My Little Reading Rainbow

What follows should not make much sense to you. At least I hope it doesn't. But today it dawned on me that I have only recently gotten into reading. On my own time. As a hobby. In just the past year or so, I have finally evolved into one of those semi-intelligent (looking) beings who has a book in his hand most of the time. And I think this is a good thing.

Here is why.

Once a discouraged, pigeonholed youth, I have known far too well the pain of scoring a lowly 18 on the reading section of the ACT exam, and the labels that come with such a poor performance. An 18, guys. For those of you not familiar with this standardized college-admissions test, each of the five parts - English, math, reading, science reasoning and writing - is scored out of 36 points. And for those of you who flunked the math portion - either out of sheer lack of numerical inclination or the fact that you forgot to bring a calculator on exam day - my reading score of 18 is equivalent to 50 percent. See: abysmal. See: beyond repair. See: half-broken. See: chance.

This was my problem: I was always the slowest reader in my grade, missing reading assignments and deadlines left and right. Regardless of the book or subject matter, I was usually stuck somewhere around page 13, re-reading several times over the 12 that came before it. And this took me days. It was frustrating to say the least. I would fall so far behind that I'd have to resort to relying on things like CliffsNotes, the early Web and simply what my friends and random passers-by told me happened in these acclaimed works. Little did they know they held such power, and every bit of my trust. They could have told me anything. They could have told me Holden Caulfield is a transgendered individual struggling in the wake of a botched sex change, coming to grips with his/her maritime responsibilities aboard the USS Mushroom Stamp. And lest I forget "The Catcher In The Rye" is an autobiographical memoir of J.D. Salinger's mixed-up prepubescence at sea. You see, I would have taken all of this at face value, and failed, miserably. By all accounts, I should probably still be in high school, repeating literature courses in dizzying, merry-go-round fashion.

It's not that I couldn't retain anything I read, my mind just tended to wander and think about other things while my eyes followed strings of words, left to right, down the page, only going through the physical motions, no further. I would catch myself doing this and have to re-read what I had just skimmed past, what I had failed to process. This was my problem, and it became rather apparent on the ACT, where would-be scholars are forced to read a series of passages and answer corresponding sets of questions. A tall order for yours truly, back then. This was the opening of the kimono, so to speak.

Perhaps most confounding about my test results (once my immediate family and I let go of our explanatory theories of miscalculation, results mix-up and severe damage to my temporal lobe) was that I did fairly well on the other sections, somehow managing a 32 for English. A 32! I wasn't sure what a 32 signified, but I knew it was a hell of a lot better than an 18. And I remember wanting to shave a couple points off that score and reallocate them to my valiant attempt at reading. My letters to the ACT board went unanswered, so I assumed this was not allowed.

Thank God the ACT averages your scores from all five areas for one composite score, or I may have never been accepted into a university. If there was no composite score, admissions departments would have just laughed at my applications, feeling bad enough to want to help me, but not bad enough to help me with their own education programs. So they would have sent me another program - complimentary copies of "Reading Rainbow" - instead. I would've felt insulted. I also would've watched all the episodes after getting over it. Every one of 'em. Because that was a good show.

The Art of Listening

I posted this one over at Harold's Kids.

For those who missed it, yesterday’s Twebinar was all about the importance of listening in building, maintaining and further developing a brand. Which seems obvious, of course, but is certainly much harder to, well, do.

The Twebinar series has been great thus far. Once you get over some of the technical glitches and spotty audio/video, it’s refreshing to hear communications pros discuss the topics-at-hand. This week, the same general tenet was repackaged 70 different ways:

Yes, listening is important, and it’s something all companies, regardless of size, should be doing, what with the myriad new-media tools that are readily available to us (often for free, other times for a nominal fee, such as the one offered by Radian6, the organizer of the Twebinar series [shocker!]). Why? Well, for starters, considering all the avenues consumers have to voice their opinions online, it’s no longer a mystery what your customer thinks, feels, likes and dislikes about your brand, and it behooves you to monitor this dialogue that’s already happening, for it’s a dialogue that will continue to happen with or without you. So participate!

But it doesn’t end at listening. Nay, you should probably do something about all of this feedback, right? Wouldn’t want to look like you don’t care all that much about these folks, would you? So once you’ve monitored and processed the raw commentary that’s out there, take it to the marketing teams, take it to the product teams, take it to all of the decision makers and see what you can do to better provide what people want to buy! At the end of the day, people just want to feel like they’re being heard and valued in some way, shape or form anyway, so isn’t this your big chance? Your big break?! Unfettered access to all of this testimonial — it’s beautiful. After all, won’t that make your brand more successful, if you can provide exactly what your target buyer is looking for? Methinks.

But what do y’all think? I’m all ears…

iPoding, Together*

Hey, cool kids: want to be even cooler? Dweebs, dorks, doofuses: want to be cool? Boy, have I ever got the thing for you. Just the thing for all you cats.

What follows is quite possibly - no, is the best idea I've ever conceived. I'm rather proud of it, too. It's been my brainchild. My baby. My special little personal pet project that I've been piloting all across this country the past few years. Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago. Some town in Indiana. Most of northeastern Ohio. Unbeknownst to your city and its residents, you have all witnessed this incredible movement-in-the-making in one form or another.

Perplexed, law-abiding citizens could have sworn they saw an apparition take to the streets, amid a loud, amateur recitation of... London Calling? Sleepy souls have been shaken awake by obnoxious hollering in the alley - noise that was somewhat reminiscent of but not nearly as good as Born To Run. Some dude brushing his teeth, getting ready for the early shift at the steel mill, yeah he could've sworn he heard an a capella version of Let It Be last night. You know all those people in the restaurant? In the bar? What they saw those kids thrashing around and losing control of their limbs to was Separation Sunday. They weren't having corresponding seizures. The stomping on the roof? The breaking glass? Southern Rock Opera.

To some of you, namely my parents, this will only further solidify my place in this world as a social outcast.
Three square meals a day, clean sheets, a roof over his head, a college education... all that for this?

To others, the below will seem like the most brilliant bit of brain juice ever spilled - the worthiest model ever devised, the most forthright social experiment ever carried out - and these people will burn with envy that they weren't the first to think of such a thing. And then they'll try it out for themselves. In public. And they will
love it. It will be obvious. You will clearly see them loving it.

This is by no means a complex thing, so I'll spell it out in the simplest terms...

Grab someone who likes to rock out. This could be anyone. A friend. A friend of a friend. An acquaintance. Someone you don't even particularly care all that much for. A stranger, even. The bottom line is that this is the most important component of the plan, so whomever you choose, just be sure that you've seen him/her rock out, heard he/she likes to rock out, or get the vibe that he/she is capable of letting go of all inhibitions for one reason and one reason alone: the sake of rocking out. Got 'em? Great. (Secret: once you have mastered most everything in this post, you will come to view a companion as an enhancement - something that is not entirely necessary to execute and enjoy all of this, but rather a great add-on. Yes, you will come to learn how to do this alone, free of embarrassment, I swear.)

The next necessities are far from immaterial materials. They are requisites, and critical ones at that. Without these, you will just look even more stupid than you're already about to look. So make a list, check it twice. Two (2) iPods. Two (2) sets of headphones. One (1) good - and I mean really, really good - rock album. Any of the aforementioned albums are fine choices. Prime, credible choices, if I may say so myself. Lastly, one (1) public place. It can be anywhere. Just get out there.

You see where I'm headed with this, don't you? I told you it wasn't rocket science. In fact, it's really just a better version of those long car rides or first few dates where you were so bored or incredibly in love that it compelled you to share a musical experience with someone - with a lone music player and a single pair of headphones, one headphone in each of your ears. That poor person. That lucky person! How cheesy. How romantic! What could be worse? What could be greater?! It either meant nothing or everything. The other person either understood just how important the song was to you, or he/she crushed your hopes by not listening to the whole thing or deeming it "nice," or worse - "good." Perhaps that person didn't get the guitar solo coming out of their allotted headphone?

Now for the synchronization, which is just a really big word for the fact that you'll be listening to this crap at the same time. Though I've deemed all above components to be the most important component, this is seriously the most important component. You've got to hit "play" simultaneously. So, at this point, calmly hand both devices to the person with the steadiest hand. This may or may not be the most sane or sober individual, so screen with caution and choose wisely.

To reiterate: do all of this - every last bit of it - not in your own home. Do it out there, in public. The underlying premise here is acting a fool. Play your part. Step it up. Be a rock star. It feels great. Earth seems small, life seems manageable and you seem larger than anything that ever lived. I swear! Or at least that's what it does for me...

To give you an idea, I have done this seated at (nice-ish) restaurants, at bars, walking on sidewalks, running in streets, in alleys, atop roofs, on fire escapes, in deserted dead-ends - usually between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., for effect, and 10 times out of 10 at max volume. Turn it up to 11, don't be shy. Pretty soon, you and your compadre will, or should, be screaming along with your favorite crooner and playing air instruments like it's nobody's goddamn business. The high hat and snare. The cymbal crash. Ripping those frets on the six-string as if your hand was a spider. Plucking those big, honking bass strings with bent-over tenacity. Throw in the occasional keys from the piano or sax for good measure and, of course, do not forget the flashy, "Diamond" Dave Lee Roth jump kicks and relentless head-banging. Also, run everywhere the night takes you. Don't walk. Be urgent about these things, please. Apply liberally, as necessary, and if done correctly, you should awake the next day with a sore neck from all the antics and whatnot.

You will garner stares. A whole mess of 'em. People will laugh (insecurely). Dogs will turn their heads, cock their ears and whimper. Couples will stop dead in their happy tracks to marvel at your collective, anti-social display of disheveled derelict-ness. At your exquisite exhibition of reckless abandonment, at your disregard for almost all set social norms. At all the excess going on in front of them. You are amazing. You are a novelty. You are practically anything you care to be...

And every last one of them will die a little inside (minus the dogs), wondering if they ever experienced such a feeling in their youth. 99 percent of the time that answer will be "no," and they will smile and look at each other to pacify the ounce of pain that's stirring inside them. Now, why in the name of Bowie didn't I do those things when I was young, agile and able to? For the love of freaking Freddie Mercury, at what point did my life become such a stinking pile of crap? You know, because you certainly can't be acting this way forever. 45-year-old wedded men shouldn't be trying this. They'd just look silly. Not that we don't or anything. I'm just saying. It usually comes to a crashing halt when you have those little things called children.

*Individual results may vary. Please do not consult your physician to determine if iPoding Together is right for you. It is (ridiculous) (for everyone). If carried out properly, with maximum humility, with minimum composure, iPoding Together will help you begin to view life, and the world in general, in vivid, bursting colors. In vast crescendos and arpeggios. In distortion and feedback. In the very stuff dreams are made of, where stuff = double kick drums. Due to the very nature of the iPoding Together ensemble, common side effects include, but are not limited to, heightened senses of: coolness, stardom, actual musicianship, self fanfare and other fleeting feelings, as well as non-fleeting feelings, such as broken shoes.

The Escalator, or the World's Hardest-to-Repair Thing

As the late comedian Mitch Hedberg once theorized: "An escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. You should never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out of Order' sign, just 'Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the Convenience.'..."

This small statement - one that used to make me laugh but now only mocks my every step - has more or less summed up the past four months of my existence. By observing repair persons not repair this cursed, perplexing device, it has become all too evident to me that the escalator is the motorized equivalent of a Rubik's Cube, be it an equivalent that's a whole lot less colorful and amusing. So a lesser equivalent, I guess. Or a non-equivalent. Whatever.

Repairing a conveyor-transport apparatus is apparently the ultimate task slash science experiment for mechanics in 2008. For one thing, it's impressive that there is actually a career track for escalator-repair persons. But what's even
more impressive is that these trained persons do not seem to have the slightest clue as to what they're doing when faced with a lifeless escalator. These individuals break down themselves. "Experts" flock to 233 N Michigan Ave. in herds when ours is out of service, which, unfortunately, is rather often. I finally stopped counting the number of times the stupid thing has crapped out, as I usually count with my fingers and lost track when I ran out of fingers and hands to count on in just the third month. I tried carrying the count over to my toes and feet, but I can't see them while wearing shoes, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of physically tallying something and turns it all back into a mental game, which, again, I'm no good at. So that was that.

Anyway, yesterday I was greeted by eight professionals examining the miniature escalator in the lobby that carries us diligent workers no higher than 15 vertical feet. That's like the shortest escalator ever, people. It's also one of those narrow ones, with the tiny steps that can accommodate only one depressed, corporate-American soul. So if there were eight workers for roughly 15 vertical feet of moving stairs, at about two steps per vertical foot, that means there were enough of these brainiacs to focus on just three-and-some-change steps, each. Each! A cake walk. But for the lowly lives of these dolts, they can never figure the bloody thing out. Too much responsibility, perhaps. Instead, they stare at it like it's something they've not seen before, but have only heard second-hand accounts or seen amateur sketches of, like a mass murderer on the loose, or a cold, dead body - but unlike a cold, dead body in that these burly men look like they've certainly seen their fair share of cold, dead bodies in former, less-noble lines of work, such as mass murdering.

So wherein lies the problem? Shouldn't the one and only test for escalator-repair persons be just that:
repairing a frigging escalator? "No," you say, Mr. Escalator Repair Person?! Let me see your syllabus and hall pass, I don't believe it.

We Drove Each Other Nuts

In our formative years, our family came dangerously close to perfecting the art of hostility, becoming exceptionally proficient at the trade as we spent more and more time together cooped up in cars. Minivans, to be exact. We went through minivans like they were dental floss, or chewing gum, practically mutilating beyond all recognition a fleet of six of the stupid things before my brother and I were even out of high school. We tended to lose our composure in the wood-paneled walls of those Pretty Hate Machines, regularly testing both the outermost limits of our psyches and the human brain's capacity for loathing planet earth and its inhabitants in their entirety. It was our special little regimen, and our hijinks were often more reliable than the moving mechanical parts of the minivans themselves.

The (semi-) funny thing was that trip duration did not seem to affect our lack of cohesiveness in any noticeable way, which should definitely be considered abnormal. We were usually in shambles, and could set each other off just about anywhere - on a seemingly harmless jaunt to the gas station for a gallon of 2 percent milk, or on a non-stop trek from Michigan to Florida that was treated like an Olympic race yet called a "vacation." The odds were the same. The odds were pretty damn good.

Dad instigated a lot of it, he who never let anyone else drive anywhere. In his world, a man's place was on the road, behind the wheel, and a woman's place was, while not
necessarily in front of a stove or a sink, it just... wasn't on the road. It was somewhere else. And he would drive them there, the women. On paper, it actually didn't seem like a half-bad idea when he first drew it up for my brother and me late one night at the dimly lit kitchen table. Bringing the chauvinistic plan that sat scrawled in lead in flow-chart form on a yellow legal pad to fruition, however, proved to be a bit more difficult and, obviously, downright shitty for mom.

The only reasons mom still traveled with us were, one, because she needed to go places, and, two, for the off chance that dad would perform his series of habitual, verbal critiques of female drivers who obeyed posted speed limits; of female drivers who used their turn signals at any time other than the "best" time, or who neglected to use turn signals altogether; of female drivers who veered into other lanes while talking on cell phones or putting on makeup; of female drivers who cut us off or made the slightest movement that could be construed as a deliberate assault on our family; of female drivers who did not lend us a "courtesy wave"; of female drivers who drove ugly or unkempt vehicles... only to pass the car or approach a stoplight and discover that the driver was in fact a man. To say mom relished these moments would be a gross understatement. "A disgrace to our kind, boys," dad would say, shaking his head and clenching his jaw as he locked eyes with my brother and I through the rear-view mirror. The King's humiliation was not lost on us - we could sense our ilk decreasing in value in real-time. Mom would look out the passenger window, completely smitten with the revelation that dad was, for the umpteenth time, wrong. These were tiny moments of victory, or defeat, depending on the parental party.

But dad wasn't the only one to blame. Nay, we each contributed in some way to our own un-put-together-ness. The situation would then be escalated by mom in one of two forms: a retort based on the premise that dad should try listening to her on the road because she usually, despite popular family mind-share, actually knows what the hell she's talking about, or the exact statement, "You're setting a horrible example for the boys!" One of the two, and the inside of the minivan would grow so torrid that the air escaping between the windows would whistle loud enough to drown out the incessant screams and white noises that polluted our heads. There, in our very own corner of hell, aboard a piping locomotive, is where we learned each other's buttons far too well, and we did our best to push them at a frequency that would have made any of our ADD-riddled friends look like a poster child for the Kids Pausing Patiently For Patience Foundation (KPPFPF).

If dad didn't volley the hot potato mom fired into his court, my brother and I would reach out our hands. I guess you could compare our behavior to that of malevolent little catalysts, or good-for-nothing provokers. If foul language was used, we repeated it loudly and proudly to support mom's point that we were creatures learning by example, wanting nothing more than unfettered access to the dirty dossiers of known naughty words. If the driver-in-question turned out to be a woman, we found much pleasure joining in on the name-calling and applauding various theories that reached far beyond our mental grasp - ones that heralded men as superb road warriors and ostracized women, the other half of our species known as "dingbats."

This was a seminal time for our kindred unit.

If neither of these techniques garnered a satisfying response or escalated the seriousness of the argument at hand, my brother and I resorted to punching each other in the arm. Whatever it took to keep the momentum going, to introduce behavior that could be labeled as deviant, the blame of which falling upon that of our caregivers. We sought cheap entertainment, and our two favorite actors just happened to be seated directly in front of us at all times, rehearsing heated scenes in a moving contraption with their backs to their two biggest fans. What could be greater? Methinks nothing. So break a leg! We're taking this show on the road!