Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We Braved Ikea On A Saturday

I'm pretty sure that Ikea is Swedish for "Hell". Especially when you're there on a Saturday morning nursing an upper-respiratory infection and a hangover. Jason and I were in the Schaumberg area in the aftermath of the Van Halen concert. I hadn't been to that monstrosity of a store since it opened twelve years ago, but, my desire for a simple coffee table and the unique take Ikea has on Swedish Meatballs outdid my apprehension.

Looks The Same Going In As It Does Coming Out
As I feared, the store was packed to the gills with drones in search of cheaply made Swedish home furnishings. I had forgotten that Ikea is basically a three floor maze with a restaurant in the middle. It took forever to find the coffee tables because my hungover mind could not process the directions on the various maps placed strategically throughout the brightest parts of the store. I did stop at some point and ask one of the Ikea employees where I could find a "svart soffbord". I was a little disappointed that they didn't speak Swedish, but I think I was more disappointed at the apathetic looks I got from them. Ikea truly is the Wal-Mart of furniture stores.

One thing that did impress me was the purchasing system. Thanks to the timely intervention of our friend Nikki, I eventually found the coffee table I wanted (called a LACK), memorized its organization number (okay, I took a picture of it), went down to the warehouse level, picked it up and checked out. All things told, once I actually found what I was looking for, the process was pretty painless. The real question is: How were the Swedish Meatballs? I don't know. Once we got to the restaurant, the smell of them was too much for me to stomach, so I went with the buffalo chicken wrap, which was actually pretty good. I made Jason try the Swedish Meatballs and, as of this writing, he's still alive. Stay tuned, though.

Monday, February 27, 2012

We Went To See Van Halen

You can't get a medic on a subway line. That's what David Lee Roth wants us to believe. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test his statement, as I traveled to see Van Halen via taxi to the United Center in Chicago.

I had seen Van Halen perform live once during the Hagar era but had always wanted to see them in their full glory with David Lee Roth. When I was able to obtain tickets for the show, I jumped at the chance and was happy to drag Jason and two of my brothers along for the ride. It was a great show. Eddie looks great and appears to be clean and sober. He proved several times over that he's still Generation X's best guitarist. Cleaning up your act is not an easy thing to do when you have the sort of money and access that he has had. I'm really pleased for him; not only has he cleaned up his act, but his amazing talent is back in full force. David Lee Roth might not be doing acrobatics on stage anymore, but his voice is still as strong as ever. Alex Van Halen is still a thunderous drummer. And, I hate to say it, but I actually didn't miss Michael Anthony on the harmonies. Wolfgang Van Halen handled that part as well as he handled the bass.

Kool and the Gang was an odd choice for an opening act. We probably overplayed the joke about how we were all there to see Kool and the Gang and not that hair metal band playing afterward. I shot a fair amount of video before, during and after the show. You'll find a compilation of it below. Under that is the Van Halen setlist for their "Different Kind Of Truth" tour.

Van Halen. Different Kind Of Truth. Setlist

1. You Really Got Me
2. Runnin' With the Devil
3. She's The Woman
4. Romeo Delight
5. Tattoo
6. Everybody Wants Some!
7. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
8. China Town
9. Mean Street
10. Oh, Pretty Woman
11. Drum Solo
12. Unchained
13. The Trouble with Never
14. Dance The Night Away
15. I'll Wait
16. Hot For Teacher
17. Women In Love
18. Outta Love Again
19. Beautiful Girls
20. Ice Cream Man
21. Panama
22. Guitar Solo
23. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
24. Jump

Friday, February 24, 2012

Poor Choice Of Words or Poor Choice Of Mascot?

I ran across this headline in a local paper about one of the local high school basketball teams. Having your team mascot sharing a name with a popular condom brand is bad enough. It's worse when the reporters in your local paper make a horrible choice of words. Actually, the mascot jokes are probably so old that they no longer register.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Stumbled Onto An Old Stag Beer Flyer

As a beer drinker, I'm fairly brand loyal to Sam Adams. I own a number of decorative taps, two branded beer buckets and even a Sam Adams Matchbox Car. Currently, I'm really fond of their Alpine Spring seasonal offering and have made that my beer of choice at my local watering hole.

When my brother, CJ Mac and I get together, we like to slum it by knocking back a couple of Stag Beers together. This was borne out of my Grandfather's love of Stag which was his #2 choice behind Old Style. I recall Granddad having a fair amount of Stag related Brewennia around the house including an old Stag neon sign and a framed flyer pushing for a Boycott on Stag. I saw the flyer as a child and was too young to understand what was being talked about in it. Words like "boycott" made no sense to me and I couldn't even pronounce "segregation", much less derive its meaning. So, the memory of that flyer got filed away within the nether-reaches of my mind. It all came back to me this past weekend.

It was particularly crowded at my favorite bar on Friday night and, instead of being able to sit at the bar like usual, I had to wait behind everyone in order to be served. The bar was so crowded that, while I was waiting, I had my back against the wall. A customer pushed through the crowd to get to the door and I stumbled back onto the wall, nearly knocking down one of the framed decorations on it. I looked over at it to make sure it was undamaged and noticed the words "Boy-Cott Stag Beer" on it. It was a Stag Beer flyer! The same type that my Grandfather had kept and framed.

Speaking with the owner of the bar, I was given a scan of the flyer and  was told that these flyers were circulated around Memphis, TN in the 1960's during the turbulent Civil Rights era. The flyer is reproduced below:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bill Handles The Blow Up Doll

For our production of "The Nature and Purpose of the Universe", we used a blow up doll to represent Caroline, the drugged out daughter of Mrs. Ackerman. Since Caroline has no lines and is just supposed to lay there in a drug-induced haze, using a doll made sense. And using a blowup doll made for a great sight gag. The doll needed a fair amount of maintenance and had to have fresh air pumped into her every night. In this video, Bill does the honors back stage.

Friday, February 17, 2012

More Bloatware From Verizon

I woke up earlier this week to my Droid Bionic indicating that an over-the-air (OTA) update was ready for installation. I was hoping that this would be the much anticipated update to Android Version 4.01 (ice-cream sandwich). Alas, my hopes were dashed when I discovered that it was merely a ROM update. I went ahead and installed it anyway. I wish I hadn't.

For some reason, Verizon has decided to include a number of bloatware applications in this latest update. This crap includes MOG music player, Slingbox, a Videos app, and Emergency Alerts. I understand that the Emergency Alerts app is a fulfillment of the FCC's Commercial Mobile Telephone Alerts (CMAS) mandate to allow for national/regional/local alerts covering everything from tornadoes to terrorist attacks. However, there's little reason behind the installation of the rest of the bloat that came via the OTA. Well, I'm sure that Verizon got a nice paycheck to include those programs. The question is: Where's my cut?

I don't really mind having to deal with bloatware when I initially buy a phone. I realize that companies pay Verizon to include it and it lowers the price of the phone. However, once I purchase the phone, it's mine and Verizon should not be allowed to permanently install additional programs without my informed consent, especially when those programs are little more than advertisements for paid services (I'm looking at YOU, Slingbox and MOG).

In the cosmic scheme of things, this is little more than an annoyance. Even though I can't uninstall the apps, I can just hide them away in a folder so that I don't have to see them. They don't even affect battery life or performance, so I can just pretend they're not there. Still, when Verizon pulls this kind of corporate bullshittery, it's yet another example of their poor customer service. It's my phone. I should have final say over what apps are allowed on it. Verizon wants to take that choice away from me. If ever there were an argument for rooting this is it.

Me, I'm going to root my Droid Bionic. Just to give Verizon the middle finger.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Show Is Over

The stage is empty. The audience has gone home. Who was I? I could have been anyone! I was the angry conservative Christian with a penchant for Icelandic stage singers. I was also the dessicated war veteran kept alive through the sheer will of his troubled daughter. Those characters have been put to sleep now, for the run of the show is over.

We continued our run of three Christopher Durang one-act plays on Friday night where we opened to a nearly full audience. I was allowed to add a few of my ad-libs back into the show which made me tremendously happy. Some other highlights from the weekend run included:
  • Friday night, I walked out onto the stage to see a friend whom I hadn't ever expected to show up to any of my shows because of her hatred for plays. When I asked her why she changed her mind, she said "I hate plays, but I love my friends". That may have meant more to me than seeing an entire row of supporters in the audience.
  • Saturday's audience was about the same size as Friday's and featured a spectacularly funny performance by my friend Rachel as Olga, first lady of the Icelandic Stage. The role of Olga requires a bit of improv and Rachel knocked it out of the park Saturday night. She had the whole audience in stitches.
  • Another director was in the audience Saturday night and told me how much he loved my interpretation of Steve in "The Nature and Purpose of the Universe". I played the role with some subtlety rather than going full-on angry all the time. 
  •  Sunday's audience was a little hard to reach and I don't recall much of the performance other than it being a technically perfect one with no missed cues or flubbed lines. 
  • We had a tiny audience on Monday, but, with it being the last show, we had a tremendous amount of energy. Tracy and I played up the confrontation scene between Herbert and Vivian in "Death Comes To Us All, Mary Agnes". Usually, Vivian tosses Herbert's book away and pushes him around like a rag doll. This time, when she took the book, I pulled another one out of my pocket. We spent the rest of the scene trying to make each other laugh. I even went to far as to whisper "VaginaBoob" in her ear. 
Once again, I was happy to be on stage and to bask in the applause of an appreciative audience. I probably will not be doing any more shows until this Fall because I have a lot planned during the upcoming months. Fear not, though. For, the stage still beckons and I will again answer the call. 

Houston, We Have A Problem

Not long after hearing of the death of Whitney Houston, I posted the following status message on my Facebook page:

"Damn it, Costner! You had ONE JOB!!! #ripWhitneyHouston".

I followed that up by remarking that she had picked a good time to kill herself, as there would still be time to put together a montage and pick out songs for the appropriate tributes before the Grammy's aired. An hour later, I was down three friends and had a few messages in my inbox remarking on my insensitivity.

When any celebrity dies, the usual run of jokes appear followed soon after by passionate rebuttals from white knights; true believers who see it as their duty to defend the deceased. They besmirch us wannabe comedians for having no respect for the deceased and bemoan our cynicism. While there may be those who truly find humor and delight in the death of Whitney Houston, the vast majority of us are not poking fun at the woman herself. We're having a laugh at a facade.

Whitney Houston certainly had talent. Her debut album slowly climbed the Billboard charts, and, while it didn't exactly set the world on fire, Houston at least deserved a shot at the Best New Artist Grammy for the album. Her follow-up, however, was a stellar effort. If "Whitney Houston" was her "Off The Wall", then "Whitney" was her "Triller". The moment that album left the factory, her place in pop stardom had been solidified. Even before that album was finished being pressed, producers and agents and other music industry types were carefully crafting the image of Whitney Houston in order to push it onto the world. They were molding her from an R&B artist into a pop sensation. They chose her songs, gave her an exciting look, and sent her out in front of her album to take on the world.

Unlike most other pop creations, Whitney Houston could actually sing. Her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" evokes patriotism in even the most hardened of cynics. Her version of "I Will Always Love You" is, in my opinion, a better love song than The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody". No matter how talented she was, though, no matter how much we thought we identified with her through her music, that doesn't change the fact that those of us who were Whitney Houston fans beyond liking some of her music, were really just fans of a facade. And that facade changed with the times. We watched her morph from an exciting pop-star into a refined, sophisticated diva. This was meticulously planned and executed in order to prolong her shelf life. And while that was happening, we connected with her even more because it gave us the illusion that we were watching her "grow up".

We never really knew the woman. She was undoubtedly more complex than what was presented to us on television. And we can say that we loved her, but, without really knowing her, could that really be true? You can say that you're saddened, but, really, what are you sad about? Her albums didn't disappear when she died. You can still watch her videos and hear her music any time you want.

Those of us poking fun at the death of Whitney Houston are really only making fun of the image and are rejoicing that the dream is finally over for this particular facade. And, while it may seem callus and uncaring to make jokes, I'll submit that those of you who are convinced that you are in mourning over her death are doing a much greater harm. This sort of faux-affection diminishes the sadness of those people who actually knew and loved Whitney Houston the person. They saw the image, but they loved the woman. You never loved her. You never even knew her. At best, you just liked a bunch of her songs.

No love should exist between a musician and a fan; only between a fan and the music itself. The musician is a facade. Only the music is real.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Another Opening Night

Christopher Durang is a hard sell. He's not exactly famous with the common folk and his work isn't immediately accessible to actors who are unfamiliar with it. That being said, there were a number of highs and lows with our performances of "The Nature and Purpose of the Universe" and "Death Comes to Us All, Mary Agnes" over the past few days.

  • Performing to a half-full house on opening night was disappointing, but you've got to expect that when you're doing 8 shows instead of 4.
  • Saturday night's epic performance to an enthusiastic, nearly sold-out crowd made me feel better about being an actor than I ever had before. 
  • Being told just minutes before Sunday's performance to remove all of my ad-libs was a huge blow to my ego. My characters are to be played straight. No comedy. Couple that with the fact that we were playing to only six people and you've got the reason why I blocked most of that night out of my mind. 
  • Jason came out to see the show on Monday night and did not recognize me under the wig and beard in "Death Comes to Us All, Mary Agnes" which I take as a huge compliment. The downside of that is that the reviewer from the local paper didn't recognize me either, so I was not properly credited in the review. 
  • Having kiddo listed as the Director's Crew made me proud, but not as proud as I was when she helped run the backstage while our Director was sick on Monday. 
  • I was so worn out after all of this, I had an epic sleep last night. 
We've got four more shows upcoming, so the insanity is going to continue for a little bit. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Commercial For Our Production

Part of being an actor in community theater is getting people to attend the show. When you're putting on a play by someone with name recognition like Shakespeare or when the play is something the public is already familiar with, all you really have to do is put up flyers around the area. With a relatively unknown playwright like Christopher Durang on the bill, however, getting butts in the seats can be a daunting task.

I resolved to generate interest by speaking to a lot of people personally to promote the play. I tried to emphasize the outrageous humor, the nonsensical plot and the talented cast to everyone I spoke to. Problem is, with me being so busy lately, I didn't have a lot of time to press the flesh. I decided that I should let the cast speak for themselves and made a little commercial for the production which I promptly posted on Facebook and asked my other cast-mates to do so as well. I like how this turned out. You get a feel for the cast and a little taste of the show.

I'm also proud of this video in a technical sense. I shot it entirely on my Droid Bionic and it looks pretty spectacular. I did do some editing in iMovie in order to fix the formatting differences between the front facing camera (4:3) and back camera (16:9). Still, I am incredibly pleased with the results. Have a look for yourself.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tonight, We Open!

Herbert Pomme, the one armed milquetoast
Tonight is opening night for our production of three Christopher Durang one-act plays. I'm starring as Steven Mann in "The Nature and Purpose of the Universe" and Herbert Pomme in "Death Comes to us All, Mary Agnes". The entire cast has worked very hard over the last several weeks to learn their lines and get the timing and the blocking down right. I think we've got this one in the bag.

Along the way, I have struggled with the material, as I had been hard pressed to find much humor in the scripts. Upon seeing the performances fleshed out by a talented cast and a great director, I have decided that these plays might actually end up being funny. A good actor can take a minimally funny script and transform it into a tour-de-force comedic experience. I'm not speaking from personal experience with this play, as both of my roles are played straight and have little comedic bent. The main roles are all played seriously and comedy is farmed out to the supporting characters. However, our director has brilliantly cast some of the more outrageous actors in the pivotal comic relief roles which should get us a lot of laughs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New Grocery Store Opened Up Near Me

The Pepsi Bottle is posing with ME,
not the other way around.

The grand opening of a super-market is the closest thing to a gala event that my town can ever hope to experience this far away from Hollywood. Since I live just steps from the store, and since my daughter and I have witnessed every stage of its construction, I decided that we should be there for the ribbon cutting ceremony and to be among the first to see the inside of this new monument to consumerism. Everybody who's anybody from my town was there including the Mayor, chief of Police (shouldn't he know...policing??) and the University President. Being a minor celebrity myself, I was ogled by the crowd as I moved through the sea of people to get closer to the doors. I got quite a few strange looks when I screamed "By Grabthar's Hammer.....what a savings!!!" (an homage to Galaxy Quest) as the ribbon was cut.

The new store certainly is beautiful and offers all of the modern conveniences one hopes would accompany a modern grocery store. It boasts a mezzanine lounge area with a fire place set nearby a gourmet coffee machine and pizza bar. The aisles are wide and the selection is really good. They even have Mexican Coca-Cola (made with real sugar), Orangina and cans of boiled peanuts. Those products have been impossible to find around here in the past.

The crowd of people eager to have a look at the new store was overwhelming and it was hard to navigate through the store. My daughter and I were content to simply look around. As we left, though, I noticed that the lines to the check-out counters were huge. Most of them spilled out of the hallway and up into the grocery aisles, filling them up nearly half way. The vast majority of these people had carts full of stuff. And that's what perplexes me. What kind of person actually does a full load of grocery shopping during the grand opening?