Monday, June 30, 2008

At Seventeen

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Excellence of Rural Illinois McDonald's Staff

We stopped at a rest-stop McDonalds just outside of Elizabeth, IL this afternoon on our way to Galena, and we got some awesome foodage. And by awesome, of course, I mean hilarious. Here's how it went:

I order a happy meal for John and a bacon double cheeseburger for myself, and when I realize I had forgotten to ask for a milkshake instead of a fountain drink, I brought the empty cup (which frankly reeks of laziness to me, but I digress) back to the counter. I asked if I could exchange up my empty cup for a vanilla milkshake. The well-meaning cashier looked blankly at me, so I patiently re-explained that I wanted to exchange the fountain drink for a milkshake. She again gave me a blank look. "I'll pay the difference."
(Blank look)
"How much does a milkshake cost?"
This seemed to move her.
"Oh, $2.47"
"Ok, vanilla please," I say.
Patiently, and wanting my milkshake enough to tolerate it, I ponied up my $2.47, and turned my attention away briefly. As I looked back, she was capping my drink off with a safety top and handing it to me. I took it away, sampling it through the straw. Strangely, nothing came out. Removing the top, I discovered that she had filled my cup with COFFEE FLAVORED SOFT-SERVE ICE CREAM.

Deciding that $2.47 was well worth the price of adding this story to my blog, I decided to keep my glass of soft-serve ice cream and laugh my ass off about it for the remainder of the day.

In the end, I found myself strangely thankful for this encounter. At the very least, the friendly, slow little woman who was so out of it that she poured soft serve ice cream in a glass and handed it to me, will at least be limited to wreaking her hilarious chaos on a McDonald's outside of Galena, IL, and not, for example, Chase Bank.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And the Tony for Best Director in a Play goes to...

My brother in law's sister, Anna Shapiro!

I can almost already see what the fourth of July is going to be like:

Me: So, how's your summer going? Do anything fun?
My wife: Yeah, we took John to the beach and went to the pool a bunch of times.
My brother in law: I've been following the PGA.
My nephew: I went to see the new Indiana Jones.
Anna: Uh... I won a Tony.

(In all seriousness though, we are enormously, surreally proud of Anna. It couldn't have happened to a harder-working, more deserving person.)

Fun fact: Anna is also my only relative to ever make the homepage of MSNBC! (hence the pic)

On the links

Here is an example of the hilarity that ensued when I went golfing for the first time to complete an entire nine holes. My buddy Corey and I teed off at 1:30 and it took us till about 4 to complete all nine. Yeah, there was some hunting for lost balls, and we managed to knock about a dozen at least into the trees never to be seen again. Here was one of the better moments, him chipping from an inch-deep puddle in a marshy low part of the course.


7/4 (Shoreline)

I don't know about you, but I've found the song that I will remember this summer by. Click below to watch Broken Social Scene's "7/4 (Shoreline)". Also, this was the first song John ever listened to on an iPod.

John listens.

The video (note the female lead singer is Leslie Feist!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Father's Day is coming up!

Plenty of time left for getting the gift for the guy who has everything:

So the question was "What is Mark going to be doing to celebrate his second year of being part of the dream team behind the work of art that is John Brand?"

If you answered "He'll be spending the whole Sunday working some marketing event for FREE because he's salaried." You'd be absolutely right!

Maybe I'll soften that blow by going golfing Friday afternoon.
Hrmmmm.... (feels the pull of the Golf Dark Side)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I guess you could call it a journal.

It occurred to me this evening while I was sifting through a pile of stashed-away old books/awards/random detritus from high school and college that I've kept a journal now almost constantly for nearly twenty years. The first one I have is a little notebook full of hilarious overwrought poems and writings from seventh grade, or when I was twelve.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Papa's got a brand new bag

My trusty Acer Travelmate 4020, which served me well for about two years as a terrific hand-me-down from the O'Malleys had started recently getting twitchy on me. Screen-scrambling crashes and random hard-drive failures started becoming more irritating and semi-dangerous (due to losing data from my new book), and when I attempted to reformat and reinstall the entire thing, I got first hobbled by a bad set of recovery discs, and then by the thing's apparent unwillingness to accept any video or audio drivers. The minute I tried installing any of the motherboard drivers, it didn't matter what it was, the Windows XP pro installation would get all wonky, crash to a blue screen, and be inconsoleable until I reformatted and reinstalled again. So, basically I ended up with a useless and slightly pathetic paperweight that would take (after about an hour and a half each try) a full XP install, but then stare at me mutely with no sound, no DVD, no Office suite, no internet... nada.

I tried to maintain a good attitude about this. After all, the only reason I had the laptop to begin with was sort of on a lark when the O'Malleys had an extra one. I had lived up to two years ago perfectly content and happy without one.

As anyone who owns and regularly uses one will tell you, however, it only took a matter of hours before I started feeling like my right arm had been cut off. I used that little Acer constantly. So much, in fact, that I'm slightly surprised that it survived as long as it did. In any case Beth, proving once and for all that sometimes she can pick exactly the right moments to turn on my favorite of her personality characteristics (Enabling), gave me a winning smile and said "let's go to Sam's club and see what they have there."

I actually ended up finding the winning combination at Best Buy of all places. I priced out a similar laptop on the Dell website, and they had a somewhat cheaper version of the same model I have with fewer features, and a significantly more expensive model with slightly more features, but no middle-ground. Best Buy, in a rare showing of good sense, actually carries a special configuration of the machine that I'm using that has a good combination of memory, storage, features, and best of all, a reasonable price. So I didn't cheap out, but I got a good deal.

Here she is:

The newer generation of Dell laptops is thinner, lighter, and much more user-appropriate than the previous. This little baby has basically only the features that you need, and does away with the ones that the other 99% of computer users don't need. I'm still getting used to Vista, but since it's the better version of the software and came pre-installed so I didn't have to deal with doing it myself, it seems to run very stably and smoothly. What didn't take me long to get used to is the gorgeous ultrabrite glossy screen. What a relief on the eyes.

Im in ur laptop, makin thingz bettr

Father, Husband, Author, ... golfer?

I was feeling like I could take on the world a little bit after I bought the new laptop in what felt like an impulse purchase, so I let Beth talk me into going golfing this afternoon. Despite being rained out and me whiffing the first half a dozen swings either at mid-air or digging a half-inch hole in the ground, I actually got the hang of it rather quickly and by the second time I teed off I smacked it straight up the fairway about 150 yards, which was as satisfying as it was surprising. I topped the ball several times with the awkwardly-shaped and too-short iron clubs, but I did pretty well chipping and putting. It was quite fun overall, and I plan on going again as soon as time/weather permits. Beth captured the moment because, like most people who know me well, I have a long-standing problem keeping my mouth shut about how lame I used to think golf and golfers were. I guess I can use this as a flagship example of my openness to new experiences, if not my worldliness.

The big "O"

I got to see the inside of Oprah's Harpo Studios on Friday when we did a health fair there. It was a pretty impressive building, and the staff were highly competent and friendly people that really made it fun and easy for us. I only managed to get one decent photo, I tried hard not to be That Touristy Guy, but I got a neat one of the inside of the main, curvy window with the big O on it. We were beyond lucky to be in there, since it had air conditioning and the rest of the exhibitors were outside in the absolutely sloppy 90-degree/90% humidity day. They also catered us some suprisingly tasty hot beef sandwiches for lunch.

Why Flight of the Conchords is the funniest thing HBO ever put on TV

Oh come on, if there was a law against funny this would be Public Enemy number one:

Film at eleven

Here's the video of John saying "Yummy, I love crackers!" This was about the third time through so I had to encourage him a little, but here it is:

Thursday, June 05, 2008

John's first sentences, the page, and other things.

I've got a video of John uttering the now-legendary phrase "Yummy, I love crackers!" from right after he did it the first time, and I've also got plenty of new pictures and video of him to share as well, but because of the time I've spent recently both trying to get back into the routine of cleaning up the house and working in every free moment on the new book, some of that is going to have to wait until I have time. I have a photo montage from my train trip to NY including visiting my family, spending time with my fearless Editor Paul, and seeing one of my long-time friends get married to a really lovely young woman who seemed to make him very happy. Also, weirdly, my laptop is starting to act slightly twitchy, so that tends to put a damper on getting some administrative-type things done during the day. As it is, I have to get up in six short hours and I'm here with a heating pack on my aching low back and typing about why I don't have time to type more.

For some reason my low back on the left side has been sharply painful in the mornings and evenings, particularly before and after I go to sleep. You would think working with Chiros I would have figured it out and solved it by now, but here I am about three weeks into it and even getting adjusted daily it still doesn't want to leave me the hell alone. Sacro-iliac joint pain is a bitch.

Writing Again

I'm approximately 60 pages into my new novel, and no sign yet of any slowing of the creative process. I haven't written like this in years. The last time I sat and pounded out sixty pages of anything was probably some time around 2004 when Beth and I got married. The manuscript of The Journey of the Tallish Ten (the sequel to The Prince and the Pitchman) is complete and edited and waits only for a time when I can actually get it covered, illustrated, and published, and a large portion of the third novel in that series is also written. Somehow along the way these lost steam somewhere. Either I lacked the time or energy, or the clunky interface of Booksurge derailed me, or I couldn't make the books look the way I wanted them to look. A million excuses. Someday I'll finish that cycle. The first book in the series stands out awkwardly without the follow-up that was always in my head more or less from the beginning.

In any case, the new book is taking shape rapidly, and so far it feels like a winner. Not to seem ungracious or unappreciative of the honor, but frankly, I want to WIN the IPPY for my next novel, not just get third place. I feel like I have an IPPY or DOY Book festival winner in me. Red Ivy Afternoon remains one of the things I've written that I feel pretty good about, but it wasn't the sort of book that this new novel is going to be, and I can feel that already. I'm extremely excited.

Of course this also means my gym membership has been going unused for about two weeks because I'm spending my lunchbreaks on the roof of our building hacking out scene after scene and dialogue after dialogue. I feel more than a little guilt about this, but hey, we all make sacrificies for our passions, right?

St. Lawrence, and what it means to us

This is from a blog called Still Life With Soup Can, written by a former SLU student:

It’s easier to sit in and pout because you never get to see anyone anymore. I find it’s easier for me to let the things I care about the deepest fall by the wayside. It seems paradoxical, but if it’s completely out of my life, compared to half-in half-out, I’m not thinking about it. This is especially true, I’ve realized, for my friends from St. Lawrence.

It wasn’t a bad year. I learned a lot. I got into some new things. I met people. It wasn’t a bad year, but it also wasn’t very me. Losing something like who you are doesn’t happen all at once. It maybe happens in increments, as, inch by inch, you let more things slip and fall away.

As I was walking across campus on Sunday, waiting for my ride, after everyone else had left, it hit me as hard as it hit me five years ago. And I mean, it hit me hard. I’m walking, just walking, not really knowing where I’m going, eyes on the clock tower, thinking, “I can’t do this. I can’t leave again.”


This is your life. You can’t wait for it. You can’t wait until you have enough money to see your friends. You can’t wait until you have enough time to write. You can’t wait for someone else to shake you out of it.

I mean, why do we work? What’s the point of having the money if you don’t spend it? What’s the point of thinking about things all the time and not doing them? I am turning 27 on Friday. Later is now. Because it has to be, and because I am deciding it is. I guess sometimes you have to fly 1,500 miles to figure out how to come back home.

So when my friend called me yesterday, I called her back. And I told her what I’d already decided: that I’m thinking of going to New York this summer, that I’m looking at plane tickets right now.

And you take out your flash drive, and you drag that folder of writing to the front of the desktop, and you start to think about setting a schedule, setting the alarm tomorrow. And you start reading things over, and making plans.

And then you buy a plane ticket. Because $200 is nothing. And life is short.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

John's first full sentence

My son uttered his first full sentence today on the car ride home from the Zoo. It was:

"Yummy, I love crackers."