Chicago, Self-Help

Homespun?

Dear Dick,

Mind if I call you Dick? I mean, I’ve never heard you referred to as Richard Wolf. Just Dick. The Dickmeister? Okay, too much.

I like “Law and Order.” The mere screen presence of Jerry Orbach accounted for a handful of absences in Tuesday and Thursday undergrad classes. The show’s theme music was a vital part of a few beer pong tournaments. Angie Harmon’s raspy voice, Dennis Farina’s obnoxiously appealing ties, loved them all, embraced the law and order parts with equal vigor. No part was greater than the other. Go Team McCoy! Go Team Briscoe!

The offshoots? Not so much. Not my style. Too much rape in one. Too much Vincent D’Onofrio in the other. That’s okay though because a disdain for rape and D’Onofrio are entirely American. I understand for every “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” you sometimes have to get your sillies out with “Night” and “Youngstown.” It’s just not my style.

And now your new darling “Chicago PD,” hit the air. It shares storylines and characters with “Chicago Fire.” That’s great. I loved when “Homicide: Life on the Street” and your original L&O had crossover episodes. Munch and Rey together and playing the same character on each other’s show? Fictional beings from a supposed different world but the same world are co-mingling? The outrageous daring-do of the occurrence.

In attempts to pimp the show and engage those nasty caustic critics, you mentioned that Chicago seemed the perfect backdrop for the two series. Your reason, according to a story in The New York Daily News is that The values that are espoused in ‘Fire’ are the kind of all-American values that are almost a little too homespun for either coast. . . . (Chicago) is the heart of America. The values there are the values that many, many people agree with more than sometimes either coast.”

You can call my city tacky. I was here for Cows on Parade.

You can call my city obnoxious. Jenny Jones was filmed here and Ronnie Woo-Woo is a de-facto mascot for my favorite baseball team.

You can even say my city has an identity crisis. I mean, Jesus, Divvy on one corner, two high chairs and a mop handle calling dibs on another? Modern transportation and the back hills of Western Kentucky, all within spitting distance.

But please, don’t call my city homespun.

Homespun?

The same city of Al Capone, the Black Sox Scandal, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, that speaks to homespun?

Okay, okay, you got me. A little outdated Nick. Why not air your grievances on the low frequency AM station before the sun goes down? Go cry into your Green River. I get it.

How about The Family Secrets Trial, Patrick Kane’s Trail of Beers through every tavern north of Madison, and the Rod Blagojevich experience? Too wholesome for you, still?

Guess we haven’t even touched on the exemplary civil service of Mel Reynolds, Dan Rostenkowski, and James Laski among the Democratic Party. We can get to George Ryan and the rest of the Republicans after we change out of our hazmat suits.

And Michael Jordan.

Every part of Michael Jordan. The six championships to the divorce, to the paternity suits, to enough sponsorship deals to decorate every inch of a Nascar Jumpsuit. That’s homespun?

Homespun connotes buttermilk, cornfields, and long, arduous bus rides from Des Moines to Wrigley Field in hopes of watching Jim Bullinger go for the complete game. Homespun is boring conversation about the weather and the unseemly gossip at the post office that Ernest the new mailman stole a peek down the Widow Michelson’s blouse.  Homespun is fine for Lake Woebegone and their cast of characters.

Dick, maybe it was just a poor word choice. I thought for all but 25 years that the phrase was “play it by year,” mistakes happen.

But please, don’t confuse Chicago for some Ma and Pa bastion of boredom, highlighted by PTA meetings, crop-growing, and ice cream socials.

Confused, obnoxious, tacky, even crooked, but not homespun.

Homespun?

The best of everything,

Nick

P.S. Good luck with the show. I’ve been angling to play a fictional detective for some time, let me know if you need anyone.

P.P.S. Will also settle for role of corpse if detective is taken.

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Job Application, Self-Help

A Few Demands

Dear Jerry,

I really enjoy “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” With each season the number of interesting guests does not align with the number of comedians entering the field and before you know it, the balloon animal artist and yourself are sharing a mug of something. I’m not a comedian. I tell one pirate joke too frequently and I rest on my laurels, rarely on my Hardy’s. See what I mean? Not a comedian.

In the truest form of selflessness, I am offering my services as a guest for next season. I would never dream of bumping anyone from their rightful spot in season three. No use to waste the film.

However, as anyone who thinks higher of themselves than their current socioeconomic status justifies, I have a few demands that must be agreed upon before we find a spot for me in season four. And just to show you I’m not all ego, it’s perfectly okay for me to be episode two or three of that season. Others need that first slot more than I do. Also, you want to pick me up in a Saturn or an Edsel, go ahead. I’m not one for vanity in automobiles. Gorilla Glue and duct tape currently hold up the plastic molding above the window on the passenger side of my vehicle.

Anyways, just a few conditions, you know, to avoid hold up in any negotiations:

I need something to eat

I’ll pop for the food. Don’t take that out of the show’s budget. The day-out can’t be just coffee. I enjoy coffee, but when it’s the only item I consume I get a little scatterbrained and hyperactive (not unlike this letter). So please, wherever we go, and it’s your call, there needs to be at least a fruit and yogurt parfait or some cinnamon toast on the menu. I’ll even have a little something before to curb my appetite. People who go out exclusively for coffee or tea seem to hover over their house blend and whisper. It’s as if the lack of food on the table does not allow them to speak in a louder voice, over-articulate with their hands, or pound the table with their fists if a claim warrants such pounding. I’ll need my full arsenal of communication skills at my disposal, so please, let’s have food.

I prefer booths

Tables don’t afford me the expanse of room I prefer in my sit-downs. I like the exclusivity a booth affords. Even a table against the wall feels like we’re part of the regular crowd, a booth means we’re elite. People see others in a booth (entirely my perception, based on nothing scientific) and their first thought it, “Wow those guys must be something really special. Who’d they slip an Abe to get into that spot?” Let’s get to that point of elite. Plus, people speaking in booths always appear to be having a much more profound conversation than others at a two-top. Maybe we spend fifteen minutes discussing the merits of Sweet’N Low and Sugar In The Raw, others, those at the tables, they don’t need to know that. You were always in a booth at Monk’s. It’ll be just like fictional old times.

No music in the restaurant

I struggle to carry on a conversation when in front of a laptop, there’s no way you’d get the full effect if Jim Croce came through the speakers of the café. Classical music would be best, instrumental okay, so long as it wasn’t instrumentals of well-known songs because then I’d get lost in attempts to figure out what song it was.

So there you have it. Three simple demands. Hopefully none of them are deal-breakers. And to make things easier for the crew and yourself, I’ll even dress inconspicuously in a zipped-down hoodie, blue jeans, dark-rimmed glasses, and a baseball cap. We don’t need to draw any untoward attention to ourselves. Also, I’ll be waiting for you at the gate so you don’t have to pay the meter and worry about the nuisance of permit parking.

The best of everything,

Nick

P.S. I normally have any requests go through my make-believe media relations department, but feel free to reach out to me directly.

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Self-Help

Forced Donations

Grocery stores, drug stores, and clothing stores ask too much of the consumer. Literally. No transaction is complete, no discount applied unless the cashier procures some deep, dark information from the customer like favorite Meg Ryan movie (obviously “When Harry Met Sally”) or what Golden Girl with whom you’d prefer to share an outhouse.

The questions/information requests are beyond intrusive. However, anyone with even the slightest ounce of confrontational nuance can skirt the questions. The most trusted method is to supply the employee with a load of bullshit and submit phone numbers and email addresses of individuals who’ve fallen out of favor with you. If the retrieval of the personal information becomes too mundane, feel free to dress up your response. Hell, make it a game. Give the cashier a series of sixes and nines if they ask for your phone number. If they request your address ask them for their address, the size of their family, their favorite militant group, and the one ethnic group that irritates them the most. It’s a subtle way to garner retribution from the constant interrogation process we undergo when all we’re looking for is a box of Mike & Ike’s.

The requests are easy enough to shake, right? You feel comfortable with the elementary skill set to diffuse any questions, especially if a terse “no” just doesn’t garner the type of excitement you yearn for. We’re allowed to have a little fun with the questioner, aren’t we? What does our zip code have to do with a pack of Big Red?

How foolish to assume the questions would stop at personal information. Much like a villain who only grows stronger and more aggressive in a sequel, stores are bolder in their requests, even going so far as to solicit donations for charity in their store.

Is the pan-handling done simply through the Pay-Pad where a customer swipes their credit or debit card? Kind of. If I refuse to donate via the Pay-Pad, the cashier asks me in a volume that nearly breaks Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound so that fellow customers waiting on-line hear exactly whether or not I decide to donate. No one wants to disappoint strangers. Who doesn’t want to see the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation nip every case of the sugars in the bud? We’re all in this together, waiting on-line with the unspoken pact to get through the check-out as quickly as possible. After all, strangers are not family.  Family can cope with your failures and a bunch of unchecked accomplishments next to your name. But strangers? You can’t let your reputation suffer in front of them. How dare you not donate a dollar, a single dollar to a charity? They’ve intuited so many ideas about you from your backwards baseball cap and faded jeans, why disappoint the unacquainted?

So in a way, the confines of the check-out line strong-arm one into a donation. It’s no different than the passive-aggressive manner a neighborhood association suggests a donation to their street fest, only to wish a poor NPR signal and broken sandals to those who decline their suggestions and tell them, “I appreciate your suggestion, but I care little about your neighborhood. Suggestion denied.”

What’s changed with the ideas of a donation? Aren’t they supposed to be made to help out those you deem fit to assist and not by the bully tactics of a cashier whose performance grid is partially evaluated on the by-proxy solicitations they do for their employer for the good of a charity?

Donating only appeals to me when I’m not asked to contribute. I see something that triggers a willingness to help others, then a few coins go in this pot, some singles in that basket. Charity loses all its appeal if someone throws a hand in my face to collect for someone or something. It cheapens the good intentions. My action doesn’t seem as pure, as genuine if someone asks me to donate. I’m even fine with subtle clues and signs as friendly reminders that charity exists, but please tame the red-vested carnival barkers who by their line of questioning, equate me to an arsonist (merely by tone) if I decide not to give. Charity only exists if it’s unsolicited.

It’s what I’m banking on to drastically cut down on time in purgatory.

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Self-Help

Avoid The Tag

In a way to insulate readers from the deviants and drudges of the world, there are certain taglines that upon seeing, one should flee the room. If the tagline presents itself on a PC or tablet, then the user must light the device on fire and throw it into their alley. If they don’t live near an alley, a busy intersection or crowded movie theatre will do. Proceed with caution if you happen upon the following taglines:

You don’t know what he’s going to say next: Typically reserved for “shock jocks,” a term in and of itself which carries no weight to begin with, and even less if said shock jock refers to himself as a shock jock. Well, what exactly will this kooky, fun-timing, son-of-a-gun say next? Something very similar to what a self-saturated, egotistical, counter-culture seeking, vapid gasbag would utter. Their comments fall just short of race-baiting, paired with a few sexist barbs all while questioning the sexual orientation of their callers. The lightning rods of controversy preface their comments with, “Not many people are like what I’m going to say,” or “this might come as a controversial statement to some.” Actually, scratch the last part, the drink-stirrer often fails to use “controversial” in its proper context, but don’t worry they have enough sound drops and fictional characters to start the final installment in the “Police Academy” series. These fellows are spotted in one-man shows broadcast on national sports networks, or in debates on the same type of network. You may not like it, but your insatiable appetite for the inane will be reason enough to not change the channel.

The most fun you’ll have at the movies: So you’re telling me that even after I have to park at the far end of the parking lot, pay at least 10 dollars to watch Vince Vaughn reprise the role of Vince Vaughn for the umpteenth time, slather my hands in the butter/motor oil from the popcorn, and hear a knock-off of Statler and Waldorf critique previews, there’s more fun to be had?!?! Sign me up.

Sadly, the movie experience will never, ever replace the time my grandma took my brother and I to “Titanic,” only to see her pull gigantic plastic cups out of her coat for us to get free sodas, load her pockets with old Christmas candy, and hear her mutter, “well you’ll see one in person soon enough,” during the DiCaprio/Winslet modeling scene. My “most fun you’ll have at the movies” award is wrapped up. However, the contest for “most fun you’ll have at an emissions test” is up for grabs.

Hilarity ensues: The catch-all for those of us unable to guess if hilarity might ensue and even if we can’t guess, the appliers of the line tell us that rest assured, hilarity will eventually ensue. The line is more often than not tied directly to a movie and is only strengthened if the zany young male from the country club gets a culture shock when he has to work with the sassy, even zanier staff of an inner-city public school. What’s going to happen when both cultures collide? It’s a well-educated guess that hilarity will ensue, only to be followed by chest pains, angina, and the butt-sweats.

Starring the cast of “Two Broke Girls”: Self-explanatory.

Captures the spirit of: Especially applicable during the holiday season. It’s the time of year where everything from made-for-TV movies, infomercials, investigative reports, and variety shows claw and scratch and dig to really capture the spirit of the holidays. While we may be enamored with Brian Austin Green’s acting chops as a down-on-his-luck lumberjack-turned-elf, or a duet between Gonzo and Bruno Mars, our concern should be how the network executives, producers, and directors capture that spirit for us. Is it through kissing, bare feet in the gym shower, with a mason jar, or riding a tractor in a swim suit? And whose holiday spirit have they caught? I feel very uneasy knowing some group of strangers have captured something for me without any exploratory tests at the clinic.

Be careful. Tread lightly. You’ve been warned.

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Self-Help, Uncategorized

Coping With the Noise

Sports radio listeners expose themselves to a product that produces the unsteady mix of laughter, nausea, and self-psychological harm with the latter two as the most behaviorally-consistent reactions. Fortunately, the head-pounding field has taken up the lion’s share of my twenty-five years as a radio listener. I’ve endured a lot in my listens besides an encyclopedic memory of radio ads for the gentlemen’s clubs of Chicago. From the experience, certain treatments and coping mechanisms emerged to alleviate the annoyance of hearing (insert name of caller) from (insert name of neighborhood or suburb).

What follows are some remedies to treat the unavoidable:

The person calling from a certain area is always the absolute, no-doubt, worst representative of the area they claim to be calling from: You know the moment you hear, “Next up, Glenn, in Brookfield.” You cringe because you’re from Brookfield and you don’t want to be linked with some townie whose half-baked evaluation of last night’s game somehow correlates with your intelligence because you both bought Slurpees from the same 7-11. You’re afraid that your friends from, um, more, put-together suburbs are going to ridicule the town from whence you came and in turn, you. Fear not. The longer sports talk radio is on the air, the less credibility their callers receive. Think of them as the family at little league games who get into shouting matches with each other, only to fling their Bic’s at an umpire if he blew a double-play call.

Change the channel during parody songs or gimmick segments: Avoidance might seem to be a cop-out when it comes to such issues, but explain a way to listen to any sports-talk parody song without wishing to detonate the radio. Don’t attempt to detonate the radio, not yet. Change the channel. Plus, in the most non-humble of humble-brags, I will no longer listen to parody songs after I wrote one for my friend’s great-grandmother in Theology Class. The song was based off of “Only the Good Die Young” and the line “You had a nice white dress at the Emancipation Proclamation,” ranks supreme over anything else ever done in sports radio. All other parody efforts are secondary.

Avoidance is also best followed during gimmicky segments. The ones with rhyme-time and big-sound drops to announce the hokey bullshit you’ll be forced to endure when you prognosticate football games. Be careful though, the more chancy, more outlandish your picks become, the more willing the hosts will label you a “Riverboat Gambler,” “Ace,” or “Big Money.” All of which will be followed by the sound of a cash register opening and closing.

Reject all trades: Don’t even think to savor the idea. It will suck. Stay far away from the imaginary trades about players being swapped to attain imaginary results and win imaginary championships. It is a guarantee I feel safe in making that a trade has never ever, not once, been correctly predicted without reports fluttering around first.

Only listen to shows during the workday: It’s a horribly-kept secret that restaurants and bars bring out their A-Plus staff on weekends and leave the minions to Monday and Tuesday. Picture sports radio that way: The Grade-A performers all have airtime from the morning drive until six. At that point, run. Stay away from sports talk, catch up on your oldies, see if Terry Gross has anything new to say, but don’t listen to the “End-Zone” or “Jungle,” or “Trenches,” or any other zippy name to symbolize an energetic, hard-hitting sports talk radio show after dark.

Raise the volume when someone prefaces an athlete’s last name with “this” and follows their last name with “guy”: These fellows are the treats of the radio show, real-life gems. You’ll love their insight on everything from life to politics, religion, and facial hair. They are the national treasures, the next “Greatest Generation,” to come through the revolving door. Enjoy the hell out of their opinion, don’t respect it, but enjoy it. You need not worry of being swayed by it. Wish one of the gentlemen were related to you because he’ll reference a part of his body, offend a race, and question the sexuality of three professional athletes, all in one long-winded, run-on sentence, not unlike this one.

The following were only remedies if your anxiety and annoyance are in their infant stages. For more serious cases please seek more aggressive treatment, like lighting your radio on fire and tossing it into a pit of despair.

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Self-Help

Yea, But He…

For quarterbacks, it’s “game manager.” For politicians, it’s “having no backbone.” For the umpire in “Bull Durham” who Crash Davis upbraids, it’s um, um, “rooster lollypop,” or something similar. Come on, that’s a Monday crossword puzzle clue. Figure it out.

The aforementioned terms are derogatory specific to the occupations of the individuals. For us other red-blooded, eat-dinner-in-front-of-the-television folk, one term to describe us conveys nothingness. No feeling, no excitement, no energy. Nothing.

In my sociological endeavors that have primarily stretched from the Chicagoland Area to Milwaukee, the death-knell to one’s personality comes when they are introduced as a new member into an established group. Most often this is as someone’s new slam hog, or if we keep score for eloquence, boyfriend or girlfriend. In the initial meeting stages even the most morally upright of groups vet the individual and shortly after share their impressions with the group. If your group doesn’t do this then it’s a wonder you get Wi-Fi way up in the mountains surrounded by all the Tibetan Monks in your monastery.

The evaluations are perfunctory and there is relative ease in changing the group’s opinion. The first impressions don’t always lead to iron-clad opinions, or ones etched into one of the three stone tablets Mel Brooks carried up to the top of Mt. Sinai in “History of the World, Part 1.” People cascade down the power rankings if they gush over original CBS Programming. The same ones can chart their ascent if they coin an off-kilter catchphrase and repeat it incessantly.

Most of the diagnoses are clean bills of health. Groups, aside from organized crime families and SEC Sororities, welcome people with relative ease. However, some newcomers are alienated by their boredom and irrelevancy with one particular label:

He means well.

That tells me nothing. It’s a made-for-TV-version of, “Well, he doesn’t have much in terms of personality, that diastema of his is quite large, but I’m willing to bet my Starting Lineup collection that he won’t murder Sheila and fashion her knee-caps into earmuffs.”

Try to blame the group for lack of ingenuity, but what does it say about a person who fails to do something, anything effusive enough to elicit any type of reaction? Good handshake? How about some nice shoes? Got anything? Please…something?

If given the choice between meaning well and not meaning well, I’d rather have it known that I didn’t mean well. Label me a diabolical, self-serving jerk with enough ulterior motives to fill another season of “Breaking Bad.” The creep who talked with his hands too much and clawed the back of his own neck when other people spoke as a way to alleviate the boredom they promoted in conversation. At least they have an opinion of you, it might be an unfavorable one where they consider you some cross between Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and a collection of the terrorists Bruce Willis exterminated in the Die Hard Trilogy, but it’s an opinion. You elicited some emotion out of them. No indifference here.

(Side note: As we don’t acknowledge any Eddie Murphy movies after “Coming to America,” the rest of the Die Hard series seems to have slipped my mind.)

Be anything. Be bawdy, rowdy, raunchy. Be high-brow, low-brow, sport a unibrow. Hell, leave a mark, even if all it does is draw some comparisons between you, a New Orleans Pelican and a sexually apathetic puppet.

That’s not to absolve groups of total blame. “He means well” is the ultimate cop-out. The phrase says its source didn’t have the gumption to say, “He’s blah. Doesn’t offer a thing to anyone. We had to call a second cab because he took up an extra spot.”

So please, don’t mean well, not in the sense that it’s all you can offer. If that’s the case, mean anything but well. Mean something so bizarre it takes people a while to figure you out. Meaning well is even worse than being one of those rooster lollipops Crash Davis dislikes so much.

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