Friday, June 30, 2006


Like most people, I have a fear of public speaking. But they say it’s good to face your fears, so when my sister invited me to join her in giving a presentation on the merits of a career in communications to a room full of 6th grade 4-H’ers, I told her I would. I figured if ever there were an opportunity to attack this fear of mine, blabbering in front of a bunch of tinsel-mouthed kids would be it. Talking about my job would be quick and painless, I thought – plus, I’d get out of work for a half day in the name of public outreach. Maybe I’d hit the beach afterward, or nap on my couch.

So, yesterday, my sister and I joined a group of 40-50 kids for lunch in the private “Elvis” room at Ed Debevic’s, a touristy diner in River North with excellent, if greasy, lunch fare and notoriously rude service. (Really – that’s their schtick. It’s actually quite amusing.) We showed up a little late, so the first thing we saw was 50 little heads turning as we stepped across the threshold into the room. The kids, decked out in matching red t-shirts, had been loudly making fun of one another but were suddenly silent. Who were these two intruders?

We were escorted back to our table to dine with the gang, an awkward moment made even more awkward when the only words I could muster were: “I must have missed the memo about the red shirt.”

No one laughed. Not even a little bit. I sheepishly pulled in my chair, ordered a Route 66 burger with guacamole and bacon, and resigned to sit in silence until given my cue.

My sister, meanwhile, attempted to make small talk with our 6th grade lunch buddies. Really small talk. But the fact was, we had nothing in common, so there was nothing to say. The kids were undoubtedly cursing their luck for having been seated at the table with the lame-ass grown-ups. I began to grow uncomfortable and wondered how the hell I was going to get over my fear of speaking here. At least adults are empathetic. They understand when you’re having a rough go and will give you a break. Kids are ruthless…and when they smell blood, the frenzy is on.

When it was our turn to stand and present, my sister, sensing my discomfort, smiled and offered to lead things off. I thanked her with a nod. We stood up to a warm round of applause and accepted our introduction as a “brother and sister, both college graduates with careers in communications.” We were now going to share our wisdom.

I looked around the room. It was warm. Everyone had just finished gorging on greasy diner food. The food comas were beginning to set in – our audience looked like a room full of rubber chickens in red shirts. Imagine 50 kids in red t-shirts with the posture of dirty laundry, draped lazily over their chairs and tables, barely able to keep their eyes open. Before I had been worried about how my story was going to compete with the things they’d done that morning – field trips to the Chicago Board of Trade and the WGN radio studio. Now I was worried about how the hell I was going to keep them awake singing the praises of a career writing junk mail.

My sister started talking and was a little over their heads, I sensed, using words these kids wouldn’t see until they started practicing for the ACT. They yawned and fidgeted nervously with dirty spoons and napkins. And I was doing what I always do when standing in front of a bunch of people who are looking at me – I took turns folding my arms and putting my hands in my pockets over and over again until I started to feel seasick. And then my sister turned to me. It was go time.

I was frozen. I had nothing to say. I was here because I had a job and one day they would need one. I should tell them to avoid work at all costs, I thought. Then I imagined that wouldn’t go over so well with the chaperones. And picturing the audience naked to get over my apprehension about public speaking, in this case, was out of the question. I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth, but I knew I had to say something. And then, just as I was about to stumble into an impromptu lecture on the merits of reading and doing homework, a kid in the back raised his hand.


“Yes, did you have a question?”

“Are you famous?” he asked in earnest. I couldn’t help but smile, flattered that anyone would mistake me for a celebrity. Although I do have a menacing grin and looked fantastic in my pressed shirt and dress pants.

“That depends who you ask,” I said, trying to be clever. This kind of remark would be understood by people over the age of 16 as a joke to mean: “No, I’m not famous.” But to a room full of 11 and 12 year olds, I’d just outed myself as a star. I saw them suddenly sit up, interested if only because they thought they might be in the presence of a star. I instinctively decided to talk it out.

“Actually, I’m not really famous. But I wanted to be. Like some of you, I’d imagine, I always wanted to be a rock star, you know? Write my own songs. Sing and play guitar. I was so sure I was going to be a star, I even made my own CD.” I looked around and saw I had their full, undivided attention. The chaperones, on the other hand, rolled their eyes, secretly hoping I wasn’t about to wade into a history of casual sex and recreational drug use.

“But I found something out while I was trying to be a star.”

“What?” I head several voices say.

“I found out I had stagefright.” They laughed.

“And you can’t be a rock star if you’re afraid of being in front of people. Nobody wants to see a rock star sitting on a stool next to a pail because he thinks he might throw up.” They laughed again, shouting “Gross!”

“So…I couldn’t be a rock star. But I still liked to write. And so I tried to figure out a way to make money writing. I wrote short stories and poems and songs. I even wrote a column for my school newspaper. I wrote a lot. And today, I have a job writing, so when I go to work, it doesn’t really feel like work at all. It’s actually kind of fun.”

“What do you write?” they asked.

“I’m going to guess that some of you watch television. Who here has a favorite television commercial?” About half the hands in the room went up. I called on one, then another, then another. I went around the room listening to them describe their favorite TV spots, most of which happened to be beer commercials. When it became clear that the exercise could go on all afternoon and I would miss my trip to the beach, I cut the discussion short.

“All of those commercials you just mentioned have something in common. They were all written by someone. SOMEONE had an idea and wrote it down. And that’s what I do. I come up with ideas for stuff and write them down. And I do a lot more than just television. Advertising is everywhere.”

My sister handed me a folder full of samples I’d brought with. I started pulling out direct mail packages I’d written and held them up. “Your parents get a lot of these. They’re offers for credit cards, and most of them end up in the garbage before they even get opened. But somebody has to write them, and that’s what I do. I also write radio commercials and print ads and outdoor boards. Anything that’s advertising, I write it.”

I’d made a connection with my audience and realized I no longer felt scared. In fact, I was in complete control and actually enjoying myself. One curious kid raised his hand again.

“So if everybody throws that mail away, why do you keep writing it?”

“That’s a great question. Do you know how much this one letter package costs to create? Our client paid us $15,000 to make this. And then they had to pay to have 100,000 of them printed. And then they had to pay postage to mail it to 100,000 people.” I saw that I now had the adults’ attention as well. “And most of them will end up in the garbage. But these companies pay that kind of money because they only need 1% of the people to respond. That’s 1,000 new customers to them.”

“So wait,” interrupted one of the red shirts in the back. “You got $15,000 to write that?”

“No, I didn’t. The agency I work for got that. A lot of different people had to work on it to get it to look like this. I just get paid every two weeks like everyone else. But the point to all of this is that if you enjoy what you do, you’re not really working. I see a lot of people on their way to and from work downtown every single day, and they look tired. They look disappointed. They look upset and frustrated and beat down. And it’s because they don’t like what they do. And so as you get older, it’s important to take notice of the things you enjoy in life so that when you start considering different careers, you choose something that won’t make you miserable.” I could see the adults in the room nodding in agreement.

My sister and I tag teamed the room for another half hour, taking questions and describing all of the specialized jobs there are out in the world – and they ate it up. The afternoon of public speaking I had dreaded when I woke up that morning ended up being an extremely rewarding one, even if no one asked me for my autograph on the way out. And I even got to nap a bit on my couch afterward.

I don't think I'll be seeking a career in public speaking any time soon, but it's good to know I can handle a room full of 6th graders if I need to. You get their attention by pretending to be a celebrity, make them laugh with jokes about vomit, lead a discussion about their favorite beer commercials, and then close with a few interesting facts and dollar figures.

If that's not what the 4-H Club is all about, I don't know what is.


This link was amusing…and I don’t even like cats. It’s the world’s most expensive kitten toy. Funny how the little shit gets more and more agitated with each passing second.


Flooding in the nation’s capital this week forced the closing of the Internal Revenue Service headquarters, prompting tens of thousands of residents in the greater D.C. area to simultaneously turn on their hoses and point them in the building’s general direction. There’s no taxation with proper irrigation!

While there has been widespread flooding in the east, there’s been widespread burning in the west, and widespread complacency everywhere in between.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Apparently, your name says a lot about your love life. There’s a Russian site that has broken down the combination of letters in your name to uncover your life’s biggest love. Will it be your childhood crush? Your first serious partner? Some random World Cup soccer player? Some future person you’ve yet to meet?

Click here to find your life’s biggest love. Just type in your name to get started and the program will guide you through the rest.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


I finally got around to devoting some space in the sidebar to friends who have shit on their minds.

To those of you who've been generous enough to incude my link on your blog, I am now equipped to return the favor. Drop me a line with the URL of your blog and I'll give you props in the sidebar. And thanks for listing AYNtK among your favorites - I appreciate the eyeballs.



While we've been busy living our lives, going to work so we can feed our babies, pay our mortgages, and buy our precious gasoline, our elected officials have been busily doing "the people's work."

This week, that entailed voting on a Constitutional Amendment to ban flag-burning. Yes - a Constitutional Amendment. The vote, in case you have not been in front of a newspaper recently, failed to pass by a single vote. After cruising through the House 286-130, it failed to win two thirds of the Senate, 66-34, sparing us all a harrowing journey back in time.

Two thoughts came to mind when I read this. The first thought was what the FUCK is going on here? The second thought, eerily, was what the fuck is going ON here? It was a bonafide what the double fuck? Both rare and powerful.

The first "what the fuck" was in reaction to the fact that our government is wasting its time dealing with (what should be) non-issues like flag-burning. Next to banning gay marriage, it's the last thing on a growing list of things we "the people" need to be focused on right now.

Who the hell is in charge over there that we're debating such trivial topics as flag-burning when we've got REAL issues up the wazoo? Let's see: there are the thousands of American men and women our misguided military policies have effectively stranded in the Middle East (protecting us, you will remember, from a mad dictator with zero ties to 911 and a cache of WMD that we still haven't found). Then there are our porous borders, through which a platoon of terrorists could high-step like a marching band at a homecoming parade. There's the environmental holocaust for which our addiction to oil is primarily responsible. There's an insolvent social security system we continue to ignore year after year after year while life expectancy climbs higher with every life-saving drug. Speaking of which, and scarier yet, there's a health care system many now agree is in WORSE shape than social security, if you can fathom that possibility - not to mention the dirty laundry list of perhaps a thousand other (more important) things our elected officials could, and should, be doing to make our country safer, sounder, cleaner, smarter, and longer-lasting!

Instead, we're considering a ban on flag-burning.

Which immediately led me to my second "what the fuck?" thought. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Why would we want to BAN flag burning? Shouldn't we be trying to PROTECT it? How could a nation BUILT on freedom ban the most fundamental freedom of all? I think those crafty, wigged Founders knew exactly what they were doing when they made free speech/expression the very first Amendment. They knew it was paramount to everything else that would come after it. If our government starts banning what we say and how we say it, everything else will follow it right out the window.

If they ever limit our most basic of freedoms, you can be sure the rest of the Amendments will start collecting asterisks as well.

Banning flag-burning is like saying you can say anything you want so long as the government agrees with it. Did I fall asleep in Chicago and wake up in Beijing? This is America, people. Our nation was founded by a bunch of people who broke ranks to make a better life for themselves and all of those who came after them. I'm guessing those no-good hooligans even burned the Union Jack from time to time. For heaven's sake, not only are we wasting our time with dubious domestic policymaking, we've got the bloody car in reverse! If we're going to be making radical changes to our nation's most sacred document, let's at least error on the side of progress. Legalize pot or something. Scrap the tax code. Make recycling mandatory. Impose term limits on lawmakers. There are plenty of controversial ways to mix things up that would at least keep us moving forward. Banning speech is essentially taking a quantum leap back in time.

Does this mean I condone or advocate the burning of the flag? Absolutely not. It just means that I place higher value on the freedoms that the flag represents than the fabric of the flag itself. Speaking of which, if they just made the damn things out of flame-retardant material in the first place, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

A good friend of mine named Ben Franklin was also incensed about this latest exercise in congressional masturbation, and offered the following to be cut-and-pasted into an e-mail for wider distribution. I think this letter pretty much says it all. And if you'd like to read more from my boy, B-Frank, you can check out more of his politically inspirational ramblings at Voice America.


"I have always been a fan of yours. Your voting record is indicative of one who votes with conscience and judiciousness; not bending to the unending influence of big business. As a constituent, it is heartening to see that there is still a voice; someone that understands that the government serves at the pleasure of the people, for the good of the people.

I was shocked and disappointed at your vote on the flag burning proposal. This country was founded on the principles of liberty and justice, and truths that are held to be self evident and timeless. One of those immutable truths has been held to be the freedom to express one's self.

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

-Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906 (under the pseudonym Stephen G. Tallentyre)

Words expressed, coincidentally, 100 years ago, but every bit as true, and perhaps more imperatively so, today. Even then, this sentiment was intended to paraphrase the attitudes of Voltaire - even then, over 100 years older, still. Timeless, self-evident, truths.

I am sickened when I see flags burned on the evening news - especially in lands where freedom of expression is prohibited, insofar as it deviates from officially sanctioned state or party lines. The United States, however, has ever shined as an example for the world - an environment in which contrarian ideologies might be expressed without fear of reprisal from the government. An environment that has birthed the greatest nation on Earth. A nation of industry, art, generosity, pride, and heritage.

A war is started with a single shot. True, but often overlooked. Let us be ever vigilant against the subversion of the people by its government. Please reconsider your stance and, disgusted as we both are by the act of desecrating a symbol of our great nation, realize that it is only symbol - and that the greater offense is to allow those who would impose their will on the masses to begin to do so. With a single shot."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006



Here’s a clip that’s now been sent to me by three different people. I’ve watched it three separate times and don’t really see the humor in it – but apparently it’s making its way around the net and folks are digging on it – so here ya go!

It’s basically just a closed circuit video clip of some drunk guy falling down at a police station. And, honestly, who hasn’t done that before?

Monday, June 26, 2006


I went to a concert not long ago at the Vic theater in Chicago. Saw the band Live live, which actually sounds kind of funny to say, but wouldn’t be as funny as saying I saw the Counting Crows counting crows, Train train, the Spin Doctors spin doctors, or – heaven forbid – the Pet Shop Boys pet shop boys.

Anyhow, I remember being inside the theater, looking down at my ticket, and discovering a $7.00 “convenience” fee had been tacked onto the price of admission. Seven dollars for convenience? And that, like every other injustice in my extremely narrow world of rules, got me thinking. What exactly was this fee all about and what conveniences did it get me?

Our beer wasn’t conveniently cheaper, or any easier to get. To get in, we still had to stand in a long line outside the theater like everyone else, getting felt up by “security” in leather pants. It was a general admission show, so we weren’t guaranteed seats, or even an unobstructed view. Parking was extra…if you could find it. There weren’t reserved restrooms for our convenience. And the tickets themselves weren’t delivered overnight, or printed out from the convenience of home. They had been sent snail mail, third fucking class, and arrived just a couple days before the show - which would NOT have been terribly convenient had I been planning to sell them.

As far as I could tell, that seven dollar “convenience” charge afforded me no conveniences at all…aside from the fact that it got me in the door – which is what an admission ticket is SUPPOSED to do. It made me want to get a refund on that seven dollars.

“Excuse me – hi – yeah, I’ve decided I don’t really need this convenience thing, whatever it is. So if you guys could just refund me that $7, that would be great.”

“Huh? Oh, that – we don’t have anything to do with that. It’s just part of the price.”

“Oh – well see, MY ticket actually has a separate number right here for the price. See? It's $35.50. And then there’s a separate charge right here for taxes, which I understand. I mean, I wish the taxes were just included in the price instead of always tacked on as an afterthought, but at least I understand what they are. This convenience charge here is the one I don’t want. So if you could refund that portion, I’ll just head back in.”

“I don’t think we can do that. Everybody pays that. It’s just part of the cost of the show.”

“Well, then I’m missing something. Because I thought this line over HERE was the cost of the show. This convenience thing is itemized – so, to me, it appears to be something extra, and I don’t want it…whatever it is. I don’t mind inconvenience – I’m actually quite used to it. I know I may be sorry later, but $7 is a lot for convenience. Don’t you think? That's the cost of a pint of beer in there.”

“You’re kidding with me, right? Do you know Kyle? This is a joke.”

“No, not really. Beers are six dollars, and then I usually tip a buck so I don’t look cheap.”

“Not about the beer. I mean about the charge. You really want seven dollars back?”

“Unless you can tell me or show me what I’m getting for those seven dollars, I would really like the seven dollars back – yes.”

“I don’t know. I mean I really don’t know what that is for. I just work here. No one has ever complained about it before, or asked for their money back.”

“Well, it’s not like fifty cents or some trivial amount of spare change. It’s seven bucks. That’s like a whole hour of your time. But I understand…there’s nothing you can do about it. I just wish the ticket would just say $42.50 instead of $35.50, since that seems to be the actual price of admission. Itemizing this phantom fee and calling it a convenience makes me feel like my wallet is getting fucked by the master of tickets himself. And there's nothing remotely convenient about that. Convenient would be you handing me seven dollars since you can't tell me what the hell the charge is for.”

"Maybe I should get the house manager."

"That's okay - I don't want to inconvenience you."


The whole episode reminded me of a woman I was standing in line behind at the bank last week. A bank teller had just informed her that there would be a “convenience” charge for them to count her bag of loose change in the bank’s fancy coin-counting machine, to which she loudly responded:

“Sheeeeeeeee-it. I don’t know why they call this the land of the free when ain’t nothin’ free no more – least not round here.”

Land of the free. Nice.

Not exactly what that phrase is supposed to mean – but in that moment, I felt her point. Ain't nothin' free in the land of the free.