Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Early Night (Well...Maybe Not)

I shoot in a dart league on Tuesday nights, and while I enjoy it most nights because it breaks up the week pretty well, I often find myself arguing during the day on Tuesday with...myself. About whether or not I really want to go. About how long I plan to stay out. About what type of beverages I may or may not drink while I'm there.

Here's a little peek into my thought process on an all-too-common Tuesday during dart season.

— • — • —

7:20 am — Drag yourself out of bed after slapping the snooze button one too many times. "Ugh, I don't wanna go to work today. Ohhh shit, I have darts tonight, too! I'm starting to get tired of league. Maybe I won't go. Who can I get to shoot for me?"

9:09 am — "OK, fine. So I'll go and shoot, have a couple sodas, leave right after the last game, and I can be home by 9:00. Maybe I'll get a movie or something and watch that."

10:37 am — "Man, this morning is going slow. Isn't it lunch time yet? After work today, I should really run over to...oh, wait. Nope. Can't do that. Gotta go shoot darts."

12:44 pm — "Hah! Morning's over. Allll this work to do, though. Damn, I could really use a beer. OK, so if I have a couple beers during league, that's fine. Relax a little, shoot some good darts and get out of there at a decent hour."

1:39 pm — "Gregg, you're running out of weeks this year, and you don't have a sixer yet, you know. Tommy just got one last week, are you gonna let him stay ahead of you all season? Gotta get one. Shoot 'em good tonight."

3:27 pm — "I wonder how far ahead of the rest of the league I am in tons. I haven't seen a stat sheet in weeks. Last week was kind of a below-average night, better make up for it tonight. Hit that middle."

5:59 pm — "Nope, can't stay later tonight at work, I've gotta get to league. We're shooting the second-best team, and I need to get there early to warm up a little. My team needs me, and I need to get some good stats, and a bunch of wins."

6:45 pm (driving to the bar) — "Hit your sixer tonight, Gregg. Shoot 'em straight, shoot 'em hard. Hit your sixer, hit your sixer, hit your sixer, hit your sixer."

7:06 pm — Orders a beer even before taking jacket off. "Mmm, that's good. I've been looking forward to that since lunch! Just a couple beers, though. And don't hang around all night after league, either. Make this an early night, remember?"

8:42 pm — "Wow, three hat tricks tonight, and nine tons! Glad I came out to shoot. Didn't get my sixer, but I'm sure that'll come one of these weeks. For now, I really better get goi..." (out loud) "Hey, you guys wanna shoot a few games for money?"

10:41 pm — Several games of darts later, with a few extra dollars in the pocket, you start an 18-minute, spirited discussion about the final score of Super Bowl XXI (no one can remember). This is immediately followed by a 22-minute debate on why Barry Sanders was a better running back than Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton. Or Jim Brown, for that matter.

11:23 pm — "Man, I could really go for some chicken wings." (out loud) "Who wants wings??"

12:46 am — One dozen hot wings and a Pabst Blue Ribbon later (hey, PBRs are only a buck on Tuesday, how can you go wrong??), you realize how late it's gotten.

12:54 am — "Ugh. Next week I'm definitely not staying out this late. In fact, maybe I won't go. Who can I get to shoot for me?"

— • — • —

I'm pretty persuasive toward myself to change my mind, aren't I? Yeah, like it takes a lot of arm-twisting to get me to stay out and shoot cash games or go eat hot wings.

"Late to bed and late to wake
will keep you long on money
and short on mistakes."
—Aaron McGruder

Monday, January 29, 2007

Extreme Home Makeover

I recently read an article where some big uber-rich guy is going to build and sell the world's most expensive home. In Bozeman, Montana, of all places.

Tim Blixseth, who made his fortune in timber and real estate, is in the process of building a 53,000-square-foot home that he plans to put on the market for $155 million. This price tag tops last year's most expensive home, Updown Court in Windlesham, England, which has an asking price of $139 million. And Rosie O'Donnell's best pal, Donald Trump, has a property in Palm Beach that he's trying to get rid of for a measly $125 mil.

The Montana mansion, which will have 10 bedrooms, will be located at the Yellowstone Club, a members-only ski and golf resort, and will sit on 160 acres. It'll feature a private gondola-like chairlift that will carry residents to the club's private slopes. Other features include an indoor/outdoor swimming pool and a home movie theater.

Must be rough. Too bad I don't ski, or I'd be putting in my bid.

Instead, I found a property around my area that might not have the polish and shine of a brand new mansion, but it just screams "home" to me. Perhaps some would consider it a lost cause. I, however, think that a fresh coat of bright yellow paint would work wonders. And maybe some caulk.

The term "open-concept" seems to be a bit of an understatement for this place. And if the wind blows too hard one night, you better be ready to run for cover. And I don't mean inside the house.

I will admit that the garage looks to be too far gone to salvage.

But I bet the owners would thrown in this fancy antique pick-em-up truck if the bid was to their liking.

"Home Sweet Home."
Different things to different people, eh?

"Always live in the ugliest house
on the street. Then you don't
have to look at it."
—David Hockney

Friday, January 26, 2007

I Wish

In early 1998, Pearl Jam released an album called, "Yield," and it was a must-purchase for me. Not because I'm the biggest Pearl Jam fan on the planet; I like 'em OK enough, but they probably wouldn't even crack my top 30 favorite groups. I bought their debut album, "Ten," back in 1991, but who didn't? They were all the rage back then, and that's a really good album.

"Yield" has one of those songs that you hear once on the radio and immediately point your car in the direction of a music store. And that song is "Wishlist." It's got Eddie Vedder's familiar voice, nearly monotone throughout, and sometimes close to a mumble.

But the lyrics are really "think-outside-the-box" ideas, and they make you want to sit down and write your own abstract wishlist. Perhaps I'll do that in a future blog entry, but for now I was led to this entry tonight because I had the song going through my headphones at work today about a dozen times in a row. (and another three or four as I sit here writing this.)

If you don't own the song, or don't know the song, it's worth the 99 cents. And if you download it and don't agree, let me know. I'll send you a refund.

Here's Eddie's wishlist (at least in 1998 it was. maybe it's changed.):

I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off
I wish I was a sacrifice, but somehow still lived on
I wish I was a sentimental ornament you hung on
Your Christmas tree, I wish I was the star that went on top
I wish I was the evidence, I wish I was the grounds
For 50 million hands upraised and open toward the sky

I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro's hood

I wish I was an alien at home behind the sun
I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house key on
I wish I was the pedal brake that you depended on
I wish I was the verb 'to trust' and never let you down

I wish I was a radio song, the one that you turned up
I wish...
I wish...

It's very fitting that the song fades away so quickly at the end that you really have to turn the volume up pretty high to catch that last line about the radio song that you turn up.

So which of those wishes on Eddie's list jumps out as a favorite of yours? I like most of the ideas, but I've got one that I'd choose above the rest.

And...what would be on your wishlist if you made one?

"How I wish that somewhere there existed
an island for those who are wise
and of good will."
—Albert Einstein

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I Want To Be a Paperback Writer

If someone told you to put a pen to paper and write non-stop for ten minutes—no thinking, no editing, no crossing out—on the subject of, I dunno, bananas...could you do it?

I spent the last three Saturday afternoons in a writing workshop, and that’s an example of one of the exercises we did, taking specific prompts like that and doing timed writings.

The idea is that free-writing about bananas might lead your subconscious to a deeper topic about which you really wanted to a Christmas memory with Aunt Nell, perhaps. (who maybe was bananas!)

There were seven of us in the class, led by a high-energy instructor who had mountains of information to share and gazillions of techniques to get us writing and keep us writing. None of us students earned a living with our writing, but we were all writers, all there for basically the same reason: we knew the thrill of putting a word down on paper or screen, and then putting another word after it, and continuing on that path to see where it would lead us.

My bookshelves contain dozens of books on the writing craft: how to free your creativity, how to overcome writer’s block, when to use “laying” instead of “lying.” I’ve spent more time reading about writing than I’ve spent...writing.

And while learning about writing is an integral element for writers of all levels, the bottom line is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve gotta write!

For the record, I knew this simple rule going in...but it was reinforced during our hours together, and often it needs to be slammed home a few times before the light bulb goes on and you tell yourself, “Ohhh yeah. I better sit down and write.”

Sure, I’ve got this blog, and I write a weekly column, and I’ve been known to write mini-novellas in e-mails to friends.

But I don’t practice my writing as much as I should. Just like a pro hooper still shoots layups before each game, a writer needs practice, too. I need to put in my time writing about bananas, doing my layups.

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for this workshop, and when it said enrollment was limited, I wasn’t sure if that meant 30 students or 10. We had seven, and spent our sessions around a table in a “group discussion” setting, not exactly my strong suit.

Never the most vocal member of any group, I’m more comfortable in a classroom setting where I can sit in the back row near the heat register and blend in. If I want to express myself, I grab a pen or a keyboard, rather than raising my voice to speak. (gee, I must be a writer, or something.)

But a slight transformation took place among that group. I found myself opening up a little more than I’m used to. I cared a great deal about the material, and once in a while I knew what I wanted to say, and I said it. Out loud. I kinda fit in, I guess.

There were eight very different personalities around that table, but it was an easy, loose environment in which to share ideas and questions, and to read each other’s work.

By the end of our last class, I learned that, to some degree, I know what I’m doing. I also learned that I’ve got a long, long way to go. I learned that there are so many people out there with so many fascinating ideas, it’s fun to see how those ideas translate to the page.

And I learned that I have to write. a writer. Are you? Grab a pen and find out!

And give me ten minutes on...aardvarks.
Or, Idaho potatoes, perhaps.

“So it is very deep to be a writer.
It is the deepest thing I know.
And I think, if not this, nothing—it will be
my way in the world for the rest of my life.
I have to remember this again and again.”
—Natalie Goldberg

Sunday, January 21, 2007

...With Nothing More To Buy, Ever!

In about a five-day span last week, I received mailers from the following in my mailbox:

• Quality Paperback Book Club
• Rhapsody Book Club (romance novels)
• Mystery Guild
• One Spirit (mind. body. spirit.)
• Book-of-the-Month Club
• Writer's Digest Book Club
• The Literary Guild
• Crafter's Choice
• History Book Club
• The Good Cook Book Club
• The Military Book Club
• Crossings Book Club for
Today's Christian Family
• Doubleday Book Club

I feel sorry for the mailman that had to lug that load on his shoulders.

I've been courted by many of these clubs in the past, and have been a member of several, because let's face it...who can pass up cheap books? (if you raised your hand and answered, "Me! Me! Me!" to that question, then you and I are such very different animals.)

It appears, however, that my contact info has been shared with several new lists since the last go-round, because a few of these I've never heard of. Rhapsody Book Club? Crafter's Choice? Umm, The Good Cook?? (puh-leeaase. only if you've got titles in there like, "188 Ways to Burn Toast," or "How to Successfully Order Pizza for Delivery After the Pot Roast Has Been Charred." study your target demographic more closely, people.)

I can't resist offers that advertise four books for a penny apiece, or a buck each, or whatever it may be. Even with the shipping charges they tack on, it still works out to be two of my very favorite words in the English language when placed side-by-side. Cheap. Books.

And they always try to sweeten the deals in case you were riding the fence about those first four books. "Order a fifth book now for only $5.99, and reduce your commitment to only one book in the next year!" or "Take three books free just for joining, plus a fourth, plus a fifth...and oh, hell, why not, a sixth book, too! And have nothing more to buy, ever!"

And if not additional books, then they offer some lame gift, like a tote to carry all your brand new books with you everywhere you go. Or a handy desk reference. Or...this is my favorite so far, one I haven't seen before...a red polka-dot umbrella and tote set. (that's from Rhapsody, because apparently you're going to no doubt be spending all summer on the beach, reading all the trashy smut books they send you.)

If I didn't mind being overrun with reply cards to send back, or boxes to click online to prevent a billion selections of the month from being sent to me each month, I'd join each and every one of those clubs to see how many more mailers I'd get the next time.

But I think I'll choose a bit more wisely. I mean, really...what would I do with a red polka-dot umbrella, anyway?

"Getting out of the hospital is a lot like
resigning from a book club.
You're not out of it until the computer
says you're out of it."
—Erma Bombeck

"A man who doesn't read good books
has no advantage over the man
who can't read them."
—Mark Twain

Thursday, January 18, 2007

They're Blue, Man.

Over the holidays, my teenage nephew had a band revue at his high school, with a bunch of acting skits and musical numbers and a general theme that flowed from beginning to end to tie it all together.

It kinda blew me away, because I don't remember any groups in my high or drama or chorus or otherwise...putting on productions as impressive as the one I saw that night. They did a great job, and were thoroughly entertaining.

My nephew's a percussionist, and during one skit in the program, he and several other members of that section were in a diner setting, and used what they had around them to bang out some rhythms. A few guys used knives to "drum" on the tables they were sitting at, and a couple others used Tupperware bowls turned upside down.

The unusual "instruments" they were playing led me to make a loose connection between them and Blue Man Group. (very loose, I know.) And a light bulb went off in my head that night, that my nephew was gonna get a ticket to see them for a Christmas gift. If he could play Tupperware bowls, I wanted him to get to see guys playing PVC pipes and 55-gallon drums and...and...whatever else it is we'll find there.

I've always had an itch to see Blue Man Group. I've heard many spectacular things about how wild and energetic and wacky and unique their shows are, but for whatever reason I never did much research into finding out where they play. Turns out they have regular shows in New York and Chicago and Boston, and their biggest production shows are in Vegas, I believe.

So sometime in February, I hope, or early March, we're going to the Briar Street Theatre in Chicago to check 'em out on a Saturday or Sunday. You can bet that'll be a blog-worthy entry after I see that show. And maybe my expectations are too high, but I can see myself needing at least an annual Blue Man fix after I experience them the first time. I'm heading to Vegas in April, so if I become quickly addicted after their Chicago performance, I might have to catch their show at the Venetian, too.

Has anyone reading this ever seen them, or know anyone who's seen them, who can give me a little first- or second-hand gossip before we go down for the show? I'd be curious to hear any and all opinions.

I'm looking forward to it. They're talented, they're innovative, they're kinda crazy, they're wildly popular...

...and they're BLUE, man!

"It's a rock concert, heavy on percussion.
A display of magic and illusion.
A critique of modern technology
and information overload."
—Glenn Sumi, reviewer

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Get It While It's...Disgusting.

So, we’ve got one of these in the neighborhood now. Well, not exactly in the neighborhood, but about 10 miles down the road. Close enough.

This doesn’t affect me all too seriously, because I may be the only person in the country who’s never been in a Starbucks. But I realize that its presence has increased our area's hip-and-trendy quotient by a factor of at least…one.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, and I don’t see myself becoming a coffee drinker. When someone takes a sip of coffee and I hear them say, “Mmm, that’s good coffee,” it translates for me into, “Mmm, that’s a good cup of hot, liquid dirt.” Doesn’t make sense. The term “good coffee” is an oxymoron of the highest order in my vocabulary.

Over the past several years, I’ve approached coffee with something of an open mind. During holiday get-togethers, I make it a point to have one cup of coffee. So that’s like, three or four cups a year. (three or four too many, if you ask me.) I continue with this experiment to give my family members a chance to chuckle as they watch me choke down the “tasty” beverage, while affording myself the opportunity to ask, “Whyyy do you people drink this stuff?”

How can a beverage with such a pleasing aroma during the brewing stage produce such a disgusting end result?

But now, I’ve got the most famous coffee shop just a short drive away, and I’m sure I’ll do some very thorough research into its lineup of beverages. While I’ll never approach the status of being a “regular” in their ordering lines, I’ve got to at least go exploring. Because they don’t serve just hot, liquid dirt. Oh, no.

We’ve all seen “Friends,” right? There’s the big oversized latté mug, and the tiny espresso mug and the extra-tall mug for…extra foam, or whatever. And Starbucks has its Frappucinos and its espressos, hot or iced, and its seasonal lattés of eggnog and gingerbread.

I get to learn which of their drinks have steamed milk and which have foamed milk, and some will have a double shot of this and…oh, boy, I’m in for an education, to be sure.

For the most part, I’m willing to try anything when it comes to food and drink, so I have no problem admitting that there will undoubtedly be something on their menu that I like. But it’ll have to be a pretty heavily flavored something, because the chances that you’ll hear me walking out of there with a regular coffee, uttering the phrase, “Mmm, that’s good coffee,” are about as good as ever hearing me say, “My, that Britney Spears is one smart girl.”

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I managed to have two cups of coffee in two days, probably a personal best for me. And while those coffees earned high praise from the regular coffee drinkers around the table, I still didn't get it. And I never will.

Easter's the next time I'll force myself to choke down a cup of coffee, and then I'm good through the spring and summer until Thanksgiving again. Lucky me.

Gimme a Diet Dew, a Diet 7-Up, a cup of tea (iced or otherwise) or just plain ol' H20 any day, thankyouverymuch.

“Fear is when you’re stuck in traffic
and you realize that you’ve had
two cups of coffee and a bran muffin.”
—John Mendoza

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What An Honor

I feel so...important.

Never has such an honor been bestowed upon me, so I'm not sure what the proper etiquette is here. (except to look up the word "etiquette" and make sure I spell it correctly, with only one double-t pair, and not two.)

I've been named TIME Magazine's Person of the Year. I don't know what to say.

All of you reading this should start practicing your shocked-and-awed expressions as well, because you've been given the same award.

Yes, you. And you.
And you and you.
And you, too.

The idea behind naming
several hundred million

people as the
"person" of the year
is to give us all credit

for changing and
controlling and manipulating
the Information Age.

Through blogs and

YouTube and MySpace
and breaking news
video clips. And more.

Joe and Josephine Average are being heralded as the ones that can make important news travel fast. And I don't disagree with that.

But out of more than 800 readers who wrote in to voice their opinions after the issue was published, nearly half of them called it a cop-out. And I don't disagree with that, either.

While it's a remarkable thing that's happening to Web 2.0, as it's being coined, surely there could have been an individual more deserving than bloggers or amateur videographers. Were you to press me for a specific example or two, I'd ashamedly have a blank expression. (Britney Spears, perhaps? Oh, wait. She's up for Mother of the Year. those two confused for a minute.)

My point is, in the past it's been given to presidents or queens or popes. The entire list, dating back to its inception in 1927, can be found here. Do I deserve to be among them simply because I ramble on a blog? Or because I read a handful of them regularly?

This isn't the first year that TIME has chosen a group rather than an individual. Past winners have also been Hungarian Freedom Fighters, U.S. scientists, Middle-Americans, and American Women, to name a few.

In 1982, the computer was the first object to be named Person of the Year.

And here we are a quarter century later, taking that object, coupled with Al Gore's magnificent invention, and winning awards ourselves.

I would stand up and take a bow, but it just doesn't feel right.

A couple dozen respondents took this honor in the spirit it was intended, and jokingly said they were going to put it on their résumé. (at least...I hope they were joking.)

Seeing as how TIME got 800 responses to its selection, and how I've got about 800 readers...OK, eight. (or two.)'d be fun to hear from all (both) of you on this topic. Do you think it was a good choice? Or a cop-out? And if not you.........then who? Who else deserved recognition in 2006?

I expect my opinion to be in the minority on this one. We'll see.

— • — • —

Side note: The actual cover of the magazine didn't have the word "You." printed on the monitor's screen, but instead had a piece of reflective Mylar in its place, so that when you looked at the magazine, you Thing is, that Mylar stuff usually has a few wrinkles and flaws, and when I look at the cover I see what amounts to be a flesh-colored traffic cone shape with eyeglasses and a two-day scruff.

The people at TIME found a Mylar supplier in Minnesota and made them sign a confidentiality agreement before going ahead with the order, so as not to leak who the Person of the Year would be until the magazine was in the mail or on newsstands. Then they placed an order for 6,965,000 pieces of Mylar.

That's a lot of yous.

"It's been my policy to view the Internet
not as an "information highway," but as
an electronic asylum filled with
babbling loonies."
—Mike Royko

"I imagine most stuff
on the information highway
is just roadkill anyway."
—John Updike

Thursday, January 04, 2007

To Whom Me It May Concern

An Open Letter

To: Mr. William Clay Ford, Sr.
Owner, Detroit Lions

From: A longtime, long-suffering "fan"

What..the..fuck.........are you thinking?

I mean, uhh...

Dear Sir:

It has come to my attention that you plan to keep Matt Millen as your president for yet another year of leading your football team deeper and deeper beneath the ground floor of the NFL's elite laughable franchises. The Lions aren't even in the basement these days, they're fast approaching the earth's inner core.

The Arizona Cardinals had two more wins than your team did this year, Mr. Ford, including a head-to-head victory. The Cleveland Browns even bested your record by one game. Does any of this make any sense to you, or don't you pay very close attention to the National Football League? You know, being a team owner and all.

The only thing that kept the Lions from having the worst record in the league this year was that season-ending, 39-point-scoring victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Big D, against Bill Parcells, a certain Hall of Famer and my favorite coach in the NFL. Congratulations, Mr. Ford. Instead of providing motivation and inspiration heading into the offseason, all that victory did was hand the very first pick in April's NFL draft over to the Oakland Raiders. Even when you lose. I hope you weren't too high on Brady Quinn, because he probably won't be available when it's your team president's turn to botch his selection at No. 2. (Brady Quinn is a quarterback, by the way, Mr. Ford. For Notre Dame. In case you were too busy dreaming up new features for your Ford Focus to concern yourself with up-and-coming players that might help your football team.)

Millen has said that he won't quit.

"If it's not working, you just keep on working at it until you get the freaking thing done. And that's just what you do. You don't ever quit."

That's how he put it. Those words instill such confidence in me, I'm already quivering with anticipation for next season. Oh boy, I can't wait.

Look at him smiling over there, Mr. Ford. Do you know why he's smiling? Because you're paying him millions of dollars a year, that's why. And positive results are apparently not a condition of him keeping his job. Instead of kicking him to the curb, you're giving him contract extensions.

What does a guy have to do to get fired from a management position in one of your companies? Sell your automotive trade secrets to the people at Kia?

If you're a shrewd businessman, Mr. Ford, and are looking for a way to save a couple/few million, fire Millen and hire me. I'll work for one or two million, and while I can't promise better results, I can most assuredly promise not to do worse. Nobody...can do worse.

At least the offseason is here (you do know what an "offseason" is, don't you, Mr. Ford? it's the only season in which you can't lose any games) and I can bur...uhh, I mean...pack away my Lions gear until next year.

A Colts fan

"Mr. Ford and I, we talk a bunch.
We were talking all season long.
It never even got to anything
other than just keep on
doing what we're doing."
—Matt Millen

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Same-ol', Same-ol'.

So I pulled up this screen tonight, thinking I should say something memorable and profound to start the brand new year, and...



(looks like the new year is gonna be just like the old year. sorry, folks.)

I'd rattle off my long list of New Year's resolutions here, but I kinda sorta don't have any. (kinda sorta.) Because the word "resolution" has come to mean "an objective one sets that will be abandoned in 48 hours, max." I might have a few ideas of how to make '07 better, but those will be kept, for the most part, to myself. Lest I stray from my short list, I don't want an entire avalanche of people bearing down on me. That kind of abuse is reserved for the select few.

The word "profound" up there always takes me back to a blip on a talk show, when Ashley Judd was on with...Jay Leno, I think it was. I don't even remember the context of the conversation, but she was talking about words and language, and said that someday she hoped to "utter some great profundity."

I just stared at the screen and thought to myself, "Let me get this straight. You're smokin' hot, you're a self-professed language dork and you freely toss around phrases like, 'utter some great profundity'??"

I think I even said, "Marry me." out loud in the direction of my television set.

She didn't hear me.

I've never forgotten that phrase, or where I first heard it.

So there you go. You might have stopped in for a big bloggorific welcome to the brand new year. But instead you get an Ashley Judd story. (and a great profundity uttered by Benjamin Franklin.)

Happy New Year.

"Be at war with your vices,
at peace with your neighbors,
and let every new year
find you a better man."
—Benjamin Franklin