Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's a boy! (Or a girl!) Times five!

Much to the annoyance of Scary Neighbor Annette, Mother Nature has won out.


I'm not sure if the proud parents are One Feather Up and Pecks Meekly, but this happy family was swimming in the pond lake loch today.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ero solo a Roma (I was alone in Rome)

I just realized that the don't-tell-Mom-for-at-least-five-years statute of limitations on scary vacation stories has run out, so I am now at liberty to share with you the episode to which I have referred obliquely a couple times before on this blog.

In 2003, I decided to take a trip. It was at the end of the Seeds of Faith campaign for the Diocese of Winona, and I took a summer leave of absence from my job as a fundraising consultant. I packed up my stuff in Minnesota (mostly furniture and other big things, since I sold most of my stuff to friends and family in order to help pay for the trip, but also a couple nice gifts I got from the people I had worked with, including a special rosary and a stainless steel cross hanging on a necklace which was comically large, but as I was just starting to reconnect with church, I thought it was cool, even though it was so big I couldn't wear it under my shirt and had to wear it on the outside) and headed back to home base (Mom and Dad's in Carmel, Indiana) prior to leaving for the trip.

The main part of the excursion was five weeks in Ghana (in West Africa) doing volunteer work through Cross-Cultural Solutions, but I figured I would make even more of a trip of it, stopping in Italy on the way over and the UK on the way back. I thought, I'm crossing the Atlantic, why not do a lot while I'm over there? And my ticket to Ghana was routed through Milan anyway, so I decided to take about ten days in Italy on the way.

Deciding to go on the trip was a big deal for me. It was the summer I was turning 30, and it seemed like a good time to take a look at my life and see what I could see. One of the observations I had made about my life was that, in the previous three decades, whenever someone would ask if I wanted to try something new, my default answer was "No, thanks." And although this choice had theretofore saved me from heartaches, headaches, and jail time, it didn't necessarily lend itself to a memoir-able life. So I decided on this trip that if anyone invited me to do anything, I would say "Yes."* Kind of like that Jim Carrey movie that came out a few weeks ago, only it was about my life, and it was almost six years ago.

My Italian itinerary was Rome-Florence-Verona-Rome (or, possibly, Rome-Verona-Florence-Rome). Anyway, on my last night in Rome the first time, I was tired from having spent most of the day wandering around the Villa Borghese, so I took a shower, got dressed up (including the ridiculous-to-you-but-cool-to-me, over-the-shirt stainless steel cross necklace) and was out looking for a place for dinner, just tooling around about three blocks from my hotel when, at my side, popped up this odd-looking guy who spoke with a Cockney accent. This man appeared to be in his mid-to-late 40s, wealthy, jovial, and though it took concentration for me to understand it, he spoke more English than most of the people around. So, he had that going for him.

"Well, 'ello there," he said.

At first, I didn't realize he was talking to me.

"'Scuse me? Looking for a bite to eat?" he asked. I told him I was, and he told me that he had just talked to the concierge at his hotel (he pointed at the hotel we were in front of) and the concierge had recommended some place for drinks and another place around the corner from it for dinner, and did I want to join him? "It's called 'Club Ha'ee-foah," he said, and I had no idea what he was talking about. I figured he was simply mispronouncing some Italian.

Though my Spidey Sense tingled, this was the first major test of Just Say Yes. Would I go on the adventure, or would I wuss out and eat dinner in my hotel room, watching Il Gioco di Match on the Italian-language TV with the Italian-language remote control I could only halfway figure out?

"Sure, why not?" I said, defying all logic and all safety precautions, and off we went.

My new best friend told me his name, but I honestly don't remember now. Hugh, maybe? (I think I e-mailed some friends about this after it all happened, but I can't find the e-mail now...so if I e-mailed you about this and have mixed up some details, let me know please.) Anyway, let's call him Hugh. Hugh told me about his family's recent trip to Tenerife ("You know, 'at's in Spain, mate. The Canaaary Oislands.") which accounted for his significant suntan. He shared details about his family's considerable wealth and also his sexual prowess with the ladies.

As we walked to this place that I had no idea where it was, what it was, or why I was going there, it occurred to me that it wouldn't be all that impolite to just turn around and walk away from him, even if it might be confusing to him. But, I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound, and even if we've been walking down deserted streets for 15 minutes, surely we'll find what we're looking for eventually.

Friends, it is a miracle that I was not mugged or killed or otherwise harmed. Literally no one in the world knew where I was at that point. (Well, maybe Hugh did, but I sure as hell didn't. And certainly none of my Emergency Contacts knew.)

We were walking and walking, and we passed a uniformed Italian police officer on the sidewalk. I figured that if Hugh was Bad News, he would respond inappropriately to the cop. (Being the brother of a police officer, I am sensitive to these things.) But Hugh's response ("Good evening, sire" with slight tip of the head) elicited a smile from the cop and cautious approval from me.

After what seemed like a way-too-long walk, with Hugh assuring me, "It's right around heah somewheah," we finally happened on Rome's Hard Rock Cafe on (if I remember correctly) the Via Vittorio Veneto, which seemed like (a) a safe place to be (meaning, a place where there were likely other Americans) and (b) a street that seemed fairly significant, even if I had no idea where we were and where that was in relation to my hotel.

So we walked past the Hard Rock and up this kind of wide stairwayed alley thing, to a kind of boulevard/plaza area where there were other restaurants and bars and such. Hugh pointed to a small building and said, "Well, 'ello, 'ello. 'Ere it is! Club Ha'ee-foah!"

Using the elegant blue neon sign on the low white building, I was able to decode "Club Ha'ee-foah" as "Club 84!" And I am not kidding about the exclamation point.

So, I realize this is kind of a long story. Let us pause for a moment to recap:
  1. I am in Rome.
  2. With a stranger.
  3. Who has led me to a place that I don't really know how to get back from.
  4. Which has an exclamation point in its name.
  5. With no way, really, to get a message regarding my whereabouts to anyone I know and love.
Up to speed then? Great, let's continue.

So I followed Hugh past the large Italian bouncer dude into Club 84! and was shocked to see a small room with three or four tables, a raised stage-like platform, and -- wait for it ... wait for it ... wait for it -- a brass pole. Hugh had brought me to a strip club.

Before we even sat down, two, um, hostesses came to our table to sit with us. Hugh bought me a beer as we introduced ourselves to each other (we in broken Italian, they in broken English). Bear in mind, of course, that I had never consumed an entire beer in my life up to that point. But a combination of the walk, our location, and the pure WTF-edness of it all conspired to lead me to down the entire beer within about ten seconds. To this day, that remains the only complete beer I have ever drunk.

I glanced around the room, trying to figure out how to extract myself, mindful of the fact that I really didn't know where I was and that my only hope for getting back to the hotel was to re-trace the steps that got us there in the first place.

Meanwhile, I was neglecting my "date" (they had cozied up to us pretty closely), and Hugh was encouraging me to buy a bottle of champagne for her. "I bought champagne for me and..." He paused to ask his "date," "What's yer name, Luv?" but she didn't understand the question and answered "Sì, sì."

Hugh continued: "I bought champagne for me an' Sisi heah. You should buy some, too."

I tried to figure a way out but none came to me. My "date" was nuzzling my ear at this point, and Hugh signaled to the waiter, an old man in what seemed to be an even older tuxedo, to bring another bottle of champagne for me to buy.

Well, at this point, there was money on the line, so the embarrassment of leaving was overridden by the voice of my dad, whose legendary cheapo-ness we had mocked for years but now served me in good stead. "Champagne's expensive, Bugs," Dad whispered into my ear from 5,000 miles away.

The waiter brought the champagne, and I used one of the few complete Italian sentences I knew. "Quanto costa?" I asked, and time seemed to slow to a crawl as I looked at Hugh, Hugh looked at Sisi, Sisi looked at the waiter, and the waiter looked back at me.

"Trecento..." he started, as he went to unwrap the gold foil.

Trecento. Three hundred. Three hundred?! Three hundred what? Euros? Dollars? Either way, no thanks.

I'd had enough of this -- finally! -- and, drawing again on my limited Italian, I yelled "Niente di ciampagna!" (who knows if that even means anything, let alone, "None of that champagne!"), squirmed out from under my "date," and headed for the door. It's possible that in the de-lapping process, my "date" may have ended up sprawled couchward or, perhaps, floorward. All I know is, by the time I made it the five steps to the door, the large Italian bouncer dude was on Red Alert. He was all puffed up and looked primed to kick some American butt, and I got more than a little nervous.

Faced with a massive Italian man blocking my way to the ambiguous freedom of Who-The-Hell-Knows-Where-I-Am-Now, I instinctively put my hand up to my chest and touched the cross hanging there. The bouncer dude looked at my chest, looked at me, looked at the cross on my chest, cocked his head like a confused dog, and then put up his hands in a "go ahead" gesture, looking over my shoulder and saying something about "Dio" and "chiesa" to his co-workers as I walked out the door.

I started walk-jog-running back to the hotel, tracing step-for-step the route Hugh and I took, stopping only to head to the internet cafe by the hotel to e-mail some friends with the complete story and to assure Mom and Dad that I was OK, with the need-to-know parts -- basically, "I'm still in Rome."

I did not see the police officer on the way back, nor have I ever crossed paths with Hugh again. I've often wondered if I was just an easy mark tagged on the street, and Hugh still wanders the streets of Rome looking for Americans to take to Club 84! and splits the champagne profits they make on dopes like me, or if he really was a rich guy who just got into Rome from Tenerife (You know, that's in Spain, mate. The Canary Islands.) and I totally blew the chance to be his best friend and live a jet-set-lifestyle-by-association over a measly three hundred dollars (or euros) worth of champagne.

* Despite the aforementioned hilarious, though not at the time, consequences of this plan, I did get a lot out of the Just Say Yes policy -- namely, connecting with a really cool church in Ghana, seeing the Italian red-carpet pre-release premiere of "The Italian Job" in Italy, and getting invited into the home of some nice family in Verona for supper. I realize that last one could have ended up with me dead, but after my near-mugging by gypsies/homeless/whatever the night after the strip-club experience (which maybe I'll write about some other time)** I was on my guard and ready to both punch and run, as the situation dictated.

** OK, here's the story: The morning after the trip to Club 84!, I was set to take the train from Rome to either Florence or Verona, and I looked on the map and saw that my hotel (right next to an opera house -- or maybe The Opera House) was less than a quarter-mile from the train station. Rather than calling a cab, waiting around, and paying the driver for such a short trip, I decided I could just walk. My duffel bag had wheels, and it was just that and a backpack, so I checked out of the hotel and set off on my way.

The old-timey streets of Rome were very cool and very crowded, but I could almost see the train station from the front door of the hotel. I set off down the sidewalk on my way. I knew I needed to cross to the other side of the street to get to the station, but up ahead was a big tour bus making a turn into a too-narrow alley, blocking my access to that side of the street. So I kept walking on my side of the street and figured I'd cross after passing the stuck bus.

No sooner had I made that choice than three persons -- two women and a young man -- descended upon me, requesting (in Italian, mind you, which I do not speak, and also in Mime, which sadly I do speak) money to help them feed the babies they were each cradling in their arms. Having spent some big-city time in Chicago, I felt up to the challenge.

"Not today," I responded, flashing a smile and wielding the apparently-respected-in-Chicago-but-not-elsewhere homeless-solicitation response.

"Per il bambino (or whatever)!" they said, pointing at their babies and making the International Symbol for Eating.

"Not today," I repeated, doing my best to walk past them with my rolling duffel in tow, trying to avoid an international incident.

"Per il bambino. Bay-ee-bee!" they said again, maneuvering into a wall in front of me.

"Not today, sorry," I said, astonishing myself at my inability to come up with anything different to say.

The three then started touching my arms imploringly. (It was the first of many, many times my arms would be caressed on that trip.***) And then their imploring got a tighter grip, two hands on both forearms. And then their imploring began exploring, with a hand in the pocket of my cargo shorts.

Mr. McGee, don't put your hand in the pocket of my cargo shorts. You wouldn't like me when you put your hand in the pocket of my cargo shorts.

It was at that moment when the slowly-building alarm in the back of my head finally connected with my brain enough to initiate some action. My brain also did some quick math -- there were five hands on my person, yet the "babies" in question were still at chest level. A quick glance verified that these were, in fact, dolls that were stapled or otherwise affixed to the shirts of these muggers.

"Whoa. WHOA! WHOOOOOOOAAAAAAA!" I said, channeling my inner Mrs. Garrett.

And with little ceremony, I assessed that any semblance of gentility and calm had been shattered, and I wrenched my arms free, pimp-slapping (mostly accidentally) one of the women and elbowing the young man in the gut. I gave him an extra shove into the street, got up in the slap-free woman's face and screamed, hilariously, "NOT! TODAY!" and started to walk, ok run, to the train station.

I looked back over my shoulder to see what was happening, and I saw them starting to come after me. But this Italian guy came out of nowhere to sweep the sidewalk in front of his store, and -- literally, like in a movie -- he deduced what had happened and Baba-da-boopied them in rapid-fire Italian, using his broom in a threatening-to-them, reassuring-to-me manner, causing them to run off.

I then proceeded to the train station, double-time, where I went directly to the McDonald's on the lower level, I did not pass go, I did not collect two hundred dollars, but I did get my good-old-fashioned American security blanket: the Sausage McMuffin with Egg. I'd never felt so lonely in all my life, and I'm pretty sure the McMuffin is the only thing that kept me from crying that morning.

*** Right. Not to run-away-from-a-strip-club-and-tell, but my "date" at Club 84! was not caressing my arms, exactly. However, I know I can't write a sentence about much arm-caressing and expect you not to have questions. The reality is that I am white, and I am hairy. My forearms contain a fair amount of blond hair, which stands out even more when I have been in the sun and my skin darkens a bit. In Ghana, whenever I was around kids, which was quite a bit, they would come up and want to hold hands, sit in my lap, whatever -- partly because I am such an attractive guy (haha!) but mostly because I was, to them, a freak of nature: a large, hairy white man, the likes of whom they had never seen. The most common expression of their awe was to reach out and touch my arm, feeling the soft hair (foreign to them, as millennia at the equator have, out of evolutionary necessity, pretty much disabused African men of arm hair), and then either (a) looking at their friends and laughing or (b) running away, as though from a hideous monster, only to come back and feel my arm hair again. An arm-carressing story that is neither sexy nor hilarious, but there was a lot of it in my five weeks in Ghana.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Things I judge you for and how my judgment manifests itself

When I judge you for bad driving, I call you an "idiot" (with my windows up) and maneuver around you as quickly as I can.

When I judge you for being a literal idiot (that is, being factually incorrect), I call you an "idiot" in my head and maneuver around you as quickly as I can.

When I judge you for bad parenting on account of your inappropriate response to your child's mid-Walmart meltdown, I say a prayer for your child. And for you.

When I judge your poor grammar and/or spelling, I (a) correct you and/or (b) decide not to read your blog/Twitter/FriendFeed/website/whatever any more.

When I judge you for having an extramarital affair and things get so bad at your house that you can no longer stay there, I invite you to stay with me in my condo for as long as you need.

When I judge you for continually chewing on the carpet even though I've asked you politely to stop, I gently nudge you with my foot and then fill your food dish with Rabbit Chow. And maybe an extra piece of celery as a treat for distraction.

When I judge you for using an inordinate amount of profanity, I write a blog post about profanity.

When I judge you for menacing and threatening me, I shake my fist at you, say things like "Come on!" and flap my arms embiggeningly.

When I judge you for poor leadership, I work hard to be a better leader than I'm being, using everything within me to "lead up."

When I judge you for selfishness, I go out of my way to be giving; when I reach my limit, though, I maneuver around you as quickly as possible.

When I judge you for any of the above things (and really anything else), I have a stern conversation with myself about it, remind myself that we're all God's children dealing with our own stuff, and then work to forgive you before working to forgive myself.

Friday, April 24, 2009


You've probably heard the story about the guy tossing starfish after starfish* into the ocean. (You may have also seen Isabella Rossellini's starfish story -- a dramatization of starfish reproduction, with its interesting final seven words -- but that is definitely not the focus of this reflection.)

I'm talking about the concept of "made a difference to that one" -- the idea that, although we may not change the world, we can have a small impact (a micro-impact, if you will) on one individual which, even if it doesn't cause world-changing ripples, can at least be significant in that one individual's life. Similarly, the intentional choice to engage in positive micro-impact necessarily changes us, thereby making the world better.

What if everyone in the entire world -- almost 7 billion of us, at last count -- made the commitment to make the extra 5% effort to think outside ourselves? Heck, even 1% more effort to think outside ourselves and make a positive, but small, impact would make a difference. What do you think could happen? What do you think would happen? What do you think WILL happen? WHAT IS ALREADY HAPPENING?

I've been thinking a lot about how little things can make a big difference, and I'm convinced that giving -- even in a small, micro-impact way -- has a lasting influence on both the giver and the receiver.

I've said before that I think our purpose as humans is to be tiny mirrors, reflecting the light of God's love to one another. But even if you take the theological implications out of it, the reality is that when you show love to another person (by whatever means, small or large, through time or money or listening or leading), some of that love is going to rub off on you.

And that's the biggest micro-impact of all.

* Could you tell I used "starfish after starfish" because I don't know what the plural of "starfish" is?

It's been a while - Sorry!

I can't remember the last time I went a whole week without posting. And I'm sorry to say that I don't have a lot to share right now. I mean, there's a lot to share, but I haven't written it out yet.


I will share a picture of my new friend, One Feather Up, whom I have referenced here and here. It's kind of a crappy picture because I was relying on the relative safety of the patio screen door, but it gives you an idea of his Cape-Fear-calibre menacingness and also how he earned his name.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Trip to the Library

I went on a hike today.

I'd been thinking about walking to the Pike Branch of the Indianapolis-Marion County Library for a long time and decided, after getting e-mails that 7 items (2 books, 4 CDs, and a DVD) were on hold for me, that today was the day. So I looked it up and found it would be a three-mile trip, one way.

You know how sometimes things look really close together on a map? Well. It turns out they're not necessarily that close together in real life. I know that now.

Above is the route I took, starting in the southwest corner, and making a big loop up to the library in the northeast corner there. I had printed out the map that would allow me to cut through the neighborhood (the eastern bend of the trip) on the way to the library, but I forgot to bring it with me, so I got lost in the every-home-looks-alike neighborhood and emerged over on Moller Road, so I could head straight north to 62nd Street, turn west and then head north to the library. On the way back, I took the route I was most familiar with, even though it was probably a little longer.

Overall, it was a nice six-mile hike -- and it's good to know that I'm able to travel, self-powered, for six miles. You know, just in case the Zombie Apocalypse really does come.

On the way back, I tweeted that, if my life were an episode of Law and Order, this would be when I would discover a corpse. So I started keeping track of the things I saw along the side of the road. Here's a partial list of what I found:
  • 13 hubcaps
  • 11 condoms (Gross.)
  • 6 single gloves, 4 of which were a shade of pink
  • 4 hammers (What? I don't know. You tell me.)
  • 2 spelling lists (1st grade, 5th grade)
  • Countless pop bottles
  • 0 dead bodies
So, there it is. What I Did This Afternoon, by Scotty Semester

UPDATE: I have lines!

Friends, my much-anticipated and critically acclaimed American musical theatre debut as Unnamed Chorus Member #3 in the joint St. Luke's/Beth-El Zedeck production of "Fiddler on the Roof" has undergone some changes.

One of the guys in the show had to step out, and now I've been promoted to the role of Mendel, the Rabbi's son. So now you HAVE to come see it!

Mendel only has 15 or 20 lines, mostly in defense of tradition, in contrast to the radical student Perchik, played by my friend Zach. I won't have any solo singing parts -- which is just fine with me. I'm nervous enough about my two spoken-word-ish solos during the final number.

You have no idea how many different ways I've come up with to say "A broom..." and "A bench..."

Guess you'll just have to join us for a performance to see which way I finally choose to go with it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A few weeks ago, I started following @FreezerBurns on Twitter. I can't remember how I found Gregorg Ng, the Frozen Food Master, but I'm so happy I did. I love his frozen food reviews. You should check him out.

Recently, Greg did a Frodown (frozen-food throwdown) with different low-end microwaveable chicken pot pies. In this latest episode, he evaluates a $28 organic chicken pot pie (chicken raised without antibiotics, organic veggies, higher-end crust). Is it worth the $7 per serving price tag? Find out below:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Goose Dialogues

In an effort to document the various interactions I have with the neighborhood geese, I have started adding "The Goose Dialogues" to my Twitter feed. Here are the first three, from yesterday:

Scene the First

INT. I stand at the screen door, looking out over the pond lake loch. ONE FEATHER UP approaches from EXT.


[*flap, flap, flap, hiss, flap*]


Just move along, or I'll give you something to hiss about.


Scene the Second

EXT, driveway. ONE FEATHER UP and PECKS MEEKLY waddle-meander aimlessly. Late for rehearsal, I walk out from the garage to confront them.

[*stares blankly*]

Come on.

[*hiss, honk, flap*]

So get off my dang driveway! I have to go.


Scene the Third:

EXT, mailboxes across the street. ONE FEATHER UP and PECKS MEEKLY sit in the grass, near the ditch that collects all the rainwater.

Hey, guys. What's up?

[*honk, flap, blank stare*]

[*meek peck*]


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

One Feather Up is highly excitable

In direct contradiction to the instructions of Scary Neighbor Annette*, I have given names to the geese in the condo complex. (Well, to four of them, since the others don't really stick around.) I have no idea if they're boys or girls or a couple of each (which, given my limited understanding both of the Circle of Life and of Where Baby Geese Come From, would seem to make sense), so I've given them gender-neutral, Native American names:

One Feather Up is the ringleader. His/Her name is One Feather Up because one of his/her tail feathers sticks up. If I was sure it was a boy, I'd have named him Alfalfa, because the feather sticks straight up like Alfalfa's hair in The Little Rascals. OFU is the most aggressive and protective (that is, the most flappy and hissy).

Pecks Meekly hangs out with One Feather Up. PM is a little smaller than OFU and got his/her name from the way he/she kind of defers to OFU when it's time to eat the grass, which drives Scary Neighbor Annette completely Over. The frakking. Edge. OFU gets to eat first, and PM comes in behind to get the remaining grasses. (Haha, to clarify, it's the grass-eating that makes Scary Neighbor Annette crazy, not the fact that Pecks Meekly has to wait.)

Waddles With Limp is kind of gimpy, but seems to have made it work. He/She is usually seen in the company of Honks Constantly, who will drive ME completely Over. The frakking. Edge. one of these days. The honking! My God, the honking! They're kind of like the Barney and Betty Rubble to OFU and PM's Fred and Wilma Flintstone -- bit players in recurring roles somewhat more frequent than Special Guest Stars. It's possible they live on the other side of the pond lake loch.

One Feather Up and Pecks Meekly definitely live somewhere right behind my condo, though. They've been around a lot lately, and when I opened the door to let some post-rain fresh air in today, OFU was all up in my face almost immediately -- and all I did was open the door! So I went back to do what I was doing and left OFU to feel like the victor vanquishing the intruder.

Milo, however, wasn't so willing to back down. He chose that exact moment to head over to the screen door to lie down. Which drew the ire of OFU who, earlier in the week, had cornered a squirrel on the fence between my and the next-door neighbor's patios because ... geese don't like squirrels, I guess? Who can say. All I know is OFU is very particular about who may and who may not be within a 5-foot radius at any given time. (May: Pecks Meekly. May Not: Anyone or anything else.)

I think I've worked out a kind of understanding with OFU and PM. When they get too crazy, I head out and show them how big I am, get them to move to the neighbor's patio, and then let OFU make a hissing/flapping maneuver -- you know, out of courtesy, so OFU can save face, er beak -- and I act sufficiently humbled and go inside. It's win-win. They stay over up in the neighbor's grill, and OFU feels like a good protector goose.

Until Scary Neighbor Annette comes around and starts messing with them.

* Although I have referred to the neighborhood association's jackbooted antiGooseite thuggery, I may never have referred directly to Scary Neighbor Annette, who is on some sort of G-Is-For-Geese V-Is-For-Vendetta. She destroys nests and/or eggs (whatever's permissible with whatever sort of permit she's told me they've secured) and encourages others to do so, as well.

While the origin of her rampant antiGooseism remains a mystery (Childhood goose trauma? Ornithophobia? General crazy?), it is clear that its fire still burns strong in her. She consistently complains about goose poop (which, because she claims it attracts other geese and encourages them to loiter, she collects and bags for garbage pick-up). She also believes a certain goose (One Feather Up, I'd guess, since he or she seems the most alpha), on her roof one day, saw Annette through the skylight (which she calls the "skyroof") and promptly (I'm quoting here) "specifically pooped on the skyroof to get me."

Monday, April 13, 2009

And now, hilariously, I promote the arts in Indianapolis


Culture in Indy - Not *gasp* my number one priority

I'm torn between two ideas. ("There are times when a man has to say what's on his mind, even though he knows how much it's gonna hurt.")

In a couple days, many Americans are staging Tea Parties to protest ... taxes and/or government spending, I think? I don't really know what it's all about, because I've gotten repeatedly and irrevocably sidetracked by the off-putting slogan "Tea Bag Obama." (Stupid pop culture for teaching me things I don't want to know and can't unlearn. Also in that category: this.)

Anyway, next Monday, some self-appointed Indianapolis cultural revolutionaries are staging their own version of the tea party, with a rally on Monument Circle to demonstrate ... that the arts are as important as sports, I guess? I don't really know what it's all about because I've gotten repeatedly and irrevocably sidetracked by the off-putting idea that people (me) are unemployed at higher and higher rates, and maybe increased investment in the arts is not the answer right now.

But here's why I'm torn. I know that locally the arts are responsible for great economic activity -- nearly $500 million each year, 15,000 full-time jobs and $52 million in state and local tax revenue -- for residents and visitors alike. And they're fundamental to the quality of life in our city. I'm on the board of Motus Dance Theatre and I'm a member of the IMA, and my own artistic expression and opportunities to appreciate the art of others are very important to me and my life.

However, I think that this rally next Monday is a bad move, both tactically and strategically, and here's why:
  • The energy resources being invested in planning, promoting, and organizing the rally could be better invested in lobbying legislators on behalf of the arts and developing audiences.
  • There's rarely a call to action after a rally, especially one like this. The people rallying will feel better about their actions, but it seems to me that the intended message -- "The arts are important to Indianapolis. You should spend more on the arts, Indiana Legislature. You should spend more on the arts, City-County Council. You should spend more on the arts, Individual Citizen." -- is probably (a) ill-timed at best, and (b) falling on deaf ears; those dollars will have to come from somewhere.
  • The IndyCULTUREMATTERS website claims that "Central Indiana’s cultural institutions have been sidelined in this city's success for too long. It’s time to make some noise." I guess I don't understand how cultural institutions have been sidelined and, being generally noise-averse, I don't see how "mak[ing] some noise" will have long-term, sustainable, substantial impact on how the arts are valued in the region.
Instead, based on my Zero Knowledge Whatsoever of what's already in the pipeline, I might recommend the following:
  • Personally invite every last member of the City-County Council to attend an artistic event that is accessible and significant to them. I believe that everyone connects with art in a different way, but that everyone connects with art. The savvy arts advocate would work with the Councillor to figure out what he or she might be into, and figure out an easy on-ramp way to engage the Councillor appropriately on an ongoing basis.
  • Engage cultural institutions' existing membership and audience base to develop Arts Ambassadors -- a "street team," if you will, but more elegant and less put-up-postersy. Use real, valuable, financial incentives to establish opportunities for IMA members to invite a friend (or many friends) to the museum, say, or encourage patrons of the First Fridays events to bring a friend. Encourage the growth of the Arts Community outside the current clique-ish circle of artists, staff, and donors.
  • Embrace social media and new technologies. The IMA has done a cool thing with their blog and Art Babble; it would be cool if every cultural institution in Indy could take such leadership. The Symphony has a cool new opt-in SMS program called mSymphony, which is pretty cool. (I say this because I got a free André Watts recording as a part of that program.)
  • Quit being so damn artsy. Hire a regular guy/gal (my dad is available, and he would be awesome) to tell you what sells -- and what doesn't -- to the general public arts-wise. If it's poetry, a lot of it should rhyme. If it's music, it should sound pretty, even familiar. If it's cinema, maybe there's an action sequence. If it's drama, it should connect us. If it's comedy, make sure it's really funny. If it's dance, make it relatable.
  • Also: double your arts-education staff and make it accessible: get into schools, churches, sporting events and show off what you've got to offer. The Arts for the sake of The Arts is what got us into this situation. And open it up with a free picnic or carnival or something so the Cousin Eddies of the world (a) decide to come in and (b) feel welcomed when they get there.
  • Have FREE ARTS WEEK or FREE CULTURE WEEK or FREE [WHATEVER] WEEK and promote the hell out of it. I'd probably do it during a week that contains a First Friday, and create a HUGE master calendar of events, maybe even planning special, super-accessible on-ramp programs to reach out to new audiences.
So anyway, I won't be at the rally next Monday. I'll be looking for a job that day.

But I'll be looking forward to a time when we don't even need to be having these conversations because the arts are a natural part of everyone's life.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christian Privilege

The thing is, until someone points out privilege to the privileged, the privileged are unlikely to see their own privilege.

Got that?

That is to say, in college, someone pointed out to me the fact of life in America known as White Privilege. Because I am white, a whole host of opportunities and experiences and perceived advantages are available to me. I also am the beneficiary of Male Privilege, U.S. Citizen Privilege, Middle-Class Privilege, English-Speaking Privilege, Bachelor-Degree-Having Privilege, and probably a whole bunch of other Privileges that I don't even know I enjoy.

But it wasn't until earlier this week when I was listening to a "webinar" (add that one to the list) that I even heard of Christian Privilege. Which, I guess, is just another example of how the privileged don't realize the extent (or even the existence) of their privilege. Or is it?

Confronted with this new opportunity to learn about myself (the most interesting topic about which one can learn, as far as I'm concerned), I did some research. Hooray, Google! While there's not that much online about Christian Privilege, here's some of the stuff I found, which I pretty much* get:
  • Because I am Christian, I don't have to worry about the school/work year coinciding with Christmas; school calendars are set up to give us two weeks off at the end of the year and often work calendars are similarly arranged. One step further, that means I never had to worry about observing one of my major religious holidays while school was going on -- I never had a final or a midterm on Christmas Day -- nor am I expected to be super-productive at work at the end of the year.
  • The very organization of our work week -- Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off -- could be perceived as an expression of Christian Privilege.
  • I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.
  • Inaugurations feature ministers reciting prayers and officials taking oaths on the Bible.
  • Christians are less likely to be singled out for their faith and are not targeted for attacks.
And now some perceived benefits of Christian Privilege that I don't exactly agree are necessarily benefits of Christian Privilege:
  • I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others. [I'm not sure this is true any more. These days, at least based on the friends and co-workers I have, my talking about my Christianity is neither more nor less weird or foreign than someone discussing Judaism, Wicca, Islam, or anything else.]
  • I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion. [But considering that my religion -- or at least my expression of my religion -- is more solidly based on the Resurrection we're about to celebrate than on Jesus's birth that we celebrate in December -- I'm not sure I buy into that. When Easter specials dominate, let me know. Also, except for ABC/Family's 25 Days of Christmas, televised Christmas specials are becoming less and less frequent.**]
  • I can have a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker or Jesus Fish on my car and not worry about someone vandalizing my car because of it. [I mean I guess I can, but I wouldn't, because come on.***]
  • The availability of Christian music stations on the radio is standard. [Again, yeah, I can probably choose to listen to a Christian music station on the radio. However, (a) come on, and (b) am I wrong to see that as a marketplace issue, and not as an issue of Privilege? That is to say, because 3/4 of Americans label themselves Christian, there's probably more of a market for Christian music -- and the associated advertising dollars -- than a Contemporary Buddhist Music station.****]
So, why is this so hard for me to get my head around? Why am I so resistant to embrace this notion -- or, at least, why is it so hard for me to enumerate the benefits of Christian Privilege in my life, when I can name for you case after case of specific examples of all the other Privileges I enjoy? I wonder if part of it is my own experience: growing up in church, losing touch with church, coming back to church, and now still figuring out the public expression of my relationship with God through Jesus.

So, anyway, if you have ideas for helping me understand this -- or specific examples of how my Christian Privilege has manifested itself -- I hope you'll leave a comment or two.
* Though not entirely, but for argument's sake, let's just say I do.
** Of course, that could just be my perception as a Christian.
*** Of course, that could just be my perception as a snarky person.

**** See also: ** And I probably would listen to a Contemporary Buddhist Music station, if you're wondering.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

ABC, Easy as 1-2-3: Awesomely Beautiful Children

My niece, Madelynn, and my nephew, Owen, are happy, intelligent, hilarious, delightful kids, and I love them very, very much.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

CLARIFICATION RE: My musical-theatre debut

Cambio, vendo, y compro por igual

As I was reading ye olde blogge this evening, it occurred to me that, in fact, my much-anticipated (and critically acclaimed) role as Unnamed Chorus Member #3 in the St. Luke's/Beth-El Zedeck production of "Fiddler on the Roof," which I previously described as my musical-theatre debut, is only my AMERICAN musical-theatre debut.

A few years ago, on the very stage where I'll be background-singing "Tradition!" and "To Life!" I made my American dramatic-theatre debut, in "Ebony Footprints in the Sands of Time" as Levi Coffin, the Quaker abolitionist who was part of the Underground Railroad in east-central Indiana. My performance was well received, although I'm fully aware that everyone was just being polite.


My rich history in musical theatre traces back to my Mexican heritage. Well, my Mexican "heritage." Almost nineteen years ago, 29 other high-school juniors and I went on a Spanish-language-immersion trip to San Luis Potosí, an Indianapolis-sized city in central Mexico. In the mornings we had classes (Mexican history, Spanish language, etc.) and in the afternoons, we generally had free time. But a couple days a week, we would have rehearsals for this show we were to put on at the end of the seven-week experience.

The end-of-summer play had become a tradition for the program, and that year would be no different. All of our host families really got into it -- helping us create our costumes and practice our lines. The one difference in the 1990 play was that, rather than performing a great work of capital-M capital-T "Mexican Theatah," we were actually performing a revue of kids' songs made famous by Cri Cri, the singing cricket.

I am not at all kidding.

So we each were assigned one of Cri Cri's songs to act out. I remember quite clearly La Muñeca Fea ("The Ugly Doll"), which a beautiful girl named Cindy performed with a guy named Jason; I remember that one especially, because (since I was the only one who had any sense of rhythm) I helped to choreograph their waltz. I also remember learning, from La Patita ("The Little Duck"), that "cuac-cuac" is how ducks speak in Mexico, especially when they are on the way to the market to get food for their ducklings. There was also this ditty about El Raton Vaquero, a little cowboy mouse, and I think this guy named Wayne did that one, but I don't remember for sure.

What this, of course, is building up to is the re-telling of the song that I was assigned to perform. Somehow I ended up with a solo; I was assigned the role of El Ropavejero, the old possum junk dealer who traded as easily in used shoes and cast-off hats as he did in misbehaving little boys and girls. Kind of like the guy to the left there, only scary and mean. ("Cambio, vendo, y compro por igual," the Tlacuache/possum's refrain, means "I trade, I buy, and I sell for things of equal value...such as you, you little snot-nosed kid, if you don't get your act together.") Despite the lighthearted music, El Ropavejero was actually a pretty scary character, and parents often used him as a kind of anti-Santa: "If you don't behave, we'll just set you out with the old clothes for El Ropavejero to pick up..."

I do not mind telling you that I was pretty masterful in that role, balancing some slapstick comedy with the whole menacing, behavioral-modification aspect. I especially shined in my (again) self-choreographed soft-shoe number in the instrumental break in the middle.

Anyway. Just wanted to clarify.

My WORLD musical-theatre debut took place in San Luis, Mexico, in July of 1990. My American theatre debut took place in February of 2005. My AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE debut will take place Saturday, May 9, and Sunday, May 10, when St. Luke's and Beth-El Zedeck jointly present "Fiddler on the Roof." (Ticket information here.)

Awesome Ropavejero picture from Flickr user Davichi. Click that link to see some great pics.

What'choo tweetin' 'bout, Willis?

One of the reasons I've been posting less frequently to this blog lately is that I've been "microblogging" on Twitter. You should consider creating a Twitter account and following me, so I can follow you.

But if you're not interested in doing that, you can get a sense of the things I'm talking about on Twitter using the Wordle below, which I created using TweetStats. Again, as with all Wordles, the bigger the word, the more frequent its use.

Why is "rt" so big, you ask? Well, on Twitter, each 140-character entry you make is called a "tweet." When someone you're following tweets something funny or profound or informative or otherwise noteworthy, it's common practice to repeat, or "retweet" or "RT," what they say. So apparently the most common word I use on Twitter indicates that I'm passing along someone else's tweet. (I am somewhat conflicted about this, in that I'd hope that the bulk of the ideas I convey in my tweets are my own. However, many social-media best practices include retweeting as a sort of Pay It Forward, goodwill, value-added* thing.)

Beyond the retweeting, my big words are: good, time, know, and haha. I feel pretty good (haha) about those words being among my most frequently used. Positive, fun, optimistic -- that's how I hope to come across.
* To deviate a touch from that positive, fun persona, please to be letting me make this abundantly clear -- if you ever, in a tweet, in an e-mail, or in a real-life conversation with me, talk about "adding value" to my work or to my life, I'm afraid we'll need to stop being friends. "Adding value," "authenticity," "passion," and "synergy," are among the buzzwords I expect never to use unironically.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

"Fiddler" rehearsal kicked my butt today

Did I mention I'm in the upcoming production of "Fiddler on the Roof" on Saturday and Sunday, May 9 and 10? You should come.

But oy vey, I am here to tell you that today's rehearsal wore me out! I'm seriously a random Son in this production - no spoken parts, just singing and, I learned today, some pretty strenuous dancing. Like, both feet off the ground at the same time dancing, which, come on.

This is my first foray into the actually-being-on-stage part of musical theatre, so I'm pretty excited about that, but I'm terrified about being the weak link, either in the singing or the dancing or the (*gulp*) acting. I'm afraid I have no stage presence at all when I'm "acting" -- give me a presentation to make and I can be on stage in front of hundreds of people, no problem. But call me a "character" and I get all freezy and stagefrighty. So this will be a learning experience for sure.

Hey, if you want tickets, let me know, I'll get you the info. And in the meantime, you can follow along here on my blog. Maybe I'll even post some pictures and maybe a video or two, too!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The next new latest hip trendthing

Sharp, eagle-eyed, intelligent, loyal readers that both of you are, you may have noticed a new "Elsewhere on the Web" link in the lefthand sidebar. I added my Blip.fm profile to the rundown in order to give you further insight into my psyche.

You know, for when you stalk me, take me to your lair, encourage me to keep my skin well moisturized for when you decide to make a Scottskin suit and, ultimately, accidentally get yourself killed by an over-eager FBI cadet.

What is Blip.fm, you ask? Well, thank you for asking! And for changing the subject.

Blip.fm is a web service that allows you to be your own DJ. You search for a song you want to "blip" and then you "blip" it -- your blip combines the song with your own short (100 characters or so) message. Your blip then goes onto the Blip.fm general timeline for all the world to see; you can also forward it to other services. For example, when I blip, it also goes to my Twitter feed.

So why not give it a try? See what people are saying about what they're listening to!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Great news!

You know I'm a supporter of the Obama administration, but I didn't realize they had already ended the Global War on Terror!

Well, sort of.

According to this report on The Daily Show, the Obama administration has at least eliminated the use of the phrase "Global War on Terror," preferring instead the phrase "Overseas Contingency Operations."

Other re-branding opportunities presented by TDS linguicist John Oliver:

MARKETING. It's all about marketing.

[UPDATE: Hey, for a more substantive rundown, check out this link that Clif left in the comments.]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I do not get you.

There, I've said it.

All I'm saying is, if you are a human living on the Planet Earth, then I do not understand you. I'm not quite ready yet to give up on trying to understand you, but I just want to make it clear: I do not get you.