Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blessed are the caregivers

I seriously don't know how they do it.

I had an extended visit home for the holidays so I could spend a little more time with Dad. Things continue to deteriorate. He's set up on the first floor now so he doesn't have to deal with stairs, and he needs a LOT of help walking.

I pitched in during the weekend when his regular caregiver (the paid one, as opposed to his wife, who's there 24/7) wasn't there, and it was tough, tough, tough. I don't even want to go into it.

But I was trying to take a zen-like approach to the whole thing. Reducing expectations, being prepared for anything, and letting go of the past and how things were or should be.

As always, he continues to smile and be good natured, which is a huge blessing, if you believe in that sort of thing. And there continues to be a glimmer of recognition there in his eyes, though he can't really speak.

And I continue, for whatever reason, to be fairly emotionally detached from the whole thing. I think I'm a good compartmentalizer. I think that's maybe frustrating or curious for other people, but it seems to work for me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I've got a book deal!

Phase One of the book (the all by myself phase) is officially over. Today I signed a deal to have the book published. The details can be read over at the High-Performance Communication blog.

It's a nice way to end the year. I'm feeling very good about the content. Just finished one last sweep -- Draft 5 -- through the thing. I'm amazed I still find things to tweak even after almost 8 full months with the thing. But on the other hand, it's a good sign that I'm not sick of it yet.

In fact, I really, really like it. With each draft I'm more convinced that I've got something really good here. This last pass was just to make sure the tone is right. I want it to be insightful but fun. I want it to have a consistent voice -- one that doesn't wear out its welcome with the reader.

And I expect that with some fresh and professional editorial perspective, the edits have just begun.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Open wide, gift horse!

I've never been particularly good with the business gifts. The holidays always seem crazy enough without budgeting the time and money to come up with a handful of additional presents.

But this year it seemed kind of important. Three brand new clients helped bring in a good chunk of my total revenue, and I felt genuinely grateful and wanted to thank/acknowledge them. Which is exactly how and why gift giving should be done.

But once I started, I found it hard to stop. What about the other clients? The ones who have been around for a while but who maybe didn't generate a lot of work for me this year? Do I stiff them in favor of the shiny new thing? So I got them gifts as well.

Then it occurred to me: what about agents and casting directors? Oy. So I included them, too, albeit at a lower price point, as the acting income wasn't a huge percentage of my total income this year. Which sounds a little mercenary, but what the hell.

So I got lots of fun stuff -- mini-cupcakes (gluten free), my favorite chocolates (Scharffen Berger), organic snacks, gourmet pastas/sauces, chocolate covered pretzels, etc.

Today as I was making the rounds for the stuff that couldn't be delivered, it occurred to me that I hadn't been to Chicago's biggest commercial casting agency in a long, long time. Two months, to be precise (upon checking the calendar). I may have missed one audition opportunity due to vacation, but still that's a really long gap for a place I sometimes frequent 3 or 4 times a week. So much that we joke about getting me a cot there to sleep on.

I asked one of my agents what was going on and she said she'd been submitting me regularly. So it's not the talent agent, it's the casting people not picking me. (And when I was there one of the casting directors said hi, and in my imagination it was a sheepish hi, full of guilt for them having blackballed me for whatever transgression I'd committed.)

Big mystery. But then just a couple of hours later I got a call for an audition there tomorrow. That helps, but I'm still kind of concerned. I'll see what I can find out tomorrow ...

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Me (again)

The girls behind the counter at Argo didn't notice. Nor did my Pilates, yoga or spin instructors. Nor even the eight or ten theater friends I talked to Saturday night.

None of them noticed my new glasses, which I thought were such a radical transformation from the ones I got earlier this year. (And regretted ever since -- hint: do not pick frames that blend with your hair. Contrast is better.) For reference:

So with these I go back to black. Like my old ones:

And a cool new shape. Everyone has the rectangular ones these days. These new ones are more modern, without being overly trendy (ie. 1978 yearbook photo ugly). And they've got a retroish Clark Kent thing going.

But I guess they're not as different as I think. Or maybe these people aren't all that observant. Or it's possible, just possible, that I am not as much the focus of everyone's attention as I think I am.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Oxford Street story

We stayed just off Oxford Street, near the Marble Arch tube stop (as well as the actual Marble Arch, seen here out the breakfast window on morning one.)

The whole visit I couldn't believe how busy it was. It was like Times Square times 11. It was like Michigan Avenue the week before Christmas, but much, much worse. A big wide sidewalk, yes, but with people walking (run-walking, really) 10 or 12 bodies across it didn't feel so wide.

I wrapped up the first day with a long, long walk to stay awake. And all the way back to the hotel I was seemingly swimming against the tide of humanity. It was unbelievable, and made me feel like a gen-u-wine yokel to see and be awed by so many people rushing about.

Yes, I knew it was the Christmas season. And yes, I could see there were a number of department stores on the street, but we weren't near Harrod's or the other retail icons I knew. It wasn't until my final night during a walking tour that we were told Oxford is not only the busiest shopping street in London, but in all of Europe, apparently.

So in addition to Selfridges and Marks & Spencer and H&M and a handful of other major block-long department stores, it has hundreds of smaller shops like the Gap and the Disney Store and Claire's.

Anyway, that first evening I am struggling up the street among the shoppers and commuters and (other) tourists when I come upon a crowd of people that is distinguished from the greater mass by the fact that it's not moving. They're three for four deep to the curb, peering at something in the street.

I can't see what's going on, but there's a big red double-decker bus that's stopped. Finally, through all the bodies, I see one that appears to be laying in the street. Gah! Someone's been hit! A pedestrian? A biker? What?

Then I see it's moving. Then I see it's wearing a bright neon emergency vest. Is a traffic cop down? Or is he/she trying to pull the remains of someone from under the bus's wheels?

Everyone is gripped by the action, unable to look away, without knowing exactly what's happening or what grisly sight may soon present itself. After a few tense moments, the bus rolls forward. Gah! Whoever's down there is being crushed!

Then, from the front of the crowd comes a collective gasp. But it's a gasp of relief. The neon vest is moving, seems to be getting up. What's going on? Then vest guy, on his knees, thrusts up two arms, and just over people's shoulders I can see in his hands ... a little white dog, merrily wagging his tail!

The crowd erupts in relief and cheers and laughter, able only to utter the obvious: "A dog!" and "It's a dog!" Then everyone briefly exchanges a look that says, "Okay, we're big-city folk and we sort of let down our defenses for a moment and got caught up in a heartwarming, one-of-a-kind event ... right. On our way, then!" And we all dispersed.

It was like a small Christmas miracle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A London Christmas

Whatever happened to that infamous British reserve? The kind that makes you self-conscious in conference calls and emails, trying hard not to reinforce the notion that we Americans are a race of emotional over-sharers, with our all-to-ready familiarity and our bright enthusiasm punctuated with loud "HOW ARE YOU DOINGs" and "HAVE A NICE DAYs" and excessive exclamation points.

And yet it seems at Christmastime all that reticence and guardedness goes straight out the window.

Exhibit 1. For a Christmas party we were told that everyone will be dressing up as Santas. I figured that's an old English grift. I saw the Bridget Jones scene where no one but her was dressed in costume for the erstwhile "tarts and vicars" party.

But it turns out they were serious. Deadly serious. In fact, just that afternoon I stumbled upon a crowd of probably 500 Santas gathered in Trafalgar Square. Here is just a small cross-section of them, gathered at the base of Nelson's column, where just 48 hours before protesters were waving signs and urinating.

It was quite a spectacle, especially to hear them all chant in unison, yoga "ohm" like, long "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOs." So that's when I knew the Santa thing was real. Apparently scaring up a Santa costume in England is as easy as finding a Starbucks here. So I relented and agreed to wear a Santa hat, along with a festive scarf of garland and a red tie. All invisible in this photo from my crappy iPhone.

Exhibit 2: At the other party we went to (this one on a houseboat on the Thames!), they had a keyboardist and horn player and proceeded to hand out 16 pages worth of Christmas carol lyrics. Who knew Good King Wenceslas had so many verses? And everyone was singing. Without any embarrassment or so much as a trace of irony.

They were as earnest as, dare I say it, Midwestern Front Porch Americans singing the National Anthem. It was a fascinating moment, hopelessly under-depicted here by, again, my crappy iPhone (come on next-gen iPhone 4, come out already!)

Maybe this is how they are when they're among(st) themselves, at a party made up mainly of natives and off the beaten path in a non-tourist area, where they can safely and fearlessly emote. It was quite touching.

Exhibit 3: Near the hotel, in Hyde Park, they had this huge carnival-like Winterland Wonderland festival running, 7 nights a week for 7 weeks. And it was swamped! They had a Ferris Wheel and other rides, games, ice-skating, open-air taverns, a giant inflatable disco, and hundreds of booths selling food and mulled cider and wine, and beer and crafts and other things.

It was an amazing scene, though I suspect for most natives it's like going to Navy Pier. Or Rush Street. Still, for us tourists it was kind of a blast.

Exhibit 4: Finally, they light up their retail streets like no city I've seen. We did an architectural/holiday lights walking tour that took us from the big commercial strips to the little out-of-the-way boutique-filled lanes, and it was pretty stunning, from the sublime to the borderline tacky.

Christmas in London. As Joe Biden would say, it's a Big Fucking Deal!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

An American in London

Whenever I go to Europe I try to blend in and not look like a tourist. Sometimes I'm pretty successful. In France I've had numerous people come up to me and ask me directions -- in French, like I was a native.

Of course, the jig is up as soon as I open my mouth and reveal my very, very poor pidgin French.

England was an odd experience. On one hand, it felt very much like a foreign country -- the streets, the buildings, the food, the transportation, the general ways of doing things.

On the other hand, I spoke the language, albeit with an American accent. So I was quite clearly an American. Especially in the way I would sometimes give up trying to distinguish a 10 pence coin from a 20 pence or 5 pence (the size is no indicator!), and just hold my palm full of change out and let the clerks pick out the right amount.

But I stopped being self-concious about being from somewhere else since almost everyone I ran into -- store clerks, waiters, tube workers, museum staff -- was also from somewhere else. Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, India, Pakistan. Also there were tons of Americans visiting and living and working there.

The biggest concentration of actual British people were at a couple of parties we went to in some funky, out-of-the-way neighborhoods on the South Bank. Still, all of them were thoroughly accustomed to living and working with Americans, so I was in no way a novelty. People weren't stopping me and asking for my perspective on the fairness of US tax policy or my thoughts on the mid-term elections or anything.

In fact, there was a palpable feeling of kindredness. The shared heritage, the common bonds, the mutual sacrifice in war. I was especially touched that they devoted a significant space right behind the high altar of St. Paul's Cathedral to American soldiers and sailors.

Overall I guess I felt pretty comfortable. I visited Europe a lot in the late '90s and things were a lot more tense. America was on a roll and that sort of stoked the basic resentment to an even higher level. Between the problems we're having here and the worldwide economic crisis, I suppose we're all kind of on the same level for now.

Still there is something to be said for the challenges -- emotional, intellectual and otherwise -- of being in a more disorienting, unfamiliar environment. Travel shouldn't necessarily be comfortable.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

London's Burning

So there was some pretty wild protesting going on while we were there and we managed to stay one step ahead of (or behind) them the whole day.

First, we're heading down to Westminster and see tons and tons of cops. They're lining the major streets, they're setting up barricades, they're stacking up shields, they're waiting on side streets and on horses in courtyards ...

So we tour the Abbey and come out and see the action's getting more intense. Some of the cops are acting casual, but others look a little wired. We head up the street to Trafalgar square, and can see that thousands of protesters are streaming by. We watch for a few moments through the thicket of police.

Everything seems well under control and we see that they're students protesting some pretty draconian measures that will triple what they pay for tuition (which not long ago was free).

I recall seeing on the news that there had been protests before on this issue and so didn't think it would be a big deal. We wait for a gap in the crowd and cross through to the other side. I head to the Portrait Gallery for a couple of hours and when I come out, the streets are clear, though there are news or police helicopters buzzing overhead.

From there I take a long walk. (Trying to stay up so my body will re-set to London time, which it did after 30 straight hours awake.) I cross over Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank and can hear them rallying up the river. And more helicopters.

I continue my walk, heading back to the North Bank and to Coventry Square, where a coffee shop TV is showing live footage of protesters and police fighting. Interesting, I think. So I continue my walk up Regent Street ...

Now I'm back at the hotel, where we turn on the news to see that Charles and Camilla's limo was attacked on that very same street just minutes to an hour after I passed through.

Another fascinating coincidence. So we leave the hotel to head to a nice dinner of Pakistani food just up the street and around the corner. Outside our hotel we see a couple of cops with fancy electronic gizmos -- boom microphone, camera, etc. And a couple of other cops are very aggressively questioning two kids up against a wall.

Neat. So we go to dinner. When we come back, the area is swarming with cops. We look over our shoulder at a crosswalk and there are two columns of police in full riot gear standing behind us. The policewoman at the head of one column cheerily says, "Don't mind us, we're just waiting to cross like you."

When we do cross, we see a huge line of police halfway down the block and wrapping around our hotel. Cops everywhere -- we estimate about 150.

We go upstairs and turn on the news. Apparently protesters had been fanning out across the city causing trouble. And at Marble Arch, while we were at dinner, they got into more scuffles with the police, lit some fires and broke some store windows.

Insane. I sympathize with the students. It sounds like they're getting shafted, big time. But there were a LOT of violent people among them. And in spite of this graffito I found spray painted on a wall near Parliament a couple of days later ...

... the broken out windows of the Treasury Building not 10 feet away told a different story:

It was a fascinating time to be in London, and the very real issues they were struggling with sure made the ones being debated back home (exactly how big a tax break do the millionaires get) seem pretty trivial.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

London Town

The checklist

So much to say about London, yet so little energy to say it now. The big souvenir I brought back, aside from a little "Keep Calm and Carry On" plaque, is a head cold the size of Westminster Abbey.

At least it came on the last day, so I didn't let it crimp things too much. In fact, my forbidding of the crimping probably made it worse -- a trek out to Windsor in the cold didn't help matters much, not to mention an evening Christmas lights walk in the cold drizzle.

And apparently they don't sell zinc in their pharmacies there. (They probably know it's bogus, but my immune system gets fooled every time.)

Anyway, it made for a tough plane ride home. I asked for an empty seat next to me so I wouldn't have to inflict my virus on someone else, but no such luck. (Unlike the flight out, which was less than half full -- I actually laid down for a while across three seats, though I didn't sleep. I stayed up a full 30 hours, and wasn't even that tired!)

So I went through three packs of kleenex and on the descent I felt like the guy in the vise scene in Casino, where Joe Pesci pops the dude's eyeballs out.

Think I'm going to get some soup, catch up on some Daily Show, and try, try, try to stay up 'til 10 (4 am London time). For some reason I always find the jet lag worse coming this direction. It usually takes several days to get over.

At least I'm home. Of course, within 15 minutes I rubbed my eyes blood red from the itching. Check off London and Alaska as two places where my allergies would be much, much better ...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cover Girl

This is the little cat that was the inspiration and poster girl for the one-act plays I wrote and put up a few years ago.

Wow, five years ago, actually. Hard to believe.

Anyway, she was a good kitty. She couldn't help it that she had only the one eye. And me being squeamish, I admit I had the designer re-touch her eyehole for aesthetic purposes.

Poor Leona died suddenly the other day. Strangely, she's the second one-eyed cat I know who met an untimely death in the past few weeks -- a friend of mine, who actually performed in this same show, lost her own one-eyed cat in a fire. So sad.

Goodbye, kitty. As much as I harassed you, you were good. And you always looked smart in your little tuxedo.

Monday, December 06, 2010

That certain feeling

I had this audition last week at a photography studio I hadn't been to before, so I didn't know the people there. And I went in and did my usual thing -- I was courteous and friendly, if not super-warm and enthusiastic and making promises to have dinner and babysit their kids someday and go on vacations together (which is about how I presume it typically goes for the innately gregarious).

I'd had a super-busy day (working away in my quiet office away from the humans) and I got there toward the end of their casting session and there were a couple of other actors there who, to me, seemed insanely enthusiastic and boisterous and loud and laughing and joking and making conversation and talking about their lab coats (some actors have their own lab coats for medical roles, which this was) and it was all very ... annoying?

So I said my hellos and I went to my mark and I gave them the three or four quick poses and expressions they asked for and that was it. I said thank you and goodbye and headed back out as the other guys were still back there yucking it up.

At first I thought, I guess I should be doing that. And then I thought, no. This is a business and there's a line there and it's usually good to err on the conservative side of being overly chatty with the people who have to see 20 or 30 or 50 of you that day.

And I also thought, "I bet I got that." I really did. I just felt as soon as I hit the mark and did my work that I knew exactly what they wanted and how to give it to them. I've played a doctor (yes, ha-ha, on TV) at least a half-dozen times now, and it's the same basic thing: authority, warmth, confidence, caring.

So my agent called a couple of days later and, yes, I got it. There you go. Shoots tomorrow.

Sometimes ya just know. Ya know?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

London Calling

The great shame of my life -- well, one of them, anyway -- is that I've never been to London. I've been to Bratislava (Slovakia) and Avila (Spain) and Zandvoort (Netherlands) and Etretat (France), but never to London. I guess I only go places where I don't speak the language.

Though that reminds me of the old line about the U.S. and Britain being two countries separated by a common language.

So I'm remedying that. Sort of a last-minute booking, though a trip in general that has been a long time in planning. The airfare was ridiculous (at least compared with 1990s prices, which was the last time I traveled widely overseas), but the hotel is F-R-E-E free, as K's gonna be out there on business.

As with Alaska, I figured I can't afford not to go! Plus, with the season and all, it should be a really cool time to be there -- a Dickens Christmas!

So I'm excited. And intimidated, for some reason. Other than Mexico a couple of years back I haven't been to another country since 2001. Ridiculous!

Three things I will NOT be doing are the wax museum, the changing of the guard and the Eye. Other than that, everything's on the table. Yippee!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I think I shall never see ...

... something as beautiful as this tree.

It's my favorite. It's at the lakefront, just south of Belmont Harbor. I can't say I care much for it in the summer -- the foliage is no great shakes. But when the limbs are bare ... oh, my. Spectacular.

It's looks the kind of tree Pixar or the people behind the Wizard of Oz would conjure up -- all multi-armed and humanlike. Or maybe Van Gogh, with those swirling masses of branches. Or maybe it's some mythological god-beast that hurls big balls of fire.

I just love it. And I haven't seen another tree like it.

Today I was reminded to make sure I appreciate every moment it has left. See, it's an ash tree. A green ash, I believe. And they've been under attack for a decade or so now from the emerald ash borer beetle.

This morning a crew from Streets & Sanitation showed up right in front of my place and proceeded to cut down two massive old trees ...

... one of them maybe three feet thick at the trunk and 60 or 70 feet high.

And by noon they were gone. Cut down to the stumps and all the branches hauled away.

These guys were good, I'll give them that. Mighty efficient at their murderous task. No damage to any property, even as the giant branches and pieces of trunk thundered to the ground.

I assumed these were ash trees, but I'm not sure they were, actually. They may have been locust trees. Maybe they were just old and dying. I know the smaller one lost a pretty huge limb a year or two ago in a summer storm. And in looking at the cross-cut sections of the larger one's trunk I saw it had a pretty big hollow area running upward from the base. That can't be good.

Either way it's sad. I'll be getting a lot less privacy next summer (though probably more sun). And it all reminds me that my favorite tree's days are numbered.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dr. Robert

Actually, not a doctor this time. At the last minute they changed things up and made me some kind of tech design guy. (Thus the ludicrously coiffed hair.)

A friend of mine snapped this photo. She's working a medical-related trade show this week and came across this signage at one of the booths. That was fast -- we just shot the thing a month ago. And they had to CGI me breaking through that background.

So yeah, not a doctor. But I did have an audition today, finally, in which I played a doctor. And got called for another audition tomorrow, but I THINK I have a conflict with the shoot date. We'll see about that.

Anyway, hope that means things are turning around for December.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Two (2) auditions this month. One film, one print.

I just quickly looked back through my calendar and didn't see a worse month in three years. It may be more than that, but that's as far back as I cared to look.

The thing is, it was kind of a relief, what with all the work, meetings and out-of-town trips I had this month. But I'm sure it will drive me nuts if it keeps up in the month ahead.

Not sure what the deal is. Maybe something's up at the casting houses. Maybe there's someone new who's my type and getting all my auditions. Turnover at one of my agent's may account for it, but generally what one misses the other one picks up.

Maybe I need a new agent. New headshots? More focus?

I'm going to not worry about it. Much.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fall is there

DC was beautiful. It's always beautiful. Crisp, clear blue-sky winters, long, warm explosive and flowerful springs, lush, verdant summers, and paint-by-number falls. Just gorgeous.

It was a good visit. Lots and lots of leaves. All down my Mom's street:

Ginkos in the neighborhood:

Maple on the mall:

Sycamores, too:

And I'm glad to be back home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travel travails

The American people, or at least a certain percentage of them, have spoken loud and clear this holiday travel season, in the same voice and with the same logic we hear over and over.

They absolutely demand total, 100% security and safety from any terrorist threat, and are ready to hold the government responsible for any slip-ups. And they also are unwilling to pay any personal price whatsoever for such security, whether it's accounting for the true costs of war in the budget or submitting to a relatively harmless pat-down at the airport.

Just as they will happily affix a "Support our Troops" magnet to their car, while continuing to drive that car anywhere and everywhere, without regard to the economic or security consequences of our dependence on foreign oil.

I have traveled a few times since the new rules were implemented and the scanners don't bother me and the mild rub-downs don't either. What bothers me is that it's taken 40 minutes to get through security the last couple of times. If people would just get with the program, we could keep things moving efficiently.

But I guess getting to the airport two hours early, instead of one, is the price I pay for Freedom.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let's get physical

I got a physical today, for the first time in I don't know how long. Fifteen years, at least. Maybe 20. And it's been almost that long since I'd even seen a general practitioner.

I think I shocked the nurse with this news, until it was clear that I'm over at Northwestern several times a year seeing the allergist and the opthamologist and the dermatologist. So that's partly why I haven't gone. Another reason is that evidence shows that physicals don't actually do much to keep you healthy or prevent disease.

Another good reason is they're icky. But this one didn't involve anything particularly invasive, so that was nice.

But mostly it's because I'm just so damned healthy. I have almost none of the major risk factors for premature death. I'm not overweight, I don't smoke. I work out all the time, I eat tons of fruits and vegetables. My blood pressure is low, cholesterol is low (with the good high and the bad low).

I do have a beer or two now and again, but he didn't seem particularly alarmed by that.

I think he was actually a little amused to have me there, since I'm so off-the-charts healthy -- not just for someone my age but for much of the population half my age. I even brought in my bloodwork results from a few years ago from another hospital and he was mostly thinking another round was unnecessary, in the same way my dentist, who is great, whispers to me that if I only wanted to floss a couple of times a week I could get away with it because my teeth are so healthy.

So I gave him one or two things to look at. A weird complaint or two. And we went ahead and did the blood work anyway. Maybe I can beat my scores from last time!

I figure since I have these near-debilitating allergies I deserve to have the rest of my body in good order.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My music's worse than yours

It took much of the past week, but I did it. I got just about all the music in my CD collection into iTunes -- 1,726 songs, more than doubling my existing online collection. I wanted to get this done because with the way things are going, it appears the computers OF THE FUUUUTURRRE won't have CD/DVD drives anymore.

And at the end of the process, I've come to a sad conclusion: I own a LOT of bad music. For several reasons:
  • Sometimes I've been loyal to bands beyond all reason. So while the first few Cranberries albums were good buys, the fourth and fifth were seriously unnecessary. Same goes for the Connells' third. And Social Distortion's second. But I ripped then all.
  • I would often buy CDs to get one song I liked. Like, um, Hanson. Shut up! Mmmbop is a damned good song and I'm only partly ashamed to say so. But I ripped the rest.
  • Worse than that, I would sometimes buy CDs because I had a vague recollection of maybe hearing a band's songs on the radio sometime. Thus you get That Petrol Emotion. Which I was amazed to find is not only on Wikipedia but for sale in the iTunes store. Ripped it.
  • And I bought a lot of music in the '90s. So there's some EMF, some Electronic, Everclear and the Farm. (And that's just the Es and Fs.) Ripped them, too.
  • Once I bought a CD because the group's name -- The Schramms -- was the same as my girlfriend's last name at the time. I don't know how I ended up with it because I actually gave it to her as a gift. Ripped it.
I ripped it all. All the bad songs by bad artists as well as the less favorite songs from good ones. That means 83 more R.E.M. songs. 92 by Smashing Pumpkins, whose Aeroplane Flies High box set of covers and Melon Collie outtakes I inexplicably bought.

I put all my remaining Beatles tunes online, including songs I over-listened to as a kid and albums that I think are really overrated, like Sgt. Pepper. I had a really nice client a few years back who had a huge collection and asked what music I like. Off the top of my head I said, the Beatles, Bowie ... and he ripped their entire catalog for me.

So now I have 461 Beatles tunes, which is odd since they only recorded about 150 songs. There's live stuff, and the Anthologies and various duplicates.

I even went through all the random CD mixes I got from weddings and birthdays and shows I did. I was a little choosier with these, since it wasn't my music in the first place.

It's all on the computer now. 3,183 songs. 17.71 GB. Over 8 days of listening. Which now would overload my 16 GB iPhone, so I need to do some selecting and playlisting.

And it's all backed up, too, so I'm thinking of getting rid of all the CDs. (If I could also scan all my photo albums and replace all my hard copy books with eBooks, my next moving job will require maybe three boxes.)

What an ordeal. For anyone converting their discs to the computer, I would recommend doing it all at once. When I burned mine 5 or 6 years ago I was selective. Big mistake. iTunes is a finicky mutha. So if you've got The Pretenders listed without the "The," iTunes is going to put them in different albums. Or if your punctuation is off or a hundred other things, you've got a lot of manual fixes to do.

Glad to be done. And this wasn't even on my to-do list this year ...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ready for the holiday

I know the month's not over, but to me it feels like it is. I'm just glad I got through it, as it was looking pretty awful from the other side.

I had a ton of client stuff to get done, and I did it. To wit:
  • Drafted a lengthy briefing paper on physician leadership, including interviews with several doctors;
  • Created multiple treatments for a print ad;
  • Developed copy for a marketing brochure;
  • Researched and drafted a 1,200-word bylined article;
  • Scripted/edited a four-minute video and made cuts/edits to four others;
  • Traveled twice to Virginia for a new client, conducted a dozen or more employee interviews, drafted, revised and presented a strategy and key messages.
And I edited two thirds of the books' fourth draft. With the remaining days, plus holiday, I plan to get that finished. Along with a ton of errands, appointments and other personal stuff.

I'm feeling very accomplished and looking forward to a day tomorrow with what appears to be no demands from clients or anyone else but myself and, hopefully, a pretty light couple of days before Thanksgiving.

Beer me!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to the Valley

A guy in college once said that he'd been all over the country and he hadn't seen a state more beautiful than Virginia.

I remember being surprised at the comment. Having grown up and attended college there, I think I took the place for granted. And I'd only been to a few states at that point, so I had little to compare it to.

And as a consequence of not having traveled much, I maybe lacked the curiosity/exploration gene. I think now of all the little towns and side roads left unexplored over the many trips back and forth from the DC suburbs to Charlottesville and other places.

All this to say I was back in the Shenandoah Valley this week for this client engagement and it took all my willpower (and pretense of professionalism) not to jump out of the car and take photos on the trip from our hotel to the plant. It's the definition of pastoral -- hills and dales and meadows and cows and winding roads and mist-shrouded streams.

Not to mention unspoiled and undeveloped. At least out there in the country. Virginia has a ban on billboards, which is nice. And the trees. Sooooo many trees.

I need to go back there for fun sometime. Yesterday was a 21-hour day -- grueling, but we're doing good, interesting work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Washington Post editorial page is total garbage

And the wonderful Kate Graham must be spinning like a top in her grave.

I first started reading the daily newspaper when I was 11 years old. Luckily, we lived in the Washington area, so my first real experience with a paper was with the Post. When I was 14 or 15 I started delivering it as a paperboy.

I wrote for my high school paper and served on the managing board of my college paper, where one of my first official acts was to redesign it to mirror the Post's layout. As an adult, when I was having delivery problems with my paper, I wrote to the publisher, Donald Graham (Kate's son), who wrote a nice letter back.

As I traveled and moved to other parts of the country I was shocked by the precipitous drop-off in quality from papers like the Post and the Times to those in the next tier.

I started getting the paper's weekly edition delivered to me in Chicago so I could get top quality political analysis and some of the smartest editorial writing in the industry. Later on I made it part of my morning online ritual every day to catch up with the news in the Post.

I've seen All the President's Men more than a dozen times and I read, loved (and listened to the audio version of) Katherine Graham's memoir.

So it is with dismay and sadness that I see what's happened to the Post's editorial page in recent years. It really has been hijacked. I wasn't sure why, but they seemed to print just about anything from just about any right-wing political hack. I assumed they were desperately trying to shed the liberal label. I've recently come to learn it's mostly due to Fred Hiatt, who runs the editorial page there.

The latest and maybe last straw came this weekend in a ridiculous op-ed they printed from two washed up, fake-Democrat political has-beens -- one is a Fox News analyst and the other was the genius behind Jimmy Carter's malaise speech (which makes him, what, 80?) -- calling on Obama to resign. A shameless piece of garbage intended solely to shock and grab a round of cable news headlines.

This piece in Slate captures it perfectly. Allow me to excerpt:

Fred Hiatt, the insufferable editor of the Post's opinion pages, seems to believe that people hate his section because he has clung with fearless integrity to his support for invading Iraq—WMD or none, operational ties between Saddam and al Qaeda or none—and because the section's overall politics are to the right of the beliefs of the average reader of the Washington Post.

Actually, the reason some of us despise Hiatt and his section is that he consistently chooses to print dishonest garbage, composed by disingenuous partisan hacks, lobbyists, or lobbyist-hacks. The Post opinion section is not a place where serious thinkers work through the issues of the day; it's where professional propagandists float their newest lies, slogans, and unsubstantiated nonsense, to see if they can get them to bob into the political mainstream.

It's a sad, sad time for print journalism.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day late, dollar short

I received this bumper sticker in the mail the other day in return for a contribution I made to the Dems a couple of months ago.

Not that I have a car anyway, but this had more potential usefulness before the actual election than after.

That would have been a change that actually mattered.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's old is new again

I bought these sunglasses a few years ago in a hurry before a trip to Mexico. They did the job of protecting my retinas but I kicked myself ever after for buying such out-of-fashion sunglasses.

But suddenly now, or in the last few months, they've come back in again. Everyone's wearing these wayfarer-style shades. Of course, that just means they'll be back out again in a year or two, just as the aviators that were all the rage a while back are now passe.

So that's what I face with the new glasses. The rectangular frames are already out. But if I go with the bigger Clark Kent-style frames ... well, their days are likely numbered, too.

Decisions ...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Across the table

Interesting film audition today. Since I've been focusing on the commercial side I've done film auditions as they come along and sound interesting and theater auditions just about never.

So it's weird. I feel totally comfortable in commercial auditions now because it's usually back to the same casting agencies seeing the same people I've been auditioning for and with for several years now. Film and theater is different -- less familiar, often more formal (at least in the sense that you're dealing with strangers).

Anyway, today I felt totally prepared. Got my sides down, read the script twice, did some research, thought about the character, etc. And yet still it was awkward. People across a table, fellow readers in chairs across the room, a hemmed in area to stay in for the camera. The biggest deal, though, is having no knowledge like I have in commercial auditions of how much I can/should engage in conversation, ask questions, get familiar, etc.

Mostly I just follow their lead, speak when spoken to, etc., which is the safe way to go. I got to do several reads with different direction, which is great, but at one point my heart started pounding right through my ribs, which was really weird. I hope I was able to "use" that in service to the character. And that nobody could hear it -- to me it sounded like thunder.

Overall acquitted myself well. It's a character I'm pretty familiar with -- kinda nerdy. But he's supposed to play piano and sing harmony, so if that's important to them, I'll doubt I'll be going back.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I wear eyewear

Last Friday night I wore my old glasses, just for fun and to see what would happen. On one hand, nobody noticed I was wearing the old ones, but then when I pointed them out AND proceeded to put the new ones on, everyone admitted they liked the old ones better.

It replicated some results from an industrial shoot earlier in the week. I showed up in my new glasses, then showed them the older ones, which the stylist immediately chose, saying, "We want you to be 'hip Dad.'"

Part of it's the shape, but mostly it's the color. I liked the new ones because I thought they blended in nicely with my hair, not realizing at the time that you actually want contrast. Duh. So I need black-framed glasses.

Of course now, when you go to they eyewear stores all the frames are BIG. That's the way the kids are wearing them these days.

But you have to be careful in patterning your fashion after ridiculously good looking people. JFK looked glamorous smoking a cigar. Most men with cigars look like a-holes. Good looking dudes are good looking in almost anything.

Also, it's important to note the example of Ryan Howard in The Office. From his bad beard to his dark shirt/tie combos to his most recent cardigan sweaters and nerd glasses, he has always been the embodiment of the office douchebag.
You can find the narrow rectangular ones, but usually only in the discount chains. And besides, the people who still wear those are all ... old. Keith Olberman, Matt Lauer, Sarah Palin. I suppose an argument could made that I am, too.

So age and dignity are definitely a factor. Also fear of re-living my nerdy childhood when the only glasses were thick and black-framed. Not to mention my small face -- it can only credibly handle so much hardware on my face.

I'd say it's no big deal, but it's my FACE.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Losing the House was a blow, no doubt about it. Losing some great public servants like Russ Feingold hurt, certainly. And the prospect of the GOP ginning up a nonstop subpoena and impeachment machine sure sucks.

But all in all? I'd rather be in our position than theirs. As political prizes go, the White House and the Senate ain't too bad.

Things will be tough, for sure, but in many ways not much tougher than it was with a bunch of Blue Dogs in the House and without a super-majority in the Senate. And it will be interesting to see if Boehner has something beyond "no" for a policy agenda.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The aftermath

I should be more depressed about the elections but, luckily, I've been too busy to dwell and stew too much.

Plus, thanks to the Internet, it wasn't a huge shock like in 1994 (when I actually lost my job as a result -- talk about having a stake). People have been seeing this coming all year.

I go back and forth between being disappointed in Obama (for his politics only, not his policies), mad at the three or four percent of voters from '08 who didn't turn out this time, and whose participation would have made a pretty huge difference. And, of course, there's the stupid voters who did vote, particularly the people the GOP continues to bamboozle into voting against their own interests.

But mostly it's disgust at the Republican smear machine, with their death panels and government takeover and take our country back and all that. But even them I'm not too pissed at. (Or maybe I'm just tired.) I have confidence in their ability to screw this up royally. Because now they have to be part of the solution. And helping fix the country will only help Obama's chances in 2012, so either way -- helping out or continuing to obstruct -- will ultimately benefit the Democrats.

And just this morning I woke up and for a full minute or two I'd completely forgotten what happened last night. Maybe tomorrow it will be five minutes.