Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week, 7:

The Hunk this week is Jamie Bamber:

You/Sweetie Know Him As: I was going to say that Sweetie knows him as Lee Adama on "Battlestar Galactica," (a/k/a "Geez, is EVERYONE a Frakkin' Cylon?") but then I had to look him up on IMDB to find out whether his name was Bamberg or Bamber, and I see that he was on "Cold Case," in 2007, which is weird because Sweetie swears that she didn't watch that show, but she certainly knows who Jamie Bamber is, and knew who he was even before I tried to get her to watch "Battlestar Ellen-Actica."

But more to the point, Sweetie knows him as "Lee Adama, the guy who accidentally showed his Battlestar on TV when his towel drooped a little too low in one scene."

I know him as: Lee Adama, the guy who has made out with Starbuck about a billion times on the show. Ha! Sweetie hates Starbuck. Serves her right. (Sweetie, not Starbuck.) Also, he was in Hornblower: The Frogs and The Lobsters, a TV movie I haven't seen but which I gather was about how the British navy used frogs and lobsters to destroy the Spanish Armada in 1972.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: I can't fool myself on this one. As I noted, Sweetie likes Mr. Starbuck's Guy because of the towel. She refused to watch "Ellen The Cylon's Trip To Earth" until one day when she read how Lee Adama's towel had slipped and people got a glimpse of his... Viper... and then she watched after that. So it's obvious to me: Sweetie likes him because he always makes sure to put away his towel after a shower.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "Because of his body."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Reason For Liking Him: Effective today, I will no longer be putting away my towel. Also, I'm working on it. I did, like, 18 sit-ups yesterday.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Says You...

I'm kind of remiss about replying to comments on here -- not because I don't read them, I just never get around to it. That, and the fact that the comments I do get tend to be very good and deserve to be more than a comment, have caused me to start up "Says You," where I'll reprint and respond to the best of the comments. Here we go!

Lisa Pepin (who writes "Lost In Provence," an excellent blog,) commented on my disappointment with the school system by noting:

He's going to a baseball game for a class trip? What the hell is he going to do for Senior Skip day, take a calculus exam? The longer I'm here, the less the world makes sense to me.

You may be right about what he's going to do, Lisa-- when they were younger, the kids celebrated Spring Break by playing school. Class trips when I was a kid were to "The Octagon House," and if we did something fun for school, it was during the summer or a weekend.

Court, who writes "Kaiya's Laughter Heals" - -a shiny object to cheer us up in this life-- took the opposite view, though (as you'd expect from a relentlessly positive blogger!) After reading about pinecones calculus-ing abilities, Court noted:

I remember getting out of school when I was eight to watch our team win the championship. It only took twenty years to win it again (last year) but it was much funner when I was smaller. Maybe everything is?

Everything was more fun when I was smaller, Court -- and the simple reason for that is because things were better back then. Also: you kids get the heck off of my lawn! But ask yourself this, Court: If you'd been in school that day, 20 years ago, isn't it possible, just a little, that what you'd learned that day might have helped the world become a better place today? If you're school hadn't let you out that day, for example, maybe by now someone -- you, even-- would have invented a food pantry or closet that would be able to lower, dumbwaiter-like, into the floor and open into the garage, so that I would not have to carry groceries all the way from my garage up to the kitchen like a sucker just because the kids are not home?

Finally, Scott, of Husbands Anonymous, also took the lead-singer-to-law-firm route that is such an underutilized career builder these days, and noted:

I thought I was bad-wanting to do something that involved climbing trees, or tasting wine. I mean, who really says to themselves, gee, I'd like to work in an office?
I, too, worked as a lead singer, but as I was only paid in beer, which apparently landlords do not accept as legal tender, had to quit the band. Now I work in a law firm, but even I don't exactly know what the heck I do.
You wrote a good piece, here...

Luckily for Scott, it was "climbing trees or tasting wine." Combining the two of those leads to far worse things than working for a law firm.

Avoid The Perfume Zone.

Do perfume departments scare you? They scare me. They're not laid out with any kind of sense, or reason, for one thing. Go to a department store to get perfume, and everything makes sense until you get to the actual perfume department, where suddenly there are no 90-degree angles, no carpet, no racks or shelves of anything you can pick up and see and price. Instead, everything is under glass, it's all laid out at weird angles and in circular styles, and you don't know where you came in or how to get out.

Then there's the salesladies: Wearing too-stylish business suits, with hair up severely, or too long and too straight, and they shoot in like guided missiles the moment you pause, and if you say something like "I'd like to see that bottle of perfume there," they steer you over to a giant gift package of three perfumes, a hand lotion, bubble bath, beauty kit, duffel bag and gift certificate to a local spa. $400 later, you finally stagger into the men's shoe department and thank God you're alive.

Those kinds of troubles meant that Sweetie rarely gets designer perfumes as presents, because I so loathe and fear perfume departments. But with "My Fragrance Room," an online source for discount designer perfumes, candles, lotions and other, similar goodies, I can get her those kinds of things and not ever venture into the Perfume Dimension -- and not get snookered into buying the SuperUltraMegaGiftPack when all I want is a bottle of perfume.

You know what I like best? They've got the prices right there for me to see -- unlike at the store, where I have to get the Perfume Ladies to unlock the cabinet and show me, and they give that little disapproving frown if I don't select the biggest one.

My Fragrance Room has all the kinds Sweetie likes, too, just sitting there waiting for me to click and buy and have them shipped to her -- and, if you're into that kind of thing, they do have the gift sets.

Pinecones are better at math than you are: (Cool Things I Never Learned In School, 2)

I'm still keeping track of the decline and fall of the once-proud, once-great Middleton (WI) School system. The newest update? The school was going to let students skip classes to go watch the girls' basketball team play in the state tournament -- but would still have classes for those students who did not want to watch.

The Boy wanted to go, and I told him he could go, but because he was missing physics, he'd have to do something extra to show me that he was learning physics -- because I, unlike the Middleton, WI, school district, am concerned about educating kids.

Then the Middleton, WI school district simply cancelled classes for the latter part of the day, letting kids out of school at 12:02 p.m. (Thank God they kept them there that extra two minutes.)

This is the best educators could come up with, then: The girls' basketball team is in the State tournament. Lots of kids want to watch them play. We want to support our team. Let's cancel school!

It apparently never occurred to them that they could hold the tournament after school and on weekends.

So to combat the continuing decline of the once-great Middleton, WI school system, I'm again presenting Cool Stuff I Never Learned In School. Schools may just be warehousing kids, but here at Thinking The Lions, I want to show people that learning is cool.

Learning is cool, especially, if it involves the Fibonacci numbers. A Fibonacci number is one that appears in a sequence obtained by adding the previous two numbers in the sequence. So it's:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3 (because 0 +1 =1, 1+1 = 2, 2+1=3, etc.) 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55... and so on.

What's cool about that? Besides it being an interesting way to occupy your mind while jogging, I mean?

Fibonacci sequences appear in nature: the Fibonacci sequence appears in crystals, in the structure of galaxies, and in the structure of a nautilus shell. Weirdly, sunflowers, pinecones, and pineapples grow in Fibonacci sequences: the heads of sunflowers grow in spirals of 21 and 34, or 34 and 55, or 55 and 89, or 89 and 144. Pinecones that have 8 spirals on one side invariably have 13 on the other, or 5 on one side, 8 on the other. Pineapples have 8 diagonals in one direction, and 13 in the other. All Fibonacci numbers, and if you're like me you're going to go find one of those things to check that out.

They do that in part because math describes the world around us -- it's not arbitrary, as I once believed, but a set of rules growing out of natural elements-- and in part because the world around us describes math. In this case, the Fibonacci numbers are related to fractions created by the angle in which seeds and coverings grow: seeds in a sunflower grow, and coverings on a pineapple grow, in such a manner as to have no wasted space. As each seed comes into a sunflower head, it is set at such an angle from the previous one as to make the most efficient use of space -- and that angle is dictated by the Fibonacci series.

In short: pineapples can do calculus.

I learned about this reading on my own. So:

School, 0; Reading on my own: 1.

What's this all about? Click here.

I only really ever liked his "Free Willy" song.

By now, pretty much everyone has heard that Michael Jackson is going to be doing a final tour -- 50 concerts in London in 2009 and 2010, is what I've heard -- and regardless of whether you're a fan of his or not, that's going to be one of the hottest tickets around; I guess sales have already started breaking records.

So if you ARE a fan, how do you get into that concert? Simple: Use GET ME IN! to get your Michael Jackson tickets and make sure you don't miss that opportunity.

GET ME IN! is an online secure marketplace that lets you buy and sell Michael Jackson tickets (and other concert tickets, too) and do so backed by their 100% guarantee. That 100% GET ME IN! guarantee promises that you'll get the tickets you ordered from them, that you'll get them in time for the event, and that you'll get a refund if they cancel your event without rescheduling it -- so it's no risk for you if you order through GET ME IN!

PLUS, if something falls through -- say your tickets are late -- you get a 100% refund AND a 50% credit towards a future ticket purchase.

GET ME IN! is also going to be selling U2 tickets -- starting March 20 -- so if you like "Get On Your Boots" (and I do) you'll want to bookmark the page and be ready that day.

Question Of The Day: 51

What's the latest in the year that I can wear my corduroy pants?

Cords are the only good thing about winter. That's the one bright spot in the 19+ months of winter Wisconsin has annually: I get to wear corduroys, which of course can't be worn during the summer.

Since Spring starts on March 1, but it's still cold until June, how long can I get away with wearing cords before it looks stupid?

I'm wearing them today. It's 21 degrees and there's still snow on the ground, but that calendar says March 13 and I'm thinking maybe it's too late. It can't be dependent on temperature alone, can it? Because if it is, then if the temperature drops to 40 in May, I could wear cords. But that'd be too weird.

What the heck. Let's put a song in here, too. Here's "Streamline" by Newton:

And do it now!

Why haven't you been to Branson yet? Do you have something against fun, excitement, entertainment, low prices, and quality accommodations? No, of course you don't -- you like those things, and you can get them all in Branson.

Here's just one example of how you can do that. Let's say you head down to Branson the weekend of March 27-29, 2009. You'll arrive there and check into the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel, that luxury hotel that will pamper you in style with big rooms, great views, and the fact that it's close to everything you want to do -- a hotel that is matched in its quality only by the nearby Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing.

Once checked in, you'll have to overcome the urge to simply relax in your glorious hotel room and enjoy the palatial surroundings, and instead will likely find yourself hearing over to enjoy the Young Christian's Weekend at Silver Dollar City -- concerts from Christian groups like DownHere! and Kutlass, worships, and great speakers like Joe White.

You won't get tired of that -- but if you want a change of pace, you'll take a break from that celebration and check out the river walk near your hotel -- or you'll go shopping at one of the dozens of shops and boutiques within a stone's throw of the hotel. Once you're shopped out, before heading back to the Fest, maybe take in one of the shows Branson is world-renowned for -- or see how the kids are doing at the amusement parks with their thrill rides.

Then it's dinner at one of the great restaurants they've got -- and an early bedtime, because you're teeing off early on one of the championship golf courses Branson features.

I didn't even mention the international folk music and food at World-Fest. And the Branson Air Show kicking off this year. Or the Great American Pie Show.

You'd better book a second weekend.


It's a Wonder Twins Update!

It's been a long time since I wrote about Mateo and McHale Shaw - -the twins who were born conjoined, and who were given about a 5% chance of survival... three years ago. Since that time, these boys have been getting better and better, and their parents, Ryan and Angie, have been serving as an inspiration -- raising two wonderful boys and in their "spare" (?) time helping build a an accessible playground.

So here's the latest update I gathered from their journal on Caring Bridge: McHale recently had his tonsils and adenoids out, and is recuperating by eating lots of yogurt (that probably makes surgery 20 or so for McHale); meanwhile, his brother, Mateo, took advantage of McHale's convalescence to get some one-on-one time running errands with Dad. Both boys have new wheelchairs and can get into and out of them on their own.

I'll try to be more diligent about updating, but you can always keep up with them on your own by going to "Caring Bridge." Find the box marked "Visit a Caring Bridge Website" and type "mateoandmchale" and you'll see the guestbooks, more photos, and the journal.

Mateo and McHale Shaw have used up their insurance coverage and continue to need medical care. If you'd like to help contribute to their medical bills, , send your contributions to:

Mateo and McHale Shaw Irrevocable SNT
C/O Kohler Credit Union
850 Woodlake Road
Kohler, WI, 53044.
Or, if you'd like to know more about that playground and how to help, click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Cheesecake Truck: (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, Part 1)

Last night, I found an old mixtape lying in the car. It was one I'd grabbed a long time ago from the box of old cassette tapes in the garage to bring along on a drive.

This mixtape was labeled "Honeymoon." It was the tape I'd made in the days before Sweetie and I got married, a tape I wanted to bring along on the road trip we were going to take to New York -- hence the label.

One of the things that is now more or less lost to time is the process of creating a mixtape -- the hours spent selecting the songs, deciding the order to put them in, then fastforwarding and rewinding on a dual-cassette deck to get the songs to the right part and then recording them, making it all as seamless as possible, trying to find songs to fit into that last 1.2 minute section at the end. All that time and thought to freeze in a certain order all the songs that one liked at that time and which related to the theme of the mixtape: a tape for jogging and exercise. Or a tape for the person you loved. Or a tape to take on a road trip to New York with your new wife and too little money. That moment in time, forever set this song after that song after that song, a pattern that will never change and will embed itself into your memory.

The song selection had to be just so. Put a song on there that you didn't like a week or month or year later, and it could wreck the mix, weigh it down -- cause you to not choose that tape anymore, because you didn't want to keep fastforwarding past that song, not in the days when that required more than a quick click with the thumb.

But once it was done, the mixtape served as a mnemonic device: listening to it over and over in certain situations helped cement memories in place: "I always hit this song at about mile 2, by that big hill..." or "this was for prom night," or "this was the song that was playing when we got to the scary hotel in Cleveland."

This is the story of that mixtape, and our honeymoon, song by song.

Part 1: The Cheesecake Truck:

Anyway, I decided the only thing to do would be to eat all the rest of the cheesecakes and hide the truck somewhere and leave town
And I miss everybody a lot, but I'm not very sorry,
because they were very delicious cheesecakes.

Sweetie and I began our honeymoon the way we have celebrated all important events in our life: with pizza.

We ordered a pizza for dinner, our first dinner as married people, and had it delivered to our hotel room, because we were starving. Everybody I knew had all sorts of advice for me about my wedding, about marriage, about life, but one thing that nobody told me about the whole process was this: You probably won't get to eat at your own wedding.

I didn't-- not much. We had an hors d'ouevre wedding, one of the many unpopular choices we'd made for our wedding, and one of the many things that we'd opted to do and then backed up by telling our families If you don't like it, you can pay to do something else.

We had to say that a lot. Our families were under two misimpressions, at least, about our wedding. Misimpression number 1 was that it was for them, and misimpression number 2 was that we had the money to pay for things. Neither could be more true. We had almost no money at the time. When Sweetie and I got married, on May 13, 2000, she was working as a legal secretary, and I had my own practice as a lawyer, a practice I'd opened up with an operating budget, at the start, of $900 -- that being all the money I had in my savings account in June, 1998, when I was sworn in as a lawyer. Since that time, I'd been trying to build up my practice mostly doing low-grade divorces and small cases, and taking assigned cases from the State Public Defender's office -- assignments that paid the remarkably low sum of $40 per hour and didn't pay until the end of the case, meaning that I could work and work and work and not get paid for months, or years.

On those meager earnings, we had to support not just us but also the three older kids -- Sweetie's from her first marriage -- all of which left a budget of approximately zero for the wedding.

When money is tight, you learn to do two things: First, you learn to prioritize and decide what's important and what's not. We made those decisions daily. Wedding photographer? Out. We'd buy disposable cameras and have people take pictures, and get a friend who was good with a camera to take the formal shots. Fancy reception hall? Out. We'd rent a pavillion in the park near our apartment and hold the reception outdoors. Dinner? Out: it was finger food and beer by the barrel and, under pressure from relatives, some wine provided by the caterer who would do the hors d'ouevres.

Those decisions, as they continued being made, prompted a flurry of protests and what-ifs. What if it rains? People asked. There's a roof, I told them. What if it's cold? People asked. Bring a coat, I said. What if it snows? my brother Matt asked me, to which I said If it snows, if it SNOWS on May 13, then, in that unlikely prospect, the entire wedding will simply go find a bar or restaurant to hang out at and we'll live with it.

From our moms, we heard What about decorations? My mom asked if we wouldn't like some rented trees strung with Christmas lights to dress up the park pavillion a little. You can pay for them if you want them, I told her. Candles? Flowers? Sweetie's mom asked. She got the same answer.

From my dad, in response to the news that we'd be having hors d'ouevres: People are going to expect a plate of food! That was news to me; every wedding I'd ever gone to, I'd dreaded the dinner. I've never had a good meal at a wedding, although I did like the "mashed potato bar" at one Sweetie's cousin's wedding. I said "They can fill up before they come."

And so we arrived at our wedding day, Saturday, May 13, 2000, a day that arrived clear, and sunny, and non-snowy. And so we arrived at our reception, where it continued to not snow and not rain, a reception which had been decorated, somewhat, by our families, and a reception which was filled with people who had somehow overcome their keen disappointment at not getting a plate of food. And so we spent our wedding reception having fun -- and talking, and being interrupted, and doing the wedding march, and doing our wedding dance, and dancing with the mother of the groom and mother of the bride and fathers of the groom and fathers of the bride and tossing the garter and tossing the flowers and cutting the cake, and toasts, and more
toasts, and dancing, and more dancing, and even chicken dancing, which I'd hoped we wouldn't do at my wedding but which I then decided was okay to do at a wedding because everyone else liked it, and through it all we talked to more and more people, people I didn't know, people I now barely remember, people like Sweetie's grandma, who came up to me and announced that she was the oldest person there, and people like my nieces, who wanted to dance with their uncle.

Periodically in the reception, I would go get a couple of snacks on a plate, and then would talk to my Uncle Joe, or my friend Eric, or someone on Sweetie's side, and would set the plate down, and then would have to go dance, and would forget where the plate was or forget that I had a plate, and that went on as the night wore on, as people took off their suit jackets and put on sweatshirts and continued to dance as the air grew colder, as the lights from the park pavillion shone out onto the dark wet cold grass around the park, as the snack mix and mini pizzas and egg rolls disappeared one by one, as guests began to leave, and I forgot, as things went on, that I was hungry and instead concentrated on the fact that I was having fun, and that I was married -- married to Sweetie, who laughed and danced and hugged people as she walked around in her wedding dress, the wedding dress that was her second choice.

I've always felt bad about that. To this day, I feel bad about Sweetie having to get a wedding dress that was not her first choice. She looked beautiful in it, and it was a beautiful dress, but I can't forget that it wasn't the one she really wanted. I'd prevented her, accidentally, from getting the one she first wanted.

Sweetie and my mom and possibly her mom had been looking through catalogs of dresses before our wedding, comparing them and discussing them and trying to choose, and Sweetie had asked me to look through them and see what I thought of them. I resisted, at first: I told her that it didn't matter what I thought because she was going to wear the dress and she had to like it. I said she'd look beautiful no matter what she wore, so she should choose one she liked.

But she persisted, and so I flipped through a couple of the pages and remarked on one or two that I liked, and then I opened to one page and said "Now, this, I don't like." I then went on about how I didn't like the fact that the dress was "antiqued" (their word fo
r it) because it made it look yellow and moldy and I didn't like the details on the dress and in general, I thought the dress was awful.

That was Sweetie's first choice. Had I kept my mouth shut, she'd have gotten that dress and everything would have been fine. When she told me that, I told her to get the dress anyway, and said that if she liked it, I'd like it, and that she'd look beautiful in it. I tried to convince her of the truth, and the truth was this: I didn't particularly feel strongly about ANY of the dresses; I just felt like I had to say something. Sweetie wanted opinions, so I gave her some opinions. I just as easily could have said that the dress was great -- I had just been trying to give her some feedback of any sort and I didn't know what to say.

But the damage was done, and so she'd gotten her second choice, and I watched her at our reception, glowing in the evening lights in her white dress, glowing and smiling and happy and dancing, I watched her as I talked to people and danced myself, sometimes with her and sometimes with others, and I watched her, later, as we got to the hotel where we were staying that night, watched her as she walked in still wearing her second-choice dress.

We weren't leaving for our honeymoon until the next morning, technically, but we were staying in a hotel that night and leaving the kids with Grandma back at the apartment, so that our first night as a married couple wouldn't be spent mediating fights between the girls over who was better, the Backstreet Boys or N'Sync, and wouldn't be spent chasing the hamsters that The Boy was always letting out of their cage. And we were staying at a secret hotel, one we didn't tell anyone about. We gave nobody the name of the hotel we were staying at, and we even took evasive action when we finally left the apartment and the remaining guests and kids who had left the reception and followed us home. We drove off in a random direction, and made some turns and twists before heading to our secret hotel, to make sure that we were not followed, because we didn't want hangers-on to come and insist that we keep partying, that we keep receptioning, that we not let the night end.

It was that fun of a day. It really was; nobody had wanted it to end, which is why we had to take evasive action to get away from the group of people overflowing our apartment. Nobody had gotten a full plate of food, but it hadn't snowed or rained, and the photos had been taken and the DJ had played and everyone had enjoyed a wonderful time that they never wanted to let go. "Stay around a little more," they'd said. "Come over tomorrow morning for a gift opening," they'd said. "Let's go out for drinks," they'd told us. "I think the hamsters escaped," we'd heard. To them all, we'd said, "Thanks, but we've got to get going, we're starting our honeymoon."

We wanted to be alone, on our first night as newlyweds. We wanted to enjoy a sweet, quiet, loving night together with no relatives, no guests, no kids, no hamsters.

In the dead of night, we walked into the side door of our hotel room, the honeymoon suite. Sweetie still had her dress on. I had my tuxedo shirt and pants and shoes still on. We turned on one lamp, and Sweetie looked at me and smiled and said "What do you want to do first?"

And we decided, together: order pizza.

Do you like stuff? I thought so. If you like stuff, then "The Best of Everything" is the site for you. Hilarious, thoughtful essays on pop culture, lists of The Best in any category you can imagine, and a bunch that you can't, and TBOE's own "Whodathunkit?!" all combine to make this a must-read. Where else can you find out why paying attention to Paris Hilton might destroy the universe, or which is The Best Olsen Twin, or get a ranking of the Four Best Actresses People Think Aren't Hot But Who Really Are?

Read The Best of Everything -- and submit your own nominees!

Boat Safe.

The warmer weather is coming, and that means that soon all the people around us will be getting out their boats and heading out onto the lake.

I'm not a boat guy myself, and frankly, I think I'm lucky to not be, because I see the people getting ready to go boating, and coming home from boating, and I wonder how it is that they're still alive. At times, watching them pack up to go out on the water, you'd think that the boat runs on beer and alcohol, given how much they're taking with them.

That bugs me. People think that it's okay to get drunk and go out boating. It's not. If you ask me, it's every bit as dangerous to be drunk or buzzed and zooming a boat around as it is to be driving drunk. That doesn't stop people, though: they get liquored up, hop into their boats, get more liquored up, and gun the engine until they're speeding along -- and it's only a matter of time until that boat crashes into a group of kids fishing from a rowboat, or runs over a waterskier, or hits the beach where people are swimming... and kills someone.

That's why I'm glad that people are making more of an effort to crack down on drunk boaters through more public awareness, and more enforcement of things like Boating OUI (Operating Under The Influence) laws. I've found a video, below, that tells more about it than I could in this short post, so if you're a boat person, watch the video, and then maybe just have a diet soda before you go piloting a deadly object through a crowd of people enjoying a summer day.

From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line:

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape.

1. The Cheesecake Truck.

2. Summer Nights.

3. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher.

4. Another Morning.

5. Sea of Love

6. If I Had a Million Dollars.

Pause Button: Why These Songs? (The Cheesecake Truck.)

8. Mr E's Beautiful Blues.

9. There should be a song title here but there isn't.

10. Praise You!

11. Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.

12. Why Don't You Get A Job?

13. Somebody To Love.

14.  PAUSE BUTTON: So It Turns Out The Digital Revolution Has A Few Drawbacks, Nostalgia-Wise.

15.  The length of time it feels like I'm talking about approaching the city roughly equals how long it felt like it took to GET THERE.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why am I apologizing? (Question of the Day: 50)

How long can I go on apologizing for not getting back to someone sooner before it becomes apparent that I simply don't get back to people sooner, and my apology is exposed as insincere?

I am, unlike everyone in the world, not overly impressed by the telephone or the e-mail. In my opinion, immediacy does not equal urgency. The fact that you can contact me right now doesn't mean that I want to talk to you right now.

You know, people send a letter, and I get that letter, and read it, and make a note to reply to it when I can / when I need to. And everyone in the world is okay with that. But someone leaves me a phone message, and I get that, and make a note to call them back when I can / when I need to, and they -- along with most people I know -- are shocked. E-mail is the same. People are constantly confounded by the fact that I can read an e-mail and then not immediately reply to it.

So I started saying to people things like Sorry I didn't call you back sooner, or sorry I didn't email you sooner, but then, one day, I realized (a) that's insincere, and (b) the other person, if I've talked to them before, knows it's not sincere, and (c) why should I have to call them back sooner? If someone calls me today and leaves a message and it's not urgent, and I call them, say, Saturday or Sunday, why am I apologizing?

After all: they called me when it was convenient for them. So am I not allowed the same luxury, of talking to them when it's convenient for me?

So if you call me or e-mail me: I'll get back to you when I can/ when I need to. And I'm not sorry.

We're Americans. We can do this.

It's easy, these days, to get feel lost or down or despairing; all that hope that President Obama packed with him and took to Washington seems to be in short supply, and there's a lot of pessimism about where the country is, and where it's going. Financial troubles, wars, health care problems... people are starting, I think, to doubt the American ideal.

It's time, therefore, to remind people about what I originally said over on The Best Of Everything: feeling patriotic that day, listening to "The Hold Steady" and caught up in the fun and patriotism of the Independence Day we'd just celebrated, I reviewed how I'd first come to know what it means to be an American. How I phrased it was:

An American decides, in the face of a flood, to lift the ground he stands on.

That was true in the Galveston Flood. It was true since then, and it's true now. When Americans see waters rising, we don't flee. We don't learn to swim. We don't build a dam. We simply make the ground higher.

I don't know why people don't still believe that, or why most people, at least, don't believe it. This is a country that began its existence by beating the then-greatest world power. We then marched across the continent -- in some cases digging by hand through mountains. We won not one, but two world wars. We walked on the moon.

Financial crisis? Foreclosures? Health insurance costs? Are any of those more difficult to tackle than landing a spaceship on the moon? Than digging through mountains?

Are any of them more difficult to tackle than raising the surface of an island so that it doesn't flood?

I'm amazed that people think these problems are something to despair about, or that they are intractable. They are complicated. They are expensive. Sure. But they're nothing to get upset over. They are simply something to look at, and to roll up our sleeves, and to say, as Americans have always done: Well, let's get going on this.

So when you look at the news on the front page, when you listen to the reporters talking about the gloom, don't insist that we cover only "good" news. Don't turn away from the troubles. Don't opt to page over to the comics. Instead, take a glance at the American flag you fly outside your house -- you do fly one, don't you? -- and square your shoulders off, and begin lifting the ground we all stand on.

Calvin said "krakow! krakow!" but I think he was wrong. (Commutation 9)

This morning, to overcome my annoyance at people turning left, stopping randomly, and otherwise being dumb during the morning rush hour -- and they were dumb; I left 15 minutes earlier than usual and still got to work at the same exact time I always do, making the time I leave for work an entirely moot point now -- I tried to come up with a sound effect for deleting emails.

I settled on the sound effects I used to use for a laser when I was a kid: vrzshew! vrzshew!. It would be way more fun to work in an office if, when I hit "delete" on an email, my computer made that sound.

To answer the obvious question: yes, I then made that sound aloud a few times on the way into work, and no, it was not because I was pretending to shoot lasers at the other commuters. I just liked the sound.

Also: Why is it so hard to find good images of laser guns shooting? The Internet is created by people who eat, sleep, and breath Star Wars -- but I still have to do 10 minutes of searching to find an image to go with this post? That image is the best one I could find -- and that was found by googling "Star Wars Laser Guns Shooting." I think the the rest of the world needs to get on the ball, here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mixtape: 10 Songs I Can Play On Piano (And One I WIsh I Could)

10 Songs I Can Actually Play On The Piano, and One I Wish I Could:

I was watching The Colbert Report last night and he had on a singer who started out her song by playing something that might have been an accordion and might have been a harmonium – I’m not sure which – but it was very very neat, and the song was very very neat, too, and it did that thing that all great music does to me: It made me want to be able to play that song myself.

I can’t. But I can play these.

“Rage Over A Lost Penny:” Beethoven:

I learned about a bazillion Beethoven songs as a kid taking piano lessons, including the biggies like the Fifth Symphony and the Ninth Symphony and "Fuur Elise" but this was always my favorite:

“Piano Man:” Billy Joel:

I never cared much for the song itself -- but I like to play it and sing it and pretend I'm the Piano Man.

“Toccata and Fugue In D Minor:” Bach.

I know this by heart. It's a great song to know by heart. If you play piano and "accidentally" let it slip that you play piano when you see one, and people ask you to play something, you've got to wow them. This one does. It's the only song that I can play that makes me feel like a real pianist. (And when I say that fast, I smirk.)

“Heart and Soul:” From “Big”

To most people it's a duet. I never had anybody around to play it. So I taught myself how to play both parts.

“The Entertainer:” Scott Joplin.

My dad wanted me to learn this one because it's in "The Sting." I never watched the movie. But I do like ragtime, now. "Maple Leaf Rag" is better, but harder.

“Moonlight Sonata:” Beethoven

I had to have two Beethovens in here. I probably could have made the whole list Beethovens but then nobody would have gone on reading it.

“Bohemian Rhapsody:” Queen.

I suddenly realized, one day, listening to a horrible choir rendition of this song at one of the kids' concerts, that I could probably play this on piano. So I got the sheet music and learn't myself how to do just that. I have not yet convinced the kids to join me in singing it but I like to do the "I see a little silhouette-o of a man" part.

“Chariots of Fire:” Vangelis

Another one I know by heart. After I knock 'em down with "Toccata and Fugue," this mellows things out a bit.

“Music Box Dancer,” Frank Mills:

And a third one to know by heart. It's actually not that hard -- the piano bits are just the same thing repeated over and over. Shh! Don't tell anyone.

“Theme From Hill Street Blues:”

I never even watched the show, so some of the poignancy is lost on me. To the world, it's a song about the mean streets of "Some City" where "Some Cops" did "Some Cop Stuff." To me, it's the song I learned in the piano alcove at Mrs. Loppnow's house across from the church.

And the song I wish I COULD Play:

“I Don’t Know:” By Lisa Hannigan:

That one story about the pants was a little creepy, okay, but in a good way...

Baby clothes can be so random and meaningless. I go through the baby and now toddler section of stores looking for clothes that are cool and fun, and what's out there? Camoflage, trucks, tools, and long underwear with sailboats on it.

Sailboats? Tools? These are my kids. The odds that they will ever sail a boat, or know how to properly use a tool are slim. Slim to none.

The odds, though, that they will be well-versed in making up words, rhyming things, nonsensical phrases, and other miscellany, are such that they approach certainty, and they need clothing that reflects who they are and how they are being raised (respectively: "Mr F and Mr Bunches," and "with a minimum of discipline and a maximum of access to chocolate chip cookies.")

I was about to despair, and then I found: The Retro Baby, a site that sells baby clothes -- but baby clothes that are way more awesome than the kind I can find in the stores. Baby clothes that, for example, reference Dr. Seuss -- like this one:

EVERYONE loves Dr. Seuss. Or at least I do, and Mr F and Mr Bunches do, and who cares about the rest of you -- they're the ones wearing the clothes and I'm the one paying for them, so our opinions count.

I was looking through those clothes, and I wanted to buy them ALL. The Circus McGurkus, Horton Hears a Who, One Fish, Two Fish -- just seeing the drawings cracked me up and made me recall those stories instantly, stories and rhymes that I know by heart and read almost nightly to the boys. Forget tools, sailboats, camoflage (that stuff doesn't work anyway -- I can ALWAYS find them) -- I'm dressing Mr F and Mr Bunches exclusively in Dr. Seuss gear from The Retro Baby from here on out. At least until they're old enough for the superhero gear.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ninety Four: Part Ten: Wherein I Talk More About The Time I Was A Lead Singer Than I Do About 1994.

I have done many things in life to advance my career, most of them nontraditional.

Prior to going to Washington, D.C., I primarily tried to advance my career through the nontraditional (and nonsuccessful) means of "not working very hard at all." Through 1994, I had the following jobs:

McDonald's. Dishwasher at Chenequa Country Club. Dishwasher at Denny's Restaurant. Burger King, stockboy at J.C. Penney's, assembly line worker, cook at pizza restaurant, gas station attendant, political activist (I mentioned that one already), waiter, dishwasher at "Coffee Trader" restaurant, usher at movie theater, and sandwich maker at Subway restaurant.

And through 1994, I had lost those jobs for these reasons, respectively:

Called in sick to go out with friends. Club closed for the winter, needed new work. Quit because manager wouldn't give me off for prom night. Quit because I didn't like working for my brother Matt. Quit because I didn't like working. Quit because I was bored. Quit because... well, for no good reason. Quit when I moved to Milwaukee and the drive was too long to make it worthwhile. Quit because I didn't like it. Quit after one morning waiting because one of the customers was drunk at 8 a.m. and it really annoyed me to wait on him. Quit, but I don't remember why, and for "usher" and "sandwich maker," I left those jobs because I went to Washington.

Something changed in Washington, because since then, I've had (relatively) fewer jobs. Since 1994, I've worked as a tutor, as an intake interviewer for a correctional program, as a -- a something or other, I'm not sure what, at a computer company (I think it was a computer company), as a "tenant counselor" in Madison, as a law clerk at two government offices and a firm, and then I had my own practice before joining the firm where I now work. And each of those jobs I only left because it was time to move on -- I was either physically moving or had become qualified for another, better-paying job through school or work.

Except for the job as a law clerk at the firm. I thought they were going to hire me on and keep me there. I was pretty sure about that because they'd talked to me many times about my plans when I graduated, what kind of law I'd like to practice (real answer: Criminal defense. Answer I more or less gave them: "What is it you practice here, again? I like that.") and, in general, had done everything but put my name on the letterhead. That's why I was excited when I was called into one of the partner's offices one morning in May, just a month before graduation and two months before I'd be sworn in as a lawyer.

Yes, they swear in lawyers. We take an oath. I'm not sure what we promise; I wasn't paying attention. The only oath I can ever remember is Green Lantern's oath:

In brightest day
In blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might
Beware my power:
Green Lantern's Light!

So let's just say that I was a month away from graduation and two months away from vowing to defend my sector of the universe from evil, and a partner at the firm, Jean, called me in to talk with me.

"Well," she said.

"Well," I said.

"So, have you given any thoughts to what your plans are after graduation?" she asked me. I relaxed a little. The sky was blue, the air was warm, I would soon be making more than $10 per hour and I might be able to afford to upgrade my automobile from the Ford Festiva which I loved but which was not adequate transportation for the guy destined to be the hottest new lawyer in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

"Well, not really. I don't have anything lined up," I said. It was true. In law school, there is "interviewing season," the time when law firms come to the schools and people can request interviews with them, sit down for an interview, and hope to get picked as a clerk or lawyer. I had not interviewed with many firms. There was one that I had been interested in, in my second year, and so I signed up for an interview with them. I don't remember the firm. I do remember the interview. The interviewer was a prototypical young lawyer: double-breasted suit, striped shirt with white collar, tie with a tie pin or whatever those things are. If this had been the 1980s, he'd have been a bond trader, but this was the 90s, so he was a junior lawyer at a law firm. (In the 2000s, he'd have been a mortgage banker.)

We chatted a bit and he looked over my resume. He asked about a few classes and extracurricular activities -- at that time, my resume listed that I had been the pitcher on our law school softball team my first year. That's quite a feather in one's cap-- and then said this:

"I see you're not on Law Review."

Which wasn't entirely true. There was, at the University of Wisconsin Law School, both a "Law Review" and a "Law Revue."

The first, the "Review" was a very prestigious (?) position for law students in which the students got to research esoteric topics of law and public policy, then write stuffy articles explaining footnote 17 to the UCC Commentary on section 9-212 as it's interpreted by the Louisiana Courts of Chancery and argue for an adoption, instead, of the premise instituted by the Treaties for Humane Treatment of Stockyards Postulate 12. These articles would be published periodically in the "Law Review" and then ignored by everyone but professors and other students on the Law Review, and occasionally picked up by a lawyer desperate for something, anything, to argue in a case.

My boss at the firm where I was almost, but not quite, hired, explained it to me this way once, when I wrote him a memo reciting some law review articles and other "public policy" arguments. He called me into his office and asked why I was arguing "public policy." I explained that by arguing "public policy" we could urge the courts to adopt our position because the mainstream of society would benefit from such a position, and that rule of common law would then help our client win this trial.

He looked at me and said, with all seriousness: "If you're arguing public policy, you've already lost." Then he made me go do actual research.

So my view of the "Law Review" was not a great one -- I never tried to be on it, and I never cared who was on it. But "Law Review" was, nonetheless, a great honor, a big deal, kind of like being first in your class (only the UW didn't use class rankings like that.) It was the writing-equivalent of having a white collar on a striped shirt.

I was a clever fellow, though, and so when White Collar asked me about "Law Review," I had three options:

Option One: Simply say "No" and move on.

Option Two: Try to turn it around and make it a plus that I wasn't on Law Review.

Option Three: Make a joke of it and tell him that, no, I was on "Law Revue" and ask him if he'd like to see the dance I did with my song.

That was the other Law Revue, the one I was on two years running. Each year, the law students would get together and put on a comedy variety show...

... you're going to love this...

... in which they did skits and played songs... about law school, and how funny law school was.

There were skits about taking exams, and "hang files" and the renovation of the law school, and how boring Ethics class was, and the songs! Oh, the songs! Songs like Palay, the name of a professor -- sung to the tune of Today, by Smashing Pumpkins. God, I'm cracking up just thinking about it. I bet you are, too, unless you are sane.

I didn't do comedy skits. I did join the band, though, as a singer, and I sung. I sung that song, Palay, for example. I also did Good, which was a takeoff on Better Than Ezra's Good, only our song was about how good it had been being in a different building for classes while the law school was being renovated.

See, it was sarcastic; we didn't really think it was good, at all -- so we were turning the whole concept of good on its head, as only clever law students could.

I also did Summer Nights, from Grease, as a duet with a student named Joy, and my big number, the one I was most proud of, was Life During Law School, a song set to the tune of Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads, only with law school-centric lyrics like:

I've got a backpack that's
Loaded with textbooks
Packed up and ready to go.
Heard of a school that's
Under renovation.
A place where nobody goes.

I can't remember all the lyrics, but you get the idea. It captured the groovy paranoia that was the essence of Life During Wartime, but in a totally classroom/notetaking/job interviewing way.

And I not only wrote that -- spending over an hour on it, instead of my Constitutional Law reading one day -- but I performed that, live, and did an awesome dance. Well, awesome for me, considering that I dance like an oak tree, only I'm a little more self-conscious about my dancing than an oak tree would be. I assume an oak tree would be a little apologetic about the whole thing, dancing but also looking at you like I'm sorry I dance this way, but I am, after all, a tree, whereas I am a lot apologetic when I dance. But the dance in the Law Revue when I did my Talking Heads song was entirely spontaneous.

I thought about those three options for a moment in my interview for the job, and decided that no matter how well I sung those songs (and I was awesome, far far more awesome than the time I auditioned as lead singer for a band when I was a freshman in college and did Johnny B. Goode and You Really Got Me. I'm far more of an indie rocker. And John Travolta impersonator) no matter how great I was, it was unlikely to get me the job. So I tried a little interview judo, instead, and said something to the effect of no, I didn't try for Law Review, because I don't really see how it's helpful. In my schooling, I've tried to focus on more practical classes and study programs and internships, because I think those prepare me to be a practicing lawyer, whereas Law Review doesn't really lend itself to anything that's helpful in practice.

To which White Collar replied "I was the editor of my Law Review."

That interview lasted about another minute. I never heard from them again.

The only other place I interviewed at during law school interview season was with Ford Motor Company. I don't even remember the interview. I was talking to someone outside the interview room, and the interviewer came out and called someone's name, and that person didn't respond. After a few minutes, the interviewer said "Well, it looks like he's not showing up. Anyone want to be interviewed?" So I went in and was interviewed, because I had time to kill.

Later I got a rejection from them. It wasn't even a letter. It was a 3x4 postcard that had my name and address typed on the front. On the back, this was written:

Dear Sir/Madam/Applicant:

Thank you for your interest in our _______________position. We regret to inform you that your skills did not meet our present needs. We will keep your application/resume/cv on file with us.

It wasn't signed, and they hadn't filled in the blank. Also, I hadn't ever given the interviewer my resume. I wondered why they bothered.

But I didn't worry about interviewing because I was pretty certain I was going to be hired by the firm I was clerking at; certain right up until the moment that Jean told me I wasn't. She continued our little talk in her office by saying:

"When do you graduate?"

I said at the end of May, and expected her to start talking about benefits, or salaries, or a new desk, maybe, and instead, she said:

"Do you think you could have your desk cleared out before then?"

It turns out they weren't hiring me; they were hiring a guy who'd clerked there before me, a guy who had actual experience and wore a suit more often than I did, a guy who had the job that I had thought I had.

It made me glad, right at that moment, that I had accidentally erased a program they needed off of the firm's hard drives. I would have thought that they might have not hired me because of that, but I never told them that I was the one who did it. I played dumb.

They weren't done with me, either -- Jean said they'd like to take me out to lunch as a treat for doing such good work for them for a year and a half, and I agreed, even though all I could think was screw you, I oughtta head home and start looking for a way to pay my rent in a month. Then Jean said "But we're really busy, so can you come up the week after you graduate?"

And I did, too -- but not because of Jean, or the lunch she bought me (nobody else from the firm came with me.) I did it because I was dating Sweetie, who was a secretary at the firm and who later moved away and quit that firm. So let that be a lesson to those who overlook or underestimate me: I'll get you back. I won't necessarily, in the future, get you back by stealing a secretary and marrying her, because I'm married and also because I don't like to repeat my revenge, but I will get you back.

It did bother me that they didn't hire me, since by then I was a pretty good employee and also had done all those things that are supposed to be career builders, like show up for work on the day after Thanksgiving (one of only two times I've worked that day in my whole adult life) and wear ties and be reasonably punctual, and all that had left me unemployed a month before graduation, unemployed with several hundred thousand dollars of student loans looming, and no real idea how to find a job whatsoever.

I've never really had to find a job; I didn't have to go looking for many jobs, even given the number of jobs I've had in my life. They were offered to me because people I knew worked there, or I walked past the place and saw a sign on the door, or I got them because I was a work-study student, or by being the only person willing to commute an hour to get to the firm I was clerking at (the one that didn't hire me) and, in one memorable turn of events, I got a job because a girl the interviewer thought was hot talked to me.

That job was the job at the governor's office, where I interned in the Office of Pardons and Extraditions, a job that sounds far more fascinating than it was. The Office of Pardons and Extraditions worked under the Governor's Legal Counsel, and I was not extremely welcome there because the Legal Counsel, as I noted earlier, was convinced that I was secretly a Democrat. I didn't get hired by him, though. I got hired by my friend Jeff, who was the actual person in charge of the Office of Pardons and Extraditions.

I will just say this right out, now: I don't really know what the Office of Pardons and Extraditions, did, either. Other than the fast food restaurants, I have never really known what it is the companies I worked for did. I mentioned the computer company, the one that I think was a computer company. That's an excellent example of what I'm talking about -- and what I'm talking about is my ability to somehow get hired at jobs that I am completely unqualified for and completely uninterested in, and then somehow stay there for a while.

The computer company, if it was that, was a summer job before I went to law school, in between graduation and law school in 1995. I started working there because my jobs tutoring political science and statistics ended with the school year, and, having a college degree and all, I didn't feel like going back to work at Subway. So I temped, and my temping involved working at only two places. The first was one day in a print/copy room at an engineering firm (where I still didn't meet any civil engineers.) The next day I was sent to the computer company to take the place of a woman who was leaving on maternity leave.

"You have computer skills?" the temp boss asked me on the phone. I said yes, because I did -- I had worked on a computer in Washington, D.C. and also I had written a bunch of short stories on the computers at the computer lab at UW-Milwaukee.

So if you ever doubt the power of an internship to get a job down the line, remember that my internship got me a job temping at a computer company. I went there the next day and Maternity Leave worker showed me my desk, and the computer I would be working on, and introduced me to people like Kevin, the programmer whose idea of "Casual Friday" was ripped black jeans and heavy metal shirts, and Randall, the guy in sales that I would go outside and smoke with as often as I could. I am not, as I sit here, sure that his name was "Randall" but I think it was, and he also in my memory kind of looks like "Randall" from Clerks.

Here is, then, everything I remember about that job: There were a bunch of those little 3 1/2 inch floppy disks in a cabinet behind my desk, and I think that my job was to catalog them and enter them into a spreadsheet. Beyond that, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. None at all. And I did nothing, really. Nothing, quite literally, including the day that I crashed my computer by having it play every single screensaver in serial form.

My computer, I'd found, would rotate among all the screen savers it had, and it had about 35 of them. I quickly discovered how to set it so that it would play about 2 seconds of each screen saver, and then flip to the next one, then the next. So it was flying toasters pipes, 3d images, bouncing balls, words and phrases and so on.

As you can guess, to get the screen savers to come on, and then flip through all of them in a row, I had to be very careful never to use my computer at all. But I was fascinated by the screen saver random assortment, and I never got tired of looking at it and wondering which one would pop up next, how far the pipes would get before being erased in favor of the fish -- and I never got tired of tinkering with that, trying to speed it up and make it better, until one day I locked up the computer and had to get my boss, the head boss, Evert, to come help me.

He was pretty cool about it. He never said anything about it, or about my performance, at all, until on my last day there I was having lunch with him and he said "Let me ask you something. You don't know anything about computers at all, do you?"

I said "Nope."

He said "Have fun in law school." And he paid for lunch. I liked Evert. Plus, he was super-tall. He was about 7 feet tall. I respected that and I never once asked him if he used to play basketball.

So it should be no surprise that I also didn't know what the "Office of Pardons and Extraditions" did, other than "maybe something to do with paroles and extraditions." I really had no duties there. With the Legal Counsel in charge, the next-in-command was Jeff, the friend who'd hired me. Jeff was the guy who ran the office. He processed Extraditions, or something, he made up packets of warrants and sealed them and downloaded things and printed things and made phone calls. He also chided me for not being good at sealing envelopes. He never let me actually process an extradition or parole, although I did get to attend a Pardon Board hearing once -- sitting where the public sat. Only there was nobody there except the people seeking pardons, and me. I was the Public.

Gubernatorial pardons were a very regimented thing, I learned. Someone who wanted the governor to pardon him or her would not just write a letter. There were applications to be filled out, references to check, and then, ultimately, the Pardon Board, a group of appointees, would hold a public hearing to which the person had to come and testify about why they needed a pardon. Pardons were given only for "need," and only if the person demonstrated not just that they needed a pardon, but that they'd earned it in some way, too. The "need" criteria seemed especially tough; nobody needs a pardon, as far as I could tell. They want them. They would like them. But they don't need them, unless they are a former president who has resigned and gone off to San Clemente. After you've done your time (that was one of the criteria - -your sentence had to be completed) and gone back to the community, what good if a pardon? It doesn't erase the crime. It doesn't seal the records. You're still a convicted criminal; you just get to say that you've been pardoned, too.

But those lofty concerns were not mine. Instead, I watched the proceedings mutely, and then later on, got to run the Autopen and hold letters under it while a machine signed the Governor's signature. The Autopen was neat; it's an actual pen in a little machine that actually moved and signed the Governor's name, the same, more or less, every time, onto warrants and documents and papers and letters. I didn't, and don't, understand why there was an autopen, instead of, say, a stamp, but it seemed to make a difference to the kind of people who want to make sure that there are distinctions made for no apparent reason. To me, in either case -- stamp or Autopen-- the Governor didn't actually sign it; but to people who need to make those kind of distinctions, there was a difference of some sort there, and so the State of Wisconsin had an Autopen that would sign Tommy Thompson's name, an autopen that sometimes a lowly law student had access to.

(In case you are wondering, no, I do not have a pile of Pardons ready to go for me and my friends. But I considered that.)

I only wanted the Pardons and Extraditions job because I thought it would help me get a foot into the door of government. By then, I was thinking still about politics and government, having abandoned my plans of traveling for a living, and I thought if I could go work for the governor, that might be the key to getting into politics - -the very key that "Rob Day For Congress" had turned out not to be (he'd finished fifth in the primary, and as far as I know, Kurt never got a date.)

So I interviewed with Jeff, sitting in the lounge area of the temporary law school building, and the interview, I think, was not going particularly well, until a girl I knew named Michelle came over and said "Hi" to me and briefly leaned over and talked about going out for drinks that night with a bunch of the others, and then when I said "I'm in the middle of something, here," said she was very sorry and that she'd talk to me later, and left.

And Jeff said "Who was that?"

I said "Oh, it's just a girl I know."

"Friend of yours?" he said.

"We're not, like, dating, or anything," I told him.

"So, who's all going out for drinks?" he asked.

I thought about that and said "I don't know. Want to meet up?"

A few days later, I was being talked to by the Legal Counsel himself.

As attempts to get a job go, it was an improvement over the method I'd started when I was in Washington, D.C., the year before. The method I'd started back in 1994 was this: write letters. I began, when I was in D.C., writing letters to anyone and everyone I could who I thought might have an interesting job and/or be able to help me get an interesting job. And I didn't just ask about jobs -- although I did a lot of that, writing to NASA to ask how to become an astronaut or get into the space program, writing to the CIA to find out how to become a spy. Some of them wrote back, too.

I expanded out, as I said, writing to people who I just wanted to meet. I wrote to the White House and asked how one got picked to go jogging with the President. I wrote to Justice Antonin Scalia, asking if I could meet him. I wrote to anyone I could think of, asking them about their job and how they got it and how I might get a job like that, or simply meet them.

I did those things, writing to people, in part for the same reason I was in D.C. in the first place: I was curious, and I wanted to find things out. I'd lived my whole life up until then in a small part of a small state and had no real idea what was out there in the world, how people got where they were, what people did. I never seemed to know, at all, what was going on -- and everyone else around me did. Everyone else around me seemed to know all the tricks to life, all the tricks that I didn't know. How to tie a tie (I didn't know how to properly tie a tie until the summer of 2000, when my dad noticed how I was tying my tie and said I was doing it wrong and showed me the right way to do it; up until that time, my ties were always crooked and left-handy.) How to get jobs. How to travel. How to meet people. How to find your way from a train station in Washington D.C. to your dorm. How to do the stuff at their job -- I didn't have any idea what I was supposed to be doing for Pinkerton, any more than I'd ever before -- or for a long time after -- had any idea what I was supposed to be doing at any job.

So I was desperate to find out. I wanted more than anything to find out as much as I could while this little sojourn from my other life was going on.

That, and I never had anyone show me how to do anything. Not that my parents didn't try, but I wasn't the best at learning. I didn't want people to show me things or do things for me, ever, in my life. My mom likes to tell about how when I was very young, I wouldn't let her tie my shoes. I insisted on tying my own shoes, and did it horribly (much like I would later, with my tie) until I finally got it right.

That's how I'd lived my life, up until 1994 and during 1994. I wanted to do things on my own, to find them out for myself. I rejected efforts to tell me how to do things, show me how to do things, and instead tried to figure out ways to do them on my own.

That can be an exhilarating way to go through life -- because you achieve things you might never have if you listened to people. If I'd listened to counselors tell me that I couldn't get into UW, I'd never have tried and the world wouldn't have been treated to Life During Law School. If I'd listened to people who said You can't just write to a Supreme Court Justice and ask to meet him, well, then, I'd never have spent a very pleasant hour chatting with Justice Scalia.

But it's also exhausting. It's exhausting, making up your life as you go along.