Monday, June 29, 2009

A New Beginning

About a month ago I decided to take this week off of work. At the time, I thought that I just needed a week off to keep from going crazy. I didn’t have plans to go anywhere or do anything special, I just thought I’d enjoy the nice weather and the option to sleep in. A few days later, I was sorting through the files on my computer and realized that I had tons of half-written or unwritten pieces that needed to be finished. I immediately thought about my neglected blog and how those pieces should fill all the empty space there. I then decided to make my week off my writing/project week that would revive my blog and bring some kind of consistency to what is now mindsilt.com.

I came up with a plan and I’m going to share that plan with you so that you can hold me to it. Here we go:

I will post to mindsilt.com three times a week: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday

Each day will have its own theme. Monday will be an open post - I’ll post whatever I want that day. Experimental stuff, stories about my weekends, poetry, rants, whatever. Tuesdays will be “bit” days. I’ll post things like “Pros & Cons” and “What to do while…” and these things will probably rotate and recur for a while and eventually evolve into other bits over time. Thursdays will rotate between “Truth” and “Fiction” posts. “Truth” posts will be true stories from my life and “Fiction” posts will be made up stories.

Eventually, I will add Friday posts to the mix but I want to keep a consistent three day schedule for a while before I commit to more.

You may be thinking that I’ve added a little too much structure to the blog and that I’m making it harder than it needs to be. Obviously, I’ve thought about that, but I also know myself well enough that if I don’t impose some kind of structure and give my self a jumping-off point for writing each day I will struggle to keep on schedule. Of course, the structure isn’t set in stone (except for the three posts a week commitment) so things may (and probably will) change along the way. I also encourage all of you to post comments or email me your opinions on each of my posts. If there are things I’m doing that everyone hates, I’ll stop. If there are things I’m doing that everyone loves, I’ll do more. Let me know, you’ll help me improve.

Why am I doing this? The main reason is that I want to have a creative outlet for my writing. I enjoy writing and I love to see how people react to the things I write. Keeping to a schedule and giving myself a structure will force me to write consistently and work on different things. Do I want my blog to become super-popular and have thousands of readers? No, not really. If that happens, great. If not, I’ll settle for it being my creative outlet read by my friends and family.

By the way, all of this will start next Monday. I’m using this week to build up a backlog of content so that I don’t have to miss a post if my life gets too busy. I’m sure there will be more posts this week, but look for next Monday to be the beginning of the new mindsilt.com.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Weekend: Detroit

Why Were We Kept In the Dark About Windsor?
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend with some friends in the Detroit-Windsor area.  Just moments after that post, I discovered that Windsor is well-known for its strip clubs.  I passed one of my coworkers in the hallway who saw my suitcase and asked where I was going.  The conversation went like this:

"Hey Jeff, where are you going?"
"I'm going to Detroit with some friends to see a Tigers game."
"You know, Windsor is right across the river."
"Yeah, that's where we're staying."
"Oh yeah, you know the deal."

I didn't know the deal.  However, I now suspected that there was some type of "deal" with Windsor.  I was pretty sure it had to do with something more than being able to buy Cuban cigars in Canada.  Aside from the cigars, I had to assume that Windsor had lots of casinos or strip clubs or both.  It turned out to be both, but most people that "knew the deal with Windsor" were referring to the strip clubs.

I found out later that each one of us had a similar conversation with our coworkers before we left.

---

Border Crossings Can Be Fun (But They're Usually Not)

When Bob and I arrived in Detroit, we needed to cross into Canada to get to our hotel and meet up with Brian.  We had our passports and expected no problems.  Bob pulled up to the gate and had our passports in hand.  The lady in the booth asked us a few questions about what we were doing and then noticed that my iPhone was sitting on my leg displaying the map we were using to guide us.  She immediately shouted, "Can you please put that away?"  It took me a second to realize what she was talking about, but I quickly realized she meant my phone.  I shut off the screen and placed it on the console directly next to my leg.  This satisfied her and we were allowed to cross.

Staying in Windsor and visiting Detroit creates a unique set of issues for four guys who want to enjoy beers at a ballpark.  None of us wanted to drive across and leave our car, nor did we want to try to cross back over with even a hint of beer on our breath.  Fortunately, the hotel informed us of the "Tunnel Bus" that would shuttle us across and wait for us at customs and everything.  We had our transportation for the day.

The US Customs officers made a point of trying to confuse you to make sure that you were telling a consistent story.  One of my conversations went something like this:

"Where are you from?"
"Chicago."
"Where in Chicago?"
"Rogers Park."
"If you live in Rogers Park, why did you say Chicago?"
"Rogers Park is a neighborhood in Chicago."
"Where in Chicago?"
[At this point, I'm tempted to answer "Rogers Park" in the hopes that would turn into a sort of "Who's On First?" thing.]
"Northside."
"Give me your keys and open the trunk."

We were allowed to pass into our homeland.

The Canadian Customs officers were a little more laid back (with the exception of the first lady):

"Why are you coming to Canada?"
"My hotel is here.  I came to see a Tigers game."
"Why are you staying in Windsor?"
"The hotel was cheaper."
"And it's safer.  Are you by yourself?"
"No.  I'm with those guys."
"Okay.  Have a nice day."

---

A Song Gets Stuck In Your Head
On Saturday morning, Bob discovered the following video and played it for us on his iPhone:



Various parts of the song were stuck in our head all day and we would frequently sing it and chuckle.  Watch it - if you haven't already.

After Bob, Brian and I had enjoyed our fill of the video, we made our way back to the States in the hopes of seeing a little bit of Detroit before the game started.  We got off the Tunnel Bus and walked directly to Comerica Park (which Bob insisted on pronouncing "Come Erica Park").  We poked around the surrounding area but were careful not to stray too far as it seemed to get shady rather quickly.  Eventually, Jon met us at a restaurant next to the park in enough time to eat and watch the video one more time.

It turned out to be a beautiful day for a baseball game and we spent a few innings discussing the possibility of me becoming a baseball fan.  The major obstacle to my baseball fandom is that I don't have an obvious team to root for.  Growing up in Indiana, we got coverage of the Cubs (because of WGN), Reds (the closest team geographically) and Braves (because of TBS).  After some discussion, we determined that the Reds make the most sense for me (I hate the Cubs).  However, I'll probably never become a fan because baseball just doesn't hold my interest unless I'm in the in the park.  That would be an expensive habit for a Reds fan in Chicago.  I don't think I'll become a baseball fan anytime soon.

(Don't worry Sean, our passive semi-feud between baseball and football remains intact.)

After the game we made our way back to Windsor all the while debating whether the choices we make are essentially gambles or not.  To no one's surprise, Bob and Brian were on different sides of this coin - which is probably why the conversation lasted as long as it did.  It was fun and it felt like reminiscing without actually talking about things in the past.

We got back to the hotel, took quick showers and headed out in search of dinner.  We found a nice little place where we could sit outside.  We spent the entire dinner unintentionally ignoring the table of girls next to us who kept trying to inject themselves into our conversation.  I guess they didn't notice how old and married we were.

After dinner we found an empty little dive bar and spent most of the evening drinking terrible Canadian beer and listening to even worse country music.  Thankfully, Bob, Brian and Jon had mercy on me and we left the bar.  Unfortunately, the next place we chose was even worse but in the completely opposite way.  We decided to go back to the dive bar and do tequila shots with Clamato chasers - better than it sounds, actually.  It made the country music more bearable.  Of course, I also had the option to drown it out with the auto-tune magic of Joe Biden and Steve Buyer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gadgets and Travel

I'm leaving today for Windsor, Ontario.  Actually, the trip is more Detroit focused, but we'll be staying in Windsor.  Some of my college buddies and I are going to see a Tigers game tomorrow.  None of us are Tigers fans, but Detroit is a relatively reasonable trip for each of us.  Two of us are coming from Chicago, one from Columbus, OH and one from Buffalo, NY.  Should be fun if the weather cooperates.  It'll be fun even if the weather doesn't cooperate.
I just realized that I have a ton of gadgets with me for this trip.  Actually, I have a ton of gadgets with me every time I carry my work bag.  Here's the full list with explanations:

iPhone 3G - my phone and note-taking device.
iPhone - my old iPhone that acts as an iPod and gaming device so as not to drain my 3G battery.
Blackberry - work issued, makes me feel guilty while ignoring my work email.
iPod (30GB) - an older iPod that can house my entire music collection.
Amazon Kindle - my ebook reader.  For reading on the train.
Cannon PowerShot SD630 - my camera for when I want to shoot good quality stills.
Kodak Zx1 - a very small (cell phone size) handheld HD video camera.  Good for capturing bits of video.
MacBook Pro - my laptop.  It usually comes to work with me and came today out of habit.
Belkin Mini-Surge Protector - provides safe power to my gadgets.  I'd hate to have these suckers get fried by a power surge.
Assorted memory cards and chargers/charging cables - I've got plenty of extra memory, and all the chargers I need to keep the gadgets running.

The only one of these gadgets that I don't always have with me is the Cannon camera and that's because my wife also uses it so it needs to be available to her.

In the photo below you can see all the gadgets (sans cables) with the exception of the camera that I was using to take the photo.


If you want to follow my progress to Canada and back, I'll be twittering frequently.  You can follow me here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Who's On First?

When I talk to people for the first time about being a performer, they always ask me if it was something I had always done.  I tell them that I'd never performed anything in front of a group of people until I started taking improv classes.

I realized today that wasn't entirely true.

When I was in third grade my dad handed me a copy of a script of "Who's On First?" the classic Abbott and Costello routine about baseball players with strange names.  He told me that I should read it because it's one of the funniest comedy bits of all time.  Since my dad was right about everything, I started reading immediately.  I quickly discovered that it was one of the most brilliant things I had ever seen.

After I read it over a few times, my dad asked me what I thought.  I told him that is was hilarious and asked where it came from.  He gave me the background on Abbott and Costello and then suggested that we memorize it and perform it ourselves.  I looked at him with what must have been an incredibly dumb look and said, "But how could I memorize this?"  He smiled and said, "You'd be surprised."

We spent a few weeks learning the slightly modified script - it was easier than I thought, he was right - and when we were at a point where we could do it almost absent-mindedly, my dad talked my teacher into letting us perform it in front of my class.  Of course, he never told me that he was talking to my teacher about setting this up and I wasn't old enough to think that there was some end goal to the memorization of this brilliant work.  I thought that knowing it by heart was all the reward we needed.

One day my dad came up to me and said, "Jeffrey, next week you and I are going to perform 'Who's On First?' for your class."

I said, "What?"

He said, "We're going to do 'Who's On First?' for your class.  I talked to Mrs. D and she said it's okay."

"Oh," I said.

"Are you okay with that?" he asked.

"Um, do I have to?" I asked.

"Not if you don't want to, but I thought it would be fun," he said.

I said, "It will be, but I'm scared."

"Don't worry.  You have it memorized.  It will be easy," he said.

I believed him - because he was always right - but it didn't mean I wasn't scared.

When the day came for us to perform, I spent the entire morning with a sick feeling in my stomach.  Much later I learned to recognize this feeling as nerves, but that day I thought I was sick.  I didn't ask to stay home from school because I liked going to school, but also because I knew that my dad was really looking forward to it.  I kept waiting for Mrs. D to mention that we would be performing for the class, but she never did.  At about one o'clock my dad showed up and Mrs. D stopped class and introduced him as my dad even though almost everyone in the class already knew who he was.

When she announced that he and I were going to perform for the class, everyone looked on in amazement.  No one knew what in the world we were about to do, but they were suddenly excited about it.  I got suddenly more nervous.  The more excited they got the more I felt like I was going to puke on my shoes.  Mrs. D had put two stools at the front of class.  My dad sat on one and motioned for me to sit on the other.  I climbed up and could feel the nervous vomit begin to creep its way upwards.  It was at that moment that my dad said, "Hey Jeff, I hear you've got a new favorite baseball team.  Why don't you tell me about them?"  I paused for a second and the vomit-to-be turned back into digesting lunch and I replied, "Well Dad, they give these guys pretty funny names."  Before I knew it, we'd finished and the class erupted with applause.  I didn't really know what to do so I got up and went back to my desk.  When I sat down, the sick feeling had been replaced by excitement and pride.  I did it.

It took me another 26 years before I worked up the courage to do it again.  Now I do it almost every weekend and every weekend I get that sick feeling in my gut that always goes away the first time I open my mouth on stage.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Wedding Speech

Even though I've already written about my brother's wedding, I realized that I didn't post the actual speech that I gave at the reception.  I've traditionally posted speeches here, so I figured why stop now?

I didn't speak from written notes, but what follows is approximately what I said at my brother's wedding:

I could stand up here all day and tell you funny stories about Drew, but I won't.  Instead, I'm going to talk about three things that I've learned are important for a strong marriage: laughter, honesty and choice. 

First, laughter.

Last November, Dee and I went to Cancun with Drew and Alyssa.  During the trip we had a lot of funny moments and adventures but one really stood out to me.  We had spent the day at Xcaret and we were sitting in the big arena waiting for the closing ceremony start.  Alyssa spotted a man sitting at the end of our row holding a wide-brimmed woman's sunhat.  She looked at me and asked, "Why does that man have a turtle on a plate?"  I looked down at the end of the row and saw what was obiously a hat and said, "No, Alyssa.  That's a hat."  We all laughed at her mistake and after a pause, Drew said, "Well, why does he have a hat on a plate?"

It was at that moment that I knew that these two were right for each other.  I knew that since they could laugh with each other and at each other like that, they would have what it takes to keep their marriage strong.  Laughter helps make the hard times a little easier and it makes the good times a little better and if you can laugh every day, you'll have a little bit less to worry about.

Second, honesty.

Just before Drew and Alyssa got engaged, Drew called me and asked me if I had asked for Dee's parent's permission before I proposed to her.  I told him that yes, I did ask their permission and that it was something that was traditionally done and that Alyssa's parents would appreciate it.  He then said, "But how did you do it?  I can't seem to find time alone with them."  I told him that I got lucky and that Dee happened to leave me alone with her parents long enough for me to ask them.  He said, "How do I get Alyssa's parents alone without her knowing."  I told him to tell Alyssa that he was going golfing with some of his buddies one day after work and instead take Alyssa's parents out for dinner.  He then said to me, "But I don't feel right lying to Alyssa like that."  I told him that that was very sweet, but I didn't think that Alyssa would mind and that she would probably be more upset if you never got around to it.

I knew after that moment that Drew and Alyssa had the kind of honest relationship necessary to form a strong marriage.  It's important that you are always honest with one another and that you are prepared for honesty from each other at all times.  If you are honest, you'll avoid a lot of arguing and misunderstandings and you'll spend a lot more time laughing.

Finally, choice.

Now, I want to borrow a bit from the speech my dad gave at my wedding.  He said that very often at weddings, people talk about fate and predestination, but to say that this is fate or that this was always meant to be takes away from the power of what we are celebrating here today.  The beauty here isn't that these two finally did what was always meant to be, but that these two made a conscious choice to be together, to fall in love and to spend the rest of their lives together.  I want to take it a step further and remind you that your choices have led you to this point and that your choices will continue along this path.  It is now your job to make the conscious choice to keep loving and supporting each other.  If you do this every day, you're marriage will remain strong and happy.

Alyssa, welcome to the family.  Drew, congratulations on landing a girl that's way out of your league.

Please raise your glasses in a toast to Drew and Alyssa.  May they have a long and happy marriage.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Up

Dee and I went to see Up last night.  We had originally planned to go see The Hangover with some friends, but no one else could make it.  We figured that The Hangover would be more fun to see with a group of people, so we decided to see Up instead.

We made the right choice.

I don't care how funny The Hangover turns out to be, I know it will be nowhere near as good as Up.  In fact, I'll go as far as to say that I don't think any other movie that has come out or will come out this year will even be in the same league as Up.  It's easily the best movie I've seen in the past few years.  I can't even remember the last movie that I liked this much.

Pixar has a history of telling great stories, but they've really outdone themselves with this one.  They've created dynamic characters that you root for even when they don't make the best decisions.  Because you care about these fantastic characters, you fall in love with them and you laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry - hell, you cry when they succeed.  I cried like a baby and loved every second of it.  Of course, the animation is fantastic but we already knew that would be the case, didn't we?  It's not even much of a surprise that the story was great, but that would be selling this story short.

I won't spoil any of the movie for you, but I will say that any Hollywood movie studio that is producing a movie should run each and every one of their scripts by the writers at Pixar before anyone even thinks about touching a camera.  It would be doing all of us a service.

Go see Up.  I promise you'll love it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Weekend: Drew's Wedding

My brother got married this weekend and Dee and I went down to Indianapolis to help celebrate.  It was a fun and crazy weekend filled with lots of good times and strange times.  A few highlights:

The weekend got off to a great start when Dee and I spent a half hour driving around the southwest side of Indianapolis due to the fact that our GPS was using outdated street names.

During the rehearsal, the priest kept saying, "I've been doing this for 33 years, everything with be fine" instead of actually telling people where they needed to be.

I discovered that my nephew Oliver has learned how to fist bump.  When he wants to do so he says, "Pound it!"  I then proceeded to show him how to "blow it up."  We spent the entire weekend "blowing it up."  His sister, Chloe, also joined in.

Speaking of Oliver and Chloe, they were the ring bearer and flower girl, respectively.  They had a little trouble making it down the aisle so I had to go rescue them.  When I got to them Oliver said, "Hi Uncle Jeff.  Chloe is stuck."

The wedding was beautiful and everything went very smoothly.  However, I discovered that I have little patience for wedding photos.

The limo ride was a lot of fun despite the blaring country music.

We got some pictures in front of the Indiana State House.  I got a little teary-eyed.

I was very happy with my speech and many people complimented me on it even though I said, "turtle on a plate" at one point.

There was a meeting in the room next door to us that complained about the noise from our party.  It's important to note that it was a group of the Indiana Order of the Amaranth and that no one at that gathering was younger than 80.  Hotel security threatened to arrest our DJ - even though it was their fault they booked all those old farts right next to a wedding reception.  This provided ample opportunity for me to do some yelling at the hotel manager.  Best Man, indeed.

Beat It was played and I was asked to do the Beat It dance from Jerkology.  I did it, gladly.  Soon after, more Michael Jackson songs were played and there was a bit of an MJ style dance off.  Did I win?  No.  Everyone won.

I ended the night by drunkenly wheeling a large cart of gifts out to someone's minivan.  I'm hoping that the minivan belonged to Alyssa's parents or something.  If not, Drew and Alyssa, I owe you some pots and pans.

Also, Dee and I forgot to bring our shower gift.  Drew and Alyssa, we have knives for you.

Wait, Drew and Alyssa don't read this.  Oh well, it's already written and I'm too lazy to delete it.

The next morning we ran into the newlyweds in the lobby of the hotel and Alyssa said to me, "Thank you for showing my brothers how to be a wonderful best man."  I said, "Thank you for marrying my best man."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Help for a Friend

A good friend of mine (and a wonderful performer), Sally Anderson, suffered a stroke and then recently suffered a relapse.  Unfortunately, she doesn't have insurance which means that she has rather enormous medical bills to go along with her regular daily expenses.

Because she has done so much for pH, pH has decided to throw her a fundraiser to help her raise some money so that she can pay those medical bills and rent and buy groceries and stay here in Chicago and keep bringing hilarity to our stage.

This Friday night at Stage Left Theater (3408 N. Sheffield Ave.) from 8-10pm we will holding a benefit show for Sally.  Please come if you can.  Sally will be performing with some of her favorite Chicago improvisers like Rachel Mason, Joe Bill & Mark Sutton (Bassprov), Jonathan Pitts and plenty of pH cast members.  It promises to be a fun night, please make it if you can.  It would be a huge help to a wonderful person.

If you can't make it but would like to donate, leave me a comment or send me an email (I think most who read this know my email address) and I'll get you set up.

Thanks.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More Video Games

If you recall, I wrote last July about my aversion to video games.  I'll wait while you review.  Because I know that most of you probably didn't review, I'll give you a brief summary.

I wrote about how I never really played video games despite growing up in the golden era of video games.  However, last July I got a game called Assassin's Creed and I loved it.  I jumped off towers, I snuck up on dude and stabbed them and then ran the fuck away.  It was awesome.

As I was poking around the Internet a few days ago, I stumbled upon this trailer.  Pretty cool, huh?  Did you see how he shot something out of his deadly wrist-knife thingy?  You couldn't do that in the first game.  You also couldn't take people weapons and use them - you had to use the weapons you were equipped with.  In this version, you get to do all of that, plus climbing walls and jumping off towers and running the fuck away.  I'm excited.  I love stabbing dudes and running the fuck away.

For the first time in my life, I'm excited about the release of a video game.

Unfortunately, I have to wait until November.  But once November comes I'm going to stab, run, stab, run, stab and run the fuck away.  It will be awesome.