Friday, September 28, 2007

fútbol americano

About once a year, I have the honor of being Polly's late father's cousin's cold weather date to a Chicago Bears football game. (For my international readers, that's the game played with a brown oblong ball that is mostly carried in the players' hands. Only one or two people on the field actually strike the ball with their feet. You may have heard of this bizarre sport--it's quite a big deal here in the USA.) Bill has held season tickets for quite some time, and his seats are quite good. First row, 23rd yard line. It's a pretty good way to see a football game.

(The photo above should give you some idea of how good these seats are--somehow I thought a photo of people taking photographs would be more clever than it turned out to be. Oh well...)

While many cities in areas prone to sub-zero temperatures have built enclosed domes in which to play this sporting event, Chicago has not chosen to do so. In fact, the stadium was recently renovated and instead of putting a dome on top, they created this odd structure that looks as if a large toilet bowl seat had been installed on top of the classic architecture they were trying to retain. It's pretty damned ugly, but you'll have to take my word for it. I tried to find a good photo of it, but it's late, I'm tired, and I didn't find anything immediately.

Normally, I am wrapped in many layers of clothing, including several military-issue garments designed to keep soldiers warm in Siberia. By halftime, I can barely feel my fingers and have to remind myself that I once had toes.

It so happened, however, that Bill was going to be out of the country, and would miss last Sunday's game. Since it was going to be Polly's birthday on Monday, he gave us his tickets for the game. So for the first time in several years, I was going to enjoy watching a football game without glancing around to see if there might not be a large drunken fan around that might not mind too much if I were to slice open his belly and crawl inside for warmth in the 4th quarter.

People who know me know that I'm not really much of a sports fan. I don't plan my life around the big game...I don't spend a lot of time knowing who all the players are...I don't get depressed when my team loses, or riot when they win (yeah..they seem to do that in Chicago). I do really enjoy going to the game, though. I much prefer the experience of watching the game live at the stadium over seeing it on TV. Even in obscenely cold temperatures.

But no matter how much of a fan I am, I am not prone to wearing to the game any sort clothing that identifies me as an aficionado of any given team. I'm more apt to wear that stuff when I'm NOT at the game. I don't know why...I've done that for years. Even when it's not sports related. If I go see a band I like and am wearing a t-shirt, I usually choose one that has another band's name on it. Or something that isn't music related. It's part of my well practiced pose.

While I knew that Polly was going to wear a replica of Walter Payton's jersey I didn't realize that she would find it odd that instead of Bear's blue and orange, I would opt for my charcoal grey t-shirt with a skull and crossbones printed on it. In Polly's defense, she spent a fair amount of time in high school as a Pom and so only finds it natural that one's attire is critical in showing support for one's team. Polly's mother, who was a little bitter that we were going to the game and she wasn't, shared Polly's opinion regarding my attire, but I was fairly certain that the Bears wouldn't mind terribly if I wasn't dressed for their success, as I would be outnumbered by those who weren't as self conscious as I.

When we got to the game and finally took our seats, I somewhat smugly pointed out that the gentleman seated next to Polly had also opted not to dress in Bears drag. Any solidarity I felt with this fellow quickly dissolved once the game began.

But first: the national anthem, Latino-style!

Apparently September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This is news to me. I didn't get the memo--and I'm a card-carrying Hispanic. (Actually, none of the cards I carry have anything to do with being Hispanic. But some Hispanics actually DO carry a card in this country because of their alien origins...but most don't. So maybe "card carrying Hispanic" is a poor choice of words.)

I'm a little confused why we Hispanics don't get the whole month of September or the whole month of October, instead of this weird hybrid month. But...I guess I shouldn't complain. At least we get a full 30 days. Black people only get 28 for Black History Month.

Anyhow, at Soldier Field, the way that Hispanic Heritage month was observed is that they have a bunch of signage around the place declaring that we were going to watch "fútbol americano" and there was a large group of Hispanic young people out on the field with special t-shirts on. I imagine that perhaps they showed the game on Spanish TV, and had that soccer announcer guy yell TouchDOOOOOOOOOOOOWN whenever a team scored. But the real treat was that they trotted Gloria Estefan up to sing the National Anthem. I guess J-Lo was busy. But Gloria is Cuban, like me (except she actually lived there for a while) so It was nice to see one of my people get some attention, I guess. I tried to sing her hit "Conga" to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, but it was very difficult to do.

Her performance of the song wasn't really great. I didn't expect it to be, i guess. It was pitched way low, as I expect that if Gloria ever had it in her to hit the high notes, she doesn't any longer. However, as she approached the part of the song that goes "and the rocket's red glare" they set off a bunch of pyro (always a crowd pleaser) and at the very end of the tune, as people began to cheer and applaud and sort of mix up their feelings of patriotism and team spirit with the beer they had undoubtedly been drinking for several hours leading up to the game into some sort of jingoistic stew, a couple of actual F-15 fighter planes buzzed the stadium. Everyone was dumbstruck. And it actually was pretty cool.

The coin was tossed, the ball was kicked and the game was underway. One of the aspects of watching a football game at the stadium is that you get to hear commentary from all the football experts seated around you. Each one of these guys has their own opinion of how the game should be played, and they are certain that by expressing their opinion as loudly and as often as possible, it will serve to enhance the game viewing experience of all those within earshot. Mostly, I find these people equal parts annoying and amusing.

None compared to the guy sitting next to Polly. Do you remember the guy I mentioned earlier? The one who, like I, was not adequately dressed to express his fanaticism? This guy proved to be a great source of amusement to Polly and me. As if to make up for his lack of proper attire, he threw himself into the game with a zeal usually reserved for those fans who paint their half naked bodies in blue and orange greasepaint.

Perhaps inspired by his striped shirt, he began to referee the games from his seat, demonstrating the signals that he believed the refs should call. I didn't have the heart to tell him that refs wear vertical stripes...not horizontal.

It was pretty clear to us that one of his primary objectives was to get on TV. I suspect that it was perhaps a sad attempt to impress his students. (Somehow he had communicated to Polly that he was a middle school English teacher. I began to mutter corrections to his grammatical errors under my breath.)

The Bears did not play a particularly inspired game, but they had a couple good moments in the first half. Eventually they scored a touchdown. Referee/English teacher guy held up his hand for a high five. I stared at it for a moment, unsure if I wanted to make this sort of connection with him. There was such desperation in his eyes...the pain of unreturned high-fives past, but a glint of hope that maybe this time someone would celebrate with him. In the end, I gave him the high five he was looking for, wondering if I had committed to future co-celebration. I thought perhaps I would avoid eye contact should the Bears score another touchdown.

I never had to make that decision, as the Bears played miserably after that. My English teacher friend took to chanting the name of the third string quarterback, Kyle Orton. Whenever he tired of that, he would explain to anyone who would listen--mostly himeself--that Orton had a great record and didn't make mistakes and so on. A guy behind him interrupted to tell him that Kyle Orton's dad had called and thanked him for his support.

As the game wore on, and the Bears lost their will to fight, my very own personal referee became less animated. He could do nothing more to help the team.

He left sometime before the game ended. Polly and I stuck it out to the bitter end. By that time, there were more Dallas Cowboys jerseys surrounding us than Bears. I guess Polly and I are more devoted to the team.

try the veal...

On Monday, I took a drive through the sleepy little town of Bolingbrook on my lunch hour. It's a town with which I'm mostly unfamiliar. And I could probably have remained ignorant of various features for the rest of my life and felt okay about it. But it was Polly's birthday, and I had as yet neglected to buy her a gift.

I have many excuses for my procrastination--some of them even sound valid: I was out of work schedule made it impossible...there was an earthquake...a terrible flood...locusts. But that's for Polly to hold over my head for the rest of our lives together.

Anyhow, as I was driving through this unfamiliar burg, I noticed the set of signs above, and quickly took a photo with my telephone. [That statment sound absurd, by the way.] I still don't know much about Bolingbrook...but I would suggest that if you ever go to eat at Branmor's, you stick to the steak or the chops...because it isn't clear to me where the seafood is coming from.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

turning water into wine...

I have this tube of toothpaste in the bag that I carry with me to work. It used to be in my desk drawer, when I had a permanent desk and a permanent drawer. At that time, it was accompanied by a toothbrush as well, but I don't think the toothbrush made it into the box when I hastily packed up my possessions after I was let go.

After lunch, my mouth was feeling rather gamey, so I used some toothpaste on a finger to attempt to brush. There's nothing special or fancy about this toothpaste. Just a small tube of Crest "Regular" that my dentist gave me the last time I went in for a checkup. Regular Crest is robin's egg blue.

Imagine my surprise when I spit into the sink to find that the frothy stuff coming from my mouth was not blue. It was pink. I was momentarily horrified, thinking that it was perhaps blood. And then I thought that I might have developed the rather uninteresting super-power to turn blue object into red ones with my mutant saliva. I imagined running around licking blue things to turn them red to confuse evil-doers.

And then I remembered that the drink sitting on my desk was a violent shade of red. I was somewhat relieved, more because I couldn't come up with a good super-hero name for a guy who licks blue things to turn them red than because of the possibility of spontaneous bleeding in the mouth.

I wonder if the person who has replaced me at my old desk has used my toothbrush.

Friday, September 14, 2007

a dish best served...tepid?

So I got a little bit of revenge on my former employer. This requires a little bit of explanation. There's this podcast I listen to out of England called Punky! Radio. It's a punk/chat show that plays all sorts of new (and the occasional old) punk music, as well as some related sub genres that might be of interest to the fans of punk. But in addition to the music, there's the wacky chat between Paul B. Edwards and Tony Hearn. It's a lot of silly fun, as they crack each other up and tell each other stories about their drunken exploits, make fun of Emos and generally blather on.

One of their regular features is one in which listeners are asked to nominate someone in their lives who has wronged them, or is generally just sort of a jerk, and if Paul and Tony agree, they will declare for all the world to hear, that said person "Izzatwat" (is a twat).

So, anyhow, I encourage you all to listen to the most recent episode of Punky!, as you will get the pleasure of hearing my former boss declared a twat for all the world to hear. So it's not really revenge, I guess, since I could pretty much assume that he doesn't really know that all of Punky's listeners think he's a twat..but it makes me giggle.

Friday, September 7, 2007

the bad samaritan

As I was driving to work this morning, running a bit late, I noticed a man walking down the street with a gas can in his hand. By the time I realized what I was looking at, I was past him, but I still could have stopped and offered him a lift. I don't know when he had started walking...where his vehicle had run out of fuel. But I did know that headed in the direction he was going, he had a ways to go before he reached a gas station.

I really should have turned around and offered him a ride, because the guilt over the whole thing is consuming me. If our positions were reversed, I would have really wanted someone to offer me a ride. And I have been known to offer rides to strangers in similar straits. As I continued down the road, indecision kept me from pulling a U-turn and driving back to offer assistance. I wasn't that late.

When I finally arrived at the gas station, I realized just how long a walk this guy had in front of him. I felt worse.

I hope a better person that I am today picked him up. Maybe it was a very attractive woman, and they could hit it off and maybe he'll decide not to even go back to his car, but continue on with her wherever it is she's going today. They'll have a happy life together and have beautiful children. One of their children might discover a cure for cancer.

Yeah. I feel better now.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


or, Another way in which I don't measure up...

Much to my amusement, I discovered today that there exists an institute dedicated to "protecting the rights of, and fighting discrimination against, mustached Americans by promoting the growth, care, and culture of the mustache." The American Mustache Institute has a snappy logo, a website and (I presume) a headquarters of some sort. They participate in mustache-awareness events, such as their recent " 'Stache Bash '07", compile mustache related news stories, honor mustachioed celebrities, and provide financial support to charities. They do seem to have a bit of a sense of humour about the whole thing, which is nice.

Alas, it is a club that I do not believe I could join. The fact is, I am incapable of growing a significant mustache. Mind you, I don't have any burning desire to wear a mustache. In fact, I have a couple nice theatrical ones that I could always spirit gum to my upper lip if the need should arise. However, whenever I allow my own facial hair to grow--on occasion it was required of me for a theatrical endeavor, sometimes I've just let it grow to see what would happen, and most often, i was just too lazy to shave--the result is less than impressive.

As a young boy on the cusp of puberty, a mustache seemed to me an outward expression of my approaching manhood. If I could grow a mustache, people would understand that I was growing in other ways. Besides, it was the early-mid '80's. Magnum P.I. was still on, and Tom Selleck was considered desirable. I'm not sure anyone really noticed my facial hair. There are some bad photos floating around (assuming I didn't destroy them all) in which I look a bit like Joseph Gribble from King of the Hill (with poofier hair). Eventually, I realized how bad this looked, and took to shaving regularly. At the time, regularly meant once a week.

I was about 18 when I complained to my brother's then-girlfriend that I hated to shave, and wished I could do it less often (I was up to about three times a week at that point). She suggested I wax my mustache, as it would do a better job than a razor, and would last longer between treatments. I had to let my facial hair grow as the burns on my upper lip healed. I never tried that again.

Once I could shave again, I did it very regularly for the next few years. And then I was cast as Rosencrantz in a college production of Hamlet. All the men in the cast were instructed to allow their facial hair to grow. By the time the production opened some months later (it was an abnormally long production cycle from casting to opening night), there were varying thicknesses and lengths of beards and mustaches. I was one of the oldest cast members, however, I had to use makeup to enhance my beard for the show. (I have a photo from that time...I'll try to dig it up and post it.) A year or so later, I faced a similar situation when I played Mordred in Camelot, and again a couple years later as Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing. The only saving grace during that period of time in my life was that it was during the grunge era, and there was a LOT of bad facial hair around.

Somewhere in this period of time, I also took to shaving my head every so often. This was when I was playing in a couple bands, and for some reason, a lot of bass players seemed to have shaved heads and wore goatees. This isn't why I shaved my head (I really just liked it). But Maht (of MoonTopples fame) joked that all the bands we liked had bald bass players with goatees, and I would tell him that I could deliver a bald bass player, but couldn't do much about the goatee.

Currently, I grow facial hair quickly enough that I really ought to shave every day, but I still only do it every other day. If I feel like it. I will let it go for a few days if I'm feeling particularly lazy. However, it is clear to me that while my facial hair does grow a little bit fuller than it did 13 years or so ago when I did Hamlet, there are still some significant gaps that haven't filled in.

For me to achieve mustache success on the level of a Tom Selleck or Salvador Dali, I will have to rely on my glue-on one. Perhaps I could even wear it to the next 'Stache Bash and do a little reconnaissance...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Diversity is the Spice of Life

Hello blogreader. Welcome back. Hopefully the handful of regulars haven't deserted me. My abstract, digital love for you is your reward. Since my last post I have traveled across the country in search of Peace and Love, created a piece of art and had fun doing it, been honored for my contribution to the population, witnessed (via just about every media outlet) the transformation of a celebutante into--momentarily--a real human being, visited a pig farm in a too-brief flirtation with rock stardom (sort of) and spent my first night in a girl's dorm. It's every bit as thrilling as it sounds.
...That's what I was going to write to you, way back in semi-early July. I had all sorts of plans to fill you in on my adventures. I had stories to tell. The world was ripe with topics--glistening, low-hanging fruit for me to pick and share with you.

And then...

...I was fired. Canned. Let go. Asked to leave. Given a pink slip. Discharged. That last one's my favourite. It's what the Illinois Department of Employment Security calls it. Sounds like an unpleasant secretion associated with some sort of disease common to women of ill repute. And sailors.

So anyhow, for the first time in my life, I involuntarily lost my job. I would have felt worse about it if I had liked the job at all. I had worked there almost three years--I started on July 30 of 2004. I was fired on July 10. I'll spare you the details of that day...they're really mostly dull, as the job had been, for the most part. I was at lunch, working at my desk on a side project, and my boss asked if we could talk in his office for a minute. It took him less than a minute to let me know why I was there.

I disagree with his assessment of my skills, abilities and work ethic, as he laid it out for me. Any reviews of my work prior to this have been essentially positive. Even when he had criticism for me, or asked me to improve in some area, he told me that I was "the best person he's had in my postion." But, somehow, on this particular day, he felt the need to tell me that I worked poorly with others, my work was "slapdash" and "not very creative", and that the sales people were unmotivated to pursue the creative work from their clients because they didn't have confidence that I could deliver.

He also told me that he felt there was no point in asking me to improve, because knowing what he knows about me, he didn't think that I would try to work on those issues.

He is, apparently, a very insightful person.

Anyhow, I respectfully informed him that I belived he was wrong, and that I had been set up to fail. But in the end, I told him that I suppose he should do what he felt he had to do. And then I packed up my things and left, before anyone else came back from lunch.

So, what followed next was several weeks of unemployment. I filed an unemployment insurance claim. I sent a bunch of resumés out. I spent some time updating my portfolio website. I went on a few job interviews. I don't really like job interviews. I have a hard time conveying to people just how awesome my talent and skills truly are, due to equal parts humility and social awkwardness. None of the interviews have panned out.

So, I've listed with four different placement agencies. Finally, one of those agencies did get me work. This short-term assignment doesn't pay as well as I need it to, but it pays better than unemployment insurance does. The downside is I actually have to go to work.

It isn't all bad. At least there's stuff to laugh at. In fact, I find a lot of humour at my current assignment. It's a company that sells medical supplies and equipment. I'm helping layout the catalog. Most of this involves copying information from the old catalog, and pasting it into the correct page of the new catalog. If a dolphin had opposable thumbs, it could probably do the work. Except the computer would probably be destroyed by the water. And the dolphin might get electrocuted. So they hired me. And I get to read descriptions of medical products like "It's the helmet that kids and adults love to wear!" So I laugh cruelly at the misfortune of the models who have to pretend to be disabled or retarded for the catalog (I hope they aren't really disabled...then I'd feel bad about the laughing). And then I start to think of how lucky I am that my three children are healthy and intellegent and have no special needs.

So I need something new to laugh at. Fortunately, like any large company, the people in the HR department need to do something to keep themselves occupied between processing new hires and chastising employees caught in the broom closet together. So they have to take up "initiatives." In my experience, HR "initiatives" tend to take the shape of some sort of seminar, followed up by some sort of signage posted in common areas of the office to reinforce whatever topic was covered in the seminar. The image below is of a poster that I found in the cafeteria. I liked it so much, I hunted it down online, so that you could have a nice image for your viewing pleasure.

Go on it, so you can get a better view. I'll wait.

I'm not sure I get the "diner" theme. I mean...I understand it in the context of diversity "feeding" the competitive edge. But is it suggesting that we should consider those who are different than us our adversaries? Oh well...they probably covered it in the seminar.

I'm also not sure what we're supposed to make of the guy behind the counter who is leacherously oogling the balding fellow. I suppose he's supposed to represent gay people. I wonder why he's in the position of serving the others. Is this a subtle prejudice on the part of the poster's designer? And why isn't he looking at the black guy. Of the two men on the "straight" side of the counter, I think all my gay friends would choose black fellow instead. He's appears to be in better shape. Plus, it would add another layer of diversity to the poster if the suggestion of interracial romance were introduced.

There was another poster in the series. It depicted a similar set of multi-culti people sitting in a booth at the diner, as if some kids from those Benetton ads in the '80's had grown up, gone to work at the same company, and then went to lunch at the same diner. It was called "Diversity is the Spice of Life." I didn't like it as well, but I did like the description that was there to coax the HR representative to purcase it:

Hang this poster in your facility to remind employees that when differences are accepted and valued, discrimination decreases and productivity increases.

I'm not sure how you measure that, but there was a 15 day/100% satisfaction, money-back guarantee. I don't know if they were thinking that somehow you could measure a decrease in discrimination and a subsequent productivity increase in as little as 15 days. But if I was an HR person, I'd want my money back.