Monday, December 31, 2018

My Last Post of 2018

I wanted this last blog post of 2018 to be reflective, but I didn't to repeat myself or rehash something from my previous 35 posts from this year. Instead, I'll share an anecdote that sums up my year:

I had been Lyft driving for a couple of weeks. I became a licensed Lyft driver in August 2017, but really hadn't ride-shared in earnest until June of this year. I was hovering around downtown Naperville around 11pm, when I picked up a very drunk man at an upscale bar. He stumbled into the car, barely said a word, and whatever he did say was slurred. It was a 30-minute ride from Naperville to Montgomery, and I was genuinely concerned that he was going to vomit in my back seat.

At the end of this decidedly quiet ride, the passenger asked me to drop him off in front of the house rather than in the driveway. The house was in the middle of a gorgeous subdivision that couldn't have been more than a decade old. He mumbled "thank you," then walked out of the car and into the night. I drove half a block up, then parked to turn off my app and check messages. Just as I was about to drive out of the subdivision, the passenger was walking down the sidewalk. As I made a left, he came within inches of my car. My best guess is, he tried to walk of his stupor, but he was still pretty wasted. I'm relieved that I didn't hit him.

Where others struggled, I had a so-so 2018. I checked off some bucket list items, but I didn't make that many inroads as far as professional pursuits go. (Thanks, writer's block.) Onward and upward to 2019.


Friday, December 28, 2018

That Wonderful Year in Music... 2018

In trying times, music is an outlet. From a progressive and cultural standpoint, if 2016 was a gauntlet, then 2017 and '18 were just as bad if not worse. Popular music turns into a reflection of our struggles, both a source of relief and catharsis. Some of us won't readily admit it, but we needed music this year. Even if it was white noise to drown out a phalanx of bad news, 2018 was a good year to get engaged in new artists and new albums. All of my top picks, however are established musicians whose work soared to dizzying heights.

NOTE: I acknowledge that my jazz top ten is unfairly devoid of Wayne Shorter's 3-CD set Emanon. In spite of gushing reviews and positive word of mouth, the album is not on Spotify, and I have not had the opportunity to buy the box set online. Hopefully, Emanon will the best 2018 recording that I first listened to in '19.


1. 7, Beach House. My top pick in 2012 sort of slipped under the radar with 2015's almost-as-stellar Depression Cherry, but their seventh album is by no means a resurgence. Rather, its a new direction; the core duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have put out their most collaborative, unpredictable, and extroverted work yet. Multiple listens helps you peel away the fascinating layers of their shoegaze-adjacent sound.
2. Hell-On, Neko Case. Music as feminist catharsis. Since her last solo effort, we've heard two so-so New Pornographers albums and an otherwise winning collaboration with Laura Veirs and k.d. lang that didn't use her to best effect. Hell-On reminds us how relevant and urgent Case is as a standalone singer-songwriter. Her voice is warm and engaging, emotional without getting histrionic, and the production is both atmospheric and detailed.
3. Freedom's Goblin, Ty Segall. As loopy as he is prolific, Segall's decade-long saunter through fuzz-rock freak-outs and funky deconstructions reached an apex on Goblin, his first of three (!) solo releases this year. Everything has built up to this, it seems; a master's thesis of noisy, malevolent guitar that bounces around every era of rock n' roll. Come for the distinct tuneful sensibility fully realized, stay for the Fred Armisen cameo.
4. Care For Me, Saba
5. Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), Car Seat Headrest

6. Daytona (EP), Pusha T
7. Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman
8. Be The Cowboy, Mitski
9. Dirty Computer, Janelle Monae
10. Everything is Love, Beyonce & Jay-Z (The Carters)

11. I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, TuNe-YaRdS
12. All Nerve, The Breeders
13. In a Poem Unlimited, U.S. Girls
14. Wide Awake!, Parquet Courts
15. Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett

16. Some Rap Songs, Earl Sweatshirt
17. Post-, Jeff Rosenstock
18. Blue Madonna, BORNS
19. Lush, Snail Mail
20. God's Favorite Customer, Father John Misty


1. Heaven and Earth, Kamasi Washington. Of course Kamasi is on top of this list again. He's built a reputation for releasing albums that are gloriously busy, take an entire afternoon to digest, and thoroughly important. His second full-length (emphasis on full) is the first recorded in Trump's America, where racism has lept from subtext to context and uncertainty is everywhere. He doesn't spare a second or waste a note, and for that we must keep basking in Kamasi's genius.
2. The Window, Cecile McLorin Salvant
3. Contra La Indecision, Bobo Stenson Trio
4. Seymour Reads the Constitution! Brad Mehldau Trio
5. Music IS, Bill Frisell
6. Love Stone, JD Allen
7. Pay for It on the Other Side, Pete McCann
8. Full Tilt, Adam Shulman Sextet
9. On the Brink of a Lovely Song, Christina Von Bulow
10. Full Circle, Eddie Palmieri

Honorable Mention: Dans Ma Main, Jean-Michel Blais.

BEST METAL ALBUM: The Sciences, Sleep. The first new release from Sleep in nearly 20 years was well worth the wait. Its six tracks of all-killer, no-filler sludge metal with a 420 bent, a proggy romp on par with their 1999 opus Dopesmoker.
Honorable Mention: Stranger Fruit, Zeal & Ardor.

BEST SINGLES (in no order)

"Already Gone," Brett Dennan
"The Joke," Brandi Carlile
"Lottery," Jade Bird
"Tailor Made," The Lemontwigs
"Fever Pitch," Rainbow Kitten Surprise
"Lift Yourself," Kanye West
"A Lifeboat," Kacy and Clayton
"There's a Light," Jonathan Wilson
"Not in Love, We're Just High," Unknown Mortal Orchestra

"Still I Rise," Soraia
"Casanova," Rayland Parker
"Words I Heard," Julia Holter
"Feed the Fire," Dawes
"Fade to Black," Born Ruffians
"Bells & Circles," Underworld feat. Iggy Pop
"Sicko Mode," Travis Scott
"Severed," The Decemberists
"Connected By Love," Jack White
"Body Behavior," Ty Segall & White Fence


1. "This is America," Childish Gambino. Everyone and their aunt has watched this clip. There's nothing I can add that hasn't already been said. Wow.
2. "MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio)," Rosalía. The Catalan answer to Beyonce (and maybe M.I.A.) crafted a modern visual stunner for her distinct blend of flamenco and hip-hop. Even if the lyrics are difficult to comprehend, the mashup of imagery is mesmorizing.
3. "APE***T," The Carters. There's nothing subtle about this. Then again, Bey and Hova aren't introverts. This flaming hot take on blackness in Western colonialism, layered in meticulous chereography, launched a thousand think pieces and sure to ignite quite a few more dissertations.
4. "thank u, next," Ariana Grande. What I said about Gambino's video mostly applies here. This is both a fun romp and a statement of artistic maturity.
5. "Pa'lante," Hungry for the Riff-Raff. Washington's response to Hurricane Maria and the devastation of Puerto Rico was a joke. Music can cleanse the soul, though food, shelter, and clean water would be nice, too.
6. "Everybody Wants to Be Famous," Superorganism. Being YouTube famous is not all that its cracked up to be. Let a 19-year-old college kid from Maine (and her 30-something band mates) explain why.
7. "Oh Baby," LCD Soundsystem. Thanks to the miniseries "Castle Rock" (among other projects) 2018 was a renaissance for legendary actress Sissy Spacek. This sci-fi collab with David Strathairn and director Rian Johnson was another strong performance, albeit far more below the radar.
8. "Send Me," No Age. Welcome to corporate hell!
9. "Walk It Talk It," Migos feat. Drake. Offset et al. bridge a gap between '70s soul and 2010s trap that we didn't know existed.
10. "Hard World," YACHT. Inspired by the rotating Happy Foot/Sad Foot on Sunset Boulevard (and its ensuing superstition), you assume these bipedal neighbors couldn't have more disparate days until an appreciated moment of levity at the end.

Honorable Mentions: "Stereo L," Daniel Avery. It plays and sounds like a gibberish version of the old school "Doctor Who" opening theme. Hypnotic. "PYNK," Janelle Monae. The video looks like a lost collaboration between Georgia O'Keeffe and Robert Heinlein, by way of Prince.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Ghosts of Conservatism, Past and Present

(Ed. note: please forgive the delay. I've been having issues with my laptop.)

George Herbert Walker Bush left a mixed legacy. Nearly every good deed he committed as a public servant was cancelled out by something shortsighted or outright bad. The first time I ever really paid attention to politics was when Bush ran for reelection in 1992. His one term in office was "Reagan lite"; depending on how you look at it, that could be praise or disdain. He was a throwback to a time when politics weren't personality-driven (read: boring) and there was a place in the GOP for moderates and centrists. History will remember him as a middle-of-the-pack president: not a failure, but not a man who defined a generation of Americans, either. He was competent, which was more than we can ask for now.

The memorial in DC earlier this month was only allegedly anti-Trump. Rather, the service reminded people of positive character traits that Bush 41 had that the current president seems to lack, without calling Trump out by name. It was a subtle compare and contrast: an okay presidency alongside one rife with division.

With that said... we have to stop assuming President Trump will resign. The man lacks the self-awareness to admit he's not only cornered, but in over his head. Worse yet, impeachment will likely die in a GOP-controlled Senate. Michael Cohen is going to prison for sending hush money to a porn actress, and Michael Flynn is (probably) going to prison for collusion. More members of Trump's inner circle will be implicated and left for dead, but the heart of the beast keeps going. Forgive me for repeating myself, but one hopes the Democrats will get their act together in 2020.

Next week: the year in music, 2018.


Friday, November 30, 2018

The Needle Incident

This week was the 20th anniversary of an embarrassing incident from my teen years:

Home economics was not my favorite class in junior high school. For the valuable life skills they offered, I was far more concerned with earning a good grade. On alternating weeks, we would either be in either one of two specially designed classrooms, one for the sowing unit (which doubled for health classes) and one in a kitchen. The elective was taught by Ms. Schnorr, an obese, middle-aged woman who usually yelled directions from behind a desk and chair.

The first big project we had in the sowing unit was creating our own multipurpose aprons. First, we had a preliminary introduction to the sowing machines, with a safety and component quiz. Then, we created pockets for the aprons before moving on to the apron itself.

I didn't quite feel comfortable using the machine, but I went along with the assignments in a cautious manner. The machines were in special tables with detachable platforms, with a pedal connecting to wire. About halfway through the apron, I stood up to adjust the fabric, accidentally stepped on the pedal, and the sowing needle went straight through the tip of my thumb. 

I screamed for a couple of seconds, loud enough to get the semi-immobile teacher to rush to my care. I nudged the pedal out of the way with my other foot, and Ms. Schnorr was able to get the needle out of the machine. One of my classmates walked me to the nurse; I was too panicked to even notice who it was. The school nurse removed the needle very gently, put some astringent on it, and bandaged me up. After calming my nerves, I walked myself back to class.

Junior high can be a hornets' nest of gossip and misinformation, and Herrick was no exception. By the time lunch period (5A) half of the school was not only talking about my thumb, but were spreading misinformation and blowing things out of proportion. Some of the kids even thought I'd had my thumb amputated. I had to show off my wounded thumb in the lunch line to prove it was a relatively minor injury.

Even though the wound was skin-deep, the thumb incident messed with my head for the duration of that trimester. I was even more nervous about using a sowing machine, and even though I passed the class, I have no interest in operating a sowing machine ever again. Its a life skill that I've learned to do without. About a month after needle met fingertip, I suffered some first degree burns on my left hand in the same class. I had to put my hand in cold water for the duration of third and fourth period, but the needle was marginally more traumatizing. I guess those are the real scars you carry.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Two Quick Things

The results of the 2018 midterms, mixed as they were, were an undeniable rebuke of President Trump. Purple went blue, but the overwhelming majority of red areas stuck with their man. This gives the president actual checks and balances for the first time in his administration, but that silver lining is tamped down by at least two more years of gridlock. At worst, this gives Trump a new (and very tangible) punching bag, an obvious scapegoat for anything and everything that goes wrong in his administration. Impeachment only seems marginally feasible now.

+ Finally, it just isn't Thanksgiving without my annual thanks/no thanks list.

I Give Thanks To: enduring friendships, consistent work, morsels of self-actualization, and anyone and everyone who has been reading this blog here and on for the last 13 1/2 years.
And No Thanks: a lack of common sense gun laws, property taxes, writer's block, and poor communication.

Next week: the thumb incident.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Some Final Thoughts on the 2018 Midterm Elections

Tomorrow, November 6th will be the crucial midterm election in recent memory. In fact, it might be most imperative midterm vote in American history. That might seem cliche, but between 2016 and this year I don't think I've seen democracy at a greater crossroads. This election is undeniably a moratorium on President Trump and the perceived long-term damage he is doing to the United States.

Like millions of Americans, I voted early. I was relieved not only to see so many people brag on social media about voting before November 6th, but a disproportionate number under age 40 do so. For some, who you voted for is no one's business but your own (and maybe the Russians) and you can boast about participating in the process without expressing a specific political stance. I'm sure at least one person reading this disagrees vehemently with my political views, and that's your right. Your participation in the process is what matters most.

Granted, a fair percentage of the candidates are not your cup of tea. For the umpteenth election in a row, the governor's race in my home state is an uninspiring shitshow. For the unfamiliar, a proto-Trump multimillionaire political novice is running for reelection against a bizarro Trump multimillionaire political novice. In reality, the political power in Illinois still rests in the hands of the prematurely fossilizing, Emperor Palpatine wannabe we call our Speaker of the House. Someone will win, but Illinois keeps losing.

Even if a handful of races are unsavory or a lost cause, that should not deter you or anyone else from filling out a ballot. If 2016 was undercut by progressives' inability to coelesce behind a common cause, this is our one opportunity to redeem ourselves. The notion of a liberal litmus test is ridiculous. Maybe some of the stereotypes are true: we're too sensitive, whiny, needy and anal. That by no means is meant to de-legitimize triggers and aggressors.  For one day, we have to show a united front, and check our egos at the door.

In other words, don't let the bullies win.

This is the seventh election (midterms, presidential, or otherwise) in which I've given a pre-vote pep talk to anyone willing to read my ramblings. This is the second such pep talk I've given where I've been unabashedly partisan; our president is a narcissistic, con artist buffoon who still demonstrates a remedial knowledge of how the world works after nearly two years in office. If we can't get rid of Donald Trump, then we can at least undercut him.

In short, for the love of all things good, please vote.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

His Uncle's Nephew

Monday, October 30th marks ten years since my uncle, Jim Swiglo died. It was the culmination of a whirlwind two months where he went from hospitalization to hospice to death. I was not aware until he told me that September that he had terminal pancreatic cancer, but I did not know until several years later that he kept his medical issues under wraps until the secret was no longer sustainable.

Indirectly, Jim's death was the catalyst for me to start taking improv classes. I was in a creative rut at the time; I was dissatisfied by doing stand-up, and frustrated by the lack of performing options in the suburbs. I had to broaden my horizons in some way, and commuting to Old Town once a week was a start. Jim was 52, living with his mother, and seldom traveled. I did not want to become him, and I still don't.

As such, my social circle bears next to no resemblance to what it looked like in Fall 2008. Granted, some friendships disintegrated, but most of my high school and college friends are either too busy or too far away. I'm very selective about who I communicate with from Salem Radio Chicago --where I was employed at the time-- but most of them no longer work there. I attempted to go out on Halloween with "Sandra" (the topic of two past blogs) but I really just wanted to talk to someone. Even in a close family, I felt alone in my mourning. In 2018, improv and comedy dominate my social life; I felt like I had a much stronger support system when my parents passed in 2016 and 2017, and I'm beyond grateful.

Given how young Jim was when he passed, I do wonder what life would have been like had he lived into his mid-60s. I fear that he would've almost certainly voted Trump, and would have been oblivious to #MeToo. He wasn't socially conservative per se, but even in 2008 his backward attitude about women would have been hard to ignore. He died before the Bears signed Jay Cutler (who he would've hated) but he would rub the Cubs' World Series title in my face. There are little quirks of that I don't miss: his random singing, his tendency to chew gum with his mouth open, the way he would tuck his undershirt into his underpants. In spite of that he was a good man, a generous soul who put family first.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Random Notes, October 2018

I can't seem to focus on more than one topic:

+ I'm still trying to make heads or tails of the Saudi Arabia situation. Some pieces of the puzzle are certain: Saudi Arabia has some serious human rights issues, Mohammad bin Salman is a weasel, President Trump is too fawning and trusting of tyrants and dictators (and vice versa), and above all Jamal Khashoggi shouldn't be dead. This fiasco is subtext becoming context, a revelatory moment for those who wrongly assumed Saudi Arabia was more progressive than its Middle Eastern neighbors.

+ If the president is sincerely concerned about political violence, it might be best if everything he said wasn't some sort of call to arms.

+ Two weekends ago, Flower Shop Bangers played the Compass Improv Festival in St. Louis. It was the culmination of my year of travel, as I visited 10 states (including Illinois) since November 1st of last year. In order: Michigan, Wisconsin (several times), Texas, Maryland (twice), Iowa, Nebraska, New York, and Indiana (several times). I have tentative plans to visit Scotland in 2019, and I'm still submitting to improv festivals. Stay tuned.

Next Week: a death in the family, ten years later.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Unflattering Photo Finish

Its crunch time in the 2018 midterms. The last of the party primaries has finally ended, and most crucial non-presidential election in recent memory is a litany of tight races and uncomfortable truths. Illinoisans (like yours truly) are bracing for yet another uninspiring gubernatorial race, pitting one multi-millionaire novice against another, but there are some congressional races that look interesting.

The checks and balances of the American political system have put hungry progressives at a crossroads. In the unlikely event Brett Kavanaugh would not fill Justice Kennedy's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, polls indicated that Democrats will not gain ground in Congress. There's probably enough energy and willpower to impeach Kavanaugh or President Trump, but not both. Reality has hit, but not necessarily to dash any optimism from the left.

I typically remind people a week or two before the election --and I will-- but if you haven't done so already please register to vote. This year, your vote really does matter.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Jury of His Peers

#MeToo has hit critical mass.

As if there weren't enough questions about Brett Kavanaugh's character, it is very likely that he is also a rapist. The Supreme Court nominee's path to confirmation has become the Clarence Thomas hearings on steroids. In a more socially conscious era in regard to sexual misconduct, Kavanaugh has become the face of the flawed "boys will be boys" mindset.

The worst part is, the GOP bigwigs were reluctant to hear Ford out. Some outright refused. Kavanaugh has become less of a jewel in Trump's crown as he has become both a partisan football and a measuring stick for what is morally just in 2018. You can gripe about the timing all you want, but that aspect is irrelevant. Regardless of whether Dr. Ford said something in 2012 or last week, the accusation is still legitimate. Her testimony on Thursday was both brave and authentic, in contrast to Kavanaugh's barely contained fury. The committee's own reluctance to ask direct questions was a bad look, to say the least. In turn, the Democrats' presentation was an awkward data dump.

Now the vote rests in the hands of the U.S. Senate. One hopes that enough members of the GOP will vote with their conscience.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Standing Forward, Looking Backward

For this milestone post, I thought I would take this opportunity to reminisce a little bit. I can't anyone reading this to go back and read 13 years' worth of blog entries, especially if you just found my blog. Emmy predictions, baseball and football haiku aside, please enjoy this personal top ten, in chronological order by post date:

A really bad weekend from Summer 2009.

My favorite year for music in the past decade.

How my desire to work in the radio industry came to an ignoble end.

Pondering my mortality.

The high point of my high school career.

How I ruined an old friendship.

My craziest temp job experience.

The beginning of my toxic college relationship (a four-part story).

Musing on David Letterman, which links to a more extensive tribute to Dave.

My eulogy to my mother.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

32 Teams, 32 Haiku: My 2018 NFL Preview

I meant to post this before the Falcons-Iggles game tonight, so I apologize for the delay:

Another NFL season is upon us. Much like the Western Conference in the NBA, its clear the NFC has an overall edge on the AFC. Where the NFC North and West expect to be extremely competitive, the AFC North and South are a motley crew of uninspiring, so-so squads. Even with the Eagles boasting two elite, proven quarterbacks the competition in their own conference took a step up. The AFC has the Pats, Steelers, Texans, maybe the Bolts... and everyone else.

With that said, here is my 2018 NFL forecast, 17 syllables at a time:

NOTE: asterisks indicate wild cards

NFC North
1. Vikings. (10-6) Yum, a healthy Cook/makes rushing game savory/balance is the key.
2. Packers*. (10-6) Rodgers, China doll/weak O-line fails at their job/a legend is cheesed.
3. Bears. (7-9) The Monsters are back/D upgrades overshadow/raw, feral offense.
4. Lions. (7-9) Time for "Patty Ball"/Stafford finally has help/young D still growing.

NFC East
1. Eagles. (11-5) Foles the folk hero/must not lay an egg; repeat/depends on tough sked.
2. Giants. (9-7) Saquon, savior/finally, a rushing game/but no scoring D.
3. Cowboys. (8-8) O-line injuries/flattens the Dak; all eyes on/young secondary.
4. Redskins. (4-12) Their play-action game/doesn't fit Smith; on defense/more taters than Hogs.

NFC South
1. Saints. (11-5) Williams' gaffe aside/a team with this much bench depth/should be canonized.
2. Falcons*. (10-6) 28 to 3/still lingers; Ridley can run/believe it or not!
3. Panthers. (7-9) Beyond Cam, the O/is more kitten than cat; watch/the superb D-line.
4. Bucs. (5-11) A pure zone D can/only do so much; Jameis/needs to mature, stat!

NFC West
1. Rams. (12-4) Simply dynamic/don't scoff at Goff's weapons/One flaw? LB depth.
2. 49ers. (9-7) High-end defense picks/must earn their paychecks; Jimmy/G. can't do it all.
3. Seahawks. (7-9) Drama, now rebuild/Wilson needs a running back/new guys must produce.
4. Cardinals. (6-10) Suspect new head coach/inherits rare QB depth/birds fly if healthy.

AFC North
1. Steelers. (11-5) Big Ben clangs along/young edge rushers carry D/makes high-scoring thrills.
2. Ravens. (8-8) The "Wolf Pack" is back/a healthy Flacco still rolls/my playoff sleeper.
3. Bengals. (7-9) New O-line, who dey?/that Burfict situation/leaves hole at LB.
4. Browns. (4-12) A slow crawl back up/no new Hue, they're still orange/but upgrades intrigue.

AFC East
1. Patriots. (11-5) Brady, immortal?/Don't let yards allowed fool you/the machine rolls on.
2. Bills. (7-9) After fluke playoff/run, lack of receivers send/bison back to earth.
3. Dolphins. (6-10) Murphy's Law season/has passed; head coach must prove his/Gase or be fired.
4. Jets. (4-12) No clear-cut QB/top notch D wasted by green/faces on offense.

AFC South
1. Texans. (10-6) Bounce-back quite likely/a (healthy) dear Watson is/elementary.
2. Titans*. (9-7) Everything weighs/on Mariota's health; good/depth is not enough.
3. Jaguars. (8-8) This defense has claws/underappreciated/Bortles runs the ball.
4. Colts. (5-11) Luck is running out/Hilton aside, the whole South/has passed these ponies.

AFC West
1. Chargers. (10-6) The sacks keep coming/and underrated Rivers/keeps offense floating.
2. Chiefs*. (9-7) Young Mahomes has toys/but porous D persists; will/the hotshot grow up?
3. Broncos. (6-10) No horsing around/at QB, a puzzling Case/fans might get a Chubb.
4. Raiders. (5-11) Davis and Chucky/wheel and deal without mercy/Vegas move distracts.

NFL MVP: Todd Gurley, Rams
Offensive ROY: Saquon Barkley, Giants
Defensive ROY: Roquan Smith, Bears
First Head Coach Fired: Hue Jackson, Browns
Super Bowl LIII: Patriots 25, Rams 20


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Our Man in Arizona

John McCain was a flawed human. As far as I'm concerned, let the nutjobs and Trump lemmings that have hijacked the GOP --to the say the least of some picky progressives-- piss on McCain's grave. I didn't see to eye with his politics, but McCain was a patriot and warrior. My respect was unwavering, even though I only voted for him once (as a write-in for president in the 2004 primary). As a POW, his bravery under astonishing duress cannot be questioned.

When McCain said something potentially offensive, he apologized (with one possible exception). The fact of the matter is, all politicians have done something regrettable.  If he came off as brash and arrogant upon first impression, he sat down and listened soon after. He was the last of a dying breed, a Republican that believed in bipartisanship for the sake of the nation, and a maverick before it became Tea Party cliche. With McCain's death, the rift widens further.

Next Week: my 2018 NFL preview.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Through a Freshman's Eyes... 15 Years Ago

Every May, with the onset of high school graduation, I post my own personal version of Beloit College's famed "mindset list." However, I just celebrated my birthday, and this month also marks 15 years since I started college.

With that said, if you graduated from high school in 2003...

+ ...the Middle East has always been on equal footing with Russia as a threat to the United States.
+ has always been acceptable for a women to run for (at the very least) Vice President of the United States.
+ ...there has only been one version of the game show "Jeopardy!" and it has always been hosted by Alex Trebek.
+ has always been legal to record TV shows.
+ ...gas has always been unleaded.
+ ...Lean Cuisine has always been available in a supermarket near you.
+ ...the Detroit Tigers have never won a World Series.
+ ...Pete Rose has always been the all-time hit king and associated with gambling.
+ ...they have never seen a USFL game.
+ ...Richard Burton, Truman Capote, Ricky Nelson, Samantha Smith, Laura Ashley, Orson Welles, Nicholas "Coach" Colasanto, Karen Ann Quinlin, Benigno Aquino, and Ruth Gordon have always been dead.
+ ...there has always been a screening test for AIDS.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Fighting Words

My personal three-posts-a-month quota is killing me, so I'll keep this one short.

Omarosa, you done messed up. Your efforts were noble, I get that. In an attempt to blow the lid on President Trump, and with more credibility than "Fire & Fury," you still wrote several hundred pages of unsubstantiated gossip-mongering. Its more salacious than revealing. The most noteworthy accusation, where Omarosa Marigault-Newman (Stallworth?) hears Trump say the N-word and has audio proof, stops short of explaining why she hasn't released the recording. Video has also failed to turn up.

The Trump administration is toxic to the extent that even the whistle-blowers can't help but trip over themselves. They are excised, they are labeled pathetic by Trump and his staff, and when they offer their side of the story (like Steve Bannon via Michael Wolff) they veer into heresy and self-serving. Even Sean Spicer's omission-riddled memoir, far more glad-handing than the works of Wolff or Omarosa, was scoffed at.

Two more years of this nonsense.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Happenings on the Hudson

My recent trip to New York in a nutshell: traffic at LaGuardia, coffee in Harlem the next morning, Broadway that afternoon, dinner with Francesco Marciuliano that evening, the NBC/30 Rock tour on day two, the NHL Store (down the street on the Avenue of the Americas), missing brunch with an old improv classmate due to an address snafu, Don Giller (more on that in a second), catching an improv show at UCB Hell's Kitchen, brunch on day three, rescheduled coffee with aforementioned improv classmate (see WU #594), 90 minute subway ride to Coney Island, a Brooklyn Cyclones game, the Coney Island boardwalk, a 90 minute ride back to Harlem, and more traffic to LaGuardia. Over 80% of my trip was spent in Manhattan, but I hope to come back to NYC soon.

I sort of had an ulterior motive to visit New York. I've blogged on at least two occasions about David Letterman, and what a formative presence he was in my pursuit of a career in comedy. While on Broadway, I took a picture of the Ed Sullivan Theater, a reminder of a dream deferred. I was promised a trip to see a taping of Dave's show in 2007, and circumstances prevented that from ever happening. Afterwards, I had lunch around the corner at Hello Deli. I ordered the "Regis" (peppered chicken and Muenster on a baguette) and stalled a little after I polished off my sandwich. I eventually worked up the nerve to take a selfie with Rupert, then bought one of the few remaining LSDL t-shirts on the souvenir cabinet. Rupert and his partner couldn't have been more kind and patient, though I nearly had an anxiety attack from this minor celebrity encounter.

Which brings me to Don Giller. Known throughout the interwebs as "Donz," Mr. Giller is the unofficial video historian of David Letterman's first three shows. Since early 2015, Giller has been exhaustively remastering the recordings and converting decades-old Betamax and VHS tapes to DVD. Donz has also been integral in assembling the (at the moment, dormant) Late Night and Late Show episode guides on We met at Donz' apartment on the Upper West Side and we discussed his vast collection for about 3 1/2 hours. It was a worthwhile and fascinating meeting with someone that I had been communicating with mostly by email since 2006.

Tentatively, I plan on visiting NYC again in Spring 2019. I only visited three boroughs and I hope to visit the other two soon enough. Having an AirBnb all the way up in Harlem curbed some of my sightseeing, and next time I intend to stay somewhere more central (i.e. Brooklyn). Comedy and jazz shows await. This last trip was funded with inheritance money, so finances will likely be the X-factor.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Second Beat

I've been on the Chicago improv scene for about nine years now. I tend to bifurcate my improv story into two parts: before and after 2013. Four years of fledgling, followed by five years of modest success. When I write my comedy biography, 2013 will be the transition from the first to the second beat.

This year marks several fifth-year anniversaries for me: the founding of Flower Shop Bangers, the creation of Stu News, the first show I ever produced, joining a house team at a prominent Chicago venue, and (most crucially) graduating from the Second City Conservatory. I also witnessed a slow upheaval in my social life that year. I had improv friends moving out east and west, a natural attrition and transition for professional actors. After realizing that improv was dominating my social interactions, I took up another hobby of sorts and make new friends that weren't performers. That, however is a story for another time.

I put that into perspective while doing coffee with my friend Bess in New York. (I previously mentioned her in my tribute to Jason Chin.) I last saw Bess in person in March 2013, before most of the aforementioned milestones had happened. There was so much to discuss and catch up on, but due to a schedule snafu we only met for 45 minutes. Bess remembered me as a persistent underdog, grasping for an opportunity. Over five years later, I was more comfortable and on firmer footing, but not leaping on auditions and new projects like I used to. She summed up her five years succinctly, but I babbled on and on. It was still a pleasant chat, but I felt bad for self-aggrandizing. Then again, I had something to boast about for once.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Moving Fourth

I can understand if its hard for you to get excited for Independence Day. The nation is as polarized as its ever been. Dual echo chambers have created a rift in political thought. Our current president is breaking down civil liberties in ways he doesn't totally comprehend. Leadership in the Democratic Party is growing too old, disorganized, indecisive and aloof. Impeachment remains wishful thinking.

Every other November, I give my tiny audience of regular readers a pre-election pep talk. This year, with several primaries yet to be determined and a sense of polarization in both major political parties, I implore you to vote twice. Vote in the primary (if your state hasn't had one already) and vote again in the midterms on November 6th. The widening gap between progressives and moderates among Democrats is especially concerning. In those instances I recommend you vote for your party candidate, regardless of whether or not their platform gels with your beliefs.

In the meantime, go out and celebrate. Eat half your body weight in corn on the cob, then watch some fireworks. If you're fighting for your beliefs, there's nothing wrong with taking one day off. This is America's mental day.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Allard Across America

My year of travel continues:

Since mid-March, I've been in four states besides Illinois: Texas, Maryland, Iowa, and Nebraska. If you include a day trip I took to Janesville, WI just after Christmas, I've been in six states in the last six months. At long last, in about two weeks I am setting my sights on New York City. This has been over a decade in the making. I was promised a trip to NYC when I graduated college in December 2007, but money and other obstacles prevented the trip from happening until now. I'll be spending most of the weekend in upper Manhattan, and I am open to suggestions and recommendations.

Meanwhile, the first weekend in August my improv partner and I are heading back to Baltimore. After appearing in the Charm City Comedy Festival, the regionally renown Flower Shop Bangers are performing in the Baltimore Improv Fest. I guess Dan and I made a positive impression in their east coast debut two months ago.

Is there more travel on the horizon? Yes, but its tentative. At some point I'll drive to Indianapolis between now and late August to catch a minor league game. I also might take day trips to Beloit, WI and South Bend, IN for similar reasons. I'm flexible, as long as I can afford it and my car is in decent shape.


Friday, June 22, 2018


I haven't discussed current events much lately, and to be honest I'm almost afraid to.

North Korea likely came out as the big winner of last week's summit with the U.S. While not necessarily downplaying the historical significance of the meeting, in the tug of war between Kim Jong Un's over-preparedness and President Trump's improvisation and glad-handing... Kim walked all over Trump. We promised Kim that we would stop military exercises on the peninsula, and in return we received next to nothing. I guess that's the art of the deal.

Speaking of despots, I really can't add much to the fury and astonishment that has erupted over the seperation and apparent imprisonment of children at the US-Mexico border. The sad fact is, President Obama created a policy that allowed this loophole, and President Trump and his ilk took full advantage. Even so, what was set into motion was undeniably Trump's work (and Stephen Miller). It may look like the president caved, but in reality the administration is likely dreaming up something even more cruel.


Monday, June 18, 2018

My 13th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

The 2017-18 TV season was almost like a blur to me. My now-mountainous DVR has made it exceedingly difficult to catch up to "peak" TV, and near impossible to check out a new or much-hyped series. In any case, I still read up on TV news and reviews, and I have some semblance of an idea of current trends. Even if I'm dead wrong (as I am 40% of the time, historically) that's beside the point.

With that said, here is my 13th annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Millie Bobbie Brown, Stranger Things; Ann Dowd, The Handmaid's Tale; Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Chrissy Metz, This is Us; Thandie Newton, Westworld.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones; Asia Kate Dillon, Billions; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; David Harbour, Stranger Things; Anthony Hopkins, Westworld; Mandy Patinkin, Homeland.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta; Judith Light, Transparent; Kate McKinnon, SNL; Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne; Megan Mullally, Will & Grace, Jessica Walter, Arrested Development.
Supporting Actor, Comedy: Louie Anderson, Buckets; Alec Baldwin, SNL; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Sean Hayes, Will & Grace; Marc Maron, GLOW; Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Leading Actress, Drama: Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Claire Foy, The Crown; Mandy Moore, This Is Us; Elizabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale; Sandra Oh, Killing Eve; Keri Russell, The Americans.
Leading Actor, Drama: Jason Bateman, Ozark; Sterling K. Brown, This is Us; Freddie Highmore, The Good Doctor; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Jeffrey Wright, Westworld.
Leading Actress, Comedy: Pamela Aldon, Better Things; Alison Brie, GLOW; Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Tracie Ellis Ross, Black-ish; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie.
Leading Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm; Donald Glover, Atlanta; Bill Hader, Barry; William H. Macy, Shameless; Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley.

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: "Drunk History," Comedy Central; "Joe Pera Talks With You," Adult Swim; "Portlandia," IFC; "The President Show," Comedy Central; "Saturday Night Live," NBC; "Tracey Ullman's Show," HBO/BBC.
Best Limited Series: "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story," FX; “Genius: Picasso” NatGeo; “Godless," Netflix; “The Looming Tower,” Hulu; “The Terror," AMC; “Twin Peaks,” Showtime.
Best Dramatic Series: "The Americans," FX; "The Crown," Netflix; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "The Handmaid's Tale," Hulu; "Stranger Things," Netflix; "This is Us," NBC; "Westworld," HBO.
Best Comedy Series: "Atlanta," FX; "Barry," HBO; "Black-ish," ABC; "GLOW," Netflix; "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Amazon Prime; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Flood Lights: One Year Later

The end of May offers two milestones for me, one slight and one substantial, yet both unfortunate. This past May 19th would have been my 10th anniversary at Salem Communications, an experience that I looked back on in 2011 and 2015. I acknowledged the milestone by texting my old boss (see image below) and briefly looking back at the bullet that I dodged. I am still in regular contact with two other people from that office. Nearly everyone else can stay in the past.

My mother has been dead for one year. It has a mercurial, up and down year of transition for my sister and I, but we move forward. It seems oddly fitting that I would spend this somber anniversary in Omaha, Nebraska, where I found out my mother had passed. I take solace in the fact that I had fun at the improv festival, just as my mother would have wished during last year's trip. I reconnected with a high school friend, while establishing new professional relationships with other improvisers. My sister stayed at home, taking care of the garden that my mother used to spend countless hot afternoons. Even though she visited my mother's grave on Sunday, neither of us felt inclined to dwell.

My relationship with my mother could be contentious at times, but I think about her almost daily. I tried to be as supportive and considerate as possible in those last few years, but I bristled at times as she grew increasingly needy and fragile. Her love was unconditional and unwavering --as any mom should be-- even when it felt smothering and overprotective. Even though my mother was front and center with taking care of my grandmother, there were often instances in the last five years or so where my sister had to juggle Grandma and both of our ill parents. When mom passed last May 27th, it was like a weird burden had been taken off our shoulders. Her parting gift was letting my sister and I move on.


Next Week: my 13th annual fantasy Emmy ballot.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Through a Freshman's Eyes: Millennium Edition

[Ed. note: I'm doing this a little earlier than usual this year. You'll see why in my next post.]

Another graduation season looms. For the eighth year in a row, and as the time gap between my high school graduation and this year's class widens, I am reminded not only of my lurching obsolescence, but also the variance in perspective. The scary part, and something to bear in mind as you read this year's list, is that the current crop of high school seniors have no recollection of the 20th century. In fact, about two-thirds of them were born after Saturday, January 1st, 2000.

With that said, if you are a graduating senior...

...Bashar al-Assad has always been President of Syria.
...Vladimir Putin has always been "President" of Russia.
...Elián González has always lived in Cuba.
...Hillary Clinton has always been the politician in the family.
...your parents' PC has never had issues with being "compliant." have vague childhood memories of a phone-like device called a Blackberry. has always been downloadable, and with relative ease.
...Amazon has always been eating away at brick-and-mortar retail stores.
...there have always been internet-only movies. (click here) dating, blogging, flash drives and GPS have always been a thing.
...they have never read LIFE magazine.
...the Pyrenean ibex has always been extinct.
...the comic strip "Peanuts" has always been in repeats (applies only to anyone under age 18 that has ever read a newspaper).'ve never seen the original lineup of Smashing Pumpkins or Screaming Trees play live.
...Prince has never been referred to as "The Artist" or by an incomprehensible symbol.
...there have always been Latin Grammys.
...Madonna has always been faking a British accent.
...reality shows have always dominated network television.
...its always been okay for two men to kiss on network television. have never watched TGIF.
...Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford have never hosted a talk show together.
...David Letterman has always been the survivor of quintuple-bypass surgery.
...Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitski, and Manu Ginóbili have always played in the NBA.
...Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Phil Dawson, and Sebastian Janikowski have always played in the NFL.
...Matt Cullen and Zdeno Chara have always played in the NHL.
...Adrian Beltre has always played third base in the majors.
...Bartolo Colon has not only always been a Major League pitcher, but he's always been on the chunky side.
...speaking of MLB, the National and American Leagues have never been seperate legal entities.
...Catfish Hunter, Allen Funt, Wilt Chamberlain, Payne Stewart, Walter Payton, Madeline Kahn, Mary Kay Bergman, Rick Danko, Curtis Mayfield, "Q" from the James Bond movies, Clayton Moore, Nat Adderley, Don Martin, Bob Lemon, Hedy Lamarr, Doug Henning, Charles M. Schulz, Sid Abel, Derrick Thomas, the guy from the Ernest movies, Lee Petty, Adam Petty, Larry Linville, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Sir John Gielgud, Johnnie Taylor, Nancy Marchand, David Tomlinson, Walter Matthau, Sir Alec Guinness, and Carl Barks have always been dead.


Friday, May 11, 2018

People, Places, Things

Both my sister and I have been using our newfound free time (and inheritance money) to travel. Its been a long-festering goal and I'm taking advantage of it:

In late March, I flew to Austin, TX for a film shoot. I used to collaborate on short films with a guy named Brandon; when he couldn't afford to live in Chicago anymore, he moved back to his hometown of Houston, but resettled in the state capital. Some of you may recall I promoted his Indiegogo in mid-March; it only hit 38% of its goal, but he's been doing more with less. Brandon and his crew have been rather clever about shooting around his house, the neighborhood/subdivision that he lives in, and a smattering of other locations.

The film itself is a high school coming-of-age comedy/bildungsroman about three high school seniors plotting the perfect graduation prank. My character was originally intended to be in one scene; he was supposed to assist the boys with a botched prank early on in the film. That scene went well enough that just before I flew back, we improvised a second scene with the lead and another actor. One more for the IMDb, I suppose.

Then last week, my improv duo Flower Shop Bangers flew to Baltimore for the Charm City Comedy Festival. Even though we had played out of Illinois before, this was the Bangers' first festival that required a plane ride. We flew in that Tuesday night, spent Wednesday doing some tourist stuff, performed that evening, then went back to hitting up recommended locales until we flew back on Friday. We were impressed enough by B'More that we applied for the Baltimore Improv Festival in late July. FSB will hit the road again for our third trip to Omaha on Memorial Day weekend.

Next Week: my annual memory list.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Inside Incel

Last week's quasi-terrorist attack in Toronto struck a nerve in an unexpected way. In a world where these types of attacks are becoming all too frequent, I felt something oddly personal about Alek Minassian. He was a lone wolf and an angry, misguided soul. Alek was also part of an internet subculture that spoke to his frustrations with women, but in a way that was anti-social at best and morally heinous at worst. It led to a moment of self-evaluation.

Am I an incel?

Dating has not come easy for me. Social awkwardness has always put me behind an 8-ball. I can count the number of girls I asked out in high school on one hand. My first kiss was a serendipitous move by a friend during the homecoming dance my senior year. I don't think I realized until after I graduated high school how little I socialized with my peers, which likely explains the lack of strong relationships that came from that period of my life. I was semi-aware that I was being excluded, but the advent of social media pushed my FOMO out of the subconscious.

I don't do online dating much, except out of boredom. Whether it was the old Yahoo Personals, POF, or OkCupid I often struck out; private messages and "flirts" would go unanswered 95% of the time. My DMs are veer into the generic, and its not something I've put much investment in. As for face to face interaction, it took me a long time to shake off the false notion of being out of anyone's "league." On many occasions I've convinced myself out of asking out a woman because there was nothing to indicate she was interested.

I go through long dry spells. My first real relationship was in college, and I don't think there's anything to say there that hasn't already been said. After that, the next five years were a smattering of first dates and coffee meetups. Then I finally made it to a second date with an older woman, but I was driven away by her neediness; she wanted marriage and children when I simply wasn't ready. We've stayed friends, but we keep each other at arm's length.

After that experience, I went through another five-year dry spell. The Chicago improv community offered the healthy social life that I'd been seeking for years, and I felt compelled to ask out other performers. It was a double-edged sword, though; the possibility of getting rejected also meant alienating another performer and being denied opportunities. I was cautious, asking out maybe 10 improvisers over the span of 2 1/2 years, but nothing came of it. One said yes to doing dinner; it ended somewhat abruptly because whether or not it was a date was not clearly defined. That was my fault. After that, my adolescent self-consciousness reared its ugly head again.

In 2016, to my delight and surprise I found myself in not one but two relationships. I met the first women via OkCupid; we went out for four months before schedule conflicts rose and we grew bored with each other. I met the second woman at a friend's party; it was an open relationship, and in spite of my spotty history I was okay with that. We went out for 14 months, until she realized I reminded her too much of her ex-husband. We've stayed friends, though I've been giving her space of late. I've been single now for almost six months.

What does that have to do with being an incel? I have never felt a notion of being violent toward anyone that rejected me, or treated sex like a god-given right. On a couple of occasions, I will attest that I have sent tersely worded messages if someone stood me up on a date, or backed out without telling me. The messages were not threatening, but I articulated how annoyed I was. These instances, four or five in total, occurred during those aforementioned dry spells. I was last stood up on a date back in February.

I don't condone what Alek did. His actions were beyond misguided and shortsighted, an instance of misguided anger gone dangerously haywire. His inability to take a step back and self-evaluate was one thing, but to lash out at a group of unsuspecting strangers is reprehensible. It also opened a dialogue into the incel culture and how the mistreatment of women still permeates our culture. For everyone else, think about the mistakes you've made (or could make) before you act.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

What About Bob?

Let me make the understatement of the century: this is not going well.

The centerpoint of the Russian hacking investigation has turned to Michael Cohen in the last two weeks or so. The feds' raid on Cohen's office and ensuing revelations about his clients is the latest distraction for an administration that can't stop extinguishing its own fires. The revelation that Fox News star (and Trump sycophant) Sean Hannity was a Cohen client served to add more fuel to the conspiracy coal bin.

We want to assume that there will be a Frank Capra moment where a high-ranking Republican comes to their senses or something, but in reality Trump is too much of an intangible. Trump et al. is pulling the strings and not vice versa, and one who crosses him (see "Corker, Bob") gets thrown under the bus. The GOP knows how to rally and work in lockstep; they'll fight this to the bitter end, regardless of whatever Mueller finds.

As far as I'm concerned, let Mueller do his job. The ongoing investigation will pay off in some way, and its not impossible for Trump to be exonerated. It is highly possible that the president simply trusted the wrong people --the story of his administration thus far-- but there is a sliver of a chance that Trump was complicit. For now, give everyone the benefit of a doubt.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Silure en Francais, Part Deux

As some of you may recall, back in late January I struck up a conversation with a woman in Belgium named Angella. We kept talking from time to time, but she was insistent that I buy her airfare to visit the US. I told her (in French) that I didn't have any money to spare; while that wasn't necessarily true, it kept Angella at bay for awhile. I still found it odd that she still didn't have any Facebook friends, so in late February I reported her profile. Even though she ended up in Facebook jail, she ended up creating a second account.

A change in location was the straw that broke the camel's back. Angella told me that she had a 10 day business trip in Mali, and that I could the money order for plane tickets to her hotel. She gave an address that didn't make sense, regardless of how I entered it in Google Maps. I told her I only had $100 to spare, but she insisted that I send at least $700; this way, she claimed, she could fly straight from Bamako to Chicago. I told her I wasn't comfortable sending a money order to a developing nation in Africa, but she kept begging me. One late evening (in the middle of the night wherever she was) I blocked her, then filed a complaint on the U.S. government identify thief page.  I'm no one's fool.

Even if "Angella" had invited me to call her via Facebook, there was just too much to be suspicous about. Since I blocked her on Facebook and Google Hangout, I have not heard a word from her. For now, it seems my concerns were validated. I thought I was getting scammed, and without giving away a red cent I alleviated the situation. Perhaps there is a 34-year-old single mom in Belgium (by way to Mali) that is absolutely clueless about social media, and she was lonely enough to strike up a conversation with a random American. I chose to believe it was a likely story.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2018 Baseball Preview

I've been doing this for several years now. I assume knows the drill now, right?

I have guarded optimism for my Royals this year. We're easing ourselves into rebuilding; beyond the recent re-sign of Mike Moustakas, my boys will have healthy averages but struggle to drive in runs. The speedster depicted above might ease the pain as we aim for 75-80 wins again.

*notes wild card picks

AL East
1. Yankees. Dominant again/but don't Judge; mashers evoke/Bombers of years past.
2. Red Sox*. These new Killer B's/(Benintendi, Bradley, Betts)/could be fun to watch.
3. Blue Jays. Young hitting prospects/aren't ready yet; pitching health/makes hosers skittish.
4. Orioles. Boom-Boom Mancini/can't power-hit alone; Crush/and Trumbo must smash.
5. Rays. Less sting in Tampa/Kiermaier has a hot glove/...that's the one highlight.

AL Central
1. Indians. A healthy Brantley/would be nice, but depth and weak/rivals won't hurt Tribe.
2. Twins. These Cinderellas/need more consistent SPs/and fewer pumpkins.
3. White Sox. So much turnover/reminds me of '13 Cubs/youth might rule quite soon.
4. Royals. Not unwatchable/slow rebuild, offense struggles/regal fire sale?
5. Tigers. Odd mix of young, old/aging Miggy's huge contract/leaves Bengals toothless.

AL West
1. Astros. Youthful core remains/they won't win 100, but/they'll feast on the West.
2. Angels*. Ohtani, a rare/double threat; I love his arm/but where is his bat?
3. Rangers. Not much pitching depth/beyond Hamels; with hard hits/this offense intrigues.
4. Mariners. Farm system, gutted/ancient Felix, Ichiro/lead a motley crew.
5. Athletics. Fresh Piscotty takes/a baby elephant walk/with rebuilding club.

NL East
1. Nationals. A hundred-plus wins/aside, playoff glory now/or next year's Marlins.
2. Mets*. Vargas paints the strikes/but after lat tear, they can't/let Thor get hammered.
3. Phillies. Fat Odubel whiffs/Arrieta carries this/hodgepodge of youngsters.
4. Braves. Not a playoff team/yet; Acuna and Albies/must get their chops first.
5. Marlins. These fish are dinner/like '98, but way worse/Jeter is too vague.

NL Central
1. Cubs. Yu better, you bet/Maddon must care for pitchers/or '16? A fluke.
2. Brewers*. All bats, no pitching/85 high-scoring wins/quite realistic.
3. Cardinals. Weaver is a dream/if K's pile up. Who is/Miles Mikolas?
4. Reds. Hamilton must learn/to bunt; history has its/eyes on you, Billy.
5. Pirates. These faceless Buccos/have their work cut out for them/grievances abound!

NL West
1. Dodgers. Chokehold on first place/Matt Kemp is back? Good, I guess/on league's deepest team.
2. D-Backs. A small step backward/all that glitters is Goldy/bullpen needs more bite.
3. Rockies. No shade on Jon Gray/at last, an ace bolsters new/Baker Street Bombers.
4. Giants. Offense upgrades? Nice/but MadBum can't catch a break/and old guys must rake.
5. Padres. Very deep farm teams/will pay off by '21/Now? Say a prayer.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Nationals
AL ROY: Franklin Barreto, A's
NL ROY: Ronald Acuna, Braves
First Manager Fired: Mike Matheny, Cardinals
2018 World Series: Dodgers over Yankees in 6

Friday, March 16, 2018

Random Notes, March 2018

Russians hackers tampered with the 2016 presidential election.

The above sentence is an undeniable fact. What could not be proven, however was the curious but ultimately unconfirmed theory that President Trump's campaign worked with said Russian hackers to alter the course of the 2016 election, essentially performing a massive act of collusion. When it seemed like more time, money, and energy was needed to connect the dots, the GOP pulled the plug on their investigation. Robert Mueller et al. will continue to soldier on, dauntless albeit impartial, sending subpoenas were needed.

Other notes:

+ Next week, I leave for Austin! It'll be my second trip by airplane since 2005 and longest trip out of state since high school. Of course I'll be doing the tourist thing, but I'm going down to Texas first and forement for "The Bob Zula." This is a feature film produced, written, and directed by my friend Brandon Reich. He's crowdsourcing the film's budget, and even though there's enough to start filming, I want to make sure Brandon completes the project. I strongly encourage anyone reading this to donate ASAP. Even a $5 donation gets a "thank you" in the closing credits.

+ Wanna buy some late 60s/early 70s baseball cards? Message me for details.

Next week: my annual baseball preview.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Silure en Français

I'm very cautious with my Facebook profile, but at the same time I'm not inclined to make assumptions. If I get a friend request from a face or name that I don't recognize, I message that person (or bot) with a simple "hello, have we met?" If I don't receive a response in due time, or a response that makes sense, I either delete the request or report them.

About a month ago, I received a messenger request that landed in my "other" DM inbox. Her name was Angella, and I replied with my usual ice breaker. Everything about this looked fishy. Angella had zero Facebook friends and only a handful of pics on her profile, which was created in December 2017.  She replied no, and in broken English she said my profile pic was cute. She said she was from Belgium by way of France. I asked a series of short but direct questions, and she answered all of them promptly.

As the conversation went on, it became harder to tell if Angella was fake or just had an extremely awkward social media presence. The conversation eventually transitioned from English to French; I'm not fluent, but it was easier for her if I used Google Translate. Angella is 34 (turning 35 this Spring), a part-time model working at a PR firm in Liege. She was a single mom, but her grammar school-age daughter lived with her parents in the Paris suburbs. She had always wanted to visit the US, but money prevented that from happening. Angella did not bring that up immediately, but for all intents and purposes I consider that a red flag.

As of right now, I'm mostly humoring my alleged penpal. We've swapped photos, and with one or two exceptions they all look like the same woman. She is still adamant about visiting Chicago (she spells it "Chicargo") but I am very hesitant to spend any money on air fare. I keep telling her that I don't have much expendable income (which is true) and doing my best to save up money (which I'm not). The conversation has transitioned from Facebook Messenger to Google Hangout. I'll keep you guys posted as this weird "love story" develops.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1973 (Redux)

Longtime readers will recall that for a span of 4 1/2 years, mostly by milestone I reviewed every year in music from 1963 to the then-present. There are some lists I'm perfectly fine with, while others had glaring oversights and omissions. (Look at my #5 pick below. I’m ashamed.) A lot of my earlier lists would have benefited from Spotify it were around at the time, and that is definitely the case for my 1973 rundown.

As I implied nearly a decade ago, '73 was stacked. Growing up on classic rock, I know almost all of these albums like the back of my hand. Most of my lists are a top 20, and I simply couldn't whittle it down from 25. Ditto for the list of singles. At the same time, since I first wrote this list in 2009, I’ve witnessed some shifts in my musical tastes, and discovered some new bands and albums in the interim.
(Parentheses note original rankings)
1. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd. (3) As much as I love Brick Road (it's one of my top three favorite double albums) my original list did a disservice to far-reaching cultural impact and commercial success of the Floyd's breakthrough. Call it overrated or a relic of its time, this was one of those albums that launched a thousand imitators and acolytes.
2. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John (1)
3. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder (12)
4. Raw Power, The Stooges (7)
5. Aladdin Sane, David Bowie (NR)

6. Countdown to Ecstacy, Steely Dan (2)
7. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin (13)
8. Berlin, Lou Reed (11)
9. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen (5)
10. Quadrophenia, The Who (6)

11. For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music (8)
12. Band on the Run, Paul McCartney & Wings (20)
13. Headhunters, Herbie Hancock (15)
14. (Pronounced 'Leh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), Lynyrd Skynyrd (NR)
15. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Black Sabbath (NR)

16. Selling England By the Pound, Genesis (NR)
17. New York Dolls, New York Dolls (4)
18. Closing Time, Tom Waits (NR)
19. Catch a Fire, The Wailers (NR)
20. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen (14)

21. Future Days, Can (NR)
22. Larks' Tongues in Aspic, King Crimson (NR)
23. Paris 1919, John Cale (10)
24. Brain Salad Surgery, Emerson Lake & Palmer (18)
25. The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, Joe Walsh (19)

"La Grange," ZZ Top
"Kodachrome," Paul Simon
"You're So Vain," Carly Simon 
"Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group
"Heartbreaker (Do Do Do Do Do)," The Rolling Stones

"Captain Jack," Billy Joel 
"Ecstasy," The Raspberries
"Right Place, Wrong Time," Dr. John
"Dancing in the Moonlight," King Harvest
"She's Gone," Hall & Oates

"Killing Me Softly (With His Song)," Roberta Flack
"Love Train," The O-Jays
"Let's Get It On," Marvin Gaye
"Midnight Train to Georgia," Gladys Knight & The Pips
"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," Al Green

"Stir It Up," Johnny Nash
"Drift Away," Dobie Gray
"One of a Kind Love Affair," Spinners
"Keep on Truckin'," Eddie Kendricks
"Masterpiece," The Temptations

"The World is a Ghetto," War
"Tubular Bells," Mike Oldfield
"Hocus Pocus," Focus
"Street Life," Roxy Music
"Just One Victory," Todd Rundgren

Dedicated to the memory of Mark A. Peterson


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Administration That Couldn't Shoot Straight

The privilege of being President of the United States comes with the burden of near-constant, unrelenting scrutiny. Even though full transparency cannot be truly attained (at least one former POTUS had promised) the exhaustive analysis of everything POTUS has been augmented by the advent of social media 10-15 years ago. Even though President Trump adores Twitter, the frankness of his tweets and the microscope he put himself under (intentional or not) are working against him.

In light of two news stories in the past week, the Parkland school shooting and the indictment of 13 Russian hackers, President Trump’s ability to demonstrate authority was yet again undercut by his aloofness, ego, and thirst for gratification. Robert Mueller’s indictment of hackers may have been dismissed with an all caps “NO COLLUSION” tweet, but it’s hard to believe the infringement of the 2016 election was one-sided. It is very much possible that the President will survive this, and like so many in his inner circle, someone else will get thrown under the bus, guilty of conspiracy or not.

As for Florida... no, no, no. And this doesn't help.

There is little doubt in my mind that if our president was more self-aware, he would concede to the criticism and resign. Then again, if Trump were self-aware he would have put the kibosh on Russian communication the moment it was first suggested or implied. Better yet, there are many avenues of logic where none of this should have ever happened. The bafflement continues.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Random Notes, February 2018

If I can't focus on one thing, I'll just bounce around:

+ At long last, the Tea Party is dead. The last nail in the coffin was Sen. Rand Paul's unnecessary and obtrusive filibuster against the federal spending bill last night. Fiscal restraint aside, their primary objective was to troll President Obama, who left office 13 months ago. The leaders of both major political parties have no problem with spending federal dollars, as long as its justified.

+ The Trump White House is spotty about security clearance? Two-plus months after fawning over Judge Roy Moore, President Trump offered praise to an accused wife-beater? Its amazing that anyone would be phased by this anymore.

+ Remember what I said about Jeanne Ives being a borderline viable option against Bruce Rauner? Never mind.

+ I haven't had a chance to watch the first few days of the Pyeongchang Olympics yet. I hope to remedy that during the week. Otherwise, please forgive this concise dispatch.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Casual Guide to the 2018 Illinois Governor's Primary

I've been so caught up in the Washington garbage fire that I've barely had a chance to discuss the Illinois gubernatorial primary. (We're still seven weeks away, but still.) Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner is no sure shot for reelection --the epic budget windfall will be his legacy, win or lose-- but the field is as uninspiring as its ever been. After alienating religious conservatives with his pragmatic stance on abortion, Rauner holds a narrow lead on his onetime ally, State Rep. Jeanne Ives. A self-made multi-millionaire, Rauner used his own money in 2014 and is doing so again; Ives, however has more endorsements and the state GOP's war chest. A recent debate where Rauner looked under-prepared and outmatched has further complicated things.

People have likely wised up to the idea of any candidate running the country like a business. *cough*  The Democratic gubernatorial race looks like it will be bought, not unlike Rauner four years ago. Philanthropist J.B. Pritzker has been running ads on TV since the summer, has spent more money than all his other opponents combined, and barring a scandal or fiasco will run away with the nomination come March 20th. Connections to Blago aside, the race has been a cakewalk; for lack of a better term, Chris Kennedy (son of RFK) and State Sen. Daniel Biss are splitting the anti-Pritzker vote, and Tio Hardiman (who also ran in 2014) has been a non-entity.

In short, this race is running against trends in other parts of the country. There are a greater number of female candidates for public office overall, but with the exception of Ives the women in this race are relegated to running mate status. I find none of the candidates all that inspiring, but in my home state everything could go bust in a second.