along and even my normally reserved oldest daughter clapped her hands to the beat. Their energy never waned, even when three of the performers sang material from their “upcoming solo albums” and reminded listeners that their videos could also be seen on THE DISNEY CHANNEL. Miss Pruett was all but forgotten.
Thirty minutes into the performance my four year old had to take a potty break. I hustled her to the bathroom…right in front of a bank of televisions showing the Bears game.
“Daddy will be right here,” I instructed her. “No messing around in there.”
When she returned, I heard the opening notes of “Get Your Head in the Game” coming from the stage. Meanwhile, the Bears were driving. What’s a Dad to do?
“Come on, we have to get back to our seats. Let’s hurry,” I told her. And we hustled back, determined not to miss the entire song. The Bears could wait. This moment could not.
I spent the rest of the concert grinning. I grinned when the cameras panned the audience and showed hundreds of little girls screaming their little heads off. I grinned, and then gently scolded myself, when Vanessa Hudgens shook her hips, a motion that was beautifully magnified on the humongous video screen. By the time the cast began singing the hopelessly addictive final song, “We’re All In This Together,” I was singing along. Then again, it’s IMPOSSIBLE not to like that song. The cast of High School Musical could walk onstage at the Met in New York, interrupt a performance of La Boehme and begin singing that song. By the end, eighty-year-old billionaire society types would be singing along.
As we exited the arena, my nine year old hugged me and said, “thank you for taking us.”
No, thank you for letting me be a part of it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Santa, what happened?

Dear Santa:
Well, it’s been three weeks since Christmas and I’m still waiting. Did you not get the letter I sent? The one containing my wish list? My kids got everything they wanted for Christmas. However, I seem to have been overlooked. Therefore, I assume it got lost in the mail. I have re-typed it below. Feel free to drop by anytime with your bag. We can hang out in my family room, have a beer and have a nice long chat, since you have more time on your hands now. I will be waiting.

I wish I could send my kids to school without fear that a classmate will be packing a weapon and may decide to use it that morning.
I wish I could turn on the radio and not hear a song containing the words “bitch” “muthafucka” or any derivative thereof.
I wish I could email replies to everybody who sends me spam without worrying that doing so would cause me to get infinitely more spam. I’d begin by emailing ??? and saying, “No, I do not ejaculate prematurely and therefore, do not need your pills. But thank you for your concern.”
I wish I could play golf without once hearing a cell phone.
I wish somebody would enter a National Rifle Association meeting with an AK-47 and begin shooting. Oh, the irony!
I wish a respected doctor could find some health benefits in Hooters wings.
I wish Little League baseball season lasted eight weeks, games were played twice a week and the only place a team “traveled” to was 7-11 for slurpees.
I wish I had a Sunday with absolutely nothing to do.
I wish multiplexes would offer refunds.
I wish Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie would spend a week working at the following jobs on The Simple Life: coal miner, inner city school teacher, long term caregiver, pediatric hospital nurse and soup kitchen volunteer.
I wish I could be there when Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie commit suicide following their work weeks.
I wish Vegas was still run by the Mob and not major corporations
I wish my four year old would stay four forever
I wish I could take my family to a baseball game, buy everybody a hot dog, a Coke and a souvenir and not spend more than 50 bucks.
If I spend more, I wish Alex Rodriguez would make up the difference.
I wish dogs could talk, especially Labradors. They just seem cool.
I wish I could have dinner with Paul McCartney and he would tell me Beatles stories that nobody has ever heard.
I wish promos for slasher movies would not appear during football games.
I wish somebody in Congress had the balls to stand on the chamber floor and say, “as long as there are people willing to strap explosives to their bodies and press a button, we will never win the war in Iraq.”
I wish it would snow everywhere for two weeks after Christmas, just so kids could try out their new snowboards. Then it can melt.
I wish Alex Trebek could be a contestant on Jeopardy.
I wish everybody had one really rich relative and one really poor relative. Then, every weekend we could all wake up and say, “Should I help or mooch today?”
Thanks Santa. I will probably be adding more wishes throughout the year. Please don’t forget me next Christmas.