Monday, August 29, 2011

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

“Sure don’t know what I’m going for, but I’m gonna go for it for sure.” — John Perry Barlow

Twelve years ago this week I arrived in sunny Los Angeles after a nearly month-long journey across America.  When I left my native state, the Heartland of it All, I didn’t have a job, an apartment, a spouse, a kid or a pet. I was a free agent and planning to maximize that freedom. After all, my clearly well thought out plan was to crash on my brother’s futon for a while, get a job writing jokes for a late night talk show and improvise the rest from there. 

Keep in mind that when I say my plan was “well thought out”, it was actually wild speculation from a somewhat presumptuous 23 year old.  I figured that since I had just received my degree in broadcast journalism, worked as a producer at the local PBS station while in college and, most importantly, took two years of Media Production classes in high school. I really believed that qualified me for a gig on a network show.  Seriously.  I had no clue.

Don’t worry, reality kicked in before long. And when I say reality, I mean that I was able to get a job on one of the very first reality television shows, “Blind Date”.  If you don’t remember it, Blind Date was a show that sent two unassuming strangers on a date filled with bizarre activities and tried to see if they could find their perfect match. Another way of looking at it was that it took two wannabe actors or models or oddballs and sent them all around LA, hoping that they would ultimately get drunk and end up in a hot tub. As the date played out on screen, jokes making fun of the two suckers, I mean daters, would pop-up around them.  That was the best part of the show.  And I got to watch that magic happen every day.  

Working on Blind Date was a great experience. I got to work on a relatively big scale production, I met some good friends that I am still close with to this day and got my creative juices flowing to help me with my writing career. Turns out, you need a little more experience than I had to get a job on one of the shows I wanted to work on. I figured that within 6 months or a year I’d be on my way.  Boy, was I wrong!

As a 23 year old living in L.A., I quickly discovered that there was a lot more to do in my free time than there had been in Ohio. My focus shifted and my creativity dried up.  After more than a year on Blind Date, I left the wonderful world of TV to “get a real job”. By normal, I mean one that offered weird things that Blind Date didn’t such as health insurance, vacation time and other staples of normal jobs. 

I got a job in Human Resources at a major movie studio which was only palatable because of a couple hilarious co-workers and the free movie screenings.  As part of my HR duties, I got to lead the new hire orientation every week and as a result, I got to meet all the new ladies on their first day of work. I suppose there was a few guys, too, but I didn’t really pay attention.  After more than a year, that job ended and I was thankful. It had been miserable. HR was clearly not my calling. The lack of creativity involved was both surprising and not surprising at all.  I knew it within the first couple of hours working there. At least I collected lots of free VHS tapes of movies. Those must be worth a lot now…  

Since that gig, I’ve worked in sales and marketing in a variety of capacities, mostly as an independent contractor. I’ve sold successful lines of clothing into some of the biggest chains in the country and I’ve struck out while trying to sell video services to people who didn’t want them, and those are just a couple. I’ve learned something from all of these jobs: the good, the bad and the ugly.  I’ve learned what I like: independence, and what I don’t like: not making money. I guess there are trade-offs everywhere.

I’ve also started a couple of my own small businesses and run with those through the ups and downs of our crazy economy the last few years. Then something changed for me just about two years ago. My wife got pregnant. A whole new feeling of responsibility hit me.  I had to find a job and fast! We needed better health insurance that didn’t cost more than John Goodman’s weekly McDonald’s allowance. I tried reaching out to the people I knew, but that was tough as I didn’t really know anyone anymore. Sure, I had friends but they were mostly professionals and I didn’t think I could score a gig as a doctor or lawyer without at least a couple weeks of training.  Most of my jobs had been pretty independent, so there was no one to reach out to there, either. Basically, I was screwed.  

I kept pressing with the biz my wife and I started together but unless we wanted to rely on Top Ramen for every meal
something had to give.  In the meantime, my wife had another side business of her own that took off and so after the baby arrived, I became responsible for him for big chunks of the day while she was gone. After a while I figured that maybe I should start using my creative brain again. I had used it intermittently over the last decade, but nothing too serious had come out of it.  So I started jotting down notes, thoughts and ideas about parenting. In case you don’t know, being a father is quite different from being a mother and not just because of the biological differences. They have inherent skills that men will never have. Like trying to change a kid’s diaper on one of those little fold-down tables they have in public bathrooms. Ever try to wrangle 35 pounds on one of those? Let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.  

And all of that writing, pondering and diaper changing is how I became The Dude of the House. Writing has been cathartic for me in many ways and I’ve got a slew of creative projects I’m working on right now. Ironically, I’m trying to get back into the television world now—just a dozen years later than I expected. If you know anyone who wants to help, let me know…

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--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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Monday, August 22, 2011

A Little Off the Top

There were two things that surprised me upon seeing my son BC for the first time after his birth.  The first was how small he was. Well, he wasn’t small per se. He actually weighed 8 pounds & 15 ounces. But we were expecting him to be much bigger based on how big he measured in utero and because I weighed a hair under 11 pounds at birth. 

(Not BC, but rather a Slimy Stunt Baby)
The bigger surprise to me was how much hair he had.  Thick dark hair. And not just patches, he had full coverage.  In retrospect it probably looked thicker than it actually was due to the styling gel-like properties of placenta. 

After a couple months, BC’s hair began to recede and thin out.  I figured it had been a fun ride, but he would soon be just like all the other bald babies out there.  Once his hair started dropping it didn’t stop until it was a mere memory.  It had only been a few months so hopefully he wasn’t too attached to it.

Naturally I was surprised during the second half of his first year of life that when BC’s body grew, so did his hair.  He’s always been near the top of the growth charts in both height and weight (and head size, but that’s a story for another day).  Similar to his birth hair, his “new” hair was unique for its waves and twists.  It was cute, so we let it keep growing. And growing.  And growing…
Shortly after his 1st birthday, BC’s hair did something interesting. His slightly wavy hair turned into tight ringlets.  Think “Annie”, but not red.  And without the weird bald guy and mangy dog hanging around.  BC had always been a hit with the ladies, but this new hair made him a chick magnet.  I was happy to see he inherited several of my best traits. 

As his hair grew, it didn’t look as long as it was since the curls tightened it up. But some of the curls still fell into his face.  He spent a lot of time pushing it out of his eyes, until my wife convinced me that he NEEDED a haircut.  I was apprehensive but she showed me the websites for a couple of hair salons that specialize in kids and I finally acquiesced. I knew he needed the cut, but didn’t want to see him butchered.

On the following Saturday morning, we headed to one of those kid-friendly hair joints. The place had balloons out front, so how bad could it be?  I’d soon find out…

We stepped inside and saw all of these cool mini sports cars that were barber chairs. There were a slew of 
TVs on the wall to divert the little ones’ attention from the task at hand and colorful murals on all of the walls to distract the bored parents.  There was also the sound of a pediatricians’ office mixed with a haunted house.  Shrieks and wails filled the air of this brightly colored haven of hair.  

A woman with a thick accent and a Sideshow Bob-esque mop on her head greeted us at the front and led us toward one of the Cars of Doom. Or at least that’s what BC must have thought it was. It all seemed innocent enough to me, but then again I’ve been getting haircuts for decades. 

As we approached the chair we heard a kid screaming his brains out, as though the hairs had just been removed one-by-one from his scalp with rusty tweezers.  My wife said to me “Oh, that poor mother. Her kid is acting like a putz!” As the mother led her freshly-shorn kid toward the door, we recognized them as people we’d recently met at a mutual friend’s party. At that party her kids were terrors and made a huge mess all over the friend’s house, writing on the furniture, etc. I figured this was just her payback.  

So I lifted BC into the red sports car chair and said to my wife “see, piece of cake”. Famous last words. Within one one-hundredth of a second of the cape being put around his neck, before the barber-lady even had the scissors in her hand, BC was screaming like Angela from "The Office" at Burning Man. I’d never heard noises like this before. I put the camera down as my wife started to comfort our little man. Sadly, nothing helped. He was miserable, crying and nearly hysterical. The “stylist” looked at us and in her thick accent said “What iz de pro’lem?”.  Um, isn’t it obvious?  The kid isn’t happy. Let’s get this over with, um-kay? 

We tried soothing BC to the best of our ability. Nothing helped. Not even the super-sticky lollipop or the stale animal crackers the place offers as consolation to the miserable kids. If they were smart, they’d also offer earplugs and shots of Cuervo to the parents. 

After 15 minutes of this torture, it was finally over. I’m not sure how the woman knew she was finished, as there was just a curly mess in and around her hands and on the floor, but that was it.  We were released from the torture chamber. Hair samples noting the happy occasion of the First Haircut were slipped into an envelope. We were also handed a “Certifucate of Commemeration” [sic] where BC’s name and the date were filled in by the receptionist.  The certificate was most noteworthy to me because it contained at least six typos. Now I know why the place currently boasts a 2-star rating (out of 5) on Yelp.  

What I learned from this experience is that I hope my son doesn’t mind his hair growing into his eyes in the future, because I can’t imagine going through this traumatic experience again anytime soon. And I do mean traumatic for me and my wife. I’ve brought BC with me to watch me get my hair cut a couple times since then.  He sees that the crying during the actual cut is minimal and once I get my lollipop I’m good to go.  Here’s hoping he feels the same next time. 

Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.  Tell your friends...
--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Ex Takes the Plunge

While doing some important research online, (I mean trolling on Facebook), I saw that my last ex-girlfriend who I dated prior to meeting my wife got married recently.  No, I definitely do not still have feelings for her. We dated for a while, but broke up shortly after the passing of Jam Master Jay. There is still no proof that our breakup was connected to his still unsolved slaying.  

So, what’s the proper protocol for handling my ex's milestone?

  • No response. The easiest thing to do would be to ignore the situation. After all, our only connection anymore is via Facebook.  And that connection is virtually non-existent, as she rarely posts anything. That being said, she posted several annoying status updates about how wonderful her honeymoon was, so I feel somewhat involved.
  • Send her a private FB message of congratulations. And make sure to reinforce that I’ve been married for 4 years, so she obviously had a much harder time getting over me than I did over her.
  • Write on her wall and ask where my invitation was. It’s only fair, as I am partly responsible for them getting married. No, I don’t know the guy she got hitched to, but if I had married her (which was not in the cards for us) he wouldn’t have had the chance.  So he sort of owes me now. 
  • Make snide remarks about her husband in the comments section below their wedding pics on FB.  I saw a couple pics. The guy wore Converse All-Stars with his tux. Enough said.  
  • Post an old pic of the two of us and tag her with a caption that says “Just thinking of you” or "Good Times...". Actually, this might cause me more problems than anything. Scratch that.   

At the end of the day, I think I’ll just leave well enough alone.  Just writing this post will probably make some of you think I still pine for her. Believe me, I don’t.  If it weren’t for the magic of Facebook, I wouldn’t know anything about her current life.  But, she’s the one who Friended me.  I bet she still harbors feelings…  

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--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Happy B-day, LOL :)

Remember when you were a kid and your grandmother would send you a card every year for your birthday. The card was always super corny with a bad pun for a punchline and most likely a cartoon animal on the front.  If you were lucky there might be a picture of Alexander Hamilton inside. Not so lucky: meet George Washington. 

I remember those days fondly.  Now I get brief greetings on my birthday from hundreds of long lost friends who likely never knew when my birthday was during the time we spent together over the last thirty or so years. Technology has changed the way we communicate and not always for the better. 

Older relatives used to tell me about how they would write long letters to each other on their birthdays and special occasions.  They would take out their fancy ballpoint pens and beautiful embossed monogrammed stationary, then compose several pages about their lives, feelings and wishes for the future.  Who has time for that anymore?  And what are those Cross pens I received for my Bar Mitzvah good for anyway? 

The first greeting cards were Valentines composed in Europe during the 1400s. They were generally hand delivered and very expensive so only the Bourgeoisie could afford them. Fortunately for them, all of the servants did not have to sign a lame card for their boss because he didn’t pay them enough to afford one. 

In the mid-19th century postage made sending cards easier, but they were still pricey and often adorned with intricate handmade decoration.  A few weeks ago while shopping for a card at my local Rite-Aid, I saw that Taylor Swift now has her own greeting card line. Because who really knows more about life than a 21 year old country singer who used to date one of the Jonas Brothers? 

Over hundreds of years, communication evolved very slowly.  Now it changes at a pace often too fast to keep up with.  I remember the advent of the e-card about 10 years ago.  Surely you remember those emails you would get from Blue Mountain telling you to click a link, then wait several minutes for an early version of Flash to load an “electronic” card featuring a dancing teddy bear and a stupid limerick.  As the old saying goes: build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.  With the invention of e-cards, people not only didn’t have to go buy a card, they could remember it was your birthday at 11:57pm, run to the computer in their pajamas to create a “card” and still beat the clock.

E-cards stuck around until they tried to start charging people to send them.  By then, if you were an e-card person and grew tired of sending e-cards you could just send a “birthday e-mail” with some clip art.  Same minimal effort, same effect to the recipient: perceived laziness. 

Then Mark Zuckerberg went and changed everything.  No, I don’t mean when he came up with the idea that grown men could be billionaire business leaders and still wear hoodies to meetings.  I mean when he conceptualized “Walls” for each person’s Facebook page.  Thanks to Mark, not only could you log on to Facebook and read what your childhood next door neighbor Ernie ate for lunch that day, but you also could find out when his birthday was. And to top that you could show the world, or at least the 184 people Ernie had “friended” that you cared enough to “remember” his birthday and write three words on his wall:  "Happy Birthday Ernie!" You could make it cute and add an LOL or a Smiley Face, but Larry David would definitely not approve.  

My general rule of thumb is, if I didn’t know when your birthday was before Facebook then I probably won’t remember now.  It’s nothing personal, old high school physics teacher, but I just don’t care when your b-day is. 

Now, we have even more convenience within our grasp. You can Tweet a greeting in 140 characters or less.  You can text a greeting, which shows that you possibly thought about calling but didn’t really feel like it.  Or you can do what I do to commemorate the birthdays of friends and relatives, if you can’t be there to celebrate in person.  Keep some cake in your fridge (preferably white cake with buttercream frosting from Ralphs) and have a slice every day. That way, you know you are probably covering someone.  In a few years, our kids will probably just need to think about someone to send them a greeting. So why not get a head start on the future? 

Thanks for reading! Your comments are appreciated.  Tell your friends...
--JJ aka The Dude of the House

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