Friday, May 29, 2009

The misanthrope

For years I'd considered myself an extrovert. But that was mostly me bluffing my way through Myers-Briggs, pushing the needle just enough to safely get me out of the dreaded introvert territory.

But as the testmakers themselves reassure you, being an introvert is not necessarily a bad thing, and the ability to actually be extroverted in certain situations does not essentially change your underlying nature.

As I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more introverted. Or maybe I'm just giving in to my normal impulses, worrying less about ego.

I've dated extroverts, and found relief in social situations where I could let them take the lead, participating when and how it suited my inclination and mood. And I've dated introverts, who I admit I sometimes resented for "holding me back." But the truth is, the things that bug us about other people are almost always the things that we find most troubling about ourselves. And those people weren't holding me back, they were simply allowing me the comfort to indulge my true nature, to be the wallflower I sometimes want to be.

I've found I'm especially self-conscious lately, particularly around the acting scene, where there are all these big personalities -- comedians, cut-ups, lives of the party. And there are all these pre-existing tight-knit groups that make you feel like an outsider trying to break in. Which is basically my story of the past few years, jumping late in life into acting -- this feeling of being a sort of party crasher. Someone who hasn't earned his stripes.

I do all the things you're supposed to do. Truly listening instead of always talking. Asking questions. Etc. But still, it's hard getting past this basic awkwardness. I think I'm going to start trying really hard to not try so hard. Maybe that'll help.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The new new thing?

I'm not super current on the latest tech trends, but if two straight auditions this week are any indicator, then we may be on the cusp of something.

Point-of-sale computer kiosks, in which actors like me interact with customers right on the retail floor. I've done a lot of this for DVDs and websites -- "Welcome! If you're interested in x, click here, if you're interested in y, click here," etc. I guess this is a way of getting closer to the consumer, closer to where he/she is making the purchasing decision.

According to one of the guys I was talking to, this kind of stuff presents all kinds of opportunities for more work for everyone. Something like this can be shot and edited and produced pretty quickly and inexpensively.

The two auditions represented a range of applications, too. One was pretty straightforward spokesperson-type stuff. The other I was playing a character and doing wacky, attention-getting antics and things.

They actually just put me on hold for the second one, so that's cool. They were a fun bunch. One of the top ad agencies. Being there reminded me of my old agency days. Lately I've been thinking that my next step should be a small, boutique firm. I've always been more about making a difference than banking on the prestige of working for a big-name company.

On the other hand, this visit reminded me of the pros of that scene -- bountiful resources, equipment, talent. Not to mention dogs. Each floor has an adopted dog! I think these will be some good people to meet ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I will never have a grocery store

The top criteria for choosing my new place were location, location, location. And space. And light. And price. But mostly location. It had to have everything I needed within an easy walk out my front door -- bars, restaurants, cleaners, liquor store, drug store, groceries and transportation. This place had it all, including a grocery store a half-block over and a half-block down.

I moved in on May 1, 2005. Exactly five weeks later it burned to the ground. And that's been its status ever since. I've grown used to the other one a little over a half-mile northward, but without a car, and especially in the rain, hauling 30 lbs. of groceries every week is a real drag.

The empty lot sat there month after month, year after year. Then they finally put up a sign announcing a brand new superstore, with condos up top and a Starbucks inside, etc. They even put in a sales office across the street for the condos. And again, the empty lot sat there month after month, year after year. 

I assumed they were having trouble selling the condos (starting at $1.4 million). Then comes this news today in Crain's. It's hard to follow but it appears the interminable delay has something to do with speculative investments and leveraged financing and the usual shenanigans.

So I will be long gone from the neighborhood by the time I have the luxury of doing my grocery shopping one item at a time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Biking the Drive

I've always wanted to Bike the Drive, but I either didn't have a bike or didn't have someone to do it with. This year, I had the bike (and the will to get up at 4:30 in the morning), so I finally did it.

And though it was a little chilly, it was still an awesome day along the lakefront. And even though the bike path runs right alongside the drive, and is $42 cheaper, there's something about riding a bike on a car-less stretch of four-lane highway.

You really do get to see the city in a bit of a different way. Like this great big hole in the ground:

That's where, someday, the 2,000-foot Calatrava spire will go, economy willing. But most of the rest of the scenery was pretty inspiring. The skyline.

The lake.

Just being up at an hour when the sun's over on that side is an accomplishment and a reward.

But the ride itself was great. I couldn't help going superfast, as I just sort of always tend to do, whether walking or biking or rollerblading. I don't have a super-expensive road bike or toe clips or other fancy gear, but I will tell you this -- if there indeed were 20,000 riders out that morning, I passed at least 19,500 of them. I was like the "cutter" kid in Breaking Away, holding my own but occasionally being passed by the Italian national racing team.

I had to do all 30 miles (up and back) just ... well, because. It was a decent workout, especially heading north, into the wind. Today my calves are a little sore, but otherwise I'm feeling fine.

I would do it again -- maybe on a warmer morning. And with the right company. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The White Knight

I went to a party tonight -- a back yard barbecue, actually, where I only knew a few people, but I thought it was important to get out there and so I went. And I had a fine time.

At one point, this nice girl announced that she'd lost her wedding ring. So a number of us in the vicinity dropped to our knees searching the lawn with cell phones and pen lights and such. Actual flashlights were brought out and we did our best to look and she finally said, don't worry about it, it'll turn up.

But then, who knows? The more we walk around the better the chance it gets ground down into the soil. And suddenly I was taken back to childhood. We were visiting our cousins and their dog ran away. I was, I don't know, 8 or 10 or something, and I thought it all was pretty ridiculous. If a dog is stupid enough to run away, maybe he deserves what he gets. We were cat people. As Kramer said in Seinfeld when the cat ran away, "It's up to the cat now."

But dogs are different, I suppose. They can't be counted on to just come home eventually. But I didn't know that and I was sick and tired of looking and wanted to go home. And my cousin was very upset and asked, "What if this was your dog???" And I had nothing to say, because, again, we were cat people and there was just no comparison.

Anyway, my usual MO in a situation like this is to give it a quick perfunctory effort then give up. I mean, seriously, looking for a wedding ring in the middle of the night in a big back yard? 

But then I've been made aware that one of the things that make me a less-than-desirable prospect is that "youngest kid" syndrome I've got going. It's true that as the youngest I don't always have to step up and take the lead. There's always someone ahead of me to do that. And it's extended into adulthood, with my grandparents' death, my Dad's illness, etc.

But tonight, for some reason, when everyone else had taken her advice to shut off their flashlights and go back to the party, I didn't give up. And I expanded the search area beyond her parameters, and I had a really nice flashlight -- big and heavy, like a cop's -- and after a while, under a table, half-buried in some sand, I saw something shiny. Her wedding ring. 

She was beyond grateful. It wasn't the most extravagant ring on earth, but it was hers. Her wedding ring. And I found it. It felt so good to be the guy who ... well, wasn't me for a change. The finder. The leader. The one.

And then I left. Partly because I'd had all six of my 16-oz beers and had to get home on my bike. Partly because I'd run out of things to talk about and people to talk to. But mostly because I wanted to leave on a high note.

Go me.

Almost a statistic

So last night I'm on the way home from a show over in Bucktown and I did something a little stupid. As usual, I'd rather walk two miles than wait 10 minutes for a bus, so I just started meandering my way home, until I found myself heading eastward on Diversey.

As I crossed over the river it occurred to me that the housing projects over on the other side have always looked a little sketchy, even from the safety of a vehicle in daylight. So here I was walking through at around 9:30 on a Saturday night. But it's a very busy street and it goes through MY neighborhood, so how bad can it really be? 

But I pause at one more bus stop, looking over my shoulder in vain for a sign of an Eastbound bus, and continue on my way. Up ahead, on the other side of the street is a handful of young urban gentlemen. I see them talking amongst themselves and then they start loping across the street, intersecting my path.

I think for a moment, and have a little flashback to college when I was held up at gunpoint. Something about the way they (they being potential robbers) move. It's a combination of casualness and determination that both sets off warning bells and causes you to think you're crazy and imagining things. So it's instinct versus intellect.

As I was contemplating my next move and thinking about my odds (again, it's a VERY busy street, though a little desolate a little ahead of where I'm walking), I see them sorta stop in the middle of the street, shuffle about, chat a bit, turn around and head back to their side. Okay, I really was imagining things, I thought.

Then I see that between us is a slow moving unmarked police car with three plainsclothes cops in it. Very obvious -- only a tiny fraction less conspicuous than a squad car. And the cops are looking at me, and looking at them, and looking back at me and just sorta stopped there and it occurred to me that, yes, this quite possibly was about to happen. I mean, if the cops had a suspicion, after all.

Just then I saw a bus coming up the street, so I sprinted across an intersection to the next stop, flagged it down and got on.

Thinking about it this morning the cops did have a "what the hell are you doing here" look, that I initially took for, "It's stupid white boys like you that make us do all this work filing crime reports." But maybe instead they thought I was there to buy drugs!

Who knows?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Say hello to my little friend

I don't have this on good authority, but I've been told (by someone who should know better if it's not true) that a preponderance of squirrels in your neighborhood means fewer rats. Squirrels and rats apparently being the sharks and jets of the animal kingdom.

If it's true, then I'm pinning my hopes on this guy being the vanguard of a benign invasion of sciurus carolinensis. Because in the several years I've lived here the rats have seemed to dominate. And these fuckers aren't shy like the downtown rats I'd grown accustomed to, who wait until 1 or 2 in the morning to venture out. No, these guys gather and frolic in groups, boisterous and undaunted, on the sidewalks and in the gutters as early as sundown.

But this year, going all the way back to the dead of winter, as I work away in my little perch here, it seems every morning and afternoon I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a little dark streak flying past this big wall of southern-facing windows. And then the fun begins. He leaps, monkey-like, branch-to-branch, tree-to-tree, feasting on the berry-sized fruit that grows there.

Of course, it might be more than one squirrel -- I haven't tagged his ear or anything. And, in fact, in recent weeks a couple of them at a time have shown up, battling it out in the trees, turning my windows into TV screens replaying a very tame episode of Wild Kingdom.

I know they can be major pests in some neighborhoods, nesting in attics and chewing through power lines, but here I consider them happy harbingers of better times.

And I have no idea whether the squirrel vs. rat theory is true. I always thought it had more to do with the degree of urbanization and concentration of big, old growth trees in your particular neighborhood. Nevertheless, it has been a while since I've seen a rat.

And now that I've written this, one is sure to show up in my kitchen tonight.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Picky bastard

I am endlessly recalibrating the terms under which I will and won't accept gigs. It's a formula subject to near-endless variables such as 1) my level of economic security vs. desperation, 2) how busy I am at the moment and, 3) the price of my dignity which, sadly, seems wholly dependent on Factor 1.

How sad is that? I'd love to be able to stand firm on principle and say that under no circumstances will I accept a job under $xxx per day/half-day/hour. But early this year, when things seemed particularly dark I said okay to a job that would have amounted to a little over half of an acceptable day rate. For THREE straight days. It was LIVE trade show work. Ick.

The very same week I booked this incredibly lucrative job that pays like 5o times that rate, which really put things in perspective. Fortunately I ended up not getting the job.

In any case, things are mostly back to normal, economic security-wise, so I felt fine in standing on principle yesterday and turning that job down. Especially since I can make more here at the office doing client work.

But I reserve the right to compromise my principles down the road when it becomes necessary/expedient. Why isn't life black-and-white, like on Leave it to Beaver?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

And now for some self-indulgent wallowing

This has been heavy on my play list this week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sand in my shoes

Other people go to barbecues. I audition for them.

Today must have been my fourth or fifth one where I'm playing a guest at a bbq (which, I suppose, is better than playing the entree). And always an "upscale" barbecue. What's up with that?

I was told that khakis and a button down are what's up with that, which is how most of the guys were dressed. But this one dude must have been trying out for Diddy's summer party in the Hamptons -- he was in the full-on white three-piece. He looked great, though. I wanted to go to the party that was inside his head.

Anyway, I put on these shoes I hadn't worn since Puerto Vallarta and there was sand in them. Real, genuine Pacific sand.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Alone again ...

... naturally.

If karma is real, I suppose I got what I deserved. So at least now the universe, or at least my corner of it, is back in balance.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bridge to somewhere

That would be to the new modern wing of the Art Institute.

Actually, in some ways it is a bridge to nowhere. You take it from Millennium Park over Monroe St. straight up to the top floor of the museum. Where there's a cafe. To get to the exhibits, you then take an elevator or escalator down to the ground level.

You could also just go right in from the ground level, but then you don't get to cross over on the cool bridge. Cool, actually, is a misnomer. Its surface is metal and even on a 60 degree day it felt like we were cooking in a broiler. I can't imagine what it will be like on an actual hot day.

Still, I love the underside. It's supposed to resemble the hull of racing yacht, and I think it succeeds. A nice little gesture to the boaters a few blocks east.

The museum itself is beautiful. Another incredible architectural landmark for Chicago.

It reminds me a little of the East Wing at the National Gallery of Art. I mean, they're totally different in appearance, but the idea that the building itself can be as much of an attraction and work of art as the paintings and sculpture it holds.

Someday when the crowds die down maybe I'll actually get close enough to some of that art to actually see it. But for now a quick stroll through is good enough.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I just finished a week of not going to the gym. Sort of a birthday present to myself. A whole week. It feels very weird.

I skip a week here and there during the year, but usually for vacation or the holidays. So it was very odd just being here, having the gym right up the street, and not going.

But lately it's just felt like such drudgery. I've been trying to mix things up to get some more variety, but whatever I do, a workout is still a workout. Now that summer's here I think I'm going to go down to just five days a week and use the weekend for biking and stuff.

Or just indulge my inner homer and drink a lot of beer and get fat.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Acting. Thank you.

Went to a show tonight and it was fascinating. One of those giant, sprawling, epic, crazy messes that after about 10 minutes I tell myself, "Don't overthink it, don't try to figure it out, just sit back and enjoy the spectacle."

Which is what I do often at shows. I've come to realize that the theater I love best is realistic, naturalistic and contemporary. I just don't have the gene in me that allows me to totally let go and get swept up in this other world. Which is probably why I'm so bad at improv.

Still, I enjoyed it. I love any show or movie that has beautiful visual moments. Those seem to really stick with me. It can be a flawed or even crappy movie, but if it's got an exquisitely staged or choreographed moment or two, it will stay with me forever. Like Eyes Wide Shut, or Solaris, or Vanilla Sky. In some ways I don't demand too much of my entertainment or art.

In any case, I had a great time. Two things. It had tons of old vaudeville-type crappy one-liners -- the kind of jokes that make you groan. It reminded me of my Dad. He often told jokes like that and I always, always laughed. I was his best audience. I knew they were bad jokes, but for some reason they got me every damned time. So I was the guy, laughing loudly and inappropriately at moments when everyone else was silent. One of the actors even gave me a thumbs up for my laugh.

The other thing was, after the curtain call, the lead actor delivered the pitch that they often give, promoting other shows and such, and he was still completely choked up from his performance. He could barely get the words out. And that is why I'm not a great actor -- I just can't make myself vulnerable like that. Barely in life, and almost never on the stage.

Anyway, kudos to Red Noses. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two trains traveling in opposite directions ...

Finally had a commercial audition today -- the first in almost two weeks, which hasn't happened in a long time. Plus a couple of voiceover auditions coming up, so hopefully we're past this little lull.

It was fine. They're casting two groups of people who would be in train cars. One a bunch of blue collar types from Milwaukee and the other full of urban hipsters from Chicago. Fortunately I got picked to audition for the Chicago train, which was a relief, given some past casting episodes.

It's amazing what one leather wrist cuff can do for one's hipster quotient. (Or at least one's self-perceived hipster quotient.)

(Beer not included.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On a lighter note

I've been watching SNL since its inception. From Bass-o-matic and Mr. Bill to Lazy Sunday and Dick in a Box, this is, hands-down, the funniest thing they've ever done. Everybody else is posting it, so why don't I:

The thing is, the best parts of SNL now are no longer really what the heart of the show was about at its inception: the "live" element -- taking something from conception to performance live on stage in just six days, and living with the roughness and risks and all the limits that entails.

It does nicely illustrate something that's the downfall of many amateur comics (and, actually, many professional ones as well). Everyone tries to be edgy, but actually being funny? Well, that is a whole other thing entirely.

Also, I worry that I'm liking and respecting Justin Timberlake too much.

Piece work

As I said before, the work (as in work-work -- the business stuff) continues to flow in at a respectable level given the economic calamity falling about our ears. 

Certainly it's better than back in 2002-03, which was truly awful. Maybe having less experience and fewer contacts at the time meant less resilience to the recession.

In any case, the work is coming in, but it's definitely of a different type. Fewer big projects and more of the smaller, piece-work variety. I suppose it adds up basically the same, but it's a lot more grueling and a lot less satisfying doing lots and lots of little tactical projects instead of long-term strategic, programmatic stuff. It's just harder to get in a groove and be efficient.

On a longer project, the time and energy it takes just getting up to speed can be efficiently "amortized" over the life of the effort. It's a smoother kind of work curve, instead of a short up-and-down burst.

But I suppose beggars can't be choosers, and a dollar's still a dollar, whatever way it comes in.

I keep seeing all kinds of positive signs in the papers -- housing, earnings, jobs. Well, jobs are still being lost in massive amounts, but the rate of loss has slowed slightly. But all that stuff is pretty intangible compared to the stories every single day of friends and friends of friends getting laid off. I imagine the employment picture is going to lag considerably.

Which means head down, keep working, keep marketing, keep networking. Keep on keepin' on ...

Friday, May 08, 2009

A room with a view

I often miss my view from the 33rd floor of my old place -- the lake, the skyline, the sunset.

But at least for a couple of weeks out of the year I can look out at these nice fruit trees that bloom in various shades of pink and white and fuchsia. 

I have to say it's a surprisingly tasteful touch for a place that is otherwise pretty crappily maintained. They must have been planted a long time ago, in a decade when the owners actually cared.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Slow daze

No auditions this week (unless something comes up tomorrow). I haven't gone a week without a commercial audition or booking in three months. It feels weird. Even on weeks where I get one it feels like something at least.

And once again I'm back in the position with nothing in the pipeline -- that is, I don't think I'm "up" for anything anymore from the auditions I've done in the past few weeks. And definitely not going to New Zealand. Boo. Things clearly have a way of averaging out, and the trough I've hit is payment for the bonanza of those two back-to-back gigs in March.

Anyway, the feeling of slowness is compounded by the fact that I'm not doing any theater. I'd already pulled back last year, but with two shows and a reading, that still came out to 25-30 weeks of activity. 

I'm not regretting it. This was definitely the right decision. When you're in a show and rehearsing almost every night it's very easy to tell yourself you're too busy for other stuff -- like working, and working on getting more work. And I've definitely used the time off to my advantage. For the most part. Meeting people, getting my stuff out there, securing a nice extra job or two, including the book project, which is going great.

Still, it's easy to start feeling all ... festery ... when you're not completely overwhelmed. And it's easy to stop marketing when you're getting along okay. But I've got to fight the urge to be lazy and keep moving forward. Otherwise I might find someday soon that the economy's taking a good turn and I'm not positioned to take advantage of it ...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Not bland enough

Add the new "PJ Bland's" spots from Chili's to the ongoing series, Parts I Didn't Get

And it's fine, because obviously the guy they picked is very, very different from my type. And, you know, it's an honor just to be called in. Still, it's getting a ton of play and attention, both on TV and online. Cha-ching.

Some of the biggest parts on TV are ones I didn't get, from the Geico CEO to the T-Mobile dad.

Still, Harris continues to chug away. And OfficeMax ... well, hopefully this new store concept they're testing will take off. Right now it's just in one market. If it were in 10 or 20 or, say, 50 ... that would be too much to ask for, I suppose ...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Day 2

I went and did it. I ended my newspaper subscription. I'd been thinking about it for months and finally just let it expire -- instead of killing it, I just let it die on its own. (Like I did with the various spider plants and ferns I had back in the '90s when I decided, "Ick, indoor plants?")

So goodbye to a morning ritual I've been following since childhood. But, as I said before, by the time the morning paper comes, there's not much new there I hadn't already seen online. In fact, since I stay up late, often what I read the night before is more current than what shows up on my doorstep. 

Most of the paper I can get along fine without. For national and political news, editorials and op-eds, I've depended for years now on the New York Times and Washington Post. Local news I can still get online via the Trib, the Reader and Chicagoist, along with features and reviews and such. I can even get the comics online -- also an excellent skewering of the comics here.

I still have that reflex of wanting to go to the front door to get the paper first thing in the morning. On the other hand, I no longer have that anxiety of wondering whether it's been stolen, as it is at least once a week.

I'll probably still go out and pick it up on Sundays (for as long as they're still putting them out, which may not be long!)

So, being both part of the problem (the death of print media) AND the solution (living greener), I am feeling decidedly ambivalent.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Riverwalk, East of Michigan Avenue

Time to clean house!