Sunday, September 30, 2007

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?

During my lunch hour the other day, I went to one of those lab testing places for a drug screening. No particular reason; it's just something I do. If you don't get it, well then that's your problem. Don't go judging me -- I'm sick of being judged by squares.

On this day, I found a cozy little place nestled comfortably under the expressway overpass near my office. Seeing only one other car in the parking lot (whose owner might have been at the check cashing place next door) I strode confidently through the front entrance. "I'm here to give a urine sample!" I announced with pride.

A very old couple in the waiting room halted their whispered conversation as their eyes followed me across the room. The massive woman behind the glass glanced up briefly, then returned to her telephone conversation. I arrived at her desk and smiled. "Hi, I'm LDP," I said.

She didn't look up, or even miss a beat in her phone dialogue. "Yeah," she said into the mouthpiece, "I lost my license . . . yeah, that's right . . . aw, hell yeah! I had to walk! By the time I got there, I was all sweaty and shit!"

"Excuse me, " I said, "but I'm here for --"

"I'm with somebody right now," she barked. "I know it don't look like it, but I am."

I stared. She said, "Go sit down."


I turned and saw the old couple. The man was talking, trying unsuccessfully to keep his voice down. The woman stared straight ahead, looking frustrated and a tad dizzy. Her companion got louder. "I don't have herpes," he said.

She folded her arms and said nothing.

"I don't have herpes!"


"Come on, now," he said, "I don't!"

The old woman opened her mouth, which I can only describe as jack-o-lantern-esque, and emitted a noise that sounded somewhere between, "Bah!" and the clucking of an angry hen.


Slowly, methodically, and without making any sudden movements, I took a seat on the other side of the room.

The rest of my appointment was essentially uneventful. Eventually, the woman behind the glass called my name. She turned out to be really nice, although she lacked what we corporate climbers like to call a "sense of urgency." She led me to the back, handed me a clear, plastic cup, and pointed to a small bathroom. "Go to it," she said.

And did I go to it? Oh yes, I went to it. But you wouldn't understand.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Loss Will Be Your Gain.

I just returned from the ballpark, where the Reds took a one-hit, 4-0 thumping at the hands of the Chicago Cubs' second-stringers. Good news, though: the place was packed. The inevitable bad news: the place was packed with Cubs fans. The crowd was 35,000 strong, and about 25,000 were there to celebrate Chicago's clinching the Central Division crown.

It's funny, Wrigley Field is a great place, and I had plenty of fun there when I lived in Chicago, but a day there is a less a sporting event than it is the world's largest chugging contest. The typical crowd there isn't exactly known for its baseball acumen. I'll hand it to all those Cubs fans who made their way to Cincinnati, though. That was pretty cool, and they had the ballpark rocking like it never has in its five-year history. I'd say it must have been pretty demoralizing for the Reds, but how much enthusiasm could they really have left after six months of having their asses kicked?

But don't just take my word for it. Listen to the perspective of another Reds fan:

Friday, September 28, 2007

Notes from Maggie's Farm

My boss storms to the threshold of my office, waving a few sheets of paper in her hand. "What is this?" she yells. "What is this?!"

It crosses my mind that maybe it's time for me to seek other employment. In fact, as I mull over the odd little outburst, I wonder why I didn't have this particular epiphany earlier. Perhaps something should have dawned on me when, during a conversation on her first or second day on the job, she uttered the phrases, "I'm a bulldog," and "There's a new sheriff in town." In one sentence.

I'd always wondered if there were people who actually talked like that. Turns out, there are. Well, there's at least one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Send for the Nurse.

I have a hideous wart on my toe. To be precise -- and precision is key when discussing lumpy, gray skin growths -- this wart is on the "knuckle" of my left big toe. It's unfortunate, because I'm an otherwise perfect specimen of virility. When people stare at me, I want them looking at my square jaw and Nordic features, not at this monstrous deformity. I've experimented with all kinds of cures, to no avail. Someone told me I should freeze it off, and I tried that, but standing there in the kitchen for hours with my foot jammed between the ice cream and the box of corn dogs got really old, really quickly.

So today I got online as the kids like to say, and started searching out the definitive cure. I Googled the term "foot wart," and for a few minutes resisted the temptation to click on the "images of foot warts" link. But I'm weak . . . oh, I'm weak. And in that moment of weakness, I learned there are far more people out there with warts on their feet than I ever would have dreamed. Briefly, I mentally outlined plans for a wart-footed rights movement, before deciding I didn't want to go anywhere near those freaks.

The other thing I learned is that there are wart fetishists out there -- a substantial number of them, apparently. God bless America! You think they have wart porn in Iran? Take that, Ahmadinejad.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He Drank Coca-Cola, He Was Eating Wonder Bread.

Let's see . . . I just polished off a sausage pizza; what would be good for dessert? Ooh, I know! A crust covered in Oreos! With frosting! And it's only four bucks . . . maybe I'll get two, save one for breakfast.

Do they have this in other parts of the world? If not, then I'm never leaving home again.

Actually, I freely admit that my eating habits could be better -- much better. But a cookie pizza? The apocalypse is nigh.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Time Tomorrow, I'll Know You Better.

I've been tagged by Kate at Innisfree. The idea is to give a little snapshot of where I was 10 years ago, 5 years ago, etc. There's more to the survey than that, but I'm not doing it all, because I don't play by anybody's rules, Jack.

10 years ago: It’s safe to say that by September 1997, I’ve settled comfortably into domesticity. My wife and I have long since moved from the fantastic apartment we lived in for our first few years in Cincinnati, and into our money pit. September '97 is after the furnace died in the dead of winter (which happened a few days after we closed on the house) but before a water main buried four feet below our front lawn breaks, resulting in a geyser of Old Faithful-like proportions. On the upside, we’ve had our first child, who by this point in ’97 is nearing two years old and beginning the talking storm that continues to the present. I work in the legal department of an HMO/health insurance company. I’ve been there for about a year and it’s still a pretty good job, albeit in a soul-sucking suburb. I’m two months away from running my fourth NYC Marathon.

5 years ago: Two new children, one new job. By September 2002, my kids are 6, 4 and 1, and the money pit is vastly improved, the result of a kitchen remodeling and the addition of a bathroom on the first floor. It looks great, mainly due to my wife’s eye for color and design. No reason for us ever to leave, right? Meanwhile, I’m about two-and-a-half years into a different job, in the law department of a manufacturing company. Good place, good boss, and a legal group respected throughout the company (corporate legal departments are often loathed by the businesses they support, so this is a good thing). No reason for me ever to leave, right?

1 year ago: It’s September 2006, and we’re comfortably ensconced in our new, bigger, money-pittier house. Say, does that gigantic tree in the front yard look . . . unhealthy to you? My two older children, now in fifth and third grades, are in the midst of their school magazine drive. Somehow they con me into buying about 20 subscriptions. (Us Magazine, by the way, is for readers who find People too wordy and challenging.) At the office, my boss has handed in his resignation. I feel pretty hopeful as a result, and why not? I’ve been there for six-and-a-half years, I know the organization, my performance evaluations have been excellent, I’m next in line for the job according the company’s succession planning, and my boss is recommending me for the position. In my head, I plot the details of my post-promotion regime.

Yesterday: I wake up at 5:15 a.m. to meet a couple of friends for a 4-mile run. I have a few minutes before I leave the house, so I check my blog for the anticipated flood of comments and offers from publishing houses. (What the hell, people?) I go out for my run, it’s a beautiful, cool morning, and I regret not having trained for a fall marathon. I get back, shower, shave my entire body, and dress for work. Then I wake the kids and they tumble down for breakfast: Pop Tarts and Lucky Charms. My wife follows and is, let’s say, distressed by this meal. She’s not a morning person. I enjoy a little bit more time with my family, then haul myself to work. My boss leaves early to attend an out-of-town conference; the mood lightens considerably. That evening, we meet friends for a quick dinner, and I take my 11-year-old son to his guitar lesson, where he’s learning to play the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Later that night I fall asleep in front of the tv as I watch the Reds’ post-game show. I wake up at about 1:00 in the morning to the sounds of some atrocious sports program, with three former athletes and a third-rate, smarmy, Letterman-imitating host, all yelling at one another. Off to bed.

Today: I miss my run as a result of my poor sleeping habits. My 9-year-old daughter wakes up first, goes downstairs and voluntarily practices her piano. She sounds good on “Fur Elise,” and the music makes me think about Schroeder playing for Lucy. I go downstairs and the two boys come next. We all discuss the school lunch menu for today – rotini with tomato sauce – then off to work. Shortly after I get there, my wife phones to tell me the guys have come to do some repair work on our roof, and they’re also going to give us an estimate on replacing the front porch, which needs to be done before we have the house painted. Thinking about this, I wonder how much longer I need to work before I can retire. I pull a file and look at the numbers, and then I vomit.

Tomorrow: The eagle flies on Friday, baby. Time to get my drink on.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm Not There.

Bob Dylan rules my fall.

It's still summer, I know, but as it wanes I'm reading the biography, Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, and I can't stop listening to Mark Ronson's remix of one one of my favorite Dylan tunes, "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)." The remix adds some horns and a heavier beat to the sarcastic kiss-off song, and it all feels right. Its video is an addictive walk through Dylan's career, with clever references to some of his other songs tossed in here and there.

Next up, on October 1, he releases Dylan, a compilation of his "greatest songs." Have they all been released before? Yeah. Do I have them all in my collection already? Almost certainly. Will I buy this anyway? Yup. Is this what you kids these days call being a fanboy?

Then, on October 15, I'm seeing him live in concert for the first time in 18 years. The show might be great or it might be terrible, and although I'm inclined to lean toward "great" even before I've seen it, I hope he really pours it on so much that even the doubters and the people who don't really want to be there -- say, for instance, wives whose husbands drag them there -- even they enjoy the music. (The next night, just up the road, he's doing a show with Elvis Costello as his opening act. All you other pretentious English majors out there know what I'm talking about when I say, now there's a dream team. Nobody wants to go with me, and I can't go alone, because who will catch me when I faint?)

And the celebration continues on November 21, with the release of I'm Not There, director Todd Haynes' "rumination" on Dylan's life and times. The movie stars six actors as Bob, including the sometimes gorgeous, sometimes cadaverous Cate Blanchett, who plays the cryptic, "gone electric" Bob. Take a peek at this trailer:

I have a feeling Todd Haynes is a pretentious English major.

Unfortunately for me, the movie opens in New York. Opening night is just a week before my birthday, though, so now you big-city sophisticates and hipsters who were wondering what to get me have your problem solved. Thanks in advance -- that's really sweet of you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Newspaper Men Eating Candy.

One thing I’ve learned in my so-called career, with the bit of traveling I’ve done, is that there are cities in this country that are worse – far worse – than Cincinnati. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and it’s not really fair, either, because Cincinnati, though far from perfect, is a pretty good place to live. We have the arts, we have major universities that attract students and faculty from all over the world, we have professional sports, we have a fantastic library system, and so on.

Yet you don’t need to look too hard to find someone who’s not from around here, who knows the city by reputation only and believes it’s a backwater town run by right-wing Bible thumpers. Why is that? Could it have something to do, perhaps, with the fact that the city’s major (and soon to be only) daily newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, is run by conservative hacks and reads as if it were hastily cut and pasted by a group of people who only do journalism as a hobby? The paper has one or two bright lights, most notably the amazing cartoonist Jim Borgman. Everything else? Bad, really bad.

The worst offender is columnist Peter Bronson: never insightful; never amusing; always predictable. Read my summary of today’s column and then never bother yourself with him again.

Shorter Peter Bronson

I’ll begin today’s column with an inept attempt at relevance, in the form of a long out-dated pop culture reference. See, I’m just a regular guy! Now, I’ll twist myself into knots making that reference fit this morning’s G.O.P. talking points. (And isn’t it lucky for me that as an editorial columnist, I don’t have to back up my opinions with actual facts? See, just like Joe Six-Pack.) From there, I’ll segue into pure mean-spiritedness masquerading as humor. Annnnd . . . all done! But wait, I forgot a gratuitous swipe at a Clinton! Oh well, there’s always tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do You Remember Where You Been?

I'm wrapping up my day, thinking I should write something about the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, but knowing I have nothing to say that hasn't been said much better in many other places. It just doesn't seem right -- since I am keeping a blog and I did post something today -- just to let the day pass with nothing but a silly little piece about a silly little group and its silly little protest about the name of a department store. It probably would have been better to post nothing.

So I don't know. Like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was when I heard, but I can't imagine the value of recounting my whereabouts here. Like many people, I wasn't directly touched by the attacks; no friends or relatives of mine were in the Towers or the Pentagon. I've spent my entire life in the midwest, and know very few people in New York and Washington. What would be the point of writing about what I felt, when so many other people felt it so much more intensely? So I don't know. I was lucky.

I went to NY a few weeks later, and I remember thinking, These people are so resilient. How did they do it? I guess they just had to keep going. I met a friend for dinner and drinks, and we were out until 1:30 in the morning; when I finally left the bar to head back to my hotel, people were everywhere, as they always are there, laughing, having a good time. That was something.

The next day I went for a long walk and saw hundreds of handmade "missing" signs, and firehouses decorated with wreaths and cards and drawings sent in by little kids from all over the country. I don't know. I guess when people can pull together and support each other like that during the day, they've earned the right to keep going, to try to do the things they always do. It was sad, it was hopeful.

See? I have little, if anything, to add to the discussion. I think our president squandered an enormous amount of worldwide goodwill with a staggeringly, embarrassingly inept foreign policy. I'm not a particularly political person, and I'm not even sure it's right to get into this kind of thing when I'm just trying to remember that day, but that's a part of what I think about when I consider these past six years. (And who can believe six years have passed already?) So really, I don't know. What else can I say?

Streets are Filled with Broken Hearts.

I admit, over the years, I haven't been very good about getting involved in the issues that are important to me. I might have donated a little money here and there, but I've never marched in protest over anything. I've never attended a sit-in. I've never gone on strike or even refused to cross a picket line. That's a lack of commitment on my part, I guess, and not something I'm particularly proud of.

That said, who the hell has the time or inclination to protest a department store's name change? Why, Mr. Jim McKay, head of "Field Fans Chicago" does, of course:

He led the crowd in a moment of silence on State Street, then rallied them to fight for the Field's name.

"We wouldn't let the New York Giants take over Soldier Field, why are we letting Macy's take over Marshall Field's?"
Oh, excellent point there, Mr. McKay. And a moment of silence? The perfect way to commemorate the acquisition of one corporate behemoth by another. I wonder, though, do you realize Macy's bought Marshall Field's and changed the name over a year ago? It must be good to know you're not alone, strength in numbers and all that:
Darrid Morris of Columbus, Ohio, said he's shopped from coast to coast but has never found a store with the level of service and quality of Marshall Field's. He's dedicated a Web site,, to his love for the store.

"It's standing up for what you believe in," said Morris. "I believe a Chicago icon should remain a Chicago icon."
I, for one, would like to thank Mr. Morris for taking a break from his coast-to-coast shopping, to raise public awareness of this important issue. Maybe I'll send him a check.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm in Love with the Ugliest Girl in the World.

Super-hot Rep. Jean Schmidt, my representative on the House floor, is also a plagiarist. Who doesn't dig a bad girl?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Just a Little Glimpse of a Story I'll Tell (part two).

Chapter Two

My early childhood is a blur of warm memories: President Roosevelt’s reassuring voice coming over our Crosley radio; the old picket fence I convinced my friends to whitewash; tetanus shots; police cars at our next-door neighbor’s house every Saturday night; cockfights; and so many, many more. Probably my fondest recollections come from my tenure as Eddie in “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”

Next time: Chapter Three -- I Discover the Beatles.

Friday, September 7, 2007

I'll Take You Where the Green Grass Grows.

I'm one of those suckers who get excited about baseball every year, right about when winter has become tiresome and depressing, but spring still seems ages away. I know it's a cliche, but that feeling, knowing that spring training is about to start, that's hopefulness. Somehow your heart tells you anything can happen, and this might finally be your team's year, no matter what your head tells you about how bad they were the year before. And my team, the Reds, were really bad last season.

And this year . . . well, guess what -- my head was right. They're bad again. In fact, they're terrible. Yet again. They last won the World Series in 1990, and haven't even had a whiff of the post-season since 1999. Things have been familiarly dismal in 2007. So that early-year hopefulness has long since worn off, and in its place I feel a sort of resignation, about as far from enthusiasm as my feelings can be.

Yet I keep going to the ballpark, like the sucker that I am, because there's just something I love about the game. I went to Tuesday night's game, and watched the New York Mets pound the Reds into submission, but you know what? I still enjoyed it. I love the pace of a baseball game, I love the little bright spots that even the worst teams have. For the Reds, one bright spot has been Brandon Phillips, who not only plays hard, every inning, but willing comes out of the dugout before the game and signs autographs. He smiles and talks to the fans, which doesn't sound like much, but it's a whole lot more than most other players do.

The other part of all this that means a lot to me is that I go to most games with my dad. I guess it's another cliche, right? Fathers and sons, sharing baseball, and all that? Still, it's nice. We went a little over the top a few years ago at Comiskey Park, but generally these outings are a great way for us to spend time together. I don't like missing them.

Baseball is perfect for that kind of thing, ready-made for contemplation and nostalgia. I remember one chilly March day in the late '80s, when I lived in Chicago, I was out walking with my camera when I saw an open equipment door at Wrigley Field. I walked in and found myself on the right field warning track as the Cubs' grounds crew busily manicured the field and painted the seats. Nobody asked me to leave, so I walked around, taking pictures for about thirty minutes. That I found this thrilling, and that I recall it vividly today even without the photos, might strike the non-fan as more than a little odd. Fans get it, though.

"The Cure," by Katharine Harer

baseball is a good antidote for death
where else do we mutter belief scream
hope over green grass bathed
in light where else do we coach the best
out of one another

it's all right baby
you can do it
settle down guy
you'll be okay just hang in there
we need you buddy
we need a spark
be the ignitor man

our whispered pleas combine over rows
of seats and peanut calls and pour into the ears
of our boys fixing them
with our best hope the best we have to give

nowhere else do we do this together
reverently from some untapped placein our chests saved for our children
and our lovers we thought we'd used it up
but listen to us croon making our voices
carry just the right mixture
of love and demand

our throats are sore
the peanut shells under our feet flattened
from jumping up and sinking down again
our heats extended
pumping belief
into this one afternoon

you can do it
you can do it for us
do it now come on
do it now

from Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems, 2002.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What I Want to Know, Mr. Football Man . . .

Last week, I went to the Cincinnati Bengals’ final pre-season game. This was a treat, mainly due to the fact that I took my 11-year-old son, who’s a great kid. Because I have so many children – I’ve lost count, really – it’s hard to get one-on-one time with any of them. Plus, we had my company’s seats, in the “club” section, meaning I was waited on, hand-and-foot, as I so richly deserve to be.

The weather was perfect, the seats gave us a great view of the field, and there were surprisingly few drunks in our general vicinity. (Although, by the game’s end, two twenty-something women nearby who’d obviously tipped a few looked as if they were about to get into a little slapping and hair-pulling thing, and I regretted not bringing my video camera, but they worked things out. After three hours of $7 beers, they probably realized they needed to walk back to the ‘burbs together.)

My son is a bright, inquisitive person, and that’s a fine thing, of course, but there’s a downside: it can expose vast gaps in my knowledge of certain subjects. Football is particularly tricky, since I don’t really pay much attention to it. So we have this conversation:

SON: Dad, is a half back the same as a running back?

(At this moment, all 65,000 people in the stands fall

ME: Hey, are you hungry? You look hungry. You should eat something.

SON: Maybe later. So, if the game is tied, and it goes into overtime and it’s still tied by the end of overtime, then what?

(Crickets chirping – and by the way, who knew there were
so many crickets in football arenas?)

ME: Aren’t these seats fantastic?
He’d probably figured out some time ago that I don’t, in fact, know everything. Every day as he grows, I guess I know less and less. Pretty soon he’ll be a teenager, and I won’t know anything at all, but I hear once he’s in his twenties, I might know something again – probably just random trivia and nostalgic tidbits about how much better my generation was than these kids today – but something.

For now . . . well, hey, my 6-year-old still believes I can fly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Get Sick, Get Well.

What a crazy, crazy summer. When it began with my getting in a fistfight at the pool on Memorial Day weekend, I knew I was in for a strange few months. I told that kid at the snack shack I didn't want my fried cheese microwaved, but he just wouldn't listen.

I have many rare allergies, so you can imagine what a mess I am during June in Cincinnati, what with my wheezing and my spitting and my crying.

July was all right, except for the fireworks mishap. At my age, learning to write left-handed is quite time-consuming, to say the least.

In August, the temperature here didn't drop below 105, not even for a moment, but we Cincinnatians love our weather-talk, so I wouldn't have had it any other way. Towards the end of the month, my family and I went to King's Island, an amusement park. This was cool for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that they have their own Eiffel Tower thingy out there, so now I don't have to go to Italy to see the real one. Plus, I guess it was muscle shirt-and-tattoo day for the men, so that worked out well for me.

And best of all: corndogs!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Just a Little Glimpse of a Story I'll Tell.


Sit back, settle in. Get to know me. We'll begin when I was such a goddamn adorable baby.

Chapter One

I was born on November 28, 1963. Snow fell outside my mother’s hospital room, blanketing the hills. I don’t remember much else about that day.

Next time: Chapter Two -- My First Run at the Presidency.