Friday, October 31, 2008

White Female Gangsta Bloggas

I laughed, I cried, I thought, "Chris Baggott and his staff have too much time on their hands."

A little video by Jess Wehner and Kristen Raves of Compendium Blogware, spoofing SNL's Lazy Sunday. For those of you outside our fair city, the video was shot in Compendium offices and in downtown Indianapolis on the Circle.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008



Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Many big-city radio news programs are becoming shadows of their former selves, getting their news, including traffic reports, from national sources, not local reporters. They've lost the very essence of what made local news so important and relevant 30 years ago.

I would love to see a return to local radio news. Even better, an ultra-localized news service that gives me the news I want, about things that affect only me. I could listen to it on the way to work each morning.

Good morning, this is WERIK Radio, bringing you the best in local news, sports, traffic, and weather for Erik Deckers. I'm Carl Bormann, with traffic and sports from Judy Capstan.

Topping local news this morning, local business Slipstone Manufacturing announced they will soon add 400 new jobs in the next six months. While this means more economic stimulus for the area, this will add 400 new cars to get in your way, while you’re driving to work.

In other news, your neighbor’s dog has crapped on your lawn for a third day in a row. Staring, heavy sighs, and other nonverbal hints have gone unnoticed, and your neighborhood association did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

In financial news, your wife says household finances look solid. However, none of your lottery numbers hit this week, which means one more week of fighting the daily commute.

Meanwhile, high-level banking officials have finally stopped rolling around in the big piles of money Congress gave them, and have resumed business as usual. . . assuming business as usual means giving billions in year-end bonuses to their executives, taking luxury corporate retreats, and according to a recent New York Times column, using the bailout money to buy smaller failing banks.

When reminded of the millions of families whose livelihood and home ownership relied on the banks using the money to solve the country's economic woes, one bank official said, "Give people money? That's not our job. They should have kept their money, instead of wasting it on food and clothes for their kids."

In education news, your oldest daughter continues to excel in her studies, although she’s having some difficulty with fractions. A local home schooling expert, your wife, says that further effort on your daughter’s part is needed.

“She just needs to concentrate a little more,” said your wife. “She’s not allowed to listen to her iPod while she’s studying from now on.” Meanwhile, your youngest daughter finished another I Can Read book, focusing on the short U sound, while your son can recognize his letters and numbers.

Let's send it over to Judy for a look at our traffic situation.

Thanks, Jack. Traffic is painfully slow this morning on your way to work, thanks to some jerk in a green Ford Explorer going 10 miles under the speed limit, yakking on his cell phone.

Local radar doesn't detect any incoming missiles, so it looks like you'll be stuck behind him all the way to I-465. To make matters worse, there's an accident just a few miles south of the exit, and the highway is getting backed up with rubberneckers and the morbidly curious hoping to see some blood and guts. You're better off sticking to the back roads and hoping Green Explorer takes the highway.

In local sports, your neighbor’s son’s high school football team, the long-suffering Panthers, lost their game this past weekend, against area rival, the Central Cougars. The loss can be pinned directly on your neighbor’s son’s so-called quarterbacking efforts, whose feeble pass attempts were slapped down harder than a frat boy in a lesbian bar. However, many hometown experts, including your neighbor, believe the loss was the result of a poorly-called game, and some possible collusion and bribery by the opposing coach.

"Just wait 'til next year," said your insufferable neighbor.

In professional sports, the Colts continue to struggle, but die-hard fans believe this is just a phase, and the Colts can still make the playoffs with a wild card spot.

And the Indiana Pacers lost yet again last night, after a stunning blah blah blah you hate basketball.

Finally, some news from the lighter side to cheer up your morning. It seems that the jerk in the green Explorer has just been pulled over and ticketed for impeding the flow of traffic. Be sure to honk and wave as you drive past.

We're going to take a commercial break, and when we come back, we'll have a 20 minute rant on the evils of greedy bank executives who refuse to help families with problem home loans, yet beg for mercy and go crying to Congress like a baby to its mama whenever they get into a little boo-boo of their own. Have a super day!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean visits Indianapolis

The Vinyl Café with Stuart McLean visits Indianapolis

I'm sitting in Row A, seat 103 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. There are 20 other people in the entire theatre. Mostly because I'm 45 minutes early.

I'm waiting for the Vinyl Café with Stuart McLean to start, and the fair weather fans are out in the lobby, or still on their way to the theatre. I've been waiting for this show since they announced it back in July. The stage is empty, and the crowd trickles in.

The Vinyl Café is a radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, similar to Prairie Home Companion. In fact, it's on right after Prairie Home Companion on WFYI public radio, so the comparisons are inevitable.

Sure, music and a couple of stories are the mainstays on the Vinyl Café's 60 minute offering (compared to the added radio skits, fake commercials, and News from Lake Wobegon on PHC). But a live show is twice as nice. Two hours of music and stories, including what we all came for: Dave and Morley stories.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a way-big-huge fan of Prairie Home Companion, and have listened to the show for nearly 30 years. I've seen two live shows, and met Garrison Keillor twice. He even gave me some writing advice that extended my humor career by 10 years (so you have him to blame for it). Having said all that, I think Stuart is funnier– laugh-out loud funny – than Garrison Keillor. He makes me smile and chuckle. He's comfort food for my soul. But Stuart nearly makes me wet my pants at least twice per show. Five alarm chili.

I've been looking forward to the show for nearly 4 months, but now I can't wait for it to be over. I get to interview Stuart after the show is over.

A Vinyl Café stage setup is pretty simple. A few microphones, a couple of music stands, a piano, and a double bass violin. There's a chair, end table, and lamp sitting in front of a video screen. That's where Stuart sits while the musicians play.

Row A, Seat 103 is about 30 feet from Stuart's empty chair. On the screen is a photo of Stuart standing in front of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. From where I'm sitting, Stuart is staring right at me. It's creeping me out. Not to mention the seats are as small as airline seats, and when the guy next to me shows up, we almost start wrestling over the armrest.

Finally, the lights dim, and the crowd of 800+ fans start clapping like we're trying to revive Tinker Bell.

"Tonight, we've got music from Dala and Danny Michel, and three Dave and Morley stories," Stuart says.

You'd think Oprah just walked onstage and said she's giving Cadillac Esplanades to everyone.

"THREE Dave and Morley stories?!" we all gasp. The woman next to me swoons and nearly passes out. Dave and Morley are characters in Stuart's regular stories. Anyone who listens to the show is hooked by the Dave and Morley stories.

We get our performances by female duo, Dala, and singer-songwriter Danny Michel, the three Dave and Morley stories, and even a story and slideshow of Stuart's life, including a couple of photos that Stuart probably wishes were never made public. So I'm showing one of them here.

(Never give Row A, seat 103 to a guy with a digital camera that has 16x digital zoom.)

After the show, I meet Jess Milton, Vinyl Café's producer. She's been the producer for four years, but she's been with the show for five. I ask her what a producer does. Basically she does everything but being the talent. She helps come up with the script for the show, decides what stories should make it on, picks the musicians, and will even help sell merchandise before and after the show. Tonight, she even works the lights.

"We'll get you an interview with Stuart after he signs autographs. Are you okay with waiting that long?"

There are at least 60 people in line for autographs. It will probably take 90 minutes. I tell her it's no problem.

"Or you could do it over the phone if you'd like."

Hmmm, wait for 90 minutes to interview one of my literary heroes in person, or do it on the phone tomorrow. . . what to do, what to do. . . ? I tell her I'm happy to wait. I already called my wife and told her I'd be home really late.

I also meet Tony Decker, the show's road manager. We discuss the historical meaning of the name Decker(s) – we're menders of thatched roofs – and talk about what the road manager does. Tony sells merchandise, manages the travel arrangements, maps, and making sure everyone gets to where they need to be. He works when the show is on the road, and gets to stay home with his kids when it's not. Lucky guy.

Jess and Stuart are so worried about making sure I get some time with him that I apologize.

"This is just an interview for my blog," I tell Stuart as we walk back to his hotel.

"Yeah, but it's your blog," he says. "That's important."

He says it in a way that makes me think it is. Or at least he thinks so. And that's what makes Stuart McLean a fan favorite. You believe what he says because he speaks with sincerity and promise.

Finally, we sit down in the hotel lobby. It's 10:40, and I've got 20 minutes before my car is in danger of being towed (I knew that parking spot on the Circle was too good to be true).

"Since jokes generally rely on that a-ha moment, how do you deal with the laugh that comes before the joke?" I ask.

"I actually plan on that," he says. He structures the story so he can get the laughs from the crowd. A crowd that is so familiar with Dave's foibles, shortcomings, and misadventures that a mere mention of Dave, a cake, and an elevator brings anticipatory groans and laughter from us.

"But since humor relies on a technique like Surprise or Recognition, how do you create those jokes so they get the laugh afterward, not before?"

"Well, I don't know much about humor techniques," he says. "I just do it intuitively."

What? The two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor, sort of Canada's humor Pulitzer, doesn't know humor techniques?

"Three time," he corrects me.

Hey, if I was chosen as Canada's funniest writer three different times – only the fourth writer to do so – I'd be picky about it too. I got your humor techniques right here.

"Sometimes the dancer just doesn't know the dance," he says. "If you were to have me look at a humor piece, I could give you feedback and tell you what would make it funnier, but I couldn't tell you what to do beforehand. I could teach a class about it, but it would be repeating what other people have said."

But Stuart does understand the rhythm of language, and you can hear it in his stories. You can sort of read it in his books, but it's when you listen to his stories that you really hear the lilting rhythm.

"The rhythm of language is something I pay a lot of attention to," he says. "I'm always looking for it. You should look for the poetry in what you're writing. Rhythms of language are very, very important to me. I'm always looking for the swing of the words."

"Where do you get your ideas?" I ask. "Is this stuff that happens to you, or other people?" I cringe inwardly. I got tired of answering that question years ago.

"I ran out of my own stuff early on."

I know the feeling. That's why the advice Garrison Keillor gave me ("Write about current events. Don't limit yourself to your own past.") extended my writing career by 10 years.

It's 10:55, and Stuart is looking more tired than he's letting on. He's such a nice guy that if I kept talking for another hour, he'd probably sit there with me. Instead I ask him to sign my notebook and I get a photo with him. We chat for a couple more minutes, and Stuart says they're already planning to come back to Indianapolis. I tell him I'll be there when he does.

Row A, Seat 103. Keep it warm for me, because I'll be there. With a better digital zoom.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Just Want My $2, Lady

I Just Want My $2, Lady

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Every kid had that quintessential kid job they did for some extra cash. I mowed lawns, shoveled driveways, and delivered papers. I hated delivering papers.

I wasn't one of those kids who worked hard all summer to pay for my school clothes and books (but if my kids ever ask you, I was). Rather, I would wait until I needed some money to pay for something important, like baseball cards or a record, and then work until I earned enough money.

My best friend, Doug, was a paperboy, when I was 10 and he was 11. He delivered the Muncie Evening Press, a later afternoon paper. I sometimes rode with him, so I was his first choice for a sub when he went on vacation for 10 days. That doesn't mean I was the best choice though.

My problem was that I didn't pay attention to things that are going on around me, unless I thought they were important, and I had a vested interest in knowing it. Someone paying me to throw rolled up pieces of paper at different houses counted, so Doug spent his last day giving me a route refresher.

"This guy gets a paper, this one doesn't. The next two get one, those two don't. This one likes the paper on her porch, and don't throw the paper at this lady's house. She'll yell at you."

Had either of us been a little smarter, I would have written this all down. But we were 10 and 11, and could barely be bothered thinking about 10 minutes into the future, let alone what happens when a kid has to deliver 60 newspapers every day with 24 hours notice. Then Doug said something that made me realize I was in over my head: "On Thursday, you need to collect the subscriptions from everyone."

Oh crap. I was going to be responsible for collecting and handling money from all these people, and I wasn't even sure I was going to get them all right. I was a little reassured when Doug handed me his collection book, and each card had the customer's address on it.

"Just go to each house, and tell them you need two dollars for the week. "

All in all, I was going to get nearly $20 for nine days work. In 1977, that was a lot of money to a little kid, but I still wasn't sure about this whole collecting thing. While I wasn't shy, asking people for money was going to be hard.

I mean, I couldn't be that little psycho kid from "Better Off Dead" – Two dollars! I want my two dollars! – mostly because the movie wouldn't be released for eight more years. But still, to ask for money from someone I didn't know was intimidating.

On the first day, I got the first few houses just fine, avoiding flowers, not thumping them on porches. Then I hit a snag: oh crap, I don't know if I deliver to this house or not.

I tossed the paper at it and continued on. As I went, I realized I didn't remember a lot of the houses that got papers. I delivered to homes that probably didn't get papers and skipped houses that probably did. I didn't do too badly though, because I ran out of papers when I got to the end of the route. I took that as a good sign, and promised myself to bring the collection book the next day to use as a guide.

Except I forgot it that day. And the next day. And the day after that. I just kept delivering to the houses I had been, and hoped things would be all right when I collected on Thursday.

They weren't.

I found that I had missed several houses. I stopped at each of them and explained my problem. They weren't too happy they hadn't gotten their papers. For the past six nights. When I stammered out an excuse that I was just a sub, and the other kid who had the route was on vacation, and I was just a sub, and gosh ma'am I'm really sorry I'm only a sub, they accepted my apology. And most importantly, I got paid. I was even able to sort out the right houses for the last few days.

And best of all, I learned a very important lesson: when you're up against a bad situation, there's nothing a hangdog look and a little fake crying won't get you out of.

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Gun Safety: Do as I say, not as I do

Pop Quiz
When bringing a DEA agent into your classroom to talk about gun safety and the dangers of guns, you want:

1) Someone who can reach young kids with a positive message.
2) Someone with years of on-the-job experience.
3) Someone who can create a safe learning environment for children.
4) Someone who makes sure a gun is unloaded before showing it to a bunch of kids.

The best line in the whole video: “I’m the only one in this room professional enough that I know of to carry the Glock 40.” BANG!

You have to admit, the guy can think pretty quickly on his feet, which is a good thing, considering he nearly put a hole in one.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Won't Return My Ball? I'm Calling the Cops.

Every neighborhood seems to have a crabby old lady or man who is the bane of all the kids. When I was growing up in Muncie, IN, it was the mother of one of the littler kids who lived across the street. And she wasn't that old, but she was twice as crabby.

This woman was a psycho. She used to make her kid spend the day in bed if he stepped in a puddle, even in the middle of summer, because now he was "sick." She once yelled at me to play on my own side of the street (not in the yard, mind you, but on my side of the imaginary center line). And she once chased me and my friend, Eric Pratt, with 2 foot hedge trimmers, screaming at us like Attila the Hun. (Believe me, I am not exaggerating about any of this. I wish I was.)

In Blue Ash, Ohio, Edna Jester has earned the reputation of being the crabby neighbor. According to an article in USA Today, Edna, 89, is facing 6 months incarceration and a $1,000 fine because she refused to return a football belonging to a neighborhood kid who lost it in the yard.

Edna has had a long-running problem with kids' balls landing in her yard, where they must leave huge divots and craters in the lawn to elicit such a strong -- what's that? Footballs and baseballs don't leave divots and craters? Then maybe the kids were climbing her fence and ruining the -- what's that? Edna doesn't have a fence?

So what's the problem?

Yes, she's had a number of balls land in her yard. The parent of the kid in question, Paul Tanis, says Jester has kept at least 10 balls that have landed in her yard; Jester says she has only kept three.

When Jester refused to return Tanis' son's football, Paul Tanis called the police. Blue Ash police issued a citation, which she refused to sign, so they arrested her for misdemeanor theft.

"I'm 89 years old and I want a little peace of mind," Jester said. "This is my life here in this chair, looking out that door, and all I see is playing the ball down and all over and all over. If it doesn't come in my yard, OK, but if it comes in my yard, I'm going to get it. No trespassing."

While the little kid in me cheers at the thought of a crabby old lady getting what she deserved, the more rational adult in me has to wonder:

1) Is it really necessary to call the cops?
2) Is it really necessary for the cops to arrest her?
3) While Jester may be mean for keeping the balls, isn't there a more mature way to handle this?
4) Why wasn't Tanis' son playing somewhere free of crabby old ladies?
5) Most importantly, why can't a 13-year-old kid outrun an 89-year-old woman, especially if she's just sitting in her chair all day long?

According to a article, Tanis said he told the police he didn't want to press charges.

“Edna and I have gotten along well,” he said. “I’ve cut her grass for free. We know she doesn’t like neighbors going into her yard, and we do the best we can to avoid it.”

Well, Paul, you now know how much she appreciates your family's help. And if she doesn't want trespassers, then don't mow her lawn. At the same time, you and your son should probably apologize for all the hassle you've put her through and offer to pay any legal fees or fines. And finally, quit letting your son play in a place where the balls are going to end up in her yard. If it's happened three or even 10 times, then that's too many.

Most people would have learned their lesson after one time.

(You can see a video of Jester on MSNBC's website.)

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review of Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Review of Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

I went to Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, at the Heartland Film Festival, wondering if I would love or hate the movie.

As a liberal Christian, I had twice the chance of being upset by Dan Merchant's documentary, where he "sets out to discover why the Gospel of Love is dividing America."

Merchant spent three years looking at utterances from as well as interviewing people on both sides of the debate, including Pastor Rick Warren (author of A Purpose Driven Life), former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, Al Franken, Sister Mary Timothy of the Church of Perpetual Indulgence, Tony the Beat Poet and Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz.

Merchant lays out the debate, and gives us example after example of the angry, divisive language from Jerry Falwell, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. And just when you think we're on the brink of a religious-cultural civil war, Merchant shows us that not all hope is lost.

We get to hear from Pastor Rick Warren, who has earned so much money from Purpose Driven Life, that he stopped taking a salary from his church, and paid back 24 years worth of his salary; from Tony the Beat Poet and Donald Miller, who put up a confessional on the campus of Reed College during the Ren Fayre end-of-the-year party; a group of churches who tend to and minister to the homeless in Portland, Oregon; and Merchant's own confessional at the Portland Pride Festival.

I've often said that politics are the one thing that people get the most upset about, even though it’s the one thing we can't do anything about. Add religion to that list. It's a topic that has divided our country, even though people claim to be spouting off in the name of the man who preached love and acceptance.

I get tired of all the dreck from the conservative Christian pundits and religious leaders who claim to speak for all Christians. And as I watched, a seed of thought germinated in me, and I left with one thought about those people:

You don't speak for me.

When you spew hate and intolerance for people who don't agree with you, you don't speak for me. When you hate people in the name of the Lord, you don't speak for me. When you boil your hatred down to an antagonistic 9-word slogan and stick it on your car, you don't speak for me.

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is not for everyone. But if you're willing to be challenged in how you think of Christianity and how it's used in this country today, go see this movie. But go fast, but it's only at the Heartland Film Festival until Tuesday.

After that, you can visit the Lord, Save Us website to get the movie screened in your church.

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Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes - Heartland Film Festival review

I was 14 years old when I first started listening to Prairie Home Companion. When my sister and I would go to my dad's for a weekend visit, we always listened to PHC at dinner, moving to the living room to finish up with the news from Lake Wobegon.

Although I outgrew most of my childhood likes and dislikes – beer can collecting just doesn't have the same attraction as it used to – Prairie Home Companion has stayed with me for the last 27 years. Garrison Keillor's smooth baritone can lull you into a state of Saturday relaxation like nobody's business.

So I jumped at the chance to review Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes at the Heartland Film Festival, dangling modifier notwithstanding.

The movie is a behind-the-scenes documentary about Keillor and his steering of Prairie Home Companion through its 30 year run. We get to see how the show is made, the musicians and actors who are normally just names and voices on the radio, and Keillor's thoughts on his writing process.

I've always liked PHC because it's a microcosm of old-time radio. Back before television, radio was the only form of in-home entertainment. There were cowboy and adventure for the kids, soaps for mom, detective shows for the kids, and gospel and country music shows for background noise throughout the day. PHC recreates the sound and feel of old-time radio by packing the shows into a 2 hour summary.

PHC has enjoyed unbridled success – at least as much success as a public radio show can have; it's still just public radio, after all – but they've made a Prairie Home Companion movie with Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Tommy Lee Jones; the show is also heard in England and Australia; and, Keillor owns a home in Minnesota and an apartment in Manhattan. He writes for the New Yorker and countless other publications.

The only other way to learn what a PHC show looks like live, you'll have to travel up to Minnesota or New York to watch a live production. Or you can spend the eight bucks and see Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes. I highly recommend the latter.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Heartland Film Festival review: Second Hand Wedding

I kicked off the Heartland Film Festival with one of the first films of the year, Second Hand Wedding, New Zealand filmmaker's Paul Murphy first full-length feature.

I was dazzled by the views of New Zealand's Kapiti Coast and gorgeous shots of the coastline. I've never been to the land of the Kiwis, but an ex-pat American tells me it's the most beautiful place on earth. After seeing the shots by the film's second unit (Murphy was the second unit cameraman too), I can believe it. Northern California is a Superfund site compared to New Zealand.

Garage sale junkie, Jill (played by my new favorite Kiwi actressGeraldine Brophy), and her friend, Muffy, spend weekend after weekend visiting rummage sales, buying anything and everything they can find. In one of my favorite scenes, Muffy and Jill are sitting on the couch, when Muffy notices a chip in a teapot lid, obviously bringing the value down of the whole purchase.

"Wait a minute," says Jill, and she gets up. She returns a few seconds later with an identical, chip-free lid. "I knew I kept this for a reason."

"Good," says Muffy. "Now you can throw the old one away."

Jill rescues the damaged lid from her wasteful friend. "Oh no. You never know."

Meanwhile, Cheryl, Jill's daughter, is getting married in two months. She is freaking out that her mother is going to junk up the wedding with her garage sale finds. To make matters worse, Cheryl and her fiancé, Stu, are stuck with an $18,000 bill for the reception hall, and no way to pay for it. They'll lose their slot, but still have to cough up the cash.

Jill learns that her hoarding and bargain hunting are creating family problems she was never aware of. In one of those moments we all dread, Jill has a flash of self-awareness that her hoarding is an embarrassment to her family. To overcome the problem, she holds the Kapiti Coast's biggest garage sale, sells her years' of garage sale finds and comes up with more than enough money to save the day.

Murphy's attention to detail captured some of the psychological differences between Cheryl Rose and mother Jill. Jill's house is cluttered beyond belief: three toasters, two stovetop espresso makers, and enough small cups and vases to warrant a retail cabinet. But Jill and Stu's apartment is bare, have almost nothing on display.

While Jill's avarice was funny in many ways, part of me kept thinking how glad I was that we didn't live this way. My family and I recently eliminated most of the junk and detritus from our own lives, and Second Hand Wedding reminded me of the lifestyle we finally escaped. I watched the movie with a sense of relief and smug self-satisfaction that we weren't "like that."

The evening finally topped off with director Paul Murphy taking questions at the end of the show. He described how they didn't have any money to make the film, and relied on several different funding sources to complete it.

"We nearly considered a garage sale," he told the capacity crowd.

"This showing," said Murphy, referring to the very theatre and showing I was sitting in. "This showing is the North American premiere of 'Second Hand Wedding.'" Wow, I was somehow just a part of New Zealand film history, and I swelled with Hoosier pride.

So suck on that, Toronto!


Interesting facts about Second Hand Wedding
- Paul Murphy was the Key Grip on Peter Jackson's King Kong.
- Geraldine Brophy and Jed Brophy both appeared in King Kong as well.
- Jown Rowles, Jill's favorite singer, was "nearly world famous," said Murphy.
- As the crew was running out of money, the New Zealand Film Commission came through with some money to help them complete the film.

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Independent Coffee Shops Need Their Own Identities, Language

A recent visit to the Noblesville Coffee and Tea Company -- my first ever -- was both excellent and a tiny bit disappointing. Just a tiny bit though. As a fan of independent coffee houses around the Indianapolis metro area, I love trying coffee houses for the first time.

My friend, Jeff Coppinger, owner of Lazy Daze Coffeehouse said this was one shop he really likes this place, so I thought I would try it.

I really like the place. Great ambience, gorgeous leather couches, and outstanding coffee.

They even embrace their indie status, by offering bumper stickers that proudly proclaim, "Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks."

Yep, they eschew all things corporate and embrace their indie-ness. Until you order your coffee, available in Tall, Grande, and Venti. That's Starbucks speak for small, medium, and large. Eww.

"It seems kind of funny to have this bumper sticker when you use Starbucks' sizes," I said.

"They're not copyrighted," said the young lady behind the counter.

"No, I mean you guys obviously don't want to be associated with them, but you use their language for your sizes."

"Well, people already understand the Starbucks sizes when they come in here, and they might not understand our sizes."

"Ah," I said, as if that made all the sense in the world, which it didn't.

"Who the hell doesn't understand 'medium' or 'large?'" I posted to my Twitter feed.

They could rename it small, medium, and large. Or big, bigger, biggest. Or use German to Starbucks' Italian (venti means 20), and call it zwolf, sechszehn, and zwansig (12, 16, or 20).

Noblesville Coffee, when it comes to the coffee house thing, you're doing great. Just drop the 'venti' nonsense, and you'll be outstanding.
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Wii, this is fun!!

My friend, Patric Welch a.k.a. Mr. Noobie, is giving away a Nintendo Wii on his Noobie website.

Patric helps out Noobies to the technology world with useful advice, like buying and using a digital camera, new computer, having heated discussions with me about whether kids should learn to tell analog time (they should), and my favorite segment, TILTS (Things I'd Like to See).

You can win a Wii if you click this link. This very link. Click it. What are you waiting for?!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Simple Living Ain't So Simple

Simple Living Ain't So Simple

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

My family and I moved recently. We went from the heart of Indianapolis to the northern suburbs, something which did not excite me. I don't know what I hated more, leaving our little urban dwelling, or loading and unloading two truckloads of stuff in 36 hours.

Despite my stabbing back pain, I think it was the leaving our house that hurt the most. I made sure to voice this opinion several times in the weeks leading up to our moving.

"You know, for a supporter of the party of change, you sure whine a lot," said my wife.

"That's not true. I'm all about change," I said, folding my arms.

She pointed at my pose. "You haven't changed that. You still pout."

"Do not."

"Whatever." She went off to pack more stuff.

We've been in Life Simplification mode for several years. We've moved three times in three years – something I haven't done since college – as a way to scale back our cost of living and the amount of stuff we own.

We decided to do this after my wife, ironically enough, purchased a number of books on living simply. Four years ago, we had a sizable house in northern Indiana that was jammed to the gills with books, toys, clothes, and half-finished projects I swore I'd fix "next month."

"Next month" was nine and ten years long, in some cases.

"When are you going to repair the broken cabinet we saved from that store?"

"Next month." That cabinet had been sitting in the garage for six years.

"What about that pile of plywood you said you were going to turn into CD shelves?"

"Next month." That pile had sat in the garage for four years.

"But you're fixing the cabinet next month."

"I'll do it right after I finish the cabinet."

We sold, donated, dumped, and eliminated at least a third of everything we owned, including the cabinet and gave away the plywood.

As the Champion of Change, I pouted, whined, stomped around the house, and voiced my displeasure at the upheaval. But it didn't matter. We moved to a house in Indianapolis' northeast suburbs and barely fit. After 18 months, we decided to move closer to town.

"We need to get rid of more stuff," my wife said.

"What do you mean 'we,' Kemosabe? I got rid of a bunch of stuff last time."

"Yes, and now we have to get rid of more."

"Why? The new house is bigger than this one. If anything, we need more stuff."

"We don't need more stuff," she said. "We're trying to simplify, remember? Simple living?"

"I simply don't care."

I had no vote in the matter, and had to get rid of more stuff. More books, clothes that shrunk in the wash, old toys, and things that only had a little sentimental value.

"Do you think I should keep these crocheted pot holders your dead great-aunt gave you 10 years ago?" my wife asked.

"Do you use them?"


"Pitch 'em," I said.

"Do you still need these writing books?" she asked.

"I haven't read them yet."

"You haven't?! You swore you'd read them when we bought them."

"I've been busy. Living simply is hard work." Whiny pouting 1, voice of reason 0.

"Bull. Read 'em or pitch 'em."

"Read 'em."

"Be sure you do."

Yada yada yada, I thought, but knew better than to say out loud. (You learn a few secrets after several years of marriage.)

We managed to fit everything into the new house with some space to spare, and spent a year in it, when we decided to look for an even smaller place up north.

"We have to get rid of more stuff," my wife said again.

"This is starting to sound like a bad joke," I said.

But we managed to get rid of at least half of what we owned. I know this because we now live in an apartment half the size of the house, but we have plenty of space. And while we don't have a big garage, I've managed to make a little space for a small workshop and a place to get my Weekend Guy fix.

All in all, we've simplified enough that we're living in a space that, 50 years ago, would have been plenty for a family our size. I think we've finally achieved that simple living we've been working toward all those years.

I still haven't read those writing books though.

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Creating successful newspapers: You're doing it wrong

Ruth Holladay's blog says Gannett is dismantling The former INTake paper and website will get its web content from national restaurant and calendar provider Metromix. Because no one knows Indianapolis better than a web company in Chicago.

Pick your city? Pick your city?!

This has been Gannett's approach for the past several years. The bean counters and MBAs are deciding that what's best is to get rid of everything that makes the Star the Indianapolis Star, and get local content from national providers, people who know nothing about our corner of the world.

"Trust Gannett: if there is a formula for ruining newspapers and careers, they have it mastered," Holladay said in her blog.

I've got an idea. I'll pick my newspaper. It's online. I'll pick my local events calendar. It's Nuvo. I'll pick my local commentary. They're bloggers -- Holladay, Jennifer Wagner, and Abdul Hakim-Shabazz. What I won't pick is the print version of the Indianapolis Star. Why waste my time and money looking for local information and commentary, when there are plenty of people who are willing to give me exactly what I need? People who understand Naptown, where the good restaurants are, what the political issues are, and what's going on this weekend.

Pick my city, indeed.

Meanwhile, won't completely die. It will linger on a a social networking site.

"How dated and quaint," said Holladay.

That's true. The last thing we need is another social net---HEY!
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty

Like most Americans, I have the occasional bad day where nothing seems to go right. Gas is so expensive, I don’t always fill the tank, hoping gas prices will drop the next day. The kids keep forgetting to turn the lights off, so the electric bill goes up that month. I forgot my wallet, so I can’t get lunch.

Rather than dwell on these things, I thank God instead. I thank Him that I have a car to drive, and money to put gas in it. I thank Him that we have a home and healthy kids to play in it. I thank Him that I have food to eat at all.

Today is Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty, where bloggers around the world are committing a day’s post to blogging about poverty in the hopes that we can at least make a dent in it. And while I don't expect a humor blog to have a huge impact, I know my readers can.

I want to help Haiti. It’s the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where the average Haitian family lives on $2 per day. The average daily salary is $1 per day.

Think about that the next time you buy a $1 bottle of water.

In this country, for one dollar, you can buy
  • one-third of a gallon of gas
  • a candy bar and a pack of gum from the supermarket
  • a copy of the Indianapolis Star and USA Today
  • a song on iTunes
  • a loaf of cheap bread
  • one-sixth of a 6-pack of Fosters Lager
($1 is not even enough to buy a bottle of pop at a gas station anymore.)

My two youngest children are from Haiti. We adopted them from Heartline Ministries, a ministry organization in Port-Au-Prince that is doing all sorts of amazing things for the people of Haiti.

They run an orphanage and adopt children to families in the US and Europe (my youngest daughter and son are from here). They teach women how to take care of themselves, read, and learn a trade. They’re growing tilapia and raising chickens to provide food for the women and children in their programs. John and Beth McHoul are doing some great and wonderful things for the
people of Haiti, and I’m proud to be associated with them, even if it’s just in this small way.

If you want to help end poverty in Haiti, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. All it takes is a dollar a week. Buy one less bottle of water per week. Better yet, buy a gallon of water from the store ($.80), and you’ll get almost 11 $1 bottles from it. Take one or two of those dollars per week and donate it to Heartline Ministries. They accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and PayPal.

And take a few minutes to read the Heartline Haiti blog to learn what's going on in the lives of two missionaries who have spent nearly three decades helping some of the poorest people in our hemisphere.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Saturday Night Live Videos may be available on their own website

According to a story in Broadcasting & Cable magazine, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels is in talks with NBC to develop an on-demand site for SNL videos, thanks to the success of SNL clips on Hulu. The idea grew as execs saw how popular SNL clips on Hulu (owned by NBC Universal) had become.

One concern Michaels and company have is whether they can monetize the site or not. While I'm all for people making money -- we do live in a capitalist society after all -- I think's lack of financial success should give him pause. SNL alum Will Ferrell's brainchild isn't doing that well financially, which has caused some worries that the site might, well, die. If they don't make any money at it, then they can't consider the site a failure. If they tried, and didn't, what will that do to all the content we've all come to enjoy?

Of course, this means that you might not be able to watch these things for free. If that's the case, be sure to check out great videos, like the Peyton Manning fake United Way commercial while you still have time.

Hat tip to Mashable for this happy bit o' news.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Birds and Bees are Out to Get Me

The Birds and Bees are Out to Get Me

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

“Sure, I’d be glad to help you with your homework, Honey.”

“Where do what come from?!”

“You’re 12. Why do you want to know about that?”

“Why aren’t you interested in dolls instead?”

“What about Penny?”

“Eight years? Are you sure?”

“Why do you even need to know this?”

“They’re teaching that in school now?”

“Can’t you ask your mother?”

“I know she’s visiting Grandma for a few days. Can’t you wait until she gets back?”

“Why did you wait until the last night to do this?”

“We need to work on your time management skills. Do you want me to start teaching you some tricks I learned?”

“Until bedtime.”

“Oh jeez. Why did she have to leave now? I can’t do this.”

“No, I’m just talking to myself.”

“Okay, look. . .”

“All right, it starts with. . .”

“Okay. First there’s a . . .”

“No, how about this: When a man and a woman love each other very much – look, I can’t do this. You need to ask your mother.”

“Can’t you call her?”

“Maybe her phone is off.”

“Gaah! You can’t leave that as a voice mail. Why did you leave her a voice mail?”

“Don’t ask questions like that on voice mail. What if she was driving when she heard it?”

“Well, just because.”

“Hi Sweetie, what do you want?”

“Uhh, we can’t talk right now.”

“Well, I have to help your sister with her homework.”

“NO! Er, I mean, no you can’t stay here. Why don’t you play with your brother?”

“I’m not nervous about anything.”

“My face is always this red.”

“It’s a sunburn.”

“Yes, in October.”

“Yes, at night.”

“My voice isn’t -- ahem, my voice isn’t that high.”

“Hey Buddy, what do you want?”

“I’m trying to get her to play with you.”

“She’s doing her homework. She can’t play yet.”

“No, you can’t help with this homework.”

“Not until you’re 13 or so.”

“Because it’s. . . well, it’s hard to explain.”

“No, it’s not math!”

“I am too good at math.”

“I don’t care what Mommy says. It’s just not my best subject.”

“Because she’s better at finances than I am.”

“No, we would not be in the poor house if I handled the checkbook. Who told you that?”

“Then it’s a good thing she’s visiting Grandma.”

“Why don’t you kids go play.”

“Not here. In your room.”

“Turn on the radio.”



“Can you hear me?”

“I said, can you hear me?!”

“Good, now stay in there.”

“I said stay in there!”

“When my heart recovers.”

“When my – never mind!”

“Okay Sweetie, where were – what are you doing?”

“NO! I mean, please don’t look for baby information on the Internet.

“Because, uhh. . . they won’t have it.”

“I know. You’d think someone would have put it on a website or something, but they just don’t talk about that kind of thing online.”

“Oh, politics, music, and uh, cooking recipes.”

“No, you can’t check.”

“Because they turn the Internet off after 5:00.”

“What are you doing now?”

“Please don’t text that.”

“Especially to your friends!”

“Don’t they have to do the same report?”

“Well, then it’s cheating. You should do your own work.”

“Gaah! What was that?”

“I must have had it on vibrate. Hold on. Hello?”

“Oh man, am I glad you called.”

“Our daughter wants to know where babies come from.”

“Because that’s the conversation you swore you would have with her.”

“When we got married.”

“Yeah, ‘oh that.’”

“So, are you going to tell her?”

“I told her not to leave a voice mail message for you.”

“Because that’s not a voice mail conversation. It’s like texting someone to break up with them. You don’t just have the facts of life conversation over voice mail.”

“No, I’m not going to let her use the Internet.”

“I told her they turned it off after 5:00.”

“E-shay is anding-stay ight-ray ere-hay.”

“When did you learn Pig Latin, Sweetie?”

“No, don’t hang up.”

“But what about—”

“It’s not a simple answer.”

“No you just don’t—”



“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, no big deal?”

“I just – but what about – okay, good-bye.”

“Well, apparently the answer is ‘uterus.’”

“What do you mean, ‘oh, okay?’ It’s not okay.”

“Because my heart can’t take much more of this.”

“I thought you wanted to know. . . about. . . stuff.”

“Worksheet? This is for a worksheet? I thought it was a friggin’ report!”

“Quit giggling.”

“You’re having The Talk with your mother when she gets back!”

“I’ll let her know.”

“I’ll leave her a voice mail.”

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New KitchenPundit photo

Another creation at Kitchen Pundit. Stop by the link and favorite it. I'm hoping one of my creations makes it on to the main blog one of these days.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

October 6 is Mad Hatter Day !

October 6th is Mad Hatter Day, a holiday created 22 years ago in Boulder, Colorado by some computer people with too much time on their hands (guess they had run out of Star Trek fan fiction). They picked October 6 as the date, because of the "10/6" tag on the Mad Hatter's hat.

I stumbled upon a Mad Hatter Day entry at Ari Rampkin's really old home page (which he updated 9 years ago -- seriously, dude, teh Interweb is never going to be more than a fad if you don't update once in a while. The tubes get clogged, man!)

According to Rampkin, we celebrate silliness on Mad Hatter Day. Do something silly for the sake of being silly. Do something unexpected. Hurl a scone. Wear a funny hat. Speak like a Canadian pirate. ("Arrr, it's aboot time you walked the plank, eh.")

Rampkin presciently wrote on his page 12 years ago:
"But what if your work involves something inherently silly -- say marketing, where you put on a three-piece suit (five or six layers of fabric) in the summertime, tie a piece of cloth around your neck to restrict blood flow to the brain, and set about trying to convince people to buy things they don't want and can't afford because this will give the country a Healthy Economy? In this case, doing something absolutely sane will have a more startling effect than you can possibly imagine."
Eerie, isn't it?

(By the way, the phrase "mad as a hatter" was created because hat makers -- also called milliners -- used mercury to cure felt. And because they breathed the fumes and got it on their hands, they suffered neurological damage, which led to slurred speech, hallucinations, and psychotic symptoms

And then, they retired and became marketers

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

War of the Toothpastes

War of the Toothpastes

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Every new marriage starts with some rocky issues that, at least to outsiders, seem impossible to work past. The newlyweds have different ideas about politics, raising children, or money.

It’s especially hard for couples who come from completely different religions. He’s Catholic, she’s Jewish. He goes to church on Sunday, she goes to Temple on Saturday.

“You can’t marry someone outside the faith!” says the young man’s mother. “There will be too many problems.”

“We love each other enough to get past it,” he says. “We’ll figure it out as we go along.”

“How will you raise your children?” the young woman’s mother wails.

“We’ll raise them with a full understanding of both faiths, and let them make their own choices when they’re old enough,” she says.

What the young couple doesn’t realize is this will all just lead to fighting and arguing about which one is the One True Faith, and who’s wrong and who’s right. Eventually, one parent will be forced to convert to the other’s faith. Or they’ll have to relinquish the kids’ religious upbringing for the sake of family harmony.

My wife and I had a similar problem when we first got married.

“Honey, I ran out of toothpaste,” I said one evening.

“You can use some of mine,” my loving bride told me, handing me the tube and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“Eww, what’s this?” I said, pinching the tube and holding it at arm’s length, as if she just handed me a dead skunk.


“You never told me you were a Colgate user!”

“You didn’t ask,” she said, confused. “Why, what do you use?”


“Crest? CREST?! Why am I just finding out about this now? Oh my God, have you been hiding this from me all this time?”

“You say that as if I’ve committed some unpardonable sin!” I shouted.

“You’re a Crest user, aren’t you?”

“It’s not like I secretly wear women’s clothes.”

“If only it were that easy. I could handle that. But instead you use this. . . this. . . ‘toothpaste.’”

“Hey, I’ve been a Crest man all my life. My family is a Crest family.”

“We’ve been a Colgate family for nearly 100 years!”


“So Crest has only been around since 1955. My family uses a freakin’ historical toothpaste. Yours is just some up-and-comer. It’s probably not even a real toothpaste. It was probably just created by some hack science fiction writer trying to make a fast buck.

“Well, your toothpaste tastes 100 years old. At least mine tastes fresh and minty. Not like wintergreen tile grout.”

Her hands flew to her face, and she choked back a sob. “So what are you saying? That I’m some sort of toothpaste heathen?” she demanded.

“You’re the one accusing me of using a scam toothpaste. I stand firmly behind my toothpaste and everything it stands for. You make it sound like yours is the one true toothpaste, and the only way to be cavity-free.”

“My family always said this would be a problem for us, but I didn’t believe them.” She began to cry, and my anger dissolved like toothpaste foam in water.

“Look, it’s not a big problem.”

“How can you say that?”

“We’ve had some differences before, but we overcame them. You’re a Republican and I’m a Democrat, but that never came between us, did it?”

She sniffed and thought for a moment. “No, it never did.”

“And you grew up in a church family, but I didn’t. That didn’t hold us back, did it?”

“No, that was pretty easy, in fact.”

“They all were. We worked our way through those problems without any difficulties, and we’ll make it through this one too. I know it’s a bigger hurdle, but we love each other enough to get past it. We’ll just figure it out as we go along.”

“What about the children?” my wife asked, wiping away the remaining tears. “What are we going to do about them.”

I considered this. “How about this as a compromise: Crest makes a good kid’s toothpaste, and we’ll start them out on that. After they get older, we’ll let them try both toothpastes, and they can make their own choices when they’re old enough. How’s that sound?”

“Fair enough.”

We hugged for a minute, and then she headed toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make a sandwich. Do you want one?”

“Sure, do we have any Hellmann’s?”

“Hellmann’s? Don’t you mean Miracle Whip?

“Miracle Whip?” I could feel my blood pressure rising again. “MIRACLE WHIP?!”

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