Ain’t Workin’ Here No More

Back in 2011, still reveling in the glow of my wholly-unexpected appearance in the “Best Food Writing” anthology and the success of writing comedy for “The Roe Report,” I decided to ride the overwhelming wave of public encouragement and make a go of it as a professional writer.  The result of this was that something that had been a source of joy and pleasure, writing what I wanted to write for a small audience of people I knew and loved, became a tiresome chore that was mostly about mastering the stress of constantly rallying from rejection and “keeping my chin up.” I wrote some things I liked a lot, but I also spent a lot of time unsuccessfully pleading with people who didn’t know me to give me a chance.  Mostly, they did not.  (Missouri Life is a welcome counterexample, but also the only one.) I have sent out hundreds of pitches to magazines, and sent book proposals to scores of agents, and the result was…nothing. A couple of kind e-mails and one condescending phone conversation.

And yet I tried. I wrote a dozen magazine articles, six plays, and eighty percent of a non-fiction book no one is willing to publish. I was and am happy with all of them, but the only proof of talent the world accepts is in how much money one is paid, and that proof is, in my case, nowhere to be found. I tried my ass off to sell them all, and to turn them into money and a career. But despite what is indoctrinated into all of us by books and television and school, not everyone who perseveres wins. Perseverance isn’t enough to turn talent into money and success in publishing. You also need luck, and of that I have had none.

In May, when I found out about my likely second appearance in “Best Food Writing,” I started to think about going out the way I came in. When Perseus Books, publisher of this most prestigious food-writing anthology, paid me the astonishing sum of $150 for the right to reprint the piece, I let go of the remaining doubts I had. I don’t need to tilt at this particular windmill anymore. I have proven to myself that I am good enough. I am as good or better than the (rapidly dwindling number of) people who do make a living as entertainment/pop-culture writers. I am not quitting because I failed; I am quitting because I am trying, at this point, to accomplish a goal I don’t even want, just to live up to some idiot schoolchild platitudes and the hopes of everyone I know who always wished they could be writers. Winners do quit. Quitters do win. They don’t always win at the first thing they try, or the second. Nor, it should be noted, do winners go on winning forever.

So on I go to the next challenge.  After having spent the last year-plus also being rejected for full-time employment — most hilariously by both Ameriprise and WLS — I have finally convinced someone to let me have a chance as an independently-contracted Product Designer. I don’t know exactly what the job is, though it has something to do with apps, and I believe it is to what I did ten years ago as the Internet Director at WLS as birds are to dinosaurs: the same thing, a million generations later. I do know that the five people with whom I have interviewed all think I’ll be really good at it.

I’m of deeply mixed feelings about this shift. I never wanted to go back to a cubicle, because my experience with that environment was so awful. Perhaps things will be different this time. I will also be giving up the hope of returning to Florida more than once a year. Life is often sad that way. This is a large and unhappy sacrifice of something I had hoped to accomplish, the ability to split time between Chicago and Florida. It sucks, and I am angry. But it is time to give in to how the world works, and the way the world works right now is that companies prefer constant physical monitoring of employees. I’ll survive. I might even thrive, but that it yet to be seen.

The appeal of the job is easy to categorize: I get to return to the cutting edge of technology and represent users, something I liked a lot the first time around. Someone has to look out for the end-user, and that is something I am very good at doing. I enjoy trying to see the world through other people’s eyes and communicating how it looks from in there to those who aren’t as good at it as I am. It’s not terribly unlike theater in that way — comedy is mostly about empathy and commonality, at the end of it, and so is this. So perhaps some inadvertent good has come of the Miscreants after all.

I came in with a publishing triumph, and I go out with a publishing triumph. I start the new gig Tuesday. Wish me luck.

Show Me That Secret Handshake

I was having a cup of coffee with someone I don’t know terribly well a few weeks ago, and we had this exchange:

Me: How’re you?

Person: Meh.  Having a hard time getting out of bed lately.

Me: Tough week?

Person: <wry laugh> No, everything’s great.

Me: <grin> I know exactly what you mean.

And I did. What I realized then is that there’re kinda…codephrases, maybe, for people who’ve been depressed in their lives.  They might not be conscious, but they’re perfect little hints, things that would slide right by someone who’s never thought, “Why bother eating today? The Earth’ll crash into the sun eventually so who gives a shit?” If the person you’re talking to has never wrestled that Black Thing, they wouldn’t notice, but it stands out like a marked card to those of us with the decoder ring.

Throwing out an oblique reference to avoiding sad movies or struggling to get out of bed for no apparent reason or a faint acknowledgement of familiarity with antianxiety drugs (or SSRIs) is a feeling-out, our version of a “Friends of Bill W.” listing on a church conference room schedule.  Dropping a mention of your mental health professional into a conversation with a new person is similar but more advanced; a signal to a person you think is in the life that it’s okay to talk freely.

I suppose we could have used colored handkerchiefs just as easily. Black for clinical depression, grey for Seasonal Affective Disorder, red for panic attacks, white for situational depression, camouflage for Social Anxiety Disorder. Right pocket means you’ve had it in the past, left pocket means you have it right now. Front pockets mean you have it under control, back pockets mean you could use some help.  It’d be nice to be able to pick out the people you should talk to, no?

See You Real Soon

In Orlando this week while Luna’s at a conference. Wound up next to some Disney folks the other night in a bar, and I asked them about something long-rumored among Floridians: Talking, interactive characters. They said it was true, and told me that the interactive characters require two puppeteers, one for controlling the body and one entirely devoted to controlling the head, including the voice.    The one doing the interacting will be a remote operator, and connect to the suit via wireless technology: Cameras in the eyes, preloaded facial expressions, voice synthesizer, etc., all operated from miles away.

This is much what I expected the future to look like, and it will be a great thrill for the little ones to be greeted aloud by Mickey and Minnie. (I remember being six or eight and coming to Disney with my grandparents and thinking it odd that Mickey didn’t speak.  He was normally such a garrulous fellow.) But the whole time we were talking about this, what kept running through my head was “The system goes on-line in the Magic Kingdom on August 4th, 2017. Human decisions are removed from family entertainment. Disnet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. Mickey fights back.”

And that got me really excited for the new technology.  A relentless army of Disney characters coldly slaughtering anything that stands between them and their objective was very much my experience of the company when I worked for ABC/ESPN. Doing it with ruthless bloodstained animatronic animals instead of MBAs and accountants would be a tremendous upgrade. I’m giddy with pleasure at the images in my head. Let me start you with this image: Donald Duck impaling Linda Hamilton on a wingtip and calmly quacking: “Call to John. I know this hurts. Call John. Call to John now.”


A Dick Move at Best Buy
(featuring bonus commentary track)

Me: Hi.  I need to return this hard drive reader.1

Customer Serviceperson: I can help you with that. Are you exchanging it?2

Me: Great, thanks. No exchange, just returning it.3

Customer Serviceperson: No problem. Was there a problem with the unit?4

Me: <grave face> Sadly, it didn’t do what I hoped it would.5

Customer Serviceperson: I’m sorry about that.6

Me: Thanks. Nothing to be done.7

Customer Serviceperson: Sign here.  All set.  Thanks for shopping at Best Buy.8


1. That I bought here, from you, two hours ago.

2. Please say yes, because that’s way less effort for me.

3. Because I already used it to rescue the files off my old laptop.

4. Please say no, because that’s way less effort for me.

5. Function dually as a flux capacitor and window air conditioning unit after I finished using it successfully for its intended purpose.

6. Never has this sentence been uttered less sincerely.

7. Well, not anymore.

8. I totally see what you did here but who gives a shit because I don’t work on commission.

Won’t You Cleanse My Soul

Okay.  So.  After six years of pretty devoted running, I have lost the faith.  I haven’t been able to take any joy in running at all since Barney Fife and his crew illustrated something I kinda already knew, that doing everything according to plan and meeting expectations is no guarantee of being allowed the win.  So instead of beating myself up about it, I’m changing pace.  I ran 5Ks, 8Ks, ten-miles, and two half marathons.   Time for a break.  It’s summer.  I’m going to the pool.

I mailed my favorite expert on these matters for some idea of what the swimming equivalent of a 5K is, just so I have a target.  I got back 7500 words, which was lovely and generous of her and boiled down to this:

2500 meters going hard, four times a week.

Okay then.  Here’s the workout she gave me to get there.

Warm Up
(rest 60 sec between each):
100 Swim
100 Kick
100 IM
100 Pull
100 Swim

<<rest 2 minutes>>

Work Out:

5 x 150 – 50 free hard, 100 free moderate (rest 30 sec between each)
<<rest 1 min>>
5 x 50 kick – 25 hard, 25 easy (rest 30 sec between each)
<<rest 1 min>>
5 x 50 pull – 25 hard, 25 easy (rest 30 sec between each)
<<rest 1 min>>
5 x 50 moderate (rest 30 sec between each)
<<rest 1 min>>
4 x 25 hard (rest 30 sec between each)

<<rest 2 mins>>

Cool Down:
200 swim  - easy
<<rest 30 sec>>
100 kick – easy
<<rest 30 sec>>
100 swim – easy

If I die trying, it’s on you people to remind her it was my idea.

Away we go.  I’m skeptical, because what I mostly remember about swimming is that it makes me hungry.  Wish me luck.


First Flight

I’m dropping the ball here lately.  I could blame writing this year’s Miscreant extravaganza and the pressure of lobbying for a job opportunity I’m trying to make happen, but this degree of slippage is not a good sign for me.  Let’s see what can be done.

Since we left off, Big & I built a smoker.  “Black Magic.”  The details of that escapade are a book chapter, but the result is worth showing.  Here’s the new-baby photo:

Saturday into Sunday was the first flight.  While there is much potential here, I have a long way to go.  I smoked a humongous brisket for dinner at the Lab.

The rub was straight Texas: Six tablespoons kosher salt and six tablespoons of coarse-ground black pepper, which was startlingly good for something so seemingly simple.  I rubbed it at about noon Saturday and put it on about 8pm, after which point I sat in the Yard with people until much later than was reasonable.  (No story ends well that begins “Scotty arrived around 1 a.m. with half a bottle of Evan Williams.”)  Thank god for the IQ110.

The IQ110 is a magical device that hooks up to the smoker’s vent and controls the temperature within by alternately restricting and enhancing inbound airflow.  I was skeptical of the claims it made.  I was wrong.  Black Magic held 215 for nearly 18 hours. No blaming the temperature fluctuations here — the flaws in the brisket were mine. The outer 50% was delightful, the inside was underdone.  The upside of this is I have the beginnings of a big pile of burnt ends awaiting the next time I light the smoker.

Notes for the next brisket:

* Higher overnight temperature.  I did not trust the IQ110 enough to set it at the 250 I should have, because I also left the smoker next to the house under the awning, and a fire that got out of hand would have been bad.  Now I know it can hold that fire wherever I want. (Jim from Big Woodie — who was VERY gracious about all the texts — suggests an even higher temperature and shorter time, but baby steps, y’know?)

* Thinner slices.  I had an inappropriate knife.  How poetic it is that, at the home of CdL, I needed a boning knife.

* Smaller overall piece of meat.  The giant (16 lb) gnarled brisket had a really good beefy flavor but was also knotted through, which made separating the point from the flat much more difficult than it is with a ten-pounder.  Have to practice that.

Tomorrow: Pork shoulders.

Long Strange Trip

Luna: (via text, on her way back to Key West after a trail 10K in Miami) I stopped in Marathon for a Red Bull. It’s hot. And I had to drive with my window open the whole way because my running clothes from this morning in the back seat stink so bad.

Me: Why didn’t you put them in the trunk?

Luna: Because I didn’t think of that.

Luna: Duh.

Rough year, you people, but you’re all on notice now:

Luna’s back.

The Answer To Facebook

Over the past couple of weeks I have been made aware of four different ongoing beefs among people I know, each one launched by something said on Facebook. I think that’s ridiculous. There is enough real underhanded malfeasance out there that the world does not need to add misinterpretations of judginess and slapfights over George Takei’s views. It started making me laugh on Monday, though, when I realized just how much my internal reaction to hearing about how someone blocked someone for an unacceptable opinion on a minor matter had become reminiscent of Allen Iverson’s brilliant defusal of media criticism.

So I adopted it.

The next time someone begins to describe to you a seventh-grade throwdown that started with a casually tossed-off status update that failed to account proper respect to something tangential, try this, which I guarantee will smooth even the Donald Duckiest of ruffled feathers:

“Facebook? Facebook? That’s what we’re talking about here, is Facebook. Not life. Not reality. Not the world. Facebook. What’re we talking about here? We’re talkin’ about Facebook, man. Not life. Facebook. Is that what we’re talking about here, is Facebook? We’re just talkin’ about Facebook, man.”

Yes, And

Improvised Tequila Guacamole Invented Last Weekend


An onion
Kosher Salt
Coarse Black Pepper

Dig out the avocados in chunks with that awesome knife/spoon combination move.  Rough-chop half as much mango as you have avocado, and rough-chop half as much onion as you have mango. Mix those with enough lime juice to coat it all and then throw in as many shots of tequila as you used whole avocados. (Plus two for yourself.) Chop a realistic amount of cilantro and add that.  Throw in kosher salt and coarse black pepper in equal amounts to taste, plus about a third as much cumin as you used salt.  Add more jalapenos and tequila until it tastes right. Put it out for the people and bask in their happiness.