Monday, October 29, 2007

Sing it to You Right.

The trip to Chicago was brief but exciting. On the way there, I made better time than I have in probably 17 years. I drove by myself, a thermos of coffee and an iPod my only friends. I call the the thermos "Speedy." He's nice.

My family had left Cincinnati at noon on Friday. They drove through heavy rain for several hours, and my 6-year-old son vomited a number of times. My wife was in a remarkably good humor when I arrived, all things considered, although it might have been the exhaustion talking. After spending some time with her family, we left the kids with her sister and drove to meet our friends Sara and Steve at their house in Evanston, where we piled into their car and headed downtown. I wore an old, novelty watch and when Steve asked what was on it, I told him it was a newsboy. "A what?" Sara asked.

"A newsboy."

"You have a nude boy on your watch?"

"Yeah," I said, "I got it in Thailand." (That was funny at the time, but now I'm afraid it might get my blog shut down.)

We had an excellent dinner, during which Steve convinced me to get duck confit salad. "The duck is marinated in its own fat," he told me. How could I resist? It was delicious, and the wine and the rest of the meal were, too, but the best part was the conversation. As I've mentioned before, I've known Steve since we were 5 or 6 years old; I've known Sara since the two of them were dating in college, which was over 20 years ago. It was a good feeling, just hanging out.

The concert was kick-ass (this blog now rated NC-17). Amos Lee, a serviceable, competent singer and guitar player performed seven or eight songs that all sounded alike, or maybe it was one long song.

Elvis Costello took the stage next and sent Amos back to rock star school. Elvis had no band, just his guitars and his voice. I saw him in a solo show like that in Ann Arbor, and a quick search of the internet -- friend, advisor, secret lover -- reminds me that show was in 1984. I can close my eyes and envision Elvis of 23 years ago, and I can say that the Elvis of last Saturday sounded just as good. (I guess I'm getting to the age now where almost anything I do, see, say, hear, etc., is an opportunity to engage in nostalgia.)

And Bob Dylan? Steve pointed out that he sounded like the kid with asthma on Malcolm in the Middle, but the fact that I've listened to his music every day for the last 30 years gave me a distinct advantage over the non-fan. Where I understood every word, my wife claims all she heard was "Mwah wmah whah Minnesota mwah . . . "

To which I say, Yeah, and?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

One More Cup of Coffee.

I was supposed to leave for Chicago last night after work, but I was wiped out. I'd really forgotten what's it's like to be new to a job. So far, the people seem really nice, but there are so many of them. And so much work! On the bright side, I'm only 20 years away from retirement. So close, I can taste it.

Now it's time for me to start driving to Chicago. As usual, the long lonesome road will tempt me to a life of long-haul trucking: black coffee; cb radio; and speed. For this weekend, though, I'll stick to the plan -- early drinks and dinner with my wife and friends, then Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan at the Chicago Theatre. Listen for my squeals.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

Cleaning out a filing cabinet the other day, I found my first passport, which I got in 1974 in preparation for a trip to Italy with my parents. My wife pointed out that in this photo, I look more like a kid coming to the U.S., perhaps in steerage.

I had several observations: 1) hey kid, nice collars; 2) that haircut looks better on me than it does on Ken Burns; and 3) I was 10 years old and had a little nascent facial hair -- now that's virility for ya.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Notes from Maggie's Farm (part 4)

My first day at the new job went reasonably well. I say "reasonably" not because anyone did or said anything that gave me pause; in fact, if anything, I provided them plenty of reasons to regret their hiring decision. See, I was sick all weekend, with some pesky combination of cold and flu-like symptoms. Saturday, I was sluggish all day, and on Sunday morning, I almost fainted after about five minutes of throwing a football with my son. After that, I slept on and off all day, then tossed and turned all night.

Believing calling in sick on my first day would be a rather inauspicious start, I dragged my ass out of bed and went to work this morning. I had this delightful combination of intestinal distress and one of those head colds that renders it impossible to hear what anyone says, yet somehow makes your own voice echo and rattle around in your skull. As I walked around the office, meeting my new colleagues, my conversations sounded like Charlie Brown talking to an adult, with the adult voiced by a muted trumpet. "Hi, I'm Louis," I'd say.

"Wah-wah, wah wah-wah waaaahh" they'd respond.

"Thanks, I'm really looking forward to it," I'd reply, except in my head I heard, "THANKS! I'M REALLY! LOOKING FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD! TO IT IT IT IT!"

"Wah-wah, wah wah-wah-wah?"

"Oh, about seven years," I'd reply, taking a wild stab at what they might have asked. This went on ad nauseam -- and I do mean nauseam.

I have some groundbreaking observations from my week off that I want to report -- for instance, can I be the only person who thinks Barbara Walters looks as if she smells of formaldehyde? -- but now, I'm off to bed, hoping for a healthier day tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Jugglers and the Clowns.

The gym at 11:30 in the morning is a very different place than it is at dawn. Generally, it's much less crowded at the later hour, and the mix of people has changed: fewer knuckleheads admiring their own biceps in the mirrors, and more moms. Sitting at my coffee shop retreat now and reflecting on this, I conclude the late-morning crowd is flat-out better. Chalk up another point in favor of not having a job.

A sparsely populated locker room is a good locker room. When I'm there, whether I'm showering, shaving, changing clothes, or what have you, I do whatever I can to send out "don't talk to me" vibes. Sometimes this means keeping my iPod's earbuds in even if the music stops; other times, it means I try to look angry as hell, as if I'm about to snap. I've found this dual approach works, and it's spared me many an unwanted conversation with Chatty McTalkathon, who's always there when I arrive at 5:45 a.m., dressed head-to-toe in heavy, black sweats. He yaks away to the hapless and less prepared guys who glance furtively around the room, wishing for a secret exit -- maybe a trapdoor -- that can get them out quickly and without a fuss. Meanwhile, I just look pissed as I stuff my things in a locker and head out to the gym floor. Usually, I see him out there for a few minutes, but by the time I'm back in the locker room an hour or so later, there he is, stripped down to his tighty-whities, talking up a storm. (And yes, that's his real name. I know it is because his sister Gabby lives across the street from me.)

Unfortunately, some things in a locker room, you can't avoid: sights and sounds so horrible that, once they enter your brain, become permanently seared in your memory. That may be unique to men's locker rooms, where there is absolutely no privacy. My wife -- whom we'll call "Red," because other than "Big Red" there are no nicknames that a redhead likes more -- was shocked when I told her a couple of years ago that the men's showers at our gym were "community" style. You see things you'd rather not, because there's no way around it. Our conversation went like this:

LDP: You can't imagine, the hair on some of these guys.

Red: You mean you look?

LDP: Well, there's no choice. Any way you turn, there's a body -- a flabby, spotty body. I could walk around with my eyes closed, but then I could end up touching, which I have to think would be even worse than seeing.

Red: Yuck.

LDP: Tell me about it.

Red: Well, I wouldn't look.

LDP: Wait, you've never looked at another woman in a locker room? I find that hard to believe.

Red: Well, it's true.

LDP: So you'd never look? Never sneak a peak? What if it's Monica Bellucci in there with you?

Red: Who's Monica Bellucci?

LDP: (stunned silence)

LDP: Okay, then . . . Angelina Jolie?

Red: Nope.

LDP: Come on, not just a little glimpse as she wrapped herself in a towel?

Red: (exasperated sigh) What're you, 16 years old?
I'm not exactly sure how, but that ended our conversation.
All of which brings me to something that happened the other day. I worked out and showered, as usual, then proceeded to the sinks to shave. Luckily, Marty Moleback had already finished his ablutions. Marty is probably in his mid-70s; he likes to stand naked at the sink and put one foot up on the counter. He proceeds to smear lotion on his leg, from toes to upper thigh, then repeats the process on his other leg. He'd just finished, so I had the whole row of four sinks to myself. I chose the one on the far left, in keeping with my zone-of-personal-space policy, and began to shave.

A moment or two later, I heard a blow dryer start to my left. Instinctively, I turned my head, but the guy there wasn't drying his hair (probably because he was bald). Instead, he had the dryer pointed at his . . . nether regions. This struck me as a violation of the rules of etiquette, but I doubt Emily Post addresses the subject. When I told my wife, she was taken aback, but not as disturbed as I thought she should have been.

LDP: Come on, isn't that just creepy?

Red: Did he fluff it?

LDP: Did he what?

Red: Fluff it. You know, tease it, make sure everything got dry?

LDP: I have no idea.

Red: Didn't you look?

LDP: No, I did not look. Ick.

Red: You're homophobic.

LDP: I fail to see how not wanting to watch a guy tease his pubic hair and adjust his scrotum makes me homophobic.

Red: (exasperated sigh) What're you, 16 years old?
Oh, well played, Red. Well played. But I'll continue to keep my eyes to myself.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Idiot Wind.

President Bush's press conference is going on as I write this. He just finished tripping all over his written remarks, and now he's stumbling and smirking as he "answers" reporters' questions. What's left to be said about this guy? How did such a colossal idiot become the world's most powerful man? I see him, and I get why the whole world hates us. And yet, I keep watching. Am I a masochist?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lift Up Your Glasses and Sing.

Just got home from the fantastic Bob Dylan concert. Amos Lee was the opening act, and he was good, but Dylan wiped the floor with him. When I say "wiped the floor," I mean Bob came out on stage, grabbed Amos by the ankles, and mopped the sweat off the stage with him. It was cool; you should've seen it.

Read Books, Repeat Quotations.

First off, let's clear the air: Yes, those are my legs. It's okay to be jealous.

My feet are up as I begin the week that will almost certainly be the high point of my so-called career. I'm between jobs, with no employer until next Monday. I walked my kids to school this morning, and on my way home, I stopped at a coffee shop. That was two hours ago, and I'm still sitting here at a window seat, watching the passing parade of retirees, students and stay-at-home mothers. Something I realized about myself a long time ago is that I'm not one of those people who "need to work." I mean, I need to work to pay the mortgage, but I don't have that inner drive or whatever it is that some people have, that keeps them going to their jobs day after day, long after they could have retired comfortably. Perhaps this explains my less-than-meteoric career trajectory, but I'll tell you what -- sitting here reading, people watching, writing -- I could do it every day. I know a lot people, men in particular, see this as a lack of ambition, but to them I say, Who gives a shit what you think?

"But what would you do all day?" The answer to this question -- why, I'd do exactly this all day -- strikes me as so blindingly obvious that I can't imagine why someone would ask in the first place. An old friend of mine and his wife recently moved to Paris, where she's going to grad school and he's writing. I imagine he must hear that question all the time. Personally, I admire the decision even as it fills me with a jealous rage so great that I refuse to speak to him.

Cincinnati's no Paris (it's a very close second) but I have no doubt I could fill every day with something that would interest me. I'd love to give writing a serious try, but I'm plagued by my lack of talent. Still, I'm enjoying sitting here typing away. I could stroll across the street to the park after this, maybe write there for a while, or read the paper. Then, walk home, maybe do some laundry and have lunch, make the beds and walk the dog. By mid-afternoon, I'll be ready to head back down the street to pick my kids up from school.

Does that sound unambitious to you? If so . . . well, please see my response above.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I'm (Still) Not There.

I mentioned in another post that I'm seeing Bob Dylan in concert next week (woo hoo!) but I'm missing out on the I-can-die-now combo of him and Elvis Costello (awww) because for reasons unexplained, E.C. is skipping Cincinnati. Maybe he's pissed that he didn't get here in time for the world's largest chicken dance, I don't know.

Anyway, last week I got an email from a friend in Chicago; her husband Steve’s birthday is later this month and she suggested that my wife and I go up there and join them for . . . the Elvis Costello/Bob Dylan concert at the Chicago Theatre (woo hoo!) So I'm thinking about Bob Dylan all over again and my mind is wandering all over the place. It occurs to me that I used a one of his lines as my "senior quote" (now there's a phrase that makes me cringe) when I graduated high school 25 years ago, and here I am today, and how many times have I quoted him just in this shiny, brand-new blog? I realize some people might see this as sad, sorry and even pathetic. I prefer to think of it as an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" kind of thing.

I became a fan when I was maybe 15 years old. This was the late '70s, when Dylan was in his Jesus phase and liking him had long since ceased being cool. I was hooked pretty quickly after hearing Blood on the Tracks, and Steve (the same one who’s turning 44 later this month) and I dug through his catalog and we each developed our own set of favorites, making mixed-tape after mixed-tape.

He and I saw Dylan live in 1981 or '82; I remember turning to an acquaintance and saying, "If he leads off with 'Serve Somebody,' I'm walking out." But I stayed, we all stayed. What a show, a mere two-and-a-half decades ago.

Later, in college, a girlfriend taught me how to write "Bob Dylan" in Hebrew, which gave me innumerable notebook doodling ideas when I should have been taking notes in class. Meanwhile, that new skill was well-timed with the release of Infidels in 1983, one of several Dylan "comeback" albums, and his first secular music in years. A cassette of that record was the soundtrack of a 4 1/2-hour drive Steve and I took from Cincinnati to Ann Arbor, during which we drank beer and smoked cigars with the windows closed. When we showed up at the home of a friend of his, the friend’s minister father did not invite us in, despite our delightful manners. I guess he was more of a "Born-Again Bob" kind of guy.

Got out of college, moved to Chicago, and my first couple of years there passed in sort of a blur. I listened to Bob Dylan on and off, but I wouldn't say he provided the soundtrack for that period. In 1989, when I was in Rome on a boondoggle studying, I attended another Dylan show, this one with "festival seating," which I guess in Italy means pulling away the yellow police tape and letting the throng of drunks stampede to the stands. Being one of that throng, I don't remember much about the show except that Edie Brickell was the opening act and I think she really dug me.

So now I'm seeing him two more times in the next few weeks, once with a guy I've known since kindergarten. It's dawning on me as I write this that it's pretty cool to have been friends with someone for that long. I'm glad we're getting the chance to get together for something we'll both enjoy, and it'll be great fun to throw our underwear on the stage together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Notes from Maggie's Farm (part 3)

Last week I wrote "goodbye and thank you" email that I'd intended to send out to my colleagues today, since my last day on the job is tomorrow. I'd written it and saved a draft, adding addressees as their names occurred to me. Unfortunately, after a few rounds of this, I inadvertently clicked "send" one afternoon, and the email went out about 10 days before I'd planned. At least I didn't write anything stupid or insulting, as is my wont, but it must have looked as if I wanted to get the word out so there'd be plenty of time for me to receive adulation and free lunches.

I've been with this company for more than 7 1/2 years, which is far longer than I've ever held any other job. There's good reason for that: of the three jobs I've had since law school, this one was easily the best. When I addressed the email, I thought about that and realized I'd worked with a lot of really nice people over the years. I'll be lucky if I have the same kind of co-worker at my new company.

Anyway, speaking of free lunches, look what I found as I cleaned out my desk! Who's hungry? (Sorry, gizzards available only at select locations.)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

So I Hocked My Sailor Suit.

First off - my urine is clean! So says LabCorp, although I could have told them that. Just held that cup up to the light, swirled it a bit . . . well, you know the drill. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, right?

The test result cleared the way to a new job, which means the opportunity to redesign my look. I know what you're saying -- don't paint over the Sistine Chapel ceiling! -- and you make an excellent point. Rest assured, I'm not talking about an extreme makeover or anything; my brow is already youthful and smooth as glass, my lips deliciously pouty. No, what I want to do is reassert myself with a look that emphasizes my intellectualism, my urban hipness, my hip urbanness, and of course my to-the-very-core sexiness.

And what could do that better than a new pair of glasses? After an exhaustive search, I'm down to two frames that I think really complete my image. Here they are:

The "Harry Caray"

The "Uncle Jun"

I know, I know . . . they're both so hot that it's not even fair. I rock a pair of jumbo eyeglasses like not too many other guys can. So which should I get? As a a little token of my appreciation for your opinion, here's a naked picture of me. No credit card necessary.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Notes from Maggie's Farm (part 2)

I gave my notice and handed in my letter of resignation. Woo hoo! Or, as a friend of mine used to say, "Party ass, man!" (Not to be confused with, "Party, ass man!")

Sick of the poke of the Man's thumb in my eye, I marched into my boss' office and said, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"

And I stared -- oh, I stared long and hard -- and then I said, "I'm not out of order! You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order!"

I sensed I was on a roll. "Cut the horseshit, son," I said. "Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.

"Now you listen to me, you smooth talking son-of-a-bitch," I continued, "let me lay it on the line for you and your boss, whoever he is. Johnny Fontane will never get that movie!"

Did I show her, or what?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Property of Jesus.

A few days ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer (a local publication loosely referred to as a “newspaper”) ran an unusually sensible opinion piece, titled, “Congress needs to step in, make birth control more affordable.” Needless to say, the article was not written by an Enquirer staff member. Instead, a local graduate student wrote it, and she argued persuasively that via a simple fix by Congress, contraception could and should become accessible to college students and low-income women. She pointed out that until last January, birth control was relatively affordable, but costs soared as a result of the federal Deficit Reduction Act.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it, that affordable contraception is a good thing?

“No!” shouts local resident Clyde Stauffer, wearing his bathrobe and shaking his fist in his front yard:

The writer . . . set forth a position that may be expressed as follows:

Young women have a "right" to engage in unlimited sexual activity.

They have a "right" to be free from untoward consequences of such activity; therefore

Congress has an "obligation" to act so as to facilitate those "rights."

I don't believe either of her premises is correct (hence the conclusion is invalid). I don't believe the authors of the Constitution thought that one of the duties of the legislative branch is to promote untrammeled fornication. The writer's concern for an unimpeded educational outcome for these young women is commendable. She might better spend her energies on suggesting changes in their behavior to that end, rather than seeking congressional action in support of questionable activities.

Clyde clearly didn’t get any in college – and believe me, I feel his pain – but he so totally mischaracterizes the column that I wonder if he even read it. Plus, isn’t untrammeled fornication the very best kind of fornication there is?

Meanwhile, in a related story, desperate, pandering presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (remember when he seemed like an okay guy?) says Christians make the best presidents and the Constitution established the U.S. as a "Christian nation." Now, I'm not a historian or a lawyer or a Revolutionary War re-enactor, but I'm pretty sure there's no mention of Jesus in our founding documents. I'll go back and check, but I think I'm right on this one.