My Gratitude Washes Over Me Like The Tide

Today’s Tribune tells us that Barry Bonds will be spreading his sunshine for at least one more season with the SF Giants. The final graf of the story relates this gem:

“Baseball fans around the world owe Barry Bonds a debt of gratitude for being lucky enough to watch him play,” Borris recently told’s Amy Nelson.

It bodes wells that Bonds and his agent are apparently cut from the same cloth. I can’t imagine Kofi Annan having as firm a grasp on the psyche of the world at this moment in history. We do indeed live in heroic times. You can probably send your gifts and homemade jams to Barry in care of the Giants. Maybe we can start a line of greeting cards so that Barry can know how much he means to all of us.

Cover: “Because you make the world a better place, I’d be happy to do you a favor….”
Inside: “How many cups of pee do you need?”

Or some nice doggerel:

A colossal slugger named Barry
Had an outlook cheerful and merry,
Til you ask if his muscles
Come from workout room hustle,
Then he’ll threaten to rip your arms off and shove them up your ass because you’re always picking on him.

A Paean to Phlegm

In the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that phlegm is without a doubt the most interesting bodily fluid. I cannot name one other type of secretion that is nearly as fascinating. First off, the stuff is just so damn sticky. Even in a completely new sink basin, it resists the pull of running water and hangs on like the “Alien” hanging off the back of the escape pod. NASA could work for years to develop an adhesive so flexible yet tenacious.

Secondly, its role as lung cop couldn’t be more effective. Now, in my case, I wish it would hurry up a bit, but I certainly do enjoy the satisfying machoness of a rasping cough that requires sending a projectile into the sink or onto the sidewalk. The art of spitting well (“loogie hocking,” “Launching greenies,” whatever your local colloquialism) eluded me as a kid. And as long as the coughing isn’t a result of smoking or black lung, I can stand it as long as those around me can. Which might not be long, but who has a choice?

Now, phlegm may be one of the four bodily humors, but I really don’t have anything humorous to say about it. It is sui generis, even down to its spelling. I respect it, I even admire it, as long as it is my own. Hail thee, Sputum! Long live phlegm!

I Can Turn It On

…and I can turn it off. Since last Thursday, I’ve been slaving over the page proofs of my new book, looking to milk every last laugh out of every last situation. And even after the 30th time reading some of the selections, rewrites still jump out at me. There’s no way to be a writer and not have a hidden (or blatant) streak of anal retentiveness when rewriting. And since the page proofs are the last chance to make any kind of changes, the pressure is there to get it right.

And in all modesty, I stood up to the pressure and did it right. My only regret is that I had to cut an image from my parody of “The Wizard of Oz” that speculated about Dorothy, after being kidnapped by the flying monkeys, living a life like Sheena the Jungle Queen, living by her own laws outside society in a leather tunic. It may not sound funny now, but it was great in context, but often one must smother one’s babies for the sake of the larger story.

Working feverishly again today, as my publisher sent me the proposed jacket copy for the book. Weeell, doggies. It was about as exciting as a bowl of spit. Besides that, they got the names of my previous books wrong, and failed to mention that my #1 best-seller status was on the New York Times list, and not Elle Decor’s. So, I can either give my stamp of approval, or I can rewrite the whole thing so that someone with a passing interest might pick the damn thing up in the bookstore. My wife thinks that that’s what they had in mind all along.

I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing via print on demand for a while. On my shelf sit two novels and another book that the NY publishing industry has failed to take interest in. Which is their prerogative, of course, because their taste is impeccable and track record unblemished by failure. But after this current book, for which I lined up the cover artist, wrote the jacket copy, handled the copy edit, and undoubtedly will do a bunch of PR, marketing and outreach to bookstores on my own, I’m starting to think: I’m doing all this work anyway, why not just put them out myself? What’s the downside, except that regular newspapers won’t review the books (for now)?

But now I’m burned out. This eight-week long congestion in my chest is just wearing me down, and I need to save my energy for a camping trip this weekend, inside a cave in Wisconsin. My next book might be something like: “Fun with Mucous: The Bright Side of Life-Threatening Bouts of Pneumonia.” Then I’ll have a full week to rest up for the Super Bowl and whatever drinking that will involve.

Say It Ain’t So, Jo-Jo

In a move that most monkey observers find appalling, has announced that, after two years of faithful service, they will be axing their commercials of the chimps in the office. This is the thanks the animals get, for lifting CareerBuilder past as the preeminent job-hunting website, and bringing in $500 million in revenues in the first nine months of 2006. Besides jealousy, why do the humans in charge feel the need to get rid of the chimps?

“Obviously, we’ve created an amazing fan base,” said Cynthia McIntyre, senior director of advertising for CareerBuilder. “We’ve had great success with them, but if you think about the game of branding, advertising and buzz, it’s a popularity contest. It’s [been] the same joke, the same punch line. The name of the game is to be talk-worthy, buzz-worthy.”

Don’t you just want to fling some poop at this idiot? Aside from the fact that she’s in advertising, she actually coined the phrase “talk-worthy” in a sentence.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune, which owns CareerBuilder, put up a click poll to see if people will miss the monkeys. As of this writing, eighty-four percent said they will miss them. You hear that, Trib? Eighty-four percent! No wonder no one wants to bid on you.

For one last fond look at our office (pri)mates, go to the Trib website and check out the video. Not suitable for work, because you’ll probably start crying in the middle of it.

A Visit from the Manuscript Fairy

So, things are quiet around the basement for a few weeks. Finally some time to catch up on everything that wasn’t done in 2006. And many of the years before that. Then on Wednesday, WHAM! My publisher sends me page proofs for my new book, AND the art director from the same place sends me a sketch of the proposed cover art looking for my input. Hotcha!

Man, it is hard to say how good it feels to have these things in my hands. Now the book seems real. It will be in people’s hands before long, and I’ll get to wave it around like a calling card. It was exciting to have the contract (not that I’ve seen the paperwork yet, or received my pathetic advance), and gratifyingly bracing to have the assignment to crank out. But now it feels like something that will someday sit in a person’s hand and keep them company, with amusement I hope. The type, the headings, the alignment bullseyes on the side–it’s the real deal.

The pile of pages was a little intimidating at first. I’ve got four working days to read this through and make any last changes. Four days in which to shine this thing to its uttermost brilliance (because man, a clinker sentence or a misspelled word is going to bug me once it goes to press, and a comic situation that I don’t milk to the high heavens will chew away at my psyche every time I pick the book up). Since it came about 3 pm, I was already too caffeinated to dare approach it. No editorial changes that late in the day are worth spit. I just skimmed the whole thing, noting that they failed to italicize any word that had been marked for it, and waiting for the next morning. And today, I chewed it up for a solid five hours, and can feel the strain in my head already. But it’s a good kind of tired. (Can one say that unironically anymore? Is Letterman done with it?)

It can take so long between getting an idea and actually seeing it in book form that creators understandably shy away from it. You could literally shoot, edit and release a couple movies in the time I’ve been working on this. But the delay of gratification doesn’t bother me. My only regret is that during the long months of writing and rewriting, I simply have no confidence that what I’m doing is worthwhile. Every other human endeavor seems more important than what I’m working on. Daytime commercials about starting my own business from home start to look tempting. I toy with the idea of going to grad school to study volcanoes. I wonder if the neighbors would object to a small chinchilla ranch in the back yard.

But then, the book starts to materialize, and I get that feeling that I’m doing exactly what I should be with my time. Not only that, but all my other ideas seem to be plausible too, and I start to look through old files to find projects to be revived. I’m betting the feeling won’t last very long, but it does feel very nice.

Next week, after I’ve sent all the pages back, I’ll describe more about the book here.

Again I say unto thee, HOTCHA!

Welcome to Award Season

Boyoboyoboyoboy, the Golden Globes were given out last night! Presented every year by the International Jayne Mansfield Appreciation Society, the awarding of the Golden Globes is awaited every year with breathless anticipation by PR departments and publicists all over the 213 area code. You could’ve cut the tension with spork as they announced the sumpthin or other for the watchmacallit, and afterward everyone got to drink champagne and talk about themselves.

Speaking of movies, here’s an interesting list that caught my eye today: The Unfilmables: A List of the Hardest Novels to Film. This doesn’t even include novels that people tried to film and failed (like Bonfire of the Vanities). The comments of the film fans are also worth reading. My favorite was:

You left out “A Clockwork Orange” by Aldous Huxley. It’s a first-person narrative set in a dystopian world where the narrator uses practically incomprehensible mix of Russian and English slang. You need a glossary to read it. And it’s essential to the story. I can’t think of any director who would be able to handle it properly.

Me neither

Gerald Ford Laid to Rest

The end-of-the-year newsmagazines invariably contain pages of photos of notable people who have died in the previous 12 months. And following that, every holiday break seems to have its share of famous and infamous deaths that casual observers either miss or notice by accident because of the busyness of the season. One of those deaths was very hard to get away from this year, especially in Michigan: The passing of Gerald Ford.

Because Jerry was from my wife’s hometown of Grand Rapids, every newspaper we picked up during Christmas week had lionizing articles about his wisdom, his statesmanship, his decency. (As Jack Schaefer pointed out in Slate, it’s a regional cliché to refer to someone from the Midwest as “decent” in their obituary. Just as someone from New England would be called “flinty”, Californians would be “laid back” and Texans “A bit of a maverick, with a heart as big as all outdoors.” The whole thing feels like a backhanded compliment sometimes, as if people in the Midwest are too stupid to be anything but hard-working and decent.) It was great fun to tease my wife every time the commentators mentioned the “small town” where Ford grew up and learned all his Midwestern values. (Grand Rapids has about 200,000 people.) But this “small town values” script is part of the national character. Our leaders must rise from humble beginnings to greatness, and always make it look like a reluctant journey. Every leader cast as Cincinnatus. The last presidents I can recall from large population centers are JFK and FDR. Don’t call Grand Rapids a small town, pal–they’ve got a symphony, an opera company AND an arena football team.

Towards the end of vacation, we decided to take the chill’uns up to Grand Rapids and possibly stand in line to pay our respects. It meant skipping a day of school, but everyone said that this was a part of history, something that the kids will never forget. And anyway, it might be the last funeral for a president in the Great Lakes until Obama cashes out sometime around 2050.

The casket was placed in the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, which is right downtown on the Grand River. (Ford didn’t feel the need, apparently, to construct a monument to his greatness in the form of a library/conference center, and instead left his papers to the University of Michigan.) The viewing was from 5 pm til 11 am, so we watched the news to see how long a wait it was to stand in line. For most of the evening, it was an 8 hour wait, so we decided to nap and regroup closer to midnight. At that time, one talking head said it was still an eight hour wait, then it was corrected to a four- to six-hour wait. We went downtown to see for ourselves. The kids were less than thrilled, but we piled them in the car anyway.

The line on Monroe Avenue was only 50 yards long, much shorter than the map shown on TV, so we all decided to get out and give it a shot. Two hours would certainly be a manageable amount of wait to salute the man. And we still felt that way as we wound our way into the convention center. And wound and wound and wound our way through the concrete cavern. To let visitors stay warm while in line, the convention center was roped up in a maze of switchbacks. A little math showed us it would take close to 3 hours to make it all the way through. But there we were, and a lot of other people too. My in-laws are nothing if not adventurous, so we all stuck it out. Back and forth in the switchbacks, getting to know everyone we passed time and again, by sight if not by quick conversation. (One of the talking heads had commented in wonder how everyone in line was good natured and calm about the wait, not angry or impatient. What did he expect, fistfights and gang rapes? At least he didn’t call us all “decent”.)

We entered the convention center at 1 am, and stepped outside again at 3:45. The kids had taken catnaps on the perimeter of the convention hall, but were still in a daze. Time seemed to both drift away and not move at all. It was almost exclusively a white crowd, although one black man wore a warm up suit from Ford’s high school alma mater, a nice neighborhood salute. There were a lot of young people in the crowd too, lots of college kids from the area. They behaved, by and large–maybe this was an excuse to get out of their parents’ houses for a while before they moved back to the dorm—though I’ll never get used to people who wear flannel pajama bottoms in public or wrap themselves in fleece blankets like burritos from Wal-Mart. Although there were some visitors from out of state–we talked to one person who drove up from Kentucky—most of the crowd was turning out for the hometown boy. They wore UofM jackets, and buttons with Jerry Ford’s picture on them.

For some time I tried to make some sense of the scene, trying to understand what Ford meant to the country, aside from a certain nostalgia for an era of wide ties and polyester suits and Andy Warhol hanging out with Jack Ford. In addition to all the hagiography in the GR Press, I had read Christopher Hitchen’s article in Slate that pointed out some of Ford’s lesser moments, such as the sellout of East Timor to Indonesia’s Suharto, the bungling of the Mayaguez incident, and a few other foreign policy snafus. (Hitchens never fails to pee in the punchbowl. How’d you like that blowhard to give the toast at your wedding? “You may think this fine young couple have a fine future ahead of them, but let’s not forget the wife’s bipolar disorder and the husband’s inability to keep his thing in his pants….”) I didn’t want to dismiss Hitchens’ reminder that Ford was less than a stellar president, but really couldn’t work up much of a lather. Considering the state of the world and the surreptitious foreign policies he inherited, it may be notable that he didn’t botch many things already in motion. While that may sound like faint praise, it’s not meant to be. After a few hours walking back and forth in the convention center, I wasn’t thinking much of anything except how much my eyes burned.

At 3:45 am, we exited the center, passing large oil paintings of Ford on display in front of a large condolence book. Even though I was sure Betty would read every single message, my wife didn’t feel it was worth the extra time in line. We stepped outside and waited another 30 minutes alongside the river to cross the bridge to the museum. All I can say is, for 4 am on January 3, it could’ve been a lot colder. As it was, it was nasty enough. On the bridge, film crews had begun taping off their assigned workspaces, 10 by 25 feet, for their morning reports on how decent we all were, and Jerry Ford most of all. On the bridge to the south of us were about 30 satellite trucks pointed towards the heavens and ready to sing.

Our destination came into sight. I was only praying we would get inside before dawn, because the sight of morning would really make me feel the fatigue. We filed into the Ford Presidential Museum and passed the graffitied chunk of the Berlin Wall like ones in leaders’ museums all over the world (now THAT’S a concession that looks like it was pretty easy and profitable). I took my hat off, like fully 40% of the people did upon entering (How were most of these bozos raised, anyway?). And at almost the exact pace we’d kept up for 3 hours, we all filed past the flag-wrapped casket.

As we exited, some ladies from the museum passed out cards to us and thanked us for paying our respects. (That’s the card above.) On the back it mentioned his degrees and years of public service, and mentioned that we were celebrating “the life of a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and the 38th president of the United States”. We found out later that the cards were paid for by the Ford family. A nice touch.

And the first thing we found to talk about once we got outside again, was how COMPLETELY AND ABSOLUTELY STILL his honor guard was standing. Four servicemen stood at each corner of the coffin, looking like they had been encased in lucite. It was the most amazing thing we’d seen all evening. Then, while my father-in-law retrieved the car, the five of us walked under the highway to the Big Boy, open late that night for the special occasion, and drank hot chocolate.

We did manage to get home before dawn broke, and everyone got in about 5 or 6 hours of sleep. For the next couple days, I felt like I had jet lag, which only underscores how rarely I stay out all night.

So there it is, our exercise in civic duty for the day. I don’t want to describe it as “obligatory” because it wasn’t. I’m a proud part of this democracy, as is the whole family, and I’m glad I didn’t pass up the chance to see it in one of its more dignified ceremonial moments. (And kudos to Ford for simplifying his funeral requirements, and having Tom Brokaw speak a eulogy. And having the band play “Hail to the Victors” at the airport.)

All the lionizing of Ford’s record is predictable, of course, and the right thing to do. A lot of it was over the top, and the comments by the local reporters was so inane it bordered on delusion. He didn’t “save” the country, he didn’t put all our hearts at ease with his steady decency. He didn’t lose the presidency because he pardoned Nixon, but because of a whole nest of factors, including his comment during the presidential debate with Carter that Eastern Europe wasn’t under the domination of Russia. The image of Ford as a bungler had been brewing for some time, and comments like that made him seem not up to the task. But you don’t get as far as Jerry Ford got by being a dolt. Perhaps because he lacked the Machiavellian streak of his predecessor, he didn’t elicit enough respect from people. We were lucky at the time to have a president who knew enough about the world that he didn’t feel obliged to prove it all the time. I’d say a good definition of “decent” would be the “opposite of ruthless”. With all the power-hungry SOBs who inhabit every office and cubicle in Washington, we were lucky to have someone in office who had a clear and accurate vision of his role in the republic. Haven’t seen that in a while, you must admit. If that’s what decency is, I’ll take it.

Hooking a Troutman

It sure is great, in this time of wars that have no solution and weather patterns that can’t be lived with, to have a little good ol’ local corruption in the news. Nothing like a cartoonishly sticky-fingered alderman to make a newspaper entertaining again.

Chicago’s latest in a long line of indicted aldermen (is it 19 in the past 30 years, or 30 in the past 19? I get confused) is one Arenda Troutman, leader of the 20th Ward. She’s made the papers in recent years for her curious and unapologetic relationship with the gangs in her ward (when asked how envelopes from her office ended up seized in some police raids on gang HQs, she said they must have been pulled out of the recycling). Now she’s been caught in an FBI sting for accepting $5K to grease the wheels of a shopping center development in her ward. (For the latest installment, check out the Tribune here.)

Only, it really wasn’t in her ward. The FBI, those stalwart defenders of our national security, placed the fictitious shopping center in the ward next door. (Let’s hope the new Congress can help them pay for some new maps.) This didn’t stop Troutman from taking the money. She even worked hard to make herself indispensable–sending unnecessary letters to city commissions, seeking easements for alley access that are routinely granted. You have to imagine the FBI mole was having a hard time keeping a straight face, waiting for Alderman Troutman to recommend an ambidextrous net-waiver to comply with the Federal Hunnacunnapurna Decree.

Her lawyer should be good for laughs in this, too. He insists there is no case because a) the fake development wasn’t in Troutman’s ward, and b) the fake development was fake. If you offer a bribe for a fake development, then it ceases to be a bribe. Becomes reckless spending, I suppose, or an unforeseen cost overrun, which of course is the mole’s fault, not the alderman’s. And if you get caught in a prostitution sting, it wouldn’t really count since you propositioned a police woman and not a real prostitute, and you should have your money refunded (unless you really wanted to pay for sex with an officer, which is a whole nother thing).

Guesses on the next trail of defense arguments:

> The alderman took the money b/c she knew the mole was crooked, so she was attempting the ol’ Double-Back Sting Operation.
> She was hoping to expand her ward one rezoned plot at a time to expand opportunities for its residents “which is more than the mayor has ever done.”
> She wanted to see if the bills were counterfeit before she sent the mole over to the other alderman, so that THAT alderman could get well and truly busted.
> It was the NyQuil talkin’.

If I’m paying for this government, at least it should be entertaining once in a while.

Rock n Roll Hates Pop

Iggy, that is. Once again, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame passed over inducting Iggy and the Stooges and gone for the really controversial acts, like the Ronnettes and REM. Way to go out on a limb, fellas.

I’ve got nothing against the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It does give a person something to do while visiting Cleveland, beyond reenacting scenes from “Stranger Than Paradise.” I just wish the design was a little more interesting. Check out my suggested design in this previous post.

For a real hoot, check out the YouTube flick posted on pandagon. At this 1970 Stooges concert, you get to see the young and virile Iggy toss himself into the crowd numerous times while singing “TV Eye” and smear himself with peanut butter. And in a hilarious touch, the concert is narrated by a broadcaster in a suit and crew cut who tries to explain what is happening on the screen. “Iggy seems to have disappeared from view…Nope, there he is….”

Ach, the music these kids listen to today…it’s just noise.

Revenge of the Bat

Ballroom blitzWhile the holiday season was full of events big and little, today’s subject occurred most recently. Saturday was the occasion of Number One Son’s first opera. Real opera, as in downtown, in the Lyric Opera House, and no comfy chairs like out at the Oak Brook Drury Lane. The show was “Die Fledermaus”, which is always a popular one for cutting youngsters’ operatic teeth on, like “The Magic Flute” (too wierd and mysoginistic for my taste) or “The Cunning Little Vixen” (nice, but a little twee). Even without any killings or consumption, “Die Fledermaus” counts as a real opera, and is very funny to boot, even after 145 years. It helped to have some very good comic actors in the lead singing role. Liam liked it quite a bit, only fidgeting a little. The late hour didn’t bother him–he’s starting to be able to stay up until midnight and get up without complaining, another sign that he’s heading toward adolescence. Of course, during the beginning of the second act, he tried his best to find enough light to draw anime characters on his program, but he eventually gave up.

So we arranged a sleepover for Liesel and went downtown to scalp a ticket. One nice old gent with a mustache had a single ticket on the main floor for $100. I could joke that this was what a decent baby sitter would cost, but that’s not true. We’re getting to the point, though, where we can almost leave the kids home alone for the entire evening, which frankly will be a relief. I’m very rusty in the scalping business, though, and didn’t put the screws to him. I should’ve. My wife found out he’s a doctor, and could afford it, courtly white mustache or not.

Among the trivia we learned from the program: Sid Caesar once played the non-singing role of Frosch the Drunken Jailer with the Metropolitan Opera. We could’ve used him Saturday night, since Frosch was one of the weaker roles cast. How hard is it to find a decent drunk in Chicago theater?

This has been one of the most enjoyable theater seasons we’ve ever had, and it’s only half over. “King Lear” at the Goodman, “Hamlet” at Chicago Shakespeare, and some terrific operas, including “Il Trovatore”. And it’s been enhanced by the fact that we canceled our sub to Steppenwolf this year after probably 15 seasons. All the shows there were beginning to run together in our minds, and I haven’t been impressed with any of their new works in a long time (especially the plays by their new darling Bruce Norris, which show themselves to be more and more empty as you examine them on the ride home). We’ve been busy enough as it is. When going to the theater becomes an obligation, its time to reassess.

In Communicado Springs

Goin up the country, Baby do you wanna gooo...It might have seemed like I disappeared from the blog because of too much shenanigans surrounding our favorite simian themed holiday. Like I got kidnapped, perhaps, or had too many banana daiquiris and passed out and woke up in a bathtub full of ice with one kidney missing and a nice note on the wash basin.

But those would all be just nice tours of the imagination (and is it just me, or have we really moved out of the Golden Era of Urban Myths?). What really happened was, we switched DSL carriers from MCI to ATT, so of course we were without connectivity for almost two weeks. Now, I could’ve gone to the library or a wifi cafe to keep up with things, but my wireless connectivity has been giving me fits since Sept. And you know why? I finally figured this out yesterday: I had struck the wireless switch by accident and turned it off. Ooooh, baby, call me Mr. On Top of Things.

Then of course, we were up at the cottage for 10 days or so, thoroughly enjoying the lack of connectivity up there. (I still didn’t know I had a little switch I needed to throw to leech off someone’s wifi.) It’s so very nice to blow off everything up there and pretend you’re stuck at an Antarctic substation, one full of food and liquor and friends and family. The isolation is so enjoyable that, after my brother and I finally figured out how to fix the poor TV reception after 9 years of ownership, it felt very strange to be able to see network TV again. I almost resented it, at least when I wasn’t watching the Bears lose to the Packers, and the Wolverines lose to the Trojans. Then I was glad for the pain, because it proved I was alive.

(It’s always great to start the new year watching the Wolverines act like football offense hasn’t evolved since 1962. Just once, I’d like to see them blow out their Pac-10 opponent, just so the Trojan marching band, which tries to look so cool with their shades while wearing their little gladiator outfits, can look a little more stupid.)

Now we’re back in town, with deadlines and scout meetings and carry-out Thai and all the rest of it. It feels mighty fine. Glad to have had Christmas, glad to be doing something useful again. Whatever that might be.