I Want to Be Like Ned

TBTL podcast host Luke Burbank, who is also a frequent panel member on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me, was away for two weeks. This was great for me, because the TBTL shows were reruns, and I had only recently begun my role as one of the show’s time bandits.

The final two days were old shows featuring conversations with Stephen Tobolowsky, shows I hadn’t heard before.

You know Tobolowsky if you have ever seen a few movies or a handful of television shows. Chances are good Tobolowsky, a character actor, was in at least one of them. I always enjoyed his work as an actor, but in the last couple of years I learned about his storytelling abilities. Many of the baseball players today grew up wanting to play like Ken Griffey, Jr. Ever since hearing Tobolowsky, I have wanted to tell stories like he does.

After my dad began living in a nursing facility it was a regular thing to go see him on Sundays. Often that meant taking a drive after church and taking a scenic path, giving me the chance to listen to Tobolowsky’s hour-long broadcast on Seattle’s KUOW.

I got into the podcasts months, maybe years, after they started, so I can’t say for sure the following excerpt from his book “The Dangerous Animals Club” came out from the podcasts, but some of the stories I’ve seen in the book were ones I did hear on Sundays.

When I was five, I had an invisible monster that lived alternately in my closet and under my bed in a kind of winter-home/summer-home arrangement. His name was “Eye the Monster.” Eye would come out of hiding when I was alone and we would talk.

I had an up-and-down relationship with Eye. I often appreciated his middle-of-the-night visits. We would talk about school and about girls I had crushes on. You would think that Eye the Monster didn’t care about the opposite sex. But he did. He always argued for patience and honesty. He urged me to be more aggressive with the ladies on square dance day. It was hard advice to take. I was never a player. I thought five years of age was too young to be married. But not Eye. He thought I could be a trailblazer and be married and have children before I was in fourth grade. And this was years before MTV.

My drives are over and so is The Tobolowsky Files. Reviews of the book say his storytelling translates as well in writing as it does on the radio. In just the little bit I read that seems true.

Phone pranking technology wasted on me

A couple of weeks ago we were targeted at work with prank calls. They were pretty well done and someone got some good laughs at our expense. It was harmless. And funny.

When I was a kid my friend Bruce and my brother’s friend Jeff were especially skilled at prank calls. Jeff was not only good at keeping a straight face, he had some of his victims convinced the call was legit. There was an old show called “Dialing for Dollars” in which the host would call someone randomly and if they answered the phone, and I think a couple of quiz questions, they would win prizes. Jeff did that to a family in the same Little League and the woman told mutual friends about her jackpot.

I, on the other hand, was terrible. When I tried doing something as simple as asking the Whitehead family if it was the Blackhead family I couldn’t get a word out with splitting my guts and doubling over. It was very painful for me. I had great ideas, too, but I couldn’t handle the delivery.

Now a kid like I was can use PrankDial.com to handle the joke telling. It’s a little tricky, because you only get two free calls a day, but if you call someone you know will answer then it works out just fine.

While we were targeted I took one of the calls. A woman asked if I was bringing her toilet paper. I knew we were getting played so I hung up. I didn’t realize that the call was prerecorded. Genius.

So I’ve been trying to prank my brothers, using the phone number we grew up with as the spoof caller ID number. To date neither brother has picked up the phone on time. This morning I tried again and thought I had finally found success. Someone picked up.

When the call ended I heard the recording and it was clear I hadn’t dialed my brother. I just pranked some confused woman in Utah wondering why someone was calling her telling her that her daughter had kicked his dog. He even told her to “Shut up.”

My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and without my glasses it’s hard to read the numbers on my phone.

So the awesome technology of prerecorded phone pranks, something that can help me finally pull off a successful phone prank and heal a four-decade-old wound is wasted because I need glass to read my phone.

No job beneath me. I know that now.

I love this speech, especially the first and third points. I can’t say much about Chris Asthon Kutcher’s thoughts on “sexy.” This video has gone everywhere by now, so its presence here doesn’t make this site special. I can only add my own history and thoughts about that.

Kutcher said he was no better than any job. I wonder if he thought that when he had those jobs. As for me, I’ve been an ingrate plenty.

Kutcher said he never quit a job before getting his next one. That’s admirable, and not true for me. When I was single it often seemed like the decent thing to do. I also got fired a couple of times. I was irresponsible. My learning curve was different than his. I grew up later.

Kutcher said opportunity often looks like hard work. I agree. It’s why I do this blog, and especially why I do the podcast. I can’t testify that I will hit it big with the effort. I just know that without it I won’t. The fact that I love doing it makes it worth doing even if it doesn’t pay off big.

What I can say about all my jobs, whether I loved them or hated them and regardless of how well I did at them, is that they helped make me who I am. And so even if I wasn’t grateful for them then, I am grateful for them now.

Paperboy — 6 months
Lawn mower — Over several years
Picking up construction debris — a few days
Saturday church custodian — a couple of months
Grocery bagger and night crew — 2 years and five months
Construction — 8 months
Appointment setter — 3 months
Garbage bag seller — 3 months
Bowling alley — 6 months
College newspaper editor — 1 year, 4 months
Intern — 8 months
Restaurant — 1 month
Computer magazine editor — 1 year, 9 months
Sales — 3 months
Movie set custodian — 2 weeks
Seminar roadie — 1 year 10 months
Corporate editor — 3 years
Trade show rep — 2 days
Freelance ad writer — 8 months
Dishwasher — 1 day
Training coordinator and trainer — 16 months
Temp secretarial jobs — several days one or two at a time over several years
Business coach — 8 months
Mortgage loan officer — 4 months
Movie extra — 2 days
Reporter — 14 years
Corn seller —

My next gig over the year was mowing lawns. Then I got hired to pick up construction debris on work sites. Then there was the Saturday gig as a church janitor, followed by the more than two years I worked at a grocery store as a bagger and then on the night crew, the longest time I spent at any one company until my current position.

At 19 I went on a church mission, returning home to a recession and finding out that jobs at the grocery store were unavailable. So I got a construction job helping out the heating and air conditioning guys. During college I set appointments for guys selling a mortgage scheme, then sold garbage bags for the Jaycees. For several months I worked at the BYU bowling alley before I started getting paid to do journalism for the college newspaper. The first internship in D.C. paid nothing and then I returned home to do sheet metal in home construction. I returned to college journalism and did a reporting internship that paid a stipend. I worked at a bookstore during that.

After graduation the job market was tough. I worked in a restaurant for a while before getting hired as an editor for a computer publication. I got canned there before hitting the two-year mark. I tried sales and was terrible and then worked for a company traveling every weekend for seminars where we sold books and tapes on how to make money. I edited and wrote for a couple of failed startups, did some freelance ad writing, worked as an editor for a book publisher, coordinated training groups and led trainings, did marketing for a mortgage company, coached people who bought books and tapes, sold mortgages and returned to training work. In between all those jobs there were day jobs doing things like answering phones for a school district on the first day of school when so many parents were confused about the changed bus routes. I washed dishes. I pushed a broom on a movie set and later was an extra in a movie.

Under durress, I forgive the Internet trolls

Some people don’t like this story.

Some even suggest it’s a fabrication on my part. This, in spite of the fact that finding the survey is easy for anyone with chimp-level Internet skills. I didn’t make it up. We don’t do that. Sometimes we get things wrong, which if done enough or in spectacular fashion is a fireable offense. But reporters get axed quickly and without question for making stuff up. I would never make stuff up because I like A. Money, and B. Sleeping at night. I know people wearing tin-foil hats won’t believe that, but seriously? I’m making it up? That’s what the commenter wrote.

So it is another story, that is at best,
a fabrication by the writer.

I love anonymous story commenters, but only because Jesus said I have to if I don’t want to go to the same place they’re going.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

It’s another story about how religion isn’t much of a thing in the Pacific Northwest. The survey is from the Gallup organization, which I’m pretty sure would notice if a newspaper reporter made up stuff about it. In this case there was a special Kitsap County touch to the piece. In these parts we surveyed the least religious of all. Take that, Eugene, Oregon!

Here is the link to the survey for those who don’t want to bust out their inner chimp.

Adding value to a Ford Taurus

My sexy ride.

Does a car with a name run better? Let’s assume it does, because the other benefits of giving a car a name take too long to explain.

It’s those reasons, though, that had me a little bummed when my car broke down and I feared it was dead. I’ve been driving it a few years and had yet to name it. I’ll concede there are no tangible benefits to giving a car a name. In fact, it might even be counterproductive. A car should probably be treated like the machine it is. But that’s not very fun. And giving a car a name, especially to a car you don’t like, can make driving it a little more palatable.

I only picked this car by default. My dad was driving it, couldn’t drive anymore, so I inherited it. It’s a 1998 White Ford Taurus. I’ve never understood why Tauruses are so omnipresent on American roads. When I graduated from college and got my first job, even before I reported the first day, I bought a Jetta. Named it Biff, because Biff in those days suggested a bit of snobbery. (Egads, Biff, this caviar tastes common.) A Jetta wasn’t a BMW, but it was more than my friends who were still in college could afford. We named my friend’s Mazda 626 “Hoffy” as in Hoffman, when my friend graduated.

The runner up

In coming up with a name for the Taurus, I consulted Wikipedia and found a list of people who died in 1998. Phil Hartman was in there and for about a day I thought I had settled on naming my car Lionel Hutz, a character Hartman voiced on “The Simpsons.” But Hutz is incompetent. The Taurus may be uncool, but it’s not incompetent.

Then I thought of another actor who, like Hartman, is often a memorable, but supporting, character. On Sundays when I’m out in the Taurus I often get to listen to the NPR show “The Tobolowsky Files.” Stephen Tobolowsky, in case the name doesn’t immediately draw your memory, makes an appearance in nearly every movie and television show. He is almost never the star, but his parts are memorable. Know why Mr. Schuester teaches the glee club. It’s because Mr. Ryerson got in trouble. Tobolowsky plays Ryerson on “Glee.” It’s not a regular role, but it’s frequent and usually worth remembering.

That’s Tobolowsky’s role in show business, for the most part. He could win an Oscar one day for best supporting actor. If someone were to make a movie of my life, I wouldn’t want Tobolowsky playing me, but I’d want him in the movie. And take that storyline and attach it to our highways and you have the Ford Taurus. When was the last time you went on a drive of any length and did so without seeing a Taurus? Did it make you want one? I didn’t think so. They’re not cool, but they’re everywhere. And you know what? They work just fine.

It’s because of all this that I have named my car after one of Tobolowsky’s characters, who shares the same last name as his Glee character. From Groundhog Day, I give you Ned “Needle-nose” Ryerson.

Seems anyone can go to France just by panhandling

The guys on the right (Literally, look to the right and you’ll see two guys dancing on a red carpet. This is not a blog post about the four remaining Republican candidates for president. I told you to look on the right, but I realize someday those guys may no longer be there. In that case, go to kickstarter.com and look around and you’ll get the idea. Is this the longest parenthetical remark ever within a sentence? Will you even remember what this parenthesis interrupted when you get to the end of it? Lucky for you that you don’t have to retrace every step. You just have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph and then skip over this entire subsection of the overall sentence. I suppose I didn’t have to explain that to you.) achieved their goal of drumming up $5,000 so they can go to the Cannes Film Festival.

Let’s hear it for the small independent businesspersons of the world!

Seriously, this is pretty cool. In fact it’s a pretty cool age we live in. People working at home and not gainfully employed have many ways to make money these days. And in the old days (Like five years ago. This break is shorter.) Going to Cannes would have been a pipe dream even for movie critics employed by many newspapers. These guys just asked for backing and there they go.

It gives me an idea. You’ll hear about it in due time.

Don’t be cheap; Send these guys to France.

In this election year I’m supporting the BS ticket for a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. For a few bucks you can too. Because a political contribution would ruin my image of Olympian objectivity I can’t contribute to a political campaign. But you’ve got to admit, you’ll get more of a payoff from this than you would by sending money to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney anyway.

For several months I had the rare pleasure (It became even rarer when he got fired.) of working alongside movie critic, humor columnist, BYU grad and all-around jackass Eric Snider when I worked at the newspaper that for him shall not be named. I’ve followed his career ever since and have enjoyed his meteoric rise to the upper-middle rung of the Internet world.

Let’s not kid ourselves. He’s not as well known as Roger Ebert for his movie criticisms or Dave Barry for his humor, but who do you know who stands in his living room in his sweat pants (I hope he’s wearing pants this time.) making a living by writing on the Internet? I thought so. And if you need some idea of his credibility, he is a regular player on Rotten Tomatoes and was once banned by Paramount, or one of its promotional companies.

Eric works with a partner, Jeff Bayer (who I’ve never met and probably never will), on an ongoing podcast of movie critiques. I’ve never listened to it. But if they go to Cannes, I will.

My main reason for supporting this effort is my appreciation of Eric’s work, but also because I would love, love, love to hear him skewer the French as I believe he will. Ever since I first heard about the Cannes Film Fesitival it seemed to me to be the snootiest, most pretentious film festival that side of Sundance. Cannes deserves some Snider treatment.

Add to that the fact that I’d like to see a campaign like this work. I’m warning you that I might try one myself one day.

So spend a dollar or 20 backing the BS Cannes effort. I’ve left the link above and over the in the column on the right that will take you to the Kickstarter Campaign page. The minimum donation is $1. Do it by Thursday, or these guys remain stateside. And no one wants to see that.

Tears on my commute

It may be that the idea was every bit as goofy as I thought it would be. A little over a week ago KIRO-FM’s John Curley and other folks from KIRO did a live reading of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the radio. When I first heard they were doing it I thought they were goofing. I pictured the readers cracking up over their lines, like Jimmy Fallon on “Saturday Night Live,” or everyone on “The Carol Burnett Show.”

If you chance to listen to it, you’ll see that they did their best to put on a decent production, similar to what I’ve heard from the old time radio shows. No matter. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t take time out for it. I don’t remember what I was doing, but chances are it involved work.

The next morning I was traveling into work again and the station played a small clip from the reading. It comes toward the end. I think since the movie is 65 years old I can talk about the ending without spoiling it. The main character, George Bailey, needs help from his friends and he gets it. The line played on the radio was:

“I wouldn’t have a roof over my head if it wasn’t for you, George.”

George was a building and loan guy who contrary to the stereotypes we plant on financial pros today was compassionate. When he needed that same compassion from his customers, in the end he got it.

That single line brought tears to my eyes. There is a long list of people who have been compassionate with me. It starts with my parents. My dad, whose mobility is limited to how far someone can wheel him, continues to show me compassion. Diana, my wife, sticks with me while I probably show a lack of gratitude for the blessings I have in favor of the accomplishments I want. My brothers gave up some of their youth to help raise me and still reach out to me. My kids are compassionate, too. They humor me. They accept my goofiness without too much complaint. If I embarrass them, they don’t let on. My workmates and bosses and my friends lift me. They always have.

The show, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” has always been one of my favorites. I’d love to force my kids to sit through it if I thought it would sink in, but perhaps this is where I show some compassion.

I’ve listened to more of the radio show, and they did a nice job. I can relate to George Bailey, if not in the moment of crisis, in the ending. My life, like his, has been absolutely wonderful.

“Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

Christopher Cross — Maximizing what makes him unique

Every so often you get a chance to encounter someone who has clearly sailed far emphasizing one thing no one else can do. On Friday I went to a Christopher Cross concert and witnessed just that, someone who has maximized the benefit out of something unique to him.

Christopher Cross, on the right, with the guitar.

Back in the early 1980s I heard of Christopher Cross’s concert at BYU. This was pretty much when Cross was at his hottest. I really liked him. I bought his first album and loved his song from the movie “Arthur.”

A review of Cross’s concert was not kind, I was told, in particular because his show followed closely an earlier show by Barry Manilow. Cross was this quiet, shy performer who went on stage with a guitar and a stool and just sang. A Manilow concert, by comparison, was like going to a Broadway play. So one response to the review was that it was unfair to compare the shows. Manilow does his thing. Cross does his.

That seemed a fair response, yet when I was given tickets to see Christopher Cross in Bremerton last Friday I was worried I would be bored out of my skull. Again, I liked his songs back in the early 1980s. In fact, Cross was huge on the radio. He won five Grammys and an Oscar. But I was never captivated. On Friday I went because my employer gave me tickets, which provided me and my wife a cheap date night.

When we entered the theater I was thrilled right off to see the stage. There were two keyboards, a drum set and another percussion set. So this wasn’t just going to be Christopher Cross singing.

Dinner was fantastic, so we felt spoiled already.

Christopher Cross came out with a band he introduced right away. He led off with one of the songs from his first album. I forget what it was, but I knew it when I heard it. He gave a nice show. He’s kind of shy, still.

He’s not all together charming, but he is funny. In fact, he catches you off guard with his humor. Before playing “Open Up My Window,” Cross was describing how tough it can be on the road being away from loved ones. He gave the normal spin about that, then said it can get expensive paying for hookers to fill those roles.

That song surprised me. It was sweet. I also appreciated the song “Swept Away,” which was written for the TV show “Growing Pains” and has become a wedding song for many. I liked the concert. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. My favorite part was “Arthur’s Theme,” because it was the one song that took me back to a specific moment. That moment was a movie theater in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. I went there with my good friend Keith to see “Arthur.” It was the last movie I saw before leaving for Chile.

As I watched Cross perform, paying attention to him in a way I hadn’t before, I made a judgment that may seem harsh, but in a sense makes me admire him a lot.

I listen to the lyrics in a Christopher Cross song and he isn’t a great storyteller. I appreciated hearing that “Think of Laura,” which went huge because of Luke and Laura on TV’s “General Hospital,” was written for a real Laura. Laura Carter was a college student killed by a stray bullet. Cross just said she was killed at a young age.

The words in Cross’s hits don’t seem like they were agonizing to produce.

“Hey Laura, where are you now? Are you far away from here? I don’t think so. I think you’re here, taking our tears away.”

It’s nice and all, but a teenager could have written it.

Cross’s music is not especially complex or even that moving. What Cross has done has taken that unique voice of his and struck as much gold as he could with it. He went huge with it, providing a sound we, myself included, appreciated at a particular point in history. He managed to not squander that success. Over the years he has managed to parlay it into a gig that will last the rest of his life. He had a pretty good crowd at Friday’s concert and gave a pretty good show.

For Cross’s ability to take that one uniquely Christopher Cross ingredient and turn it into career I admire him. I’m even jealous of him. He seems like a nice guy, so I am happy for him.