Saturday, September 02, 2006

Guest Blogger: Roosevelt Rhodes

This week's guest blogger is Roosevelt Rhodes. He is a well known and long-time member of the Chicago media, but he chooses to write under this pseudonym. I have promised to never reveal his actual name, and no amount of begging, pleading or bribing will entice me to go back on my word. If you'd like to reach this mystery writer, he does have an e-mail address:

Since Monday is Labor Day, Roosevelt has chosen to write about the workplace. He calls it...

"A SANDbox. Not a LITTERbox."
By Roosevelt Rhodes

I never met Bob. Yet, I think about him every day. Bob ran a filling station right where Chicago’s West Side met Cicero. He was a truck driver, turned mechanic, turned Sinclair station franchisee, husband and father.

Bob set up shop near 22nd Street. A Bohemian boulevard called Cermak where nearly 18,000 people a day took the streetcar to punch the time clock at the Western Electric’s plant on Cicero Avenue. I never met Bob and Bob never met Henry. But they would have dug each. I’ll explain later.

The Suburban Man took part in a fascinating exercise recently in this space. He played the parental soothsayer, and made some astute observations about what his kids would be when they grew up. Me, I'm not as concerned about WHAT they're going to be as WHERE they're going to be it. I’m one of those people who never wanted to just have a J-O-B. I’m obsessed with workplace karma. It could simply be that I’ve not done hard labor in 20-plus years. Spoiled, I am. I was once a janitor, and I worked at a bus garage in maintenance. The worst thing that ever happened to me on the job, was when the acid content of the engine cleaner we used ate holes in my gloves...then scorched through a couple of layers of skin until they bled. Now my only workplace hazard is bad mojo.

I love what I do. Most people aren’t that lucky. That’s why more and more I’m pissed at what I see or hear about environmnents at work. From sandbox to litter box. And NO, I don't believe people want company picnics on their one day off to make them love their gig. They want to 'play' at working hard.

During a major leadership change some years ago, a buddy told me about the day one upper manager marched through cubicle-land and got a chip on his shoulder about what people displayed on their walls, dividers and doors. Keep in mind it wasn't lewd or crude. He also griped about what people wore to the office. Mr. Tight-Cheeks never waited to see how folks dolled up when corporate people visited or on the days client presentations took place. He simply issued veiled complaints to middle managers, and secretly had cartoons, collages and other forms of 'personal inspiration' taken away. Then he slammed the door on casual Friday. This all happened unofficially, which seemed oddly wimpy. Or rather telling. I don’t believe this was about bling. It was a metaphor for autocracy.

You can't blame it all on suits. Top performers in sales or otherwise who believe their own hype also mess with the vibe. Consider an interview in 2002 with then Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa. He was being asked about his idol, the late Roberto Clemente, which spun off into the query 'who is your living hero?' -- to which Sammy humbly replied 'me!' Then roared. The comment didn't play widely. Probably better that it didn't. Yet, somewhere during that season the shift happened in that clubhouse. Sammy went from teammate to necessary evil.

Back to Henry. He was the night janitor at a place where I worked in my early 20s. I asked him once if he liked the night shift, and he told me he didn't have a choice -- he worked another job. We used to gripe about Reaganomics and compare notes on the best ballyard catches of all-time. Our musings led me to dig into his other life. The day job. A middle school where he told me he was/is: The principal. Dude, got a twinkle then, and out of the corner of his mouth whispered "never want to forget how I got there". It was an attitude he breathed into that school. Teachers, counselors, and ladies who slung bad pizza onto cafeteria trays were busting down doors to work between those walls. He brought out a vibe that was contagious, because he never saw just his side of the ‘plant’.

Finally back to Bob. The reason I love people who make work into play. One imperfectly normal fall afternoon in 1958, Bob's oldest son was sitting in a college freshman lit class. His daughter had just slammed her books into her 8th grade locker, and his youngest boy raced across the alley headed home to a neat brick Georgian Bob had paid cash for a decade earlier. As his wife swept the front stoop and waited on that 3rd grader to jump the curb, Bob's 49-year old heart decided to call it a day. Here comes the happy ending.

The tears turned into nearly a half-century of laughter and practical jokes that baffled some bosses, and caused hundreds to fly by the seat of their pants while being productive at work. That college freshman learned something from a life that was too short. Bob's oldest spent his entire work life leading a parade of time not wasted. He didn't even notice until the day he retired eight months ago. He just thought he'd only get 18-plus-30 years or so.

Or better yet he just built a sandbox, and remembered to pack it in his lunch pail every day.

If you missed previous guest bloggers, click here:

Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Half Empty: Nine Ways To Attract A Man

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

Nine Ways To Attract A Man
By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Every time we go to the supermarket, we’re blown away by the headlines on the women’s magazines by the checkout counter.

This is just a sampling of the headlines we wrote down on a recent excursion...
=What guys notice: 20 things that turn their heads
=How to master the seven essential sex styles
=Are you good in bed? Take our quiz.
=His & Hers summer sex confessions
=Double your pleasure with these sexcercises
=Pssst. 100 secrets his body wants you to know
=12 little tricks to steam up your love life
=The sex he craves

The target audience for these magazines is 18-34 year old females. Correct us if we’re wrong, but is there a single female in that age bracket having a hard time exciting the man in her life?

Maybe it’s just because we’re not in that target age group anymore, and maybe it’s because we’re both married and not looking, but if it helps stop these pointless articles, we are prepared to break the “man code” and reveal the truth to young women everywhere.

There are exactly nine ways to attract a man. Follow these simple rules, and we guarantee success.

1. Have a Pulse
Not having a pulse is a notorious turn-off for men. On the other hand, women who have a pulse have an excellent chance of attracting some male interest. There’s no need to flaunt it. We can sense it. Call it male intuition.

2. Breathe
Are you breathing? Excellent. This is another one of our stringent requirements. On the other hand, those of us who know CPR are sometimes willing to suspend this rule temporarily.

3. Be conscious
This is important. Remember that the conscious girl has many advantages over the unconscious girl, and shouldn’t hesitate to capitalize on those advantages.

4. Be unconscious

On the other hand, men are not into “judging” you based on your state of consciousness. We’re much more open-minded than women think.

5. Have most of the “girl body parts”

We aren’t so crass as to expect you to have all of the girl body parts, but if you have most of them, you’ll find your odds of snagging a man improves dramatically.

6. Be Nearby
You know the old phrase “out of sight, out of mind?” It’s so true. That’s why we go for women who are nearby.

7. Be Far Away
You know the phrase “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?” That’s so true. That’s why we go for women who are far away.

8. Speak
If your vocal chords are working and you can string together various words, phrases and/or grunts in our general direction, consider yourself an object of interest. It doesn’t matter what language you speak.

9. Don’t speak

On the other hand, silence is golden. A woman who is mute, doesn’t have vocal chords, or chooses not to use them has an excellent chance at turning the head of any man.

We hope you ladies appreciate how much trouble we can get into at the next “man meeting” for revealing the nine rules. These deeply guarded secrets are completely unknown to the editors of every women’s magazine in America.

Please, we urge you, use this information wisely.

If you missed any of our previous "Half Empty" columns, click here:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Suburban Man: A Wal-Mart Primer

By Rick Kaempfer

Normally I don’t print letters I receive about my Suburban Man columns, but this one from former radio producer/programmer Tom Serritella has some helpful advice for everyone who hates shopping at Wal-Mart. Is there anyone who doesn't fit that description?

Dear Rick,

As a fellow house-husband, I feel obliged to reply to your recent column ("House Husband Report Card"). I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but your wife didn't give you a "C", as you reported. 70% isn't a "C," it's a “D”. (Using the 100-92-A, 91-83-B, 82-75-C, 74-66-D, 65-F scale).

You mentioned that one of the reasons your grade was so low was because of your reluctance to go shopping at Wal-Mart. That's where I come in. I think I can help you get that grade up to something more respectable. Take my advice and before you know it, your wife may be proudly telling all of her friends…”My husband is average!”

I have six important rules.

1) You must wear a watch.
If you extend your Wal-Mart stay beyond one hour, you’ll be ready to kill yourself. If your wife wants you to buy something that takes too long to find, practice saying this: “Sorry honey, I couldn’t find it.” The grief you’ll receive from her is far less than the torment you’ll endure looking for the darn thing. A good rule of thumb is this: If you look longer than 5 minutes, DONE.

2) Always bring a child who fits in the cart.

I have 2 1/2 year old twins. They are my best weapons at Wal-Mart. You mentioned that the aisles are narrow. This is true, but with my twins in the cart, I’m driving a double-wide. My motto is: “Get outta my way.”

3) Always bring a list.
A list is a good way not to forget the stupid crap your wife needs so you don’t get killed when you get home. If you don’t bring a list, you’ll forget something. It happens every time. Just trust me. Remember, the Wal-Mart experience isn’t only the time spent in the actual store.

4) Ask for help, but don’t count on it.
The Pharmacy section is brutal. None of it makes sense to a man because everything is organized for the woman’s brain. The only way to make it through this section quickly is to ask for help. Unfortunately, let’s be honest here-—Wal-Mart employees are not exactly famous for their efficiency. If you are running short on time, and one of those slow-ass Wal-Mart employees is taking forever to finish whatever the hell it is that they have to do before they get to you, refer back to rule #1 for what to say to your wife when you get home.

5) Make the food section your own
Let me reiterate, every Wal-Mart has a food section. One of the biggest mistakes that househusbands make is continuing to buy the stuff their wives used to buy when they did the shopping. HELLO!!!! The best part about shopping at Wal-Mart is that they have all the stupid food that men love. It’s me time. Make sure to buy some things that you’d otherwise never see in your home. Tostito’s or JalapeƱo cheese dip always seems to make it into my cart somehow. (Note: If you skip this rule, you’re missing your only chance for enjoying the Wal-Mart experience).

6) Check out the check out

Pay attention! The fastest lines are not necessarily the shortest lines; they’re the ones with the best checkers. Here’s another important thing to remember once you have chosen the fastest line: You must help them with the bagging. I had a stand-off with the checker once, before I figured out the game. She was looking at me wondering why I wasn’t helping her put the bags in my cart, and I was looking at her like she was nuts! By simply doing her job for her, I saved myself a crucial ten minutes of agony.

Follow these six simple rules, and you may soon rise to a level of mediocrity your wife will applaud. No need to thank me. I know a man in need when I see one.


Thanks for your help, Tom, but I'm still not stepping foot in Wal-Mart. This is not a political statement on my part. The place actually makes my skin crawl. Sorry.

If you'd like to read previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Steve & Garry Notebook

When Steve & Garry reunited for one show last Friday, it was big news in Chicago. Every local television station covered it, every local newspaper (Front page on the Sun Times!) ran stories (see Thursday's media notebook for the links), and people all over Chicago were talking about it.

I worked for the Steve & Garry show for almost five years (1986-1991), including the last four years as their producer. I've previously chronicled that on this blog a few times
(Loop Photo Album 1986-1993)
, but I haven't really written about it at length.

This seems like a perfect time to do that.

I was running the Steve & Garry fan club and helping out the Loop's promotions department when Steve & Garry's former producer (Roman) quit. That's when they promoted me to producer, and announced my arrival in the Steve & Garry newsletter (on the left).

During those years, I had some high highs and some low lows (some of my nicknames included "college boy", "Slow-Mo", and "Rick the German Boy"), but now that so much time has passed I really only think about the highs. Here are my five favorite moments.

#5: The Brian Wilson interview
Brian Wilson emerged from more than a decade of intense psychological treatment to release a solo album in 1988. He still wasn't quite right (and maybe never will be) when he arrived at the station for an in-studio interview. How do I know this? When I offered my hand to him, he jumped backwards like he had just seen a ghost. His "personal advisor" wouldn't let him out of his sight and actually sat on the floor in the studio during the interview. The interview itself was also memorable. At one point Brian started choking, leaving Steve and Garry speechless and completely at a loss for what to do. I've probably heard that 48 seconds of audio a thousand times since then, and it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

#4 Steve's on-the-air vasectomy
When Steve decided to get it snipped live on the air, the rest of us cringed. Garry actually had to witness it and provide play by play, while I was thankfully running the equipment, a safe distance away from the snipping. This was a big story at the time (I can't remember the year exactly...I want to say it was '89 or '90). The story came full circle for me in 2003 when I was getting my own vasectomy. The doctor who was handling the procedure realized who I was in the middle of the operation, and started asking me questions about Steve & Garry while he was cutting my bits and pieces.

#3: A Christmas Carol
In December of 1988, I tackled my first big production for Steve and Garry, a celebrity reading of the classic "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. I booked dozens of local celebrities to play the parts, and we performed it in front of a live audience at the Museum of Broadcasting. Steve was Scrooge, Garry was Cratchit, Bruce Wolf was Fred, Christmas Past was Roger Ebert, Christmas Present was Buzz Kilman, the late Channel 5 news reporter Paul Hogan was Marley, and other participants included Sports Illustrated writer Rick Telander, Channel 2 anchor Linda McClennan, Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley, West 57th correspondent Bob Sirott, Channel 7 anchor Diann Burns, Channel 5 anchor Joan Esposito, Channel 7 reporter Janet Davies, Chicago Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, Chicago Bears safety Gary Fencik, artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Kevin Matthews, Bob Stroud, Stan Lawrence, Chicago Bears Guard Tom Thayer, and Channel 7 anchor Mary Ann Childers.

It was a huge success, got a big write-up in the Chicago Tribune, and my boss at the time, future gazillionaire Jimmy de Castro wrote a memo to us saying how great he thought the show was (above on the left).

I've previously written about how this chance meeting with Mary Ann Childers had a big impact on my life. You can read that story here:Thank you Mary Ann Childers

#2 The Ringo Starr Interview
Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh was in the studio promoting his appearance with Ringo's All-Star Band. Steve asked Joe if he could get Ringo on the air, and Joe handed me the number to Ringo's hotel room. As a fanatic Beatle-maniac, I was stricken with fear. After a mild panic attack in the producer's room, I made the call. He was actually very nice to me on the phone, and agreed to come on the show. My conversation couldn't have lasted more than thirty seconds, but I remember every word of it. When he finally got on the air, he noticed he was on delay. He told Steve & Garry that it hurt him that they didn't trust him and demanded that they take the delay off before he continued the interview. When they followed his orders dutifully, he made sure he was on the air live, before blurting out: "SHIT!" Today that would have cost the station $325,000. In 1989, it was hilarious.

Ringo later showed up at the station for a nationwide interview (for a show called "Rockline"), and I got his autograph. It's something I will treasure forever.

#1 Meeting Bridget

A year or so after I became the producer, a young intern from the news department came into the producer's booth to retrieve the news wire copy for Steve & Garry news anchor Carrie Cochran. I struck up a conversation with her like I did with all of the news interns (I was friendly in those days), and discovered quickly that the two of us had a lot in common.

Unfortunately, the producer of the Kevin Matthews Show (Shemp, shown next to me below) also liked her and asked her out on a date. She took the unusual step of asking me to accompany them, which I did. By the end of the night, I was volunteering to drive her home all the way to Wheaton, and Shemp was out of the picture. I broke up with my girlfriend shortly thereafter, and Bridget and I started dating.

That was eighteen years ago and we're still together. We got married in 1991, and we have three boys now (Tommy, Johnny & Sean).

Jim Wiser (left) was the producer of the Jonathon Brandmeier Show. Shemp (middle) was the producer of Kevin Matthews, and I was the producer of Steve & Garry. This picture was taken at a Loop Christmas Party at Garry's restaurant "Lan's".

I quit the Steve & Garry show in 1991 to pursue my on-air career (which lasted exactly two more years...I went back to producing in 1993 when John Landecker called me up and asked me to produce his show).

This is how the Steve & Garry newsletter announced my departure:
"A changing of the guard took place at the producer's postion after four years. Our very own "German Boy" moved onto smaller and lesser things. Steve and Garry both scratched their heads as to why he would leave without having another job lined up. Our investigative reporters snooped around and came up with these ten rumors.
#1: Steve did one too many Colonel Klink impersonations
#2: Cliff got a little too touchy-feely during dance rehearsals
#3: Rick and Maggie Brock had a torrid love affair that will continue in Phoenix (Maggie was the newsperson, and she left the same week I did--she moved to Phoenix)
#4: Longstanding philosophical differences regarding Jerry Lewis.
#5: Laziness
#6: Heading back to Fatherland to start WW3.
#7: His girlfriend was getting a little too close to Steve & Garry.
#8: He was miffed at the lack of publicity the reunification got on the show
#9: He didn't get to do his "Kermit the Frog" voice on the air a single time...even the day Jim Henson died.
#10: He loves golf and couldn't take Steve and Garry bashing the sport any longer.

Steve and Garry broke up exactly one week after I left the Loop to produce John Landecker's show. I ran into Garry a few times after that, but despite working on the same floor as Steve (when he moved to WCKG), I didn't see or talk to Steve again until he invited me to his 50th birthday party in 2004.

I now communicate with both of them occasionally via e-mail, and like any fan of the show, I'm rooting for a full-fledged reunion...although I know it's a long shot.