Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I was going through some old magazines when I stumbled upon this rare (for me) foray into the world of serious writing that was published about 9 years ago. I was actually an email that I sent to some friends after the event in question. It got forwarded around and eventually it got sent to the editor of a magazine, who asked if he could publish it. I said he could.

With a few grammar edits, the piece is unchanged from the original email. The only thing the editors altered was the title. I gave it the title you see above as a reference to the David Mamet play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." I've never seen the play, nor have I seen the movie they made out of it, so I don't know why I chose the title.

Of course, the editors chose a title that was even more obscure to me. Anyway, enjoy, and I promise I'll write something funny later this week.

The Urban Samaritan: Being and Nothingness
Published March 1998, Sunstone Magazine

In order to fully explain this story, I need to tell another one. About six years ago, just south of my hometown of Rochester, New York, two football players from a local college saw a woman trying to get help at the roadside. They pulled over, got out of their truck, and asked what the problem was. Seconds later, a man jumped out of the bushes and shot each of the football players three times. The man drove off in the football player’s truck, and the woman drove off in the car she said was broken. I read the story later in the newspaper and was, of course, appalled.

But now I’m in Los Angeles—Venice, actually. It’s not the nastiest part of town, but it’s not all that nice either. That’s actually one of the cool things about it.

So I’m off to Hollywood to see the new Parker Posey movie I’ve been dying to see for a long time, but I have to go to the ATM first. It’s after dark, so I drive to an ATM not too far from my house, near the Coast Highway. Across the street from the ATM is a red van with drapes in the window. I park behind it, and an old, somewhat grungy-looking man walks up to my car. He asks me to roll down my window, and I inch it down just a hair.

“Do you have jumper cables?” he asks.

Without thinking, I answer, “Yeah!” because I do.

“Good, I need a jump. My battery is dead.”

I pull my car around to the front of his and realize just how stupid I had been. What was I thinking? This could be any nut, or a killer, or a mugger, or a carjacker, or someone like that. I get out of my car, open my trunk, and look down at my jumper cables.

“Dude, I guess my cables are at home. I was using them for something else, and I forgot to put them back in my car. Sorry, man.”

I drive across the street to use the ATM while the man tries to flag down other drivers. With my money in hand, I scoot back into my car and drive off.

And I feel like crap. I had just lied to a guy and left him stranded on the street. While staring at my jumper cables, I told him they weren’t there. I run through all the questions in my head. What would he have done to me? Would I have helped him if he was a white guy? (he wasn’t) How much danger was I in? How awful a person had I become where I wouldn’t help somebody who was in trouble?

I pull over, take the jumper cables out of my trunk, and put them on the passenger seat. I want to make it look as if I had gone home and found them. Still nervous I drive around the block a few times before heading back to the street with the ATM. And the guy’s still there, trying to get a jump. I pull up next to him, hold up the cables, and yell, “Behold, yon cables!”

“Thanks. You know, most people are just too scared to even help,” he says.

I shrug and give a big sigh. Then his friend comes over. When I was doing my risk vs. morals math, I had only factored in one guy. Now there are two. The second guy is younger, and bigger. He just sort of stands behind the older guy and looks at me. Absolutely positive that I’m going to be on the front page of tomorrow’s LA Times, I hand them the cables.

“Can you come over here and help us?” asks the younger guy. “We don’t want to blow anything up.”

Trying to conceal the sweat that is now forming on my forehead, I quickly attach the cables to my battery. Fifteen seconds later, the van is running. They thank me and I throw my stuff back into my car and drive away quickly.

And I’m still wired and upset from the adrenaline that is now coursing through my veins. And I’m upset by how upset I am over the incident. And I’m upset that I’ve been taught to fear the people around me. And I’m upset that fearing the people around me is basically a good idea and pretty much essential for survival in a big city.

And I turn up the radio as loud as it will go. And I keep telling myself, “You are not a liar. You are not a bigot. You are not dead to the suffering of others.”

And in a few weeks I may believe that again.

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Friday, March 23, 2007


The past week wasn't all that fun for me. I would come home from work and everything would be all wrong. No Julie, no babies, no nothing. Just me.

You see, the posse left for Las Vegas last week, and they didn't take me. I would have gone, but I didn't have the vacation days. So I was a bachelor for a few days, and it wasn't all it was cut out to be. At first, I thought it might be sort of fun to have my life back. Then once I got it back, I realized I didn't really want my life back.

So instead of having a non-stop party, I spent my time thinking about these guys.

I also was thinking about Julie, but I don't have any recent photos of her, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

When Julie leaves town for business, I slowly go insane. The world around me gets darker, and nothing seems very much fun. This effect was multiplied when Julie left with the babies.

But I don't want to focus on the negatives, because they're all back home, and my mental balance is getting back to normal.

Nate and Will are also getting readjusted to being home. Today, Will spent a lot of time on his favorite toy, the bouncy swing.

It's hard to get a good picture of him when he's moving like that. Let's try again.Much better.

Nate wasn't much for jumping, but instead went for his favorite activity, sleeping with the fishes.And as for me, I got a chance to do one of my favorite things, too.It's good to have them back.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


Writing has not been easy for me lately, what with a busy schedule and family responsibilities. And I’ve also been dealing with the crushing weight of depression brought on mostly by my realization that I will never be a peer in the British House of Lords.

I have for some time believed that sitting on the House of Lords would be a pretty cushy gig. Once you’re appointed, you’ve got a job for life. And from what I can tell, you don’t have to do much if you don’t want to. The Lords simply debate laws, but all they can really do is prevent a piece of legislation from taking effect for a year. It seems pretty hard to mess that up.

But what the job lacks in authority, it makes up for in titles and cool clothing. We’ll start with the title: Lord. How cool is that? Lord Workman. Looks nice in print, doesn’t it? It rolls off the tongue quite nicely as well. Lord Workman. I can imagine hours of fun each day as I correct people who address me:

Guy: Hey dips@#%, move your car!

Me: That’s “Hey Lord Workman, move your car.”

I doubt that would ever get old. And don’t even get me started on the outfits. You get this awesome red cape with white fir trim. Technically, it’s a robe, but having a cape sounds more fun. I’m not sure if powdered wigs are required anymore, but that would just sweeten the deal for me.

I believe the manner of discourse in the House of Lords would suit me as well. Unlike that stuffy old House of Commons, the Lords don’t have to be recognized by the Speaker to make a speech, you just get up and start blathering. I don’t even know what the Speaker does, other than sit on his woolsack.

(Note: I don’t actually know what a woolsack is, but I know there is one in the House of Lords and the Speaker sits on it. From the name, we can probably infer that it is a sack of wool, which doesn’t sound all that comfortable to sit on.)

In many ways, my ascension to the House of Lords seems like a perfect fit. They appear to be a bunch of old white guys with gray hair who talk a lot. I talk quite a bit, and my hair is going gray, and I’m white, and I’m getting older every day. What’s not to like?

But even in the best of circumstances, there are a few big obstacles to getting me a peerage. The first lies with the fact that I’m not a British citizen. While that’s no small thing, I figure it could be overcome. The types of people who would appoint you to the House of Lords are probably also the types who could line you up with citizenship. I was also a bit concerned about the fact the job is unpaid. It seems like a big shot with a title like “Lord” would get paid, but I guess not. Do they have to buy their own capes? That would be a shame.

Then I read the fine print and discovered that they are paid about $400 per day that parliament is in session. (It should be noted that they get nothing when Funkadelic is in session.) In many lifetimes of television news, I’m unlikely to ever make $400 per day.

But there are changes afoot that could pretty much wipe out even the slimmest chance of sitting in the Lords. That’s right, those pansies in the Commons have decided to “reform” the Lords by making most of them stand for election. What’s that crap about? It’s not a done deal yet, but this is clearly a wrong move.

If the House of Lords stops being a wacky anachronism with actual power, then what fun would it be? Sure, you can still say things like, “My noble friend will remember that we are a wacky anachronism with little power,” or “The noble duke will kindly remove his head from his posterior.” But it’s just not as fun.

Apart from the fun factor, the election is also a problem. Putting aside the citizenship issue, I think my American accent would be pretty much a deal breaker in any constituency. I guess I could try to pretend, but if Madonna can’t get away with it, neither can I. Now, if I were appointed to the Lords after delivering a truckload of money to a Labor party official, the accent wouldn’t be much of an issue.

But that’s not likely to happen now. So I’ll need to set my sights elsewhere. I hear they may be stripping the king of Tonga of much of his power, so that could be just the kind of job I’m looking for. Perhaps I can send a resume and cover letter their way. King Matthew the First has a pretty nice ring to it, too.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


First off, apologies for neglecting this space for the past two weeks. My schedule hasn’t permitted much writing lately, but there is “product in the pipeline” as the “industry types” “say.” For now, I offer up something I wrote on the eve of the Iraq war. I was in Washington DC interning at CNN when the war started. (At the time, I didn’t want to name the organization, for obvious reasons.)

With the war’s birthday just past, it seems a good time to revisit.

Originally printed March 12, 2003

Well, it’s final, we’re going to war. Technically, it’s not really final. The United Nations will do some voting and the French will stomp their feet and the protesters will do some marching, but it’s really a moot point. We’re going to war.

If you saw President Bush’s press conference last Thursday, he said the final decision had not yet been made about military action against Iraq. But he smirked every time he said it, so you knew he was lying. The decision has been made, the troops are in place, the news stations have their cameras in the best locations. We’re going to war.

At Unnamed News Organization (hereafter referred to as UNO), the 24-hour news channel where I’m interning, we’re in full war mode. After Thursday’s presidential news conference, (in which the Washington Post described Bush as appearing “medicated”), several UNO reporters were informed they were leaving for Kuwait. Plans were unveiled for elongated work schedules once the war begins. Somewhere, someone was composing the theme song for the new war.

Those who are to remain in Washington have been issued protective suits in case of chemical attack. We interns were not issued protective suits; we perform the important “canary in the coal mine” function. If the interns keep dropping dead, the reporters know it’s not safe to take off the chemical suits.

People in the newsroom disagree about just when the war will start. The U.N. vote on the second resolution is on March 17, and most expect the war will start shortly after that. A few reporters think the United States will try to “shock and awe” Iraq by striking a day or so before March 17. One guy actually thinks we’re just posturing and we’re not going to war at all. UNO is putting him on a plane to Kuwait next week.

Those of us in the prestigious UNO intern corps are divided about the war. Most interns at UNO are the kind of bleeding-heart lefty peaceniks you’d expect to find in journalism. As you can imagine, most of us oppose the war. But there’s one catch: Being a news intern during a war looks great on your resume, so we all have something to gain by the U.S. going to war. That’s right, if our government kills thousands of people on the other side of the world, it will help us advance professionally.

This, I’m learning, is one of the great dilemmas of journalism. The worse things are, the better your job is. When there is relative peace and there’s not much going on, journalists have to do stories on stupid things like El Nino or what the president does with his cigars. Journalists make their reputations covering war, disasters, and mass murders. The worse the story, the better it is professionally for the journalist, assuming the story doesn’t personally affect the reporter.

So the march to war is on, and the careers of many journalists may be made or ruined by what happens in the next month. Back in the UNO newsroom, we’re taking bets on what the war will be called. Some think it will be called the “Iraq War,” while others figure the war will spread and be named the “Middle East War.” I nose into the debate by saying it will be called “Gulf War II: Electric Boogaloo.”

After everyone stops laughing at that hilarious joke I’ve told 1,000 times before, someone offers another possible name: World War III.

We all get uncomfortable and go back to our desks.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007


We have a lovely family, there's no denying that. Just check out how cute Nate and Will looked the other day when they hit the town in matching brown hoodies:
Or how about when they dressed up and pretended to be a 1980s hip-hop duo?
Oh my gosh, is that cute or what? How about we put hats on them and place them in a double stroller?
Don't you just want to scream? I think I'm going to scream. Yeahhhhhggh! (Kinda like Howard Dean.)

Alas, Nate has had reason to scream lately, and it's become our family's dirty little secret. You see, Will has developed a taste for human flesh.Sad to say, Will has taken to feeding on Nate's brain whenever he can. No place is safe, just this afternoon, in the kiddie gym, which should be the safest place in the world, this happened:Within seconds, Nate is paralyzed, and can't fight back.
Far from being ashamed of his activities, Will seems empowered by them.
Needless to say, Nate is a shell of the baby he once was. He just sits around all day bugging his eyes out.

Julie and I are, of course, terrified. Even though Will can't crawl yet, we've taken to sleeping with helmets on.

Hear me now Will and let me make myself perfectly clear, we will never become members of your army of the un-dead. NEVER!

That's it, you're grounded, Will.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Last week, the Powerball jackpot got somewhere around 150 million dollars, so I decided to spend a dollar to buy a ticket. A few days later, I check the winning numbers and I can’t believe my eyes. I’ve won. I had promised myself years ago that I would quit my job if I won the lottery, so I marched right into my boss’s office and broke the news, “I won the lottery! So I quit! Woo Hoo!”

I decide to surprise my wife with the news when I come home from work that night. She’s somewhat less impressed when she learns that I did not win the 150 million dollar jackpot, or the $250,000 prize, or even $1,000. I won three bucks. I am sent back to work to grovel for my old job.

When I lived in LA, I always knew what I would do if I came into many millions of dollars. I would take a cab down to LAX and waltz into the international terminal. The ticketing area of the international terminal is immense. About 30 airlines fly out of the structure and you can get a nonstop flight to just about anywhere in the world.

As I write this, there are flights leaving that terminal for Taiwan, Singapore, Cancun, Hong Kong, Auckland, Melbourne, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, South Korea, and Manila. Most of the flights to London, Paris, and points east took off a few hours earlier. (I haven’t memorized this information, there’s this really cool tool that will tell you what flights are boarding at that terminal.)

Inside the ticketing area, there is a huge computerized departures board. If I won the lottery, my plan was to view that board as a menu, and pick the most exotic destination, then stroll up to the ticket booth and get a first class ticket there. I would only pack a toothbrush and buy whatever I needed once I got there. I’d come home when I got sick of it.

(There is an alternate version of this fantasy where I go to this very cool site and buy a round-the-world plane ticket, but that lacks the spontaneity of the first plan.)

Of course, there are some problems with my LA plan. First, I’ve since learned that most first class seats on international flights out of LA are sold out well in advance. Second, buying a plane ticket for immediate departure with cash and not carrying luggage is the sort of behavior that the Department of Homeland Security frowns upon these days. (When I hatched my plan, there was no Department of Homeland Security.) And third, the odds of actually winning the lottery are about one in 145 million, so it’s not going to happen anyway.

So my little plan has remained dormant, and my live has changed a lot since I lived in LA. But now the country has Lotto fever again. The Mega Millions jackpot is somewhere around 350 million dollars, and tomorrow I will drive to California and do a news story about people buying tickets.

While you’re never supposed to become part of the stories you cover, everyone at work has pitched money into a pot and I’ll buy some lottery tickets before I head back to Oregon.

As always, as I was extorting 5 dollar bills from my co-workers, the talk turned to how the money would be spent if we pick a winner. Some people said they’d quit work, others said they wouldn’t. And I realized that I don’t really know what I’d do anymore.

Recent life changes have made me somewhat less impulsive and more boring than I used to be. This week, I got a profit sharing bonus check. (My first ever!) What did I splurge on? A new toothbrush. Mind you, it was a really fancy and expensive toothbrush. But still, it was a toothbrush.

With that in mind, a trip to the international terminal at LAX with Julie and two babies seems completely out of the question. Even if I had all the money in the world, there’s nothing that’s going to make a 14 hour flight with infants any better. I’ve been on a 2.5 hour flight with them, and that was long enough.

So what would I do if I won the lottery? Boring stuff, I guess. You know, pay off the mortgage, set up a college fund, buy a solid gold potty training seat for Nate and Will. I guess I’d buy an Avid because I think they’re cool. Other than that, I guess I’d keep showing up to work… unless all my co-workers quit. There’s no way I’m going to be the last one there.

UPDATE: 3/7/07 We checked the numbers to see if we won. Through pooling resources, we were able to buy 50 tickets. We won a total of $3.

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Friday, March 02, 2007


Well, pictures, really.

Nate (left) and Will (right) are more than seven months old, and they're slowly learning to do more stuff. They can both roll over and they're grabbing at things and generally exploring the world as much as they can. Neither of them are crawling, and for that I thank God every night. They can't really sit up, either, but they like trying. Will is the more physical of the two (better at jumping, rolling around, what have you), but he's actually worse at sitting up. So he's been making better friends with Nate, but with mixed results. It's a blurry photo, I know, but It's a pretty accurate representation of their relationship these days.

The changes Nate and Will are going through are pretty exciting. I'm really looking forward to the day when they can talk, even though I know that it still some distance away. But some of the changes already have us looking back on their short lives wistfully.

While they still look like babies, sometimes, in some situations, they can look like little boys. Check this out.That's Will in the middle...

Just kidding, Will is on the left. When I looked at this photo, Will looked different to me. He looked tired, and... well... older. Now the wise among you will rightly note that Will is, in fact, older, and will continue to become so for the remainder of his life. But in this picture... I don't know... I feel like I can see a flickering shadow of the person Will will become. I can't quite explain it. Meanwhile, Nate still looks like a baby in this picture.

But Nate is changing, too. He's been teething bigtime this week. Any day, we expect to see that a little tooth has erupted from his gums. When I realized this, I was actually a little sad. I will miss his gummy little smile. So, to close out this post, let's take one more look at it before it vanishes forever, or at least the next 90 years.

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