Dance Little Sister (Unless You’re a “Sister” — In Which Case, Please Leave)

For the last few months I’ve worked as a weekend DJ at a Chicago bowling alley. Last night I was relieved of this duty.

Pretty early on I was told that I should avoid playing songs later in the night that might attract the wrong “element.” I didn’t necessarily agree with this, but I don’t own the place, so I went along with it. It’s not like I’d have started playing hardcore rap all night every night, but it would’ve been nice to have the freedom to mix up the late-night playlist to include more R&B, club/dance, and some hip hop. But I was told what to avoid, so I did.

On one or two of those weekends where the owner was away, however, I might’ve pushed the envelope a bit. I’d put on Skee-Lo. Tone Loc. Candyman. Musto and Bones. These artists are more likely to attract drunken, white, 20-something douchebags than they are the “wrong element” that this owner seemed to fear. But on that first occasion when I worked up the courage to sneak a Tribe Called Quest song into the mix, you can imagine my surprise when the place wasn’t burned to the ground. I think I’d been conditioned to believe that if it was after midnight and I played “The Humpty Dance,”  a gangland massacre would’ve been the result.

So last night while DJing at this same Chicago bowling alley, I was berated by one of the owners for breaking this unwritten rule. I was told that I “still don’t get it.” I was told that there are undesirables in the place who the owner would like to see leave and the song I was playing was encouraging them to stay. The fact is that I can take criticism with the best of ‘em. In fact, I often seek it out. It’s how we get better at stuff in life. However, I simply have no tolerance for being treated like an asshole. And while it may be difficult for many to believe, I AM actually an adult. If I got drunk and ran over your dog with my car, yell at me all you want. If I irresponsibly forgot to pick you up at the airport because I was playing video games, yell at me all you want. If I sold all of your heart medication for beer money and as a result you had a massive heart attack and died before being brought back to life only to die again, come back and haunt me and yell at me all you want. I deserve it. But when you yell at me for playing a song you don’t like, it’s a good bet I’ll let you know I don’t appreciate it.

Nonetheless, after the brief dressing down I received last night, I bit my tongue, loaded up a classic rock playlist into the computer, and walked over the bar in an effort to cool down. I was pissed, but I was gonna choose my battles. Walking away was my way of letting it go.

I sat at the bar next to a friend. I had a beer as the playlist  played and then fell into conversation. Not really thinking it was a big deal, I remained away from the front counter and the DJ computer for awhile. Apparently I stayed away too long. The owner came over and asked if there was a reason why I disappeared. I responded that I loaded up a long list of songs and came to sit down. I was then told, “You don’t work here any more.”

Fired. Fired for playing a song.

The song I played? “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby.


Apparently pot-smoking, meth-snorting, gun-toting gangbangers in Cadillac Escalades are driving around the city looking for bowling alleys that play a lot of songs by mildly androgynous singer-songwriters from the late 80′s.

Coffee? Tea? Bathroom cleanser?

The other day I was enjoying a cup of coffee. It was so good, I thought I’d have a second cup. I filled up my mug, and headed toward the computer to check some emails, but decided to hit the bathroom first. I went to set my coffee mug on the shelf that stands just inside the doorway of my bathroom. The top shelf is about five feet off the ground. As I set it down, my finger caught on the handle of the mug, shaking it violently enough to splatter half the contents of the mug over the side of the mug and down the shelves, onto the floor, and thus splashing up around the various bathroom amenities one comes used to having in American bathrooms. Specifically, the toilet, the toilet brush, a bathroom scale, a package of Scott Tissue toilet paper, and the lower shelves of the aforementioned unit.

Now I’m not sure if any of you have ever actually spilled coffee around the base and surrounding area of your toilet before, but lemme tell you this, were someone to walk into that commode before I’d cleaned up, the assumption they would make is one that I would prefer to avoid having made.

Remember the scene in the film Trainspotting where Obi Wan Kenobi, I’m sorry, Ewan McGregor, has to use the loo and he walks into the nastiest bathroom ever seen? Well my bathroom wasn’t that bad, but the way the coffee spilled and splattered lightly around the floor, the base of the walls, on the Scott Tissue toilet paper packages, on the toilet brush, up and around the base of the toilet, and on the toilet seat itself, one could easily come to the conclusion that I had a pretty unfortunate morning.

In retrospect, I should’ve taken a picture of it. Instead, I just cleaned it up. But a year from now, when you’re looking for a fresh April Fool’s prank, remember this one.

The Dollyrots at The Note

This is going to be my second post in row where I gush about a live music act. But just like the Wolfmother show, this one is completely justified. There’s a little trio out of Los Angeles that go by the name The Dollyrots. They played last night at The Note here in Chicago’s famous Wicker Park.

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I think I first learned of the Dollyrots about three years ago. My pal from the band The Tallest (aka. Sherman Yorkshire) brought back their first album after playing with and befriending them while The Tallest were on a west coast tour. I listened to it once and fell in love with them immediately. First of all, Kelly’s voice is as soothing as a ride on a four mile slip ‘n’ slide down a gradual incline on an eighty-four degree summer morning. I don’t know about you guys, but that happens to be one of the most relaxing scenarios I can imagine. The amazing thing is that one wouldn’t normally expect the lead vocalist of a pop-punk band to have a soothing voice, but she does. It almost defies explanation.

Now couple that with her ability to turn a phrase like the following from “New College” off the first album, Eat My Heart Out, and you’ve got a superstar band in the making.

Julia spent all her money powdering her nose
She’s not letting go
She’s stripping, at Pleasures
For her upper habits that her tiny scale will measure

But I think my favorites off Eat My Heart Out come down to two songs:
1) “Goodnight Tonight” — a listful lullaby that would make a Joan Jett and Joey Ramone love-child drift off into sweet slumber and sleep soundly while having wonderful dreams that might include something like Frank Black tap dancing all over the face of Phil Spector.

2) “Wreckage” – It’s hard not to hear this song and want to jump around. I love blasting it from my car with the windows down while driving aimlessly around the city.

But really, the whole album is sensational. In fact, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their great cover version of The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.”

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But now they’re out on tour in support of their new album, Because I’m Awesome. At the risk of sounding really, really dumb, the album really is awesome. Sorry, there’s not many other ways to put it. The title track was actually featured on the TV show “Ugly Betty.” They also had two songs (“Goodnight Tonight” and “Kick Me to the Curb”) featured on an episode of “CSI:NY.” An episode in which they actually also guest starred.

I’m convinced that this band is bound for stardom. As far as I’m concerned, though, they’re already stars. In fact, it was really a weird experience seeing them play last night. I’ve been such a huge fan for the past three years that I sort of felt like I used to when I was in high school and a band would come through town. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that my enthusiasm for catching my favorite bands has waned a bit. Don’t get me wrong, my passion for music hasn’t diminished in the least. In fact, it’s probably grown. But as we get older I think we lose that spirit that we used to have when it comes to going to see great shows. I mean I remember in high school when bands like The Cure or Depeche Mode came through town, my buddies and I would get so excited. We couldn’t wait to get out. But I suppose with age comes that lame “been there, done that” mentality that sort of takes the fun out of life.

Last night, though, I felt like a high schooler again. It was cool.

And remember how in my last post I mentioned that I shook hands with Wolfmother lead singer Andrew Stockdale? Well, eat your hearts out world, because last night I not only met and chatted with Luis, but I also got to meet and chat with Kelly. But wait! Not only that, I actually got a goodbye hug from Kelly! That’s right, suckers. We hugged. It’s true. I told my beautiful girlfriend that I couldn’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure Kelly grabbed my ass. Kat responded by saying that if I wanted to believe that Kelly grabbed my ass, than she’d believe Kelly grabbed my ass. But I’m pretty sure Kat doesn’t really believe that Kelly grabbed my ass, mostly because I know that Kelly didn’t grab my ass, therefore, I can’t actually believe that Kelly did grab my ass.

I sort of thought that if I wrote the phrase “Kelly grabbed my ass” over and over again that it would make it true. It didn’t. But at least now if I Google “grabbed my ass,” I should find my way here pretty quickly.

Seriously though, I have to thank Sherman for introducing me to Luis and Kelly. It was clear that the two of them were glad to see an old friend from an old tour, and they were both incredibly sweet and gracious. Kelly even gave me a Blackheart sticker (“Because I’m Awesome” was released on Blackheart Records) which is now secured firmly and proudly to my own bass case. But I did buy myself a Dollyrots hoodie, which I’m actually wearing as I’m writing this. I’m for sure the coolest kid on my block now.

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Anyway, I really can’t believe there weren’t more people at the show last night. I sort of thought that I might be screwed by not buying tickets earlier. But it was a Sunday night I guess. I just can’t wait for them to pass through town again.

The other cool thing about becoming a Dollyrots fan is that I’ve found a bunch of other cool bands a result. For example, Go Betty Go is an all girl band that the Dollyrots frequently play with in L.A. I’ve seen them listed on bills together on their MySpace page and decided to check ‘em out. As a result, I bought both their EP and album. And the Dollyrots are also featured on the compilation album, “Shiragirl’s All-Girl Stage Crew, Vol 2.— Not Sold In Stores.” There are a handful of acts featured on this album that I’ve grown to be a fan of as well. It’s definitely worth checking out.

What can I say, I’m going through an extended girl punk-band phase. Not long ago I even bought an album by The Donnas on vinyl.

But the headlining act last night was a Chicago band that also happen to be friends of the Dollyrots called Bang! Bang! They were equally fantastic. As a guy in a band, it was almost hard to watch these two bands on stage knowing I didn’t have the same stage presence that each member of both The Dollyrots and Bang! Bang! had. They both put on great shows.

If you see this Kelly, Luis, and Chris, it was great to meet you, and in case you can’t tell, I very much look forward to your return visit. And Kelly, the crayon written note you wrote when sending me stickers and buttons so long ago remains one of my prized possessions. Thanks for a great show experience.

Everyone else, do yourself a favor and click here to buy their CDs.

Wolfmother at the Metro

Last night I saw the band Wolfmother at the Metro here in Chicago.

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For those of you not familiar with Wolfmother, I suggest you acquaint yourself with them, because they’re the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Lead singer Andrew Stockdale has a voice similar to that of Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, only better. Bass player Chris Ross thumps his instrument with a perfectly subtle intensity that matches the manic, yet flawless, drum beats laid by Myles Heskitt. Ross also plays an organ/synthesizer that helps give Wolfmother their ultra-unique, mind-melting, driving rhythm. I’m pretty sure that if you were to blast Wolfmother from your car speakers, regardless of the quality of your stereo, the sound alone would actually start every parked car you drove by.

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Until last night, I wouldn’t have thought that so much noise could be produced from only a guitar, a bass, and a drum set. I mean these guys were loud. But remarkably, not distorted. I’m not kidding when I say they’re the future of rock ‘n’ roll. Their songs are melodic, but hard. They encompass elements from so many eras of music, but clearly they’re probably most often compared to bands like Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. For whatever reason, when I look at Stockdale I see this generation’s Marc Bolan.

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After the show, Stockdale actually came to the edge of the stage to talk to some girls that were there. In fact, there was one girl in particular who was flirting with him pretty hard. We later saw her still trying to get close to him as her boyfriend looked on, clearly agitated by the scene unfolding before him. But while he was still at the edge of the stage, I decided I’d had enough drinks to go and say hello. So I did. I put out my hand. He shook it. I said, “That was one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen. Thanks.” He said, “Thanks, mate.” Then turned back to the girl who was trying to get in the pants of a rock star.

For the record, in case you’re keeping track at home, that’s two hands belonging to rock stars that I’ve shook.

1) Rivers Cuomo
2) Andrew Stockdale

Don’t be jealous. It’s unbecoming.

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Let me just reiterate how good these guys are live: These guys are really good live! If you have the opportunity to see them any time soon, jump at it, because I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before they play exclusively stadium and arena tours. If ever there were a current band who fits into the “arena rock” category, this is it.

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The other really cool thing about the show is that it was free. It was sponsored by Jack Daniels, and the only way to get tickets was to get them one way or another from the Jack Daniels people. The four of us won tickets when we went to see The Tallest play at the Abbey Pub a couple weekends ago. The Jack Daniels girls happened to be there that night giving out shots and whatnot, and they had scratch cards where Jack drinkers could win tickets to the show. As it happened, we won.

We didn’t win the acoustic guitar they were giving away though. That would’ve been awesome.

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I apologize for these pictures. Obviously they’re just cell phone pictures taken by a guy who wasn’t sure if he’d be kicked out if he got caught taking pictures with his cell phone. That guy was me, by the way.

Anyway, to wrap everything up:

Wolfmother = awesome.
Free tickets = awesome.
Jack Daniels = awesome.
Cell phone pictures = crappy.
The Metro = awesome.

I think I can still taste the Jack & Cokes I had last night. So clearly it’s been a good morning.

New blogs and old crimes – babysitter club style.

Well I’ve dished out my final invite for a WordPress blog. I’ve passed the torch onto a friend I work with that I’m sure will provide hours of great content. His original idea for a blog was to come up with a daily scenario depicting him engaged in physical battle with Steven Segal. The catch is that Segal would have to handicap himself in some manner (hands tied behind his back, carrying a hundred and fifty pound boulder, blindfolded by hungry pirhanas, etc.). I can’t say for sure that he’ll follow through with that as his exclusive content, but nonetheless, I look forward to finding out just what he touches on.

I should point out here that Caleb is a colleague of mine. His cube is about 25 feet away from mine. But the reason I know him is because he’s married to a woman for whom I used to babysit. That sounds really weird, and I’m not sure how one man feels about knowing another man who used to babysit his wife, but it’s true. Her family lived down the block. Our families became friends, and in fact, still are.

But I also feel I should tell you why I stopped babysitting for them. It all began the night a fuse blew in their house. Upon venturing into the basement to fix the blown fuse, I discovered there before me one of the most glorious sights my eyes had ever seen. I almost missed it as I walked back up the stairs, but resting on a shelf at the base of the stairs sat the mother of all baseball card collections. It belonged to Caleb’s future father-in-law, Rich. Being a younger lad of limited means, I saw dollar signs lighting up all over the place. A cash register cha-chinged in my brain. There was clearly a lot of value to what I was looking at. Before I knew what happened, I “borrowed” a Pete Rose rookie card.

The next day I informed my parents that I was going to sell my old Pete Rose rookie card. My brand new old Pete Rose rookie card. How was I supposed to know that they’d find the fact that I suddenly had a Pete Rose rookie card suspicious? Besides, I was gonna use this money to buy myself a Nintendo. That’s right, the original Nintendo. I sold the card that afternoon for close to a hundred bucks.

However, as parents are often apt to do (particularly mine, for some reason) my thievery was discovered. It wasn’t easy either, I’ll give them that much. They had to prove that my story of trading for the card with an old Chicago public school classmate was malarkey. How could they possibly track down some kid who I hadn’t talked to since we moved out of Chicago? There’s no way!

As it turns out, with my parents, there’s always a way. They found the kid. His name escapes me right now. As it happened, I did make a baseball card trade with this kid where I got a Pete Rose card. But it certainly wasn’t a rookie. He remembered this and explained as much to my mother as she spoke to him on the phone. Kids, a word of advice: if your parents are ever active members of the PTA, dig around in their crap until you find any and all traces of phone numbers for other parents. Trust me on this one.

So, I was discovered. My parents, or as I like to call them Miss Marple and Matlock, got to the bottom of my little charade and it was time for me to pay the price. As I think about it now, I can’t help but wonder what my parents would have done if I hadn’t gotten into trouble like this from time to time. I mean how boring would that have been? And what would I have to look back on now? The honor roll? Perfect attendance? What would that have gotten me that getting caught shoplifting couldn’t? (Ironically, when I was caught shoplifting, it was also baseball cards. Maybe that was just a commodity I should have stayed away from.) So, Mom and Dad, when you’re shopping for me for Christmas this year, keep in mind how much action I added to your lives. Did Meg do stuff like that? I don’t think so.

So anyway, my dad made me buy back the card from the store I’d sold it to. But he made me pay the store’s marked up price, even though the guy offered to sell it back for the same amount. That hurt.

But the worst part came when I had to look Rich in the face and tell him I stole this card.

I’ll never forget standing in his driveway and handing the card back to him. What made it so awful was that he’s the nicest guy in the world. I mean it literally might be possible that he’s the nicest guy in the entire world. He sort of laughed it off as I stood with tears of guilt and shame trickling down my cheeks. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a bigger asshole. And I don’t think I ever stole anything again.

As I look back on it, it’s sort of remarkable that I didn’t take more cards that night. Because that thing was full of ‘em. I didn’t look through them all, like I would today — as a fan and an appreciator — I just plucked what I spotted on top. Pete Rose. Funny how no matter what that poor guy does, Pete Rose always manages to get his name mixed up in some controversy.

Anyway, Caleb already knows that story. I told it to him not long ago and I believe that he and Rich have had a good laugh over it since. So check out Caleb’s new WordPress blog here.

As for his father-in-law, Rich, well he’s an accomplished author who’s published several books. Read more about them and order them here. And buy some of his stuff. Especially if you’re from Chicago. They’d make great holiday gifts.

And as a closing point of interest, I got a Nintendo from Santa Claus that year for Christmas. Clearly Saint Nick is a forgiving man.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

I actually haven’t posted in a few days. How about that? I let Halloween go right by without so much as a joke. In case you’re wondering, I was a fat, lazy, alcoholic Harry Potter who works at the DMV now and is quite disgruntled with his job. I wish I took a picture, but I didn’t. If I happen to come across one from anyone who was at the party, I’ll be sure to post it.

But the other day I was talking with someone when I got onto the subject of a play I was in back in college. I’m not sure how it really came up in the first place, but I hadn’t thought about it in awhile and the memories of it amused me. I had no idea how awful the play was going to be at first, but it was actually one of the most enjoyable non-sexual things I did in college. We had rehearsals for like four months and only three performances.

It was called Seasons of Solace. It was about a young college kid who contracts HIV through a blood transfusion and has to deal with the stigma of being a straight male with AIDS. This was in like 1993-94 mind you, so it was still a bit more of an issue.

But the goddamn play was four hours long.

I had three or four roles in the play. The best role being that of a ten year old. I played that one really well. The girl that wrote the play, Ari Meehan, also starred in it, directed it, produced it, sang in it, did the program art in it, and basically went crazy by the time it was all finished. Although depending on who you ask, she was pretty crazy to start with. (I have a feeling she probably starts her day by Googling her own name, so I put her full name in here. If you’re reading this, Ari, I’m not making fun of you, per se, but rather, that whole time in our lives.)

But it did make me a lot of close friends that I could probably run into on the street and end up getting drunk with for a weekend while talking about all the crap that went on for the four months we did that stupid thing. We regularly went to Denny’s after rehearsal and made fun of people; namely Ari.

The only reason I really ended up getting into it in the first place was because I’d joined the Coe Alliance (the Gay and Lesbian Awareness group on campus). I actually joined because I had a crush on the president, Sarah. (I was later asked if this was the reason I joined by my gay friend Chad, but I lied, telling him that I believed in the cause and that my crush on Sarah came afterwards.) But don’t get me wrong, I actually probably would have joined anyway because I do believe it’s a good cause. I just wouldn’t have joined so quickly. But anyway, a bunch of people from the Alliance were in the play so there became this awesome mix of gay/straight people that all bonded in defiance against Ari.

A side note about the Coe Alliance. I was active in this group and was proud to be a memeber of it despite being a straight man. But part of me also liked the fact that people like my dad would get uncomfotable when I wore the Coe Alliance t-shirt out in public. We were in Arizona to watch spring training baseball one year and I wore the shirt to a ballgame. My dad was more concerned that the people behind us were going to taunt me for wearing the shirt (the group’s gay and lesbian awareness credo was clearly written on the back) than he was with the ballgame. And this wasn’t because he was worried that I might be gay or anything, but I think more because he was less trusting of the behavior of others who may not agree with everything my t-shirt might discuss. But wasn’t that the point of joining the group in the first place? Anyway, sorry dad, and don’t worry Uncle Bobby, I’m not gay.

But back to the play. Let me tell you, those times were something. My friends Mike Loehr, Eric Lea, and I would hide under the stage after rehearsal sometimes, and we’d wait until everyone cleared out and locked up. Then we’d climb up into the tower of Sinclair Auditorium. One time we hung our socks out the window and the next day they happened to be taking pictures of the campus for one of their admissions brochures. In a brilliant twist of serendipity, you can see our socks hanging out there. It’s the little things that really satisfy a guy, know what I mean?

As much of a disaster as the play turned out to be, Ari’s vision was noble and I’ve always admired her for being able to put such a piece together. It was just horribly unorganized, poorly managed, and the script was in massive need of an editor. But otherwise, it was really a lot of fun.

On the final night of the play, there’s a scene where Ari’s character gets slapped in the midst of an argument. The actress doing the slapping had threatened to really hit her on the final night. None of us actually thought she would. Sure enough, the scene comes up and Ari and Mimi are going at it, bickering brilliantly in their staged argument. Scott Cambell and I are standing to the side as observers who want to stay close in case they have to break something up, but far enough away so as not to get dragged into it. The time comes for the big slap and sure enough, WHAP, Mimi practically slugs Ari. Scott turns and looks at me upstage with his eyes wide and his teeth clenched on his lips so he won’t laugh out loud. I put my hand over my face as if to say, “oh my, I can not believe this argurment has taken such a nasty turn.” But in fact I’m crying tears of laughter. Ari manages to recover as Mimi stands stoically above her and the scene progresses nicely. I guess it’s not as fun a story for those who weren’t on stage.

But then again, if you weren’t on stage, there was nothing fun about that play. I apologize to those of you who had to watch it.

Walking with the Homeless. (Or, Assaulted By Pickles)

On Saturday morning I took part in one of the many Memory Walks organized by the Alzheimer’s Association. Each year several hundred people gather to walk in memory of those who have died or are suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve already written about my grandmother who has the disease, so I won’t go back into that. Instead, I’d like to talk about the walk itself.

The walk my family and I took part in is a three mile hike through the streets of Rockford, Illinois. That’s right, Rockford, Illinois. Birthplace of not only yours truly, but also the home to Rock ‘n’ Roll legends, Cheap Trick.

Before the walk begins, everyone gathers in a park situated on the banks of the Rock River. Directly across from the gathering park stands a giant house. There are several houses there, actually, but one large one inparticular stands out because on the grassy sloped embankment, the name “Karen” is spelled out with rocks. This has been there for the four years we’ve been taking part in the walk and it’s been the source of much debate. Okay, so no one’s actually debated it but in my head I wonder about it. I wonder if it’s the name of the person who lives in that house. Or could it be the long lost love of the owner of the house. And if the owner is married to someone else, perhaps named Lola or Samantha or Phyllis, is she jealous of this faceless Karen to whom a beckoning has been sent.

Or perhaps Karen is the name of a dead pet. A cockatoo, maybe? Or could it be that this person was just a tremendous fan of the Carpenters, and still mourns for the loss of Karen Carpenter. Or perhaps it was there when the current owner bought the house. It’s possible I will never know the answer to this question.

Anyway, as we’re all milling about waiting for the walk to begin, there are some announcements made by local Rockford celebrities. Namely, people from the local news. They thank us for taking part in such a great event and remind us of what a great thing we’re doing. Then they encourage us to stretch before beginning the walk. What they really need is a bloody mary bar. Because a little hair-of-the-dog might’ve been a pretty good thing for this walker that day.

Nonetheless, people stretched led by the mascot of the Rockford Lightning, Freddie Flash. Freddie appears to be some sort of raccoon/panther/frog type mix. Perhaps he’s the result of what would happen if you put a bunch of forest creatures in a box and the box were hit by lightning.

Assisting Freddie Flash in the pre-walk stretching was Pickles the Clown. My Uncle Jimmy pointed out that he knew Pickles when she was just a Cucumber. I’ve never been one of those people who gets freaked out by clowns, but do you ever have the feeling that there are certain clowns who don’t take off the make-up? They just sit around the house in their clown outfit. Well I can see Pickles being one of those kind of clowns. You might run into Pickles in the laundry room of your apartment complex. “Here you go, I’m done with this dryer. Lemme just grab my big frilly neck thingy here. Okay. All yours.” Natrually she’d have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, too.

The stretching is finished and we’re ready to embark. The walk itself is relatively uneventful. You just walk. We’re led by a trio of bagpipers who take us the first 50 feet of the journey. Pickles is there assaulting everyone with stickers. (This year’s sticker was of a smiley face. Last year she gave out stickers that said “I met a clown today.” I liked last year’s stickers better. It was amazing how often that thing came in handy. Every time I’d have a conversation with someone I didn’t care for, I’d slap that baby right on my shirt after parting company. There are clowns all around us, my friends, most just don’t wear the make-up.)

The walk begins down a stretch of road flanked by industrial businesses and such. We passed a bar called Mary’s, I believe, but regrettably, that was closed. As we wind around the town we cross a bridge over the Rock River and end up through a little riverfront pathway. The walk begins around 9:30 am on a Saturday, so the homeless guys who use this portion of the park as their sleeping quarters are still on their benches. This year a couple of them were just waking up to face their day as we passed them. They slapped my Uncle Bob and my dad a high five. Thankfully I was on the opposite side of the path and out of reach of their encouraging gestures. (Understand that we’re not sure where their hands had been all night. I mean it probably got a little cold and they had to keep them warm somehow.)

After the walk turns away from the river we head through what I believe to be downtown Rockrford. On a Saturday morning this part of town is about as active as the Kelsey Grammer fan club. There are very few people out.

We cruised the final mile of the walk back over the upper portion of the bridge we crossed the first time and down and around to the spot we started in the first place. The throngs of waiting admirers must have been given the wrong date and time, because the only people waiting for us were the same people who were there in the first place.

Pickles was no where to be seen. It’s my guess that she either had an afternoon birthday party to attend to or she had some vacuuming to do around the apartment.

But as a family we raised close to $2,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. Not too shabby. I’m not sure what the total take for the event was, but it had to be over ten grand. So it was certainly a successful event.

As I said, this is the fourth year we’ve done this as a family and despite the fact that I like to make fun of it a little bit, it really is a great event and one which I do enjoy taking part in. If I’m going to have to hang out with all my Aunts and Uncles and cousins for a full day like that, at least I can take solace in the fact that we’re raising money for a good cause. Before I wrap this up though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my cousin Cathy, who is a regular medal winner in the Special Olympics, finished the walk this year in record time. Naturally, we’re all particularly proud of her.

Once again, if you’d like to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, you can call 1.800.272.3900. Or, to make a donation by mail, send a check to Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7633

They’rrrree grrrrrreeaaat!

Last night for dinner I ate Frosted Flakes.

I didn’t have a bowl of Frosted Flakes, mind you, I just ate them straight out of the box while watching a Seinfeld rerun. It was the episode where Kramer’s first name is revealed and George thinks he’s dating a bulimic model. But there I was, enjoying my box of Frosted Flakes, thinking to myself, “Now this is eating,” when I looked down and saw my shirt covered in Frosted Flake crumbs. Crumbs and sugar covered me like I’d been sunbathing in a sandstorm. “Now that’s an attractive look,” I thought to myself.

Of course, I was joking. There’s nothing attractive about that. But it occurred to me that short of a bib, I needed some sort of device to prevent this sort of mess from happening. Perhaps a tool to transfer the Frosted Flakes from the box to my mouth.

I wasn’t eating the Frosted Flakes from a bowl, so a spoon wouldn’t work for me. I thought about using a larger serving spoon, but that seemed too impractical as well. Perhaps I could fashion some sort of funnel device. Then I could pour the Frosted Flakes directly into my mouth. That seemed to have possibilities. However, it was clear that an undertaking like that would require an awful lot of work and would sort of defeat the purpose of lazily eating the Frosted Flakes right out of the box in the first place.

As I ate, the mess upon my shirt became greater and greater, but the ideas for solving this problem didn’t increase with the same proportion. In fact, I sort of stopped thinking about it as I suddenly faced a new problem: my Frosted Flakes were gone.

Rather than solve the problem of the Frosted Flake transfer, I was now faced with the dilemma of transporting myself from my couch without creating a landslide of Frosted Flakes, Frosted Flakes crumbs, and Frosted Flakes frost from my shirt to the floor below. Thinking quickly, I peeled the shirt from my body, careful to do so in a manner that would trap the Frosted Flake shrapnel within the shirt.

My options at this point were to either throw the shirt away, or shake out the Frosted Flakes and its crumb-y byproduct and save the shirt. I opted for the latter, as I’m not made of either money or shirt-growing trees. So I shook out the shirt on the back porch, replaced the shirt on my body, and opened the fridge to find some dessert.

Hayfever — Worse than a, well, something that’s not fun.

My nose is running. I keep sniffing like every four to six seconds. My nose itches like someone is gently probing the inside of my nostrils with a vibrating coat hanger. My eyes are watering worse than when I watch the bikini scene from Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Phoebe Cates always tends to choke me up).

Allergy season comes every year around this time and every year around this time I find myself walking around in a half daze because my head is either so stuffed up that my brain feels like it’s been shut inside an empty box of Altoids, or I’m so high on allergy medication that my brain feels like a piece of broccoli dipped in bacon fat. Either way, I’m generally miserable.

I think I’d rather have an allergy that I can somewhat control. Like being allergic to peanuts. I’m sure this sucks because you have to be careful what you eat and everything, but at least you can take preventive measures to avoid it. I have no choice, it’s in the freakin’ air. Of course, I guess some people could die if they eat peanut stuff. So really, that’s worse after all. So forget I brought that up.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t still complain about my hayfever.

Once, when I was like ten years old or so, I put a dandelion to my nose and took as big a sniff as I could, just to see what would happen. The resulting 60 minutes were some of the most unbearable minutes I’ve spent on this earth. It was even worse than that time that I tried shaving my face with lemon juice instead of shaving cream. My body immediately erupted in a fit of sneezing unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. My nose began to excrete it’s byproduct at a particularly alarming rate. I think I lost five pounds through snot evacuation alone. I mean honestly, I don’t think I can put into words just how uncomfortable this situation was. I remember laying in my bedroom in a fetal position while rocking back and forth just wishing that it would all go away.

But right now it’s killing me. I’m sure people think I’m either stoned or drunk based on the redness of my eyes.

Unfortunately, I’m not.
I’m merely suffering from hayfever.

Forget me not.

A couple of Thanksgiving’s ago, my parents hosted my dad’s family for dinner. My grandmother on that side of the family suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. If I’m not mistaken, she’s had it for close to five years now. I don’t remember exactly when she was first diagnosed. It actually might be even longer than that.

Regardless, as time passes, she deteriorates. It’s horrible. So sad. I don’t handle these sort of things well, so I always feel tremendously awkward when around her. I want to talk to her, but she doesn’t know who I am anymore. She does, however, know that I’m tall.

Actually, this is sort of weird, but ever since the day I showed up to my grandmother’s house and was taller than her, not a visit went by where she didn’t talk about how tall I am. Literally every single visit, “Hoo, my. Michael, you just keep growing.” “I can’t get over how tall you are.” “Goodness. What happened to little Michael?” The thing is, I’ve been the same height now since I was about 17 years old, but this wouldn’t stop her from gasping at the sight of me well into my twenties.

I tried to come up with new things to say to her in an attempt to explain my lanky physique, but there’s only so much you can do. But the funny thing is that even now, though she doesn’t seem to know who I am, she does have that look of recognition in her eyes because of my height. She’ll look up and sort of smile shyly and look away as she mumbles something like, “boy…tall…whoo.”

For the record, I’m only 6’3″. That’s really not that tall. But I guess it did make me the tallest on that side of the family.

Anyway, getting back to that Thanksgiving a couple/few years ago. We were all sitting around the living room and my grandmother was in there. A few of us were eating dinner there as the dining room table was full. But I’d notice my grandmother staring at me. So I’d smile at her and look away to engage someone in conversation or watch TV. Then I’d look back at her and she’d be sort of staring at me again. So I’d smile.

This sort of went on for awhile through out the afternoon/evening. I didn’t think anything of it. Until, that is, much later when she and my grandfather were on their way out. My grandfather was leading her by the hand and he’d stopped to say goodbye to someone. My proximity to them was such that my grandmother was now standing directly to my right as I sat on the sofa. She looked down at me, almost umcomfortably and with what seemed like disapproval.

“I’ve seen you watching me today,” she said in a half whisper. “But you should know that this is my husband.”

It took a moment for my brain to register the assumption that my grandmother’s corroded mind had made.

“Grandma!” I said. “I know who that is.”

But that’s all I could say. She looked away from me, then back at me, almost as if giving me a warning. I smiled at her again. Then they left.

It took a little while before I could confess to my dad that his mother had basically accused me of hitting on her. Just the mere thought of it was disturbing on several levels. First and foremost: that’s just gross. But secondly, it was an indication of just how sick she is.

But there’s little that one can do when a family member is faced with this condition. You can only try to make them comfortable really. As they sort of regress to a more childlike state of mind, you can’t help but be amused by them in the same way we’re amused by young children who are learning and discovering things for the first time.

Anyway, in a few weeks my family and I will be participating in one of the many annual Alheimer’s Memory Walks. This is an event meant to serve as a means to raise money for research to find out more about Alzheimer’s.

I know many of us have been donating to relief funds supporting those who have lost everything to Katrina, so it’s hard to even consider asking for support for something else, but here I am. I guess I’d like to get this thing figured out. So, I’ll just post the Alzheimer’s Association address and if you think you might be capable of helping out, please, please do. And feel free to make your donations in the name of Fran Fertig, my grandmother.

If I happen to know you, and you’d like to help out, feel free to give me your checks personally. Make them out to the Alzheimer’s Association. The Memory Walk takes place on the 24th of September, so there’s time. And I’ll put your donation with the others I’ve already received.

Otherwise, to make a donation by phone, please call 1.800.272.3900. To make a donation by mail, send a check to Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601-7633.

There are a lot of things I don’t want to forget when I’m older, so help out if you can.