Thursday, January 31, 2008

Storm of the Century of the Week!

Central Indiana is currently bracing for exactly one crapload of severe winter weather. Around midnight, a band of snow, ice, and WINTRY MIX! will bear down on Indy and the surrounding area.

In the picture at right, meteorologist Ollie Williams Chris Wright (previously referenced here) is illustrating how royally snowed in we're going to be in a matter of hours.

Luckily for me, my friend Mikey from Washington made good use of my Amazon.com wishlist (conveniently located in the left-hand sidebar) and sent me a belated Christmas / survive-the-Storm-of-the-Century-of-the-Week Alfred Hitchcock movie giftpack.

So even if I'm trapped at home for tomorrow into the weekend, I've got plenty of Hitchcockertainment to keep me going. I'm stocked up on popcorn and soda -- I'm all set!

Now, let me share with you the other snappy ad on the Channel 13 website, which will no doubt keep me entertained this evening:


I can NOT EVEN IMAGINE what he found in the ice. If it's anything like what that other guy found in those hotel rooms, I don't even want to know.

I will definitely be watching. (Instant Update: A commercial just came on with Bob Segall holding up two glasses of water: "This one came from a toilet! This one came from restaurant ice! Which one is more likely to make you sick? Tune in at 11 to see!" Don't worry, Bob -- I'll be there.)

WAHOO! (Or, more accurately: WAH,000!)

Back in October, I asked for your help in getting my monthly hits over 1,000, as I was hovering in the high 900's and couldn't make the leap.

Immediately thereafter (I do enjoy the word "thereafter"), however, I experienced a stunning DIP in viewership. That is, by January 10, I had fewer than 600 views in the previous 30 days. There were graphs and everything to prove my utter failure as an internet marketer.

Of course, I kept mum on that because who wants to look like an idiot after putting it out there: "Hey, help me get more hits!" and then the hits actually go down.

BUT!

I am proud to report, dear readers, that you have made the difference. Together we have turned the corner, and I am able to report my first 1,000-hit, 30-day period. And there's graphs and everything! Dig:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's that you say? You'd like to control the soundtrack of your nightmare?

Well, my friend, you're in luck.

(If you are prone to freak-outs, I would advise against keeping only track #3, or just #3 & #5, on.)

Missing Money (.com)

Get thee to MissingMoney.com.

Do not wait. Do not grab a light, healthy snack first. Neither dawdle nor dilly nor dally. Go. There. Now.

I recently saw an ad for IndianaUnclaimed.com, the program from the IN Attorney General's office that tells you if you've got any money or other property awaiting you. So I went there and was not surprised to find nothing waiting for me.

BUT!

I somehow made my way to MissingMoney.com -- a similar, but national, search tool -- and found that there is over $100 waiting for me in Minnesota! I started my PayPal account when I lived there, and apparently PayPal somehow screwed its members and there was some settlement, which I remember, but I guess they tried to send me some money and it never made its way to me (since I lived in MN five or six years ago). But in the "Value of Property" column on MM, all it said was "Over $100." So I shall soon be "Over $100" to the good...although how much "Over" I have no idea. And you could be, too! Go check it out!

Did you check it out yet?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I. Want. That.

No, really. You don't understand:



I'm a little worried about how it might play out if lots of these Sportcopter Gyroplanes are sold, but I could definitely see integrating this (and several re-fueling centers within the 'copter's 300-400-mile range) into Plan A to Z.

I don't imagine either one has seen anything like that before...

This pic arrived in my inbox just now. I'm not sure it's real, unless the photographer was really, really sneaky in getting the photo, but just like those high school English papers, whether it's real or not, I approve.


How awesome is my mom? Seriously awesome.

A note from my mother, presented without editing:

Hi Bugs,

It was great to talk with you this evening...and I remembered what it was I was going to tell you!

I've been working ever so hard to get to Level 51 in the Free Rice game...getting mighty discouraged that I couldn't get that far! Then I looked at the FAQ's and found there is no 51! 50 is as high as it goes....so now I've sort of lost interest. Guess I'll still have to rack up some grains of rice for the program, but it's not nearly as challenging now!

OK, that's it....love you lots...Mom


How cool that my mom (a) has made it to Level 50 on FreeRice.com, (b) uses the phrase "I've been working ever so hard" without irony, (c) has been working her tail off to get to the nonexistent Level 51 on FreeRice.com, (d) knows that you can find out things on the intermajig through the FAQ's, and (e) has "sort of lost interest," even though she'll still (somewhat grudgingly) "rack up some grains of rice for the program."

Awesome.

American Idol

I'm watching American Idol tonight, and they're in Omaha. Let me just say this: Heartland represent!

I'm glad to see some good singers (as well as a few freaks), but I think the most striking thing about this episode is how the clean prairie air seems to have had a cuddlifying* effect on Simon Cowell.

I'll see if I can find a clip or two in the next couple days, but watching "Idol" tonight was really fun. I think what Simon did for the boy at the beginning who wanted to report from the red carpet was really nice.

* cuddlification (n.) The act of making cuddly

Sweet Fancy Moses!

The weather, she is severe!

Typically, when there's more red than green on the SkyTrak Doppler Radar, and when the part that isn't red is yellow-orange, things are bad.

Very, very bad.

Luckily, the heavy precipitation (rain and hail) is over.

But the cause of this hellweather (the cold front bringing in major cold weather) is now bringing extremely low temps and high winds, gusting up to 68 mph. The high temp today was 52˚F. It's supposed to get down to 12˚F tonight. (PLUS the high winds. And the snow. My God, the snow! The forecast is calling for near-white-out conditions around midnight.)

Text from me to friend: I think we made it through this part. Is next: Snow!

Text from friend to me: WTF. This state has bipolar.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A look at this month's search engine hits

Thanks to Google Analytics, I am able to see what people were looking for when a search engine led them here.

Some of the winners in the last month have included:
  • rod roddy's gravesite
  • big snickers
  • soulja boy is a mensa member (what?)
  • games where you must kill nazis
  • notguiltybyreasonofinsanity (when you do it all one word, I'm 4th on the Yahoo list!)
  • how do you feel about turtles
  • dirty dancing, credits, "watermelon boy" (and I'm not sure how the quotes led to the user finding the actual phrase "watermelon boy" on my blog, because come on, but there you go.)

So selfish: "I'M on fire. Put ME out."

Dan Liebert's pet peeves on today's front page at McSweeney's.

Silent Lucidity

I've spent the last four hours (I got up at 7:30ish) in silence.

No TV, no music, no iTunes, whatever. And it's been heavenly.

I've used the intermajig to read and write stuff (obviously), but no videos, and no MP3s. So far, it's just the honk of the geese on the frozen pond lake loch and my occasional giggles at myself and others.

Delightful.

I'll need to break the silence a little later when I go to buy a new cell phone, but I'm going to live it up while I can.

You should try it.

"A person is smart...

...People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it."

One of the most interesting things that happened when I took my trip to India earlier this month had nothing to do with Indian culture or food or sightseeing or whatever. It was the discussion between a father and his 14- and 16-year-old sons about life, and about people, and about how things work.

In the discussion, the father busted out the above quote from Agent K in "Men In Black." Which, (a) way to remember a quote like that, and (b) nice going on finding the appropriate pop culture reference in this discussion with your kids. It was right on, and the kids new exactly what he meant.

Anyway, I was reminded of the above quote when I read this bit of commentary this morning. Jon Friedman's thesis is that Britney Spears is heading for a similar destiny as Princess Diana (only without the class or philanthropy) -- a paparazzi-based crisis, fueled by "our" need to know every salacious and lascivious detail of The Celebrity Life. And my response was, "As long as people will buy that crap in the checkout line, the paparazzi will go after those pictures, and people's lives (their spiritual lives and future enjoyment AND their physical, living, breathing lives) will be in danger."

It also got me thinking about one of The Cool Kids I mentioned in a post last week. Julia Allison is an editor-at-large for Star Magazine, and, near as I can decode, her job is to appear on entertainment news shows and talk about The Celebrity Life.

If you click over to her blog, you can see that she writes a lot about her personal life (she recently broke up with internet wunderkind Jakob Lodwick and she's apparently also a dating columnist for Time Out New York) as well as her professional life. But the stuff on her professional life is mostly "Here's a picture of me at CNN Headline News for Showbiz Tonight!" Or "Here's a picture of me on my way to the FOX News studios." Or "Here's a picture of me getting my makeup done. And here's what I wore..."

Which made me think she was a vapid, self-obsessed moron.

BUT!

Much like America's car-wreck obsession with Britney, I can't quit visiting Julia Allison's site. She posts like 30 times a day, which, come on, but still. The real reason I keep going back is that every once in a while, this little glimmer of a better self pops through as she discloses doubt about her role in the Celebrity machine, disbelief about how self-centered her blog could appear, etc. She's actually a great writer, and I hope that she's ultimately able to find an expression of herself and her work that allows her to become who she really is.

Britney, too.

I mean, all of us, really. Isn't that what life is about? Finding out who you really are and then creating a way to be that person?

And another weird coincidence

Just last night, as I was watching FOX59's poorly timed (or wildly opportunistic) afternoon showing of Heath Ledger's 2003 thriller "The Order," I considered writing a post about how it would suck to be put in jail if you were a vampire or a sin-eater or whatever that guy in the movie was -- any immortal/undead being, really.

I mean, I would think that (except for the bloodsucking and the frequent murdering) vampires and others would probably, by necessity, be very good citizens: obeying the speed limit, not drinking and driving, showing up when called for jury duty, etc. Because if you're a vampire and you go to jail for, say, 30 years, then you're not going to age at all, and then people will start to wonder what's up, and pretty soon out come the wooden stakes and holy water. Same old story...

But as I was looking for images to include in my last post about licking and anti-depressants, I somehow coincidentally came across this article, which kind of blows my theory to pieces (literally).

It would seem that alleged Saudi Arabian lawyer, alleged pagan high priest, alleged notary public and alleged vampire Triston Jay Amero's Bolivian bombing imbroglio will allow us to test this hypothesis.

The over/under on the wooden stakes for Triston/"Lestat" is set at 20 years, and the betting windows are now open.

It's gettin' churchy up in here.

OK, I don't think this blog is going pastoral or anything, but I feel the need to share.

I got a free issue of Leadership -- a magazine about "real ministry in a complex world" -- the other day, and I've been slowly working my way through it. It's a nice magazine and all, but it's caused me to reflect on some stuff that I don't really know what to do with. Two examples:

Example the First: Whom Would Jesus Lick?
So on Saturday morning, I was reading a Leadership article about how some urban churches are responding to persons who are homeless or addicted or mentally ill or whatnot, and for some reason, my brain came up with the very weird ethical question: "If a stranger came to the church and someone I trusted told me that I could change that person's life (cure their addiction, rehabilitate their mental illness, find them a job with dignity and a safe place to live, etc.) simply by licking one of their hands right now, would I do it?"

(I said it was a very weird question. None of the congregations profiled is actually licking the homeless, as far as I can tell.)

I still haven't figured out my answer...leaning toward Yes, I guess, but I think it would depend on who was telling me that's what I had to do.

BUT! ANYWAY!

I had recently shared with some friends about reconnecting with my friend KT from IU, and one of my friends asked if that was the same person as this other Katie we knew, whose last name was Miracle. Later on Saturday, as I was looking to reply to my friend's question about this other girl we knew, I did a web search for "Katie Miracle" and on the first page of Yahoo search results was the headline: "KATIE MIRACLE-CURES LEPERS WITH TONGUE". It has nothing to do with the Katie we knew, and it has nothing to do with curing lepers by licking them -- it's actually some guy's joke website, but HOW WEIRD that I was just thinking about that and then there was something exactly like it (sort of) online?


Example the Second: The Meds Generation
Another article in this issue of Leadership talks about "The Meds Generation" -- how do you lead "when everyone's on something." Now, this didn't get me thinking all freaky-deaky-licky like the other article did, but it did get me thinking.

And what it got me thinking about was the fact that I am not on anything...and maybe how odd that is. I don't drink or smoke (though some might say the way I use food is comparable), and I haven't taken anything more than an Advil since the Great Backpain Episode of 2002.

I also started thinking about the recent episodes in my life where friends have chosen to go off anti-depressants and other similar prescription drugs, to varying degrees of success. In no fewer than three incidents, I have been on the receiving end of what can only be described as a personal meltdown by someone who had recently stopped taking their anti-depressants. And I've heard other stories of folks who've had similar experiences. I have witnessed one person successfully navigate that process, but perhaps my perception of her success was influenced by the fact that I knew what was going on, and didn't find out after the fact, as I had in those other three instances.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: if you're on anti-depressants now, that's cool. If you want to stop taking them and your medical professional is on board with that, also cool. But it might help to let other people in your life know about that upfront, so that in case you have a day where it's not going super-well, they're more likely to get what's going on and be forgiving instead of wondering what the hell that e-mail was about or why you're acting like you had lost your damn mind.

And if you're part of a faith community, let your pastor or other trusted church friend know, so that they can be as supportive of you on that part of your journey as they are in the rest of it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

And speaking of the church, contemporarily

The Creative Review blog showcases a millennial twist on Biblical stories. An Australian "creative collective" called The Glue Society has created "God's Eye View," an imagining of four Biblical events as captured by Google Earth:

The Crucifixion



The Garden of Eden



Noah's Ark



The Parting of the Red Sea

Lessons from the Contemporary Church

Fortunately, God didn't stop speaking after the last book of the Bible was written.

God's word is shared within, among, and through us every day, and Broadway UMC has a creative approach to telling that story. Sometimes three scripture texts are read in worship, but sometimes one of them is replaced with a Lesson from the Contemporary Church: a reflection or meditation from someone in the parish -- a member of the congregation, a neighbor, etc.

I'm telling you about this because last week we started including them as MP3s alongside the sermon MP3s on the Broadway website.

And because you should go here now and listen to them.

The two on there now are powerful messages from two very different individuals who call Broadway home (which, in and of itself, is a difference-canceler, if there is such a thing ... Seana and Marnie look different and come from different backgrounds and generations, but their commitment to Broadway Parish is a super-strong commonality that overshadows other differences).

Seriously. Do yourself a favor and listen to them right now.

(Did you listen to them yet?)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kids today

I swear I am not making this up...

Idiot of astonishing proportions "Brain Game" host Chris Wright: What was the name of the character played by Carroll O'Connor on "All In The Family"?

Sad, misinformed "Brain Game" contestant (the only one who rang in, mind you): Um ... Willis?

While sitting at your desk...




Via Mareen

"One hoondred. Ehs thaht eht?"

I must say the crazy-gleeful glint in 96's eye gives me hope for the next 62 years.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday night tragedies, in ascending order of tragicness

  1. Watching that show where they fight crime with math.
  2. Not being able to find the remote while watching that show where they fight crime with math.

This kid is freakin' awesome

My niece, Madelynn, just got a new big-girl activity center. Dig:


...Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: lettuce be...

It all started when my mom e-mailed me a link to FestivalNet.com.

I have learned that this weekend is Yuma Lettuce Days!

Why am I not there, you ask? Excellent question.

Because the Yumans I know and love failed to let me know that:
(a) Yuma is the Winter Lettuce Capital of the World, producing over 90% of the vegetables we Americans eat during the winter, and

(2) Each year such winter lettuce is celebrated with a weekend-long festival, and

(further) This year, in celebration of the 10th Annual Yuma Lettuce Days, part of the festivities will include the (undocumented, but still impressive) World's Largest Salad Bowl. I have been unable to determine whether it will be filled with the World's Largest Salad. But just the thought, man -- that's one big salad.
So I e-mailed a group of friends, Yuman and non-Yuman alike, lamenting my absence from the big, big lettuce party, and one friend wrote back reiterating the widely held belief that "You don't win friends with salad."

To which Sarah, one of my Yuma friends (whom I've never met in person, but whom I've gotten to know through the World Wide Webchamacallit), replied: "In Yuma... you're nothing if you're not in the salad business. So, yes, in Yuma you can make friends with salad."

Which makes me envision some sort of Salad Mafia. (Although they apparently prefer the term "Salad Cabal" and use "salad" as a verb.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Are you going where I'm going...

...or am I going where you've been?

Red = Where I've lived
Blue = Where I've been
Green = Where I'd like to go

My future tree, for now

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In the UK, they have TJ Maxx, but it's called TK Maxx, and you can use your cellie at the top of Mount Everest...

...and 98 other things we didn't know last year.

Somewhere, Howard Dean's "Yaaar!" Just Made A New Friend



Really, Mitt Romney?

REALLY?

Wal-Mart opens in Lafayette Square

About a mile from the condo, a new Wal-Mart is having its Lafayette Square grand opening.

Lord, help us all.

The local FOX morning show is interviewing Jason Wetzel, senior shill PR manager for Indiana. So far, I have learned:

  • For the 425 new jobs the Wal-Mart brings to the Lafayette Square micro-economy, they received over 7,000 applications. 7,000 applications. To work at Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart is committed to serving the uniquely diverse Lafayette Square area, carrying such items as -- and I am not making this quote up -- "rice."
  • And (I am also not making this up) "shrimp-flavored french fries." (My research indicates that this is, perhaps, targeted at an Asian audience.)
  • They are further wading into the diversity pool by offering eyebrow threading, which rich white man Jason Wetzel assures us is very popular among people of Mediterranean descent. ("They do not pluck; they thread.")

I kind of think that the addition of a Wal-Mart just down the street will be a handy convenience. But I haven't shopped at a Wal-Mart in years and really don't intend to start now.

What I'm MOST excited about is the crowd at my Meijer going down a little bit...assuming it doesn't go down to the point where even the Meijer is thwarted by the retail juggernaut. Time will tell...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Entertaining Angel(a)s Unawares

I'm at the grocery store buying food for this guy that came to the food pantry at Broadway today, and as I'm walking to my car this old woman (like 75 or 80 years old) goes, "Excuse me, are you going far?" and I'm like, "WTF?"

But I say "No, I just have to be at 20th and Meridian in 20 minutes. Do you need a ride?" (What the what? Who said that?!)

Anyway, she introduces herself as Angela and gets in my car, and as she's getting in my car, I go, "You're not going to carjack me, are you, Angela?" and she goes, "No." (Later, as I realized this was the second time in less than a week that I've asked that question of a potential passenger without irony, I wondered if anyone who IS going to carjack you actually answers that question honestly up front.)

And we're driving to where she needs to be and I go, "How long were you waiting there and how many people did you ask for a ride?" She goes, "Oh, I'd been waiting a while and a lot of people walked by, but you were the first person I asked."

So I go, "How did you know to ask me?" and she goes, "Oh, God gives me intuitions about things like that. He leads me to other Christians. What do you do for a living, son?"

Me: "I work at a church."

Her: "See?"

Me: "..."

What the what?

Great.

So now, in addition to the Zombie Apocalypse, I have to worry about a very real Alien Apocalypse.

New footage from the Mars Explorer Spirit showed this:


Which, close up, is this:


I always felt it rather ethnocentric that we would assume that aliens look like humans. I mean, like, bauplan-wise. They have their differences (Klingon head ridges, pointy Vulcan ears, etc.) but, you know, two arms, two legs, a head, all that.

I've just now realized that my knowledge of alien morphology comes pretty heavily from Star Trek, and, really, if you're a writer on a sci-fi series in Hollywood, a town populated by (mostly) humans, you probably have to come up with alien life forms that can be acted out by humans.

But anyway. Add Martian Attack to the emergency plan. So, with Aliens and Zombies, I guess I have to change Plan Z to "Plan A to Z."

I'll publish a comprehensive review at the earliest convenience. (Bonus preview: An isolated Canadian compound still sounds pretty good.)

This ad makes me crazy



I am haunted by this ad for two reasons:

First, why would you go to this place and pay a fee to get a loan against your tax refund? If you have all the forms and information you need to get through their process, then you have all the forms and information you need to get through the IRS process, and with direct deposit from the IRS, things move pretty quickly. I guess this is, like, the income-tax equivalent of payday-advance loans, which also enrage me.

Second, this ad makes me crazy because of the back-up singers. "X-press Refunds!" they sing, and then the soloist comes in with "Why should you wait?" Which I guess I'm OK with, except it kind of gets stuck in my head. The crazy-making part is the stinger at the end: "X-press Refunds!" the choir reliably chimes in, and then the soloist belts out "FISCAL TAX!" And all I can think of, every time I hear this ad on the radio or see it on TV, is the singer who earns a living by wailing out corporate names like that. It makes me mocky, and then it makes me sad, and then it makes me angry because "X-press Refunds! FISCAL TAX!" is stuck in my head for hours.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"What did YOU do?"

I spent some time on Sunday morning out at the Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility, a DOC program that works with offenders in the last 6 months to 2 years of their incarceration, preparing them for their transition back into "the real world" with vocational training and education.

Each Sunday they offer a worship service for the offenders, and Mary Z. Longstreth, one of the folks who works in prison ministries here in the city, invited me to attend. There were about 40 men in attendance at worship, and for the first ten or fifteen minutes, I found myself wondering about the pasts of the men in the pews around me.

"What did you do...?" I wondered. "What did you do that landed you up in here?" Of course, as we proceeded through worship, I learned that, beyond their past, these men were good singers, or talented musicians, or excellent pray-ers, or skilled encouragers, or supportive listeners, or whatever -- and I never learned what a single one of them had done to end up in prison, even though I remained curious about their lives.

They had gathered in the Chapel for any number of reasons, but they were there. And they were glad they were there and I was glad I was there, because Mary Z. brought another friend with her -- a man who had been incarcerated starting at age 14, but who had been released from prison five years ago. Kenneth shared his story and encouraged the men to "love God with all ya got" and to prepare for their lives on the outside with hope and high expectations. He didn't use notes or seem to have practiced his testimony, but Kenneth could have led worship in any church in the city.

I'm pretty sure what I witnessed was "proclaiming freedom to the captives" -- and I had the opportunity to look beyond the literal definition of "captive," too.

On the drive home, I started thinking about how we treat each other "on the outside" and what it means to be forgiving. At the prison, I knew that there was a big "What did you do?" on each of the men I was interacting with -- but I know that I've committed some major screw-ups in my life, too -- we all have. I'm grateful for the grace of God and others -- the grace that looks past "What did you do?" and sees "Who are you today, right here and right now?" Kenneth was proclaiming freedom to the 40 offenders Sunday morning, but he was also procaliming freedom to me.

My prayer is that I'll always remember Sunday morning and forget "What did you do?"

From the Vault -- Raccoon Supper

From an e-mail I sent to friends in February 2000 after attending one of the more unusual church fundraisers I've seen in my time -- an Annual Coon Supper, where the main dish was roasted raccoon:

First of all, I need to state that I actually gave the Coon Supper an honest effort and tried to enjoy myself. Unfortunately, though, this entire tawdry episode made that a little tough.

It all starts out harmless enough when the priest I'm visiting (the one in charge of the church where the Coon Supper is held) buys me my dinner -- an $11.00 value! As part of the sophisticated admission process, we sign in on the sign-in sheets they provide at the entrance. (I'm still not sure if that's for record-keeping purposes, for their mailing list, or for notifying next-of-kin...) Anyway, we sign in and proceed to get in line for the Coon Festivities.

As we make our way, cafeteria-style, through the line, I am treated to a five-pound plate of food -- not only is there coon, but also stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cole slaw, cornbread and cake. So, I figure, if the coon doesn't work out, I can always subsist on side dishes. So I dig in and start trying to enjoy my coon.

Now, I'm not really sure what I expected from a "Coon Supper", but I guess I had envisioned Coon Filet or Coon Mignon or Boneless Breast of Coon. What I get certainly isn't any of those. It's just a whole mess o' coon, bones and all.

Apparently, when you're "roastin' you up a coon" (that's a direct quote), you "pretty much just break it up a little and toss it in the roaster". Mmm-mmm! Whatever... So, I start eating this coon, and it tastes like a cross between beef and pork. And I'm picking through my coon and all of a sudden my fork hits something hard and I look down and I see a little raccoon shoulder blade in the middle of my plate. Of course, it takes all of my composure not to freak out at this sight; once I recover, however, I slip the little raccoon shoulder blade into my napkin and bring it home as a souvenir...maybe it'll make a nice keychain?!

Anyway, after the Shoulder Blade Incident, I try to make small talk with the priest, but he's having none of it -- too engrossed in his coon. (He even got seconds!) So, in a desperate attempt to fill the awkward, coon-filled silence, I (foolishly) say, "So how many coons does it take to feed a group this size?" (There were like 500 people there.) Well, the priest doesn't know, but he calls one of the leader guys over (presumably the Head Coon Roaster), who then explains that they had, and again I quote, "bagged us 'bout 235 coon" but that when they were cleaning the coons in preparation for the Coon Supper, they "found us eight or nine that didn't quite look right, so we threw 'em out."

So, first I do the math, and I'm thinking, "Wow! Half a coon each! What a bargain!"

Then, the full weight of the Head Coon Roaster's words hits me and I'm thinking, "You people will eat COON! What, in the name of all things holy, could possibly make you think that some specimens of this rodent-type creature are inedible, while others are perfectly fine?!"

Well, having that thought is a big mistake. Because then I start picturing all these diseased and disabled raccoons limping around the forest, all mangy and rabid. And then I start thinking about the good-enough coons who had been simply scampering around the forest until "bagged" for the event. At this point, my tummy starts to turn, and I have to start concentrating on my side dishes and begin hiding my still-remaining coon under my stuffing like a three-year-old.

So, while it wasn't a life-changing experience, I am now able to honestly say (if ever asked again) that I don't care for coon. I couldn't have said that before, so I'll consider this one of those "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" kind of moments.

From the Vault: Excerpts from a Chat Session

This is from an AIM session from 2006. I’ve removed all the links for obvious reasons. (As in, "I obviously don't want to seem like a jerk.") Actually, all links referenced were from a site which has since been shut down.

We join my friend’s and my chat after a prolonged discussion of houses for sale and our plans for the weekend and the many benefits of married life...

SSSemester: You marrieds have all the luck! I'm thinking of marrying some sort of immigrant – helping her gain access into the US and receiving gifts such as kitchen tools and elegant bedding on top of that. It's win-win!

[Friend]: Sounds like the perfect marriage for you.

SSSemester: Unless she wants me to actually, you know, talk to her. In which case, we're screwed. I'll have to look for a Russian girl or a girl from somewhere else that would be tough for me to learn her language and hard for her to learn English.

[Friend]: [Friend’s husband]'s cousin married a Russian mail-order chick.

SSSemester: How about Valentina ([link removed])? She's 67, right? She lists her profession as "geodesist". WTF?

[Friend]: geodesist that was MY question

[Friend]: And her hobbies are house work

SSSemester: a branch of applied mathematics concerned with the determination of the size and shape of the earth and the exact positions of points on its surface and with the description of variations of its gravity field

[Friend]: She's perfect for you

SSSemester: "And her hobbies are housework. She's perfect for you." I am crying from laughter.

[Friend]: LOL

SSSemester: And she doesn't speak a word of English: "0 - None"

[Friend]: How about her: [link removed]

[Friend]: LOL

[Friend]: “Scott?! Vwhere Are VU?!?!?!”

SSSemester: Is next? MailOrderBrideVwear!

SSSemester: She went to uneversity. But didn't learn to spell it.

[Friend]: LOL Speaking of that, check out the second outfit on this one: [link removed]

SSSemester: Is the right sleeve a separate piece? Maybe instead of "a teacher" she could be "a fashion designer"?

SSSemester: Are those three pics even the same woman?

[Friend]: Unclear

[Friend]: WTF!?!?! [link removed]

SSSemester: Hello, Elena!

[Friend]: LMAO

SSSemester: “In Soviet Russia, floral-print bikini wears YOU!”

[Friend]: LOL

[Friend]: Oh man, this is bad, bad bad!

SSSemester: This one, whose English is listed as "3 - Fair. Speaks barely enough to communicate without an interpreter but not over the telephone," uses the word "interlocutor". [link removed]

[Friend]: OMGOMGOMG [link removed]

[Friend]: "Interlocutor" is Russian for [edited because this is a family blog]

SSSemester: What's Russian for [also edited because this is a family blog]?

[Friend]: Look at this one. [link removed] "I Vill Crush You!"

SSSemester: Her profession is "Barman-waitress"

[Friend]: LOLL Man, do you think people really pay for these girls? It's just not right.

SSSemester: I don't know. But if you click "All Ladies" under search photos, it returns 7,312 results!

[Friend]: Folks’ll do anything to come to America.

From the Vault: Their Own Signature Style

An e-mail from me to friends on Monday, October 25, 2004:

Hi, all -- long time, no talk to...thought I'd share the one "bright"
"high" point of my triumphant part-time return to the workforce.

As I scan invoices for hours at a time, days at a stretch (or so it seems), I entertain myself by reading the names that are signed at the bottom, on the "customer signature" line. While most receivers of goods sign with their own name -- a basic "John Smith" or whatever -- others feel the need to protect their own identities, for reasons I'd really rather not fathom.

Regardless, I present to you the following list of actual signatures on actual invoices at MegaFoodWorkplace:

1. B. A. Baracus
2. James Bond
3. Scooby Doo
4. Skeletor! (their exclamation point, not mine)
5. Gomer Pyle
6. Peter Parker
7. Xena Yayayayaya! (again, exclamation point not added by me)
8. Nacho Cheese*
(* I will allow for the possibility of the name "Nacho Cheese," as I actually knew a guy named Nacho -- short for Ignacio -- when I was in Mexico, and I can see how that might evolve into "Nacho Cheese" as a workplace nickname.)

Listfully yours,
Scott

Me and Jackson


I'm just now going through some old e-mails (which I may post excerpts from soon) and I discovered a link to JacksonPollock.org, which allows you to create pretty cool stuff like the pic above. Click it and try!

The Cool Kids

I spent roughly six hours yesterday clicking and linking and re-clicking and browsing around the websites and blogs from the folks at CollegeHumor.com and their millionaire, tv-star, viral-video, internationally published friends.

I actually started here and ended up here and here and here and here.

I'm still processing the feelings of envy and disgust and desire and joy and contemplation these blogs (and others) have stirred up within me. More on The Cool Kids later.

Emergency! (Not right now, but what if?)

Recent events have led me to re-evaluate some stuff.

One component of said "stuff" is my emergency preparedness plan, of which I shall share two important parts with you right now.

Part the First: Emergency Contact Info
As someone who is living single, this seems pretty important. In case of an emergency where I'm, like, verbally incapacitated, there is (now) a list of emergency contact numbers on my refrigerator at home. So, like, assuming you have the key to my house, just go to the fridge and you'll be able to contact immediate family and (immediate) friends.

Most of the contacts listed are in or around the Crossroads of America, but just in case I and the emergency response teams are the only survivors in the greater Indianapolis area, I have also cleverly included contact info for family friends in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia (which is really just a phone list for me in case my cellie ever dies, but still, better safe than sorry, right?).

Part the Second: Plan Z
As I was pondering the Emergency situations above, I started thinking further about my personal zombie response plan, which I am calling Plan Z. The more I think about this the smarter it seems, so I think that perhaps even before purchasing a home in the Indy area, I might start looking at developing a compound of very tiny houses in the Middle of Nowhere, somewhere near a plentiful supply of fresh water -- maybe somewhere on a lake in Canada. (The cold immobilizes zombies, you know.) Who's in?

Prince Akeem Predicts The Future

Via bwe.tv

In this clip from 1988's "Coming To America," Eddie Murphy, as Prince Akeem of Zumunda, recaps a football game between the Giants of New York and the Packers of Green Bay which is an eerily accurate prediction of last night's game:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

To Infinity And Beyond! Please Drive Thru.

Over a delightful, if a touch noisy, dinner at Marco's (home of the Tuesday Night Half-Price Filet Special) tonight, my friend KT told me about her co-worker's recent experience at the Plainfield Chick-Fil-A.*

Apparently, on placing her order at the drive-thru, she realized that her order-taker was not mere feet away, staffing the cash register and occasionally agitating the Fryalator. No, her order-taker at the drive-thru was THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY, at a call center in India.

"NO WAY!" I replied, loud enough to cause the couple at the table rightontopofus next to us to flinch a little and then glare passive-aggressively.

Apparently, it's true. Fast-food places have found that it's cheaper and faster to have you speak into the clown's mouth, route your words via the Inter-Web-o-Tron to Bangalore, have the person there enter your order on their computer, and InterWeb it back to the restaurant, where your order shows up on the screen.

I just don't know.



*Remind me to write about the various pronunciations of "Chick-Fil-A" I've heard in my lifetime. Thank God KT said it right tonight.

Murder Unscripted

While I do enjoy the improvised sketches that have resulted from the Writers Guild of America's strike, I think we can all agree that it's time for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to get back in there and figure this out.

Otherwise, it's gonna look like this:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Run, Doogie Howser -- Run Like The Wind!

This is creebuloddsometasticorous.

It's from the people who brought us the Garfield video below, and there really are no words to describe this video, but I'll try. It's a reimagining of the Doogie Howser, MD, theme song/intro, only some guy has inserted himself into the video.

Now, I've said it before and I'm SURE I'll say it again: just 'cause we have the technology to do something, doesn't mean we should do it. But I swear, y'all, it is a true fact that I actually clapped my hands at the end of this creepy, fabulous, odd, awesome, fanstastic, splendiforous video:

Wa wa wa wa wa...Wha?

Over on Clif's blog, he mentioned April Stevens and her song "Teach Me, Tiger," which he likened to auditory pornography. I have learned that, when the song came out in 1959, it caused an uproar for its sexual suggestiveness.

Of course, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I give you ... "Teach Me, Tiger":



Now, compared to "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot or "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails or any number of WAY MORE SUGGESTIVE SONGS of the past ten or twenty years, this isn't really all that scandalous. But I can imagine that back in the day, "Teach Me, Tiger" was quite the controversy.

See? I told you so.

A recent UK survey of 250 kids in a pediatric ward found that ALL 250 KIDS disliked clowns.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There ... are no words

I, like many kids who grew up in the 80s, used almost all of my Scholastic Book Fair allowance on Garfield books. Looking back, I'm not sure what the appeal was, and today I have a love-hate relationship with the lasagna-lovin' cat.

Which is why this appeals to my ironic side.

And now my mostly awesome brother has a blog!

Just kidding -- he's fully awesome.

Check out his blog here.

My awesome sister-in-law has a blog!

And it's full of stuff about my awesome niece, Madelynn!

Click here or the beautiful child below to link.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Even if the premise is untrue, this is pretty funny

I got an e-mail forward today with the following premise: each year, English teachers from around the US submit the most awful analogies and metaphors from high school essays, and the following are the winners. Even if these are totally made up, I find many of them hilarious.

Here goes:
  • Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  • He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  • He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
  • The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
  • From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  • Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  • John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  • He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.
  • The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  • The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

Okay, I'll Bite...

So ever since The Transformers movie came out last summer, there's been a ton of buzz about a film called Cloverfield, which nobody really knows anything about. Something about Manhattan, a monster of some sort, Armageddon, etc.

It premieres this Friday...here's a clip:

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Life Is An Open Book

...or, rather, an open iPod

In the grand blogger tradition of assuming you care about the mundane details of my life, I shall now share with you, unedited, the first ten songs that pop up when I put my iPod on random. I'm a little nervous about what my song collection will barf out, but that's the sacrifice of the blogger, right?

Ready? OK!

1. Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
OK, so far, so good.

2. My Life by Billy Joel
Good song, perfectly cromulent TV theme. This isn't as hard as I thought.

3. After You, Who? by John Barrowman
It's unlikely that you're familiar with this Cole Porter song, but it's a good one. Romantical.

4. Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
I have to figure out how to uncheck my Christmas music so that it quits popping up.

5. Autumn / Adagio from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi
Because I am classy.

6. Thank You For The Music by Abba
Of all the Abba songs on my iPod (courtesy of "Abba Gold," the one CD I would pick if I was going to be stranded on an island and only got one CD to bring with me forever), this is my least favorite.

7. Por Una Cabeza by The Tango Project
This is the song that Arnold Schwarznegger and Tia Carrere (RrRrRrRr!) dance to in "True Lies."

8. If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful by Whitney Houston
This song makes me think of Ghana because one of the other volunteers lent me her Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits CD and, inexplicably, this duet with Jermaine Jackson was one of the "hits."

9. Si Volvieras A Mi by Josh Groban
I will admit that, while I do not qualify as a Grobanite (for charity or otherwise), I do enjoy Josh Groban's music.

10. Babe by Styx
Styx is far cooler than Air Supply.

Across the Universe

In which I ruin the movie for you if you haven't seen it.

So, yeah -- spoiler alert, I guess.

On the way to India, I started watching "Across the Universe," the Julie Taymor movie that relies heavily on reimagined Beatles songs, loosely tied together in a plot involving Vietnam, civil disobedience, the frivolity of college, the struggles of the artist, a plethora of love stories, and a bunch of other stuff. On the way back, I finished watching it.

Anyway, this scene is the very end of the film. I am such a sap that it's a good thing the lights were dimmed so most people were sleeping and nobody saw me weeping over Jude and Lucy's roof-to-roof reunion happy ending. That's just how I roll.

Here's the clip:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Maybe AOL isn't irrelevant after all...

...at least they're good for some humor.



Not that I will get my "news" from AOL, but still.

Mortal Akapella

This is really only funny if you're me. Which you aren't, so it isn't.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Freaky-deaky freak-out

This evening, on the way home, I was contemplating my awesomeness, as usual. (I have remarkably high self-esteem for a guy who, on paper, really ought not.)

Anyway, the John Tesh Radio Program (don't ask) featured a story about resumes and I started thinking about my own. What I was specifically focusing on was the update I need to make to my resume (even though the position I'm in right now is envisioned as at least a five-year position and I'm only one year into it and I'm really not thinking at all about changing jobs, because come on, the job I have is pretty awesome) about being a member of Mensa and the National Eagle Scouts Association, since neither of those is currently on there.

And THEN I started thinking about the small number of awesome people who are in Mensa, and the small number of awesome people who are Eagle Scouts, and the awesome Venn diagram of smallness of awesome people who are BOTH in Mensa AND Eagle Scouts. And I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I might figure out how special I was (you know, beyond my typical hypothesis of "I am VERY special."), doing math in my head:

  • There are currently 50,000 members of American Mensa, but since it's for people in the top 2% of IQ, more than 6 million people are actually eligible.

  • More than one million people have earned the Eagle Scout rank -- but that's since it started in 1911.

  • So, out of 50,000 American Mensa members, probably half (= 25,000) are men.

  • And of those 25,000 men, maybe a third to half were involved in Scouting. We'll say 12,500 to be conservative. And approximately 5 to 8% of those involved in Scouting attain the rank of Eagle. So let's say 1,000 people are currently both members of Mensa AND Eagle Scouts which is probably a high estimate, but which really doesn't matter for the purpose of this post. All that really matters is the fact that I was seriously contemplating my Mensa-ness and my Eagle-ness...
Because here's the freaky-deaky freak-out part:

When I went to the mailbox immediately after that to see what the letter carrier had brought today, I discovered two pieces of mail and two pieces of mail only: The Mensa bimonthly magazine and the National Eagle Scout Association's "Eagletter" quarterly newsletter.

Dun dun DUN!

What the what?!

I know!

Six Months Old!

Happy 1/2th Birthday, Madelynn!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Six Sweetest Words: Received At Airport / Delivery Process Initiated (UPDATED)



Friends, I left Chennai with a carry-on and two suitcases.

I arrived at IND with only my carry-on.

When things got screwed up at Dulles on my way back, I had the option (at 10:00 at night, after a full 30 hours of travel) to either (1) stand in line behind 40 other people whose baggage was lost and/or held hostage because of canceled flights or (2) just go to my hotel and trust the airlines to find my bags and get them to me.

I chose (2), and while I regretted it A LOT today, not having my iPod charging cord or my shaving kit or knowing where hundreds of dollars of souvenirs from India were, I have just checked online and things are looking up! (See above.)

So I should have my bags and their contents, God willing, later this evening or some time tomorrow. Let us give great thanks for small favors and celebrate that the system has actually worked!!

UPDATE: The bags have arrived. Life is great. Souvenirs are intact. It's all good!

Customer Go Screw Yourself Service

After the last several days of getting repeatedly and savagely hosed by the airlines and many other service providers (I'm looking at you, woman at Reagan Airport's Maui Tacos who wouldn't make me a quesadilla at 8:30 because it's not on the breakfast menu, even though it's the same damn thing as a breakfast burrito, just without as much stuff inside) and the legendarily horrific service I received at the Meijer today, I have decided that perhaps I don't want to be a customer anymore.

Seriously.

Is it possible to live my life in such a way that minimizes my reliance on others to provide me with goods and services in exchange for money and other commodities? I suppose it would involve learning actual skills (such as farming, hunting, maybe refining oil into fuel, making my own clothes, cooking, etc.) which I do not currently possess. And perhaps a walled compound.

Of course, that would all also be good preparation for the coming Zombie Apocalypse, so maybe I should look into it.

Flip-Flopped

So I was doing OK with the delicate awake/asleep balance until Monday afternoon, when I stopped moving for a second and thought resting my eyes seemed like a good idea.

It was a bad idea.

I ended up sleeping from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. It is now 5:23 a.m. and I am still awake. This troubles me. I am not suffering -- nor did I throughout the trip -- from any symptoms of jet lag other than disturbed sleep schedule. So that's good, but I do hope this sleep thing works itself out sooner than later...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Made it home -- FINALLY!

In which the blogger, 44 hours after setting off for home, at last makes it to Indianapolis

And here, dear reader, is your reward for so patiently awaiting my return, for so diligently responding to my frequent and melancholy text messages, for so consistently following along on my Chennai chronicles...just for being my friend.



And I totally planned that coolness at the 1:58 mark. (Not. But isn't it awesome?!)

UPDATE: Despite the triple-dog dare, Sarah didn't think I would do it. Do not abuse the triple-dog dare, my friends.

RHB

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Trip Back

I have not forgotten to post on my last two days in Chennai, but believe me when I tell you, you will want to check back here (at the latest on Tuesday, January 8, American time) to experience a video unlike anything you've ever experienced before.

We have, I believe, one Sarah from Arizona to blame for this. What is "this," you ask? Well, it involves me, my groove, getting ready to rumble, and frequent contact with the staff of the Doha International Airport in Qatar. I forgot about it in India but the opportunity presented itself in Qatar, and I'm nothing if not a carpe-er of the diem.

And good news: it doesn't involve prison time -- at least, it hasn't yet.

How's that for a teaser?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

DOH! Deux

Took off early this morning from Chennai and now I'm safely in Doha, Qatar...on our runway taxi this morning, I saw there's a McDonald's in Doha. Didn't expect that.

Anyway, my original itinerary stands and I should be arriving in Indy at about 11:30 tonight.

More at that time -- or tomorrow!

Friday, January 04, 2008

It's all about meme

I guess the cool bloggerific thing to do when New Year's rolls around is one of those self-reflective, Supreme Court case of This Year v. Last Year things. So here goes:

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

Went to Sierra Leone, Liberia and India.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't remember making resolutions for last year, but for this year, I do have a few:
  1. Taking an active role in my physical wellness -- paying more attention to eating right and being active.
  2. Simplifying my "extracurriculars" -- focusing on just one or two things and leaving time and space for silence and contemplation (and off-screwing)
  3. Spending more time with family

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yep, my brother and his wife had a Madelynn. Also, many friends of a friends either gave birth or are about to.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yeah, and it sucked.

5. What countries did you visit?

Liberia, Sierra Leone and India -- jeez, are you not paying attention?

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

More unstructured time to enjoy the condo.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

July 10 was a good one because of the Madelynn-birthing. February 5 was when I started at Broadway.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

You would think I am very achievement focused, but anytime anyone asks me about "my biggest achievement," I freeze. I guess I would say becoming a published freelance writer (although the outlet in which I'll be published is coming out in February 2008, I did the research and writing in December 2007).

9. What was your biggest failure?

I think my biggest failure has been "getting it" at Broadway. I feel like an outsider who's not quite in synch with how things are supposed to be done.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Not that I remember, so probably not.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

My 2008 Nissan Versa.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Madelynn, the brillantest, compassionatest, beautifulest infant ever. She's sitting up these days! And also doing quantum physics!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Hmm, that's a tricky one. I would say anyone who couldn't see beyond themselves (me included).

14. Where did most of your money go?

Savings, rent, car payments, eating out.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

That anti-jet-lag diet, starting work at Broadway, Madelynn's arrival, my new car, moving to the condo.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

I suck at questions like this. Mine would probably be that Soulja Boy "Crank Dat" or "Crank That" or whatever it is Mr. Boy would like us to "Crank".

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? About the same.
b) thinner or fatter? There is, in fact, more of me to love.
c) richer or poorer? Higher salary and higher bills.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Quiet time without TV or computer. More kayaking, more locking up of my kayak.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Running from commitment to commitment. Spinning my wheels.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

We did Family Christmas at JJ and Beth's on 12/16 because JJ, Beth and Madelynn went to Wisconsin to be with the other side of the family for Christmas week. Then on Christmas Day, I had dinner with Mom and Dad at their house.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

Yes, with my car. And Just Pop In's cheddar popcorn.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Dexter, or any of the Law and Orders.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Who has time to hate?

24. What was the best book you read?

"Small Mediums at Large," the autobiography of a short psychic.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Irma Thomas

26. What did you want and get?

A new car and two trips to far-off and exotic places.

27. What did you want and not get?

A sense of career direction (or comfort with the lack of sense of career direction).

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Paris, Je T'Aime.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

It was an action-packed day on my 34th birthday with eating, eating and more eating -- each meal with a different set of friends/family.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

If somehow TV viewer/world traveler/blogger became a paying job.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

Aging Preppie

32. What kept you sane?

Sleeping in and not having to be at work until around 9:00ish. Time with friends and family, and the friends who are family.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Rene Russo and Janet Jackson. Alliterative celebrities, like me.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

I don't think there's one specific issue, but I'm most stirred by the lack of civil discourse. We've become so polarized that actual political conversation (to the point where someone might say, "Hmm. I'd not thought of it that way before.") is an endangered species.

35. Who did you miss?

Jon and Jenny -- all the college gang, really...it's not just the ones in Arizona that I don't see much anymore. And my folks, since I'm not living at their house anymore.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I would say a couple of them are people I haven't actually "met" per se -- just folks who've commented on the blog: Clif from up north and Sarah from Arizona. Best new person I met in real life? Madelynn.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.

There's always time.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

This is a hard one, but I'll go with and excerpt from "Home" from "The Wiz":
And if you're listening God,
Please don't make it hard
To know if we should believe the things we see.

Tell us: Should we try to stay?
Or should we run away?
Or would it be better just to let things be?

Living here in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy.
But it's taught me to love,
So it's real to me.

And I've learned we must look inside our hearts to find
A world full of love.
Like yours, like mine, like home.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Chennai, Days 5 & 6

In which the blogger loses a piece of his heart, twice, and then celebrates a travel success

So, the last couple days, I've been spending a lot of time at The Banyan's various facilities. Yesterday, I got to go to all three facilities in one day, which you really don't want to do, because it involves about five hours in the car, all told.

Anyway.

Renu's regular routine is Monday and Wednesday at The Banyan Centre in Kilpauk and Tuesday and Thursday at The Banyan facility in Adaikalam. Yesterday being Thursday, it was off to Adaikalam first thing in the morning. Renu plopped me on a bench in the lobby and went off to do her thing -- but first, she introduced me to long-time Banyan resident Sylvia, who came to The Banyan six years ago after suffering a mental break when her husband left her and who now is on staff as a dorm mother keeping track of other high-functioning Banyan residents.

Sylvia is a Christian who married a Hindu doctor. When they married, her Christian family disowned her, and when she and her husband didn't have any children, he left her. Sylvia literally has no one. We talked about her Christian faith and I prayed that Sylvia would find a place in her heart for forgiveness -- forgiving herself, forgiving her family, forgiving God -- for all the stuff that had happened to her. Later, as I was about to leave, Sylvia asked me what time it was. I don't wear a watch and so she told me she would give me one that she has -- "It just needs a battery," she said -- and my heart broke a little as I realized that she who had so little was willing to give me what she did have to improve my own condition.

Later on, I got a tour of the Adaikalam facility with Gaetri, the staff psychologist. I got to see the whole building, which was built in 2001 with assistance from a variety of funders and supporters, most notably the former chief minister of India. As we toured the various dorms and met many of The Banyan's 239 residents, I took a picture of one of them and all of a sudden, EVERYONE wanted her picture taken. After ten or twelve pics, an older, shorter woman motioned to me to bend down, as if to whisper something in my ear. I bent down and she put her hands around my neck and pulled me to her and gave me a great big kiss on the cheek! My heart melted a second time as I realized what a dear blessing this was to me. What great joy to be baptised with the love of a friend from halfway around the world.

After my tour, Gaetri and I watched a performance by some of Adaikalam's health aides. They were doing skits and other entertainment for former Banyan residents and their families, kind of a celebration of their wellness and recovery. The performance was completely in Tamil (or Hindi -- not sure which), so I didn't understand a word, but Gaetri explained to me what was going on all along, and it was hilarious. It was kind of like Sabado Gigante, but it made even less sense and was therefore even more funny. When I get back to the US, I'll post a couple videos -- uploading them here takes way too long, so be sure to check back late next week.

After the performance, Renu and I came to The Banyan Centre in the Kilpauk area of Chennai to have lunch and to visit with Vandana, one of The Banyan's founders. We talked a bit more about fundraising, and then I asked how I could be most helpful when I returned to the US. I had heard about a group of Americans that were forming The Friends of the Banyan, so I asked if I could connect with them and help to start some organizing around that effort. And it looks like that will be one of my main missions on my return -- helping to establish an American fundraising arm for The Banyan. There are 8 or 10 core individuals who have visited The Banyan, as well as around 200 existing donors that we can do a good job of connecting with, so it looks like I'll be helping with that effort when I get back to the US.

In the afternoon, we headed about 50 km east to the seaside town of Kovalam, the third Banyan site. (In this case "we" is me and four Brits who were also visiting The Banyan -- Dinah, David, Yemi, and Roland. Roland will be sticking around to teach a course called "Mental Health in the Margins" at the Banyan's Kovalam facility.) We toured the facility out there (currently vacant because of recent flooding) and visited their gift shop (which was spared the flooding). We also visited the Community Mental Health Clinic in Kovalam, the site of The Banyan's vocational training efforts. Then we headed out to the beach, just to see, and headed home.

This morning, I'm not quite sure what's going on. I'm back at The Banyan Centre in Kilpauk, and working on the blog. I know (or at least I think I know) that I'm going to be touring the local Institute for Mental Health this afternoon -- why, I'm not exactly sure, but there it is. But beyond that, I think I may be sticking pretty close to the computer for the next few hours, so if you're awake in the middle of the night, zap me an e-mail!

TRAVEL UPDATE:
It's all good. We're back on schedule and confirmed on all flights: Chennai - Doha, Doha - Dulles, Dulles - Indianapolis. I should be back in Indy around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday (Indy time) and will plan to be asleep most of the day on Monday before heading back to work at Broadway on Tuesday.

Pretty severe thunderstorms are rolling across Chennai right now, so I'm going to sign off, just in case. I'll be in touch soon -- probably not again from Chennai (unless I think of something this morning while here at The Banyan) but definitely from Doha, as I have a long layover on the way back. Peace out, homies!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Banyan

I've shared with lots of folks about the work of The Banyan, a facility for mentally ill and homeless women in Chennai. I've been learning a lot about The Banyan in the last couple days, and I'm excited to share with you some of what I've learned when I get back.

The Banyan is actually three separate facilities in Chennai. I've been to one of them so far and will be visiting another one tomorrow. Renu has been great introducing me to her friends, co-workers and patients, and I've had fun getting to know them.

In addition to the medical and psychiatric care provided at The Banyan, a variety of other services such as vocational training, social enterprise, etc., are offered. The program budget is around Rs. 40,000,000 per year -- that works out to roughly $1,000,000US. They're currently running a deficit of around $25,000US per month but they continue to provide service for the hundreds of women who depend on them.

Check out their website and watch their video -- and know that if you'd like to support what they're doing here, I'll be sending a package over to India on my return (Navin and Naren, Renu and Scott's sons, had never heard of A Christmas Story -- I'll need to remedy that immediately), so if you'd like to make a check out to The Banyan and send it to me, I'll make sure it makes its way over here.

Happy New Year!

In which the blogger celebrates the passing of 2007 into 2008

We had a TERRIFIC New Year's Eve!

After working at The Banyan in the morning (I did a fundraising presentation and Renu worked with her patients), we came home and I caught a nice nap. When I woke up, I learned that we had been invited by a friend of the Weiss family to a New Year's Eve party. So we all got dressed up (well, they got dressed up -- all I had was a long-sleeve, casual button-up shirt and I wore one of Scott Weiss's ties, so I looked a bit like a kid going to his friend's bar mitzvah) and headed over to the Madras Boat Club for the party. Even though Chennai is now Chennai, there's a lot of stuff that still says "Madras" -- the Boat Club, for example.

From almost the second we got there, Renu had us out on the dance floor, where we enjoyed Tamil, Hindi and American music until the DJ took a break. During his break, we had some dinner and then when the music started up again, we were back out on the dance floor. The dance floor was a platform erected on the water by the Boat Club -- even though it was packed, it was very safe. Unfortunately, at another New Year's party here in India, a similar dance floor platform set up was not as sturdy, and a very bad accident happened.

At midnight, the DJ played "The Final Countdown" -- the real version, not the cello version -- and fireworks went off right above us. (Like, literally probably 20 feet above us.) We danced some more and then headed home around 1:15 a.m.

Yesterday (New Year's Day), we decided to have a low-key holiday. We watched two of the movies I brought with me (the final two installments of the Bourne trilogy) and then I took the Weiss family out to dinner. We went to Gallopin' Gooseberry, an American restaurant in Chennai -- we had burgers and pasta and sandwiches and then a great spread for dessert -- two of us had chocolate mousse, two of us had chocolate mousse cake, and one of us (me) had key lime cheesecake.

Today, we're back at The Banyan and we'll be doing some fundraising talks. I just got off the phone with the good folks (ha!) at Qatar Airways and I may or may not be home as scheduled. Because of the tomfoolery on the front end of my trip, my return got canceled, and I've been able to confirm myself on a Chennai-Doha flight on Sunday, but I may have to sweet-talk my way onto the Doha-Dulles flight. Either that, or start learning Arabic, because who knows how long I'll be in Doha. (Just kidding, Mom.) Anyway, if anybody from Broadway is reading this, my return to work may be a day or two later than previously predicted. I'll be in touch as soon as I know anything for sure!

Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone -- see you soon!

Driving (Me Crazy)

In which the blogger is thankful for lanes, speed limits, and rights of way

One of the most striking things about my trip so far is the chaos of driving in Chennai. There are no lanes (just streets with cars everywhere), one-way streets aren't always regarded as one-way by everyone, and cars and trucks and buses and motorcycles and auto-rickshaws and cyclists and pedestrians and stray dogs and cows and carts pulled by cows all weave into the great, crazy tapestry of the streets of Chennai. Like this:



It's nuts.

The other day when we were on our way to Vellore to visit Renu's sister and brother-in-law, two kind gentlemen had the opportunity to crash into each other right in front of us, so I could see what goes on when that happens. It was a very, very minor fender-bender, as we were all going slowly and the guy in front just happened to slow down more than the guy right behind him. (And I mean RIGHT behind him -- there is no such thing as "tail-gating" here...you're pretty much always six inches behind the guy in front of you.)

Anyway, when they crashed, they both stopped and got out, looked to see the damage ("Yep, there's a dent."), talked angrily for about fifteen seconds, talked calmly for about fifteen seconds and then got back in their vehicles and went on their way.
I'm just glad I don't have to drive here!