Saturday, October 14, 2006

Guest Blogger: Mike Medina

Mike Medina is a long time friend. We met over twenty years ago when we both worked at WPGU Radio in Champaign. We later also worked together at WLUP AM/FM. He was an integral part (some say the only funny part) of my show Ebony & Ivory. He also produced the Buzz Kilman show on that station. Mike has since gone on to study at the Second City improv school, and for the past nine years has been working as a design engineer. Mike has two kids, lives in the suburbs, hasn't had a single confirmed heart attack, and continues to dabble in his life-long passion: philosophy.

Today I asked the philosophical provacateur to write a few words about someone who would have celebrated his 66th birthday this week...John Lennon.

JOHN LENNON: Genius or Very Intelligent Man?

By Mike Medina

A lot has been written about John Lennon, none of it by me. Now I now why. When Rick asked me to write something about Lennon for his blog I was tentative, but I thought, being a lifelong Beatles/Lennon fan I’ll be able to come up with something.

* * *

Lennon was a sharp-tongued critic, a peacenik, a neglectful father, a loving father, a drunk and a househusband. But that’s not why he’s remains popular; if it were then I would be as popular as Lennon. The reason Lennon remains relevant – besides the fact that he was murdered, and was in the Beatles - is that he could write good rock songs.

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics, mostly just the music. A song like “Help!” was just a catchy tune. It wasn’t something you could equate with, hypothetically of course, being depressed and moving back to your parents’ house and sleeping ‘til noon everyday. The song is a Trojan horse, sneaking in with the music and having the lyrics jump out fifteen years later.

Heard any great songs about someone’s dead-mother-that-was-never-really-their-mother-anyway lately? You can’t get much more raw and heartbreaking than “Mother” from Plastic Ono Band. “Mother don’t go, Daddy come home”, ouch! Listen to the album in its entirety and you can actually hear Lennon’s guts spilling out onto the floor.

* * *

When I worked at Starbucks I was party to a lot of idle chatter among the regulars. One interesting discussion I remember was: “Hitler: Genius or just a Very Intelligent Man”. The crux of the conversation was whether being a genocidal dictator precludes one from being a genius. I don’t think it was decided one way or the other. Let’s take this fun game and apply it to John Lennon; it’s actually a fun game to play about anyone! Remember, the only two answers are Genius or Very Intelligent Man.

Knocking up your girlfriend and getting married just as your career as an international star is starting: Very Intelligent Man. Helping record your group’s first album in one day and closing the session with “Twist and Shout”: Genius.

Becoming acid-drenched and non-functional during the mid-sixties: Very Intelligent Man. Somehow managing to write and record songs such as “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “A Day In the Life” and “I Am the Walrus”: Genius.

Recording the album “Plastic Ono Band”: Genius. Saying the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”: Genius. Taking the time to record and assemble “Revolution 9”: Very Intelligent Man.

Going on a west coast drinking binge and substituting your estranged Asian wife with an Asian girlfriend: Very Intelligent Man Genius. Having a child, staying home to raise him, and writing the song “Beautiful Boy” which contains the heartbreaking lyric “I can hardly wait, to see you come of age”: Genius. Making a career comeback with the album “Double Fantasy” which somehow manages to make Yoko songs listenable: Genius.

Overall rating: Genius. Next time we’ll get to the bottom of the Hitler debate

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Half Empty: Wedding Registry Tips

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.

Wedding Registry Tips

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Both of us are coming up on big anniversaries this year (15 years), and we’ve been waxing nostalgic about those halcyon days. Young, free, not a care in the world. Ready, willing and able to spend the rest of our lives with the same woman.

Neither of us regrets it for a second.

On the other hand, we wouldn't do it again for all the tea in China.

Planning a wedding isn't exactly a great experience. Inevitably some trivial disagreement will blow up into something legendary. For Rick it was a big argument with his mother about the color of the napkins at the reception. If you ever run into Dave and his wife, mention their wedding photographer and watch the sparks fly. Let's face it, everyone has something about his or her wedding that was a complete disaster.

The only wedding experience that we'd repeat is registering for gifts. Registering for wedding gifts can be very exciting because it doesn’t seem real...

“You mean all I have to do is write this item down on a piece of paper and I’ll get it?”

Yup. That’s a heck of a deal for the bride and groom. Enjoy it. We enjoyed it so much, we'd do it all over again. But this time we'd do it right.

Brides and grooms should take a little more time thinking about whether or not they’ll really need some of these things before they write them down on the list. Trust us, some of those things that look good on the Crate & Barrel shelf will never be used in real life. Ever.

Think of your guests. They are shelling out good money for these gifts. Don’t make them waste their hard earned money getting you completely useless and unnecessary items.

Here’s a helpful list to avoid.

1) Fine China

In a good year, you’ll use these fancy dishes maybe twice. In a good year. And a typical place setting goes for $150 or so. If you get ten place settings, do the math. You might as well take that $1500 and spend the weekend in Vegas. At least you’ll have good memories. $1500 worth of unused china stored in your china cabinet is the most wasteful thing in your home. Wait…check that. Do a price check on the gravy boat sometime. A typical gravy boat will cost more than a place setting. It’s a bowl that pours gravy. Seriously. Who are you trying to impress? Your boss? Who actually invites his boss to dinner? Unless you’re a hopeless kiss-ass, you’ll want to stay as far away from your boss as possible.

2) Silverware

We’re not talking about the regular fork, knife, spoon set that you’ll use every day, we’re talking about the expensive set that sits in your china cabinet and only comes out twice a year when the china comes out. The expensive set really doesn’t look any different than your regular set, and it doesn’t cut or pick up food any better either. Throw in the salad forks, and you have a clear case of needless utensil duplication. We’ve discovered that people are completely capable of using one fork for their entire dinner, and not only that, they do it every day of their lives. Who are you trying to impress? Your parents? It’s impossible to impress people who once had to wipe your bottom. Give it up.

3) Bedding

Yes, you need a fitted sheet to cover the mattress. Yes, you need a blanket to keep warm. It helps to have a backup of each. Everything else is completely unnecessary. What does the flat sheet do besides get in the way and add to the bed-making headache? Throw pillows? They are so-named because they're always in the way and you have to throw them out of your way. What about duvets? The purpose of a duvet is…um…well…hell, we have no idea what it does. It’s totally unnecessary.

4) Bathroom accoutrements

Decorative soaps aren’t that decorative and aren’t that soapy. Why display them? Really. We mean it. Why? Potpourri is nothing more than a couple of sweet smelling twigs next to the toilet. Hear that sound? That’s the sound of your wedding guests flushing their hard earned money down that same sweet smelling toilet.

Of course there are many other items that are a matter of personal taste. If you really think you need an edger to manicure your lawn like a putting green, be our guest. If you really think you need a fancy letter opener (maybe you have ten broken fingers for instance), have it at. A fancy bookmark instead of a piece of scrap paper, fine—you may be reading a book made out of gold.

All we ask is that you don’t start checking things off without thinking about them first.

And, by the way, when your wife asks you to decide between two items, ask her which one she likes better and pick the same one. You don’t really care anyway.

Do you?

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Suburban Man: My Mind is in the Gutter

By Rick Kaempfer

How pathetic is this?

When I tell you that my mind is in the gutter, I’m literally referring to my gutters.

I hate them.

If you’ve ever had gutter problems, you know what I mean. We live on a lot with a few big old trees, and the leaves on these particular trees are magnetically attracted to my gutters. It doesn’t seem that way when I’m raking the five hundred pounds of leaves on my lawn and driveway every fall, but those leaves only land there because the gutters are completely full.

If I don’t stay on top of this job, every rain storm will create an unwanted indoor pool in my laundry room. Plus, the harder it rains, the more the leaves fall, which means my gutters fill up again while it’s raining. There have been more than a few rainstorms over the years where your good friend Suburban Man has leaned out of his dormer windows to clean out the gutters in the midst of a downpour. Getting drenched seemed like the best option at the time.

I know I could get improved state-of-the-art gutters or gutter covers, but Suburban Man is also a cheap bastard who likes to think outside of the box and solve problems like this without spending any money.

With that in mind, I have another problem which doesn’t at first blush appear to be related to my gutters in any way, but see if you can follow my logic as I suggest a bold new way to tackle two problems at one time.

Now that all three of my kids are in school, they bring home enough paper to provide confetti for Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve for the next twenty years. It’s really ridiculous. They must chop down a forest for every child in every classroom.

What does this have to do with my gutters?

Well, what if I donate all of the trees on my land to the school? Trees have to be cut down anyway. Why destroy perfectly good forests (with no gutters anywhere in sight), when I have some unwanted trees right here on my property. Everybody wins. The schools get free paper, the village won’t have to collect my five hundred pounds of non-gutter leaves, I get ten to fifteen extra hours each fall to help feed the homeless (which is what I would be doing instead of raking), and my gutters will be able to serve their intended purpose.

True, the tulip-bulb-eating squirrels will have to relocate once their homes are chopped down, but maybe that’s a good thing too. Maybe they’ll rediscover the forests. This could be the best thing that ever happened to little Rocky and his family. They shouldn’t be forced to share their native land with crass suburbanites like me. Let them frolic in the woods with their fellow squirrels in their native habitat.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?


Now let me tell you about my other plan to conserve gasoline and countless man hours during the summer.

I’m thinking of converting my lawn to gravel.

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

Sunday, October 08, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: How to make a German laugh

By Rick Kaempfer

(From the October/November issue of SHORE

Because I was raised in Germany by German parents, during Oktoberfest season I’m often asked to help explain my German comrades. The most common question I hear is this: How do you make a German laugh?

I’ve never had a good answer for that. I’ve always known what doesn’t work. Sarcasm and irony, for instance, are both completely out of the question. After all, psychologists have even stopped using ink blots with Germans because they always identified the pictures as…”inkblots.”

I have noticed a smile on a German once or twice during a slapstick comedy program, but even that doesn’t always work. My son, who inherited the Germanic gene, once pointed out that mercury was toxic while watching Moe shoving a thermometer in Curly’s eye. Germans tend to be a tad literal. They are efficient, punctual and practical, but let’s face it; they aren’t funny.

After 40 plus years of trying, I finally had an epiphany the other day while visiting one of my many German relatives. What if I used one of the words that best describes Germans (practical), and applied that to my attempts at humor?

Germans must love practical jokes, right?

That’s why I have developed a series of German practical jokes that can be fun for you and your whole German family. Feel free to use any of these, but I urge you—please have a paramedic standing by, just in case.

1) Tell your mother that you’re leaving your good job to pursue a career in the theater. When she asks about your health insurance coverage, simply reply that you, your wife and 3 kids feel great so “what could possibly happen”?

2) Start writing mushy cards to your uncles. Better yet, tell them in person and touch them as much as possible.

3) Volunteer to mow your father’s lawn, and then mow it counter-clockwise.

4) Sneak in your Aunt’s house and rearrange her Hummel collection. Put the little boy fishing where the little milk jug girl should be.

5) Take your grandmother shopping and purposely go through the 10 items or less aisle with 11 items. Tell the clerk that it was your grandmother’s idea.

6) Take your grandfather to a soccer game, and then don’t sit in your assigned seats. Say “follow my lead if the people who really have these seats ever show up.”

7) When the food gets passed around, serve yourself only vegetables. When someone asks why say, “I’ve decided to become a vegetarian.”

Try these out at your German house and report back to me. You may not get any laughs out of your victims, but if you don’t find their reactions hilarious, you might be a little too German yourself.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.