Free food!

I got fed for free tonight, and you can’t beat that. Chicken and ribs in the party room at the Firehouse Grill in Evanston, along with salad, mashed potatoes and some terrific desserts. Medill’s New Media Department generously paid for the whole thing and invited all of the grad students to take part.

Now at this dinner, the food decision was difficult. Thought-provoking, if you will. Chicken or ribs? Beef was (part of) what’s (available) for dinner, but it took a tough man to make that tender chicken.

I went with the chicken because it was a large gathering of people, many of whom I had never met before. Chicken is a normal, public food, but ribs are an intimate food. Ribs should only be eaten among friends. Your friends have seen you messy before. They’ll keep on loving you, even as the barbeque sauce drips off your nose.


From an Associated Press story: “We are repositioning,” said Major Brian Hilferty at Bagram air base on the outskirts of Kabul, where the 400 withdrawn troops were taken by helicopter. “The major fighting of the battle is over.” But he added: “If I were an al Qaeda guy, I would not go out for a pizza. Operation Anaconda is not over.”

But consider the situation. The al Qaeda fighters are in the mountains of Afghanistan. They’re not quite sure where their leaders are. They’re getting bombed and shot at night and day by the world’s best military. They’re hiding in caves without much food or supplies. And, as if the situation weren’t bad enough already, it’s wintertime.

Honestly, if I’m an al Qaeda guy, that pizza’s sounding pretty good right about now.

Response to today’s loud El talker

Sir, before you think I was eavesdropping, please know that young men with cell phones are prone to projecting. And, sir, you’ve got a healthy set of chords. I was sorry to hear you probably won’t get into Northwestern like your friend Michael. At least you still have your job, whatever it is.

Sure, those mothers complained their children weren’t given anything to do at the party you were paid to organize, but you’ll hear no complaints from me. They were 8th graders! Just like you said, they should be able to entertain themselves. And it was good you told those 13-year-olds to stop pole dancing before they got you fired. You’re absolutely right: the mothers would have liked that even less.

You, sir, are one top-notch employee. Don’t let those mothers tell you otherwise.

Bunny for a day: Part II

Previously: the Playboy lobby and photo vault.

Next stop on the Playboy tour: photo studio. They shoot mostly products in the Chicago studio, and model shoots tend to happen in New York and Los Angeles. Why this is I don’t know. Possible factors:

  • Nine months of cold temperatures.
  • Wind that never stops blowing.
  • Ugliness of the general population. (Nobody looks good on the 6th straight day of subzero windchills.)To answer the looming question, no, there were no models around. The Chicago office is not the Mansion. The last model to shoot in Chicago was Miss January 2002, according to our prof, and that shoot actually occured in October or November.

The Playboy studio was a large room with lots of lightning equipment and a stereo full of bad music. Outside the room was a kitchen area, possibly where the staff can eat their Wheaties or have a mid-shoot snack of milk and graham crackers. Also just outside the studio were clothes racks, from which various leopard skin things were hung that day, and various tables. On one table were various unmentionables, tossed in a pile. This mess was odd considering the last model was there four to five months earlier.

Maybe it’s the job of the next model to pick after past model. If so, I sure don’t want to be a Playboy model; as my mother and the floor of my room can attest, I struggle pick up after myself. (I’m getting better every day, really.) But to pick up after myself and a Playmate? That would be just too much.

The tour ended at this point, and our Magazine Editing class retired to a conference room to chat with young magazine staffers about starting a career in magazines. I sat below a newsstand-style installation holding the 100 or so most recent Playboy covers. (More specifically, I sat below the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle. That’s one way to promote your comeback album, I guess.) After our discussion with the staffers, class ended. We passed Christie Hefner’s office on the way out and waved goodbye.

Bunny for a day

Thursday was a break from the ordinary, what with the field trip to Playboy and all. Chicago is home to Playboy world headquarters (but not the Mansion), and the magazine enjoys a splendid reputation among the local publishing community. It used to enjoy a splendid reputation among the local business community as well, but now they have empty cubicles where the dot-commers used to sit and the accompanying financial insecurity.

But all of this is beside the point. The field trip to their offices came as part of my Graduate Magazine Editing class, which is co-taught by Barbara Nellis, an associate editor at the magazine. (She edits the articles that every bashful male reads the magazine for, of course.) The field trip began well. “We’re here for a field trip; we’re going to the 15th floor,” we told the lobby clerk. “You mean Playboy?” he asked. Yup. “Walk down to the next lobby,” he said.

In the next lobby, we hopped in the elevator and headed up. “Do you think they’ll have a cool waiting area?” I asked a friend. The doors opened on the 15th floor … wood panelling along the walls, obtusely shaped black and blue furniture, glass tables, granite legs on the receptionist’s desk, and their giant bunny logo hanging above it all, sculpted in bronze. On the tables in the waiting area, like in every dentist’s office in America, were reading materials. It is a bit odd, however, to be sitting in a lobby, browsing through Playboys like they were year-old People issues.

Barbara led us on a tour of their offices, which were filled with art created over the years for Playboy (quality stuff too — a wall of original LeRoy Neiman’s). We walked through editorial, through dot com, and then went to the Photo Library. There, the Photo Librarian took out her keys and unlocked the door to the Photo Vault. Temperature-controlled, air-quality controlled, and under constant electronic surveillance for fire, the Vault contains just about every photo a Playboy photographer has ever taken. On the left were the unused photos, on the right were the used, with shelves of boxes reaching to the ceiling.

Fun fact learned in the Vault: Did you know someone is required to take Hugh Hefner’s photo every day?

Tomorrow: the Photo Studio.

The Toolman

Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (Tim Allen), Jill (Patricia Richardson), Al (Richard Karn), Heidi (Debbe Dunning), Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (NU applicant JTT), Mark (Taran Noah Smith) and, of course, Wilson (Earl Hindman). Sure, the “Home Improvement” actors typecast themselves into oblivion (video here), but we remember and appreciate the laughter they gave us somewhere in the mid-’90s. What we probably have never realized, however, is the show’s effect on the toolmen of America and the world. “What?” you say. “I never realized that!” Indeed. Toolman Antonio Guerra of Monterrey, Mexico, writes:

Though I’ve seen mostly dubbed in Spanish episodes, it’s the best show on home and work safety. While funny, you can get a message of safety just by watching Tim as an accident-prone individual. I still watch re-runs of this, and have used this as an introduction to safety lectures at my work site. The whole cast is balanced and really look the way they are in the show.

In the show’s passing, men in this line of work have lost their hero, their foothold in pop culture. Now they are toolmen, not Toolmen. Everyday moments in the sun have become fraught with pain and frustration, no more evidenced then when a team of electricians worked at my office yesterday.

One electrician stood in the hallway, drawing up plans. Walking by, an office worker remarked upon the many tools in this man’s toolbox. He replied with a hearty laugh:

Toolman: Yeah, just like Tim the Toolman on TV!”

Office worker: [polite smile]

Toolman: [polite follow-up chuckling, as his puffed-up chest receded]

Glory days, they’ll pass you by. Come on, Wilson, what advice do you have now??

Marah gone MTV?

Congratulations, Marah, you got what you wanted. You said you’d get out of the Philly/Jersey shore circuit and get to play across the pond. You said you’d ditch the banjoes and all the instruments that made you interesting, that made you the “Last Rock and Roll Band.” (The title was self-proclaimed, but listeners agreed with you.)

Now, the latest news about you is that you have done exactly what you said you’d do. I’ve listened to a couple snippets of the new album, which made their way onto the Web today. You’ve smoothed out your voices, you’ve turned up those guitars and you sure did use that mixing board. You’ve made a record that’s going to sell and sell and sell. I’ll buy one the day it comes out, for the little bit of you that’s left in it.

Update two months later: A more fair take.

“Who it is!”

Has anyone else been watching the Cosby Show marathon on Nick-at-Nite this week? Good, good television. I’m managing to catch some episodes between work on papers and projects, and it’s all been worth it. In addition to seeing good TV, it’s nice to realize that we weren’t always so ironic. Irony only gets you so far in the pursuit of comedy. At some point, you just have to be funny. (“Friends” fans, I love you despite your idiocy.)


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