Friday, September 30, 2005

Shameless self-promotion

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If you happen to be in the Springfield, Ill., area in two weeks, you might want to stop by and see this show -- and not just because I'm in it.  You'll love Jekyll & Hyde if even one of the following is true:

  • You love musicals.

  • You love horror movies.

  • You love catchy songs.

  • You're horny.

Oops.  Did I say that out loud?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How I deal

I had a friend disappoint me today. I had a choice: become dejected and despondent or defiant and surly.

I chose the latter and surfed over to to design a T-shirt:

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Who needs therapy when I have the Internet?

Friday, September 23, 2005

San Francisco Stories: Part I

One of the many highlights of my recent trip to San Francisco was my frequent brushes with fame. The first one happened before I’d even left the state of Illinois.

My co-worker and traveling companion, Ron, and I were at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for our connecting flight to San Francisco. Our flight was delayed to allow passengers on an incoming flight from San Diego to disembark. Among the rabble waiting for loved ones to arrive was an older woman, nicely if not spectacularly dressed. She was holding up a spiral-bound notebook with “B.WHITE” printed on it in marker.

Ron and I looked at each other with a smile. Seconds later, Ron verbalized what I had been thinking.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if that were Betty White?”

Sure enough, when the passengers from San Diego emerged moments later, among them was the Golden Girl herself, looking a bit older than I had remembered, but with the same trademark sparkle in her eye. She winked at the few of us who showed signs of recognizing her, joined her friend in one of those airport people-movers for the mobility impaired and whisked away.

Fast forward to that evening. I had checked into my hotel. Remembering San Francisco’s reputation as a non-smoking city, I had asked the concierge if there was anywhere on the property I could smoke. He said no, but as I started to roll away, he said, “Wait a minute. There’s the Roof Garden.”

The Roof Garden, as it turns out, is this gorgeous little enclave on top of the second story. Here’s a crappy picture I took of it the night I found it.

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There are beautiful shrubs, palm trees and a gorgeous fountain. There’s a beautiful view of the skyline, including the Transamerica obelisk-shaped headquarters. And there are plentiful.

Now because smoking is a egregious offense in California, the doors leading outside to the garden (one from the lobby, one from a banquet hall), are emblazoned with a warning that beyond lies an area that contains dangerous chemicals. Then … all is peace and tranquility.

It’s sort of like the Betty Ford Clinic, except they let you keep the drugs. And it was here, on the next morning, that I had my second brush with fame.

I was showing Ron The Roof Garden, when we saw a throng spilling out of the banquet room into the garden. There were several cameras. Children in scouting uniforms and Eurpean-looking costumes were nestled toward the center of the mob. Meanwhile, at the crowd’s perimeter, several buff-looking men spoke into their cufflinks at regular intervals.

Secret Service, I instantly thought.

Ron and I looked at each other quizzically. Finally, Ron got up from the stone bench on which he had been sitting and strode over to one of the photogs. They exchanged words, and Ron came back over to where we had been sitting.

“It’s the Polish president,” he said.

At this point, the throng moved in our direction. And at the center of the crowd, surrounded by European journalist speaking in a cacophony of Salvic tongues, was The Man, whom I have since learned is named Aleksander Kwaƛniewski. It turns out he’s been The Man since defeating populist hero Lech Walesa ten years ago. And his second and final five-year term ends this year.

“He looks like John Roberts,” Ron remarked.

After the crowd had dispersed, I asked Ron the $64,000 question.

“On the celebrity scale, who wins out: Betty White or the President of Poland?”

“It’s got to be Betty White,” he said. And for emphasis, he proclaimed. “Without. A. Doubt.”

I had to agree with him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A cushy pushover

You scored as Pillow. You are a PILLOW.
Soft and cuddly, you are a great and loyal friend, but a bit of a push-over.
People love the fact that you are reliable, but you should also learn to stick up for yourself, jeeze
Which Random Object Do You Represent?
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Monday, September 19, 2005

I left my heart ...

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I'm baaack ....

And except for an upper respiratory infection (bad recycled plane air, says my doctor) and a pile o' work, I'm not too much worse for the wear. I'll be posting more words and pictures later this week, but this will have to keep you interested for now.

Friday, September 09, 2005

More on Katrina: How politics, not incompetence, delayed assistance

This is fascinating reading, and the clearest, most concise explanation we'll probably see as to why federal involvement in Katrina's wake was delayed. It shows a situation, in my view, made worse not by political incompetence, but politics in general.

There are no valid excuses here per se, but there is definitely more than a shrug and a blank look. And it cetainly elevates the issue above partisan finger-pointing.

You may have to register with the NY Times to read the article, but it's free. And it's worth it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A tale of two cities

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You`re gonna meet some gentle people there

Well, I can only hope the people are gentle, because my hair won’t support the use of flowers.

That’s right. To quote another 60s classic, I’m leaving on a jet plane. The powers that be have determined it would be a good thing for me to mix and mingle with other people who write about the insurance industry. Based on my experience, it will either be an extremely boring bunch or quite the rowdy one. And the shindig happens starting this weekend at the San Francisco Fairmont

All things considered, I’d rather be staying home.

Take one part general travel jitters, add about a million parts separation anxiety (this is the first time I’ve left Mrs. Z at home in more than seven years) and stir in a dash of domesticity, and you’re left with a recipe for travel ambivalence. That said, San Francisco is one of the few cities I have an active desire to see, and I have an agreeable colleague as a travel companion, so I’m sure I’ll survive — perhaps even thrive.

Meanwhile, my thoughts are still dominated by another city: New Orleans. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, my thoughts on the tragedy are only now starting to resolve to the point where I feel I can write about it. Here are some of those thoughts, in no particular order.

I find myself nodding in agreement with this guy, who comments that: “I fully expected that watching the events of 9/11 on TV (only a couple weeks after I'd been in both NY and Washington for job interviews) would be the most horrifying experience of my lifetime. I was wrong.”

Indeed, I would imagine that if you played word association and said “national tragedy” to a random sampling three weeks ago or more, a solid majority would say 9/11. And yet, here we are, facing an event that will probably end up having ten times the death toll and as deep (or maybe even deeper) an impact on our national culture. Call me a pessimist (it would be a first), but I can’t imagine New Orleans ever being the same – at least in my lifetime.

I’ve been pretty emotionally erratic in Katrina’s wake. I spent two days in sadness, but I’ve been given more recently to fits of anger over the disgusting politicization of the talk surrounding the storm. I can safely say that 9/11 never made me as angry as I have been over this. For God’s sake, people, there is no enemy here … only our countrymen and brethren in the family of man. Can we please postpone the self-righteous indignation and finger-pointing until we have resuced the living and buried the dead?

All in all, it maybe best that I’m getting away. Though leaving Mrs. Z at home breaks my heart each night my departure gets closer, I long for a fresh perspective. Maybe it will wash over me when I pass through the Golden Gate. Maybe I’ll see it in the face of an impassioned Giants fan. Maybe I’ll find it in the industry babble that is my reason for leaving.

Maybe I won’t find it until I’m home again.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Knowing Meme, Knowing You

Two posts in one day! And you have her to thank. Feel free to make your own list.

7 things I plan to do before I die:
1) Finish a novel
2) Get back to New York
3) See the great Wall of China
4) Quit smoking
5) Play George to Becky’s Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?”
6) Get a tattoo
7) Play Richard III

7 things I can do:
1) Do a 360 while holding a wheelie
2) Eat and enjoy food so spicy it makes me sweat
3) Make cashiers swoon with an inpromptu snippet from a love song
4) Shoot a three-pointer
5) Make killer sauces
6) Write zippy headlines
7) Make people laugh

7 things I cannot do
1) Walk
2) Run
3) Jump
4) Grapevine
5) Tie a tie
6) Sing one song while another one’s playing
7) Stay mad

7 things that attract me to the sex of my preference:
1) Shortness
2) A wicked smile
3) A sense of humor
4) A bouncy butt (hey … honesty frees the soul)
5) the ability to simultaneously display devotion and independence
6) Self-confidence
7) Open-mindedness

7 things that I say most often:
1) I Love YOU!
2) Give me a smokie treat.
3) Now that I have your attention …
4) That's Hot!
5) Oh dear God!
6) I'm not drunk!
7) Where are my keys?

7 celebrity crushes:
1) Gwen Stefani
2) Liz Phair
3) Angelina Jolie
4) “Mythbuster” Kari Byron
5) Xena & Gabrielle (you can’t have one without the … other!)
6) Drew Barrymore
7) Anna Paquin

Let's go debunking

1.Money isn't made out of paper. It's made out of cotton.
Well, yes and no. Paper money is made from paper made of rags. Cotton or linen fabric is beaten to create cotton or linen fibers. You have probably heard of "rag paper" or "fine linen writing paper." This is where it comes from.

2. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.
True, but not shocking. Much of the paper of the day was made of hemp.

3. The dot over the letter i is called a “tittle."
True. The term refers to any raised dot in writing, however.

4. A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.
Sometimes, depending on the raisin and the champagne. After a while it becomes soaked and sinks to the bottom

5. Susan Lucci is the daughter of Phyllis Diller.
False. Although their ages don't preclude their being mother and daughter, Phyllis Diller and Susan Lucci are not related. Phyllis Driver was born in Ohio in 1917 and married Sherwood Diller in 1939; they had five children together before divorcing in 1965, none of whom was Susan Lucci (who was born in New York in 1946).

6. 40% of McDonald's profits come from the sales of Happy Meals.
Not true, although when they were first introduced, 40% of McDonald’s sales might have been attributable to Happy Meals.

7. 315 entries in Webster's 1996 Dictionary were misspelled.
Which Webster’s? There are many dictionaries that carry the Webster name.

8. The 'spot' on 7UP comes from its inventor, who had red eyes. He was albino.
Uh-uh. 7Up’s creator, Charles Leiper Grigg, wasn't an albino. In photographs (albeit black and white ones), he appears normally pigmented, and we've yet to encounter a biography of him that makes any mention of his displaying traits of albinism. (By the way, though it is possible for an albino to have reddish or violet eyes, most people with that condition have blue eyes, and some have hazel or brown eyes.)

9. On average, 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents, daily.
Impossible to verify, making it likely this number was pulled out of someone's ass.

10. Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine are brother and sister.
True dat.

11. Chocolate affects a dog's heart and nervous system; a few ounces will kill a small sized dog.
Sadly this is true. According to the SPCA, cocoa beans contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemicals, called methylxanthines. In dogs, low doses of methylxanthine can cause mild gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain); higher doses can cause rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, seizures, and death

12. Orcas (killer whales) kill sharks by torpedoing up into the shark's stomach from underneath, causing the shark to explode.
No one has ever witnessed this behavior in nature. Moreover, the two aren’t natural enemies.

13. Most lipstick contains fish scales.
Sort of. A fish scale extract is one ingredient.

14. Donald Duck comics were banned from Finland because he doesn't wear pants.
False. In late 1977, the city of Helsinki found itself in a bit of a financial crunch. With monetary resources limited, Mr. Markku Holopainen, a local Liberal Party representative, proposed at a meeting of the board of youth affairs that the city economize by discontinuing its purchase of Donald Duck comics for youth centers in favor of hobby and sport publications. His suggestion was heartily approved — and was later incorrectly lambasted by international tabloids as being morally, rather than financially, based.

15. Ketchup was sold in the 1830s as medicine.
True (Dr. Miles Compound Extract of Tomato)

16. Upper and lower case letters are named 'upper' and 'lower' because in the time when all original print had to be set in individual letters, the 'upper case' letters were stored in the case on top of the case that stored the smaller, 'lower case' letters.

17. Leonardo da Vinci could write with one hand and draw with the other at the same time.
There is no evidence of da Vinci being ambidextrous. (He was left-handed.) On the other hand (d’oh), he was proficient in the practice of mirror writing, or writing that could only be read if held up to a mirror.

18. Because metal was scarce, the Oscars given out during World War II were made of wood.
Not true. During World War II, award winners were given statuettes made of plaster, which they were later able to exchange for gold. The only wooden Oscar was an honorary one given to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.

19. There are no clocks in Las Vegas gambling casinos.
This is true, as a rule. There is also a scarcity of windows. Both practices have the same effect: masking the passage of time.

20. The name Wendy was made up for the book Peter Pan; there was never a recorded Wendy before!
Not true. The name Wendy appears twice in the 1881 census of England, one born 1840, and one born in 1880. The magazine Family History also states that Wendy, along with the names Marian and Shirley were once boys’ names, and that in 1797 a boy named Wendy was apprenticed to some one in Glos.

But the name may have even older origins. History makes reference to two different emperors in China who have the name "Wendi" (sometimes also referred to as Wen-Ti).

However, J.M. Barrie’s 1904 novel certainly popularized the name.

21. There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with: orange, purple, and silver!
True. Well, “quicksilver” rhymes with “silver,” but that’s cheating.

22. Leonardo Da Vinci invented scissors. Also, it took him 10 years to paint Mona Lisa's lips.
Wrong and wrong. Although commonly ascribed to Leonardo da Vinci, scissors were likely invented in 1500 BC in ancient Egypt. These were likely shears with the joint at the far end. Modern cross-bladed scissors were invented by Romans around AD 100.

The entire painting that would later become known as the Mona Lisa was painted in less than four years (1503-1506).

23. A tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion will make it instantly go mad and sting itself to death.
Untrue, since the scorpion’s venom has no effect on the scorpion itself, nor on any member of the same species. So definitely do NOT try this one at home.

24. The mask used by Michael Myers in the original "Halloween" was a Captain Kirk mask painted white.
True, per the Internet Movie Database.

25. If you have three quarters, four dimes, and four pennies, you have $1.19. You also have the largest amount of money in coins without being able to make change for a dollar (good to know.)

26. By raising your legs slowly and lying on your back, you can't sink in quicksand (and you thought this list was completely useless.)
True. Simply laying down and swimming is all that is needed to allow escape. The sand's higher density will gradually push a human body upward, eventually allowing the individual to easily paddle toward more solid footing.

27. The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law, which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.
This is a long-standing myth. While we are not certain of its origin, the term "rule of thumb" or similar exists in many languages and cultures. Its likely origin is that the thumb is often used for rough measurement by carpenters, seamstresses, and many others. In fact, the measurement of an inch is believed to have been derived from the distance between the tip of the thumb and the first joint.

The wife-beating claim has been debunked, for instance by Christina Hoff Sommers in her book Who Stole Feminism?. In particular Sommers notes that there is no mention of this in the legal commentaries of William Blackstone.

28. The first product Motorola started to develop was a record player for automobiles. At that time, the most known player on the market was the Victrola, so they called themselves Motorola.
Not quite. Motorola started business manufacturing radios for cars, not record players. A number of early companies manufacturing audio and film equipment in the early 20th century used the suffix "-ola".

29. Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it to begin with. It's the same with apples!
True of celery. Not as true with apples. There are 15 calories in 110 grams of celery. There are 57 calories in the same amount of apple.

30. Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying!
No, but putting a piece of bread between your lips and gums may help, as will cutting onions under cold running water.

31. The glue on Israeli postage stamps is certified kosher.
True. However, American stamps are kosher, as well, since their glue is also composed of vegetable oil. But they’re not necessarily certified.

32. Guinness Book of Records holds the record for being the book most often stolen from public libraries.
False. A recent American Library Association survey indicated the most stolen books are about dreams, witchcraft, astrology and the occult.

33. Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a space suit damages it.
False. Three days before a flight, astronauts are put on a "low residue diet" so their diaper-style undies won't fill up so fast. If farts could damage a space suit there'd be a lot more astronaut fatalities.