That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Archive for August, 2009

CLASSIC: Baby make your move, step across the line.

Posted by kozemp on August 25, 2009

This is a repost of something I wrote two websites ago; the infamous story of the Brad Meltzer book signing and its aftermath. It’s sort of like the X-Men Classic of the interwebs: taking old material, slapping a new Art Adams cover on it, and charging full price. Even though I don’t charge, and Art Adams got that restraining order. I may do this more often, since a lot of people (read: almost everyone) didn’t even know the old site existed, as I go through the archives and find stuff that is still decent.

Enjoy.

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The Brad Meltzer thing was tonight. There was, as I predicted, ridiculousness. It started before I left, even, and with my ever-growing penchant for seeing signs and omens in just about everything I should have realized just how awful things the things that were going to happen would be.

After a grueling day of playing poker, reading the Shepard script, and looking at headshots on the internet I got myself gussied up for the signing (i.e. I showered and put on a golf shirt). I had figured, “okay, it starts at 7, it’s in West Chester, so I want to leave about 6.”

At 5:59 I am bathed, dressed, and ready to roll.

Some of you have noticed my preflight countdown, one of the stranger manifestations of my particularly annoying brand of obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s something I do before I leave my house (or the theatre, or someone else’s house, or the bar, or wherever) to make sure I have everything. For years now I have said the same thing, while patting various portions of my anatomy:

“Wallet, phone, car keys, Winona.”

To elaborate, I check to make sure my wallet is in my back right pocket, phone in front left pocket, keys are in front right pocket, and that Winona (my leatherman) is on my right hip. Since my stint at the Death Star ended “iPod” has been added to the end of the list (in my front left pocket with the phone), since it’s oh-so-wonderful for long car rides.

I realize as I get to the end of the preflight, that I do not, in fact, have my iPod.

This begins a frantic scouring of all possible locations for my wayward music player. End tables in the living room, no dice. Desk, no dice. In the car, no dice. I even check the REALLY bad hotspots like the floor just under my bed (where books and DVDs go to die) and the refrigerator (a favorite hiding place of my car keys).

No iPod.

It is now 6:03, and I am perilously close to being late for the Meltzer thing.

I am perilously close to being LATE.

As we all know, in my mind being late is a Thing Which Must Not Happen, Lest The Universe Come To A Screeching Halt. So I sprint out the front door and just hop in my car and go, iPod-less.

This will later turn out to be a remarkably bad decision.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the radio in my car has been acting up a bit lately. Buttons and knobs sometimes choose not to function, or to work in ways not as they are meant to. On the way down, however, I just had it on NPR to listen to the late news and get traffic updates.

I left my house at 6:04. I made awesomely amazing time the whole way there arrived at the Chester County Book and Record Store at 6:59. When I say I’m never late, goddammit, I fucking mean it.

Of course, there was a mixup somewhere along the line, which is totally in no way Brad Meltzer’s fault, which is to say it was entirely Brad’s fault, and the signing didn’t actually start until 7:30. As I sit down and pull out my script to make notes while I wait, I think to myself that I could have spent a couple more minutes looking for the iPod, and that I didn’t have to drive quite so dangerously down 202 to get there (I actually went almost SEVEN MILES over the speed limit).

When the thing actually started, it went as these things go, generally – Brad got up, said some stuff, read from the book, answered questions, then sat and signed books for hours and hours. I was one of the last people in line. I handed my books to the bookstore lady to get opened and whatnot, all the time engrossed in an Andrew Vachss book I discovered there that I had, inexplicably, not read.

“John?” Brad says, reading the sticky note inside the first book.

“Uh, yeah,” I say, still reading my book. At that point it strikes me that it is incredibly rude to be reading a book while standing in front of his table, much less a book written by someone else.

“Oh, right,” I say as I put the book away. “I’m, uh, Johnny Bravo.”

He hovers the pen over the title page of The Book of Fate and looks up at me sharply. “You’re Johnny Bravo?”

“That’s me.”

“Oh, hell, I’ve been e-mailing you for years! How you doing, man?” he says, sticking his hand out to shake. “I sent you one last week, did you read it?”

The author of the #1 book on the New York Times Bestseller List is asking me if I got his e-mail. My mind will be consumed by how cool that is until slightly later in the night when I’m sitting in my car wishing I was dead.

“Yeah, I read it, thanks.”

“Good. It’s great to finally meet you.” He writes as much over his signature in one of the books I have handed him. “Thanks so much for coming out.”

Brad Meltzer is a good man.

Further pleasantries are exchanged, some small talk is made, and I go on my way. I try not to linger at these things; there are other people to get their stuff signed and have their moment with The Man. I pile into the car and I roll.

My plan at this point is to meet Mark at the Vegas Lounge and talk about how we’re going to find two forty-something actors in time to avoid a cattle call, which we hate. On 202, as I approach the merge with 76, two things happen:

1) I switch the radio in the car from NPR to the CD player, which holds Junior Jack’s “Trust It” album.

2) I see a sign which says “construction on I-76 approaching I-476. Expect delays.”

I think to myself, “well, they can’t possibly be doing construction at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night, and even if they are there can’t be that much of a problem.”

From 202 to the Blue Route on 76 is 5 miles. It took me more than forty minutes to drive it.

As I reach the very beginning of the traffic jam, the song on the radio goes from the end of track 3 (“Stupidisco”) to…

The beginning of track 3.

I fiddle with some buttons and nothing happens. Track forward, nothing. Track backward, nothing. Volume, nothing. Switch to radio from CD player, nothing. I figure that’s fine, I’ll just let the CD play.

As Stupidisco ends, it goes to…

The beginning of Stupidisco.

The radio will only play one track, and I am stuck in a monstrous traffic jam.

Oh, God.

After maybe ten minutes of inching forward at 0.34 miles an hour and listening to the same song at eardrum-shattering volume over and over again I just pop the face off the radio and sit there in silence. I also realize that I only have something like 3 cigarettes left, which does not bode well for an extended stay on the Schuylkill Expressway. .

That plan backfires when sitting in silence starts to drive me batshit crazy. The face of the radio goes back on. Junior Jack blares out the speakers at me. My car moves 4 feet.

Now I’m starting to take a decided interest in the dials on my dashboard. The speedometer certainly isn’t doing anything interesting – it isn’t doing anything, actually – but the engine temperature and gas gauges are becoming alarming.

As the temperature gauge inches up and the gas gauge inches down, I idly wonder what will happen if they intersect. Maybe it’ll be like crossing the streams. I consider every molecule in my body exploding at the speed of light and come to the conclusion that with traffic not moving and me subjected to the same song over and over again until the entropic heat death of the universe it might be an improvement. Even if you like it, there’s only so much Brazilian house music one guy can take.

It occurs to me that if the car catches fire or runs out of gas I will at least be able to stop listening to Stupidisco.

When I pass the exit for Gulph Mills I briefly consider getting off the highway, getting gas, letting my car cool down and waiting out the traffic. This idea is discarded as catastrophically idiotic because a) I getting off the highway when you don’t really know where you are is an exceptionally bad idea, b) doing so at night when you can’t see where you’re going is an even worse idea, and c) for fuck’s sake, if they’re actually doing construction now it’s not like I can wait it out.

So I sit there and slowly crawl forward. The left lane, at this point, is completely empty, the handy traffic signs having told everyone miles back that it’s a no-no. The gauges move toward total protonic reversal. Stupidisco assaults my ears. I realize that I forgot to set the DVR. The battery on my cell phone is dead.

I am officially in hell. After I die, this is what I will do for all eternity as penance for daring to ever have hope about anything. And, yeah, for killing a baby on stage, but mostly the hope thing.

I say out loud, “there aren’t enough cigarettes in the goddamned world for this,” although over Stupidisco even I don’t hear it.

When I finally get to the Blue Route there is no construction.

No construction whatsoever.

The left lane was apparently closed for the hell of it.

When I get home, I discover the iPod is sitting on my desk, under another copy of the Shepard script, and I begin to softly weep.

JLK

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The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.

Posted by kozemp on August 23, 2009

My car rocks.

And I don’t mean in that awesome, Slayer concert, “South Philly rocks WOOOOOO!” way. I mean in the unfortunate, “why is my car moving in ways I don’t tell it to?” way.

I first noticed this when my father was changing his shoes at the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport yesterday. He was unloading his bags and suddenly the car was pole-axing up and down like it was on a schizophrenic hydraulic lift.

When this first started I couldn’t see what was going on (what with the trunk lid obscuring my rear windshield), so I leaned out my window to ascertain why my father was jumping up and down on my car like a trampoline.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I shouted.

“I’m changing my shoes!” he shouted back. We were coming from a funeral and he was changing from his dress shoes into more comfortable traveling shoes. He was sitting on the back bumper doing so. This caused the car to gyrate up and down quickly enough to make a lesser-constitutioned person seasick.

Made as I am of sturdier stuff all I did was sit in my car and say to myself, “that ain’t good.”

The next occurrence of the non-musical rocking came this afternoon at the supermarket. While loading my groceries into the trunk I nudged the car with my thigh. The car proceeded to lurch forward a solid 6 or 8 inches, and come back hard enough to hit me in the leg and make me stumble backwards.

Standing there, holding plastic bags full of cereal in my hands, I looked down at my car and said, “oh, this is gonna get worse before it gets better.”

I briefly worried that I was standing in a Pathmark parking lot talking to no one but, frankly, that would probably be cheaper to fix than my car.

As you have realized by now, I drove my father to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport yesterday. The best part about me driving my father to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport is that me driving him to the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport was the LEAST ridiculous part of the entire endeavor.

Here is how something like this happens:

One of my father’s friends… let’s call him, say, “George”… has two bizarre passions: meticulously and intricately (some would say obsessively) planned vacations, and a burning desire to see the northern lights. On at least four occasions in the last fifteen years or so these two passions have collided, resulting in long road trips with his friends (my father and their mutual friend, let’s call him, say, “Rob”) up to the northernmost frontier of civilization to take in various cultural sights and witness the miracle that is the Aurora Borealis.

Note that the term “road trip” is used in a quite literal sense here. They DRIVE to these places. The first excursion was a massive, 27-day, 10-city extravaganza of visiting baseball stadia and sleeping outside in an effort to see the northern lights and a moose. It is my understanding that they saw an actual moose on their second adventure, a trip up to a place in Quebec called Chibougamou, which is quite literally the last town in Canada before one enters the frozen wasteland. No, seriously, look on a map. The road north stops in this place. There is nothing after it. This is where they saw a moose.

It is important to note at this point that on none of these trips have they actually seen the northern lights.

So earlier this summer my father got word that there was a new trip afoot – George was driving to Newfoundland to see the Maritimes (and, presumably, the aurora), and he wanted expected Rob and my father to join him.

Now my father has long since learned that joining in on the driving parts of these trips is Russian Roulette played with a Buick, so he has since the first such vacation gone with the policy of flying out to meet George and Rob in whatever bizarre locale they end up in. Since presumably none of you have ever been in a car with Rob believe me when I tell you this is one of the smartest policies ever devised. So my father set out to fly himself to Newfoundland from Philadelphia for less than a small fortune.

This is, as you might guess, more difficult than it might seem.

Eventually he found an airfare to St. John’s that didn’t run into four figures: flying out of Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport, with a change in Newark. This, by some quirk of airline scheduling, was fantastically cheaper than just flying out of Newark direct.

A second thing that it is important to note: at this point, my father thinks that Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport (located here) and Lehigh Valley International Airport (located here) are the same place.

A third thing it is important to note: my father is a geography teacher.

So he books this flight from Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport to Newfoundland without realizing that a) Scranton and Allentown are not, in fact, the same place, and b) he has agreed to drive back with George, so he can’t leave his car at the airport. This is where I come in. Several weeks ago he asked me to drive him to the Scranton airport and I – admittedly fuzzy on how far away it was – rather stupidly agreed.

Note to self: look at map before agreeing to drive people places.

Yesterday comes and after the funeral my father and I are hustling ourselves into the car to make the drive up there quickly enough to get him on his flight. I’m not that worried – even with whatever brouhaha one has to go through to fly internationally, I have looked it up and the average check-in waiting time at Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport is three minutes. My father spends the entire trip shouting about how much he loves the British accent on my GPS, and two hours later we follow its last instruction and pull into Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport.

This conversation happens:

My dad: Where do you think I check in?

Me: There’s only two doors.

My dad: Which one do you think is departures?

Me: There’s only two fucking doors!

My dad: BUT WHICH ONE –

Me: FLIP A GODDAMN COIN!

Now normally any car trip of significant length with my father will degenerate into shouting on both sides, but in this instance I think we both were a little shellshocked by the fact that the only terminal at Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport was smaller, and had fewer doors, than our house. As we got closer we saw that the first door you came to said “departures” over it. Another door, perhaps thirty feet away, said “Arrivals.” As near as I could tell from the glass-panel front of the building these doors both opened into the same room, making me wonder why they bothered delineating.

There was a question as to whether his flight would go off or not, so once he had changed his shoes my father asked me to hang around until he was sure it would leave.

Me: Look, even at this place I don’t think I can just sit here while you check in.

My dad: Then go wait in the parking lot.

Me: Screw that, I’m not paying to park while you check in.

My dad: Then just go around the block.

Me: Dad, there isn’t a block to go around. <pointing at a spot about 200 feet from the car> That’s the exit. You can see it from here.

My dad: FIND SOMEPLACE TO WAIT!

Me: FINE!

When I reached said exit, I could go straight to get back onto the highway or make a right into the great Scrantonian unknown. Figuring that I had my British GPS to get me out of any trouble, I made the right….

Into someone’s driveway.

The exit from the Scranton-Wilkes Barre International Airport leads directly onto a residential street, and if (like me) you are completely flabbergasted by this, momentarily lose your mind, and hold your right turn too long, you end up in some poor sod’s front driveway. I can still see the terminal from here. I extricated myself from this unlucky person’s property and drove around this neighborhood until I found a large open space where I could park the car and call my father.

Me: Well? What’s going on?

My dad: I don’t know.

Me: What do you mean you don’t know?

My dad: There isn’t a gate agent.

Me: What do you mean there isn’t a gate agent?

My dad: There’s a desk in this room, but there’s no one sitting at it. There’s no one here.

Me: What do you mean there… you know what, never mind.

My dad: This place is weird. Okay, there’s someone here, I think they might be –

Me: I’m going home.

My dad: Wait, what if my flight gets cancelled –

Me: Just CALL ME! How fucking far away do you think I’m going to get?

I hung up and started poking at my GPS until the “Go Home” button came up.

Before I got back on the Northeast Extension I pulled into a truck stop (an actual truck stop in a de facto city) to get something to drink. I decided a trip this bizarre required a souvenir. Just after the announcement that shower #2 was now open, I came upon the perfect item: a 128-ounce cup. It’s a giant piece of round plastic with a handle and a spill-proof lid. It is more akin to a flower pot than anything you would actually drink out of.

I took the cup and my actual sub-128 ounce drink to the counter, the cup still wrapped in plastic.

“You know you get a free fillup at the soda fountain, right?” the cashier said to me.

I stared at him for a second, then blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“The cup,” he said. “It comes with a complimentary fillup.”

I was buying this thing as a remembrance of a bizarre Saturday afternoon; the thought had honestly not occurred to me that a human would actually fill it with that much liquid and drink all of it, let alone soda, let alone actually drink that much soda. I began to contemplate what would happen if I actually drank 128 ounces of Mountain Dew in one sitting. Every scenario I could come up with ended in my immediate, if pleasurable, death.

“No, I, ah…” I said. “I’m good, thanks.”

JLK

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It hurt so bad, just like I knew that it would.

Posted by kozemp on August 15, 2009

So me and Shane were talking over GChat last night about the PGA Championship, when this bit of conversation happens:

Shane: Vick to the Eagles.

Me: That’s not funny.

Shane: ESPN just reported it.

My initial reaction, as evidenced by my Facebook status moments thereafter, was “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” Michael Vick is a scumbag. He’s evil. We should bury him in the sand at low tide.

Then this morning I started reading the reactions, and near as I can tell they boil down to two basic ideas:

1) “Michael Vick is the spawn of the devil. His actions are unforgivable. Signing him is a morally bankrupt act.”

2) “Signing Michael Vick is just peachy. Have you ever eaten meat? Then you’re just as bad! He’s an okay guy, we should move on!”

Both of these positions are, to put it politely, ridiculous. If you hold either of them you are, to put it politely, fucking stupid.

Let’s get something straight: what Michael Vick did was horrifying. It was HORRIFYING. Don’t give me this crap about how we kill 900 trillion animals every day for food. The two are not remotely similar. Again, if you think slaughtering a cow for steaks and electrocuting a dog to death because it didn’t win a fight are the same thing, you are fucking stupid.

So, yes, this is a man who committed awful, despicable acts. There is no denying this. There is no minimizing it. Nothing you or I or anyone else says changes or lessens what he did. Him going to prison, in fact, doesn’t lessen what he did. It does not erase the stain on his soul, if there is such a thing. It means he was punished for it, yes, but that’s all it means. It doesn’t mitigate the act. Doing the time does not erase the crime.

However.

An awful lot of the vitriol directed at Vick and the Eagles the last 24 hours uses the word “unforgivable.” What Vick did was unforgivable. The Eagles signing him is unforgivable. Being a fan of an Eagles team with Vick on it is unforgivable.

It was reading comment after comment with that word “unforgivable” when I started to think that this whole Michael Vick thing had gone completely around the bend. It is not your place to forgive Michael Vick. It flat-out is not. You have no say in the matter. The only people who have the right or the standing to forgive him or not are his family and… well, what on Quantum Leap they used to call “God or fate or time or whatever.”

I kept reading the “unforgivable” screed over and over and I finally thought, you know what, that is a line of thinking I just cannot get behind.

I am a terrible, terrible Catholic, but I was still raised as one and the idea of an unpardonable act or an unforgivable person is anathema to those teachings. Hell, that’s not just us, that’s basically any Christian faith, or at least it should be. When you strip away all the window dressing – the rituals and doctrines and legends and everything else that has accreted over 2000 years – the lowest-common-denominator rock-bottom-line of Christianity, the most important thing that Jesus tried to teach us was “be good to each other.” That’s it. Everything else is bullshit. Everything else is just the story and the meaningless junk that we’ve constructed around it the last two millenia, but the core of the story, the moral is what really matters: be good to each other. Help each other. Stand up for one another. You are stronger together than you are apart.

Be good to each other.

We can’t say that we believe in redemption and then, when the chance comes, decide that we are unwilling to offer it. We don’t get to redeem people we admire. That’s why it’s a SECOND chance. That’s what redemption IS. It’s giving someone who made the wrong choices the chance to make the right ones. It’s making something good out of something bad. It is believing that none of us are too far gone that the rest of us shouldn’t at least try to turn them around.

As a society and as individual people, either we believe in forgiveness or we don’t. Either we believe in redemption or we don’t.

I can’t see the future. I don’t know if this will succeed. I don’t know if Michael Vick can be redeemed. But I know we have to try.

Welcome to Philadelphia, Michael.

Don’t fuck this up.

JLK

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“If it weren’t for my horse…”

Posted by kozemp on August 5, 2009

Now for another entry in our occasional series of things I can never un-hear. All are spoken by actual humans. Well, perhaps not humans.

Today’s gem once again comes from a group of mothers lunching at one of Newtown’s many delightful eateries. I didn’t catch what the entire conversation was about, but for one instant, almost as by design, all the other ambient sounds in the room dropped out so that I might clearly hear the oldest of the bunch say:

“So I saw that my next door neighbor was out in her yard wearing overalls and a nice white cap, and you know she has such a deep tan, so I said to her, ‘oh, you look just like a little landscaper!'”

I heard that and I thought, “wow, so that’s how you say horrifyingly racist things in public and get away with it.”

How you do that twice, actually, now that I think about it.

JLK

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