Mancation

After six years, the ritual is fairly set in stone:

Friday night we play No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, with blinds increasing after every two rounds of dealing. Saturday we play a modified version of baseball; teams of two bat, then rotate into the field. We grill burgers and hot dogs for lunch. Some of us then fall asleep on the dock, some of us swim in the lake. Saturday night we load into the boat and head to the local boardwalk for arcade games, or we sit around and talk about how tired we are from baseball. Sunday, despite the lactic acid setting up shop in our muscles, we take turns tubing off the back of the boat. After a few more hours, we reluctantly head back to reality. Monday morning we email about the trip, recounting the highlights, and noting the soreness in our muscles that will last for days.

The “guys weekend” at Lake Winnipesaukee started as an excuse to get away from Boston to play. Now it’s become an opportunity to stay connected and catch up with each other, as we’re beginning to seriously scatter:

  • one is married and expecting a bambino in December;
  • one is engaged, taking the plunge next May;
  • one is moving in with his girlfriend in a few short weeks;
  • one lives in New York;
  • one is considering PhD programs across the country;
  • one disappears for weeks to climb mountains and run marathons;
  • one lives in Sharon and travels frequently for business;
  • one is married, living in Chicago, and glad that his wife understood he needed to go be with the boys for a few days, even though she is still making the ‘you abandoned me’ jokes.

This year, we spent more time sitting on the dock shooting the breeze than anything else. We told the stories that make us laugh, like the time at our old apartment when one of us visited the college kids downstairs, a baseball bat at his side, to ask them to keep the noise down. We quoted movies extensively (of course), and made fun of each other mercilessly.

In short, a perfect weekend.

We all sensed that the trip, in its current form, has fewer years ahead than behind; we have understanding wives/fiances/girlfriends, but to a point. So I’m putting the stake in the ground now: I expect some form of a group getaway down the road. Ladies, I hope you will indulge us men an afternoon of ill-advised physical activity (I’m seeing flag football). Please try to keep the eye-rolling to a minimum afterwards when we’re complaining of limbs that may or may not be dislodged from their original state. Just pass us the Icy Hot and try not to remind us that we’re not 22 anymore, even though we occasionally try to live as if we are.

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Supporting Youth Filmmakers

In January 2002, my friend Dave and I completed the last marathon editing session for a short film we’d written, produced and directed. Eager to screen it for friends and family, we spent a month securing a location, creating promotional materials and seeking out other short films to screen. We named the event the Newbury Film Series (NFS), and after a successful evening, we decided to do it again.

Four years, five screenings and thirty-five featured filmmakers later, the organization has officially grown up. After incorporating as a 501(c)3 non-profit entity, the NFS assembled a board of directors and happily welcomed both individual donors and corporate sponsors like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Bank of America.

Now the NFS has embarked on an effort unlike anything we’ve done before, and we’re hoping to sign up some new supporters. Might I add you look quite fetching today.

Last fall, under Dave’s guidance, the NFS piloted an after-school filmmaking program targeting urban youth ages 12-18 from low-income neighborhoods in Greater Boston. After a successful inaugural run at Chelsea’s Roca Inc., the program (called Reel Vision) expanded this spring to locations in Hyde Park and Mattapan.

Reel Vision participants have created insightful and provocative documentaries and Public Service Announcements about issues they feel are important to their community. Check out all their films at www.newburyfilmseries.org.

Digital filmmaking has made programs like these affordable, but not inexpensive. The NFS has set an ambitious goal of $45,000 to properly staff the program and provide the necessary equipment.

Watch their films. Learn more about Reel Vision. Consider making a contribution. No amount is too small. Conversely, no amount is too large…

Mass Ogling

The Pharaoh was in town this weekend, as were my folks, and my mom wanted to arrange a get-together.

After nine months in Chicago, Renate and I had not yet been to the Field Museum. Meteorlogically speaking, my parents could not have picked a more picture-perfect weekend to make the trip from St. Louis, and the Field Museum gleamed in the sun.

I had high expectations for the exhibit, given that my parents (who treated) spent $30 per ticket. I wondered aloud if the admission price included a hot dog, or perhaps a cameo by Steve Martin. At the very least, I expected to be greeted by an animatronic Tut.

I wasn’t far off; apparently museum exhibitions now take heavy inspiration from Disney’s theme parks. After traipsing through two different lines and having our tickets scanned as many times, we donned our audio headsets (included in the ticket price) — and waited in another line.

Finally we were ushered into a darkened room where, after the ritual scolding about cell phones, we watched a two-minute film about Tut narrated spookily by Omar Sharif. At the end of the video, two doors silently slid open in front of us to reveal another darkened room and an eerily illuminated statue of the Boy King. All the while, an ethereal chorus wailed in the background.

The chorus accompanied us throughout the cavernous exhibition rooms as we stared at scores of jewels, jars, cases, chairs, coffins and statues plucked from Tut’s tomb. Occasionally Omar would whisper into our ears on cue, telling us when to press the green button to learn more about embalming, or to hear the secret of Tut’s tomb.

The whole thing had an air of ridiculousness dressed up in solemnity, and I’m not sure the overall experience was worth the price of admission. The initial exhibit room was incredibly crowded, and people lose at least ten IQ points in public spaces, forgetting that it’s rude to step in front of someone when they’re trying to read the display case, or watch the video of Tut’s 2005 CT scan.

That said – many of the items were truly impressive, and we spent a good fifteen minutes afterwards talking about what we’d seen. Plus, my Dad sang the chorus from King Tut, which somewhat made up for Steve Martin’s conspicuous absence. (Seriously — they could charge triple if the exhibit ended with Martin doing standup in the back.)

From the Field, we made our way to the decidedly more relaxed 22nd annual Printer’s Row Book Fair where I dug up two advertising prints from the 1920s at $15 each. We’d also considered making our way to the Spring Pug Crawl, where over 500 of the snub-nosed dogs were expected to parade, but decided to head home for pizza instead.

The Blues Festival takes over Grant Park this weekend, and it’s free. Summer is here in Chicago.

Eyeballs

My vision used to be 20/20. Like George Costanza, I could spot a nickel on the ground from across the room. I routinely mocked my college roommate, who held the alarm clock up to his face to tell time at night after removing his contact lenses.

Times have changed. For the first time in my life, my eyes have been dilated to check for retinal damage. (Fortunately, all is well.)

If, like me, you stare at a computer screen for hours on end, here’s what I learned from the good doctor: don’t. Take a break every twenty minutes or so and stare at something at least twenty feet from you. Be sure this something is not a co-worker who might report you to HR. Also, if you see jagged streaks of light at the sides of your eyes similar to lightning strikes, you might want to get to the doctor ASAP.

This public service announcement brought to you by my eyeballs, and my desire to keep my alarm clock on the bedside table, where it belongs (no offense, J).

What to Write

I read an article yesterday that boldly declared, “blogs [are] ‘essential’ to a good career”. The article offered some advice for newbie bloggers:

…pick your topics carefully and have a purpose. ”The most interesting blogs are focused and have a certain attitude,” says [Phil] van Allen [a faculty member of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena]. ”You need to have a guiding philosophy that you stick to. You cannot one minute pontificate on large issues of the world and the next minute be like, ‘My dog died.’ “

However, a few hours later I read this soul-bearing post by Jeffrey Zeldman, the globally-known web standards guru who has plenty of worldly issues upon which he could easily pontificate:

In 1993… my uncle, took me to lunch. I was newly sober and raw as a razor burn, but pleased to be coherent and in his company. After some minutes of chit-chat, he leaned forward and said, “I think your mother has Alzheimers.

What followed was an intensely personal tribute to his mother’s struggle with the disease, and an unflinching description of the heart-rending effect it had on his family. Zeldman captures the disease’s unrelenting and frightening destruction with chilling precision; if Alzheimer’s has touched your family, you will likely fight tears. You might even if it hasn’t.

Between these two articles, I see mixed messages as to what we millions of bloggers should be writing about.

I also see some hints.

I’ve come to think about blogging as part professional development, part personal journalism. For Christmas last year, I received a collection of personal journalism pieces. Each pulls back the curtain on a byline, revealing a human being diagnosed with cancer, or a person still grappling with the loss of a sister over 20 years ago.

I was surprised that these journalists would be so open, and apparently they were too — some of them initially balked at the idea of ‘reporting’ on themselves. Their thinking: journalists report the news, they don’t become the news (although that line has blurred significantly over the years).

But reading these articles, I came to the simple conclusion their authors must have reached while writing them: exposing the reality that lurks beneath a shiny but impersonal surface connects us to one another. We find shared experiences, common successes and similar heartbreaks.

It’s the same with blogs.

My grandmother died of Alzheimer’s. Reading Zeldman’s post, I remembered the visits when my grandmother no longer recognized any of us, but would chuckle as though we were all in on a joke. I remembered cleaning her nursing home ‘apartment’, hustling out bottle after bottle of half-drunk sherry, bottles she had simply forgotten were there. We had to laugh or else we’d cry. I remembered the weeks near the end, when she was barely a shell of the person she’d been, and all we could do was wait for it to be over.

“Blogs ‘essential’ to a good career” states that bloggers need a guiding philosophy. How about this: write about things you really care about, and write it for yourself. That’s the best kind of writing to read, and the best to write as well.

Observations on Chicago

After nearly six months in our new hometown, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Boston drivers are bad; Chicago drivers are dangerous. You may as well be wearing a bullseye on your back when trying to use a crosswalk in this town.
  2. Many people now believe it is socially acceptable to wear a wireless cell phone head set all day (even while eating dinner at a restaurant). I saw these ridiculous flashing earpieces maybe twice a month in Boston; I see them several times a day in Chicago. Ugh.
  3. The irony of running a recycling program by requiring Chicagoans to put their recyclables in disposable blue bags is, apparently, lost on the city.
  4. When trying to catch the Damen bus, don’t bother using the schedule. It’s worthless.
  5. Brown and green line trains run counter-clockwise in the loop; purple and orange line trains run clockwise.
  6. Don’t take a scooter onto Lake Shore Drive. You might die.
  7. The Children’s Museum kicks a–.
  8. Starbucks is Chicago’s Dunkin’ Donuts; you can’t go two blocks without seeing one.
  9. No one has heard of our neighborhood (North Center).
  10. You will never have a bad meal at Kitsch’n. (You might, however, have a seizure while looking at their website.)
  11. Enacting a smoking ban in Boston was a picnic compared to the pseudo-ban that barely got passed here in December. I’ve never seen so much hand-wringing in my life. Entire countries are now smoke-free, but apparently Chicago’s economy will tank if all taverns ban smoking.
  12. The Tribune’s John Kass is sort of Chicago’s Brian McGrory.
  13. BYOB also kicks a–.
  14. Free museum day at the Aquarium is kind of a bust.
  15. The only two books to read while riding the El are A Million Little Pieces and Devil in the White City.
  16. Living on the Brown Line for the next four years might just suck.
  17. Goose Island is not just a beer, it is an actual island formed by a split in the Chicago River.
  18. It is a routine occurrence for ice to fall from the tops of skyscrapers on Michigan Avenue during the winter, so you might as well just suck it up and hope for the best (or look like an idiot running to work while covering your head).