Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Air Conditioning and the Art of Engine Repair

Mid-summer in the Midwest is its own special breed of hot. The end of the day is the worst. After a long day of the sun beating down without a cloud in the sky, you can feel the heat radiating off of rocks, streets and buildings. With the high humidity, it becomes hard to breathe; you just want to race from your car straight into the cool embrace of air conditioning.

It was in a generic hot summer like this one when I found my first job - a wire editor and designer at a small newspaper about two hours east of St. Louis. I was young and eager to make my fortune while leaving my mark on the world.

After a month of poverty, lies and small-town living, I was convinced God was punishing me for some long-forgotten sin.

I worked in an historic building, one that was nearly 100 years old. Its brick walls were like a kiln in the summer - unless you happened to work in the one fully air conditioned office in the building - the production office, which I did.

On any given day, I was the first person in the office. Generally, the newsroom (next door to my office) was abandoned - reporters and editors escaped the hot office and crashing computers until later in the evening, when their deadlines loomed. Since I was the only person there, I head to head into the newsroom in order to start queing up wire stories for the evening run.

As I sat there, reading about the Unabomber, Mars Sojourner and Monica Seles, the phone rang. I looked around and answered it.

"Generic Small-Town Paper. This is Brian. How can I help you?"

"Brian? This is Dan." Dan was the paper's business manager. "Can you do me a favor?"

"Hey Dan. Sure. What do you need?"

"Can you tell Rick when he turns on the air conditioner that there may be a hole in the exhaust line, and he needs to make sure there's nothing flammable around it?"

"No problem." I hung up the slick receiver and zipped down to the press to relay my message.

Later, back in the cool of the production office, I began thinking - always a dangerous proposition. So I mentioned my conversation to Lisa, one of my co-workers; I also mentioned how I didn't think air conditioners had exhaust hoses.

"No one told you about the air conditioner?" she asked. "I thought everyone knew about that."

"Can't say they did," I replied. "What's the story?"

"Well, really, the whole building is air conditioned, but it doesn't work well. They have the special units set up for in here, and the rest of the building is on a separate system. They had to do it this way, because when John had someone come in to examine the building to install air conditioning, they determined the building would need to be strengthened structurally in order to put the units on the roof. So John came up with another solution."

"Which is?"

"Since we have the new Macs in here, this room has its own dedicated unit, and the rest of the building is only air conditioned intermittently. But they couldn't run the necessary power lines, so it's run off an old truck engine in the basement."

"The basement."

"Yep. The basement."

"So we could be caught in a fire or die of carbon monoxide poisoning."

"Yep. Pretty funny, huh?"

I navigated the maze of dark hallways and corridors down to the basement, where in one corner was a room I never went into. And sure enough, there was truck engine - all eight cylinders chugging away, powering the air conditioning (but not doing a good job of it, I might add).

When I have a bad day at work, I think of this story and smile - because no matter how frustrated I become at work, I realize I could still be there, probaby running the show by now. And in this case, I'd rather serve in purgatory than reign in the asylum.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004


  • I admit it - I'm addicted to trashy dating shows. Elimidate and Blind Date make late-night television worth watching.
  • Is it wrong to watch the evening newscast -not for the news, but because you think one of the reporters is hot?
  • Yesterday, while wearing my headphones, I pretended not to hear my boss for a good five minutes - and he didn't try to get my attention - he just stood there!
  • What's all the fuss with the DaVinci Code?
  • The mayor is trying to get St. Louis to slim down and NOT be the Fattest City on Earth. I say we should lead in something other than having a really good World's Fair 100 years ago, so why not be the fattest city? Lord knows I'm doing my part . . .
  • Five days until the Cardinals start the quest for third place.
  • Derby Owners Club is the greatest video game ever created - except for maybe Gyruss.

Monday, March 29, 2004

If He's the Winner . . .

I don't watch "American Idol". The thought of "singers" screeching the hits of Dionne Warwick as if they were dying cats just doesn't do much for me. Although that frustrated British guy is pretty funny, in a bitchy sort of way.

So last Saturday, when I returned home and turned on Saturday Night Live (I was waiting for Eliminidate to start), I had no idea who the especially crappy musical guest was. According to the Internet, he was Clay Aiken, one of the "winners" of American Idol.

And, as I later learned, he's the guy who "sings" the tuneless ode to stalking - "Invisible", where he pines for his unreachable love, and wishes he could stand in her room and watch her, while he's invisible. Hey Clay, babe, let me tell you - it's not nearly as cool as you think; plus it's hard to explain what you're doing in her closet at three in the morning. Let my cold voice of experience help you out there (but at 20 restraining orders, you get a great set of knives).

Personally, I liked the song better when the Police sang it.

But more exasperating to me is this small problem: this guy is the result of a nationwide talent search? Of the 200 million-odd men, women and children in the United States, this dopey-looking guy with a penchant for awful music won the talent show? It kind of makes me want to watch the show to see the losers - they must set new depths for suck.

In any case, when copies of Clay's album lines dollar bins everywhere and he sits by the phone, hands poised by the receiver just in case it rings, maybe, just maybe, record execs will realize that people have grown weary of the same pre-packaged, processed crap.

Of course, the damned album could go triple platinum too, showing just how much I know about the American public and their desire for change.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Ummm. Yeah.

Things have been a little hectic lately, so I've neglected my poor blog. I have a post in the works, but it still needs a little polish (and an ending, a point and a few other non-important details). So I leave you this.

With God as my witness, I really don't know what to say.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Horrifying Truth

When it comes to horror movies, I'm my own worst enemy.

Growing up, my brother and I used to sneak into the back bedroom, turn the volume down low and watch whatever Friday the 13th episode was playing. And we wouldn't sleep that night.

Mom and Dad took us to see The House of Wax one night. It was creepy. It was 3D. It had a guy in a black cloak who went around kidnapping people and turning them into wax statues. Family nights at the movies being fairly rare, we enjoyed it greatly. And we didn't sleep that night.

I watched Salems' Lot one afternoon - with the summer sun shining brightly and no clouds in the sky, but the image of Mike Ryerson sitting in Jimmy's bedroom, hissing "Look at me" through gleaming fangs crept into my eight-year-old brain later that night. And I didn't sleep that night, either.

Now, being (sort of) an adult, the films still keep me awake at night - but not because of the scare factor (well - mostly. I still cover my eyes when the movie gets to the scenes when the knife-wielding maniac jumps out and starts carving up a couple of coeds). It's because, for some reason I can't stop watching the damn things when they come on late at night. It could be 3:30 AM, I need to be at work by 8:00, and I'm sitting there watching Dog Soldiers (which does feature a great scene of a soldier boxing a werewolf - I won't tell you who wins, but I wouldn't put too much money on the soldier) or Ginger Snaps, which in addition to having a clever name, features Mimi Rogers with a great how-the-hell-have-I-fallen-so-far? look on her face through the whole movie. However, all this "entertainment" means I didn't sleep that night.

Which brings me to my next horrifying dilemma - I want to see the new Dawn of the Dead. I know it's going to suck. I know it's probably going to scare the hell out of me - because when people jump out of darkened corners in horror films, I still jump, but I find watching armageddon enjoyable.

So I know it's going to scare me. I know I'm going to spend a good chunk of it looking away from the screen, but I'm going to put my $8 down so I can fling popcorn and soda in the air as I jump up shrieking like a little girl. And I won't sleep a wink that night either.

And yet, like a driver on the freeway who slows down to check out an accident, I can't look away.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A Sobering Afternoon

"D - E - F - G"

Traffic passed by my open window. Rain dripped onto my arm. Outside my window, on the street, the rain pelted officer Leopold's head. He didn't give any indication of caring.

"H - I - J - K"

Five minutes ago, I'd finished walking through the rain to my car, climbed in and drove up the street, looking for a good spot to turn around. I knew there was an intersection I could do so coming up, but wasn't sure where it was.

"L - M - N - O"

The lights startled me as I drove through Forest Park back in the direction I came. I pulled over - and winced as the spotlight shined straight into my mirror, blinding me. I raised it up and rolled down my window, wondering just what the hell I'd done.

"P - Q - R - S"

"Hi. I'm officer Leopold. What's your name?"

"Brian. What can I do for you sir?"

"Well Brian, I pulled you over because you looked uncertain at that left turn - and you crossed the line."

"Oh. Well, I'm not too familiar with this section of the park and I wasn't sure where the turn was exactly."

"I see. License please?" I handed the license over. "So Brian, where are you coming from?"

Oh shit, I thought. "Dogtown. I was just headed back from the parade."

"Have you been drinking?" he asked.

"I had a few earlier, but I stopped drinking around 3:00." It was 6:15, and I had stopped drinking three hours ago. Was I over the limit? I didn't see how.

"Why don't we do a field sobriety test?" he said. "Can you recite the alphabet starting from the letter D?"

"T - U - V - W"

So I did. And I counted backwars from 53 to 32. And I was scared shitless the whole time, fearing I would panic and miss a number. Or get them out of sequence. Or just plain make him think I was drunk and wind up in handcuffs.

"X - Y - Z"

The tests passed (at least I assume so, since I wasn't dragged off in cuffs), the officer returned to his car. I thanked him as he left. Later, as I thought about it, I became irritated - angry even. Why the hell was he wasting my time pulling me over? Did he have nothing better to do? Then a thought hit me - how many actual drunk drivers have had these thoughts after being pulled over? Maybe I shouldn't have been driving. Maybe I wasn't safe. I'm sure I was, but how many drunks have thought that before staggering to the car and plowing into a family of four?

I drove home feeling like I was walking on thin, cracking ice; do I look drunk? Am I drunk? I didn't try turning the streets between Dogtown and my house into my own personal NASCAR course. The offier was doing his job - and doing it well. And I'm happy he pulled me over - and a little ashamed that I was irritated about it later.

Some people - like the friends I was with tonight - would view this as THE MAN trying to keep us down. Some would think of this as police harrassment. I don't. In the end, when I finally made it home that night, I realized that there's a decent chance I shouldn't have been driving. And that's a sobering thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Brian vs. Sweet, Sweet Diet Pepsi

A lone technician sits in a huge, silent room, dominated by a screen showing a Mars rover traveling over the red Martian plain.

You can see the technician is bored silly, so he digs out a sandwich and Diet Pepsi and starts eating.

As he finishes the Diet Pepsi, the sounds of a ratchet gun breaks the silence of the lab. The technician looks up to see Martians scurrying off the screen, carrying away pieces of the rover, leaving it on blocks.

That's the new Diet Pepsi ad.

Sound familiar?

Be warned, Pepsi Co. - your million-dollar lawyers and deep, deep pockets don't scare me. I'm keeping an eye on you now. (Although if you send me two cases a month for the rest of my life, I'll overlook this little indiscretion.)

Monday, March 15, 2004

What The Donald Needs Now . . .

Now that I've sworn fealty to Donald Trump, I can freely admit that I was watching the show Thursday night when something hit me.

As the contestants are dismissed from Trump's loving embrace into the cold, cruel world, most of them are mature and classy as they talk to the camera about what an adventure it's been - how they've made great friends and learned lots.

Franly, I think that's bullshit. If I'd just been tossed on my ass, I'd be bitter, defiant and profane.

First, I'd swear vengeance and eternal hate on the backstabber who turned on me. Then, as the camera zooms in on me, I'd reach into my pocket and pull out the ashtray I just stole from the boardroom. "Try smoking a cigar without this, Donald. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!"

What can I say? I'm a sucker for futile and pointless acts of defiance.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Kickball Mortification

It was the first day of the season; my feet sunk into the boggy field with every step as I walked up to the plate. Between the wind whipping into my face and the sun setting directly before me, all I could see were vague shapes in the field.

The pitcher sent the ball bouncing towards me - off to the right. Ball one. Second pitch, again to the right. Ball two.

He sent a slow roller straight down the center of the plate. I smiled, figured out which part of the field I was going to send it to and planted my left foot. My right foot swung down towards the orange ball.

I imagined bolting to first as the ball rocketed out towards left center. Fielders converged on the ball in vein and I was on third base by the time they could throw it back to the infield. I imagined running home and sliding in, scoring the season's first home run. I imagined actually making contact with the ball.

Which I didn't do.

Off balance with one foot in the air, I nearly landed on my ass. I recovered my balance, everything unhurt but my pride.

Fortunately, my teammates stood behind me - laughing and clapping. Along with the other team. And the umpire (she at least tried to hide the giggles, but it wasn't working too well - her sides shook and her face was turning red with the effort).

I smiled and returned to the plate, and I took the walk. I jogged to first, pumping my fists in the air like Rocky, except that instead of "Gonna Fly Now" playing in my ears, I heard "Hey! Only girls walk!" and "Nice walk sissy!"

And this was from my own team.

It's nice to be loved and supported. At least we won the game.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

COPS -- in St. Louis. Sort of.

So I'm watching the West Wing, trying to figure out which characters are muppets and which are live actors, when I hear a muffled BANG outside. Not unusual -- my neighbors have been pretty rambunctious lately.

Then I saw the flash -- like a burst of lightning and a really loud BOOM. My windows rattled and a car alarm protested the intrusion loudly. I peeked out the window and saw several police officers clustered in front of the house across the street.

They were wearing vests with ST LOUIS POLICE stretched across the back, and wearing various stages of tactical gear and street clothes under their vests.

Apparently, my loud-ass neighbors have been partying a little too hard lately. And inviting many, many friends. And selling party favors. Which really, explains why those brownies they brought over when I moved in tasted funny. And why I carried on a six-hour conversation with my toolshed that night.*

I stared out my window, but I was disappointed; I was hoping for a "Cops" episode - complete with hysterical women, drooling, snarling police dogs and unwashed Kid Rock-lookalikes (who also happen to resemble my neigbors) being dragged kicking and screaming down the sidewalk to the wagon.

No dice. All I got was cops crowding the porch and probing the front yard intently.

At this point, I began reflecting what would have happened if they went to the wrong address and busted in my door and tossed in a flash grenade. In all honesty, I would probably just point upstairs in the general direction of Demond's room and say "Please don't kick in the door." That seems like it would be a safe bet.

But despite the no police chases, no dogs and general mayhem, I'm happy they've carted them off. While I'm not sure, I think they've been selling drugs out of the house, and if they clear the assholes out of my block, I'm perfectly happy for it. This spares me the trouble of dressing up in my costume and cleaning the streets myself.

*Editor's note: Part of this isn't true -- they didn't bring the brownies over; the toolshed, however, is another story.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Ten Things I've Learned in 2004

Now that 2004 has hit the 1/6 mark, I feel a little reflection is in order. So here are ten things I've learned so far:

  • If I wear an apron, I can actually cook while wearing real (read: not torn up) clothing AND then I can wear those same clothes in public - and I don't look like I just climbed out of a sewer!.
  • Women don't go for guys who talk to themselves while staring at cracker boxes.
  • 16 gallons of Diet Pepsi shortly before going to bed is not a good idea.
  • The Return of the King is even longer the second time you see it.
  • I'm not sure this is healthy, but I'm actually counting down the days until baseball season starts - 29 days!.
  • Cubs fans really scare me. And let's face it -- Alex Gonzales was even more responsible for them losing the series.
  • Greatest Thing Ever: Beef Stew
  • Live-action talk shows are a blast. Who knew?
  • Don't drive a large trailer laden with a Mardi Gras float down Lemp Ave.
  • Never, under any circumstance - no matter how easy it rolls off the tongue, no matter how much you want to say it, say a book is "too Oprah Book Club" while on a date.