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Posts in: January 2006

Mayor Craig Johnson: Lunatic

I live in a town called Elk Grove Village, Illinois, which sits right up against O’Hare International Airport. Chicago’s Mayor Daley really wants to expand O’Hare by building additional runways, a new terminal, and an expressway extension to serve the new section of airport. Elk Grove’s mayor, Craig Johnson, has essentially run on an anti-O’Hare-expansion platform since he was first elected at some point in the late 1990s. His “aw shucks, I was born and raised in Elk Grove and we can’t let them ruin it” attitude won him popularity, but for those who—like me—opposed the alternatives to expansion (the mythic “Peotone airport”), it started out being funny. “Johnson’s at it again,” we’d mutter every time we received a new community newsletter about the horrors of O’Hare expansion. It’s long and tedious to go into the details of why some perceive this expansion as a bad thing versus why rational people realize it’s probably the best thing for the area; if you’re actually interested, contact me and I will ramble for ages.

It gradually stopped being funny as he continued to increase the amount of taxpayer money appropriated to pay for lawyers to fight Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois. He also, at various points, spent money on arbitrary security measures, like increasing police patrols to our (generally abandoned) border with O’Hare to ensure Daley didn’t attempt another Meigs field-style demolition. To offset a potential backlash, he used even more taxpayer money (and raised taxes to do so, approved by the third-airport-loving Village Board) for community beautification projects. Despite the town being incorporated in 1956 (and prior to that consisting solely of vast wheat fields, forests, and a single tavern), he got on this lunatic old-timey kick. “We need cobblestones everywhere! And old-fashioned streetlights and signposts! And an old town square, most of which is actually a giant parking lot! And a clock tower!”

Things with O’Hare have gotten increasingly worse. Johnson paid still more money to hire new lawyers, better lawyers, to take the court battle all the way to the federal level. And…we lost. But wait! Let’s appeal…oh wait, we lost that, too. Basically, there’s nothing left to do but give up. So what will Craig Johnson do to rebuild a community whose economy he ravaged by recklessly spending and raising taxes? First, it was announced a few months ago that he would be spending $75,000 (cofinanced with neighbor Schaumburg) to get REO Speedwagon to play at our 50th celebration. He was quoted as saying, “Everyone loves REO.” True, Mayor Johnson, but let’s put this in perspective: for nearby Roselle’s anniversary celebration, they plan to spend $1500 total for three local bands to play.

And then, I read this in the paper (because I am an old man who wears slippers, smokes a pipe, and slips on a pair of half-glasses to read “the paper” in an overstuffed easy chair):

Elk Grove Village will be hosting a two-day international bike race this summer in honor of the village’s 50th Anniversary.

On Aug. 12 and 13, there will be the Tour de Elk Grove with more than $125,000 in prize money at stake.

Bicycling professionals from all over the world are expected to compete.

The televised event will show viewers on all continents the heart of American industry in Elk Grove Village as well as its tree-lined residential community, village officials said.

The race will carry the fourth-highest purse in North America in 2006 at $125,000, $25,000 of which will go to the individual winner.

The race is in honor of the 50-year anniversary of the incorporation of Elk Grove Village in 1956.

The Tour de Elk Grove? Really? Is he kidding with this shit? I love the town I live in, but a third of it is nothing but factories and warehouses (the “heart of American industry,” and also the largest consolidated industrial park in North America—not too shabby, but also not particularly pretty, though the Portillo’s is nice), another third is full of assholes who wish they lived in Schaumburg but can’t afford it, and the final third are a bunch of blue-collar bums more likely to laugh at and trip passing bicyclists than cheer them on.

I really don’t understand the motivation. Tourism? Luring new businesses? Or does he want people to see Elk Grove on television and say, “Gosh, maybe Mayor Craig B. Johnson is right—all those warehouses on the edge of town, many of which have already been sold to Chicago and abandoned, are so beautiful, they shouldn’t be marred by a half-mile expressway extension. Let us fight for a cause that failed spectacularly in a legal way. I’m going to write a protest song and shackle myself to one of the pickups in that lot on Old Higgins Road!”

Really, this is crazy. The only positive outcome will be the potential interest in broadcasting Channel 6 worldwide. And even that will degrade over time, like TLC becoming the all-Trading Spaces network. I can’t live in a world that shows more than nine episodes of On Duty! a day.

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Top 10 Albums of 2005

“But Stan,” you, gentle reader, whine at me, “you have a Bachelor of Fine Arts that says you’re qualified to tell me the best and worst movies of the year. Clearly you know nothing about music, and you are furthermore a failure at life. Way to suck, dipshit.”

Yes, I could have made a list of the top 10 movies of 2005, but I’m not even convinced I saw 10 new movies this year; if I did, I certainly didn’t see 10 good ones. But I will say that I enjoyed Melinda & Melinda (not great, though), The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Rent, but I think one of my circles in hell will involve me watching Revenge of the Sith and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on a continuous loop for the rest of eternity.

I flirted with the idea of reviewing books, to make me seem really smart and articulate; plus, I could have pretty much cribbed mini-reviews I wrote on a forum I frequent. However, I don’t think I read any books this year that were actually written in 2005, so that makes the whole thing kind of pointless.

I almost didn’t even do this list of albums, because I once again wasn’t sure until I looked over all the shit I downloaded—er, obtained legally through completely legitimate channels—that I had even heard 10 albums released in 2005. I’m a little behind the times, as my poor-man’s Steve Perry cut and Grizzly Adams Jr. beard will attest. But, much to my surprise, a lot of good material came out this year. Nothing to rival last year’s best album—and one of my favorites of all time—Kathryn Musilek‘s Every Window in My House, but a lot of good shit nonetheless. So, without further Apu…

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Telemarketer

My work phone rang today, which was a startling and unusual occurrence. They accidentally mislabeled my phone number in the staff directory, and I’ve gone to great pains to keep it that way because, frankly, I don’t usually need to talk to anybody on the phone, and I don’t want to talk to anyone on the phone, so I don’t want anybody calling me. And since nobody knows the number, it’s a rather convenient way out.

So the phone rang, and I thought it might be a job, although I only listed that particular number one time before I realized maybe all they need is my cell phone, since it might be a bad idea to be discussing the details of a job or scheduling an interview where many people can hear me and know I’m searching for a new job. I picked it up anyway. “This is Stan,” I muttered.

“Hi, this is Ron, from Gossamer Brokerage, and investment firm in Manhattan,” said the friendly voice on the other line.

“Uh…” I responded.

“I’m calling to see if you have any interest in [insert spiel of investment-related rhetoric that I only half-paid attention to],” Ron continued.

“I’m not interested in that at all,” I said.

“Would you like to switch your existing account to our firm?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Your name is on this list because our records indicate that you have an investment account. Is this correct?”

“No.”

His tone switched from friendly to an “I need to back out of this call as quickly as possible so I can move on to the next person” tone. “Okay, have a good day,” was all he said before he hung up.

I’m still trying to figure out how he got the number. I wonder if they just somehow got ahold of an outdated directory (or are just randomly dialing the any combination with our set prefixes) to cold-call people at our company. I’m guessing around here, finding people who have investment portfolios will net a lot more “hits” than “misses.”

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The Necktie

On my daily walk today, I saw, tied around a fence post, a necktie. It was a nice-looking silk tie, and considering the neighborhood I assume it’s expensive. And it wasn’t just tied like, say, a yellow ribbon, with an arbitrary knot. This was a half-windsor with a neck-sized loop that somebody had just, for some reason, put on the fence. Why? Why?! These are the questions that will drive me insane.

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Coffee Article

Starbucks Economics

I’m actually officially off the sauce at this point, and assuming the migraines and irritability go away at some point, I’m all the better for it. But this article just…pissed me off. Here’s why:

The problem with large cappuccinos is that it’s impossible to make the fine-bubbled milk froth (“microfoam,” in the lingo) in large quantities, no matter how skilled the barista. A 20-ounce cappuccino is an oxymoron.

Both of those statements are outright lies. It’s actually remarkably easy to essentially fill an entire steam pitcher (which is usually 32 or 40 ounces) with foam using small quantities of milk. We used to do that all the time at Tully’s, no matter what the size or drink (lattés also have foam, albeit less), because we’d get so crowded we needed to multitask and make a half-dozen drinks simultaneously.

While the company line at both Starbucks and Tully’s was to fill any size cappuccino halfway with milk and fill the other half with foam, we’d usually go a quarter, because most people didn’t like all that milk. And if people asked for it “dry,” we would put as little milk in as humanly possible, often spooning out the foam rather than attempting the spoon-and-pour combo we baristas have to master.

Also, I’m sure this has changed because he’s insisting he’s ordered them, but when I worked at Starbucks we didn’t even have a “short” size—I never saw that until I worked at Tully’s.

The reference to the venti weighing 20 ounces and being more than 200 calories is misleading. Yes, the cup holds 20 fluid ounces, and as I said, the company line is to fill it halfway—theoretically, 10 ounces of milk (maybe eight if you include the espresso) and the rest is just almost-weightless foam. And if people are really worried about the calories, I’m sure they’re familiar with skim milk (which would also give them a stronger coffee flavor, since the its consistency is thinner—plus it foams better).

Let’s get down to the weights and measures of it all. At Tully’s, the espresso increment went as follows (from short to viente): 1-1-2-3. So let’s break it down: one shot of espresso is roughtly 1.5 ounces. Let’s assume for a second that we’re towing the company line—although we never did—and filling it halfway with milk before spooning in the foam. Now, right off the bat, if you have half a brain you’ve noticed that if the mixture is perfect, the short and the grande have a exact, proportional concentration—it’s just that the grande is twice the size.

Then there’s the viente. Three shots of espresso. Four and a half ounces of pure, concentrated caffeine magic cut with five and a half ounces of milk. Versus one and a half ounces of espresso mixed with two and a half ounces of milk. So we’re dealing with an espresso ratio of 8.18:10 in the viente and 6:10 in the short. (And let’s not even get into the cost ratio—a grande is 60¢ more than a $2.35 short, but you get double.)

So who’s getting fucked by the secret menu now?

His whole point is kind of weird, too. It’s partly true, according to Tully’s (like I said, Starbucks didn’t have shorts when I worked there), that they make the cheaper product less attractive (by not advertising it directly), and I was told exactly what he says: the price on the shorts is too low to justify the cost.

However, the actual reasoning is a little different than what he says—again, he’s misleading—because we buy cups and lids in bulk. And so if the cost of 100 8 oz. cups is roughly the same as the 20 oz., we sell so few (and as he points out, there’s less markup) that it doesn’t justify the store spending money to replace the cups and lids. When they were advertised early in the company’s existence (or so I’m told…), it cost more in the long run than it does to not advertise them at all.

It’s weird in the sense that it’s exclusionary—John Q. Non-Regular doesn’t have any idea he can save a whopping 30 cents on his cappuccino—and maybe shouldn’t be done at all, but it is nice on those rare occasions when somebody would ask, “Gee, can’t I get something smaller than 12 ounces?” But that happened maybe twice in the four months I worked at Tully’s, so that’s what I mean: without advertising, our individual store probably could have lasted a year on a box of 100 cups, which doesn’t hurt the profit margin.

I’m not really trying to justify the tactic—personally, I never understood why we offered the size at all—I just don’t see it as devious as leaving roofs off of third-class train cars or constructing shitty airline lounges to encourage people to pay a premium.

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Hooray for Hollywood: Calling in Favors Edition

Last week, I reread some old scripts I had written because, since I’m too lazy to research new ideas, I thought maybe I could adapt some preexisting material into a novel that somebody might actually want to read. And then something happened that has never happened before (and hopefully will never happen again): I started reading one script, and I got really into it, like I hadn’t written it, like I didn’t really know the story…and I really, really liked it.

When I finished—I read it in one sitting, which something I rarely do, especially with my own material, which I usually put down in disgust after five minutes and come back to it a few days later—I thought to myself, “This fucker’s a screenplay. I could turn it into a novel, but right now, as it stands, it is the best screenplay I’ve ever written, maybe it’ll make an above-average novel, but it’ll make a hell of a good movie.”

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Great News!

Axl Rose Breaks His Silence

After all, before he lends his talents to others’ projects, Rose has one of his own to finish, and he says it’s getting there. “We’re working on thirty-two songs, and twenty-six are nearly done,” he says. Of those, thirteen are slated for the final album. Among Rose’s favorites are “Better,” “There Was a Time” and “The Blues.”

YES!

P.S.: If you’re wondering why I’m not updating a lot, it’s because nothing ever happens in my life. Also, I’m using most of my spare time to record my own Chinese Democracy, and when I get infuriated with my own musical incompetence, I’m over here, trying to make artificial characters into real people through the magic of the WORST FUCKING SITE ON THE INTERNET.

Incidentally, I got my first rave review: “I was dying laughing when I read your band on my space. Now you just need a fanclub and some friends and you’ll be a sensation.” That’s a rave, right?

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Nice Day

Today was unseasonably warm and pleasant. It felt like the last day of school to me, where you’re all antsy because you aren’t doing anything but busy work but you have to be there, and you just can’t wait for the bell to ring so you can bust right the hell out the front doors, running headlong into three months of school-free bliss.

The unfortunate thing is, I have to go back tomorrow.

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A Few Things

· Yesterday I snuck out of work early to see Woody Allen’s new movie, Match Point, with my old friend Kelly. We both enjoyed it a whole lot but agreed that it’s just a little bit too long. Long movies aren’t bad unless they feel long, and there was a section in the middle that just dragged. Oh well.

· There’s a whole slew of new “contractors” (that’s a fancy word for “temp”) at work this week. I hope one of them will usurp the job of this guy I can’t stand. He’s obsessed with the idea that, at some point, his temporary work will blossom into a full-time position. While it’s true that it could happen, it most likely won’t because nobody can stand him. And I realized today why I, personally, dislike him (aside from all the other reasons): his voice and speech pattern are almost identical to my former blog-nemesis, Owen.

· Thanks to the new contractors, I…had no work to do today. They say they want to help everyone—especially me, as I’ve still been doing the job of three people, since the previous temp disappeared—but it seems a little shady. I don’t know about you, but I can see the writing on the wall, and it says, “YOU’RE FIRED BECAUSE EVEN OWEN JUNIOR IS MORE WELL-LIKED THAN YOU!” Time to step up the job search.

· I just posted this on a friend’s blog. Make of it what you will…

A few years ago, one of my friends gave me a big book, a compiled “best-of” from a magazine called Found. He said he thought it’d be good for me, to help me come up with story ideas. It contains zillions of letters, drawings, diary excerpts, notes (including stuff as mundane as shopping lists) that people have found all over the place and send to this magazine. It’s pretty awesome, and it really is kind of a nice writing tool—you can open to any random thing and get a dozen story ideas just one little note. And on top of this book and the magazine, I’ve kind of become obsessed with the whole concept. If I ever see something like that on the street—which is rare, actually—I’ll grab it and see what it says. I’m a strange person.

So in the same vein as what you’re saying, because I haven’t yet found a “real” job and I’m bored out of my mind at this one, I’ve started “losing” things—doing the opposite of the magazine, intentionally dropping or almost-throwing-into-the-garbage-can-but-missing or just tossing out into the wind whatever scraps I have lying around. You might consider this “littering,” but you’re wrong. Okay, you’re right, but this place would drive me nuts if not for the notion that somebody will pick up my scraps and, I dunno, think about life differently. I know there’s a 0.00001% chance of that actually happening, but it’s the wildest, craziest thing I can do within the confines of a terrible job.

· My obsession with the most fascinating band in the universe, the Beach Boys, reached critical mass a few nights ago. I had a dream that I was at a family Christmas party circa the late ’80s (I was as old as I am now, but everyone else was younger), where I was engaged in a pretty heated argument about the greatest album of all time. I was arguing with a time traveler (???), who one could strongly argue is an authority on the subject, that the Beach Boys’ seminal 1966 album, Pet Sounds is the greatest. Which is interesting, because while it’s definitely in the top five, I’d say Matthew Sweet’s 100% Fun has the top spot pretty well secure. (Then again, this was the late ’80s, so 100% Fun wasn’t out yet.)

As I argued, surprise party guest Mike Love heard the veracity and (typical) high quality of my reasoning and asked, “Are you a musician?” I told him that yes, I was, and he informed me that since Al Jardine had left to tour on his own, they were looking for a new guitarists, and would I be interested?

As I stammered like an idiot to answer him, I started to mentally ponder the ramifications of this deal. This could be great for my nonexistent music career (even in the late ’80s, which is well known for its terrible music!), but at the same time teaming up with the horrible, litigious Love would betray my idol, Brian Wilson, and I wasn’t sure I could do that, no matter how much it would further my career. As I considered all of this, I woke up. Pathetically, I was half-disappointed that it wasn’t true, but I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make such a difficult decision.

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Promotion / Phone Interview

So last week, I thought the new contractors would lead to my downfall. It seemed logical: bring in some temps, oust the old guy, eventually bring in a new guy. Although to my credit, if it requires more than one temp to do my single job—a job that, by and large, I do in about half of an ordinary work day (the other half is spent fucking around or disappearing from the workplace, which is why I figured I was on my way out). As it turns out, though, on Friday—the day after our monthly close—I was introduced to a new set of duties. I was—what the hell?—being promoted. Again.

But in the meantime, combining my assumption that I was getting fired and my hatred of the job in general, I had intensified my job search, sending out between 12-15 resumes a day for most of last week, mostly administrative or editing positions. I received—this won’t come as any great surprise if you’ve seen my employment history—one response, and I was frankly surprised to get it, but I pounced on the opportunity like some sort of malnourished jungle cat that has spotted a female mauling a zebra.

The employer sent an email asking to set up a phone interview, which told me she had read my résumé (or, at least, skimmed it enough to know that I am, in fact, working). And she still got in touch with me! This was either a very good sign or a very, very bad sign. So we bounced a few emails back and forth and settled on a day and time: today, at 11:30.

I know it’s only a phone interview, but I worried that this would lead to an immediate in-person interview, and at the moment I bear a sad resemblance to the bloated, disheveled late-’70s Brian Wilson, do this weekend I shaved my beard, and this morning I slipped out of work at around 9:15 to ensure I would have enough time to get a haircut, eat my lunch, and do this phone interview. As it turns out, I had about an hour to spare, so I went home and made careful use of my time, going over my largely fictional resume and looking at pornography (not simultaneously).

I quietly calmed myself. I was pretty nervous because this would actually be a really good job for me, and it’s local (many of the jobs I’ve been applying to are out-of-state, which might be why nobody calls me), and I didn’t want to blow it by being a total ass. It takes a lot of concentration and effort for me to not be a total ass, so I got myself into a vaguely Zen place and made the call at 11:29. The phone rang, and I felt the butterflies twirling around my abdomen. I betted them down with the promise of more pornography after the interview, and just then, the phone…clicked over to her VoiceMail.

What the hell? Did we not have a very specific time set up? What the shit is going on? I tell her when I’m available, she sends me the exact date and time, and then…nothing. I left a very polite message, reminding her of our scheduled interview, then hung up. I decided to wait 15 minutes, and if I got her VoiceMail again, I’d tell her I’ll wait around for another 15, and then I have to go to work. Even casual readers of this blog (and by that I mean search-engine robots, though I don’t think they’re reading for content) would laugh at this suggestion—of course I was bluffing and trying to create the illusion of a work ethic. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Fortunately, she called me back at 11:41, and we had our interview. She told me about the company, then asked me questions about myself. Typical interview stuff: what’s the deal with my shitty resume, how exaggerated are your qualifications, where do you see yourself in five years? I rambled, stammered, repeated myself—I thought it was going terribly, until she started going on and on with details about the job requirements. I’ve had enough job interviews to know, basically, I’m in. Maybe I don’t have the job yet, but I suspected an in-person interview was on the horizon—and I was right.

“I’d like to bring you in to meet the team,” she said. The team? All right, I know what this means: if I get along with “the team” and seem like I’ll be, ahem, a “team player,” I will get this motherfucking job. Which is nice. It pays well, it’s a writing job, and it sounds like there will be enough to do—or, at least, enough of a cooperative group environment—that I won’t be bored out of my mind all the time.

Yeah, I’m excited, and I’m also terrified that I won’t get this job. At all.

So, loyal readers (and disloyal enemies who enjoy feasting on my misery—you know who you are), keep your fingers crossed. I might, for the first time in my life, enjoy some sort of employment-based success.

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