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.