Friday, December 30, 2005

Just one more album...

I haven't had more than seven hours of sleep for probably a month. It's either because of a)work or b) I'm so used to getting up at 6 a.m. that even when I have the reason to stay up past 1 a.m. on the weekends, *bam* at 7 a.m. in the morning, my internal clock awakens.

It didn't help that I was given an IPod by Jesus and Santa. It will hopefully condense my CD collection. I can't part with at least 200 CDs. Those are like books to me. I WANT people to see that I have The Velvet Underground, I WANT people to see that Beck's Sea Change is in my elite 'Tower of 50 favorite' section in the particle board entertainment center my sister purchased for me when I moved to Omaha. But if I plan to move in the spring, I want to travel light.

So, I'm loading stuff on the IPod. Around 10 p.m., I'm nodding in and out of consciousness. But there's still much work to be done. Where's The Arcade Fire's Funeral? It would be criminal not to have your first batch of CDs loaded not include OK Computer. What? No Tool yet? How can you jog at the rec center and be forced to watch Fox News without angry music to at least fire up your muscles?

Finally, I gave up after loading The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema again (I guess ITunes can't recognize a few of the songs since they've been played to death in my home and car stereos). God, that's a great CD.

I'm looking at the sleek, white design now. 200 CDs - stored in a device that is skinnier than a 20-year-old rave boy. I let my hand slide over the circular menu selector.
"My ... precious."

Just like cell phones, I thought these things were luxury items for shallow, materialistic people. Then circumstances warranted me to purchase such devices. Now - like everyone else, I can't imagine life without them.

Preemptive strike
Folks who drink flavored, high-grade vodka. Kettle One and Stoli are great vodkas that are virtually flavorless. I can see people who need a little bit of sweetness to dull the rotgut edge of Barton's, but if you're going to spend $25-$30 on a bottle of vodka, why ruin it with an added sweetner that probably costs pennies? Show some guts and drink up.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2006 - is THE Year

I signed a one-year lease in Omaha for 2005. I knew I wasn't going to go anywhere, so 2005 was about repairing the damage done in 2004. Not really 'damage' - just getting everything focused. Beef up the savings and checking account. Sharpen a skill or two. Continue to work out and do a triathalon.

So - the only thing I didn't accomplish was securing two freelance jobs, both national and both paying.

So, in a quick wrap-up, here were some of the highlights and voids left in 2005:

Life-changing moment of the year: Surviving a layoff that eliminated about 40 percent of our staff. The weeks leading up to 'black Monday' were filled with uncertainty, mad dashes to Kinkos and giving tips to the with the writer who I edited (who lost his job). I basically told him during the lead-up to black Monday that there's no way this job can be done with one person. That said - update your resume.

I think he let me down when he didn't disappoint me: I met a grad student. We clicked. He was graduating with a masters at the age of 24. He was warm, bright and intelligent. I fell for him. He fell for me. Then - stuff started to surface. It was during the layoff time, so I was stressing over that. Suddenly, his quirks became annoying (the constant phrases of "Hellooooo!" and "Too much information!" dug into my skin like scabies. The gaps began to widen, but no arguments ensued. Finally, I told him I really didn't think I was the guy for him. We broke up amicably. Still, he was the most stable and warm guy I dated. It ended bad, but I loved how it started.

Lessons learned from a trip to wine country: Bring at least two hard rock or metal CDs. Mapquest is no substitute for a good, internal compass. If you're lucky enough to secure reservations to The French Laundry, try your best to get a reservation before 8 p.m.

Albums of the year: There were a ton of great releases this year. I feel guilty for just having a top ten. That said - here it is...

10 - My Morning Jacket - Z
9 - Sigur Ros - Takk
8 - Eagle Seagull - self-titled
7 - Andrew Bird - Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs
6 - Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise
5 - Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
4 - Gorillaz - Demon Days
3 - Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
2 - Sleater Kinney - The Woods
1 - New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

Who we have lost: Johnny Carson taught me humor is all in the timing. Peter Jennings taught me how to balance eloquence with objectivity. Richard Pryor made me laugh and wince at the same time. If you ever need tips on how to tell a story, rent any of Pryor's stand-up routines. And Hunter S. Thompson has always kept the journalism fires burning inside me. If you are going to report on a story, report the hell out of the story.

2006 -
This will be the year I will either move out of Omaha or get a dog. Two places are striking me - Tucson and Albuquerque. My friends and family quickly point out that Tucson is dirty and consistently hot. A good friend of mine sent me an article that stated Tucson was the number two nation in the city for property crime (woo! we're number two, we're number two!). My sister said when she turned on the news in Albuquerque, most of the news was dedicated to murders. That said, much of my CD collection will hopefully be moved to the IPod and most thieves don't care about books or hand-me-down furniture. Just try moving my couch out the door, I dare you.

You are going to find fault in any city. Google the stats and you'll probably find that Omaha has the highest rate of thefts of metallic green 2003 Toyota Camrys on streets named 'Military.' (This is probably false, just making up a stat.) The point is that you approach an age where you absolutely have to move out of your home environment - even though you will most likely return. I know Omaha is cool. Conor Oberst and Alexander Payne just purchased a house and a condo here. But they also live elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Liquid Courage

January 2000

I had this on my chest for about five years. It had to be spilled - tonight. I was at a party, where ... painfully shy ... I was once again far from the center of attention of my circle of outgoing, cool, artistically-able friends. Each of them had a characteristic that made them stand out - except for me. I wasn't as funny as some, I wasn't as outgoing as most and I wasn't as hyper-intelligent as most. I was hopelessly in the middle. Except for one thing: I was gay. And it was time to let them know that.

So, I came out that Saturday night. It felt scary. It felt liberating. And... the next day, there was a snowstorm that trapped my roommate (best friend of 12 years and counting) and me in our apartment. There he was, wondering how much of his friend from junior high he actually knew.

This began a lifelong lesson that I've constantly held on to: if you feel this is the right moment to make that move on a girl, or a guy, or come out, or tell your boss off ... and you're drunk ... think again.

I came out after several drinks. I deliberated beforehand and I needed those drinks to prepare me. But looking back - I think it's safe to say that drinking isn't the best way to get something off your chest.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes, you need a little liquid courage to ask that person out that you think is way above your league. You may at least need a shot before you come out to your parents (hint - if you're waiting for Thanksgiving or Christmas to come out, at least entertain the thought that you MAY be a bit of a drama queen and that you may want to wait for a non-holiday weekend to privately sit down with your parents and lay things out instead of announcing it at a dinner in front of grandparents and nieces and nephews). And I have absolutely no regrets of coming out - I was BUZZED - not drunk. But when you are looking at something with life-changing consequences with parents, friends and partners, when you have that courage to say something that you wouldn't probably say sober, ask yourself this one question...

"Would I seriously be saying this s**t if I was sober?"

Preemptive Strike
Coffee hoses that impose ''no cell phone bans.' I'm not talking about people who deserve to be banned - those who yell into their cell phone and keep saying "WHAT? WHAT? You're going to have to speak up!" I'm talking about mellow people who genuinely use their phone in moderation, who don't abuse their cell phone - e.g. people waiting for job interviews or can hold a conversation without distracting others. Are you trying to tell me that their conversation about whether or not a person should pick up John Hodgman's new book is worthy of censoring while the two airheads next to you can talk (loudly) about the new Korn video without fear of having their conversation haulted by a smartass java slinger?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Ok, I opted to stay in Omaha until spring. When spring comes - I'm gone. Unless I land a great job that enables me to rent the upper floor of a house with a back yard so I can purchase a weimaraner. But, until then, I'm not going to get soft. I'm learning Dreamweaver, beefing up on my copy editing and trying prevent the holidays and bowl season from turning my semi-defined form into a doughy mess. With that, I don't plan on a huge weight loss plan. Just a 'fit' plan. A pound a week, which is the reward from four cardio workouts a week and no soda or chips (at least not excessive intake). So, it starts with my current weight of 174. Now, I know that you can usually gain and lose say...15 pounds a day at a given time, so I plan on weighing myself after about 20 minutes in the sauna after a 45-minute ride.

So, I was at the gym last night and this really cute, bright and mellow woman was demonstrating the new pilates machines. I tried not to grin when she kept using the term "core" (an excessive pet peeve of mine right now is people obsessing about their 'core'). After the demo, there was a raffle - and I won three one-hour pilates sessions. I wanted to start up a small conversation with this woman after her demo, but I settled for a few questions about lower back conditioning and that was it. I didn't want it to appear that I was hitting on her.

Which...brings me to today's discussion - hitting on people. An annoying co-worker was working on my computer, talking about the band he's in and how I need to rent Madagascar because of the penguins. He's one of those co-workers who will imitate Homer's 'mmm' for anything in the kitchen (e.g. ''). While working on my computer, he said something along the lines of "Nebraska women are so uptight, you can't talk to them without them thinking you're hitting on them. It's not like LA, where they (women) were a lot more laid back. I'm like 'Sorry, honey, don't flatter yourself, I'm not hitting on you.'" ... said the middle-aged guy who constantly brags about how his kids think he's supercool. I wanted to say in a uber-dry tone "I feel the same way about the guys, man," but I opted against that - too obvious of a punchline.

It's best to use the laws of simplicity in this one. If a girl thinks you're hitting on her, you probably are (believe me, there are exceptions to this law). In one of Chris Rock's bits, he said "Ever since you were 14, every guy you know has been trying to get you in the sack!" He went through an average conversation "You want help carrying those books? How 'bout some d**k?"

If you are in a bar, or even a gym - it's far easier just to face facts. There's no way you can strike up a conversation with a stranger without it seeming like you are hitting on them. Especially at a bar (the best you can do is ask him/her 'So...have you heard good things about that new VOX vodka?'). So, as soon as you come to terms with that - hopefully it will make starting a conversation easier. To me, hitting on someone is persistent bothering. There's nothing wrong with a friendly 'how goes it?' while you're waiting for your cocktail or your muscles to recover from doing curls. If you think that person is cool and you want to get to know that person, the lesser the fear of thinking your approach will seem like a come-on.

I'm super shy, however. I cut and run if I don't see a slight glimmer of connection from the person I approach (which is rare for me to do). HOWEVER... if a guy (since I don't think a girl has ever done this) has the courage to buy me a drink, I respect courage. If it's someone I'm not totally attracted to (physically or intellectually) - I handle this like an economics major. That drink buys you ten minutes of conversation (15 if the person asks what I am drinking or if they order high-end vodka). If conversation starts to go sour or into the "what are you into" area, I'll switch the conversation to the current nuclear proliferation dilemma in Iran or Thomas Friedman's latest column from the New York Times.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Theater chill

Ted Koozer, a poet Laureate from Nebraska, used to get up at 5:30 in the morning and write before going to work at his insurance company. As much as I would love (and probably need) to get in that routine, I usually opt for the 'hit the snooze bar until the exact minute where you'll have just enough time to take a shower, dress, gather your lunch and CDs, go outside, scrape the frost off of the car window and speed through morning rush hour traffic to get to work by 7:58 a.m.). I need to get up earlier, however. Every time I do the 7:58 routine, I'm hyper sensitive at work - I don't speak to anyone until my first cup of coffee and the slightest banal bit of conversation from a co-worker can usually result in me biting my lip to prevent me from mumbling something I will later regret. Take the co-worker who comes into the lounge and says only one word - but with enthusiasm. It's usually a food associated word - and that's all he says. (e.g. "COFFEE" or "POPCORN" - basically, whatever is out for consumption).

Anyway - that tangent aside, I saw Walk the Line in the theater a few weeks ago. Good movie. Really good movie. A tad 'too' straightforward in its storytelling, but overall, the director did his job - little distracted you from the performances. One of the two dozen previews screened was Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. People sad lazily and impatiently at previews that featured movies with torture scenes, the tragedy of the 1972 Olympics and a few horrible comedies. But Brokeback Mountain had people laughing nervously, squirming and fidgeting. It was like the seats in the theater malfunctioned and set off a magnetic current throughout the audience.

Few reasons for this uncomfortable reaction. First off - it's too close to peoples' comfort zones. I saw this preview in Omaha. Gay relationships are supposed to happen in big cities ala Will and Grace, not somewhere like Chadron, Nebraska. Secondly, the relationship is not played for laughs ala The Birdcage. The couple in Brokeback Mountain was conflicted and risked being outed in a community that would make living there almost impossible.

If the couple were straight, this movie would have barely registered a nod for most of the audience. Most would be looking at their watches and grumbling about why it takes 15 minutes of previews before a movie to start. And no matter how much we believe we think we have come as a society in acceptance, there are still social situations like the one I just described that show that social progress usually takes decades. Hopefully in about 30 years I'll be sitting in a theater for the big budget remake of Pulp Fiction and see a preview of a movie like Brokeback Mountain and the only physical reaction I see from the audience them getting pissed off that they have to sit through 45 minutes of previews for the damn movie to start.

Preemptive Strike
SUV drivers who are amazed that their vehicles did not handle well in the first ice storm of the season. No matter how high a vehicle is centered or what sort of 'drive' it has - hitting an ice patch at 40 miles an hour and braking is still hitting an ice patch at 40 miles an hour and braking. Sucks for you that you bought a car that you saw scale a small mountain in the TV commercials, but it somehow can't crawl its way out of a ditch.