Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Dazed

So far, this is not shaping up to be a great summer.

For the first time since 2012, I've been out of work during the warm months. I usually take a temp assignment during summer break, but it has yet to materialize and I fear that it won't anytime soon. I was able to clear out my credit card debt with part of my inheritance (thanks, Mom and Grandma) but I might end up back in debt soon enough. It has been a struggle to stay motivated on various projects. To elaborate:

I'm writing comedy sketches again. For the first time in nearly four years I'm enrolled in a class at Second City; I'm taking an eight-week writing intensive that is offered to conservatory graduates. I had to get a waiver for the course because it'd been so long since I graduated (almost four years ago).

When I'm not dealing with these two family estates, I've undertaken a long-delayed cleaning and organizing project. I have a large (to put it mildly) sports card collection; I've been fishing around for items to sell on eBay *cough* while also buying new supplies to store my cards. Some of the earliest cards in my collection, given to me by my great-great-aunt around 1989-90, were still in old shoe-boxes. Given that the market at a low tide, selling cards on eBay has been an uphill battle to say the least.

I guess there are some perks to being temporarily underemployed: my schedule is flexible enough to enjoy a few day trips, and I'm catching up with reading. Still, with five weeks until the school year starts, I sincerely hope I find some short-term temp work.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Dance of Despair

Ten years ago this week, I went to a strip club for the first and only time.

I went because my Uncle Jim insisted. He was a bachelor in his early 50s, in a long-term relationship with a sweet albeit docile woman. Jim started asking me around my 21st birthday, and asked a few more times over the next two years before I finally agreed. One Saturday night in July, Jim picked me up in his rusted out 1988 Firebird, we had dinner at my grandmother's house, and then we drove off to a gentlemen's club near Romeoville. In the parking lot, we were joined by a church friend of Jim's, another lifelong bachelor with a gross attitude about women.

As I sat down in the front row of the club, I noticed that one of the dancers kept giving me a weird look. She was a tall, leggy brunette with lilac-colored lingerie, awkwardly attempting to wiggle around the floor in two-inch heels with all the other dancers. Most of these women were eager to connect with any and all customers, but this particular dancer had already written me off, and I wasn't sure why. My uncle's friend noticed that she was glaring at us, too.

I figured that the best thing to do was not think about it. I had a couple of beers, and Jim paid for my one lapdance of the evening. Her stage name was Tiffani, and before she unclasped her bra she gave me a disclaimer in a squeaky, inarticulate monotone: no touching, no licking, and above all no attempting to remove the pasties. I sat uncomfortably still in the Barcalounger for five minutes as this woman gyrated half-heartedly around my head and torso. After the lapdance, I walked back downstairs, then sat around for another hour or so before Jim and I left.

As Uncle Jim drove me back to my house, he kept egging me about whether or not I had a good time; his attempt at male bonding was well-intended, but I found the whole experience to be uncomfortable. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I just nodded and said "okay" as he tried to lead the witness. Jim made it clear that he wanted to go back with me towing along, but I was non-committal. Alas, there wouldn't be a next time; our schedules kept clashing, and Jim died of pancreatic cancer less than 18 months later. I have felt little to no desire to go back to the club on my own volition.

A week or so after my strip club experience, I realized why that tall brunette kept staring at me: she was a high school classmate. All I remember is that her first name started with a "B," we had a political science class together at North, and she graduated the year before me. Out of embarrassment as well as her privacy, I have made no effort to reach out to her or find out her current whereabouts. On that one Saturday night in July 2007, we were both a little mortified.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Taking a Soft Left

If 2016 was a bad year for to be a liberal, then 2017 burnishes that. There have been five special elections for vacated seats in congress, and all five were retained by the GOP. The Democratic Party tried four completely different strategies in all four races, and despite a relatively narrow loss for Jon Ossoff in Georgia, they were all abject failures.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party as it stands now is aging and out of touch. The 2014 midterms and the 2016 election both exposed the lack of bench depth. President Obama is retired more or less, and party luminaries like Sec. Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Dick Durbin are all on the wrong side of 65. It is a party whose platform should appeal to millennials, a group that is more keen on social issues than any other generation in American history, and the Democrats are muffing it.

Even though we still have plenty of time to speculate, the field of candidates in 2020 so far isn't offering much promise. Martin O'Malley, the man who finished a distant third in the 2016 primaries, is not only perceived as too moderate, but has a history of race issues. Corey Booker has foot-in-mouth disease and too many corporate ties. Warren might be the most suitable, if she's willing to run, but she'll also be 71 years old on Election Day. Barring some minor miracle, we could very well be stuck with President Trump until 2025, when he'll be 78 and even more unintelligible than he is now.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My 12th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

With each passing year, the Emmy Award get harder to predict.  The one aspect of this year's awards that most people can concur is this might be the year streaming usurped cable and broadcast TV. With the major networks struggling to stay relevant and perennial premium channel nominees like "Game of Thrones" sitting out the year, I expect Netflix and Hulu to fill the gaps and then some.

When I wrote my first fantasy Emmy ballot in May 2006, I was throwing a bone and hoping against hope that a number of overlooked performances and underappreciated shows would get some deserved gratification. It was an era that was light on quality TV comedy; it annoyed me ceaselessly that Jon Cryer and Tony Shalhoub would keep winning for good performances on mediocre TV shows, but a show like "Scrubs" barely made a dent. The drama categories were as cutthroat as they've ever been, but the made-for-TV movie and miniseries --er, uh, "limited series"-- were both on life support. Now it seems like the committee and their voters are more in simpatico with critical acclaim and all-around buzz. About 85 to 90% of the nominees below will very likely get a nod come July 13th; the other 10-15% are wishful thinking. I'll let you debate which is which.

Here is my 2017 Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Millie Bobbie Brown, Stranger Things; Chrissy Metz, This is Us; Thandie Newton, Westworld; Winona Ryder, Stranger Things; Maura Tierney, The Affair.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul; Jared Harris, The Crown; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; John Lithgow, The Crown; Christian Slater, Mr. Robot; Jeffrey C. Wright, Westworld.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Judith Light, Transparent; Andrea Martin, Great News; Kate McKinnon, SNL.
Supporting Actor, Comedy: Louie Anderson, Buckets; Alec Baldwin, SNL; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Tony Hale, Veep; Matt Walsh, Veep.

Leading Actress, Drama: Christine Baranski, The Good Fight; Carrie Coon, The Leftovers; Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Elizabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale; Keri Russell, The Americans; Robin Wright, House of Cards.
Leading Actor, Drama: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us; Rami Malek, Mr. Robot; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards.
Leading Actress, Comedy: Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Issa Rae, Insecure; Tracie Ellis Ross, Black-ish; Alia Shawkat, Search Party; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie.
Leading Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Aziz Ansari, Master of None; Donald Glover, Atlanta; William H. Macy, Shameless; Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent.

Best Variety Talk Series: "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," TBS; "Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC; "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," HBO; "The Late, Late Show with James Corden," CBS; "Late Night with Seth Meyers," NBC; "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS.
Best Variety Sketch Series: "Billy on the Street," TruTV; "Documentary Now!," IFC; "Drunk History," Comedy Central; "Portlandia," IFC; "The President Show," Comedy Central; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
Best Limited Series: "Big Little Lies," HBO; "Fargo," FX; "Feud: Bette and Joan," FX; "Guerrila," Showtime; "The Night Of," HBO.
Best Dramatic Series: "The Americans," FX; "Better Call Saul," AMC; "House of Cards," Netflix; "Orange is the New Black," Netflix; "This is Us," NBC; "Westworld," HBO.
Best Comedy Series: "Atlanta," FX; "Black-ish," ABC; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Transparent," Amazon Prime; "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix; "Veep," HBO.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

She Never Saw the Flood Lights

As most of you know by now, my mother passed away on May 27th and was buried earlier this week. Without going too far into detail, this is a transcript of the eulogy that I read on June 7th:

"For those of you didn’t know my mother, allow me to give you an idea of the person she was:

Where my father was well-traveled, my mother spent 95% of her life in or around Downers Grove. She was born at Hinsdale Hospital, grew up in Downers and Westmont, graduated high school from Downers North, spent 17 years working at the Marshall Field’s at Oakbrook Mall –where, incidentally, she met my father—and lived nearly her entire life in DG. She did some traveling, though her idea of a distant, faraway excursion was either Lake Geneva or the family farm in Coldwater, MI.

My mother was quirky. She was fascinated by rubber ducks, and when we moved into our current residence in 2004, she gave the hallway bathroom a rubber duck motif. When the Egg Harbor Café in downtown Downers started giving away mini-rubber ducks, my mother adorned them all over the dashboard of her 2010 Mercury Milan.

At the same time, my mother and I did not have a lot of shared interests. She was fascinated by classic cars, I was not. Her record collection was loaded with Barbra Streisand and original Broadway cast recordings, and I had no interest in either. I like baseball and hockey, but she vehemently hated sports. She liked sugary snacks –she had a sweet tooth—and I was cautious about what I ate.
Sharon watched a lot of TV, but as I just alluded to, our tastes in TV shows varied significantly. She liked old school, rural-based shows like “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and even though I don’t hate either show, the appeal was lost one me. My mother and I did have two shows in common: “M*A*S*H,” which is an evergreen, but we were both surprised to discover we both liked “My Name is Earl.” That might have been the only TV show we made a note of watching together, more often than not. On the other hand, there was no hesitation deleting “Two Broke Girls” from the living room DVR. We didn’t have the heart to tell her the show had been cancelled, either.

My mother knew how to push my buttons. Half the time it was hard to tell if she was oblivious but well-meaning, or she knew precisely how to annoy me. She had a tendency to forget to tell my sister and I about a special event like, say, a neighbor’s anniversary or a block party, until the last minute. If Ma was upset about something, she would make Bridget test me or call me to tell me she was upset, rather than doing it herself.

Sharon was also a luddite. Her distrust of modern technology bordered into irrational hatred. Maybe it was because her side of the family were farmers and mechanics, and had no need for such things, I don’t know. Regardless, because of her stubbornness we didn’t have a PC in our house until 1998, we didn’t have the internet until 2002, and we didn’t have cable until 2008. She had a cell phone, the most basic phone Verizon could make, and she turned it on maybe once a month, in case of emergency. Ma didn’t even have an email until maybe three years ago, and it was my sister’s responsibility to check it once or twice a week.

As some of you know, Sharon had a laundry list of health issues. She had been in and out of hospitals since was five or six years old. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. At one point in the early 1980s, her immune system failed and she spent three weeks in a plastic bubble. To her, a hospital stay was somewhere between an annoyance and a diversion. Please forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but my sister and I were convinced that regardless of everything she had gone through, she would somehow persevere and live into her 80s.

The last chapter of her life more or less began in February 2015. She had a cardiologist appointment at Good Samaritan Hospital here in Downers; during a routine check-up, the doctor discovered 70% blockage in four of her arteries, as well as an aneurysm emerging in her aorta. They performed quadruple bypass surgery immediately, but because Sharon was underweight –I don’t want to say fragile—they held off on treating the aorta until she was on firmer physical footing.

Earlier this year, my mother was complaining of dizzy spells and blurred vision. A visit to a prominent neurologist revealed that she had an aneurysm in the right hemisphere of her brain. In early April, she was underwent brain surgery at Rush Medical Center on the near west side of the city; even though it was an elaborated and complicated procedure that only a handful of neurosurgeons could perform, it has been perfected, and best-case scenario my mother would have been out of the hospital in three or four days.

Then complications arose. The brain surgery was a success, but it inadvertently ruptured the aortic aneurysm, so two days later my mother had heart surgery. She had two stents placed in her body in the span of 2 ½ days. She went home over a week later, but the moment she walked into the house, she complained of abdominal pain; she couldn’t hold any food down, and within 2 ½ hours Bridget had called the paramedics, my mother was sent to Good Sam, and then 12 hours after checking out she was back in the ICU at Rush. She ended up getting a third stent, connected to where she had heart surgery less than two weeks before.

After nearly a month at Rush, my mother was cleared for rehab in early May. The process of getting back on her feet had its ups and downs, but she did the maximum 20 days covered by the insurance and finally home –for good, we thought—on May 24th. She was exhausted and still not holding food down, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to go back to the hospital. Sharon insisted she needed to get back into her daily routine at home, and she needed a few more days. I had left for the Omaha Improv Festival that Friday morning; Mom was “hangry” but moving about the house. I said “I love you” one last time just as she lied back in her bed for a late morning nap.

When I was on the road, my sister called to tell me that she called the paramedics again; she was battling the abdominal pain that she had six weeks earlier. She spent the night in the ER before going into the Critical Care Unit at Good Sam. My sister visited her that Saturday; Mom was being fed through an IV, and she was gradually becoming her normal self again. When my sister drove home, the physician on duty called to tell her Mom had gone into code blue. My sister rushed back to the hospital; she had stopped breathing and suffered significant brain damage. My mother was wired to a phalanx of machines, and just for a moment she was able to breathe without artificial means. However, she stopped breathing again soon after, CPR was performed, and in spite of the nurses’ best efforts she flatlined.

It would be remiss of me to not mention that Sharon was a “dog mommy.” We have two dogs, Duke (a Maltese-Poodle mix) and Henry (shorthair Dachshund). The older of the two, Duke was originally a Sweet 16 present of my sister’s, but soon enough became my mother’s dog. Duke would follow my mother around, sleep on her bed, and whine whenever she left the house. With the health issues my parents had, it became too much of a hassle to take the dogs out on walks. We had no choice but to have the dogs do their business in the backyard, which was a hassle of sorts after dusk because that side of the house is very dimly lit. When my mother was in rehab, my cousin Tom installed a small panel of flood lights with sensors in between the shingles and the gutters. Even though my mother was home for 2 ½ days after –notice the recurrence of two and a half in this eulogy—she never had an opportunity to see the lights. Whenever I’m out with Duke or Henry at 10 o’clock at night, I’ll look at those flood lights and think of Ma. She would’ve been quite impressed.

Ma, you’re going to be missed. To those of you who attended today, thank you for coming."


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Monday, May 22, 2017

Through a Seventh Freshman's Eyes

It's that time of year again. This year's high school senior crop (and assumed college freshmen) were born between Fall 1998 and Summer 1999, mere babes during Y2K hysteria and the other goings-on at the turn of the century. With each passing year, their perspective compared to previous generations looks a little more skewed, and things they take for granted might have been something we weren't aware about when we were their age.  Once again, with all due apologies to Beloit College, I present my annual homemade "Memory List":

If you're a graduating senior...

...impeaching the President of the United States has always been a possibility.
...the threat of a school shooting has always been very, very real.
...Slobodan Milosevic was never President of Serbia.
...Europe has always had (or attempted to have) a unifying currency.
...India and Pakistan have always had nuclear powers.
...baseball has always been tainted by steroids and PEDs.
...the Latino population in the U.S. has always increased by about one million people.
...the Dow Jones Industrial Average has almost always been above 10,000.
...there have always been anti-vaxxers.
...you vaguely remember your parents winning an eBay auction on a grape-colored iMac.
...Bluetooth, Blackberry, and instant/no-tray ice have always been a thing.
...Michael J. Fox has always been open and forthcoming about his battle with Parkinson's Disease.
...there have always been mediocre "Star Wars" prequels.
..."The Sopranos" and "Sex & The City" have always been part of the pop culture conversation, and there's always been more to HBO than just movies and sex documentaries.
...Regis Philbin was a game show host first, and a daytime talk show host second.
...Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have always been on TV in some capacity.
...Mike Scioscia has always been manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, Earth.
...Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have always played in the NBA.
...Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Marian Hossa have always played in the NHL.
...Michael Jordan never played for the Chicago Bulls, Wayne Gretzky has never laced a set of skates, and John Elway has always been a football executive.
...the Nashville Predators have always been in existence, and the Cleveland Browns have never taken a year off from football.
...Susan Lucci's name has always been preceded by the phrase "Emmy winner."
...Bill Murray has never hosted SNL.
...they have never stayed up to watch Tom Snyder.
...you think "Melrose Place" is a Chicago suburb. (You're thinking of Melrose Park.)
..."Spongebob Squarepants" and "Family Guy" have always been on TV.
...the original host of The Daily Show was Jon Stewart.
...Gene Siskel, Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Shepard, Joe DiMaggio, Dan Quisenberry, George Wallace, John Ehrlichman, Doak Walker, Gene Autry, Hal Newhouser, Weeb Eubank, Roddy McDowall, Alan J. Pakula, Flip Wilson, Esther Rolle, Norman Fell, Flo-Jo, the one guy from Milli Vanilli, Dusty Springfield, Dana Plato, Rick Rude, Owen Hart, Shel Silverstein, DeForest Kelly, and John F. Kennedy Jr. have always been dead.

In case you missed it, here's last year's list. Again, my apologies if I made you feel old.

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