Saturday, December 30, 2017

Auld Lyng Syne

For my last blog entry of the year, I want to reflect and tie up loose ends. I am hardly the only person to have a rough year, though mine was a tad unique: two deaths in my immediate family, two estates, the disintegration of several friendships (including at least one that had felt dormant for years), the expensive decision to drop out of grad school, inconsistent work. At least when I broke up with my girlfriend, it was amicable. In a way, 2017 was a rebuilding year, the beginning of something new that doesn't feel tangible yet.

I did create some closure, though: I finally blocked my awful, bigoted college girlfriend on Facebook. For the last three or four years, Babs has been using an alias on social media; when she liked a photo that I posted of my sister, I felt triggered. I doubt this was a backdoor effort to reconnect --likely just circumstance-- but I still find my sister being connected to this fat racist psychotic to be inexplicable. Adios and good riddance, "Candy N. Chloe."

I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I'm still way behind on TV, so for the second year in a row I'm forgoing my annual best-of list. The only shows I saw on a regular basis in '17 were SNL and "Last Week Tonight," and I'm at least a year behind on everything else I watch. There is at least one show that I regularly recorded on my DVR that I've given up on, simply because the backlog is too much.

On that note, I want to thank some specific people that made a tough year a little more hospitable: Dan Anderson, Marissa Robertcop, Andy Knuth, Koni Shaughnessy, Rich Johnston, Louise Loeb, Andy Heytman, Sarah Kritzman, Cari Maher, Jill Olsen, Jon-Michael Hoskinson, Brian Sebby, Yolanda Waddell, Rachel Caro, Carl Luft, my Flynn Tin Tin teammates, my sister Bridget and anyone else who helped along the way. See you all in 2018.


Monday, December 25, 2017

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2017

Trying times often make for great art. For us right-brainers, 2017 was a time to flourish: a strong year for cinema, another year of "peak TV," and from my vantage point a strong year for music. It was perhaps the strongest year of the decade for hip-hop, female-identifying singer-songwriters, and pretty much any rock musician who wished they were alive in 1976. In short, there was a healthy heaping of essential music these last 12 months, enough to satisfy any discerning appetite:

1. DAMN., Kendrick Lamar. Kung-Fu Kenny's third straight masterpiece is the rare album that builds up to its best track. It looks like a back-to-basics effort yet really isn't: Lamar is going from extrovert to introvert, commencing an intense journey into his own psyche as he embraces fame and the incessant scrutiny that comes with it. (The success of To Pimp a Butterfly weighs heavily.) He's exhausted from fighting for social justice; he's only one man. The winding origin story "DUCKWORTH" sums everything up, an allegory and a plot twist that brings this sojourn full circle.
2. Masseduction, St. Vincent. The queen of art-rock has put another jewel in her crown. The whole album is a candy-coated electro-rock fever dream, reiterating the inevitability of bad decisions in the pursuit of decadence. In a year of frustration, Annie Clark's protagonists uncover the peaks and valleys of escapism as a coping mechanism, the blurry gray line between pleasure and pain, and the acceptance of cold reality.
3. Turn Out The Lights, Julien Baker. For full disclosure, I'm late to the Julien Baker party. I didn't hear her 2015 debut, the sparse and mesmerizing Sprained Ankle, until this past October. Lucky for me, her sophomore effort was nipping at my heels. At first, Lights feels like an extension of Ankle; Baker's voice is cracked but steady, the themes of addiction, suicide, and religion are present, and the songs are fragile yet haunting. The difference is that she's a little older (she just turned 22), a lot wiser, and she's finally confronting the ghosts that followed her into adulthood and sobriety.
4. Pure Comedy, Father John Misty
6. Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples
7. Process, Sampha
8. Melodrama, Lorde
9. A Deeper Understanding, The War on Drugs
10. American Dream, LCD Soundsystem.  I see why James Murphy named their (now premature) farewell concert movie "Shut Up and Play the Hits." We all knew LCD wasn't totally done, but the decision to reunite and reinvent the band was a risk that paid off. The sprawling, seven-minute "Call the Police" is a candidate for song of the year, while "Black Screen" is a moving homage to David Bowie. Murphy has become the oldhead that gripes about other oldheads, but he still obsesses over what's cool.

11. Drunk, Thundercat
12. Semper Femina, Laura Marling
13. A Hairshirt of Purpose, Pile
14. 4:44, Jay-Z
15. Guppy, Charly Bliss. The year's most "fun" record is a 1990s alternative/power-pop throwback. A charming debut, the chirpy vocals of Eva Hendricks blends well with her bandmates' distorted guitars, mixing the shambolic with the sugary. It is no coincidence that Charly Bliss opened for Veruca Salt during their reunion tour this past year; they are worthy proteges.
16. I Dare You, The xx
17. This Old Dog, Mac Demarco
18. Pleasure, Feist
19. Waiting on a Song, Dan Auerbach
20. Hang, Foxygen. My last two picks on this list are interchangable. Where Auerbach's solo record exchanges fuzzy blues-rock for a warm 1970s AOR sound, Foxygen's sound has morphed into something evoking Honky Chateau-era Elton John, Atlantic Crossing-era Rod Stewart, and (above all else) glam-rock. Where Waiting is a fully realized mellow-rock affair (one song was co-written by John Prine) Foxygen's theatrical and often bonkers fourth album is at 32 1/2 minutes too concise and left me wanting more.

1. Fly or Die, Jaimie Branch. Not to be confused with the mid-2000s N.E.R.D. album of the same name, Branch's first album is an impressive, to-hell-and-back artistic statement. Her trumpet playing is free and abstract, and her crackerjack band (cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Chad Taylor) doesn't ground her so much as enable her serendipity. Branch has been a known commodity since 2007 or so, a creative and singular talent with a heavy AACM influence. This long-awaited release is a portent of equally impressive recordings to come.
2. La Saboteuse, Yazz Ahmed
3. Loneliness Road, Jamie Saft with Iggy Pop (yes, really)
4. Harmony of Difference, Kamasi Washington
5. Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, Nicole Mitchell
6. Far From Over, Vijay Iyer Sextet
7. Voices in the Void, Dr. Mint
8. This is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People, Toxic
9. Flowers - Beautiful Life Vol. 2, Jimmy Greene
10. Cherry/Sakura, David Murray/Aki Takase

Honorable Mention: Make Noise, Jeremy Pelt.

BEST METAL ALBUM: Nightmare Logic, Power Trip. Speaking of throwbacks, this was a breakout year for the 80s-obsessed Dallas quintet. Logic augments the formula of their 2013 debut album: all-meat, axe-swinging hardcore/thrash fusion that isn't annoyingly self-serious.
Honorable Mentions: Forever, Code Orange; Dead Cross, Dead Cross.


"Restart," BNQT
"Human," Rag n' Bone Man
"Pressed for Time (Cross My Mind)," Mick Jenkins feat. Goldlink
"In Cold Blood," Alt-J
"Feel It Still," Portugal, The Man
"Three Rings," Grizzly Bear
"Alaska," Maggie Rogers
"No Roots," Alice Merton
"Don't Delete the Kisses," Wolf Alice
"Run," Foo Fighters
"Gold," Manchester Orchestra
"Turning the Screw," Generationals
"This Is It," Lo Moon
"Astronaut (Something About Your Love)," Mansionair
"The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness," The National

1. "The Gate," Bjork. Nearly thirty years into a bold and never-not-challenging career, the Icelandic goddess and her frequent collaborator Andrew Thomas Huang keep pushing the envelope. The painstaking precision (complete with fragmented digital fairies) of this ambitious clip is a possible preview of what to expect in music videos in 2027.
2. "Wyclef Jean," Young Thug. The director of the video explains how an elaborate clip idea, based on an ode to the ex-Fugee, went completely off the rails after Thug flaked out of the shoot.
3. "The Story of O.J." Jay-Z. "I'm not black, I'm O.J." Uh, okay.
4. "Them Changes," Thundercat. Tormented samurais!
5. "Green Light," Lorde. The song is banger in its own right, but even if the dancing-in-the-streets thing is beyond cliche, Lorde makes it look fun.
6. "Up All Night," Beck. A young woman goes into Joan of Arc mode at one helluva college party.
7. "Waiting on a Song," Dan Auerbach. A Dazed and Confused homage about four 70s-era teenagers, some strong weed, and the bonds of friendship.
8. "New Rules," Dua Lipa. The #1 video based on YouTube views on this list, this pop empowerment anthem is carefully choreographed to show dancers as a unilateral voice of reason.
9. "Swell Does the Skull," Aldous Harding. Evoking Joan Baez, the clip is just a minimalist as the song: a naturally lit room, a guitar, and a voice. The guilt and yearning are palpable.
10. "Saturnz Barz," Gorillaz. Interactive videos are almost a genre unto itself, but special credit goes to this haunted house clip, where you can adjust the mise en scene as a spirit (Popcaan) hurtles the band into orbit.

Honorable Mentions: "Los Ageless," St. Vincent; "HUMBLE," Kendrick Lamar.

Best Video of 2016 That Easily Applies to 2017: "Nobody Speak," DJ Shadow feat. Run the Jewels. This is Trump's America, so I guess this is our generation's "Dr. Strangelove."

Your thoughts?


Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Stool Pigeon & The Turd

I almost want to take pity on Andrew McCarthy. For as long as the Trump/Russia controversy has dragged on (nearly his entire first year in office) McCarthy has tried to give the president the benefit of a doubt in his column in the National Review. Michael Flynn's decision to plead guilty Friday, however proved that his best intentions for were for naught, and that all his assumptions were dead, dead wrong.

Even if the conversations between Putin's and Trump's underlings had nothing to do with collusion, the fact that these conversations were covered up is still peculiar and suspicious. Of course, the White House is doing an atrocious job of damage control. President Trump's hair-trigger temper and reputation for belligerence (as seen on Twitter, of course) is veering into the red, the scattered outbursts of a man who simply doesn't know what he's gotten himself into.

This almost distracts from the GOP tax bill that the U.S. Senate passed in the wee hours of  Saturday, December 2nd but not quite. I'm also certain that atrocious bill ever saw daylight because the GOP knows they're vulnerable in the 2018 midterms and they'll need the financial support of the super-rich. One monkey scratches the other's back.

Next Week: the year in music, 2017.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

My 13th Annual Thanks/No Thanks List

Every year since 2005, usually just before Thanksgiving, I have posted my annual "thanks/no thanks" list. This particular year has thrown my priorities out of whack (for better or worse) and as such I'm posting this a little later than usual.

This year, a hearty "thanks" to my sister, my aunt, my family friend Barb, my two dogs, and anyone who has offered their support, whether it was tangible or not, during these tumultuous last few months. That, plus comedy and improv.

On that note, I give a firm "no thanks" to our increasingly incompetent and mismanaged government, old friends that don't communicate, dealing with back-to-back inheritances and small estate affidavits, and "adulting" in general.

If 2016 was an anal wart, then 2017 is a hemorrhoid. Let's finish this year on a positive note.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Complicit in Alabama

In the Fall of 2009, TV actress Mackenzie Phillips published an autobiography titled "High on Arrival." A lot of memoirs written by former child actors follow familiar beats --lack of control, abuse, narcissism, drug and alcohol addiction-- and "Arrival" doesn't deviate too much from that narrative, but it does contain two details that turned heads at the time. Mackenzie's father, the late songwriter "Papa John" Phillips, not only raped Mackenzie in a drugged-out stupor but wanted her to be his wife. Even if Mackenzie admitted they eventually had a consensual affair, the psychological damage she suffered is unfathomable.

As brave as Phillips was to tell her story, there was still a backlash. Many people (myself included, unfortunately) wondered why Phillips waited seven years after Papa John's death to write this book. Others, including Phillips' own stepmom, had doubts that the date-rape ever happened. Mackenzie was also accused of trying to profit on her father's legacy, regardless of how tainted it was. Phillips was abused and gaslighted, and it took her over three decades to find the courage to open up about her father's monstrous behavior. The book was dismissed as salacious gossip-mongering.

I thought about Phillips' ordeal as I've read up on the Judge Roy Moore scandal. As of this writing, five women (now all in their 50s and 60s) have accused Moore of making unwarranted sexual advances when they were teenagers. One victim was as young as 14, and it was recently revealed that Moore first noticed his wife when she was 15 (and he was 30). In any other part of the country, Moore's campaign would be practically over. In crimson-red Alabama, however competitor Doug Jones holds a very narrow lead in the polls, largely because the locals simply refuse to "vote liberal."

We could debate the questionable moral compass of Alabama Republicans, and putting political agenda over human decency, but that's a discussion for another time.  What bothers me is how we're questioning the timing of the accusations. Given how many celebrities have been taken off their pedestal in recent weeks, it would be easy for a critic to assume that outing a public figure as a sexual deviant is "trendy" right now. If anything, this is part of a far greater inclination, of shifting socio-cultural norms in which sexual harassment and similarly inappropriate behavior is taken seriously. A woman that was humiliated decades ago has every right to be reluctant to tell their story, and we must both laud their bravery and respect their privacy.

Mackenzie Phillips, quintessential narcissistic ex-child actor, was demonized and shamed eight years ago. Her confessional on "Oprah" (see clip in link) was dismissed as pandering for a book junket. Society as a whole is a little more enlightened now. If "High on Arrival" was released now, she could be at the forefront of meaningful systemic change.


Friday, November 10, 2017

I Still Resolve...

I don't put much energy into promoting this blog, and for good reason. I market myself as a comedy writer that performs improv, and this blog is an outlet for more serious matters, an opportunity to let my guard down. In the 12 1/2 years since I started this blog, I have likely seen a complete turnover in audience. I launched this blog on, and I'm sure a scant handful of people who read my missives then still read it now on Blogspot. (Its also more accessible to people.)

You might think from the tone of the previous paragraph that I'm quitting this blog, but I'm not (yet). 2017 has been a rough year on a personal level, one of mourning and reevaluating, one where goals have been easier said than accomplished. My clutter, both physical and intangible, is mostly still there. My mother, father, and grandmother's belongings, however are gradually getting sifted out.

I suppose my resolution now is to end 2017 on a positive note. My long-gestating solo sketch show opened this week, and even if I'm not meeting all my goals I'm still feeling pretty accomplished. Even if I do get distracted from time to time, there simply aren't enough hours in the day. I'm goal-oriented, and I feel rudderless when I'm not pursuing a new challenge.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Crazy, Awkward Halloween Story

I have reason to believe I'm cursed when it comes to Halloween parties. Allow me to explain:

Three years ago, I went to a private party on the northwest side of Chicago. I arrived near the beginning of the event with a friend named Tracy. Maybe 90 minutes or so, after I arrived I saw a couple walk in; I don't remember what he wore, but she had Minnie Mouse ears. (For the purposes of this story, I'll refer to this woman as "Ellie.") After a few minutes, I worked up the courage to introduce myself and make small talk. She was an acquaintance of the party hosts, as was I. The conversation seemed polite and benign enough, and I went on to mingle with other people at the party. About a half-hour later, I took a dip in a hot tub (again, private party) and shortly after Ellie found a spot in the crowded tub. I don't know if it was the heat or something else, but I remember zoning out in the tub. When I came to, Ellie was gone. I looked around the party room, and it was apparent she and her plus-one left early. I drove Tracy home maybe an hour later.

I sent a friend request on Facebook shortly after I got home, and to be safe I messaged Ellie to let her know who I was. The request was rejected almost immediately; I messaged to apologize if I had offended her, and Ellie replied to say she had a corporate job and wanted to keep business and personal separate. It was an odd answer, but I accepted it and left her alone. I assumed I would never see her again.

Two years later, however I was in a similar situation with the same party hosts. This time, I arrived by myself. An hour later, Ellie walked in with three other women and a taller guy, all in matching costumes. I wasn't sure if it was her or not, so I made small talk with her friends, then I introduced myself again just to be safe. She gave her last name as her first name, and gave me a weird look. After talking for about five minutes, Ellie brought the conversation to a halt, saying something to the effect that she didn't want to talk. Taken aback, I stepped away and avoided her and her group for the duration of the party.

Then, this weekend I changed things up and went to a party hosted by some improv friends, mostly for improvisers. For the first part of the party, I watched game 4 of the World Series in one corner of the living room. After the game ended, I walked over to the refreshments table to get another beer. I saw two or three people dressed as Offred et al. from "The Handmaid's Tale." What caught me was that one of them was a burly, hirsute guy that stood about 6'1". I jokingly asked if he was "Ofdave," "Ofjose," etc. He didn't seem to find the joke amusing, but we more both momentarily distracted as the party raged on and the room grew more crowded.

Maybe an hour later, thinking I was talking to the other guy that dressed up as a handmaid. I made the same lame joke and he glared at me. Then I turned around to see the one woman in the group that wore a matching costume... and it was Ellie. I then realized that the guy recognized me from the second party. I mumbled "sorry," then made a beeline to the other side of the apartment. I was half-aware that Ellie is not a performer, but upon looking at the Facebook event, she had more mutual friends at the event than I did. I was more startled by the fact that I had run into this women unexpectedly on three different occasions, and all during the same holiday.

I think next year for Halloween, I'll stay home.


On a completely unrelated note... in some parts of the country, there are actual votes on Election Day.  Where New Jersey and New York state have scheduled elections, Alabama will have a special vote for Jeff Sessions' vacated U.S. Senate seat. If you live in those three states, or if you live in another part of the country with an election, make your voice heard on November 7th. If you don't like how things are being done, this is your opportunity to steer things back in the right path.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Random Notes, October 2017

My mind is going a mile a minute:

+ God bless Bob Corker. The longtime Republican U.S. senator, who announced he will not seek reelection in 2018, suggested on Twitter that the Trump White House is spiraling out of control. On top of that, Corker basically implied what most had suspected: that President Trump has hijacked the GOP. Without nothing at stake, Corker is breaking rank and cheerfully letting loose, siding with the narrow majority of Americans that think Trump is too incompetent for office.

So what is at stake for the GOP? Is it time to panic? On one hand, they risk alienating an entire generation of potential voters. Entire demographics and voting blocks could vote Democratic by default. On the other, Republican candidates typically benefit from elections with low turnout (like, say, midterm elections). In short, 2018 is still up for grabs.

+ Since late August, I've been a certified Lyft driver. I haven't taken my first ride yet; the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet.

+ I'm proud to announce that after nearly two years of fits and starts, and I am premiering my very first solo sketch show. "Handsome Under Certain Lighting" opens at the One Group Mind Comedy Clubhouse in Wicker Park on Thursday, November 9th. You can find ticket info here.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

On Mansplaining

I attest to being a know-it-all. At varying points in my life, I've either embraced that facet of my personality or struggled mightily to reign it in. If you have a career in education,  I lean more toward being helpful than condescending, though I can see how that might get misinterpreted. My first impression can be scattershot, the pitfall of a life of social awkwardness, and when I make a positive impression its an uphill battle to sustain that.

Last weekend, an old acquaintance called me out for mansplaining on Twitter. In a tweet, she openly pondered about how Spotify developed their new yearbook playlist option, and I replied with a facetious "Um, a calendar?" Her response was vexed and not without justification; it was a lazy response. When she replied on Twitter, I DM'd her on Facebook as soon as possible to apologize. I had lost her follow, and she called me out for being condescending in the past. I couldn't remember any specific details our last Twitter interaction (I want to say it was two years prior) but I wasn't going to fight her accusation. We're still Facebook friends, at least for now.

I spent the next day or two trying to remember past instances of mansplaining, both with this woman and others. Part of me was trying to break this down from an individual standpoint, while also acknowledging my own shortcomings. Was she just in a bad place, did she confuse me for someone else, a personality clash, or was this part of a greater problem? I had met this woman through improv, and even though I try to treat collaborators, friends and acquiantances as equals, I can slip. Mansplaining, rooted in sexism, is pandemic in our community and only gradually getting resolved.

Regardless, whether or not a similar incident happens on Twitter, I will make a more conscious effort to change. For now, I'll leave her alone, and pretend the altercation never happened.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sit, Stand, Kneel

I'll keep this short and sweet: any NFL player that prefers to kneel in protest shouldn't have to explain why they're kneeling. We have a president that is doing far more to divide than unite, race relations in the U.S. are at a nadir I haven't seen in my lifetime, and police brutality is still going unresolved in most metropolitan areas. The idea of locking arms in solidarity feels like a cop-out and an unnecessary point of compromise.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Second Confessional

About four years ago, I discussed how I all but sabotaged my friendship with "Sandra," whom I met in high school. Even though we kept a distance, we remained Facebook friends. Since I first wrote about her over four years ago, she had a daughter and got married (in that order). I not only avoided interacting with her, but also her social circle, which I found problematic.

Less than a year after that post, Sandra gave birth to her daughter, then married the father of the child; the nuptials were postponed until after she had the baby. The Friday before the wedding, she posted something on Facebook about a get-together at a restaurant in Logan Square. I messaged her to ask if I would be welcome; the message was time-stamped (which means she saw it) but she didn't reply. I assumed that the freeze-out was still on, and I stayed home that night.

In early 2016, Sandra invited me to her 30th birthday party. It was the first time she had reached out to me in any way, shape or form in nearly five years. I appreciated the invite, but obviously I had a lot of trepidation; on top of that, I already had plans out of town that weekend. I sent her an email sending my regrets and concerns; to my astonishment, she replied to clarify that I was definitely welcome. I responded by asking if we could meet one on one and finally talk things out, but she said her itinerary for her Chicago trip was already full.

No leeway was made --and contact remained minimal-- until this past June. Sandra was coming back to town, and sent out an invite for a group dinner. I still would have preferred meeting one on one, but I accepted the invite anyway. Around this time, Sandra teased some big news on Facebook, and was supposed to be an imminent announcement took several weeks. The trepidation returned, and my anxiety grew as the date of the get-together neared. When I drove to the restaurant, I found a spot at the bar and polished off a beer to calm my nerves.

Sandra arrived with Kori, a mutual longtime friend. I had known Kori since grade school, but hadn't seen her since 2011 or so. I vaguely recalled that Kori had unfriended me on Facebook; we had talking things out, she readded me, then disappeared from FB altogether shortly after that. She had always been cagey and a little hard to read, so part of me wondered if I had been blocked.

Sandra's major announcement was that her young family was moving from San Diego to Columbus, OH. I thanked her for clarifying, and that ended up being the last interaction we had for nearly an hour. I attempted to catch up with Kori, partially to impose some goodwill but also to feel at ease. The conversation tapped out after about five minutes, and after struggling to latch onto another conversation at the table, I spent most of the evening eating fish tacos in relative silence. (The fact that the tacos were outstanding almost feels like an afterthought.) After getting some ice cream, Kori drove a drunk Sandra back to her hotel.

I left Oak Park feeling annoyed. I figured that Sandra was tired, and she would touch base in a day or two, but it never happened. Later in the week, I shared a picture of my dog (a onetime obsession of hers) but it didn't elicit a response. Against my better judgment, I let the events of the night circle around my head; I was baffled that Sandra would invite me out for dinner, but barely start a conversation. Was it circumstance or more passive-aggression?

Perhaps against better judgment, six weeks later I wrote Sandra another long email. I mentioned how disappointed I was that we barely spoke, and that I was open to talking by phone or Skype. I didn't get a reply, so two weeks after that I messaged her on Facebook. After waiting awhile after that, I made an unpleasant discovery: I had been "half-blocked." We were still FB friends, but I couldn't see anything on her profile besides her basic info. What I feared would happen years ago finally did.

If this is the end, I accept those terms. In my subconscious, the nightmare from eight years ago still engulfs me. Sandra attempted to reconnect, and still couldn't make a conscious effort. I feel tempted send one more email, partially to apologize for overreacting and also because I have nothing to lose. Maybe in a few months, but definitely not now.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Random Notes, September 2017

So much to say, so little time:

+ It took a hurricane or two to finally get the Trump controversies off the front page. For better or worse, its a diversion; Hurricane Harvey was an astonishing tragedy, one of larger scope than Katrina but better managed, and the aftermath might linger on for a decade. Hurricane Irma, hammering Florida as I write this, could be just as bad. President Trump is probably grateful to not be hounded by the Russian collusion controversy (among other things) at least for a moment.

+ I'm going to be somewhat disappointed if this is the end of the Moose/Hos/Alcides/Lo-Cain era in Kansas City. All four are pending free agents, and any attempt at making one last playoff push with this core group has sputtered. My Royals are playing .500 ball when we should be right in the thick of things. On one hand, we've set a team record for home runs in a season where MLB overall has seen an uptick in power stats; on the other hand, our pitching has been pedestrian. We'll be okay in the long run, but I don't want to wait 28 years for another title run.

+ While I'm glad the summer is over, the stress continues. I'm back to working as a substitute teacher after spending 2 1/2 months mostly at home, so I'm relieved that I don't have to dip into inheritance and rainy-day money much longer. I also have a temp position lined up that, if all goes to plan, will keep me steadily employed for about three months. On the other hand, I'm the executor of my mother's estate and I'm still wading through paperwork. My aspiration is to finally move out of my parents' house by November 1st, but money is still an X-factor.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2017 NFL Preview

It doesn't seem like the NFL season is right around the corner. Its been a tumultuous summer, and perhaps some of us aren't ready yet for the first kickoff. Nevertheless, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (and Tom Brady, probably in his final season) start the year against Kansas City on September 7th. Controversies still swirl around Colin Kaepernick and Zeke Elliott, and I can think of six or seven teams that are going to be horrendous this year (including my Beloveds). Let me break it down for you, 17 soma at a time:

1. Steelers. (13-3) Young D impresses/O firepower maintained/Pats’ only real foe.
2. Ravens. (8-8) Good but complacent/ground attack needs improvement/for real playoff talk.
3. Bengals. (6-10) Lewis on the hot/seat; another step backwards/could mean the heave-ho.
4. Browns. (3-13) Last year? Rock bottom/nowhere to go but up, if/you don’t mind kneeling.
1. Patriots. (13-3) Of course them again/even without Edelman/the machine rolls on.
2. Dolphins*. (9-7) Cutler, short term fix/receivers alone make this/a playoff sleeper.
3. Bills. (5-11) Still meandering/Tyrod is overrated/rebuilding looms near.
4. Jets. (2-14) Gang Green, no blood flow/abysmal offense puts the/”hack” in “Hackenberg.”
1. Titans. (10-6) Young and ready now/Mariota will dazzle/if he stays healthy.
2. Texans. (8-8) So many “De-” names/but QB play will hinder/and exhaust real D.
3. Colts. (7-9) No O-line? Good Luck/(or good grief); lack of support/after overhaul.
4. Jaguars. (3-13) Free agency whiz/fails to generate results/or score any points.
1. Raiders. (11-5) Vegas move lingers/Carr and Beast Quake fireworks/distract from ill will.
2. Broncos*. (10-6) Without a QB/Geep Chryst’s name, taken in vain/D, though? Dominant.
3. Chiefs. (9-7) Red and yellow blues/same suspect O carried by/sturdy D. Ho-hum.
4. Chargers. (7-9) Welcome to LA/new scenery but same Bolts/I’m not seeing stars.

1. Packers. (11-5) Oh god, them again/near elite but annoying/Rodgers’ neighborhood.
2. Lions. (9-7) Good team with bad coach/a healthy Ameer helps, but/please no Hail Marys.
3. Vikings. (6-10) Skill positions on/O don’t impress; no flukes like/last year, just boring.
4. Bears. (5-11) This is rebuilding/quarterback situation/might prove distracting.
1. Cowboys. (10-6) Dak needs new attack/until Zeke returns; still quite/steady all around.
2. Giants*. (9-7) Expensive defense/overshadows old Eli/and Beckham drama.
3. Redskins. (7-9) Beltway bedlam; a/dysfunctional family/with pissed-off Cousins.
4. Eagles. (6-10) Wentz’ growing pains/numbed by Alshon’s comeback, but/they’re still rebuilding.
1. Falcons. (11-5) Fear of hangover/after Super Bowl collapse/quashed with hot start.
2. Panthers*. (10-6) Jekyll and Hyde squad/secondary woes will be/playoff X-factor.
3. Buccaneers. (8-8) Dangerous youngsters/if Winston keeps smoking, these/pirates will plunder.
4. Saints. (7-9) Surplus of targets/await Brees, but the young D/remains unsettled.
1. Seahawks. (10-6) Their soap opera/is a distraction; O-line/is of great concern.
2. Cardinals. (9-7) A sleeper team if/healthy; don’t doubt Arians/miracle worker.
3. Rams. (6-10) Worse than they look, Goff/must prove he’s not a flop or/the horns will fall off.
4. Niners. (3-13) Very modest goals/new coaches search for gold and/turn up some pyrite.

NFL MVP: Jameis Winston, Bucs
Offensive ROY: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Defensive ROY: Myles Garrett, Browns
First Head Coach Fired: Doug Marrone, Jaguars
Super Bowl LI: Patriots 29, Cowboys 10


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Never-ending Chaos

He came, he saw... he Mooched? The first White House employee to serve negative time, Anthony Scaramucci's ten days between appointment and forced resignation were a whirlwind. There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said, beyond the fact that Scaramucci's demeanor made him horrifically ill-suited for the position, and President Trump's tendency to hire and appoint sycophants and close friends has reached peak hubris. Here's hoping Gen. John Kelly, a public servant as straitlaced as Scaramucci was loud and profane, will attempt to bring a level of dignity and gravitas we haven't seen yet in the Trump White House.

Early last week --just before Mooch's resignation, as a matter of fact-- I had read this editorial from the National Review and commented on it on Twitter. I joked that at least it wasn't "that pinko rag The Weekly Standard"; he liked the reply, but it was pretty clear he didn't know I was joking. It was another brief, discomforting reminder that quite often, arguing with Trump's most ardent supporters is a rabbit hole into obliviousness. They are brainwashed, putting patriotism before critical thinking, the blind led by the blind.

NOTE: I wrote these two first paragraphs before the act of terror and ensuing fracas in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11th.  This weekend, for the first time since I launched Stu News, I posted something that wasn't meant to be satirical or jovial. The bigots and white nationalists that Trump catered to during the 2016 primaries feel validated, and for as odious and reprehensible their actions were, this was their rallying moment. (Incidentally, the National Review begged Trump to condemn the alt-right. Everyone is still waiting.) They were taught to hate, to vehemently distrust those unlike them, and now they think they have the same rights that everyone else has. I am appalled beyond words. My thoughts are with the Heyer family and those injured in Saturday's counter-protest.


Friday, August 11, 2017

RIP The Gorilla Tango Theater

This past Monday, the Gorilla Tango shuttered it doors. By default the best entertainment venue in Bucktown, GTT was known mostly for burlesque. It doubled as an art gallery and a playhouse, but I was acquainted and associated with GTT by improv.  I spent three seasons with the Improv Zoo coached ensemble program that Kristi McKay ran in 2012-13, and made my first leap into producing there with a variety show in October 2013.

Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about Gorilla Tango's demise. On one hand, I met Dan Anderson during my last season with the Improv Zoo, and Flower Shop Bangers owes its existence to a happenstance show at GTT. On the other hand, it was rather expensive to produce a show in the space (I was convinced by a flyer at the ticket desk) and "The Allard Programme" lost so much money, it took me almost two years to pay it off. Considering who assisted me with getting the show off the ground --mostly good friends, but some acquaintances too-- it was both a learning experience and a mild embarrassment.

The last time I set foot in GTT was about six months ago. I tagged along with my girlfriend Marissa and our pal Aaron to see a "Back to the Future" -themed burlesque show. These type of shows were what kept the lights on, and even though they were well-received the tickets were ridiculously expensive. They were known to sell out too, but this particular performance of "Boobs to the Future" sold maybe 12 tickets. At one point, the dancers did a bit where they begged audience members for donations. I didn't realize they were legitimately asking for tips. Rumors of apparent financial issues were going from a mumble to a holler.

The photo taken above was from the third of the four "Allard Programme" shows I hosted and produced. I only sold eight total tickets in the first two shows, so I promised that if we sold out the theater for week three, I would host part of the show in my junior high gym uniform. We fell way short of my goal, but I twirled around in my old gym suit anyway. C'est la vie.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Watching the Chaos

Politics aside, Sean Spicer's resignation last Friday was distinctly tragicomic. On one hand, nearly everyone except Spicer knew that he wasn't suited for the job of press secretary; on the other, he was a team player who was ultimately screwed over by management that couldn't have cared less about his opinion or presence. It would be utter hyperbole to say Spicer was the worst to ever hold that position, but I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone who was as hostile and prone to malapropism as "Spicey." His lack of self-awareness made him a punchline and a pariah. Here's hoping he finds solace in the private sector, over a cup of Dippin' Dots.

For now, the departure of Spicer, the promotion of Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, and the hiring of Tony Scaramucci is cosmetic. The lawn chairs were reshuffled on the Titanic a while ago, and six months in the liberal resistance to Trump is adjusting to the reality that he won't be removed easily. Even if the Democratic Party had its act together, resignation (goaded or not) isn't happening and impeachment is a pipe dream. The announcement and ensuing executive order regarding the openly transgender in the military was another outrageous distraction, this time from Congress' overwhelmingly approved sanctions on Russia. Of all of Trump's scandals, the allegations of election tampering is the one that won't go away.

As much as I hate to say it, barring disaster we have to grin and bear it until November 2018. As I suggested last month, the Democrats' best option is to clean house and start a youth movement, putting focus on the House over the Senate during the midterms and retool from the ground up. The party is in a corner, and no matter what catchy slogan they dream up, their current strategy isn't working.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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. 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. 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. 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.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Last Days (Which Probably Aren't the Last Days)

This might be my last blog post with Donald Trump as President of the United States. Chances are, its not. Regardless, the fallout from Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey last week has been both dizzying and winsome. The revelation of Trump blurting out classified information to Russian officials, while not technically illegal, was certainly annoying to DC insiders but alienating to several key American allies. The narrative is less about cohesion with Russia the possibility of corruption and more about incompetence and ego. And yet, somehow Trump might still persevere.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that most Trump supporters aren't feeling too much buyer's remorse. The vicious cycle of conservative blogs, each regurgitating the same shallow bullet points while creating half-truths and exaggerations about their liberal opponents, are manna for angry fools. Let them blame the mainstream media for doing their job, or cast off late night comedians for their right to satirize and skew public figures. A former president attempted to censor the media via executive order, and it blew up in his face. (I'm aware that President Trump doesn't know his history, but the point stands.) The "bubble" or beehive mentality that might have cost Sec. Clinton the election works both ways. The sad thing, even if Trump goes his ardent supporters will not give it a rest, doubling down on the internet-born, nonsense conspiracy theories that attempted to hound --and still try to vex-- Presidents Clinton and Obama. Right-wing outsiders have cherry-picked Trump as their man, and they're backing him to the bitter end.

Regardless, the rural whites that saw Trump as a shining white knight 6 1/2 months ago must be seeing some sort of rust in the armor now. This was a man who both took advantage and navigated through a weak but excessively large crop of candidates for his party's nomination. He constructed his agenda in saying the things that other Republicans allegedly think but won't say out loud --more conspiracy theory-- and in the process dragged the GOP into the mud. Despite what some liberal bloggers have implied, the Republican Party is not built on racism and isolationism, but he dragged those two ugly ideas into the voting booths. His four months in office have matched his bluster, defined by a litany of executive orders in the early going, but only getting one bill (AHCA) passed through Congress. In blogs past, I letter-graded the Bush 43 and Obama administrations; in the very hypothetical situation that Trump leaves office before 2021 (or June), I don't know if I would give him a grade higher than D-.

Nearly four months in, the Trump administration's greatest achievement its the most scandal-plagued since Bill Clinton's, and at this rate it will eclipse Whitewater, Paula Jones, and whatever else our 42nd president deflected two decades ago. The people that feared and loathed "Crooked Hillary" are stuck with "Bungling Donald." It would make sense for President Trump to resign, but his pride and various past indicators suggest it won't happen. No elected Republican in either house will be breaking rank with Trump or their party anytime soon. The possibility of up to 11 1/2 years with a President Mike Pence (not a typo) may not seem palatable to many, but at least we can all concur that he would be a far more competent and even-keeled presence in the Oval Office. At the moment, for many Americans its just a pipe dream.

Next Week: my annual high school graduate "memory list."