Saturday, April 22, 2006

Guest Blogger: Jay Shatz

Jay Shatz was born and raised in Rogers Park...which means he's a Northsider and lifelong Cubs fan. He and his partner Stan own "JayTV", a television production company which produces (he wanted me to say "executive produces") several shows for the DIY network (about 200 hours of home and garden programming a year), including "The Garden Sense." This summer they'll start shooting a new show called "Desperate Landscapes."

Before founding JayTV six years ago, Jay was a television news reporter for seventeen years in Peoria and Cincinnati, as well as the General Manager of WPGU radio in Champaign. I was his program director and afternoon host there. We were both young and stupid (21). This picture was taken in 1984 at a radio convention in Los Angeles that Jay somehow convinced the radio station we should attend. It's the only time I've ever been to L.A.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "What a good idea to ask a man who executive produces garden shows to guest blog on Earth Day." Yes, that's true. Unfortunately, Jay wanted to guest blog about me...which he noted none of the other guest bloggers had yet done. (P.S. Despite what he says below, I've never contracted any sort of sexually transmitted disease)

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

By Jay Shatz

Like most men in their forties, I’ve discovered time has a way of thinning your hair and your circle of friends. The trick in mid-life is to hold onto both.

In the grand scheme of things, my friendship with Rick Kaempfer has been relatively easy to sustain. We see each other once every 8 years. It’s seems like a nice pace. As college buddies the odds are against us keeping in touch. By now, one of us should have died in a tragic boating accident, or worse, voted Republican.

We met and bonded 25 years ago in the basement studios of WPGU-FM. It was a time of innocence and nicknames. Rick called me “Dr. J” and I called him “A Nasty, Angry Midget of a Nazi”. As General Manager of Rock 107, I wisely selected Rick to be my program director. That meant he got laid while I got my hands on petty cash. For much of our senior year, Rick battled Chlamydia as I paid off my student loans.

My favorite photo from those days shows both of us smiling and drunk, trolling for jobs at a media convention in Los Angeles. Rick has the sly, mischievous grin that would open doors to big radio producing gigs while I’m wearing a tight pair of black parachute pants that would eventually get me into every bar on Halstead without paying a cover.

Our paths after college veered in very different directions. Rick struggled to gain his footing , blinded perhaps by the glare off the 9 Emmys I collected in a meteoric rise as a television reporter. I rarely saw Rick, but delighted in hearing his voice on my answering machine begging for career advice or at the very least, a return phone call.

Loyal readers of this blog pretty much know how things ended up. Rick shook off the sexually transmitted diseases and settled down to a great career and even better family life.. With a wonderful wife and 3 cute kids, he’s now a poster child for fatherhood and anti-biotics.

Through it all, our friendship has stayed on schedule. We met last September for a Cubs game joined by college buddies and fellow bloggers Dane Placko and Dave Stern. At first, I was deeply touched they shared their valuable 6th row box seats at Wrigley Field. But I quickly remembered how cheap the trio is and not prone to idol acts of kindness. My guess is the Cubs offer season ticket holders a discount for bringing a minority to a game. Because I’m a Gay Jew, they hit the jackpot and I probably saved them a fortune.

Before leaving, my three old friends spoke of breaking the 8 year wait by returning to Wrigley Field this season. Rick suggested I join them for what he promises will be “Ricky Martin Bobblehead Day”. I’m not sure if that’s an invitation or insult. But trust me, I’ll be there, wearing my parachute pants and a smile.

If you missed any of the other guest bloggers (who were much nicer to me), click here:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

From the Archives: Applying for Commissioner of Baseball

In 1997, after Commissioner Faye Vincent had been forced to resign as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and Bud Selig had taken over on an interim basis, Selig announced that baseball was looking for a full-time commissioner.

The Bald Handbook co-author Dave Stern thought it would be funny to send in a letter applying for the job. This is the letter he sent:

To Whom it May Concern:

It has come to my attention that you and your colleagues are currently in search of a new commissioner of baseball. You have stated the ideal candidate should be an expert in marketing, television, and labor and have the strong presence to preside over all ceremonial functions. Allow me to address each of your concerns point by point.

*As you see from my enclosed resume, I was the marketing manager of a Kinkos in Champaign.

*My experience is television is vast. Among my (viewing) credits, M*A*S*H, The Donna Reed Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. I particularly enjoyed the episode where Danny Thomas played Kolak from the planet Twilow.

*My experience in labor is equally extensive. I have rented (and even watched it once) Norma Rae several times. I also worked in a rubber stamp factory in high school, which involved a great deal of manual labor.

*As far as a strong presence during ceremonial events, my excellent performance opening the Ark at my niece's Bat Mitzvah and breaking the glass at my wedding are among my all-time highlights. Videos available upon request.

Finally, I feel my greatest asset is my name. Imagine if both the NBA and MLB had commissioners named "David Stern"! That's the kind of free publicity you couldn't buy.


David Stern

P.S. My baseball knowledge is also superb. My 120-42 record in Sega Genesis speaks for itself.

The funniest part of this story, is that he actually got a few responses. First from Bud Selig himself.

Dear Mr. Stern:

Thank you for your recent letter.

I appreciate your interest in the Commissioner's job and I will certainly share your letter with members of the Commissioner Serach Committee which has just been convened.

Thank you for taking time to write to me and for your interest in Major League Baseball.


Allan H. Selig, Chairman
Major League Executive Council

He also got a letter from the office of Peter O'Malley, the President of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dear Mr. Stern:

Peter O'Malley is currently out of town, but I know he will appreciate your thoughtful letter which arrived this morning. We are grateful to you for taking the time to write and we believe that baseball will soon identify a full-time, outside, independent commissioner and restore the public's confidence in the game.

Best Wishes.

Tasha Duncan
Administrative Assistant to Peter O'Malley

We followed Dave's quest on the John Landecker show, and thought it was quite humorous, but to me, the funniest response came a month later from Heidrick and Struggles, Executive Search Consultants. Obviously Dave's name had been passed along to them by Peter O'Malley and Bud Selig.

Dear Mr. Stern:

Thank you very much for your interest in the postiion of Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

At this stage, many candidates are under consideration for this poition. We will share your credentials with the appropriate individuals and will contact you should we need further information.

Again, thank you for your interest.


Theodore Jadick
Managing Partner

Needless to say, Dave didn't get the job.

It is a little easier to see, however, why Bud Selig took the job himself.

UPDATE: Earlier today Dave applied for the job of White House Spokesperson. We'll let you know what they say.

If you missed any previous From the Archives, click here:

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Suburban Man: Road Trip

By Rick Kaempfer

When you know you’re going to be driving for twenty four hours with three children under ten years old, you take precautions. We brought along everything we could think of to keep them occupied. Among the things packed into the minivan:

*A VCR with ten movies
*Three handheld video games
*Three sets of headphones so Dad doesn’t have to hear anything
*A cooler full of drinks and food
*A backpack full of toys, books, and games for each boy
*My sister

We had three boys and three adults. We had entertainment and food. We left at 3:00 in the morning so that they could sleep for the first three hours. Everything went like clockwork, right?

Um, not exactly.

But just to give you an idea of how low my expectations were, even though we had one #2 emergency at the worst possible time, and one carsickness barfing in the middle of nowhere, I still consider this trip a complete success.

Let’s start with the success stories.

1. Headphones

I strongly recommend them. The boys watched two Pokemon movies (which normally would have made my skin crawl), but I didn’t have to hear a thing except for an occasional Johnny laugh accompanied by a euphoric “OH MEOWTH! YOU CRACK ME UP!”

2. Word Games

We played word games through most of Indiana on the way home. The biggest hit was the game in which you have to start the next word by the last letter of the preceding word. I was very impressed by Tommy and Johnny’s vocabulary. In fact, Tommy knocked me out of the game by giving me something like fifty consecutive words ending in “K.” A fourth grader shouldn’t be able to outwit his father.

Other things didn’t go quite as well...

1. The 3:00 in the morning departure time

This sounded like such a good idea, but two things didn’t go as planned. One: the boys were so excited about vacation they didn’t go to sleep. Sean’s eyes were wide open the whole time. Two: Even though I got up at this time every day for ten years, I hadn’t done it in almost three years. By 9:00 A.M. I was the only one who wanted to sleep. Bridget had to drive a few hours while I took a nap.

2. All of our toys/games/activities/books can cause carsickness

Somewhere in the middle of rural Georgia, I looked in the rearview mirror at Johnny and he was unbelievably pale. “Do you feel OK?” I asked. “No,” he told me. Bridget sprinted into the backseat with a plastic baggie—but she was moments too late for the first gush. The rest of his breakfast, however, was thankfully captured. We pulled off at the next exit and added thirty minutes to our trip by cleaning off the seat and his pants, and finding something else for him to wear.

Interesting sidenote: Even in rural Georgia, the convenience stores are run by people who sound like Apu in The Simpsons.

3. Even potty-trained 3 year olds won’t “go” at public bathrooms

We had to stop for gas in rural Indiana and all three boys were ordered to take care of business at the gas station. The two older boys did as they were told, but the youngster took one look at the bathroom and declared that he didn’t need to. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked. “I’m sure, Dad,” he said. I knew we only had about three hours to go before we made it home, so I decided to avoid a confrontation. I gambled.

I lost the gamble. We had just started driving on the soon-to-be torn up Dan Ryan Expressway, when Sean’s stomach pains made him start crying out.

“I have to poop!” he said.

We were still an hour away from home. His painful cries let us know there was no way he could make it all the way home, so I pulled off the highway in a very scary neighborhood looking for a safe place for him to unblock the blockage. The only appropriate place near the exit was a Walgreen’s Pharmacy.

Bridget went inside with Sean, and they were in there for quite awhile. I was starting to get worried that something had happened to them, and had just made the decision to go in to investigate, when the two of them came back out. Bridget’s annoyed expression told me the whole story. Sean had refused to go in the public bathroom again.

“He promises he can make it home,” she said through gritted teeth.

”No he can’t,” I said.

“I know,” she said. She held up a pull-up diaper. “What do you think?”

It was our only choice. For the next thirty minutes we tried to tune out the grunting, groaning, whining, moaning child determined to prove he could make it home. When his natural cheerfulness suddenly returned, we knew the problem had passed.

Twenty minutes later we were home.

And it could have been much, much worse.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why do I write?

By Rick Kaempfer

Rick's Dad: Eckhard Kaempfer (1935-1989)

Losing a parent has a tendency to change your outlook on life. I know it happened to me. When my father died seventeen years ago, I was 25. That’s a pretty young age to become fatalistic, but I’ve chosen to look on the bright side of being fatalistic. For one thing, I no longer take things for granted because I know that my time on this earth is limited.

I know this is going to sound bad, but I wish my father had been a little more fatalistic. Of course, it’s totally unfair to say that about a man who walked into a hospital emergency room one day at the age of 54, and never came out again. His mindset was understandable. Both of his parents were still alive when he died. He had no reason to ever think about death. And even if he had, all three of his children were already adults (25, 24, and 19), and he had done a pretty good job of raising relatively normal functional members of society. Why would he bother thinking about what life would be like without him?

I know I’m being greedy here. I realize that. He gave me all he could give...and then some. But now that I’m a father myself, I find myself wanting something I never wanted before. His advice. I always considered Dad to be a source of wisdom, even when I strongly fought against it. He was a reasonable man, a thinker, someone who gave quite a bit of thought to his words before they came out. He wasn’t always right, but he was never rash or emotional. In short, he was the perfect kind of person to ask for advice.

And I never did.

And now that I’m a father myself, I have a million questions.

That’s probably one of the reasons I have so overcompensated with my own boys. I’ve tried to use my father as a model—his steady temperament and his guiding hand, while trying to give them what he couldn’t give me. It’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to stay home and raise them. I’m part of virtually every phase of their lives, and I’m constantly giving them unsolicited advice about every subject under the sun just in case they ever need it someday.

Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the fountain of wisdom my father had. He had knowledge that came from a difficult childhood of emigration and language barriers and hardship that I couldn’t even imagine. You learn things when you experience difficulty—and he must have learned so much. Most of those lessons learned, however, died with him. I didn’t have the foresight to ask about them, and he didn’t have the foresight to commit them to paper.

So I write.

That way, what I know will not go away when I go away. Even if my boys choose to ignore it for most of their lives, I’m fairly confident there will come a time when curiosity will get the best of them, and they will seek out wisdom from their father. When that time comes, there’s a possibility I won’t be around to deliver it in person.

The son spends his life trying to distance himself from his father, trying to make his own way in the world, trying to become a man. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s part of growing up. I certainly don’t take it personally when my boys ignore my advice and insist on making the same mistakes I made. Some kids just learn better that way. I know I did. But there will come a day when they need me. And I just can’t bear to think that I won’t be there when they do.

So I write.

When they do seek me out, even if I’m not around, my words will still be here, to bring me back to life. They won’t have to wonder what was going through my mind when I was in their shoes--because they can read it. And if they end up having boys just like themselves—and my experience tells me they just might—they can see how and why I did what I did.

Why do I write? I know that part of the audience for every word I write includes three grown men I’ve never met. Three men who may one day want to ask Dad for advice. I only have my time, my love, and my words. I give those with all of my heart.

That’s why I write.