Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 8

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

On the seventh day, the Fonz did rest. But I have one more thought I need to dwell upon, if but for a minute.

So as I mentioned, I recently read one man’s thoughts about the meaning of life and it got me thinking about the meaning of my life. Perhaps that’s what started this whole ball rolling, and woke me up to the fact that I haven’t done enough with my life in the past two years.

While I don’t know what the meaning of my life is, I’m not going to worry about it. If I’m meant to be a husband or father, I will, I am sure of it. If I’m meant to spend my life serving others, some day I will. If I’m meant to spend my life doing what I have to do to get by, and enjoying the ride as often as I can, so be it. I have some long-term plans for my future, some of which may be realized, some which inevitably won’t. But I’m not going to worry about the future at the expense of the present. There has to be a balance between the two, certainly, but now that I have a plan in place for a better future, I can’t keep my life on hold. It has been for a year, and although I’m not completely satisfied with where my life is today, if I wait until my life is perfect, I’ll never start living. And life is too short for that.

And with that the Fonz will take a few days off before returning to regular blogging, whatever that means.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 6

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

There are plenty of things I need to do with my life, that much I know. It has been two years since I made a major decision to not just go through the motions of life, but to appreciate it, to value it. I have done things in recognition of that, but not enough to be satisfied with the end result.

But even if I push myself to do things I want to do, be it playing a guitar or running a marathon...even if I find a new job that not only pays my bills, but allows me to see and do things I wouldn’t dare think about today, will it be enough?

It wasn’t long ago I read one man’s pondering about the meaning of life. And even if I know that it’s the people who choose to share my life that means the most to me, what should I be doing with my life? Is acting upon that knowledge enough to satisfy me in the long run? Will I ever know inner happiness? Will I ever be able to let go of all the regrets, disappointments, losses and frustrations of life and be happy? If there’s a pill offering it, I’d take it in a minute.

I don’t sit down every night and meditate, I’m not a philosopher, I’m not sure I’m even a deep thinker. I’m probably not even the smartest guy in the room, and I’m the only one here.

I don’t weigh myself down with the subject. I don’t curl up in the fetal position in the corner of my storage room/living room every night, mumbling to myself.

Yet I can’t help but wonder, after 37 years, will I ever find a life that not only trumps life’s disappointments, but also makes me happy to have it? I’d like to hope so, but I don’t even know what that life is at this point. And the sad part is that I’m no closer to solving that equation than I was two years ago.

It doesn’t matter what it takes, I have to find it, or hope it finds me. Either way I hope I know it when I find it. Perhaps then I’ll know what the meaning of my life is. And maybe I’ll be so damn happy I’ll look back on this time and laugh. I know I’ll be thankful to finally reach that point.

It’s time to go off into the night, to live another day and to get that much closer to whatever it is I’m destined to find. I’ll have to give this topic a little more thought. There may not be a lot more to say this week. On the seventh day, Fonzie may rest.

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 5

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

What have I learned this week? I have to make some changes in my life, because I’m not doing enough with it. I need to find an artistic outlet, other than writing, which hardly feels like art, and I need to change career paths at all costs, because I’m not doing myself any favors.

So what else is there?

Well, there’s at least one more thing I need to do, and it’s probably the biggest challenge facing me. I don’t even like thinking about it because I don’t know if I can push myself to do it again, or if I can realistically expect to accomplish the goal within the next year. It’s time for me to run another marathon.

I ran one, if you can call it that, in 2000. Doug and I trained for it and put forth a modest effort. We didn’t join a running club or training program and we didn’t research training regimens. We just tried our best to work up to a marathon distance in time for the Twin Cities Marathon. I was well conditioned to run 16 miles, but I didn’t have what I needed to run 26 miles successfully. I finished, but it took a little more than 5 hours to complete. Doug and I didn’t plan on running together the entire time, but we did, for the most part.

I knew I wanted to do it again, armed with better knowledge of what it takes to succeed, but somehow I never found the inspiration. I’d like to see if I can finish a marathon in 4 hours, but more than that, I’d like to simply do it again. Yet I don’t know if I have the commitment and drive. That’s a goal I will have to ponder further.

They say nobody runs only two marathons in their life. Some people run one, are satisfied with achieving their goal and never run another one. Those that decide they have to push themselves to try a second time don’t usually stop after two because they become hooked by it.

Decisions, decisions. As it is, I couldn’t run a mile right now to save my soul, no matter how many miles I have bicycled. I think the hardest part about running a marathon is having to start from scratch.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 4

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

The problem with writing unedited blogs is that it exposes how lousy my writing can be when I try to let the thoughts flow freely. Sure, I back up mid-sentence and change my sentence structure, but once I’ve moved on, it’s too late. But making sausage ain’t exactly pretty.

I’ll be pretty busy most nights, beginning next week. In addition to my occasional weeknight newspaper assignments, I’ll be working harder than ever to find a new job. I look for a new job occasionally, but I have to find a new job soon. I’ve been told by more than one person that being unhappy with your employment situation has an influence upon other aspects of your life, and that’s logical.

My former co-worker, Keri, bounced around a bit since leaving our prestigious company a year ago. her first move wasn’t satisfying, so she tried something new. She ended up on a wild ride before finally landing a job that seemed unorthodox for her, but she’s very happy with it.

Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t made something happen, why I’ve penalized myself by toiling for the bastards that I do.

Moving to Minnetonka wasn’t what I was planning at the beginning of the year, but the experience has slowly helped me wake up and evaluate my choices, or lack thereof, in recent years. My life has improved since I moved in April, but not enough to make me happy. I’ve known for a long time that I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns at the newspaper, I wish I could turn back the clock, but I can’t. All I can do is ensure the bastards stop stealing from me.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 3

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

I’m not sure I want to admit to my family that I value my relationship with my friends more than that of my family. In reality members of both groups would go out of their way for me if I needed the help, I have no doubt about that. And I don’t expect to be relied upon by my friends as I expect to be relied upon by my family. I have no regrets about the fact I’ll be the one who is responsible for my mentally retarded sister some day, assuming we both outlive our mother. I guess it’s good to realize I’ll be important to my family in the years to come, but somehow the relationship I have with my family isn’t the same for me as it is for many others. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it’s unorthodox, and it sounds wrong.

As I noted previously, I need my friends more than they need me. Most of my friends have gotten married and have children. They have other priorities, and that’s how life is, but I don’t, really.

I have made new friends over the years, but I don’t have the same kinds of friendships I had in college or in the years after, before everyone was married. I have done a lot of things to keep myself busy over the years, and it seems like it’s getting harder, not easier, to keep up that pace. Whether that’s true or not, I need to find new challenges to keep from stewing in my own juice.

I promised myself in 2006 I would push myself in new directions, because I wasn’t going to keep living my life the same way I was as of Oct. 7, 2005. In a few ways I have done that. But not enough.

I will be working plenty of extra hours on the weekends this winter, because I not only want to pay off some bills, I want to pay for a trip to Florida for my cousin’s wedding. I’m going to be busy, and I have more bills than I need, not to mention an expensive car repair forthcoming, but despite all that, I need to do things for me, whether it’s trying something new, doing something I wouldn’t normally do or learning something I am too lazy.

There will never be a good time to start, and I wish I would have pushed myself 10 years ago when I toyed with the idea, but it’s time to learn how to play the guitar. Not because I’m planning to be in a band some day, not because I want to perform for others, but simply because I don’t pursue creative outlets. As far as I can tell, I suck at them all, so there’s no logical one to choose. But I have often regretted I never had the patience or the interest at a young age to learn a musical instrument. I have regretted it for years, but no longer. Better late than never.

It’s going to be a bit tricky to make a lot of progress this winter, not only because I’m working every weekend to pay my bills and future expenses, but because I’m going to be busy many weeknights, too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 2

The “Seven nights of Fonzie” blogs are unedited before a live audience.

While I liked the title of this blog series, I’m not committing to a seven-night run. If I have done everything I need to do after four or five nights, I’m done. If it takes eight or 10 nights, so be it. The goal is to write every night for the next week or so.

When Rush and I were discussing “The Bridge” on Monday at lunch, a documentary about people committing suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, he said that no matter how bad things were in his life, and there have been times where things haven’t been too magnificent for him, he has never found that all the negatives in his life overpowered his desire to experience the good things life has to offer.

I had already been pondering the purpose of my life when we had this conversation. I’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever decide what the purpose of my life is. I really should, shouldn’t I?

The purpose of life is different for different people. Some just want to cash a paycheck and live it up on Friday night. Some want to raise a family and experience the joys that brings. Some want to spend their life making things better for others, directly or indirectly.

What is the purpose of my life? I have an idea, but I’m not sure when I’ll be able to answer that definitively.

But what joys are there in life that I look forward to? What is it that I look forward to in life?

I bicycle every summer, I have for years now. Most years I participate in some sort of fundraising event, a test of endurance and fitness. I haven’t always been motivated to do so in support of a cause, it’s just a nice byproduct of my effort. I do, however, feel like I have a greater level of commitment to Multiple Sclerosis in recent years. I use to ride the MS rides simply because they were well done. Now I ride them because I have a friend whose brother has MS, and that makes me sad.

So I look forward to the challenges of bicycling, for the most part. If that was taken away from me, that would be hard to live with.

I go camping every Memorial Day weekend with a trio from college. There are a couple other camping trips in addition to Memorial Day weekend that occur most summers. I rarely miss one. I miss my mother’s birthday some years because of my Memorial Day weekend camping trip, but I always make that trip, and typically find time for a couple of others.

There’s not many specific dates, but I enjoy the chance to get together with my wide web of friends, from Tes, whom I’ve known for more than 20 years but only see once in a great while, to Scott and Kristin, whom I’ve only known for a few years, but see as often as anyone.

It sounds heartless, but I value my friends more than my family. I am not the black sheep of my extended family, but I’m not the most connected, either. I try to be. Nobody would think poorly of me if I didn’t fly down to Florida at the end of the year for my cousin’s wedding, a wedding most of the Minnesota relatives won’t be attending. But the chance to be at a family event with my relatives has never been a question of “if I can make it,” but rather “how can I afford to do it.”

I don’t live that far from my mother, but I saw her maybe once the entire summer. She keeps quite busy, as do I, so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. Perhaps I take it for granted that she’ll be around a long time.

My brother lectured me about not being more involved with our family, and I still have an issue with it, but rather than hold a grudge, I’m trying to let it go and be a little more involved with my family. I may not be calling my mother on a weekly basis, but I have always shown I care, even if I’m not calling and dropping by every week. (I bet none of them realize how often I made a point to visit my grandfather in the first months after my grandmother died. I lived close to him at that time, so that was part of the reason I visited him as often as I did. I don’t need credit for it, but sometimes I get a bum rap. Life is too short to care about that.

I probably make more effort to stay in touch with my friends than I do with my family, I’m sure of it. And there’s a good reason. My friends choose to have me in their lives, my family, by default is stuck with me. My mom doesn’t owe me anything, and I’m certainly grateful for all she has given me. My friends, however, don’t have any obligation to me.

I have a relatively meager life, not entirely by design, I haven’t done enough with my life to be happy with where I am today and I wonder if I’ll ever be one of those dynamic people everyone marvels at. I know I’m not satisfied with everything I’m getting out of life, I’m not sure if I will figure out how to be. But none of it matters, because the thing that pushes me to keep going in life, even when I have a hard time pushing myself, is that I have friends who value me half as much as I value them.

There’s so much I can, or want, to do with my time, but all of it takes a back seat to the time I share with my friends, whether it be camping with them, (and their children,) in Wisconsin, bicycling with them around Minnesota or sitting on their boat while they fish.

They are the reason I am here, I am sure of it.

Seven nights of Fonzie: Night 1

I think too much, and I haven’t bicycled as much since the end of August as I typically do in the fall, for a combination of reasons. Bicycling gives me time to do a lot of thinking, so perhaps it seems like I think too much these days simply because I’m not doing it as naturally, while chafing my ass on a bike seat.

So after my lunch conversation with Rush today I decided it was time to sort out my thoughts. I decided the way to do it is this way, through blogs. I am calling this the “Seven nights of Fonzie.” I’m going to blog every night, not necessarily before I go to bed, about what’s on my mind. I’m going to do it until I make a couple of key decisions. I think I know what those decisions are likely to be, but I can’t say for sure. This will help me get there.

As I was driving to a meeting, I deliberated whether or not this was an exercise worth posting. Why not just blog in a text file that I never publish? Well, for starters, the jukebox is highly anonymous, at least for now. I don’t post anything, and I mean anything, that I wouldn’t want my friends or family to read. But do I want my friends and family to have access to this blog some day? I don’t see why not, should they be interested.

One thing I struggled with today, why not keep a private journal instead of a public blog? Wouldn’t I write things I’m feeling without having to censor them? Of course, but I’ve rarely been interested in writing anything that personal. I once thought that would be helpful, but it wasn’t. It didn’t make my life better, it just provided a painful reminder that my life wasn’t getting better. I burned that notebook and have never regretted it.

Posting my thoughts for the world to see in theory will create greater accountability for my life. That isn’t exactly true. I posted my bicycling mileage periodically, knowing I’d have to push myself to beat the 2,120 miles I pedaled last year, but I’m not even going to get to 2,000 this year. Perhaps seeing my blog and being reminded all winter that I failed to meet last year’s total will inspire me to greater success next year.

It’s not fun looking back at failure, so by that logic I hope my next several nights of writing will serve as a reminder to me this coming winter, as I continue to push myself in some way, shape or form.

My ground rule is simple. No editing, and I mean none, other than a simple spell check at the end of the night. If I don’t catch a grammatical error along the way, I cannot change it later. If I don’t like something I wrote, I cannot go back and delete it later. I can amend my statements in future blogs, but other than letting the computer fix my spelling, I cannot go back and censor my writing. It’s not a rule to foster my laziness, it’s about honesty.

Several things have been on my mind lately, and I’m not sure how far back I want to dwell. That may work itself out naturally. For now I’ll dwell on something recent, “The Bridge.”

Rush and I both enjoy documentary films. Rush is a bigger movie buff than me, but we’re both interested in documentaries and question the how and why of them. Why did the director deem the topic worthwhile? Why did he focus on these elements of the story? Why didn’t he address these topics? What is his bias? What did he leave out in an effort to convey the message he’s trying to convey?

We got on a documentary kick last winter. I don’t watch many movies during bicycling season, so I’ve only seen one documentary in the past several months, until I rented “The Bridge.” (I’m on a free month of rentals thanks to Netflix.) I had heard about The Bridge last year, and the controversial nature of the film. The director spent a year filming footage of the Golden Gate Bridge from the shores of San Francisco Bay. His camera operators were watching for suicide jumpers. They’d focus in on lone individuals who would pace the bridge, stare out into the bay for extended periods of time, etc. They never knew who the person was or if they were about to witness a suicide jump, but they captured several of them, as well as some aborted efforts.

If I remember correctly, there were 24 suicides off the bridge in 2004, the year of the film. (Three bodies were never recovered.)

I never realized that the bridge was an attractive destination for suicide jumpers. I never thought about how devastating a jump off a high bridge was. Once you reach a certain speed, hitting the water is still going to do a lot of damage to the body, I suppose. I don’t know how most people hit the water, but anything other than feet first, straight as an arrow, is sure to mess you up good. They never explained what exactly kills people when they jump off that bridge, which was one of many shortcomings of the film.

And they interview a young dude who survived a jump. He was injured, but somehow he was able to survive the impact and reach the surface. He was in a bit of distress, and could have easily drowned, but he thinks something helped keep him afloat at the surface until a rescue boat arrived. He thinks sea lions recognized he was a human in the water and circled under him, somehow helping keep his body at the surface. He remembers something brushing up against his body at some point. He talks about his experience in the movie, although they don’t have footage of his jump.

So I watched the flick a week or so ago and gave it to Rush. He watched it this past weekend. We talked about it over lunch, discussing what we found interesting and lacking in the film. We wondered how many people go out there, take a look down, ad realize they don’t want to jump. We also wondered how many people climb over the railing and onto the support beams below, only to be talked off the edge. (There’s a pedestrian sidewalk across the bridge.) The film shows a couple of people who climb over the railing and contemplate jumping, only to return to the sidewalk. Do these people know they’re not going to do it, and subconsciously go through the motions as a cry for help? I can’t imagine they calculate these steps as a plan to get attention, but who knows?

One woman wasn’t talked off the edge so much as she was pulled off. A guy taking pictures on the bridge was approaching the woman as she climbed the railing. He took pictures of her in action, including standing on the edge. As he approached her, taking pictures, he started talking to her. He couldn’t quite convince her to willingly climb back up onto the sidewalk, so he reached over the railing, jeopardizing his own safety, and grabbed her clothing near the shoulder. He pulled her and lifted her up, eventually getting her over the railing. She didn’t fight him so much as she seemed to simply resist his effort. But in a spectacular fit of strength, he pulled her up to safety. The documentary cameras caught this scene in action.

There was so many questions I wish the filmmaker would have answered. Instead the film was dedicated to the stories of several people, most of whom were dead. They captured spectacular footage of a guy finally plummeting to his death. Well, I guess the footage wasn’t spectacular, it was the way the guy went about his jump that was different than most. His friends and/or relatives, like others they profiled, were interviewed for the movie.

As Rush and I talked about the movie, its flaws and its accomplishments, we talked about the courage it took when standing there on the bridge, preparing to jump into the unknown. I don’t know if that’s a word either of us used, but to me it does take courage. Some argue you’re a coward if you kill yourself. I think it takes a lot of courage, unless you’re in so much pain it’s hard to get through five minutes of your day. It’s courageous to stare death in the face and then meet your maker. Your life may be a mess, but there are many things you know, even if the future is unwritten. When you jump off that bridge, you’re facing a far more uncertain future. Chances are your life is over. What then? Nobody knows exactly what awaits them, if anything, in the afterlife.

And if it’s not the end of your life, will you be able to walk again? Will you be a human vegetable?

Rush put it best when he said that he’s never considered suicide. He said that no matter how lousy things have been, he has never wanted to stop experiencing the joys life has to offer. That was one hell of a powerful statement, and it got me thinking about the joys of life. I will ponder those further for night 2.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My personal mantra

I know it's rare for me to post a short blog entry, but miracles really do happen!

I didn't coin this phrase, I learned of it in a story about a minor league baseball player who died about 10 years ago. I failed to find the story during an online search a few years ago, and that makes me sad. Nonetheless I have a dog tag that says the following, and I consider it my personal mantra, although most people don't know it:

"If today was the last day of your life, is this how you want it to be remembered"

Plenty to see

A few random facts before I start the writing process:

• Michael Jackson’s best work as a solo artist came before “Thriller.” While I enjoy the song “Human Nature,” SWV’s Human Nature remix of “Right Here” trumps Jacko’s cute little ditty.

• The only Beatle I have seen in person is Ringo Starr, and I’d pay money to see him again.

• I bypassed a chance to see the Black Crowes tonight, and I’m sure I’ll regret that at some point down the road.

So I spent my Tuesday evening watching a lot of visual entertainment. Part of me feels like a waste of flesh, but I also vowed to tackle a fresh, new and exciting personal project this winter, starting in November, so I can forgive myself for a night in front of the television.

Amongst the visual entertainment I enjoyed:

I watched “How to Lose Your Lover,” a chick flick. I rented this movie solely because if features Jennifer Westfeldt of “Kissing Jessica Stein.” She’s hard to resist, yet far from a sexpot. I can’t explain it, but she’s scrumptious. I have to start watching “Notes from the Underbelly” on ABC, or has it been canceled? She’s in it, that’s all I know.

The movie wasn’t the most entertaining chick flick on the video store shelves, but it was amusing. I’ll watch her as Jessica Stein another 100 times, however, before I’ll see How to Lose Your Lover again.

I also watched the second day of Drew Carey’s tenure as host of “The Price is Right.” There’s a website devoted to every facet of TPIR, but I don’t frequent it. I did, however, learn from another game show website that the debut of Drew Carey as host of TPIR was actually the seventh episode he taped. The popular theory behind the logic is that since every contestant won the top prize in his/her game, it was a good episode to lead off the Carey era with.

Since there are no returning champions or other criteria to require presentation of the show in the order in which it was taped, it is easy to present the episodes in a random order.

I still stand by my argument that in a year Carey will be a natural as a host. But until then it will be a bumpy road viewers will travel. Carey’s performance in episode 2 was better than episode 1, for what it’s worth, but I’ll spare further commentary on TPIR for a while. Even I am sick of dwelling on it.

Tuesday night also offered a comedic treat. Richard Simmons was a guest on “ The Late Show with David Letterman.” Simmons and Letterman are a great comedy duo. It’s a shame Simmons hasn’t been a guest on Letterman much in recent years, but every time he is, it’s damn funny. If they sold a DVD of Simmons’ appearances on Letterman, I’d buy it in a New York minute.

I laughed several times during Simmons’ appearance tonight. I think my favorite moment was when Dave said something like, “I’ve stopped trying to figure out the shorts and the tank top, but what’s the deal with the oil?”

Letterman’s comment that Simmons is the only guest in 26 years to appear on his show in shorts and a tank top, and the fact that the outfit hasn’t caught on as a fashion statement, was probably the second best moment of the night.

And finally: I tuned into part of the NBC prime time interview with Utah Sen. Larry Craig. I should write an entire blog topic about how ridiculous the hour was, but I’ll stick to brief comments about it.

First off, it’s sad that an ass clown like Craig is such a national media phenomenon. But I’m as guilty as much of America, I’m enthralled by his story.

But I do not think that the Craig saga is worthy of national attention. It’s a sad indictment of broadcast journalism that Matt Lauer’s interview with Craig and wife was worthy of prime time exposure. There’s no chance this topic would be covered in prime time if NBC doubted it would be a ratings bonanza. It’s the same as the “To Catch a Predator” broadcasts, the shows are about ratings, not news worthiness.

Lauer’s interview was weak. Most of the time he allowed Craig to paint himself as a sympathetic victim. Yeah, right, a guy who has been dogged by rumors of homosexual tendencies for 25 years was just the unlucky victim of an airport bathroom misunderstanding. Sorry, Larry, my odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot are better than the odds of you being mistakenly caught in a gay sex sting.

It was highly entertaining to hear the jackass say, several times, that all of his actions – including the initial arrest and booking, keeping the incident a secret from his family for two months and his guilty plea that became public knowledge – were a mistake. The guy made more mistakes than a blind driver on Ventura Boulevard. What a complete ass clown!

I do give props to Lauer for asking Craig if he was bisexual. (Craig said no.) That has been my contention all along, Craig is not gay, as he claims, he is bisexual. Lauer asked a few tough questions, but his interview overall let Craig paint himself as an innocent victim. I highly doubt that’s the case. I don’t know what’s most pathetic: Craig painting himself as a victim, his wife standing by her man or me watching the interview as I made my dinner.

But the ultimate slap in the face is that after an hour of this crap, more than enough time for Craig to state his case, NBC will share more of the interview during Wednesday’s “Today Show” broadcast. Yeah, right, an hour wasn’t enough time to share all the noteworthy nuggets from the interview. How despicable. Lauer should be ashamed of himself, but I’m sure his fat paychecks pacify him. I’d question who combs his hair in the morning if I doubted that he can look at himself in the mirror, but there’s no question he sold his integrity years ago.

I’d like to think I’d place a higher value on my integrity, but honestly, if I was offered millions to compromise my journalistic integrity, I couldn’t resist.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A work in progress

Two random facts to kick things off:

• Tom Green is an ugly son of a bitch who has no business being a celebrity.

• “Paradise City” by Guns ‘n’ Roses is my second favorite song of all time. The opening 19 seconds is probably my favorite 19 seconds of music.

The wait is over, the Drew Carey era of “The Price is Right” is here, and it’s a work in progress.

Game show geeks across the country have probably been debating the new era of TPIR on message boards for 13, 14 hours now. I’m not interested in that, but how can I resist blogging about day 1? I can’t.

Previews of the new season showed that the set was redesigned slightly. It’s the same basic set, but the colors and graphics are different. (Word is that the set is now mobile, or more so than it was, meaning they could potentially take the show on the road for a week or two to cities around the country.) I wouldn’t call the new look updated, as the set still has a retro feel to it, but it’s different. The new look still pays homage to the most recent edition of the show, but the look of the show evolved under Bob Barker’s reign, so it’s not illogical to tweak the design with a change in host. Hell, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” have undergone changes over the years, it’d be foolish to expect TPIR to look exactly the same when a new host takes over.

Besides the cosmetic changes it sounds like they made minor updates to much of the music during the show. It’s all recognizable, but it seems to be updated slightly, which is fine. (Although for my money they’ve never improved on the theme music for Wheel of Fortune, although 99.9 percent of Americans wouldn’t have a clue what the original theme music was if Chuck Woolery started dancing nakedly to it in the confines of their bedroom, but I digress.)

Here’s a brief list of my complaints about Drew Carey after day 1:

• He’s not a natural at hosting a game show. When Barker started, he already had experience as an emcee. Carey had recently hosted a few episodes of “Power of 10,” but that’s it. I don’t consider his stint reigning over “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” to be a traditional emcee gig.

• He seems too amused by the contestants. He doesn’t have to come across as better than them, but he doesn’t have that professional, detached air about him.

• He references the announcer multiple times, and refers to that announcer, Rich Fields, by his first and last name. That makes him seem like a guest host rather than the “star” of the show, and he is introduced as the star at the opening of the show.

• He likes to address the models by their first name, as if they’re regular members of the show. Maybe they are, but when Barker stopped banging the models, suddenly there was a revolving door of models. (That’s been the case for about the past eight years.) Some of them hung around for a few years, but you never knew which models you would get from day to day. For some reason Carey’s referencing models by name seems out of place.

• His transitions in and out of segments are weak. They’ll get better with time, but right now they suck.

• It will take a while to learn how to talk about every one of the 70-plus games authoritatively, but his inexperience providing commentary during game play is painful. TPIR rubes can tell you all sorts of trivia about the first game ever played under Barker’s reign. Carey’s first game was “Money Game,” where you have to pick the first pair and last pair of numbers in the price of a vehicle from a board of nine sets of numbers. Carey never referenced the game by name, which looked rather amateur to me.

While Carey’s first day as host fell short of a train wreck, it wasn’t good. It’s not as if the guy walked onto the set cold and had to nail it without rehearsal, so he should have been slightly more polished than he was.

I give him props for not trying to be a comedian. The show’s format doesn’t emphasize that skill. He can interject a little comedy now and then, as Barker did, but he’s not hosting a late night talk show.

I also appreciate the fact that the show doesn’t ignore Barker’s legacy. The studio in which the show is taped was renamed the Bob Barker Studio several years ago. They refer to it by name in the opening of the show.

The final game of day 1 was “Barker’s Bargain Bar.” They didn’t rename the game, or eliminate it, which I appreciate. Carey made a joke about the game’s namesake, but the fact that they didn’t detach the show completely from Barker, at least initially, is a classy touch.

Overall the show needs a lot of work to achieve the polish and shine it richly deserves, but for now I can live with it. I realize it’s a work in progress, and I’d rather have the show on the daytime schedule than see it go away, no matter how long it takes to get it right with a new host.

Heck, I’m wondering if it’s time to make a seventh appearance in the studio audience. Eventually they have to call my name, don’t they?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I didn’t see it coming.

I spent a lot of time running around this past weekend, and I learned a thing or two along the way.

I started my Halloween job last week. (It’s my second year on the job.) I guess you could argue the two hours I was paid to sit through a tedious orientation the previous week was the start of the job, but the actual Halloween attraction opened to the public on Friday evening, and I spent the first of 10 nights as a “mad doctor.” I’ll spare the details of the experience, particularly since I blog about them elsewhere.

So I get home Friday night and manage to keep busy for a few hours, doing what, I don’t recall. I intended to get up bright and early on Saturday, take care of business and head to the Minnesota State Fair grounds for the big annual comic book convention. I like to pay homage to my past by reminiscing in a room full of comic book geeks. I also can count on running into a couple of friends when I’m there, friends I don’t see that often through the year for one reason or another.

One of those friends, Pat, has been selling off a lot of his unwanted collection the past couple of years through a small dealer’s table at the show. So I try to help him for a few hours by watching over his table while he takes a break or peruses the merchandise.

But I had to be at the Halloween gig at 2 p.m. Saturday, so that meant I wouldn’t have a lot of time to offer Pat on Saturday. Since his wife is home with the children during the weekend, he has nobody else to help him out, therefore I have taken it upon myself to be his unofficial employee.

I intended to get up bright and early on Saturday, but I overslept. I needed the sleep, evidently, and that put me way behind my personal schedule, which included purchasing Diet Pepsi at Target and buying birthday cards for two people, including one whose birthday is the same day as mine. When I finally arrived at the convention I had at most an hour to offer Pat, which he was more than grateful for, primarily so he could visit the restroom.

I was late to work on Saturday, but I really didn’t need to be there two hours before my attraction opened, so it was no big deal.

I arrived home at midnight Saturday and sat down to write for a while. I spent far too long writing e-mail and updating my Halloween blog. Sometime after 2 a.m. I started sifting through boxes of my old comic collection, looking for a few things I could add to Pat’s tables on Sunday. He always offers me the chance to do so, and I figure I might as well make $20 for the trouble of being there.

The problem was I spent far too long reminiscing as I sifted through boxes of unorganized comic books. I couldn’t remember why I ever decided to buy some of the stuff I did, forgot I even had some of it and wondered what I should try to unload. I wasn’t bringing a ton of stuff, but I wanted to pick out some odds and ends that had a snowball’s chance of selling.

The next thing you know it’s 5 a.m.

So I go to bed, knowing I want to be at the convention before it opens to the public at 10 a.m.

And miraculously when the alarm sounds at 8:30 a.m. I get up and get moving. I was sure I would instinctively go back to bed and oversleep, but I didn’t.

I had to bypass breakfast at Burger King in order to make it before 10 a.m., so I settled for an aging banana as my lone source of nourishment for the day, unless Diet Pepsi qualifies as nourishment.

Pat and I both spent some time walking around the convention during the day, but we spent a lot of the time at his tables, catching up on all sorts of topics. I’ve known Pat for about 20 years, and whenever we sit down we talk for hours. Despite living about 20 minutes apart, we only sit down once or twice a year.

The convention ended at 5 p.m. Sunday and I was intending to be there until the end, more or less. My friend Monica had offered to get together for dinner on Sunday evening to celebrate the one occasion I ignore for the most part, my birthday. She suggested a St. Paul area restaurant, as that’s a relative midway point between us.

I wasn’t clear what time we had settled upon, so I called her on Sunday afternoon to confirm that we were still on for dinner and at what time. I said I’d like to stay and help Pat load up his stuff, even though he wasn’t expecting it. I asked if we could meet at 6 p.m. instead, and she hesitantly said OK.

Not long after I got a call saying that she couldn’t change our reservation from 5 p.m.

I found it odd that we even needed a reservation for a Sunday evening at this restaurant, let alone we couldn’t change it that late in the afternoon, but I never suspected anything was up.

While I intended to get to the restaurant about 5 p.m., I was a little slow getting my stuff pulled together and out to my car. During my last trip into the convention I stopped at the restroom. As I was leaving the restroom Pat was coming toward me, motioning me toward the door prize table. For about one second I thought he had big news for me.

As we reached the table, he said something like “meet the new owner of this computer.” I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but it was clear he was implying that he was the new owner, not me.

A fancy computer system was donated to the show, and entries into the drawing for it were $1, with the proceeds benefitting a charity. We each bought one chance, and he was the winner. If it wasn’t going to be me, I’m glad it was my friend. But for one second I thought I had a kick ass birthday present.

So I finally depart the convention and head south through St. Paul. I call my friend because I’m running late and I want to make sure she’s there. She is and suggests she’s sitting in the bar getting drunk. I’ll spare the details of the five-minute comedy of errors that resulted in me crossing a bridge twice to get to the restaurant, a bridge I didn’t want to cross once because I was on the right side of the river to begin with!

Once I get to the restaurant at about 5:20 p.m. there’s no sign of my friend at the bar, so I start to wander through the restaurant, looking for a small table with one woman sitting at it. I’m not finding any single diners anywhere, and as I walk past a couple of groups I hear my name called out, much to my surprise.

Monica, it turns out, had contacted a few of my college friends and arranged a dinner get together, which is why we couldn’t wait until 6 p.m. to begin. It was JayHawk, German Bear, Doug (the famous trio from my annual camping trip to Wausau) and their wives. Doug’s two children joined us, but JayHawk’s son stayed behind in western Wisconsin as did German Bear’s four children in suburban St. Cloud.

To say I was shocked was an understatement. I had no clue anything like this was being planned.

The dinner was a rather routine birthday gathering of friends. In this case the friends have all known each other for years, and while we all see each other in some capacity or another, it’s rare when the four of us from college and their three wives are in the same place at the same time.

Monica didn’t go to school with us, but I’ve known her since college, when Doug and I met her. So everyone in attendance knows her, too, although I’m the only one she sees with any sort of regularity. While Doug and I stopped to visit her on the way to Wausau in May, I’m not sure how many years it had been since he had last seen her prior to then.

I was running on fumes by dinner, but that was easily forgotten once I got there. I was overwhelmed by the fact that my friends had gathered on my birthday. I’ve never had any sort of surprise birthday gathering in my life, and I certainly didn’t expect it this year.

I wouldn’t say my life was forever changed as a result of that dinner, but at a co-worker’s wedding on my birthday two years earlier, I made a life-changing decision. Sometimes I wonder why I made that decision. Dinner on Sunday night reminded me why I did.

So how does a guy wrap up a birthday spent with comic book geeks and some of his best friends? He goes home, watches his anemic Chicago Bears pull off an improbable comeback in the second half of their Sunday night football game in Green Bay and then watches “Kissing Jessica Stein,” because nothing says “happy birthday” like a movie about characters dabbling in lesbian love.