April 30, 2009

Weed

When we moved into our house, we inherited a beautiful yard maintained by the president of the neighborhood gardening club. Now, I don't have a black thumb but it's not green either. Maybe yellow? The first summer we were in the house, maintenance was easy. But as time has gone on, well, the pressure is mounting for me to maintain the yard and it's getting a little tougher. And this spring, the weeds have moved in and taken over.

I decided to nuke the yard. I did a little research and found the recommended weed killer at Home Depot, got it home and read the label. And, of course, what I read horrified me.

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That's when I decided that I didn't want to put this shit on my lawn.

I'm not green. I like to think I am, to say I am, but I will admit to you now - somewhat ashamedly - that I am green when it is convenient. I want to be greener. I actually have this grand plan to put solar panels on the house, start composting and setting up a system for gray-water reclamation. And if it weren't such a pain in the ass, I'd do it tomorrow. But reading the back of the weed killer bottle kinda freaked me out. I hate the weeds, yes, but I'm not sure poisoning my backyard - to the point at which I have to dress in a nuclear fallout-safe suit - is the way to go.

So I've got some questions for you:
- How green are you? And do you strive to be greener?
- What the fuck is this weed and how do I kill it and it's brethren without nuking my yard or killing all the furry creatures who inhabit my neighborhood?

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Posted by Chris at 8:16 AM | Comments (50)

April 29, 2009

Balls

As Beth and I were driving to and from Pennsylvania this past weekend to see Marshall, we listened to a few podcasts of This American Life. Looking it up now online, I find that the episode - Cringe (#182) - was a few years old but that had pretty much no bearing on the content. It started with a story that is paraphrased below, in the absence of a transcript.

There was a guy who had bad vision and wore glasses who worked in an office. A coworker frequently brought her daughter to work. One day, whilst coming out of the bathroom having not yet put on his glasses, Impaired Vision Man saw the daughter and, because he was cool and liked kids, he couched down and crabwalked towards her and said something to the effect of "what are you doing here little girl?" in a funny voice. And of course - can you see this coming - it wasn't the little girl but a midget who worked in the office. Oops.

The premise of the episode followed this theme, that everyone has cringeworthy moments in life and those moments are usually brought on by one's own extra effort. As in, cringeworthy moments are achieved only after one has stuck one's neck out.

The episode of This American Life flooded back when I walked out of a parking garage in Monkeytown yesterday morning. Armed with a lame keyboard, a guitar, a chorus pedal and a truly terrible voice, a street performer was making a sad attempt at covering Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World. I shouldn't have been surprised. It was, after all, What A Wonderful World Corner, where all street performers are apparently required to perform the song almost constantly. It's bizarre. Anyway, a thought struck me - it really takes balls to put yourself out there, to suck so bad but still go the extra mile. Then I turned to my own running list of cringeworth moments. Here are a few.

  1. The red notebook full of doodles, rants and poetry my parents turned over not long ago is filled with cringe.
  2. When I was a kid, we were bordered by older neighbors. One, Mr. Swan, had done some major yard work. I saw a pile of mud clumps and asked him if I could throw them. I did, down his driveway, muddying the whole thing. This was not, apparently, what he had in mind. Though it's minor, I still cringe when I think of that.
  3. I switched schools in the middle of fourth grade, from the Conservative Baptist Bible-Thumping Academy to your everyday, ordinary public elementary school. Two people almost immediately helped me get settled on the first day. During recess, they volunteered to help me set up folders that I needed for each subject. Which I took to mean hey, we'll do it for you and I took off. I caught myself a minute later, headed back and made up an excuse that I'd tried to find the bathroom. I've felt reasonably stupid about that ever since.
  4. Allison. That three year relationship was one long cringe. I was kind, attentive, and sensitive. Other girls looked at Allison with envy for having a boyfriend like me, a boyfriend who helped her babysit her younger sisters, who went to each and every one of her softball games and gymnastics competitions. My efforts were not repayed in kind. Unless you could screwing around with other guys and getting drunk and puking on clothes she had borrowed from me affection. I hear she's married with a kid living somewhere in the south. That's cool. But part of me wants to hear that she's cracked out, working crappy strip clubs with lopsided fake boobs.

Here's the thing. It takes balls to be stupid, to come up with something that in days, weeks, months or years will make you cringe. But it also takes balls to do something great. Had the Wright brothers made their airplane out of bacon, they'd have set themselves up for a cringeworthy moment later in life and probably revisited the moment constantly. Bacon? they'd say. What the fuck were we thinking? We should never build planes when we're hungry. But they didn't make a plane out of bacon. They made it out of wood (and probably some other shit too). They stood on a dune in Kitty Hawk, stared into the wind and took an historic leap. That took balls. I guess that's the lesson - to do something important, you have to risk the cringe.

What are your top cringeworthy moments?

(Oh, and of course, as I walked back to the parking garage yesterday afternoon, a completely different street performer was on What A Wonderful World Corner. Performing - no joke - What A Wonderful World.)

Posted by Chris at 6:23 AM | Comments (19)

April 28, 2009

Scare Tactics

I remember being instructed, when I was a kid, how to hide under my pint-sized desk in case of tornadoes or nuclear strikes. One was hopefully more likely than the other but even though I was reasonably wee at the time, I didn't quite get how a desk was going to help me in either situation. The desks weren't heavy and I sincerely doubted that they'd come in handy in high winds or nuclear fallout. But I suppose schools were obliged to teach us something about these threats, even if what they were teaching was ridiculous.

Later came scares about drugs. Then AIDS. Don't get me wrong. Neither of those were unworthy of the time spent discussing them. They both were - and remain - threats. But, perhaps, the scare was a little disproportionate to the possibility that I'd let either impact me.

Then all our computers malfunctioning and us left cashless after Y2k. Followed by duct tape and plastic sheeting.

After 9/11, people were justifiably freaked out. Leaving outside Washington DC, as we did, and dealing with the unique and stunningly eerie absence of planes flying overhead - with the exception, of course, of the near-constant Air Force missions overhead - it was hard not to be a little freaked. There was an undercurrent of paranoia, impending doom, that was completetly understandable though the conspiracy theorist in me thought that the hysteria may well have been fueled, at least in part, by the duct tape, plastic sheeting industries and mail irradiation industries.

Rampant mask wearing and avoidance of public transportation followed. Yeah, that SARS thing. And now we can welcome the swine flu to our ever-growing list of things to be frightened of.

Three and a half years ago, I'm not sure I put as much thought into these things as I do now. The simple reason? I've got kids now, kids with school desks of their own to hide under, kids who pick up germs from other kids, kids who could get sick. And that scares the hell out of me. So, while I used to pay attention to this stuff out of curiosity, I'm now keeping my eyes open to make sure my family stays safe.

How worried are you about this whole swine flu thing? And how much stock do you put into these "terrors of the year"?

Posted by Chris at 6:31 AM | Comments (42)

April 27, 2009

How The Weekend Flew

This weekend? It was busy. Before I wander off in my jammies to get another cup of coffee - because I'm totally taking the day off in the wake of that Big Work Thing, now called The Big Work Thing That's Finally Over - allow me to illustrate.

Just shy of ten years ago, my buddy Scott came to our wedding. There he met Julie, one of Beth's oldest friends and a bridesmaid. They got married and now they've got two insanely cool kids. Though they don't live on the opposite side of the planet, we don't see each other enough. Luckily we got to hang with the four of them on Friday afternoon.

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We played in the backyard, got covered in sand, ate Indian food and tried to catch up for all the time we've missed with each other. In doing so, I made an interesting observation - with true friends, you can pick up where you left off, no matter how long you've been absent from one another.

We spent Saturday just hanging out and doing things around the house. We replaced a malfunctioning kitchen faucet, bought a new ceiling fan (not yet installed), hit the grocery store to restock and mowed the yard. Then we passed out, exhausted.

On Sunday, Beth and I undertook a secret mission. Once the kids were at my parents' house, Beth and I got in the car and drove three hours to West Chester, Pennsylvania. What's in West Chester, Pennsylvania? you ask. Marshall. See, Marshall was appearing at Chester County Books & Music Company and we couldn't resit dropping in on him unannounced. Because we've known him for, like, a year and a half but we've never met him in person. And he was a bit surprised. He was speaking to the assembled group, mid-sentence, when he saw us and said what the hell are they doing here? We hung out, caught up, and had lunch then made the long hike home. But the trip was totally worth it because it was a hell of a lot of fun and Marshall's good people.

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Now it's Monday and I'm taking the day off. I deserve it, what with all the crazy-ass hours I worked.

Posted by Chris at 7:56 AM | Comments (25)

Haiku For Monday #266

Hot damn, a day off.
No big work thing, no office.
Ha! Take that, Monday!

Posted by Chris at 7:55 AM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2009

The Weeklies, Interrupted

I usually post around 6 or 6:30. I'm a little early. Three hours early. Because it's Friday morning around 3:00 and I just got home from work. If you're expecting The Weeklies, well, I'm afraid you're going to be sorely disappointed. The good news is that, moments ago, I succeeded in making work my bitch, wrapping up Big Work Thing. I am 100% exhausted. I'm going to go sleep for a day. In the mean time, you guys entertain yourselves and please help yourself to some of the glory I'm basking in.

Good morning, internetwebosphere. And now, goodnight.

Posted by Chris at 2:56 AM | Comments (28)

April 23, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have To Dance

As you are most likely well aware by this point - because I am bitching about it with the frequency of Larry King tying the knot (and yes, seriously, a Larry King reference is the best I could come up with in my sleep-deprived state) - I've got a big work thing that I'm pretty much working on day and night. How much? Let me put it to you this way. If I was getting paid hourly, I could afford to have all of you guys quit your jobs. We will form an island nation complete with a four star restaurant, topless beaches and man-servants. Getting a massage will be a daily requirement and full laundry services will be available at no extra charge. Because all of that would rock.

The problem? I'm not getting paid hourly. And my nose is slowly disappearing what with all the putting to the grindstone that I'm doing. And I need sleep, oh glorious sleep. (I worked until 1:15 this morning.) Sleep aside, being near the end of this thing has made me somewhat reflective (and sleepy). So I figured I'd share some Big Ass Work Thing Lessons Learned.


  • Conference rooms get smelly when five or ten people essentially live in one for two weeks.
  • A steady diet of pizza, sandwiches and Chinese food (lather, rinse, repeat) gets very old after a while.
  • I do not understand the English language - saying it, comprehending it and most especially writing it - after a 12 hour day or 11:00 PM, whichever comes first.
  • There's something inherently cool about drinking beer at work.
  • You can make any sentence sound better by using words and phrases like impact, as such, robust, leverage, key, and integration.
  • Yet that sentence can still, surprisingly, say nothing.
  • Chairs should be better design to avoid raging cases of swamp-ass.
  • At some point, coffee no longer works. Even if it's robust.
  • Nothing beats taking an hour out of a hard work day, going home and dancing your ass off with your kids.

T-minus 36 hours...

Posted by Chris at 8:07 AM | Comments (20)

April 22, 2009

And The Winner Is...

About a week ago, I kicked off a little contest in which I pimped my friend Marshall's new book Flipping Out. Not that it needs pimping. I mean, it's a fucking excellent book and you should all be running out in droves, flash-mobbing bookstores, to pick up one copy for you and several for your friends because, frankly, they'll like you better if you give them awesome stuff. That said, a little word of mouth certainly can't hurt. Anyway, that was, like I said, about a week ago and though I'm pretty sure you all just figured that I forgot about the whole thing due to my penchant this week for, well, forgetting everything, I didn't.

Using her vast knowledge of axiomatic mathematical theory combined with Einsteinian and Newtonian proofs, Mia developed method by which a winner could be randomly chosen. Here's the result. Mia - the official Flipping Out spokes-preschooler - drawing the winner.

So congratulations to Heather! She's the proud recipient of a signed copy of Marshall Karp's Flipping Out

Now, I'm all about contests and giving free stuff away. So, I have a challenge for you. Up for grabs is a customized, way-cool compilation of musical goodness. Here's what you do - open up the comments and leave something interesting or unique about yourself. Just some little detail that not everyone would know. Something you've wanted to get off your chest or something you're secretly proud of. Or maybe not so proud. I'll pick a winner either at random or based on some criteria I have yet to fully define since, honestly, I'm just making this shit up as I go. But try it. It'll be fun. And then? Head to Beth's place. You'll find another chance to win a copy of Flipping Out.

Special thanks to Beth and Mia (as yet blogless though I'm sure that will change) and Owen (because I'm sure he had some role like the grip or set designer) for doing all the heavy lifting on the video and winning selection here while I was stuck in a conference room with a vicious case of swamp-ass for a dozen hours at a time eating bad Chinese food and drinking lame office coffee. When I am done with this we will group hug for a week solid.

Posted by Chris at 6:30 AM | Comments (34)

April 21, 2009

An Interview. With Myself.

OR, MY SLOW DESCENT INTO MADNESS

Me: Hey, self, what's going on?
Myself: Well, I'll tell you. I have absolutely no idea what I should write for a post.
Me: That's unlike you. I mean, if nothing else, you're prolific and never seem to hurt for a topic.
Myself: True, but that was before I got stuck with this Big Work Thing.
Me: How's that going, by the way?
Myself: Oh, fine. I mean, this is the last week. After this I'm headed to a tropical island whose main export is those big fruity drinks with umbrellas.
Me: Seriously? You're going on a vacation to a tropical paradise?
Myself: Fuck no, I wish. But honestly a cheap beer in Flint, Michigan would be fine right about now.
Me: So what's on your mind? We never talk anymore. I hope it's something interesting. Nothing worse than an ill-prepared post that isn't even remotely funny.
Myself: Honestly? I keep thinking about the mysterious sources for car model names.
Me: What?
Myself: You heard me.
Me: Are you serious? I ask for funny and you give me model names of cars?
Myself: You try working on a big, annoying work thing for months then attempt to come up with something brilliant when you're brain is, quite literally, mush.
Me: Come on. Let's not fight. Tell me about the car thing.
Myself: I'm just wondering where car companies come up with these names? I swear they're just making up words. I mean, what the fuck is an Impreza? Or a Camry? Is a camry some wild animal that lives on a remote Japanese island? Is there any such thing as a Sebring? Or is that just weird spanglish. Would you like a beer? Sebring me a cervesa, please. What's a Venza? And a Yaris? Those sound like planets from Star Wars.
Me: Clearly you've put a rather disturbing amount of thought into this.
Myself: Yeah, it annoys me.
Me: You annoy me.
Myself: Hey, until you find another internal monologue to hang out with you're stuck with me.
Me: So, what's the plan for the day?
Myself: Work. More work after that. Then I'll shake it up a little and work.
Me: You have to pee.
Myself: What?
Me: You never listen to me. You have to pee.
Myself: No I don't. Wait. Yes. Yes I do. Thanks for the head's up.
Me: No problem.

. . .

Me: Can you believe that guy was eating a breakfast burrito in there on the can?
Myself: Yeah, and with the stall door open too. Who does that?
Me: That guy, apparently.
Myself: I need a beer.
Me: It's 6:30 in the morning.
Meyself: I know. And I'm in the office working so there's something so very obviously wrong with this picture, what can a beer hurt?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my state of mind this morning. I'm losing it, right?

Posted by Chris at 7:10 AM | Comments (29)

April 20, 2009

The Homestretch

I am under absolutely no illusions that this week will be any different - any less stressful or exhausting - than last week. Last week when I worked about a billion hours, ate pizza three times, drank more coffee than I thought possible and was home for my kids' bedtime about twice. So, yeah, I'm really looking forward to this week.

I love my job. I enjoy what I do and I think I'm relatively good at it. But this constant work thing - which I fully admit is a fluke, happens infrequently and is in no way a reflection on my own desire for a work-life balance - is rough. All this has brought me to the conclusion that I have absolutely no idea how some parents doing. Specifically couples in which both parents work. Or single parents.

I want to be clear, I'm not judging at all. People do what they have to do and what they think is best. I respect that. But the only thing that comforts me while I'm at work, sometimes until all hours lately, is the fact that I know Beth is home with them, taking care of them, watching them grow, walk, laugh, cry, fall down, sleep, tell jokes, draw pictures and just be kids in my absence.

My kids are a whopping one and three years old. Yet, I have a very close relationship with them. I can only hope its indicative of what our relationships will look like in five or ten or twenty years. The hardest parenting-related thing I've faced lately, as a result, isn't a temper tantrum, hours of reading Amelia Bedalia books, trying to get my daughter to eat a decent meal or poop without whining about it. No, it's telling Mia that I won't be home for dinner and seeing the sad look in her eyes when she realizes I won't be home to kiss her before bed.

So for the next five days, I'm planning to work my ass off and find my happy place. Which at this precise moment is in bed, with a cup of coffee and kids crawling all over me. Unfortunately, I'm at work, behind my desk, with a lukewarm cup of joe. It might take me a little more time to reach my happy place than I'd like.

Five days...five days...five days...

Where's you happy place?

Posted by Chris at 6:55 AM | Comments (37)

Haiku For Monday #265

T-minus five days
'til big work thing is over.
It's about damn time.

Posted by Chris at 6:54 AM | Comments (4)

April 17, 2009

The Weeklies #82

The Weekly State Of Mind. Wiped out.

The Weekly Hours Worked. After today's done, about 70 hours. Yeah, that's a lot.

The Weekly Television Show I Finally Discovered Years After Everyone Else. Good Eats.

The Weekly Read. I loved Barry Eisler's John Rain series about a strangely sympathetic assassin. I was pretty jazzed when I stumbled on a copy of his latest - Fault Line - at Costco. I hate to say it was a let down. Eisler's good, don't get me wrong. But Fault Line doesn't show how good he is. It's the story of two brothers, polar opposites, one of whom gets involved in a fairly wide-reaching conspiracy and taps his brother to bail him out. Fine. You can see what's coming - the disagreements, even violence, long pent-up anger between the two. It was predictable. It was made even worse by the fact that, despite the fact that they're the main characters in the novel, neither are at all likable. At a couple points in the book I was kinda thinking oh, hell, if they'd both just get killed, they'd be far less annoying. Bottom line - check out Eisler but start with his John Rain series. Then if you're still jonesing for more, pick this one up.

The Weekly Thing I Said Out Loud That I Shouldn't Have. This at a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese's last night when Beth came back with Owen and a shit-load of tickets.

Beth: Look what we got!
Me: Wow, who'd you have to blow to get all those?
Beth: Um. You could have said that quieter.
Me: Oops, inner monologue sneaking out.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. If you've been keeping up with my Twittering, you know that I've been working well into the night lately. So I invite you all to use me as the schadenfreude for the week.

The Weekly Hypothetical Which May Or May Not Be A Real Life Scenario I've Encountered This Week. You get home from work around 12:45 in the morning. Is it appropriate to crack a beer and, if so, is it okay to take said beer to bed with you?

Posted by Chris at 6:30 AM | Comments (31)

April 16, 2009

Marshall, Marshall, Marshall

Back in November of 2007, I wrote a little review of Marshall Karp's The Rabbit Factory. I talk about books a lot but I was more than a little shocked to get a six paragraph email from Mr. Karp that evening. Not only had Marshall read the review I'd come up with but he'd dug through my site, read my archives and he seemed to really like it. He offered me a copy of his second novel, Bloodthirsty which I gladly accepted and loved.

The funny thing was that wasn't the end of the story.

Marshall and I kept in touch. He sent me an advance copy of his third novel, Flipping Out. I told him what I thought. We talked about books, his life in advertising, my life in whatever the hell it is I do, having kids (he's a dad too), mid-life career changes and crises, marriage, dogs, death, taxes, pretty-boy writers and why I don't like phones.

Then Marshall made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Using my words, he told me it's up to you, watermelon. That's how I came to redesign his website. Even Beth got in on the action.

Since that November day - and despite the fact that I hate communicating by phone and Marshall dislikes email - Marshall has become a true friend of mine and my family. Mia is madly in love with Marshall's dog Jett. She occasionally drags us to a pet store so we can find new toys to send to Jett. Marshall shoots video of Jett playing with the toys. This makes Mia literally squee with delight. And Marshall didn't think it at all strange when he received Mia's picture of - her words - Marshall pretending to be a clam. Marshall sent us an Easter basket bigger than my daughter, Christmas presents for my kids. Marshall urges me to write, inspires me to be a little more creative than I'm able to in my day job, makes me laugh and, hell, he's just a good guy. Mia is so enamored, she likes to get in on the website action. She sits in front of my computer pretending to work.

Me: What are you doing?
Mia: Oh, I'm working on Marshall's website.
Me: Really?
Mia: Yes. There's a piece that's broken and I'm going to fix it.

I mention this not to gloat in a guess who I know kinda way. Instead, I want to make sure that everyone knows just how fantastic Marshall Karp is. He's a great writer, a fantastic character and a hell of a friend. And isn't the internetwebosphere just a fucking cool place? How else would I ever have had the chance to meet Marshall?

I realize that by this very post I show off my bias. But each and every one of you should run out and pick up copies of Marshall's books. Because he's one of the good guys. And the good guys - like Marshall's detectives Lomax and Biggs - should always win.

Open up the comments today, drop me a line, and I'll pick one random commenter to receive an autographed copy of Flipping Out. Then you too can tell the world just how fantastic Marshall is.

Posted by Chris at 7:34 AM | Comments (90)

April 15, 2009

Beep

Hello. The time is 9:48. At the sound of the tone, this blogger will still be at work.

BEEP!

It should be noted that aforementioned blogger is not thrilled about this, especially since its for the second night in a row.

Posted by Chris at 9:48 PM | Comments (6)

Random Violence of Senseless Acts

Sometimes the world can be a big 'ol scary place. Not all of the time, but some of it. In the last month alone, there seems to have been a major breakout - Radford University; Binghamton, New York; and the community college shooting in Dearborn, Michigan to name a few. All this had me scared shitless until last week, when a very local incident went down which left two dead and a house burned to the ground. That scared me shitlesser.

There's a part of me - growing bigger each day - that wants to pick up Beth and the kids and run screaming to a small town though I know small towns are not immune from violence, crime or just general bad behavior of ignorant people. Plus it's hard to get good Indian food in small town America. So, scratching that option off the list, I feel the urge to move to a farm in the middle of nowhere, grown our own vegetables and homeschool the kids. Then I realize that I don't know dick about math so our kids would grow up unable to add and they'd potentially grow up socially inept due to the fact that they spent all that time on a farm with us and their best friends would be cows or something. As for the vegetable thing, I'm honestly fine buying those in a nice pretty grocery store though there is something to be said for putting food on your table that you've actually grown. But waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to plow or rake or hoe or whatever doesn't sound that appealing primarily because I doubt there's a nearby Starbucks. Then my mind wanders and eventually happens upon a small, sparsely populated tropical island. I'll admit that my overactive imagination has to work overtime to figure out the potential drawbacks to this scenario. School for the kids would be an issue, sure. And I guess there's always the whole hurricane/tsunami thing to worry about. That would suck. But overall, the tropical island life has a lot going for it.

Except for this - you can't run away.

Running away from society solves nothing. Or, rather, it takes you out of society and maybe gets you away from the violence but it doesn't solve the problem and it takes you away from the good stuff as well. It takes a village was a concept largely laughed at when it was introduced a few years back. But it's absolutely, one-hundred percent right. So here's my Massive 100% Un-Implementable Grand Plan To Save The World - we somehow arrange a way for the however many billion people on the planet to meet each other. I know it's tricky and I have no inkling how it could be done but think about it. You can get pissed, rant, rave and scream at perfect strangers when you will never have an opportunity to put a face with a name with an attitude. But can you do that to someone who's hand you shook, who you look in the eye and introduce yourself? Much less shoot them? I thought not. Of course, there are crazies out there who could. You can never get rid of all the crazies.

The world scares the shit out of me sometimes. How about you? And what should we do about it?

(Author's note: It's early and I didn't get home from work until precisely 10:53 last night. So if there are parts of this that don't make sense, well, it is what it is. At some point, when the dust settles from Big Work Thing, when I have time to eat a meal that isn't pizza at a table that isn't one of a conference variety and actually see my kids before they go to bed instead of visiting them once they're deep in slumber, I'll be back on my a-game. Until then, well, you're stuck with Less Interesting Slightly Distracted And Very Tired Cactus. For that I apologize. The typos are unintentional. The sentence fragments were unavoidable. I am uncaffeinated. I need coffee.)

Posted by Chris at 6:26 AM | Comments (24)

April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend Walk: A Photo Essay

Over the weekend, Mia, Beth Owen and I took a walk. Mia went scavenging. When she noticed that I had a camera with me, she appointed me her accomplice. When she stumbled upon anything interesting she said, "Daddy take a picture!" So I did. I think you'll agree this is riveting stuff.


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A smooshed bee. Which is, incidentally, the only kind of bee Mia seems to feel comfortable with. She claims she loves them then promptly freaks out whenever one comes within, oh, about a hundred yards of her. Then she shrieks like a little girl. But she is a little girl so she can get away with it.

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Worm. Not sure how creative a description I can come up with here. It's a dead worm.

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For a minute Mia thought she'd gotten lucky and come up with bird poop. But upon closer inspection, it turned out to be gum. Sadness.

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I call this particular still-life Bird Poop With Stick. Pretty catchy, huh?

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Another worm. It was, apparently, not a good day for worms.

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Manhole seems like a sexist term to me but I suppose womanhole would be worse.

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Spring snow. It's been a little windy this spring. And when the petals fly, Mia asks me if it's snowing. It's not but it sure is prettier and much easier to clean up.

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Shoestring, unstrung.

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Yes, another worm. What is this, mass wormicide? Did someone pass out little tiny glasses of worm Kool Aid? I mean, it could be a cult. They're all wearing the same thing...
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Here there be telephone lines.

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The holy grail of this walk, if you will, dog crap. It's wee, most likely from one of those little yippy dogs.


By the end of the walk, Mia had accumulated two plastic newspaper delivery bags filled with stuff - leaves, flowers, sticks and pine cones. Luckily she left the formerly living dead things and poop on the sidewalk where they belonged. Because, as the saying goes, it's always better to have a picture of poop than poop in a bag.

Okay, that's not a saying but it totally should be.

Posted by Chris at 6:58 AM | Comments (18)

April 13, 2009

Easter (Or, The Sugar-Buzz Bunny Holiday)

The signs of a successful Easter? Happy, sugar-buzzed kids, a mouth full of potential cavities, exhausted family, more of that cheap fake grass than you can shake a stick at and a camera full of pictures. Mission accomplished at the Cactus-Fish house.

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It's only over the past few years - since having kids, I guess - that I've started to recognize Easter as a really strong Candy Holiday. I mean, typically, you think of Halloween and Christmas as you number one and two seed Candy Holidays while most people sleep on Easter. And that's just wrong. I mean, no other holiday has such prevalence of chocolate covered marshmallow things. And honestly, when I die and reach the Pearly Gates, the roads of heaven will be paved with chocolate covered marshmallows and the rivers will flow with that marshmallow fluff stuff that I like so bad.

When I was a kid, my mom was a little on the health food nut side. As a result, when I was especially wee, I went on Easter egg hunts to discover eggs full of cheerios and raisins. I recall my dad being horrified. I was fine with it and thirty-some years down the road, I don't believe I was especially traumatized. Which is a good thing because that's almost precisely what we loaded Owen's eggs up with.

Easter prep started on Saturday night. Beth and I washed the eleventy dozen plastic eggs and filled them with assorted goodness (and raisins, decidedly not in the tradition of Easter goodness). Then we boiled enough eggs to make an omelet about the size of my car because on Saturday we discovered that Mia had a fiery passion for dyeing eggs. And then we drank.

Beth was up early Easter morning with the kids while I snored obliviously. When I awoke, Beth got the kids dressed while I sneaked into the backyard and hid eggs. On behalf of the Easter Bunny, of course. A little while later, Owen and Mia invaded the yard, collected their share of Easter goodness, headed inside and evaluated their haul. In addition to his raisins, Owen managed a few M&Ms. He was particularly pleased by this discovery. The combination of sugar buzz and early walking skills made him appear to be a slightly drunk hyperactive giggling zombie. It was pretty awesome.

Loaded with the appropriate amount of sugar, it was time to dye eggs. And that's what we did. And in the process, Mia dyed herself. Which is why she's somewhat blue. Once we'd attempted to return the kids to their normal color (and failed) we loaded them into the car and headed over to my parents' house where lots of family - including some we'd visited in Ohio last weekend - was there. By the end of the evening, the kids were wiped out and so were we.

How were your Easters? And in your opinion, what's the best candy holiday?

Posted by Chris at 6:31 AM | Comments (20)

Haiku For Monday #264

Between the coffee
and marshmallow eggs I should
wake up pretty soon.

Posted by Chris at 6:29 AM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2009

The Weeklies #81

The Weekly Holiday Photo. Mia's thrilled. Owen? Not so much.

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The Weekly Read. I managed to get my hands on an advanced copy of Running From The Devil, a novel by first time author Jamie Freveletti. I'm really glad that I did. I won't ruin it for you but picture this - an fully loaded commercial airliner goes down in the Colombian jungles controlled by drug cartels and guerrillas. Hilarity ensues. Wait, not hilarity - action and adventure. Freveletti is a good writer. Based on the plot, this had the potential to be either really good or really bad and slow. It definitely came out on the good side of the equation. It was compulsively readable, very well-written and, above all and unlike many thrillers, seemed entirely plausible. When it hits shelves in May, pick it up.

The Weekly Music Innovation. Drummer Josh Freese (you might know him - he's played with Sting, A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails) has a pretty innovative pricing scale for online distribution of his new album. $7 gets you the album. $15 gets you the album and a DVD. $50 gets you the CD/DVD package along with a t-shirt and a call from Josh. $250 gets you all the previously mentioned stuff plus a signed drum head and lunch with Josh. $500 gets you the music, the DVD, a signed cymbal plus you get to go with Josh to a sensory deprivation tank (filmed and posted on YouTube) followed by dinner at Sizzler. $10,000 gets you lots of stuff including a day at Disneyland with Josh as well as his Volvo. If you spend $75,000, Josh will take you out on tour with him for a couple days, he'll write and record an EP about you, he'll join your band for a month if you've got one, and if you don't, he'll be your personal assistant for a month. This guy? Seriously brilliant.

The Weekly Respect For A News Outlet Even Though I Kinda Slammed Them. This mention from the Washington Post despite the fact that I had almost nothing nice to say about them:

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The Weekly Schadenfreude. There's trouble in Hollywood. First Lindsay and lover Sam broke up then Britney has been seen hooking up with K-Fed. Whoa. Wait a minute. We're supposed to be surprised that these people are all kinds of fucked up?

The Weekly Hypothetical. In the story of your life who writes the book, who plays you in the movie and who scores the music?

Posted by Chris at 6:29 AM | Comments (31)

April 9, 2009

Things I Think I Should Understand But Don't

I was planning something more substantial, I swear. But in doing so I started to develop this really bizarre mental list of things that I kinda feel like I should understand but, for whatever reason - stupidity, density, incompetence at being a 36 year old adult - I don't. To be honest, a lot of these things I really feel that I should understand. Like our mortgage. Witness the following conversation:

Me: Okay, so what's the deal with the whole points thing?
Beth: Are you serious?
Me: Yeah.
Beth: We've refinanced twice on two different houses. How could you not know?
Me: I know. But still? No fucking clue about points.
Beth: What would you do if anything ever happen to me?
Me: I'd cry. I'd enter a deep, dark depression while still managing to take care of the kids and being a darn good parent and then, frankly, I'd hire someone to take care of all that money shit.
Beth: Okay, good. Because if you try and do this yourself, you're fucked.

Anyway, aside from my mortgage, here's a quick brain dump of all that other stuff that I don't understand.

  • Country music
  • Ponzie schemes
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Scientology
  • Gated communities
  • Google Analytics
  • Lindsay Lohan
  • Beer pong
  • Second Life
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • Actually, any book by Thomas Pynchon
  • Geometry
  • Love swings
  • John Travolta
  • Tie clips
  • Sweet pickles
  • Why, if the housing market is so bad, there are so many people looking at the house across the street.
  • Tea
  • Linux
  • That really weird scene in The Shining (the original, with Jack) in which those two ghost-dudes are dressed up as furry little animals.
  • Metallica
  • The embargo against Cuba
  • Family Circus
  • Prince
  • People on house hunting shows who bitch about paint colors when all they have to do is buy a damn brush.
  • Hugh Hefner
  • Whatever happens to a vast percentage of my paycheck.
  • Tighty whities
  • The PUMA
  • Near-beer
  • The Beastie Boys
  • Golf
  • The recession
  • Ultimate fighting
  • Midget porn

I'll accept the fact that I'm probably alone on these but I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone on all of them. So I'll ask you - what stuff do you just not get? And can you help me understand some of the stuff up there in my list?

Posted by Chris at 6:43 AM | Comments (66)

April 8, 2009

All The News That's Fit...

When I was, I don't know, 10, I wanted nothing more than a typewriter for Christmas. I got one and immediately set about making a homemade newspaper. I'd sketch out headlines, make fake advertisements and come up with illustrations for the articles, instead of pictures, then I'd cut the whole mess out, put all the elements together and convince my dad to take the whole thing to work and make copies. Copying made it, like, official. And it was cool. Like laminating stuff. After what I'm sure was a long day at work, my dad would return with a folder full of my newspapers. I'd staple the pages together and deliver the news.

I was a bit of a dork.

When I got into junior high school, I worked on the school newspaper, The Raider. Despite the fact that the sponsor - an English teacher named Ms. Felcman - was a raving lunatic in need of a lifetime supply of lithium who should never have been instructing junior high school students in anything, I loved it. In high school, I continued to do the journalism thing, as editor of the paper for three years. I'd planned on majoring in journalism in college but that went out the window when I was accepted to a beautiful school in Virginia with absolutely no journalism program whatsoever but that, instead, sported a female to male student ratio of about 7 to 3. Life is all about priorities, hard decisions, and compromise.

What do these tales of adolescent dorkhood and teenage hornyness have to do with anything? It all helps explain why I feel sad whenever I see that another newspaper has bitten the dust, something that is happening with stunning regularity.

The Rocky Mountain News is gone. So are The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ann Arbor News, Journal Register Philadelphia and the Kansas City Kansan. The list of dearly departed newspapers also includes the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Baltimore Examiner and USA Today International Edition. But wait, there's more. Circling the drain are the Tucson Citizen, The Detroit Free Press, the Christian Science Monitor and The San Francisco Chronicle. The newspaper is dying.

My own hometown paper - The Washington Post - has systematically gotten rid of or at least watered down every feature I previously enjoyed. It's Sunday Source section was brilliant so, of course, they axed it. The Post's Book World didn't compare to the New York Times' weekly book porn but it was something. Now, however, it's nothing. Another victim of poor circulation. And now the arts and style sections are suffering.

I'm convinced that newspapers are caught in a giant death spiral. Fewer subscribers lead to less revenue which leads to less content which, in turn, leads to fewer readers. I don't think it's a spiral that the newspaper industry is going to recover from. And that would make me sad.

We in the Cactus-Fish household subscribe to The Washington Post. But all this leaves me with something of a conundrum. Despite the fact that I find almost no redeeming value in The Washington Post beyond the fact that they occasionally give me a shout out in their Express daily edition (Hi, Washington Post!), do I cancel my subscription? Or do I continue, make a point, continue to support an institution that I recognize is on its last legs?

What about you? What are your newspaper habits? Do you subscribe to a paper, read one occasionally, or avoid them altogether? And what do you think about the death of the industry? Is it sad or just about time?

Posted by Chris at 6:41 AM | Comments (51)

April 7, 2009

Parenting, Stones Style

Mia: But Moooommmmmy, I don't want to eat any riiiiice.
Beth: Mia, I'm a little tired of hearing the whining.
Mia: But Mooooom. I want something else.
Beth: Well, Mia, you can't always get what you want.
Chris: But if you try sometime...
Beth: ...you find you get what you need.

Posted by Chris at 7:31 PM | Comments (12)

Ohio!

Where to start...

On Friday morning, bright and early, the four of us were up, two of us were dressed, and we were all out of the house by 7:30. We met my parents at a local Starbucks and convoyed it to Ohio. Unfortunately, it was monsooning out. So the drive was fun. Lots of fun.

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And we were all in fine moods.

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At some point, we stopped for lunch. Fries and milkshakes were had.
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We hit the road again, the potatoes and time having returned some sanity. We arrived in Ohio eight hours after we'd left Virginia, crossing three other states (some twice, like West Virginia) in the process. There my grandmother finally got to meet Owen. And hang with The Bean.
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Later that evening we proved to be clever parents by getting both kids to sleep in a single hotel room (two beds). That, of course, left us nothing else to do but hang out in the bathroom and eat cupcakes.
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Two years ago, we took Mia to Ohio for my grandmother's 90th birthday. It was the single best sleep she'd gotten to date. We called it The Miracle of Zanesville. We hoped for a repeat. We got it. Owen slept. Mia slept. We slept. We were all rosy and bright-eyed in the morning. So we did what any sane person would do - we went to Bob Evans.
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A dozen pancakes and even more cups of coffee later, we headed to my grandmother's house for some good family playing. Then at 11:00, we packed ourselves in the car and headed back home. None of us were very pleased about it but, well, honestly, we weren't prepared to stay in small-town Ohio for the rest of our lives. Luckily, the weather was much better.
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So we headed back the way we'd come, stopping for more fries and more milkshakes on the way. McDonald's views on childcare scare me.
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Eight hours later, home. Our own beds. Our own shower. Our own home.

My kids really impressed the hell out of me. I mean, I have to say that because I'm their dad but there are just times that both of them really go above and beyond the simple job of being good kids. Sixteen hours in a car is a long time. They almost never complained. Instead, they watched the states roll by, pointed at cows and, yes, started into the 10 inch screen of the portable DVD player we'd put in the car to bribe them with. Owen passed some of the time sleeping. Mia never slept. They were fantastic with family, wonderful in restaurants and a dream in the hotel. Man, they rock.

This weekend was important. It was important for Mia to hang with family. It was important for all of us to do the same. But perhaps most importantly, Owen got to meet his great grandmother. Before my grandfather descended into the unrecoverable depths of Alzheimer's, he pulled Beth aside and told her he'd really like a grandson. He was proud of our name and wanted it to be carried on. That's far less important to me but now that Owen's around, I think I understand where he was coming from. Regardless, my grandfather died before he could meet either of our kids. Which is a shame. Especially since Owen looks exactly like him and my father. That wasn't lost on my grandmother.

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So, this weekend was long and involved way too much time in the car. But it was very much worth it. Because it was all about family.

PS - The complete set is up on Flickr.

Posted by Chris at 6:45 AM | Comments (26)

April 6, 2009

The Weekend. And That Numbers Thing Again

You all are a pretty on-the-ball group so I'm sure it didn't get past any of you that it's Monday. Combine that with the fact that I had a hell of a busy weekend and you'll probably be able to noodle through why I'm relying on bullet points again. Please forgive me. But after you check out the numbers, well, I'm sure you'll understand.

  • Miles driven: 708
  • Total hours out of town: 36
  • Hours spent in car: 16
  • Hours spent in hotel: 10
  • Hours spent with relatives: 10
  • Family members visited: 4
  • Pictures taken: 91
  • McDonald's visited: 2
  • Milkshakes ordered: 5
  • Orders of fries consumed (by family): 5
  • Gas stops: 3
  • Portable DVD players I thanked the baby jesus for: 1
  • Backyardigans episodes viewed: 10
  • Princess movies watched: 2
  • Episodes of Elmo consumed: 4
  • Individuals in full possession of sanity upon return: 0
  • Yards mowed for the first time this season: 1
  • Toads accidentally killed with weed whacker: 1
  • Times I need to see that again: 0
  • Toads I'm convinced will attack me in my sleep for karmic retribution: 3,421
  • Times Mia asked if we could watch whales poop: 1
  • Hours until I post something more elaborate and interesting: 24
  • Cups of coffee I need: 8

Posted by Chris at 6:37 AM | Comments (18)

Haiku For Monday #263

Ouch, Monday morning.
You show up and screw me but
where's the reacharound?

Posted by Chris at 6:36 AM | Comments (5)

April 3, 2009

The Weeklies #80

The Weekly State of Mind. Somewhat awake, very confused.

The Weekly Beer. Fire Rock Pale Ale. Seriously, best beer ever.

The Weekly Time Waster. Remember Assembler? I give you Assembler 3. Have fun.

The Weekly Read. Once again, Hard Case Crime comes through. The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer is a perfect example of 1950's pulp fiction. It is wonderfully cheesy, incredibly predictable, and a whole lot of fun to read.

The Weekly Music. Since a buddy of mine turned me on to Gomez a few years ago, I've been hooked. Their early stuff was quirky, loose, rootsy. Their last album - How We Operate - took a mainstream, more polished turn. The indie fan inside hates to admit this but that more accessible album became my favorite Gomez album. Their latest - A New Tide takes a step or two back into the land of indie goodness while not losing the accessibility and pop flavor that made How We Operate so brilliant.

The Weekly iTunes Mix. I'm trying something new here. Let me know if you dig it. Follow the link to The Rude Cactus Weekly Mix

The Weekly Handy Little Gadget. I'm going to admit up front that I was given this product to review. That said, Roxio's Easy VHS to DVD is pretty darn awesome. Load the software, plug a VCR into your computer and, well, that's it. It's also great for burning old cassette tapes to CD. And I've literally got boxes of old cassette tapes that I haven't been able to replace with CDs. In most cases there are pretty good reasons for that. I mean, who needs a Yes cassingle of Owner Of A Lonley Heart with an exclusive 15 minute dance mix?

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Sham-Pow! ShamWow pitchman Vince Shlomi just got arrested. For beating up a hooker. What's next? That annoying British dude mowing down old ladies in the street? Billy Mays spree killing? But wait, there's more!

The Weekly Hypothetical. You can either see into the future on a continuous basis or never forget anything as long as you live. Which would you choose, and why?

Posted by Chris at 6:27 AM | Comments (20)

April 2, 2009

Adventures In Parenting: Random Observations

Throughout the past week or two, I've gathered some random observations that I wanted to share. And honestly I'm wiped out this morning. So, hell, there's no time like the present.

Observation 1: I'm not ruling out the purchasing of firearms...
The other day when I got home, I caught a glimpse of my daughter and I knew exactly what she would look like in ten years. She was wearing a turtleneck and jeans - you know, completely non tiny-girl clothes - with her long hair stretching down to her little bottom. She was (yet she always is) gorgeous. And then I thought hey self, this isn't just how you see her but everyone else. Then I ran out and bought a shotgun and started target shooting silhouettes of pimply-faced teenage boys. Okay, I'm kidding about that last part but the fact that I'm kidding now doesn't totally rule it out in the future. I mean, look at these little people.

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Observation 2: Conversations with kids are awesome...
Mia: What happens when you break?
Me: Break? Like, when you're not feeling good?
Mia: Yeah.
Me: You weren't feeling good last week. So I guess you were a little broken.
Mia: Right.
Me: And when you get old like your great grandmother, you break a little.
Mia: Do those folds on faces hurt when you get old?
Me: Wrinkles? No, they don't.
Mia: Does the gray hair hurt your head?
Me: No, it doesn't.
Mia: Daddy, I'm just trying to keep you okay. So you can be with me another 20 years.
Me: I hope to be here longer than that.
Mia: Seventy?
Me: That would be great. You're stuck with me kid.
Mia: You know, you're the best daddy in the world.
Me: And you're the best daughter in the world.

Observation 3: I'm an ass...
Beth: Pull up your pants
Mia: No. I can't
Beth: Why, are your arms broken?
Mia: No.
Beth: Then why?
Mia: There's a bird in my underpants
Beth: There's a bird? In your underpants?
Mia: Yes.
Beth: I don't believe you. Must not be a bird. I think there's a monster in your underpants.
Me: Monster in someone's pants? You talking about me again?

Observation 4: If you can't play nicely, don't play with it at all...
I cringe everytime Owen is hanging out without a diaper on. Not because I'm worried about him peeing on the carpet or anything. Really, he tugs on his penis with a totally inappropriate amount of force. I wince just watching it. It has to hurt. I keep telling him treat it well and it will treat you well but not completely understanding English he's not really catching my drift. Isn't that, like, a Bible verse? Do unto your penis...wait, that's not right.

Observation 5: Busses suck...
Completely unrelated to parenting, when you live and/or work in DC, tourists get old fast. The cherry blossoms are blooming in the Tidal Basin and tourists have descended on DC. This means two things. Thing 1 - Busses are absolutely everywhere. And bus drivers are apparently all ADD, blind or ADD and blind. Thing 2 - DC drivers get to play a daily game of How Not To Hit Random Pedestrians Who Are Paying Absolutely No Attention To Where They're Going. It's fun. And quite the challenge. So if you come to our fair city to visit the cherry blossoms, the monuments or the museums, please don't take a bus and be sure to observe all traffic signs.

And those are my observations for the week. My other observation? I need coffee. Stat! How about you guys? What are your observations for the week?

Posted by Chris at 6:49 AM | Comments (25)

April 1, 2009

Drumroll Please

A while back - probably about this time last year - I made a rather low-key, cryptic mention of a Big Creative Thing I'd undertaken. And of course now, while everything else is going on - The Big Work Thing, The Other Big Work Thing, kids teething - I find out that The Big Creative Thing has finally come to fruition, to a point at which I'm finally comfortable sharing it with you.

You see, I've written something. A play. Love In A Time Of Crayola.

Once completed, I shopped it around. I stumbled on a producer willing to, well, produce it and a director who was - big shock - willing to direct. For some strange reason, the planets aligned perfectly. Or almost perfectly. Sure, the play isn't quite opening on Broadway. But it is opening in New York. Off-Off-Off-Practically-Queens-Broadway, I guess you could say.

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The time: The present
The place: Anywhere, USA

The play focuses on the Windenlow family - mother Gail, father Steve and their two kids, Hadley, age 5, and Hailey, age 13. Gail is a stay-at-home mom and Steve has recently taken a medical leave of absence. Steve began having flashbacks of the Vietnam War despite the fact that he never served in Vietnam or even the armed forces. Hadley is a seemingly normal five year old. Hailey is moderately askew, enrolled in her private school's Farsi immersion program based on her firm belief that the Taliban will soon take over the Western hemisphere. On this day - while the family sorts itself out, all four home together during the day for the first time finding common ground in the simple act of coloring - androids attack their small town.

I'm incredibly gratified to have such an impressive cast bringing these characters to life. Steve Windenlow is being played by Jerry Supiran, best known for his starring role on the hit television series Small Wonder. Lisa Calderon - known primarily for her role as Woman #2 in the eighth season of Friends - plays Gail. Despite their characters' age differences, Hailey and Hadley are played by ten year old twins Willow and Geoff Splain. Former Dance Fever host Adrian Zmed plays Android Leader.

While the work itself is classified as a play, there is one musical number, Burnt Sienna (The Android Song). I'm especially proud of the fact that we managed to make this work since it's a song I wrote shortly after Owen was born. In fact the line don't shoot me with your laser-blue eyes/androids go on home was inspired by his vivid blue eyes.

I'm also proud of the fact that in a relatively short time, the play's gotten some great buzz. Critic Franklin Henderson said, "Crayola pushes the bounds of modern theater. It's the best four act play featuring androids I've had the pleasure of reading." Renowned playwright Robin MacFarquar said, "Love In A Time Of Crayola is totally unique. It's like DeLilo's White Noise meets Westworld but without Yul Brenner because he's dead."

Love In A Time Of Crayola opens at the Jurgen Theater in NYC in May. I hope those of you in the immediate NYC area will be able to catch a show. In the mean time...

...happy April Fool's Day.

Posted by Chris at 6:37 AM | Comments (53)


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