Sunday, November 29, 2009

We got a new toy on Black Friday!

While I officially have a visceral loathing for the term Black Friday, I have a newfound love for the magical savings it brings me!

We've had a TV sitting in front of our fireplace—which is really the only place for the TV in our living room—since we moved into our Two-Bedroomed, Two-Bathroomed, One-Fireplaced Barbie Dream Condo three years ago. We've been meaning to replace our embarrassingly old-school, 2002-era TV with a giant flat-screen TV that would free up our fireplace for actual fireplace-type activities like providing burning-wood-based warmth and ambiance, but the flat-screen TVs we'd been admiring were all in the $1,500 price range. Until Black Friday! My mom found a 42" baby on sale for $600 in, of all places, her grocery store in Iowa. So we bought it, lugged it back to Chicago today in an upright position—just like the box instructed us, though it meant pushing our seats so far forward that our knees were in our armpits, turning our four-plus-hour drive into an extended BigWheel-in-the-driveway flashback—and spent the entire evening—along with 17 buckets of swear words—mounting it over the fireplace.

It turns out you need an advanced degree in aviation engineering to install a flat-screen TV, but we finished our degree online in only one night and got the whole thing attached to the wall and plugged in ... and it actually works!

Unfortunately, we still need to find a place to stash the cable box. And bury the cables in the wall. And install a mantle. And buy a new DVD player. And (ahem) hook up the VCR. Because we still have a few favorite shows on tape. And we just spent a ton of money on a flat-screen TV so it's not like we can afford to replace them with DVDs right now. Do not judge us.

But in the mean time, we have some shows to watch. And crackling fires to light. And ambiance to enjoy. And bills to pay. But we don't want to think about that part right now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Addiction, Inc.

They say that getting tattoos is like killing hookers in the basement. You tell yourself you can stop any time you want, but then Sarah Palin doodles on a restaurant placemat with her crayons and gets a billion-dollar book deal while you toil away as a middle-management writer who actually knows how to operate a pen and then Carrie Prejean tells you it’s un-Christian for you to get married while she spanks her vajesus on camera for boys she barely even knows (which there technically isn't a commandment against but then she lies about it, which there is) and the cosmic inequality of it all makes your head spin and one day you look down and holy shit there’s another dead hooker in your basement. Or another tattoo on your arm.

I don’t have a basement, so you get one guess (unless you’re Sarah Palin or Carrie Prejean, in which case you get 74) as to which of the above two scenarios happened to me.

Here’s a hint, for those of you still looking for your rogue-colored crayon or the integrity you think somehow may have gotten lodged up near your cervix (which is not, for the record, a Latin way to say crucifix or a lens setting on your video camera):

This new tattoo—my sixth, which equals one for each marathon I’ve run … and is still two fewer than the Carrie Prejean sex tapes that we know about—was a bit of a well-planned impulse purchase.

I knew what I wanted:
• A Celtic knot whose structure and symmetry would offset the tribal abstraction snaking down the back of my other shoulder and arm
• A big round shape that would cover my entire deltoid for dramatic effect … and continue motivating me to get as pointlessly big as possible at the gym since people would be noticing my fancy shoulders (well, at least my one fancy shoulder) more
• A dangling element that would peek coquettishly out of my shirtsleeve
• Enough wrapping action that it could be seen when I greet people head-on:

Unfortunately, in my little live-and-die-by-the-calendar mindset, I’d also convinced myself I’d walk into a tattoo parlor on my self-imposed get-a-tattoo day, describe what I wanted and get it seared into my flesh on the spot. Which is exactly what happened … except the tattoo didn’t turn out as I’d kinda been picturing it. (Emphasis on kinda, which really didn’t give any tattoo a fighting chance to be what I wanted, right?) And so for the first week I had it I really didn’t like it. Especially because it kinda (there’s that word again) looked like a baroque apostrophe. Or a dialogue balloon from a Gallic cartoon.

But! The darn thing has generated endless praise from friends and strangers alike. It peeks out of my shirtsleeve just the way I wanted. It seems to make my shoulder look thick and round and manly (and fancy!). And the more I see it, the more I’ve started to really dig it for its nontraditionalness. And the fact that the whole apostrophe/dialogue balloon imagery has a quirky relevance for a professional writer … especially one who actually knows how to use a pen. Plus, it’s done. And even though I kept the receipt I’m pretty sure I can’t return it.

Of course, there are still hookers out there (Hi, Carrie!) so I know I'm still gonna want more tattoos. But I may limit myself to one per marathon from this point forward. (Emphasis on may. Even though I was born in April. And I tend to run marathons in the fall.) And next time I will definitely spend more time working with a tattoo artist getting exactly (more or less) what's in my head on paper before I start enshrining half-baked ideas on my body in ink and blood and fancy punctuation marks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I am totally winning the race to Christmas!

The living room tree is up! And it turned out relatively even! Just like last year!

The dining room tree is up too! And this year's assembly phase was a lot more successful than last year's toilet brush / sparkle factory mishap. Because I assembled the branches in the right order this year. Just like a big boy! But the tree somehow still looks kind of ... squatty. But it's done and I'm way too old to start over and somehow make it less squatty because at 41 you never know when you're gonna keel over as dead as the three strings of lights I had to throw away this year. Good thing I had three packages of backup lights in my Big Box of Way Too Much Christmas Crap. Which means I get to do stock-up shopping during the Christmas Crap Clearance Sales! And that is totally worth having a tree that looks like a gay fire hydrant.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This is gonna hurt

My personal trainer has started his own blog. To his everlasting credit, he asked me—the keeper of all empirical truth and the best and most humble blogger in the entire known universe—for a few pointers. And he listened to my most important recommendation, the one I never listen to myself: Keep it short.

His blog is still pretty new, but he seems to update it frequently. And he packs his entries with thoughtful, useful, short workouts and nutrition recommendations. And I can personally vouch for most of the workouts because he inflicts them on me before he releases them to the general public.

So in the spirit of spreading the gospel of good workouts, I send you to Hank’s blog: H4 Training. And if you follow his tips and suddenly find yourself getting crazy wicked hot, please send pictures.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comcast responds

Via email:
Thank you for contacting … Comcast. … I can understand your frustration with the incomplete installation of your two DVS's. I would be happy to look into this situation for you and help you to resolve the problem. Could you kindly reply to this email with your full service address and account number? … I appreciate you providing us with the opportunity to assist you. Thank you for contacting Comcast. We appreciate your business.

Via blog comments:
Jake, Thanks for sharing your blog and I sincerely apologize for the unacceptable experience. It was a simple task to do, but unfortunately we have failed completing it. If you don’t mind, will you please let me now the phone number associated with the account? This will help gather more information about your experience. Best regards, Comcast Customer Connect National Customer Operations

Via phone:
[I didn’t make a transcript, but I got a call with more of the above apologies and promises to help.]

We have had some extremely frustrating experiences with Comcast—especially with our Internet service—but their employees have always been courteous and helpful, and they’ve always (eventually) resolved our problems. It’s still a little appalling that there have been so many problems in the first place, but I wanted to state for the record that Comcast is making an admirable effort at customer service.

In fact, I told them three times that they didn’t need to contact me about this issue because I don’t like to make a fuss and in the big scheme of things some simple cable-connection corrections were no problem for me. I just wanted to let them know that their installers didn’t know what they were doing.

And guess what? The woman I just talked to on the phone credited the installation (or, technically, non-installation) fee back to us. Which seems completely fair. I hadn’t even realized they charged us $60 to come out and plug some wires into some holes.

So thank you, Comcast, for taking the trouble to correct your errors. I’m sure your Internet search-bots will find this post, so I won’t email it to you. Besides, it probably does more for your company out here on my blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dear Comcast,

You guys came out and installed two DVRs in our house a couple weeks ago. Your technicians not only installed them wrong—crossing the RCA cables for BOTH DVRs so our speakers buzzed like motorcycles—but they also completely disconnected our DVD players. Plus, doing all that shoddy work took them over half a day.

I wasn't there when they did their "work," but I'm smart enough to figure out how to connect a DVD player and match colors on RCA cable plugs so I've fixed everything.

Inept cable installers aren't the end of the world. But for the prices you charge I'd expect a little more competence from your employees. And despite my snarkiness here, I'm not filing a complaint or asking for an apology. But I thought you'd like to know how your employees are representing your company and your product.


Monday, November 16, 2009

ChicagoRound: The John Hancock Center

Chicago’s most recognizable skyscraper, with its delicate tapering and its iconic X-bracing, is only the city’s fourth tallest building.

Erected between 1965 and 1970, the Hancock Center actually sits on landfill from Chicago’s great 1871 fire. As legend has it, a mountebank named George Wellington "Cap" Streeter ran his steamboat aground on a sandbar 450 feet off Chicago’s north shore in 1886, convinced post-fire contractors to dump debris between the shore and his boat, and over the decades sold deeds and collected taxes on the growing mass of landfill he called the United States District of Lake Michigan.

The area is today called Streeterville, and the Hancock Center reportedly occupies the spot where Cap Streeter’s boat stood for over a decade.

100 stories tall, the Hancock Center houses stores, restaurants and about 700 condominiums. That swirly structure behind the building in this awesome satellite photo is the ramp to the parking garage, which sits on floors 4–12.

And this February, I’ll be racing up the stairs to the 94th floor once again in Hustle up the Hancock. It’s a fundraiser for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago (formerly the American Lung Association), which works to fight lung diseases including cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the medical consequences of smoking and pollution.

The top Hustle up the Hancock time is 9:38, roughly half the time it takes me to climb. But it takes you less than a minute to sponsor me just by clicking this link. It's easy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm sold! Again! On N! YC!

Sheesh! How long can a boy take to blog about his favorite thing in the whole wide world? (I mean besides Tool Academy.)

So the domestic partner and I went to NYC over Halloween weekend (remember Halloween weekend? it was like six months ago or something. back when I used to write blog posts.) to see multiple Broadway shows! He was there overnight for work and I had free airline tickets so I got to have a Big Gay Broadway Weekend for the cost of theater tickets, food and cab fare. Everyone wins!


New York City cabbies are a not-very-cooperative bunch. There, I said it. Every second cab that pulled over for us all weekend didn't want to go wherever we were going. And the one that took me back to LaGuardia on Sunday didn't even know where to drop me off. So the New York City cabbies were a big ol' Fosca to the Giorgio of my Big Gay Broadway Weekend.


I got to LaGuardia Saturday just before noon and I Clara-ed my way right to the theater district to get tickets for my target matinee. (We tend to operate on a hope-we-can-get-tickets theater plan in our family. So far we've never not gotten tickets to the shows we wanted to see, though we've been reduced to standing in return-ticket lines for a couple hours when we could have been spending our New York City time wandering around Times Square feeling superior to the other tourists who plan ahead for months to see Phantom of the Opera.) I got a ticket right away, ran to grab a bite to eat and then settled down for my first Broadway experience of the weekend. But more on that later.

Because first I want to talk about celebrities!

I apparently have horrible celebrity-dar. Because I saw my first show, waited in line right by the sidewalk for an hour for return tickets for our second show, enjoyed a long early dinner at a sidewalk cafe, and stood on the sidewalk watching people go by for another hour while I waited for the domestic partner to show up from work, and I never once saw a celebrity. Not even Evan Marriott.

But the moment the domestic partner showed up—the moment!—we suddenly bumped into—in rapid succession! right on the sidewalk! out in public!—Marcia Gay Harden, David Hyde Pierce and Tony Roberts. Either the domestic partner is the Celebrity Piper whose magical flute playing enchants celebrities right out of their hiding places everywhere he goes or celebrities walk by me all the time and I just don't notice.

But there's more! As we settled down in our Jake-waited-for-an-hour return seats for our evening show, Annette Bening sauntered down the aisle and sat herself a couple rows in front of us. Of course I didn't notice her until the domestic partner pointed out the merry jig she was dancing to his whimsical little flute canticle. But still! That's four celebrities in one night! If I had a celebrity punch card I'd totally earn a free Diet Pepsi!

But that's not all!

As I was sitting at a foo-foo gay sidewalk cafe in foo-foo gay Hell's Kitchen between foo-foo gay shows on Saturday, I saw a familiar face amble up the street toward me. My New York blogger friend David—of Someone in a Tree, which I can't look at at work because he booby-traps his posts with pictures of naked men whose bodies make me feel bad about mine—emerged out of the crowd on his way to perform in Brigadoon. And while it was fun to run into him so randomly in big ol' New York City, it was more fun to think how something like that probably wouldn't happen again for a hundred years.

And the coincidences keep coming!

Because as soon as David wandered off to his show, I saw a guy walk up the street toward me in a Rehobus shirt. Rehobus is a defunct bus company that shuttled gay people between DC and Rehoboth a couple summers ago, and all that's left of the company is its very cool shirts. And I have the same shirt this dude was wearing because the guys who ran the company are the friends I stayed with in Rehoboth twice this summer. So I chatted this dude up and, sure enough, he totally knew my friends. So he was a random-friend-on-the-sidewalk-encounter-by-proxy.

Anyway, let's move on to the important part of this blog post: where to find a free bathroom in Times Square. (Upstairs at the Marriott—turn right when you get off the escalator.)

Also: the shows I saw!

I tried to take a picture of myself in front of every show I saw over the weekend. Which is really hard to do with a cell phone on a crowded sidewalk. And not only because I–who can usually be counted on to feel no shame about acting goofy in public–was suddenly overcome with a rare case of the What Will People Think Of Me's as I tried to discreetly snap self-portraits from arm's length as bored tourists milled about me in their pleated capri pants and their purses crammed with money-saving sandwiches and maps of New York City landmarks. Plus, I had to wait 20 minutes for some damn tourists to move away from this sign so I could take a self-portrait I call "Next to Next to Normal" ... and once I got it out of my phone and blown up to readable size, I realized I had been in front of the wrong sign all along because this sign was obviously for a show about a girl who sat alphabetically beside Marilyn Monroe in grammar school:
(This is my Serious Face, by the way, worn in deference to the pain and suffering endured by the characters in the show. Poor Norma.)

In any case, Next to Normal—which I saw with the original Broadway cast, thank you very much—is pretty spectacular. For those of you not familiar, it's a rock opera about a family torn apart by mental illness. Tony winner Alice Ripley rips into the role of the family matriarch struggling to find a sense of normal in her haze of delusions and disorders. And she. gutted. me. The show is a roller coaster of chaos and despair and hope and challenge and absolute emotional destitution. I don't want to say much more about it, though, because the show's awesome powers are better discovered in real time. But I will say this: If you go to see Aaron Tveit—the family's son, who is so handsome he's almost a distraction—in his underwear, don't blink; the scene goes by pretty fast. And he's still pretty covered up. So it's best to come to the show for the show itself. (Also: Don't read any reviews before you see the show. The less you know, the better. Trust me on this.)

The domestic partner and I saw God of Carnage—with the original Broadway cast, thank you very much—on Saturday night. Which means I didn't have to take a self-portrait with my camera phone. I had been under the impression that the show was a dialogue between two couples that devolves into an apocalyptic collapse of Albee proportions. But I was only half right. The couples do say and do vicious things to each other, but the play is really just a dark comedy with a lot of slapstick. Including a gratuitous vomit scene that completely undermines what little verisimilitude the show clings to (if a character vomited that much vomit with that much force in the real world, she would at the very least be too sick to move for the rest of the show ... and the room that she sprayed would not be inhabitable by humans for another whole hour of exposition). But once I'd adjusted my expectations for the show, I laughed and giggled my way through it with the rest of the audience. Including Annette Bening! The actors are spot-on in their roles, particularly Tony winner Marcia Gay Harden, whose nuanced slide from uncomfortable gentility to even more uncomfortable vitriol is matched only by the fabulously horrible outfit she wears: a helpless explosion of patterns and textures in exactly the wrong proportions for her body type. The set—a riot of brilliant reds and winter whites accented by a scorched-earth wall hanging and two massive vases of white tulips—provides a plush boxing ring for the characters to attack and retreat for 90 minutes. (My only unformed opinion: I'm still trying to figure out the significance of the show's many visual and verbal references to African tribalism, though I'm probably just overthinking.) The original cast—Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden—is leaving soon, but the show opens with a new cast—Christine Lahti, Annie Potts, Jimmy Smits and Ken Stott—on the 17th.

So how random is this: Three people I know from my Iowa home town (and by "I know" I mean "I only very distantly know and have never even personally met one of them") are in Broadway shows right now. And two of them are in one together: Bye Bye Birdie—which I saw with the original Broadway revival cast, thank you very much. The show is not getting very good reviews—it has lots of energy and color and fun, but it doesn't gel ... particularly the relationships between some of the leads ... and the choreography is both show-choir-y and sloppy—but there were only four seats left when I walked up to buy my ticket. So what do the reviewers know? Before I went to the show, I left a note at the stage door for the two people I "know" in it: a girl I watched grow up while her mother and I did millions of shows together and a guy who was in my dad's scouting troop before I was even born. They both have some of the most fun jobs in the show: chorus people who occasionally get pulled out for featured numbers. And they're both pretty fabulous, which is not just the Iowa pride talking. I was hoping to meet them afterward for a drink and a possible moment alone with John Stamos, but I had to race to catch a plane with no help from the cabbie who couldn't find the right departure gate for me. Fun fact! Bye Bye Birdie was the first book musical I ever did, way back before I even realized I would grow up addicted to tattoos. And I still know every word and every note and it was all I could do to not sing along in the audience.

WHEW. So thank you for your patience while I've been busy worshipping the gods of weekday work and weekend exhaustion. Come back soon for reports of my next adventure. Which will also include pictures! And text! Just like a real blog post!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Oh, hai.

Remember me? I used to write a blog here.

But it's been a busy week. Busy, busy, busy. (Touch the trolley!)

But I have so much to tell!

Broadway! Stage door notes! Celebrities! Small-world encounters on the sidewalk! Bad cabbies! Marathon runners! Stupid concierges! Free hotel rooms! Pictures!

I just don't have time to write about it all just yet. Stay tuned. Please. I promise I'll be back soon.