White Knuckles

 

Now let’s see…where were we?

Ah, yes.  In Los Angeles, getting word of an actual, real, live, union acting job on the last day in town.

ft-raphael

About like that, yeah.

Enough suspense.  Here we go:

Picture me, sitting hunched over in Ft. Raphael, desperately trying to finish my latest public domain audiobook before I left Los Angeles.

It is my final, full day on the West coast and Milo and I have already packed up most of our stuff for the trip home.  But Ft. Raphael, in all it’s blankety glory, remains standing.  And it would continue to do so until I finally got through my latest project.  I felt it essential to finish this book before we get on the road.

Why?  Well…my primary concern was that if I didn’t complete my current book before driving back to Chicago, then the sound of the recordings in Ft. Raphael would not match the sound of my booth back home.

And if the sound quality of the two different booths didn’t match well enough…I’d have to start all over again.the_call_of_the_wild_classic_comics

Which would be no good at all.
So I’m sweating away in my little hotbox, trying to lay down the remaining chapters of “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (a truly fun read) when…my phone rings.

It is my agent.

My voice-over agent.

In Chicago.

“Hello,” I say.

phone-ringing“Hey, Kevin.  Linda Jack here.  Good news.  I’m checking your availability for a voice over job.”

Ding, ding!  Fantastic!  Though I play it cool.

“That’s wonderful, Linda.  When is it?”

“Well…when are you going to be back in Chicago?”

Uh-oh.

“Milo and I leave tomorrow.  We’re driving back and should be in town late on Monday,” I say.

“Oh,” and here, a little bit of concern creeps into Linda’s voice.  “Well…the job is supposed to be on Monday.”

phone-callAnd I think, “No!  No!  I’ve been sending off voice-over auditions to Chicago for five months and I’ve booked only one job since arriving in L.A.  Now I’m going to get my second job in months on my last day in Los Angeles and not be able to actually do it because I’m arriving home twelve hours too late?!?!  Impossible.”

I say as much, though a lot less frantically, to Linda.  The situation seems intractable.

Then I get a brainwave.  “Hey, listen,” I tell Linda.  “I’ve got a complete audio setup here. Microphone, laptop, booth, the works.  Send me the script, I’ll record it a million different ways here and send it off to the client.  They can pick and choose what they like!”

BU009688

Linda isn’t buying it.  “No…no…they want to be able to give you direction while you’re doing it but…let me call them. See if we can get it moved to Tuesday.”

“Okay,” I say, watching the job float out the window.  “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

And we hang up.

I mean, really.  Imagine it.  You’ve been looking for work for months.  You continually send off VO auditions to your agents in both LA and Chicago and…bupkis.  Then, literally on the eve of your departure….that’s when you get the call?

This business.  I swear.

The phone rings again.

“Hey, Kevin,” says Linda.  “I’ve got good news.”

booking-1My heart leaps because, naturally, I assume that I will be booked for later in the week, after I get home.

Not so fast.

“They want you to record the spot on Monday.”

Long pause.

“On Monday.”

“Yes,” she says, “Monday at 3:30 in the afternoon.”

Second long pause.

“But…I won’t be in Chicago on Monday at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I’ll probably be…in the middle of Nebraska around that time.”

And Linda says:  “Yeah, they know that.   They want you to record the spot on the road.”

studio-car

Yup.

These new phones are such a pain.  You’re always hearing the craziest things on them.

“I’m sorry….what?” I say. “What do you mean ‘on the road’?”

“That’s what they said.  They want you to pull over, wherever you happen to be at 3:30 on Monday and set up your microphone and laptop.  They’ll call you.  You record the spot where you are.  They’ll listen over the phone and give you direction…then you email them the sound file.”

I’m waiting for the punch line.  But it turns out this isn’t a joke.

“You’re serious?” I ask Linda.

“Totally serious.  They want you to record it from wherever you happen to be.  Find a quiet spot by the side of the road. I’ll give them your cell number.  They’ll call, you lay down the track…that’s it.”

studio-car-2Well, I’m certainly not going to be the one to say no to such a ridiculous plan.  After all, I’m the one who needs the money, not them.

“Okay, Linda,” I say. “Tell them I’m all for it.  I’ll do my best to find a nice quiet spot to record the ad…somewhere around Omaha or something, I imagine, and…I’ll expect their call at 3:30 Chicago time.”

“Great!” says Linda.  “I’ll let them know.”

And she hangs up.  A few minutes later, just to be sure, Linda calls me back, formally books me for the spot and…that’s that.

I am now officially hired to be the new voice of Mr. Muscle Bathroom Cleaner…coming to you live from…my car.

Show business.  Ain’t it great?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Milo and I first arrived at our apartment in Northridge, lo these many months ago, the room was practically empty.

empty-roomPractically, but not entirely.

There was, in fact, a bed frame and a full-size mattress in there, which Milo graciously ceded to me (I don’t think he liked the look of it), along with a standing lamp and, for some reason, a DVD player.  Otherwise, the place was barren.

We jetted over to IKEA and set about furnishing the joint, getting Milo a futon/bed thingy, a mini-dresser for each of us, a table for us to eat and for me to use as a desk, a couple of folding chairs, an air cooler and a few other odds and ends.  Made the place quite homey, in fact.

garage-saleNow, upon preparing to leave, I was in no mood to just leave this stuff behind so…I held an apartment sale.  I put up signs all over the building saying that we would be having the sale on Saturday morning, between 10:00 and 11:00 (one hour only!) and then figured we’d either donate the rest of the stuff to Goodwill or leave it to our roommates.

Early Saturday morning, by the skin of my teeth, I managed to finish up recording “Call of the Wild” and then spent a wistful few minutes dismantling Ft. Raphael.

If I had owned a bugle, I would have sounded “Taps.”

Then, having packed up the car with everything we wanted to take back home with us, we awaited the throng of people who would doubtless arrive promptly at ten to rid us of the rest of our furnishings.

garage-sale-2Crickets.  Nothing.  For a solid ten minutes.

Then?  Knock, knock.  A very nice lady came in and, before you could say “Jack London,” was the proud owner of two barely-used dressers and a nice futon/pullout bed.

Minutes later, another lady came by and snapped up the air unit, the lamp and a few other small items.  We had done pretty well.

Finally, just as we were heading out the door, two more women came by, bought the rolling chair I used in Ft. Raphael, the little table from my studio…and then asked about the DVD player.

The DVD player…I had found there when I moved in.

So of course I said:  Buy the bed you can have the DVD player.

We sold every stick of furniture in that room.  Even the stuff we inherited from the previous tenants.

And then we got the hell out of there.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There is nothing quite like a sudden, unexpected and terrifying accident on the road ahead of you to keep you on your toes during a road trip.

And that is exactly what Milo and I witnessed as we drove up I-5 (colloquially known as “the five”) on the way out of LA that Saturday.texting

Minutes after we got onto the highway, some guy in a blue BMW, who must have been busy with a very important text, zoomed across three lanes of traffic in front of us, careened into the cement partition in the median and completely destroyed the front left portion of his car.  It happened in less time that it takes to read it.  Ker-SPLAT and it was over.

We were directly behind the guy but I reacted quickly enough to avoid being in any real peril.  Both cars coasted slowly to a stop and we pulled around the now-wreck, saw that the guy was shaken but otherwise fine and then continued on our way.car-accident

But I was…plenty alert, let’s say that.  And despite (or perhaps because of) the suddenness and violence of the accident, it seemed to me to be something of a good thing for me to witness that soon out of the gate.  Why?  Because that was one of three nasty-looking accidents Milo and I witnessed on the road back to Chicago and it surely kept my eyes glued to the road for the rest of the trip.

Speaking of which, here was the plan:  The easy leg first- a five hour jaunt to Vegas where we would spend the night with the same fine folks (Aunt Caron’s brother) who hosted us on Thanksgiving.

Day Two:  Vegas to Denver, driving over the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter in what would turn out to be our first snowstorm in almost a year.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-11-36-03-pmThen, finally, the real test:  Denver to Chicago – a trek of over 16 hours- with a stop by the side of the road for a commercial break.

This final leg weighed heavily on me, not just for the length of the final journey but also because I had my doubts about this VO experiment ending well for anyone.  But…if that’s what the client wanted, that’s what they were going to get.

la-rear-viewAs LA disappeared in our rear view, I admit to feeling a touch of melancholy.  Los Angeles had been my home for eight of the past twelve months and, despite being an awfully difficult place to find work, I had really come to appreciate the town itself.

I mean…you have to love a place with that many skinny people coupled with – quite literally – a donut shop on every corner.  You may think that is an exaggeration, but I defy you to find me a single intersection in the city that doesn’t have a sign advertising fried, sugary dough at one of the four corners. They are as common as weeds but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who actually buys the damn things.

randys-donutsAnd it is sooooo easy to trash L.A.  To complain of the plastic, inauthentic atmosphere of the city, to bemoan its lack of class or look down your nose at the want of culture and refinement.  Complaining about (and sneering at) Los Angeles is an American institution.

But during my time there, I truly grew to love the city.  The natural beauty of the landscape, from the beaches to the mountains, the parks and soaring vistas from innumerable vantage points. The stunning diversity of the cuisine, which reflects it’s multicultural population, ranging from some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted, to the freshest sushi this side of the Pacific Ocean to the most mouth-watering Korean barbecue that has ever been fried up right before my very eyes.griffith-park

Museums, art galleries, live theatre, street performers, classic movie houses, world-class shopping and charming farmers markets.  If you scratch below the surface, you’ll find it has a lot to offer.

Yeah, the traffic sucks sometimes.  It’s no picnic here in Chicago either.  But if you don’t get on the 101 at 5:30 in the afternoon…you’re generally fine.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I wanted to go home.  I still believe Chicago to be, by far, the superior city.  I’m ni-love-laot willing to go that far.

But there was no question that I would miss my new quasi-home.

What can I tell you?  Like the man says:

I love L.A.

Til next time, Nirvana.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Aside from the beautiful desert sights – plateaus, hills and cacti a-plenty – there isn’t much between LA and Vegas that is worth stopping for.  But…there is Peggy Sue’s.

peggy-suesLike “Wall Drug” in South Dakota, you see signs for “Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner” for many miles before you actually arrive at the advertised establishment. But Milo and I, in our three previous trips this year between the two cities, had managed to avoid stopping for a bite, mostly due to the nagging sense that it would be a kitchy, touristy, bad-food-for-high-prices kind of rip-off joint.

Now, however, making our way through the desert on what we were sure would be our last time for perhaps years…we just had to stop.  After all – how bad could it be?

Turns out:  Pretty damn good, actually.peggy-sue-2

The coffee was first-rate.  The onion rings were fantastic.  And the “Frankie Avalon Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich” was everything you could wish it to be.  And yes, it was indeed a kitchy, touristy joint…but in the best possible way.

When I want cheesy Americana, I want authentic cheesy Americana and boy howdy was this place authentic.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our hosts in Vegas were just as kind as they could be, surprising us with a pizza dinner when we arrived but, sadly, we did not have long to visit, having a long drive the following morning.  We got up with the chickens, as they say, and were high-tailing it for the Rockies in no time.leaving-las-vegas

Driving out of Las Vegas, I had no similar feeling of nostalgia as I did for my LA departure. Vegas is not my scene but, happily for those who live there, plenty of people disagree with me.  I don’t know how on Earth they keep all of those hotels full but…God bless ’em.  I’m not planning a return trip any time soon.

Now, one thing you should know about Milo:  Milo likes the cold.  For the first couple of months we were in Los Angeles, he was miserable.  The temperature rarely dipped below seventy degrees and, with his penchant for wearing black most of the time, the sun became almost unbearable to him.

milo-bear

Candid photo of Milo

I know he enjoyed our time in the city, but I feel sure Milo would never live there later in life.  He prefers temps in the 60’s and below…preferably far below.  I’ve often said, he’d rather it be five degrees outside than ninety-five.

So the further up into the mountains we climbed (and the colder and colder it got), the happier Milo became.  When we hit 32 degrees, we both celebrated our first freezing temperature since the previous Spring in Chicago.  (Yes, Chicago is regularly at freezing or below in the Spring.  Aren’t all great cities?)

However, as we climbed higher up into the mountains, we started to hit some weather and it became less and less fun for Milo’s father.  We saw one nasty accident…then we saw another.  Temperatures outside continued to fall (we had a temperature gauge in the car that showed the outside climate) and my speed continued to decline due to the icy road conditions.driving-into-mountains

By the time we started down the other side of the mountains, we hit an actual snowstorm.  I was gripping the steering wheel firmly, easing us down the mountain, while Milo called out the temperature as it continued to decline.

“Nine,” he’d pipe up.  As if it were good news.

Then later:  “Four.”

Soon it got all the way down to one degree.  Milo’s eyes shone.  He really wanted for it to get down to zero.thermometer-in-winter-314x3

Then:  “Two.”  The temperature started to go up again.  If by “up” you mean the high single digits.  “Eight.  Nine.  Dammit.”

But the snowstorm roared on and things got nastier.  Pretty soon:  “Three!”  The situation was, in Milo’s world, getting “better.”

My driving had slowed to a crawl.  It was really getting slippery on the road and the salt didn’t seem to be helping much.

Finally….”Two….one….zero!”  We both celebrated this so-called milestone, one of us far more enthusiastically than the other.

frozen-drivingBut then:  “Um…minus one,” he said.

Okay.  That’s…interesting.

“Minus two.”  It kept going down.  And down.  “Minus four….minus five.”

Within minutes, the LED monitor told us it was negative ten degrees outside and, believe it or not, I became absolutely convinced that I really, really did not want to skid off the road in this weather.  Perishing in the frozen wilds of the Colorado Rockies was distinctly not why I had chosen to go to California.

snow-driving-3In time, after white-knuckling the wheel for more than two hours, the roads became clearer, the temperatures went back up to a “normal” level and we were able to make our way out of the storm and into Denver proper where we were, at last, warmly greeted by my always-generous and hospitable Uncle Larry and Aunt Bobbee who wined us, dined us and sent us off to our rest.

But that drive had absolutely scared the bejesus out of me.  And I knew just one thing:

I was going to need a whole lot more bejesus to get me through the final leg of this damn trip.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Day three.  Recording day.  Plus…about a thousand miles between us and home.

This was going to be fun.

nebraska

Presented without comment.

We staggered out as early as possible but, for those of you who know how time zones work, you may realize that we’d already lost an hour by crossing over the Rockies.  And we were going to lose another hour by the time we reached Chicago.

It was going to be a long day no matter how you sliced it and we were slicing it pretty damned thin.

We were out of Colorado in no time and had begun the truly epic slog of getting through that state that dare not speak it’s name:  Nebraska.

I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Nebraska before but, if you have, you know what a mind-numbing experience it is.  The road is as straight as a plumb line.  The countryside is wholly unremarkable.nebraska-2

And the radio stations.  Good gravy.

Listen:  You want to know how Trump won the election?  Drive through goddamn Nebraska and turn on the radio.  You can get exactly one of three types of stations on your way through the Cornhusker State:

Country, Christian and right-wing Hate Radio.  That’s it.

billy-squier

Not everybody, Billy.

Oh, you might occasionally run into a “classic rock” station, but it’s the kind of programming that somehow lists Def Leppard and Billy Squier is “classic rock.”

Thank God the speed limit is seventy-five or I’d still be there.

All the while, as the clock kept ticking towards 3:30 Chicago time, I’m thinking:  “How the hell am I going to do this?”

I started to think of potential solutions.  But when I pictured myself walking into a motel with my laptop, microphone and sixteen year old son and asking if I could borrow a quiet room for half an hour or so…I started to realize just how abysmally this whole thing could turn out.

starbucksMilo had a great thought:  Park near a Starbucks in some town somewhere, log on to their WiFi and I should be all set.  He’d throw a bunch of blankets over me and the setup would be just like Ft. Raphael.

But…you know…far more ridiculous.

Then, at about 11:30AM – DING! – text message.  From Chicago.

“Kevin – Just sent you an email.  Recording session set for tomorrow, downtown.  Please confirm.  And drive safe.”

text-messageThe experiment had been canceled.  I didn’t have to do the spot on the road.

And you know what?  I was actually kind of disappointed.

I mean, I was absolutely convinced that the whole “record this spot in your Volkswagen studio” plan was going to be a complete clusterfuck but…that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to try it.

Besides…didn’t you all want to know how it would have turned out if I had given it a shot? Yeah, me too.

But no, the traveling fort idea was nixed.  All I had to worry about was getting through the next twelve hours of driving.

So…hooray?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ugh.  It was just awful. My long-distance driving friends will know just what I mean. After a while, it becomes pure torture.  Especially when you’re driving through the Midwest, which is so bloody monotonous your eyes start to cross.long-distance-driving

Milo’s job was to keep me awake and focused and he was born to it.  He blasted loud music, talked baseball with me, joked around…anything to prevent me from careening into a light pole.

I turned to him after gassing up in Iowa and asked Milo how much further we had to go, hoping to hear “three hours.”  When he said “About seven hours more,” my heart just sank.  Seven hours was an eternity, a prison sentence.  I would sooner have taken a punch to the tenders.

But we made it.  We sang and talked and almost ran out of gas at one point (which really kicked up my adrenaline) but…

car-singingAt last…there it was.

The City by the Lake.  Sweet home, Chicago.  Her beautiful, frozen face looming on the horizon.

We got in just after midnight.  It had been a painful, brutal day or driving, but we had survived it.

Sara had waited up, but Gwen had gone up to bed, having school the next morning. (Happily, the over-excited dog woke her up and I was able to see my daughter briefly before sending her back upstairs to sleep.)chicago-home

We were back.  Our five-month odyssey was now complete.

And the best part?

I had a job the next day.  A real, live, actual, union acting job.

My first day back in Chicago…and I was working.

And if that’s not a good sign?  If that isn’t an indication that I was exactly where I was supposed to be?

Brother…I don’t know what is.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have now been home for about two weeks.  The adjustment out of L.A. mode and back into Chicago mode took about…five seconds.  It is really wonderful to be back in the arms of my family, in the city that I love and…working.  It is really nice to be working again.

About a week after I hit town (the commercial spot went very well, by the way), I got to hold auditions for the show that I’m directing next summer.

And I started recording audiobooks full-time, down in my new basement studio. (Oh, the studio name?  Presenting….Ft. Donatello.  He looks like his brother, but not exactly.)

That’s my day job, for the time being.  I’m a professional audiobook narrator.  For as long as I can keep the family’s heads above water, anyway.

I’m even toying with the idea of starting my own audiobook publishing house here in Chicago.  We don’t have one here and there are an awful lot of hungry, talented narrators out there.

I might even teach a class in how to do it yourself.  Maybe some folks would show up.  It could happen.

Not to mention the idea of turning this blog into a book.  And, naturally…into an audiobook as well. Might even sell a few copies.  Who knows?

For now, the possibilities are endless.

People ask me what I learned on my year-long adventure to Nirvana and back.  And I learned a lot.  More than I expected.

About the business.  About Los Angeles itself.  About myself.  My family.  My strong, loving wife.  My brave, brilliant children.

I spent five months living with my son in a Californian pseudo-dorm room, recording books in a closet, overdosing on baseball and eating a steady diet of raw fish and barbecued Korean pork, people.

You don’t go through something like that without getting one hell of an education.  And you absolutely do not just drop back into your old life as if nothing happened.  An experience like that changes people.  It certainly changed me.

I think I am the better for it.  I hope I am.  Who can say?

But I know one thing:

I’m one hell of a lot happier now than I was when this beautiful, ridiculous, ill-fated pilgrimage began over twelve months ago.

I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.  But if I could go back and talk to the Kevin I was in December of last year?

I would sure as hell recommend it to me.

So..here’s to the future, my friends.

To the unknown.

To the frightening.

To the questionable decisions.

To the chances taken.

To the crappy odds, the dangerous risks and the pipe dreams.

Most importantly, here’s…to what awaits.

See you there.

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The Hardest Part

Tom Petty was right.

tom-the-waitingAs the time drew closer and closer to our Los Angeles Brexit and Milo and I prepared to load up the truck and move away from Beverlee (Hills, that is), I found myself tasked with assessing the overall wisdom of having embarked on this journey in the first place.

Or, rather, in the second place, since I actually moved out to California from Chicago twice in a single year.

Was it, I asked myself, worth the expense, the time, the energy, the effort?

non-ringing-phoneWell…professionally, it would be hard to argue that the trip (particularly The Trip, Part Two: Electric Bugaloo) was not a bust.  I only had a small number of film and television auditions and, to show for it…zero bookings.  That’s not good and, strictly from a business standpoint, cannot possibly be twisted into anything resembling a successful venture.

In fact, during the time I was in L.A., the most acting I did was at the weekly, Wednesday night acting classes that I attended with a handful of other Chicago ex-pats, where we would dole out scenes, jump up on stage, perform the scenes on-book and then give each other assessments and feedback afterwards.  It was fun, it kept the muscles from atrophying but..it wasn’t work.

32511116 - headphones on the old book. concept of listening to audiobooks.

True, I was (as was explained in my previous post on the subject) daily banging out audiobooks on a consistent basis but as I’ve said (a) this is work I could have been doing in Chicago all this time and (b) it certainly not what I had hoped to be doing when I returned to LA back in August, teenager in tow.

And, yes, there had been some other, occasional acting-related jobs in the past few months as well- little gigs here and there that have cropped up and put a few bucks in the bank but…not one commercial, not one television booking, not one Scorsese- or Spielberg-type ringing me up, desperate to have me aboard their new project.

failureI did not, to put a very fine point on it, find professional work in L.A.  So…the whole thing was a failure, right?

Well, hold on there.  Since we have the leisure of some Monday morning quarterbacking, let’s do so:

Part of the reason for the lack of bookings, as I’ve mentioned before, lies in the difficulty of getting seen by anyone in the first place.

headshotsTo recap:  When a casting agent puts out a call for actors in Los Angeles, they are deluged with submissions.   For every one role they are looking to cast- and this is not an exaggeration- they can wind up with over 2,000 headshots on their desk (or they would, if they weren’t all being submitted digitally these days).

With that kind of response rate, how do you, as a casting professional, sort through that kind of mess to pick even a small fraction of actors to see?

The answer is:  You don’t.  You call in the actors you know, the actors you recognize or the actors with the most powerful agents.  The rest…

…they wait.waiting-3

And that wait…it is simply dreadful.  Stultifying.  Frustrating.  Maddening.  (Consult your thesaurus for additional appropriate “I don’t like waiting” descriptors.)

Simply put:  I don’t mind not getting the job.  I mind not being seen for it.  I’m a professional actor.  I’m used to being rejected.  I don’t take it personally.

waitingBut for crying out loud, if you’re going to reject me, at least see what I’ve got to offer before deciding it isn’t what you’re looking for.

What makes this sight-unseen dismissal exponentially more upsetting is knowing that you’re in the middle of Entertainment World, U.S.A. and you still can’t get seen. Sometimes, when you flip on the TV or go to the movies, you get an eyeful all of the working actors, you start to feel as if you’re the only poor schmuck in town not finding work.

waiting-2And it is not as comforting as you might think to realize that, no, you’re just one schmucky little grain of sand on a beachful of other non-working actors in town and that your plight is very far from unique.

So what you do (or what I did, and I’m sure I’m one of many) is…you continue to wait.  You give the phone the side-eye, willing it to ring, keeping yourself busy, hitting the gym religiously, submitting yourself through the non-agent websites whenever possible and hoping against hope that your time will finally come.

It isn’t easy, sitting in that stewpot, ladling juices over yourself, day after day.  But you do it because…what else are you going to do?

And then, like the man says…one day?  Boom.  You’re eighty.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Luckily, I was plenty busy in the meantime.  I was in the studio almost every day, laying down audiobooks one after the other.  I was running each morning, too and hitting the gym every other day, trying to stay trim and fit and keep this half-century year old bod in shape.recording

Not to mention the fact that I was also functioning as a full-time, single parent for the first time in my life which, believe me, gave me newfound respect for what my mother did for all those years.

And honestly, that was the main difference between the last trip and the current experiment.  On this leg of the adventure, there were no late nights, no up-until-all-hours blog writing, no crashing on people’s couches or hitting the bars in the evening.

early-to-bedNo, for this visit, it was lights out early, up and off to school with the first morning’s rays, work all day in the booth, exercise, shop, plan and make dinner, do twice as much laundry as before, keep the place neat and clean and, of necessity, cut way, way back on the heroin.

I’m kidding, of course.  Sometimes we actually went out to dinner.

routinesBut the time for lazy, LA sightseeing on my part- which I enjoyed very much back in January- was pretty much over.  When Milo and I explored the city, it was during the weekends, not whenever I felt like rolling out of bed and checking out the tar pits.

As a result, we both fell into our habits, our daily routines and…boom.  It was suddenly December and I didn’t even have a star on the Walk of Fame to show for all my trouble.

We had moved to L.A., lived fairly normal lives as father and son, had some fun, traveled a bit, explored our new city… and now we were going home.

no-jobsSo as the time came close to leave, the question lingered:

Was it a complete bust?  Did I make a mistake coming back out here?  Do I regret having made this expensive and (professionally, at least) fruitless trip back out to California?

Most importantly:  If I had it to do over again…would I have made the same decision?

And of course, having removed the rose-colored glasses and viewed the entire venture honestly, the answer had to be:

Absolutely, without question, I would do it all again in a red-hot minute.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“But…why?” you might be asking yourself.  “Five pricey months in Los Angeles and no jobs?  Why in hell would you do it again?  How could this possibly be construed as a win?”

bad-oddsFrankly speaking, if you’re seriously asking that question, then you have no idea why I came out here in the first place.

And let’s be clear:  Yes, I had been hoping for work.  Of course I was.  I would have loved nothing more than to end this story with the buzzer-beating, last-minute, holy-shit-did-I-just-see-Theis-in-that-movie ending.

Finding acting work in L.A. was a huge part of why I bothered to come back to LA, naturally.  And it is, I have no shame in saying, somewhat disappointing that I didn’t get that particular happy ending.

long-shotBut ultimately, from the moment I left Chicago, I knew the odds of such a thing happening were astronomical, especially given the time frame I had given myself.  I know actors just as talented as I am (yes, they do exist), who have been out here for years looking for work and…what?  I was going to zip into town and land a sitcom in the five short months I had allotted myself?

If I had been honestly expecting that to happen with any degree of certainty, I would have easily medaled in the Arrogance Olympics.

Nope.  I knew what was probably going to happen.  From the start, I was well aware of the fact that, given the odds I was facing, my returning to Chicago empty handed was all but guaranteed.  And though many of you reading this story might have been hoping for me to buck the odds and land that big job, I am quite sure that most of you knew how it would end, too.lotto

Failure wasn’t just an option.  It was practically a certainty.

And with that being said my “I would do it again in a minute” answer has not become any more understandable, has it?  If anything, this of-course-I-was-going-to-fail explanation has actually made my pride in having made this trip a bit less reasonable.

Okay, fine.  So why don’t we just  jump ahead and get to the real reason I made the trip, shall we?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As luck would have it, one of the public domain books I recorded for an audiobook project this past month was Henry David Thoreau’s classic memoir of self-sufficiency, simple living and unintentional dick-ish-ness, “Walden.”walden

In it, Thoreau beautifully describes the two years he spent turning his back on civilization and living, practically as a hermit, in a tiny, self-made cabin in the woods, far from the madding crowd.  It is a lyrical, gorgeously written and almost insufferably egotistic peon to the natural world, the glories of eschewing materialism and, most importantly, himself.

(As my friend Joseph helpfully pointed out, de-constructing one of Thoreau’s best known quotes: “You would have been a lot less hypocritical with just the one ‘simplify,’ Henry.”)simplify

But Thoreau does get one thing exactly right.  The mass of men do, indeed, lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

Right on the money, H.D.  Nailed it.

Well…not this man.  I may have been quietly desperate before, sure. I won’t deny it.  My song was packed up and ready for the grave.  I was a shuffling, compliant, card-carrying member of the mass of men.

Not anymore.

Now?

desperatWell…I’m still desperate.  But at least I’m loudly desperate.  And my song isn’t going to my freakin’ grave, goddamn it.  I’m going to sing it at the top of my lungs as obnoxiously and off-key as it bloody well pleases me and if you don’t like it, you can make like Henry and go lock yourself in a cabin in the woods and give up coffee and booze like a dope for all I care.

midlifeCall it a mid-life crisis.  Or an epiphany.  Or a combination of the two.  But I needed to go on this adventure like a fish needs water.

And as clarifying as that answer might be (and I hope it was), that’s just reason number one for packing up and moving to Hollywood.  There was another, even more compelling reason as far as I was concerned.

I had something I needed to teach my kids.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

See, when you have children, one of your primary jobs is to teach them stuff.  How to walk, speak, fetch you beer when you need one…all that jazz.

Bclimbingut the most important lesson- I think- can be summed up in two words:

Reach.  Higher.

Don’t like what you’re doing?  Do something else.

Don’t like where you are?  Go somewhere else.

Don’t like your job?  Get a better one.

Do not, if at all possible, settle for what you’ve got.ladder

Reach.  Higher.

And what I taught my kids this year- or at least what I hope I taught them- is that it is never too late or too scary or too crazy to let go of what you’ve got and see if there’s a higher rung on the ladder.

(Another lesson:  Marry someone as cool as your mother who will allow you to do insane things like this.)

And even though this particular adventure did not go as planned?  At least they know that I tried it.  With everything I had, I made the attempt.

And really, the attempt?  That is everything.

cliff-jumpIf I hadn’t done it, I would always have wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t.  o I threw myself off the cliff, hoping to fly…and plunged down onto the beach.  BLAP.

But I survived.  And I learned a lot.  And I had a lot of fun.  And I got to live with my son in L.A. for five months, an experience that drew us closer together than ever.

And…did I mention I haven’t been in an office for a year?

Would I do it again?

Man…sign me up.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now…I know many of you are expecting this to be my last post.  But…it can’t be.

Know why?  Well here’s your M. Night Shaymalan ending, boys and girls:

Because before I left L.A. – on my very last full day in the city, in fact – my phone rang.

And I got a job.

An acting job.

A real, actual, union, paying acting job.plot-twist

And that story…you’re not going to believe.

Til next time…

Life in Ft. Raphael

Here’s a tip for non-actors:

If you’ve got a friend who is in the performing arts and you know they’re going to an audition…don’t ask them about how it went afterwards.  Especially, a week or so later, do NOT say “By the way, how did that audition turn out last week?”auditions

Because – and you must trust me on this – if you heard about the audition?  You would have heard about the resulting booking, had it occurred. Actors don’t keep their light under a bushel. They set their bushels on fire and dance around yelling “Look at my flaming bushel!!”

Listen to Me Sign Person Tries to Get Attention in Crowd

When nothing happens, we shut up about it.  When something happens…we think that folks on freakin’ Mars should be made aware.

So, now that the old clock on the wall is telling me that my time here on the West Coast is drawing to a close, it has come time for me to report, before I hit the road back to snowy Chicago next week, how things have progressed out here.

And as you’ve likely guessed by now, had I landed a TV or film role, you would have heard about it the moment it happened.  I would have gleefully posted about it here on this page and asked you to marvel at my blazing red bushel long before now. (Phrasing?)next

But the deconstruction of that part of the business- the film and TV side- will have to wait for the next posting, however.  In this one, I would like to deal with the one, great, positive professional accomplishment I was able to make while out here in L.A. and that is:

Recording audiobooks.

Audiobook concept. Headphones and books on white isolated background.

A bit of history:  As people who follow this blog religiously (yes, both of you) know:  I began recording audiobooks full-time back in March.

Since then, both here and back home in Chicago over the summer, I managed to complete over forty books, most of which were Royalty Share contracts.  Felt pretty good about how that worked out, too.

Since arriving back in Los Angeles in August, however, and setting up my own blanket-fort studio, I’ve since laid down an additional seventy books and, apparently, I am showing no signs of stopping.  chart-climbing

I have at least three producers who automatically book me whenever they have a new project and one of them is actually paying me by the hour for a series of public domain books that I’ve been recording and loading up for the past month or so.  (If you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear me read Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” out loud to you…your long wait is finally over.)

blah-blahSo let me get out my calculator…let’s see….that’s about…a hundred and fifteen audiobooks since March.  Over 4,500 in total book sales (which is about double what I’d been hoping for).  The result?  I’m also making twice what I had budgeted to make through Royalty Share at ACX while I was out here.

The problem?  It still isn’t quite enough to keep my head above water.  I check my sales on ACX every morning and either celebrate or shake my fist at the sky, but the combination of the inconsistency and the lack of a single, truly high-volume selling book has meant that I rely more and more on the hourly work.

And that, my friends, is brutal.hot-box

Seriously, whenever anyone asks me how to get started in the audiobook business, the first thing I say to them is:  “Try this:  Get a flashlight, a stopwatch and a novel.  Take all three and go lock yourself in a closet.  Start the stopwatch and start reading the book out loud to yourself.  If you can make it to a half an hour without wanting to fashion a rope out of your clothes and hang yourself…you’re in the club.”reading-by-fl

Because no kidding- it is really, really tough work.  When I’m getting an hourly fee, I do my level best to stay in the Fort as long as possible but, no matter the financial reward…I find it virtually impossible to turn out more than two hours of finished product in a single day.

Sounds crazy, right?  Two hours a day of work?  How hard can it be?  Well…if your job was to be tortured on the rack or to listen to Donald Trump speak in public without cessation…two hours can seem like an eternity, actually.rack

I’ll be in Ft. Raphael, reading and reading and talking and talking and think “Well, that has to be at least a half an hour.”  And then I look at the clock, see that I’ve been talking for about ten minutes…and life loses all meaning.

steveThen there are the times when your mouth just decides to quit on you.  That’s fun.  You’re going along, cruising through the story, bringing the text magically to life…and then suddenly you start sounding like Truman Capote after a stroke.  And no matter what you do to will yourself into speaking clearly…your mouth has just checked out and taken your tongue with it.  Nothing to do but take a break and find your bearings.

editingBy the way, that’s not to mention the time you need to put in after the recording itself. The editing, processing and digital upload of the finished files.  That can sometimes take almost as long as the recording itself (especially if I’m not at my sparkling, letter-perfect best while in the booth).

And then there’s the music that I add to the introduction, the conclusion and the retail sample.  (To be clear, you do not have to include music in the finished product, but I always do it because my clients seem to appreciate it and I think that it helps with book sales. Plus I can’t help myself.)

So….two hours a day?  Believe it or not:  That’s a full day’s work in the audiobook world.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If there has been one big disappointment in my work recording books, it has been the failure of my theory that the more books I completed, the bigger my sales would be- overall- as a direct result.  graph-of-exponential-growth1

The theory was:  If one book sold at the rate of x, then four books would sell at the rate of 4x.  And if that was true, then forty books would naturally sell at 40x and…riches would naturally follow.

Turns out, not so much.  Because, sometimes…one book doesn’t sell doodley squat.  And the one after that will sell fifty copies.  The next?  Nothing.  Then…BOOM!  Three hundred copies.  It is impossible to predict what one or another book will do, sales-wise, once it is released.disgust

And it had almost nothing to do with quality.  Some of the best stuff I recorded sold just north of bupkis and some of the others….some honest to goodness digital horse manure…sold hundreds of copies.  I actually pitied some of the people who were subjected to some of these recordings and truly wish I could arrange to refund their money.  (Though I will, naturally, be holding on to my cut.)

pile-of-scriptsBut at the end of the day, this has become my new full-time occupation.  (Though the downside of that will also be discussed in the next posting.)  I’m proud to say that there have only been two days- only two– since I arrived in L.A. that I haven’t had a recording of some kind or other that I needed to work on.

That’s almost every day.  For five months.  Could be worse.

However, as my father would be the first to point out:  That is all work I could have done back in Chicago.  I certainly didn’t need to drive out here and build Ft. Raphael to record all those books.  I could have done them all back at…um…at….damn. I really need to name my home studio, don’t I?

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-8-54-04-pmStill, I cannot say that if I had stayed in Chicago whether or not any of this would have occurred.  If the books that finally got me the hourly gig (projects which are currently paying my bills) would ever have occurred.  If the audiobook producers now showing interest in my work would have been less impressed with only fifty or sixty completed projects compared to the 100+ that I currently have on my resume.

Who knows?  All I know for sure is that I’ve got a huge catalog of titles now that will be generating (to lesser and greater degrees, of course) royalties for me for the next seven years.

And, of course, I’ve got one additional future occupation all lined up:

Going back to Chicago and teaching a class on how other actors can learn how to do this sort of thing for themselves.

Here’s to the New Year, eh?

Thanksgiving in Vegas

I think it’s safe to say that Las Vegas is just not my kind of town.

I don’t gamble. I don’t eat five dollar steaks if I can help it. I don’t go to strip shows. And I like my Cirques a little more Solo then the multiple Soleils currently on tap here.

cirquesSeriously:  There are a DOZEN Cirque de Soleil shows on display at different hotels here in Vegas. That’s more Cirques than there are “Fasts and Furious.”  (Which is the proper plural for “Fast and Furious” by the way.)

I mean, I know it’s been said before, over and over again but- the whole place is just…a little too much.  The glitz. The tinsel. The ostentatious casino facades.  And dear lord, with the flashing lights.  An epileptic wouldn’t last five minutes here with all the flashing.

welcome-to-vegaIt is, without question, one of the least enticing places on the planet for a guy like me.

So…how did Milo and I come to spend Thanksgiving in Sin City, of all places?

Funny you should ask…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I am sure I have mentioned previously, my wife has lots of family here in California. She was born here, for one thing, and her roots go back several generations.

cali-mapSara’s mother, for example, was born and bred in L.A. and currently lives in San Francisco. Not only that, but she’s got a bunch of cousins, aunts and uncles scattered all over the West coast.  (Her Aunt Caron and Uncle David- lovely people, by the way, salt of the earth- live in the single worst-named suburb in the country, the thoughtlessly named….Placentia.  Say it out loud.  See?)

So, naturally, when David and Caron asked what Milo and I were doing over the Thanksgiving holiday, we of course said, “Nothing,” assuming that we would be invited to their house or some similar, close-by venue to gorge ourselves on the big day.

Nothing doing.

vegas-1“Fantastic!” they said, “You’ll have to join us at our time share in Las Vegas over the holiday! We’ll have so much fun!”

At which, as you can imagine, my heart sank.

Three days, perhaps more, in Vegas.

Over Thanksgiving.

In the middle of the desert.

Probably watching football.

Lord in heaven, give me the strength.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fearing the worst, but hoping for the best, Milo and I enthusiastically agreed to go.  Family first and all that.

And thus the plan was set:

welcomeMy mother-in-law, Marilyn, would drive down from San Francisco (stopping along the way to pick up Caron and David’s daughter Courtney), grab the two of us in L.A. then speed across the sandy wasteland for a big family reunion in Vegas on Tuesday night with a bunch of in-laws, cousins and tangentially related folks, many of whom had either never met or hadn’t seen each other in years.

That was Tuesday.

Then, Wednesday night was reserved for a party at Caron’s brother’s house.

Thanksgiving would be at Caron’s cousin’s.

The rest of the time…we would be on our own.

vegas-lure

Through Saturday.

That meant about four and a half days to not gamble, throw money at strippers, watch Cirques de Soleilseses (the proper plural, by the way) or do the things that are generally expected of Vegas tourists.

Are you kidding?  This town was going to love me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Everything went exactly According to Hoyle for the drive into town and we managed, through some miracle of coordination, to meet up at the same time at this gigantic buffet dinner at the Main Street Station casino in North Vegas.

casinoNow…I’m not much of a casino guy, but having been raised on James Bond films, I always pictured them to be semi-classy affairs, with sharp looking dealers expertly flicking cards to tuxedo-wearing, scotch-swilling intelligence officers as super-sexy, elegantly dressed double agents hover behind their billionaire, villainous husbands until the British agent finally wins the mega-jackpot (or whatever it is they win) and they say things to each other like “I see you’ve played this game before, Mr. Bond” and “I don’t care what the limit is, I’d like to double my bloody wager!” and stuff like that.

So imagine my surprise when I strolled into my first casino and the thought that hit me right away was “Oh, wow.  It appears that I’ve walked into a giant, soggy, flatulent ashtray.”

shot-machine-realClassy?  Not exactly.  Unless you consider forlorn looking truckers in soiled baseball caps bent crookedly over slot machines with cigarillos sticking out of their mouths, pushing video poker buttons over and over again like it was their freakin’ jobs to be classy.

Because if you do…this was a Master Class in Class, baby.

Part of the reason for the unconscionable stink is the fact that Las Vegas is one of the few places left in America where it is still okay to smoke indoors.  The casino proprietors allow this for two reasons:

  1. If they forced you to smoke outside, you’d have to occasionally stop gambling and go outside to light up.  And they really want you to keep gambling.
  2. There is no #2.  If you’re not gambling, you might as well be dead to them so…hey, smoke up, Johnnie!

Happily, we were not there to gamble.  We were there to meet the family, catch up with long-absent and/or unknown relatives and feast at the buffet (which was mercifully upwind).  And so we did.

Main Street.jpgThe fare was about what you’d expect from such a place.  If there was a theme to the buffet, it was “Food From All Over the Damn Place.”  There was fried rice and egg rolls. Barbecued ribs and corn.  Every conceivable variety of chicken, from broiled to fried to orange.  And enough pizza and pasta to feed an Italian battalion.

For my part, trying to stay on my as-little-carbs-as-possible diet, I was thankful for the very impressive carving station and did my fair share of damage without venturing into the super-deep-fried, sugar-slathered booby trap foods that lay crouched in their various chafing dishes, ready to strike.

The extended family, all told, numbered about seventeen that night and we put a tidy dent in the buffet but really…the lion’s share of the evening was spent catching up, horsing around and marveling at each other’s dessert choices (“Did you really put soft serve ice cream on that cheesecake?”).

Buffet.jpgAnd that’s the magic of family gatherings, really.  The food was fine, but the company was what made it a truly wonderful night.

As the evening continued, I finally began to relax.

Because maybe, just maybe, where we were- here in the middle of the World’s Most Decadent City™- didn’t matter.

Maybe, just possibly…

…it was who we were with that made all the difference.

Jeez, you think I’d have figured that out by now, huh?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, when you’ve got an afternoon to kill in Vegas and you don’t pull slots, play cards or shoot craps…what do you do?

Well, if you’re smart, you pay a visit to the “Pinball Hall of Fame,” that’s what you do.

pball-hofInside this extremely non-descript building, there is an entire warehouse full of the very best pinball tables ever created and range from 1950’s classic old-timey tables to modern, double-decker, multiple-flipper tables with themes from every movie and television show of the past forty years.

Well, okay, there’s not a “McLaughlin Group” table but…almost every other TV show.

hof-oldThe entire family loaded up with quarters and spread out to try out their body-english skills.  I hit a few tables to try them out, but found myself returning again and again to what I consider to be the best-designed pinball table of all time:  the T2: Judgment Day table from 1991.

t2-pinballIf you have to ask what makes this particular table so great, you have clearly never played it.  Just take it from me that the design, the feel, the look and the action of the game (plus Arnold Schwarzenegger’s occasional interjections- “You’ll be back” and “Get out!” among them), makes this is the most satisfying body table game I’ve ever fed Milo’s college savings into.

After we had emptied our pockets into our respective machines, it was off to dinner, hosted by Caron’s brother and wife, Gary and Terri, who held this gigantic fete at their suburban Las Vegas home.

reid

“Stay away from my house!”

Getting into the neighborhood was a feat, as we had to go through the kind of security normally reserved for the White House, but we later learned that this was because their gated community also housed folks like Nevada Senator Harry Reid and uber-celebrity Paris Hilton.

Though, presumably, in different houses.

Dinner in their palatial home was perfect, the hospitality warm and the food first-rate, though we were all very conscious of not stuffing ourselves, in anticipation of the great feast day to come.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Before turning in for the night, Milo and I decided, along with mother-in-law Marilyn and cousin Brian, to wander over to the nearest Vegas Strip casino to see what all the fuss was about.  We had, up until then, only set foot in one of the presumably “off-brand” gambling dens to the north of the city and wanted to see what an old-fashioned, high-end place really looked like.circus-circus

The nearest place to our hotel?  The legendary “Circus Circus” casino, where, if you’ll remember, a nice chunk of “Diamonds are Forever” was shot, with Sean Connery and Jill St. John (with Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld!).

If all you know about “Circus Circus” is what you learn in the movies, then you know that it is this fun, crazy, (spoiler alert) circus-themed casino with elephant acts, acrobats, jugglers, clowns and the like appearing high above and all around the tourists as they play cards and pump coins into the slot machines.

Fun for the whole family!

diamonds-3Well…maybe once upon a time.  Now?  The “big top” has been replaced by a giant, indoor amusement part and the “circus” portion of the casino has been reduced to a tiny stage on the hotel’s “Midway” where, at half-hour intervals, they trot out a performer or two to juggle, perform a poor imitation of a high-wire act or clown around with the assembled, sweaty mob while trying desperately to look happy to be working.

unicycle-girlWhile we where there, two Asian girls on unicycles performed a bowl-juggling routine and, I swear, it looked as if they were doing everything they could not to burst into tears at any moment.  (Clearly, whoever kidnaped them overseas never told them that life in America could be this sad.)  Their act was essentially to loop around the stage on their oversized unicycles and flip bowls onto each other’s heads from their feet.

diamonds-4

What it used to look like.

At least, that was the plan.  And, for the most part, they did just fine.  But, as will happen, they would occasionally drop a bowl or two.  At which point, their craggy, pasty-white old helper would shuffle out onto the stage, scoop up the bowls they dropped and hand them back to the performers who, with determined, joyless looks on their faces, would go back and repeat the move until they got it right.

No matter how long it took.

circus-circus-2I got the distinct impression that if they didn’t eventually complete each move correctly, they would be roughly tossed back into their cells under the stage to think good and hard about what they did wrong.

It was, to say the least, a very depressing experience.

Woo-hoo.

The circus.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The next day was Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, and to prepare for the coming gorge, I got up early, strapped on my running shoes and went for a trot up the strip.

vegas-by-dayVegas by day is decidedly different than Vegas by night.  Not that it is any less gaudy or ostentatious, but without the shadows and with the sunlight pouring down to reveal just exactly how much greasepaint has been slapped on the old whore, it is hard to disguise what the place really is.

Here’s what it’s like to watch people walking along the Vegas strip.  It goes like this:

vegas-touristsTourist…Tourist couple…Tourist family….Casino employee handing out flyers…Tourist couple…Tourist….

….complete and utter disaster of a human being vomiting into a fountain…

…Tourist….Tourist couple…

….nightmare person staggering through life as if on fire…

….Tourist family…etc.

vegas-kids-3

Vegas.  Not Disney.

See, Las Vegas is almost exactly like Disneyland- the crazy buildings, the elaborate fountains and decorations, even rollercoasters, games, attractions and- no lie- Mickey and Minnie-type characters strolling down the street.  It is as close to Disney as you get in America outside of Anaheim and Orlando.

The big difference?  There’s no admission charge.  Anyone can walk in at any time.

So you get thousands and thousands of tourists….and the absolute ruined, sad and decrepit dregs of society.  All in the same, glitzy, stinky, crazy place.vegas-tunnel-people

Most of whom are either in the process of spending/losing tons of money or wandering helplessly from place to place begging for enough to eat because they already lost whatever money they once had. (There is an ENTIRE sub-culture of people who live in the tunnels under Las Vegas.  No kidding.)

So let us all give thanks, shall we?  Because there but for the grace of God go we.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After my run, but before dinner, we had some time to kill so Brian and her sister Cortney and I made our way back up to the strip to see just what the inside of a real high-end casino looked like.venetian-2

We had laid eyes on what an old-school strip casino was like.  What were the new kids doing?

We soon found ourselves in the Venetian, the Italian-themed hotel/casino with a (surprise!) Venice theme that they were not going half-ass their way through.  Thus, the exterior of the place is an almost exact replica of the Doge’s palace.  The tower from the Piazza San Marco looms over the entrance.  A full-on reproduction of the Rialto Bridge (except with- I kid you not- moving walkways running the length of it) whisks you inside where you can board a gondola on their indoor canal and ride from end to end on their simply massive indoor waterways.venetian-1

What “Circus Circus” lacked in cleanliness and jaw-dropping architectural accomplishment, the Venetian made up for it in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts.

Impressive?  No doubt.  There was only one downside, really:  It wasn’t the real thing.

Sure, it looked real.  It seemed authentic.  But it wasn’t.  Not even close.  It was like looking at a football sized painting of the Mona Lisa.  Yes, it was gigantic and you wonder how in the world someone managed to make something that astonishingly huge and amazing.

venetian-3

THIS IS INSIDE.

But it (a) wasn’t the original and (b) it absolutely cheapened what it was clearly trying to celebrate.

We nodded our heads, acknowledged the effort, money and artistry that obviously went into the place…

…and then we got the hell out of there.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thanksgiving was everything it was supposed to be:  turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, great company, football and pumpkin pie.

tgiving-1Aunt Caron made a salted caramel confection-thing that completely wiped out my run of earlier in the day, the beer and wine flowed like….beer and wine are supposed to flow and a delightful time was had by all.

The original plan had been to try and take in some more of what Vegas had to offer that night, but the combination of our respective food comas and our experience at the Venetian scotched that plan.  We turned in early and got up with the roosters to take in a little Las Vegas history.food-coma

Because it turns out..there is actual history to be found if you just go and look for it.

During the drive from Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but wonder aloud why Las Vegas was situated there, of all places.  Over four hours to the nearest large city, it is just a little bit more inconvenient to get to then it should be.  So why in the world put it there?

Naturally, there was a reason.  And the reason..was natural.

old-las-vegasTurns out that Las Vegas means…The Meadows.  Because at one time, there was a natural spring in the middle of the desert that was used to irrigate the small crops the natives grew there and it was the perfect place for people on their way through to water their livestock and re-provision before heading to points West.

So…the Mormons, being the enterprising souls that they are, set up a settlement there, built a little adobe fort and set about converting the local natives.

old-mormon-fort-1

Who wouldn’t want to live here?

But it didn’t take.  The place was too remote, too expensive to run and the climate was just brutal.  So they abandoned it.

Next, the ranchers moved in.  They tried to raise cattle there (because of the availability of the water) and tend a few crops to keep the place viable.

vegas-ranchers

“We hate this place!”

But it didn’t take either.  The cattle business wasn’t profitable enough to make it worth their while and no one particularly liked living there.

Next…the miners moved in.  Lead had been discovered in the surrounding hills and when you have mineral wealth, you have a boom town on your hands.

Hey, guess what?  It didn’t take.  The mines were crap and no one liked living there.  So the mines went bust too.  Even the manufacturing boom of the World War I era only caused a tiny burst in activity in the sad, pathetic little town of Las Vegas.

vegas-mining

“This place sucks!”

Until.

Finally, in 1931, the State of Nevada decided to legalize gambling there.  And a string of little, tiny, but immensely profitable mini-casinos cropped up and business started to take off.

Soon afterwards, a slick, visionary, out-of-his-gourd gangster named Ben Siegel had the idea to build a full-on resort and casino and turn it into a gambling mecca.  Siegel went overboard with the project (and was rubbed out for getting in over his head), but the casino he built- the original Flamingo- was the canary in the diamond mine of what was to come.flamingo

Within half a century, Las Vegas went from podunk, backwards, middle-of-nowhere watering hole…to the biggest tourist destination in the country.

Good on ya, Bugsy, ya crazy bastard.  Too bad you never lived to see it.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So we visited the old Mormon Fort (a replica of which still stands), watched a mini-documentary about the founding of the city and the struggles of those who built the town into what it was, then went to the nature preserve nearby to take in the wonders of the local flora and fauna.  Which was very impressive.old-mormon-fort-2

We were about the only ones there.

Everyone else in town was busy doing what they were expected to do while in Vegas.  After all, this is an industry town.  And that industry is:

Sucking money out of your pockets.  And they are very, very good at it.

Because the real genius of Las Vegas is not that the people who run the place were able to craft this enormous, highly profitable, booze-soaked megalopolis in the middle of the desert.  Yes, that was smart.  But that wasn’t the genius move.

vegas-kids-4You know what these brilliant people did?  They performed an honest-to-God miracle.

They turned it…into a family destination.

Yeah, you can go to Vegas for your bachelor party or for a crazy weekend away from the wife and kids.

vegas-family

“I lost all our money!  Wheeeee!”

Or…you can bring the wife and kids with you.  Let the young ones to on rides and see shows and experience all the wonders of Europe without actually going to Europe.  I mean…why spend the money to go all the way to Paris when they’ve got a one-third size replica of the Eiffel Tower right there, next to the one-third size Coliseum, the one-third size Statue of Liberty and the one-third size Trevi Fountain?

Plus…you don’t have to learn a new language!  You can go from Paris to Venice to Rome in less than an hour and not hear one foreign word.  How awesome is that?

vegas-kids-2So bring the kiddies, bring the wife, bring the parents…and bring a shit-ton of moolah. Because you’re not walking out of here with a full wallet, pal.

You’re just not.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We arrived back in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon after another mercifully uneventful ride home.

vegas-goodbyeI had managed to spend five days in Las Vegas and had not lost a single dollar.  I had taken in all the sights I wished to see but did not fall prey to the green eyed demon.

Was I tempted to sit down and try a hand or two of blackjack?  I was.  But I resisted the siren call of the games of chance.  Why?

Partly because I’m broke, sure.  And partly because the looks on the faces of the other people around those tables did not exactly scream “We’re having a wonderful time!”.

It isn’t like the ads on TV.

slot-players-fake

What they show.

But mostly, I think the reason I stayed away from the games was:  I knew the truth of what I was looking at.  I knew the deep-down secret of Las Vegas and, as a result, was able to turn away from the lure of the casino.

I knew that, at the end of the day:

slot-machines-real

What it is.

The house always wins.

After all…those big, crazy looking buildings didn’t grow out of the sand all on their own. They were fed and watered with the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and hard-earned dollars of people exactly like me.

Well…people almost exactly like me.

lost-in-america

Game Seven

It was never supposed to go to seven games.

world-seriesI mean, that’s ridiculous.  That the Chicago Cubs would, like some hackneyed, treacly, Hollywood-scripted team, drag out the drama of the World Series to seven freakin’ games? And then end it like that?

I’m sorry, but if you wrote it, no one would buy it.  They would laugh you out of the room. Because the whole idea is ridiculous.

It simply was not supposed to happen.  Not like that.

Not ever.

***************************

Bit of background:

cubs-2I’ve already discussed how my love and affection for the Chicago Cubs stretches back many generations and how I have inadvertently passed this …(there’s no other word for it)…affliction on to my children.  Handing down a love of the Cubs to your kids is a twisted legacy worth of Ibsen and if you want, you can read all about it right here.

But let’s stick with the present.

Back when the 2016 Cubs were still nothing more than the most winning team in baseball and were heading into the Division Series against the formidable San Francisco Giants…Milo and I had a chat.

halloweenSee, his favorite holiday is Halloween.  And it was killing him to spend the entire Fall season, but Halloween in particular, out here in the sunny climes of California.

Like so many people who have left the North behind to come to the Land of the Never Changing Weather, he missed the chill, the turning leaves, the early bite of winter.

fall-in-la

You see those leaves changing color?  I didn’t think so.

You just don’t get that here in LA. You get…slightly less lovely weather.  For a day or two, maybe. Which is nice in it’s own way but…it isn’t Autumn, you know?

So back then, we looked at the calendar to see if we could make it back to Chicago for a visit at the end of the month and noticed…well, well, well:  the World Series is scheduled to be played over the Halloween weekend.

Huh.

cubs-1In the back of our minds…deep in the recesses of our consciousness, we were thinking the most forbidden of forbidden thoughts:  If the Cubs went to the World Series…we would really like to be in Chicago.

So under the ruse of getting Milo back to Chicago for his favorite holiday, Milo and I secretly bought tickets home for this past weekend.  We didn’t even tell my wife and daughter.  We wanted it to be a surprise.

Besides, if we dared mention the real reason for our trip well…that would be it.  It would be black cats and goats and locusts and typhoons and the baseball season would (purely because of our, personal tempting of the baseball fates) be all over.

***********************

But it wasn’t over.  The Cubs went on that week to beat the Giants.

And then the next week (right before our disbelieving eyes) they beat the Dodgers, too.

pennantSuddenly, the Chicago Cubs, who hadn’t won a National League pennant since 1945…won the National League pennant.  They were going to the World Series.

And what do you know? We were going to be in Chicago for games 4, 5 and 6.  Which was perfect.

Because there was no way it was going to seven games.

By the way, the reason we were planning to fly back to L.A. from Chicago on Wednesday was practical. I felt okay about pulling Milo out of school for three days.  But four?  Seemed a bit excessive.

cubs-v-indians-3And in all honestly, I didn’t even bother to check to see when the last game of the Series was being played.

Do you know why?

Because there was no way it was going to seven games.

So we watched that first, awful game here in Los Angeles and were schooled in taking the Cleveland Indians for granted.  This was a team who came to play and they did so magnificently, beating up Jon Lester and dropping us 6-0.

world-seriesNot that the Cubs weren’t used to getting shut out in the playoffs but…woof.  That was no way to start the Series.  We looked outgunned and outclassed.

The next night, Game Two.  Everything was reversed.  The Cubbie bats came alive, Arrieta was practically unhittable (seriously, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning) and just like that, the Series was tied.

The bad news for Cleveland was: the next three games were at Wrigley Field.  Home field advantage for three solid days.  The Cubs had taken one from the Indians at home.  We weren’t about to let them return the favor.

hendricksBut they did.  They marched into Wrigley Field for Game 3 and shut us down completely.  It didn’t matter that Kyle Hendricks threw four solid innings of shut-out baseball. Josh Tomlin was just as solid, as was Andrew Miller in relief.

And the hero of the game for Cleveland was the ridiculously named Coco Crisp who is, apparently, and important part of a nutritious breakfast and a great way to start the day.

coco-crispBy the end of the game, Cleveland was up again, two games to one.

The next morning, bright and early, Milo and I packed up our stuff and headed out to LAX. By now, my nefarious plans had been discovered by my wife but…my daughter Gwen was still in the dark about our stealth visit.

We arrived at the airport in Los Angeles to find ourselves in a sea of Cub hats.  No kidding: Everywhere you looked, you saw the blue cap and the red “C.” Everywhere.  It was magical.

Know what wasn’t magical?  The four hour flight delay.  We were supposed to arrive at 2:50 in the afternoon (Chicago time) and we didn’t take off until after 12:30 here in L.A.

ohareFolks on our flight with tickets to the game on Saturday?  They were pissed.  And that’s the nice way of describing it. By the time we all finally arrived in Chicago, we burst out of that plane like candy from a piñata.

Gwen was suitably thrilled to see Milo and I arrive in town, but she had a bat mitzvah party to attend so we dropped her off and sped over to my father’s house to watch the game, catching the first few innings on the radio.

oh-boyThe Cubs started off with an early lead but…things soon fell apart after that.  Corey Kluber, the Cleveland ace, settled down and didn’t allow the Cubs to score another run while he was on the mound, striking out six and coasting to victory after the Indians ran the score up to seven runs.  By the time Dexter Fowler homered in the eighth, it was all over.  Cubs lose, 7-2.

It was a nightmare. The unthinkable had happened.  The Cubs had dropped two in a row at home, one against the unflappable Professor, Kyle Hendricks.  We were now down 3-1 and we knew that the odds of winning three in a row (with two in Cleveland’s home stadium) were astronomical.

It was going to take a miracle.

****************************

cubs-familyThe next night, we all got suited up in our Cubs gear, picked up my Dad and headed over to Cubs Central, the living room of my Uncle John and Aunt Mary Jane.  The entire Chicago Theis clan gathered together to see if our collective hopes and dreams would be enough to eke out at least one more victory before the inevitable and traditional collapse.

Because there was no doubt of that happening.  Was there?

cubs-v-indiansWell, not this night.  On this night, Jon Lester would show the world exactly why he should receive the Cy Young Award this year, throwing six blood-curdling innings of two-run baseball. And Kris Bryant came alive with a homer that sparked a three-run inning in the fourth, posting the only runs the Cubs would need that night.

Not that it was an easy win. It was a nail-biter right through the end as Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager, handed the ball to Aroldis Chapman in the seventh inning to not only take us through the ninth (his longest outing of the post-season), but even take a swing at the plate.  It was a looney-tunes game, but we won it.

chapmanNow the trick was:  Could we win two more? Against Cleveland’s two best pitchers? In Cleveland?

And if we won the game on Tuesday, where would I watch the game on Wednesd—

Uh-oh.

A quick review of my travel plans revealed the horrible truth.  If the Series went to Game Seven…Milo and I would be on a freaking airplane during the first six or so innings.  And if the flight was delayed (again)?  We might miss the game entirely.

plane-over-los-angeles-9771878Sure, there might be WiFi on the plane.  And we might be able to get live updates.  And we might even be able to watch a stream on some live broadcast website, sure.

But then again…we might not.

Besides, what was the one thing I knew without a doubt from the beginning of this entire baseball adventure?

It was not.  Going.  To seven.  Games.

Until it did.

****************************

Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland was absolutely nuts.

MLB: APR 27 Pirates at CubsPlayers who had seemingly gone to sleep through most of the playoffs suddenly came alive, specifically shortstop Addison Russell, who drove in six runs all by himself and rocked the baseball world with an eye-popping grand slam in the third inning.

How extraordinary was that feat?  Well, with six RBI’s, Russell tied the all-time Series record for runs batted in, became only the 19th hitter to hit a grand slam in the history of the Series and was the 2nd youngest player ever (behind Mickey Mantle) to wallop a four-bagger.

So yeah, it was pretty epic.

arrieta

Whatchoo lookin’ at?

Besides which, Arrieta was on fire.  After the Cubs staked him to a three run lead in the first (again, off a Bryant home run and a completely goofy outfield flare that should have been caught but, instead, turned into a two-RBI bloop triple for Russell), Arrieta fanned nine Indians and held them to two runs over five-plus innings.

Then, Joe Maddon made the decision that caused all of Cub-ville to go “Huh?”  He put Chapman in.  Again.  With a five-run lead. With eight other perfectly fine relievers sitting around doing nothing.

chapmanAnd everybody said, “Hey, Joe?  You know we have a game tomorrow, right?  Don’t you want to save your fireball-throwing closer for Game Seven? And not tire him out when you’re up by five?”

But…Joe’s the boss.  And when you’ve brought your pennant-winning team from a 3-1 deficit to a 3-3 Series tie, forcing the final and seventh game of the Championship series well…you’re entitled to make your own (semi-questionable) decisions.

So Game Seven- impossible, improbable and mythical Game Seven- was on.

And I was going to be on a f&%$*ng plane.

*****************************

Things were dramatic on the last day at home (busted sewer pipe- hooray!) but the real drama was yet to come.  Sara drove Milo and I to the airport, bid us a tearful farewell and with a “Go, Cubs, go!” she was gone.  cubs-3

In an interesting turn, it turned out that my father’s brother, my Uncle Mike, was also landing at LAX about ten minutes before we were and we made arrangements for the three of us to meet up at an airport bar in Los Angeles and catch the end of the game, presuming it was still being played.

Little did we know.

Milo and I went to the gate, anxious to get on the plan so we could work out our on-flight Internet connection issues and figure out how we were going to watch the game in the air. Our departure time was 5:00 and the game was at 7:08, so we’d land about four or five innings into the game, we figured.

Except.

As with the plane we flew to Chicago, the return flight was delayed.delayed

For an hour.

Meaning that the game would start when we were about sixty minutes into our four hour flight. Could Game Seven of the World Series really last over three hours?  We could only hope.

On the mound:  Hendricks vs. Kluber.  The same Kluber who had beaten the stuffing out of us twice before.  We hadn’t figured out how to get to him yet and the chances were not great that we would do so at this late date.

kluber-hendricksBut the Indians hadn’t scored against Hendricks in his last outing either so…where there’s life, there’s hope.

And we are Cub fans.  Hope is our middle name.

We dialed up the on-flight internet and tried to hook into some kind of streaming site, but everything we attempted to view was too glitchy.  Finally, we just made our way over to the MLB site where they allow you to watch the game “virtually.”

mlbam_gameday

This is how we watched the game.

An electronic batter on your screen shows who is up and you get a delayed pitch count and a virtual play-by-play, everything happening on the screen about a minute or so after it happens in real life.

It wasn’t ideal.  But it was what we had.

fowlerBy the time we worked it all out on the tech side, Dexter Fowler had already put us ahead 1-0 with a solo shot to straightaway center field.  Cubs 1, Indians 0.

A girl sitting behind us in full Cub gear started peeking over the seat to get the updates once she got wind of what we were up to and that’s how we “watched” the game, getting periodic ball and strike counts as they occurred and then freezing with terror when it appeared someone or other had made contact.

baezThe Indians tied it up in the third, but the Cubs roared ahead in the fourth and fifth innings, adding four more runs that included a long-overdue home run by struggling second baseman Javier Baez.

Cleveland answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth, but when retiring catcher David Ross launched a homer to center that put the Cubs ahead 6-3, the game looked about over.  (Think of that:  Ross’s last game as a Cub and he knocks the ball out of the park. See what I mean by lousy writing?)

media-blackoutWith Lester in as a reliever by that time, it was just a matter of getting nine more outs. Then six.  Then five.  Then…

…the Captain came on the intercom and asked that we shut off all of our electrical devices.

In the eighth inning of the World Series.

And to make his point, the crew killed the Internet. Very suddenly, we were on a media blackout.

For ten, seemingly endless minutes, we had no idea what was going on.  For all we knew, bolts of lightning could have careened down out of the sky and turned Lester into so much smoking dust.

Which was pretty close to the truth.

atomic-bombWhen we were on the ground, Cub Girl behind us was the first person to get an update on her phone.  Her face ashen, she announced to us:

“The game is tied.”

Milo and I were incredulous.  “What?  Ten minutes ago, it was 6-3.  You’re telling me the Indians scored three flippin’ runs while we were landing the goddamn plane?”

“That’s what I’m telling you.”

It was like a blow to the gut.

goatOf course this was how they were going to blow it.  How stupid of me!  I had fallen for them again and they were going to teach me a very valuable lesson.

This time, instead of falling to the Marlins in the playoffs just when they were on the brink of winning the pennant…they were going to make it worse.  By spectacularly collapsing in Game Seven of the actual World Series and giving up a three run lead in the eighth inning.

How did I not know this was going to happen?

This time, they weren’t just going to break our hearts.  They were going to rip them out, throw them- still beating – on the ground and jump up and down on them.  They were going to destroy us.

laxIt was so…Cubs of them.  It absolutely had to end this way.

We tumbled off the plane and ran straight to the bar across from the gate.  I texted Mike where we were and he made his way over to join us.  My Uncle, a long-suffering Cub fan of many years, was as shocked as we were about what had happened and yet…there was a look in his eye that appeared very familiar.  It said, “This is how they get you.  This is how they always get you.”

maddonBecause it turned out that Joe Maddon had, indeed, made a mistake the previous night by sending Chapman into that five-run lead game and making him work too many innings.  Chapman, working for the third day in a row, was the one who so improbably gave up those three, precious runs.  (And I know it isn’t popular to criticize Maddon but…facts are facts.)

Back in the airport bar, we ordered up a  couple of beers and sat back to watch the inevitable disaster that would be the ninth inning of this game.

Except…it didn’t happen.  The Cubs got out of the ninth without allowing the Indians to score a run and suddenly…the game moved into extra innings.

rain-delayUgh.  Extra innings.  There was no telling when it would end.  The pain was excruciating and it was about to get worse.  Because then…

…it rained.

Out came the tarp.  And we found ourselves staring at a 17 minute rain delay, wondering so many different things:  if the game would be postponed until the next day, if the pitchers would get cold and blow this whole thing open and, more specifically, thinking “If they keep this going much longer, we are going to drink this airport dry.”

We would later hear that, at the moment we were in that bar, contemplating the possible endings of this already-legend worthy game, the Cubs were having a meeting in the clubhouse.

heywardJason Heyward, the veteran Cubs right fielder, had gathered the team together for a talk. From those who were present to hear it, it was apparently a very emotional and very heartfelt plea for optimism in the face of adversity. Heyward assured them that, after everything they had been through that amazing year, the team could rise up and overcome anything.

And ten minutes later, they went out there and proved it.

It was a storybook inning:  Kyle Schwarber, two weeks ago watching his teammates play the Giants and Dodgers on TV and now in the World Series as the Cubs’ Designated Hitter, led off the inning with a single.

schwarberAfter Schwarber was replaced by pinch-runner Almora at first, Kris Bryant launched a fly ball to deep right field that almost made it out of the park but, barring that, was enough to advance Almora to second. (As Harry Caray would have said “Another biscuit for breakfast and that ball is out of here.“)

That brought Anthony Rizzo to the plate with an open base at first and one out.  And that’s when Indians Manager Terry Francona signaled to the Indians pitcher Bryan Shaw to walk Rizzo and take a chance pitching to Ben Zobrist.harry

Ben Zobrist, who while 0-4 that night, had proved himself to be the hottest hitter of the Series.  That guy.

When I saw that they were walking Rizzo to get to Zobrist, I turned to my Uncle Mike and said, “Really?  He thinks that’s going to end well for them?”

It surely did not.  Zobrist, rather than live up to the legacy that his Cubs uniform conferred upon him, instead lashed an RBI double into the corner that scored Almora and sent Rizzo scampering to third.  Cubs up 7 runs to the Indians 6.zobrist

And they weren’t done yet.

With first again open and only one out, Francona again decided to walk the batter, this time the suddenly hot Addison Russell.  That brought up Miguel Montero who, the last time he had come to the plate with the bases loaded, had jacked a grand slam deep into the seats in Wrigley’s right field.

monteroAgain, Montero did not disappoint.  He lashed a single to center that scored Rizzo, putting the Cubs two runs ahead moving into the bottom half of the 10th.

Maddon this time asked for Carl Edwards, Jr. to step in and mop things up from the mound.  And Edwards did just fine, nailing down two outs before giving up a walk to Brandon Guyer, who promptly stole second.

That meant that the tying run was at the plate with two outs.

And we’re thinking “Here it is.  Here’s the big finish, where the Indians roar ahead and beat us.  This is what we’re used to.”  The painful, horrible, all-too-familiar feeling that lurks in the gut of every Cub fan.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsSure enough, Edwards delivered to Rajai Davis who zapped an RBI single to bring in Guyer. Just like that, it was a one run game.

And Cub fans across America promptly lost three years off their life expectancy just from the pure, soul-shaking strain of it all.

Maddon had seen enough of Edwards and pulled him for the lefty Mike Montgomery.

Can we all just imagine what that was like for Montgomery to enter that game?  “Hey, Mike.  Get one out and you break a 108-year-long curse.  Here’s the ball.  Good luck.”

With all of Cubs nation on it’s feet, Montgomery stepped up and delivered to Michael Martinez…

…who hit a dribbler to a suddenly grinning, giggling Kris Bryant.  Bryant scooped up the ball, tossed it to Rizzo at first and….

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.champs

I really, really can’t say that enough:

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Tears.  Joy.  Disbelief.  Jumping up and down. Screaming.

AFP AFP_HQ3TZ S BBO USA ILStrangers hugging other strangers.  Repeated choruses of “Go, Cubs, Go.” General mayhem.

Even now, I can’t believe it really happened.

Those Indians fought us tooth and nail and very nearly beat us.  Let’s be clear about that. They very nearly surged to a comeback victory that would have been written about for years.  Instead, we emerged victorious but…barely.  So a tip of the hat to Cleveland. The second greatest team in baseball.losers-no-more

Whenever we used to talk about the Cubs winning the Series, we would always say (half-seriously) that it would probably result in the entire town of Chicago burning to the ground.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t happen.

They didn’t burn down Wrigleyville.  They lit it up. All night long.

Because that’s it.  That’s the end.

cursesNo more Lovable Losers.  No more curse.  No more goats or black cats.  That sign outside the right field wall will now read:  EAMUS CATULI AC000000.  (Look it up.)

And Steve Bartman can finally sleep at night.

**************************

It is a joyous day in Chicago today, I am sure.  It kills me to be so far from all the action (and Milo is furious to miss the parade).  But we’ll be home soon and will no doubt celebrate all through the off season, wearing all the Cubs World Champion gear we both hope to get for Christmas.

Because the Cubs- my beloved Cubs – have finally won the World Series.

Because next year….

…was finally this year.

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Bleeding Cubbie Blue

The Cubs Force is strong in my family.  My grandfather had it.  My grandmother, too.

My father…he doesn’t have much of it, but he has some of it.  My brother…well, actually, he has none of it.yoda-cubs

But the rest of the Theis clan…my aunts and uncles and cousins, even my beloved wife, they all have it. And they’ve got it bad.

And now…the Cub Force is strong in my children, too.

It’s like handing down a genetic defect, really.  Or a disturbing personality trait.  Or a particularly unnerving eye color.

cubs-3You don’t mean to do it.  It’s just something you inflict on your kids unintentionally.

True story:  One night last week, during a very close Giants/Cubs playoff game, I looked over at Milo and saw how tense and upset he was and I made a point of sincerely apologizing to him, from the bottom of my heart, for raising him as a Cub fan.

Because the curse….the legendary and pervasive and seemingly unending curse…it isn’t just on the team, my friends.

It is on the fans as well.

And sometimes…it hurts.

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I feel no need to establish my Cubs bona fides.  I am a third generation Cub sufferer and between me and the rest of my family, we have gone through more Cubbie heartbreak than any group of people should have to endure.black-cat

But none more so than my Uncle John and Aunt Mary Jane.  No Cub fans in the city of Chicago have suffered more than the two of them. They have, in their lifetimes, sat through the best and the absolute worst that the Cubs have to offer.

How bad has it gotten for them?  Bear witness:

John and Mary Jane were actually in attendance at Wrigley Field the very night of the infamous “Bartman Incident.”

bartmanOh, yes.  They were there.  Five outs away from beating the Marlins and seeing the Cubs move on to the World Series and there sat John and Mary Jane, watching one of the greatest collapses in the history of major league baseball unfold before their disbelieving eyes.

[Side note:  It is important to emphasize that Steve Bartman, the poor sap, had absolutely nothing to do with the collapse of the Cubs during the 2003 playoffs.  As any true Cub fan will tell you, it was Alex Gonzalez bobbling what should have been an inning-ending double-play about five minutes later that actually cost us the game. Please bear this in mind later in the story.]gonzalez-error

But I’ve had my own, personal share of Cubbie heartbreak over the years.  I moved back to Chicago after college just in time to see the rise- and spectacular fall- of the 1989 Cubs (still my favorite Cub squad of all time) when they ultimately got stomped by the Giants during the playoff series.

cubs-89Between 1989 and 2009, I attended every single Opening Day game at Wrigley Field.  Froze my ass of most of the time, too.

I watched and wept through the playoff losses to the Braves in 1998.  The 2003 Marlins fiasco.  The 2007 collapse against the Diamondbacks.  The 2008 Dodgers defeats.  And, of course, last year’s heartbreaking NLCS sweep by the Mets.

In short- I’ve got my Cubs scars and I’m not afraid to show them.

So this year, finding myself in Los Angeles with my son Milo when the Cubs posted the most winning record in all of baseball and moved on to the playoffs against the local L.A. team…

….well.  We just had to try and see our beloved Cubbies play here in town.

Didn’t we?cubs-dodgers

******** GAME THREE **********

The Cubs played the first two games of the 2016 playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Wrigley Field and they were both, by any measure, thrilling games.

NLCS Dodgers Cubs BaseballGame One was a game that will forever shine in the hearts of Cub fans everywhere, if not just for the win, for the swing of a single bat in the eighth inning.

Oh, my friends.

On behalf of every living Cubs fan, let me just say that when Miguel Montero smacked that eye-popping grand slam in the eighth to put the Boys in Blue ahead by four runs (which Dexter Fowler soon followed with a long ball of his own), there were ecstatic Cubbie faces from sea to shining sea.montero-2

That’s not the way things usually work out for us.  No, in the past, what would happen was: Montero strikes out, stranding three runners, and we all say “Oh, darn. Wouldn’t it have been great if he hit the ball?”

And then black cats and goats and bees and bats descend on Wrigley Field in a buzzing, whirling mass and we lose the game in spectacular fashion.  That’s always what happens.

cubs-1We don’t expect grand slams to be hit by pinch hitters in clutch situations.  We simply aren’t used to that level of joy.

But we were willing to get used to it.

The final:  Cubs win, 8-4 at home. Series score:  Cubs 1.  Dodgers 0.

The next night, for Game Two at Wrigley, things did not fare nearly as well for the good guys.  It was a true pitchers’ duel and when the dust cleared, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw had mastered the best hitting team in the game and eked out a 1-0 win.  (Oh, and John and Mary Jane were there to watch it, of course.  Suffering is what we Theises eat for dinner.)kershaw

Series score:  Cubs 1, Dodgers 1.

Then…the series moved to L.A.

Now, I should mention that, prior to the Cubs flying in to Los Angeles for Game Three, Milo and I already had tickets to see them play here.  My father had urged us (and staked us) to buy tickets to one of the games through StubHub if- and only if- we could find an affordable pair of seats.

stubhub-logoSo even before the playoff games began in Chicago, I researched what it might cost to get Milo and I into a game out here. And I did so with great trepidation, knowing that if I tried to get tickets to a game in Chicago, I would have had to ask Milo to forego college in order for us to afford a pair of seats.

But here?  I won’t say they were cheap, exactly.  But they were easily going for about a third of what they would cost if I tried to get seats at Wrigley.

The only real question was…which game do we see?  The teams were scheduled to play three games here:  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (if necessary).  Thinking over my options, I decided to try and get tickets to Game Four because….dodger-tickets

C’mon.  You know why, right?

Well, all my Cub fan friends know why.

Because…if the Cubs swept the series, Game Four in L.A. would have been the clincher. Absolutely had to pick that game, right?

So we bought the tickets and were all set for Game Four at Dodger Stadium.

But.

dodgers_seatWhen Tuesday (the day of Game Three) rolled around, I went back to StubHub, purely out of curiosity, just to see what the tickets were going for that night and…

…hmmm.  Not bad.  Not great, but not bad.  “Boy,” I thought, “It sure would be fun if we could…if we could….”

That’s when I had my epiphany.

Milo and I were going to play a little game.  And that game is called:

StubHub Chicken.chicken

Here’s how you play:

You get in your car and you start driving toward the stadium where you want to see a game. All the while, you have the StubHub website open on your smart phone. The theory is, the closer you get to game time, the lower the prices will drop on the tickets you want to buy.

The catch is:  They stop selling tickets on the site about ten minutes before the game begins. So if you drive all the way there and don’t time it exactly right, you could blow your chance to get into the game and have to fight your way back out of the neighborhood with stadium traffic.nervous-drive

So there we were, driving towards Chavez Ravine with the StubHub site open on Milo’s phone, watching the ticket prices fall incrementally every few minutes.  And sure enough, the closer we got to the stadium, the lower the prices fell.

$120 a ticket….$115 a ticket…$110….$100…$90….

“Should we get them now?” Milo asked.

“Hold on,” I said. “We’re still a mile or so from the park. Let’s see what happens.”

smartphone-in-car-on-locationWe got in the long line to get into the Stadium parking and started easing forward.

$85 a ticket…$80…$75….

“Now?”

“Almost there.”

I felt like Red Leader from Star Wars.  “Stay on target…stay on target….”

red-leaderFinally, we got close to the gate…and the tickets dipped down to $69 apiece.

“Now?!?”

“Now.  Do it.  Grab ’em.”

Milo punched a few buttons and…

…we were in.

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The elation of that moment, when we realized that we had played and won our fast and furious round of StubHub Chicken, would last…about four innings.  Then things went straight into the crapper.  But we had no clue of that at the time.MLB: OCT 03 NLDS - Cardinals at Dodgers - Game 1

For now, walking into Dodger Stadium for Game Three, bedecked from head to foot in our Cubs gear and ready to watch Jake Arrieta show these Dodgers what pitching was supposed to look like well…there’s just no feeling like it.

We were way out in the left field bleachers, about halfway up, which allowed us a commanding and satisfying view of the field.  We were surrounded by Dodger fans, as you’d expect, but there were a lot of Cub fans there as well.

arrieta-jpbAs I explained to Milo:  We are legion.

I won’t give you the entire play-by-play of the game, of course, because (a) you’re probably well aware of what happened that night and (b) it is just too depressing to relive. Let me just say this:

It was awful.

When Arrieta began to unravel and the Dodger runs started piling up…oof, it was like a punch in the gut.home-runs

To be sitting there, so miserable, so bereft as the Cubs offense went inning after inning without a run on the board and to watch our pitchers, one after the other, continue to give up hits, runs, homers….it was simply torture.  (Also, Dodger fans, when they see you dressed up in your Cub gear, love to yell “Bartman” at you for some reason.  They think it drives us mad.  Go figure.)

All the while, I’m texting Sara back in Chicago who, along with Milo and I, was dying just a little bit inside with every Dodger run.  It was misery in Cubville.

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Now let me be clear:  When I’m in Wrigley Field cheering for the Cubs, I am very…enthusiastic.  Ask anyone.  You go to Cub game with me, you’re in for a loud and eventful afternoon.wrigley-2

Frankly speaking:  I’m obnoxious.

(There are rules, however.  No swearing, for example.  You got kids there, come on.  But beyond that?  Hoo boy.  Things get nuts.)

Sitting there in Dodger Stadium, amidst a sea of guys exactly like me, I came to a very swift conclusion:

It’s only funny when I do it.

face-expression-man-3-clip-artGod, I hated them so much. I deeply and bitterly resented their joy. I positively despised their ecstatic and thunderous cheering. As Milo and I sat there, watching the score tick up to three….four….five….six to nothing…my hatred flowered like a black rose and I wanted nothing- nothing more in life – than to see a late-inning, stunning comeback that would silence these awful, terrible, happy people.

Until that time, even as a Cub fan, I had always had a special place in my heart for the Dodgers. Once upon a time, their fans had suffered as we had suffered. We were the Lovable Losers, they were Dem Bums. We were simpatico.  Brothers under the skin.dem-bums

No more.  In the space of two hours, the bromance was over.

Now, I wanted the very skies to open up and a fiery hail to rain down upon them. I wanted thirty thousand bolts of lightning to strike them all at once and silence their deafening cries. I wanted birds of prey, fierce raptors to cascade down into the stadium and claw at them mercilessly until they just gave up one. Stinking. Run.buzzard

But it was not to be. The Dodgers prevailed, the Cub bats were dead and the slow march back to the car was a heavy slog.

We could only hope that the next night…things might be slightly better.

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**************GAME FOUR*************

We were in the hole.  The series now stood at Dodgers 2, Cubs 1.  It wasn’t a “must win” game but…it felt like it.

lackeyOn the hill, we had John Lackey, the veteran right hander we had picked up from St. Louis earlier in the year.  Not our best arm, but a fierce competitor and a guy who had seen his share of post-season games.

And with Dodgers rookie left-hander Julio Urias facing us, the only question was: Would the Cubs offense finally come alive?

sleeping-bats-copyAlmost all of our key players- particularly first baseman Anthony Rizzo- had been asleep at the plate.  The entire team hadn’t scored a single run in two games. Could they- at long last and under this kind of pressure- finally turn things around?

The answer?  Oh yeah.  And then some.

And then…just a little bit more.

It started in the fourth, with a bunt single by Ben Zobrist, which broke up Urias’ fledgling no-hitter.  Then Javie Baez blooped a single into left field.  Contreras then followed suit, allowing Zobrist to score on a lousy throw to home.  After Jason Heyward grounded out, driving in Baez and moving Contreras at third, up stepped Addison Russell, the Cub shortstop, with the score 2-0.

MLB: APR 27 Pirates at CubsRussell was having a terrible post-season.  His timing was off, his hitting was almost non-existent and he had been moved further and further down the lineup as the playoffs progressed.  He was really suffering at the plate.

And then…boom.

Russell jacked a two run homer to deep center field to put the Cubs ahead 4-0 in the fourth.  Milo and I, for the first time in three days, could breathe a little easier.

Not relax, mind you.  But breathe.  Just a bit.

rizzoThe next inning, the Cubs’ first baseman, the so-far disappointing Anthony Rizzo stepped up after striking out twice earlier in the game and…well, we weren’t really all that excited.  Why should we be?  He hadn’t really hit anything since the regular season ended.

Rizzo ran up the count to 3-1 (on a long, fly ball that hooked just foul) and then, on the next pitch, took what he thought was ball four.  He actually dropped his bat and started for first but…the umpire called it a strike and Rizzo had to pick up the bat and step up again with a full count.

He was having a rough post-season, there was no doubt about…

….CRACK.

home_runRizzo suddenly, inexplicably came alive, sending the next ball screaming over the center field fence at the exact same spot where Russell had drilled his homer.  Rizzo’s dry spell was over and the once cocky Dodger fans were now in a pretty deep funk.

Deep, that is, until their team roared back and answered with two runs in their half of the inning.  The score after five:  Cubs 5, Dodgers 2.

With just a three run lead, Milo and  I were suddenly nervous again. In all honesty, it didn’t take much. But our tension would only last an inning.

Because in the sixth, Rizzo (clearly making up for lost time), came up with the bases loaded and….zap.  Two more runs driven in and the score was 8-2.

Circus.jpegThen the circus came to town.  It was ugly and it was embarrassing and even the Cub fans knew better than to laugh.

With Bryant at third, Rizzo at second and Zobrist safe on an infield single up the line, Javier Baez stepped up to the plate with one out.  He proceeded to loop the second pitch into center field that almost dropped for a single….

…but Dodger center fielder Joc Pederson made a spectacular diving catch and came up throwing, to try and nail Bryant tagging up from third.

Pederson’s throw was wild, though, and dribbled all the way to the backstop where it was retrieved by the reliever Avilan, Bryant safe by a mile.  Rizzo was trucking towards home after the bad throw though and Avilan tried to toss the ball to the catcher to stop him but…he missed his target, too.  The ball scooted away and Rizzo scored as well.

cubs-win_1460433412087_1172617_ver1-0The score:  Cubs 10, Dodgers 2.

As the great orange Trumpkin might say:  It was nasty.

And that, folks, was the ballgame.  In fact, by the time the seventh inning stretch was over and we all sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the stadium crowd was pretty much 2-1 Cub fans.  Most of the Dodger faithful had left. After all, there’s faith…and there’s a blowout.

Milo and I (and every other Cub supporter) stayed right to the end, of course, as we needed as much good juju as we could get after the previous night’s debacle. We weren’t just enjoying this victory, we were reveling in it.cubs-2

By the time they finally wrung down the curtain on the evening’s festivities, we knew two things for sure:

This series was going back to Chicago.

And we were coming back tomorrow for another round of StubHub Chicken.

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*************GAME FIVE*************

It must have been pretty comical:  Milo and I lining up to park at Dodger Stadium, reaching the gate…and then zooming back down the hill to get back in line…and then doing it again and again because we didn’t have tickets yet.

upFor this, the third game in L.A., the StubHub Chicken game wasn’t working.  The ticket prices were not coming down to a level I considered affordable (given that I make my living talking in a closet) so…we kept going back down the hill and joining the back of the parking line, hoping that the prices would finally came down to a reasonable level.car-line

Finally, at 5:00, after driving up and down the hill a few times with no luck, the sale at StubHub ended.  We were, we thought, locked out.

But we weren’t giving up.  There were two other websites offering tickets and one of them, we happily discovered, had a pair at $80 apiece so…we grabbed them.

Only to be informed, seconds later, that we were too late.  They were gone.

And by then, the game had started.

dodger-stadium-parking-entranceWe could probably have kept it up and finally gotten a pair of tickets if we had been persistent.  But we would have had to drive around for a while until the ticket sellers gave up and, even then, probably wouldn’t have gotten into the stadium until the third inning so…we decided it wasn’t worth it.

We wanted to watch the game and didn’t want to spend our entire night motoring up and down that ridiculous hill so…we headed back down into Silver Lake, called up an old buddy from Chicago, Ben Carr, and on his recommendation plopped ourselves down in a sports bar on Sunset to watch the game.33-taps

I won’t take you through it.  You know what happened.  The Cubs turned in a beauty, backed by formidable pitching of Jon Lester and supported by the bats of Rizzo and Russell (again) as well as my newest, bestest buddy, Javier Baez.

baez(When Baez pulled up at second after knocking in three runs on a base-clearing double in the eighth and looked, momentarily, as if he’d been injured, I will guarantee you that every Cub fan in America stood up and hollered “Nooooooo!” at the same moment. Thankfully, he was fine but…damn.  Milo and I don’t need that kind of tension.)

sports-barAs the game wore on and the Cubs started taking a bigger and bigger lead, the Dodger fans in the bar weren’t all that nuts about me, frankly, but I managed to make friends eventually.  One guy next to us, seemingly taken with my…enthusiasm actually bought me a beer (which is the sports equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire).

lester-2But by the end, the Dodger fans in the bar and I were all old chums, swearing our respective teams would whup each other in the Chicago rematches.

And there we leave it, my friends…the series evened up, 2-2.  It will all be decided in the Friendly Confines over the next couple of days. (Remember to watch for John and Mary Jane in the stands!)

DSC02301.JPGMilo and I were blessed to be able to catch two games in Dodger Stadium during the Cubs’ trip out West and neither of us will ever forget the experience.  (Thanks, Dad!)

Now…we hand it off to our loved ones in Chicago and pray for a happy ending.

I can hardly wait. And I will, no doubt- along with my son, daughter, wife and family- dread every single moment of it.

Go, Cubs.

Go.

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 *********UPDATE – GAME SIX********

Milo and I have spent the past week together, watching this playoff series unfold game by game. (Two of them, as you’ve seen above, live and in person at Dodger Stadium.)  We’ve been cheering, grumbling, jumping up and down, sulking, glaring pensively at the TV, scaring nearby animals with our feral cries..it’s been quite a roller-coaster ride of emotions this week, no question.cubs-v-dodgers

Tonight, with the potential series-clinching game in Chicago, I had been looking forward to watching the game with Milo again, but…tonight was the Homecoming Dance and, well, there are some things you just have to do in high school and dressing up fancy to go meet your friends is one of them.

ghchsLuckily, the game began at five and the dance at seven, so were were able to watch most of the game together here in our little Northridge apartment.

We were nervous, of course, because…well, we’re Cub fans and we knew what to expect. LA was throwing their ace at us again, the formidable, three time Cy Young award winner (and announcer Joe Buck’s BFF) Clayton Kershaw. True, we had one of our best guys- Kyle Hendricks- on the hill for us but…the last time Kershaw pitched in Wrigley Field, it was also against Hendricks and Clayton had pretty definitively silenced our bats so…we were nervous.
kershaw

The game kicked off and…the Cubs wasted little time.  Dexter Fowler led things off with a double, Kris Bryant singled in the first run and all of a sudden..things were happening. We were scoring runs in the first dang inning!

I felt bad for Milo…the poor kid was trying to get dressed, get his suit looking good, brush his hair and all that…and I kept whooping with delight in the next room and distracting him.

tolesWhen Anthony Rizzo lined the ball to left and the Dodger outfielder Andrew Toles drifted over to catch it, I figured (like everyone else) that it would be an easy grab for the first out of the game but…Toles took his eye off the ball for just a moment, it bounced off his glove, hit the ground and by the time they were done scrambling for it…Bryant was at third and Rizzo was hugging second.

I hollered bloody murder.

“What…what?!?!” Milo yelled from the next room.

“Toles…he dropped…it should have been…Rizzo hit the…oh just, just watch the replay.First Inning.jpg

Neither of us could really believe it. One run. Men and second and third. No outs.

Against Kershaw.

Who’d thrown about six pitches.

Next batter, Ben Zobrist, hit a sacrifice fly to center and Bryant, tagging up, scored, too. By the time Kershaw finally got out of the inning, the Cubs had drawn first blood and it was 2-0.

Well, well.

Next inning, it was deja vu all over again as Addison Russell, like Fowler before him, led things off with a double. Two batters later, Fowler pulled a Kris Bryant, smashing an RBI single to bring Russell home.  3-0 Cubs.

My oh my.

Milo had half an eye on the game, half on his outfit and a third eye on the clock.

contreras_1280_s_vktp3q7c_akefk692Then Willson Contreras came up in the fourth and….ka-BOOM.  A ball went screaming over the left field wall.  Cubs up 4-0.

Conteras homered!” I screamed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” yelled Milo from the other room. He stormed in looking furious.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  For a minute, I didn’t think he was going to go to the dance at all but…he looked mighty sharp. How could he not go?

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The latest in Cubs gear.

Next inning…it was Rizzo’s turn.  Bricka-POW!  Good-bye Mr. Spalding!  Cubs 5, Dodgers 0 and…hey, we gotta split! The dance was about to begin!

I should mention that, all this time, Hendricks was just as solid as a rock. Unflappable, practically unhittable and totally in control. All that, with all of Chicago baseball history pressing down on him.  It was an awesome sight.

rizzoSo confident in Hendricks was Manager Joe Madden (and buffeted by a five run lead), he let Hendricks take his licks at the plate in the sixth inning so he could keep pitching. The kid was dominating the Dodgers and there was nothing they could do.kendricks

I dropped Milo off at the school in the sixth inning (promising to text him all the news as it happened) and dashed over to this neighborhood bar called “Taps” to catch the end of the game.  I had to be amongst people, even if they were sympathetic to the other side.

Sure enough, when I walked into the place, it was like the old Western cliche where every head turns and conversation grinds to a halt. (I wanted the old record scratch sound, too.) I was the only Cub fan in the joint and I was not feeling exactly…welcomed at that moment.

tapsI kept my head down, found a quiet place at the bar and tried to stay quiet.

In the meantime, my phone was exploding.  Texts to and from my wife and daughter in Chicago, my aunts, uncles and cousins all across the country, Facebook messages and posts from Cubs fans from sea to shining sea.

I was alone…but I wasn’t lonely. I felt like the whole Cub Nation was in that bar with me.

The end of the game kept closer and closer.  Nine outs away.  Then six.

chapmanThen Hendricks, with one out, walked a man in the eighth and..that was it.  Madden walked to the mound, relieved him of the ball and sent for the reliever, Chapman. Wrigley Field, as a man, reared up on its hind legs and roared their appreciation for the exiting starter. Kyle had come through in great style under enormous pressure.

And here it was…the moment when they either destroyed us all over again by blowing this game in truly spectacular style (as only the Cubs know how) or…they finally break the curse.

Three outs away.  Then two.

praying.jpgAnd I couldn’t help it.  Being that close…sensing that my beloved Cubbies could be on the cusp of history…thinking of my grandfather, buried with a Diehard Cub Fan membership card in his pocket…realizing that the long wait- a wait that had lasted my entire life- might finally be over, I started to well up.

Sitting there, my back to the Dodger faithful, the tears began to come.  Two outs away from destiny.

Then Chapman walks Ruiz.  And you start to think, “No…no it can’t be.  Not in the ninth freakin’ inning…”

cubs-winAnd then…Dodger Yasiel Puig grounds the first pitch he gets to Addison Russell at short…who flips the ball to Baez at second for one…who then turns and fires it to Rizzo for two and…

The Cubs win the pennant!  The Cubs win the pennant!

Well, I just completely flippin’ lost it.

My phone rang. It was Sara and Gwen, cheering and crying in Chicago.  Text messages from all my relatives started pouring in, each more jubilant than the last. Even my Dad, who had stayed up to watch the game on the East coast, called from New York to join in the fun.

Finally, the messaging and joyful phone calls slowed and I sat there, alone and quiet in my little neighborhood bar, my eyes wet with joy, the only Cub fan- maybe the only happy sports fan- within a square mile.

lester-baezOne of the Dodger fans sitting at the table behind me- a big guy with a dark beard and an LA cap- walked up to the bar, motioned to the bartender and said, “Hey…” She looked up.  He looked at me and said “His next one’s on me.”

I was completely gobsmacked.  I stammered out my thanks.

“Hell of a series,” he said, smiling through his disappointment. “Just do me one favor.”  And then he leaned in close and said: “Kick Cleveland’s ass, okay?”

In my current emotional state, all I could really manage was:

“I’ll do everything I can.”

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There is Joy in Mudville, my friends.

The curse (at least the 1945 curse) is no more.

cubs-winThe Chicago Cubs are the champions of the National League.

The Chicago Cubs didn’t just win the wild card or the division or the divisional series. Nope.

The Chicago Cubs have won the National League pennant for the first time in 71 years.

The Chicago Cubs…

…and I can’t believe I’m saying this, even now…

The Chicago Cubs…are going to the World Series.

Hey, Chicago…whaddaya say?

cubs-win-w-flag

Bucket Listing

I don’t mean to rag on Los Angeles, which is a fine place with a lovely climate and a surprising number of interesting places to see and visit but…L.A. isn’t fit to hold San Francisco’s hilariously flamboyant thong underpants.  It just isn’t.san-francisco

Milo and I took advantage of the three-day weekend last week (Happy Rosh Hashanah! Are you still writing 5776 on your checks?) to drive up to San Francisco and drop in on my mother-in-law (Milo’s grandmother) Marilyn Nichols for a long overdue visit.

And it was terrific to see her and spend family time together for a day or two, but I’ll be honest: I never need an excuse to visit San Francisco. Apart from Chicago (and I’m including New York, boys and girls), the City by the Bay is my favorite town in the country.

San Francisco, CA, USAIf you’ve never been, let me give you a brief summary:

Imagine, if you will, a city that has virtually everything: a hip, urban environment, a simmering and exciting arts scene, year-round mean temperatures that hover in the upper 60’s to mid-70’s, fascinating and eye-popping tourist attractions at every turn, stunning architecture (including the most gorgeous bridge in the US) and some of the most beautiful natural sights – the bay, the parks and one of the largest redwood forests in the world- either in or just minutes away from the heart of the city.

Yes, okay:  Every once in a while, the earth will shake and everything will fall down.  But honestly: it’s totally worth it.

Oh, and don’t call the place “Frisco.”  Nobody does.

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Milo and I motored our way up to Grandma’s house in what is known as the “quick way,” straight up highway I-5, right after Milo got out of school last Friday.  We wanted to get there late on the first night so we could have two full days on Saturday and Sunday to zip around the city before heading back to Los Angeles the slow way on Monday (more on that later).bay-bridge-2

It generally takes you about five hours to get to San Francisco if you take this route and, sure enough, before we knew it we were zooming across the Bay Bridge, which had been completely refurbished since my last visit and is now- on the Eastern portion of the span, anyway- completely breathtaking.

The Giants were playing the night we drove in and you could see the lights of AT&T Park beaming out over the water as we whisked across the Western portion of the bridge and into the heart of town.

giants-parkAh, the Giants.  Great team, the Giants.  Really fine squad.

Sorry, got ahead of myself there, didn’t I? Back to business:

We got to Marilyn’s house late- after 11:00- but we stayed up jawboning with her anyway, telling her about life in the Valley, Milo’s school and the various adventures we’ve been enjoying down here.  Finally, as the wee hours approached, we called it a night and turned in.

Day one in San Francisco awaited.

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I was trying to think of the last time I had visited the city and realized it had been longer than I thought, at least six years or so.  Thinking back, I remembered going to this crazy place called “The House of Air” with Milo and Gwen and spending the day bouncing around in the place, as they have not one, but two entire rooms of trampolines.house-of-air

That’s right:  Rooms comprised entirely of trampolines.  You can spend hours in there, treating yourself like a human pinball, and never get tired of it.

Hey, quick question:  Do you know what will make a guy in his mid-40’s feel like someone hit him squarely on the top of his spine with a sledgehammer?  If your answer was “bouncing on trampolines for a couple of hours,” congratulations.  You win a handful of very strong opioids.

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How it felt to be there.

I spent the next couple of days after visiting the “House of Air” wincing with pain every time I took a step.  The place had destroyed me and the mere act of perambulating about the city for the rest of my visit was a slow and steady torture the likes of which I had never known before.

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How I felt the next day.

Well this time around, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake.  In fact, the only exercise I had planned was a nice, leisurely run along the Embarcadero, past Alcatraz Island (shining like a dirty jewel in the bay), across Ft. Mason Park toward the Golden Gate Bridge and a quick visit (at the turn-around) to one of my favorite places in town, the exquisitely beautiful Palace of the Fine Arts.

Marilyn’s apartment is at the foot of Telegraph Hill, right below Coit Tower and on previous visits, I had regularly made this run and had been treated to some of the best views in the city for my trouble.sf-running-route

Well.

It turns out that jumping on trampolines isn’t the only thing that can kick my ass now that my 50th birthday is in my rear view.  Running the six miles round-trip to the Palace through the hills of San Francisco is, it appears, all it takes to rock me back on my heels these days.  I don’t know why I imagined my destination being so much closer than it actually was but…that’s what time will do to you: cloud your damn memory.

Palace of Fine Arts

I made it to the Palace and back, albeit barely, and staggered back into the apartment completely wiped out…

…just in time for Milo and Marilyn to announce that they were ready to begin sightseeing.

Oy.

Still, when you are offered the chance to walk down the Embarcadero in San Francisco to the Ferry Building for the weekend Farmer’s Market with a stop off at the Exploratorium, you don’t turn down an opportunity like that no matter how loudly your dogs are barking, so I cleaned up, strapped on my walking shoes and we hit the road.

exploratorium_bannerThe Exploratorium is this amazingly cool and vast museum/workshop/science fair type of place that is half Museum of Science and Industry and half Montessori School.  The whole thing consists of room after room of things to flip, turn, crank, pull and spin that show off various scientific theories and factoids involving gravity, centrifugal force, optical illusions, electricity…everything you can think of.

It is supposed to be for kids.  Pfft.  Please.  I could have spent the day there.

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Milo and Milo

After having our minds blown and our curiosity sated, we toddled down to the Farmer’s Market for some spectacular fish tacos and were thinking of heading back to Marilyn’s when she had a brainwave: let’s go see the Kubrick exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Having just turned Milo on to three Kubrick films in the past year (“Dr. Strangelove,” “The Shining” and “Full Metal Jacket”) and being a giant fan of (almost) all his films, I immediately agreed and so we hopped aboard one of the city’s famed electric trolleys for a quick zip down to the city center. (Anything to avoid walking.)

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There are few directors in the history of cinema that deserve a retrospective as comprehensive and fascinating as this one and Kubrick, with his arresting visual style, his graphic and sometimes disturbing themes and, of course, his wide-ranging interests (war, space travel, violence, sex, oppression and axe-murdering), is certainly among this very small number of artists.kubrick-sign

In room after room- in cases or mounted on the wall- were photographs from the films themselves, actual notated original scripts, props, costumes, masks, Kubrick’s actual director’s chair, sketches of movie poster drafts, set models, various lenses and cameras Stanley used…each room stuffed full of movie history. clockwork-room(They had wisely blocked off the “Clockwork Orange” room as the images, props and film clips in that room were…particularly disturbing.)

It was truly a movie fan’s playground and we stayed until they kicked us out.kubrick-2001

Thus inspired (and, one of us anyway, completely spent), we made our way back to Marilyn’s to rest up before setting out for dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf where they have the best clam-chowder-in-a-sourdough-bread-bowl imaginable.

And that night, I didn’t just just turn in for the night.

I collapsed.

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Day two in San Francisco and, naturally, I wanted to start the day right.

So I went for a run.

No, not nearly as far as the previous day.  I’m not that dumb.  But I’m sorry, the route I take through the wharf, up through Ft. Mason Park…you can’t not do it if you have the chance.  It’s that gorgeous.

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Ft. Mason Park.  I mean…come on.

But this time, I only went about half as far as the previous day and arrived back fresh as a daisy and ready to roll.

First stop: Japantown.japantown

Sara’s family being full-blooded Japanese on her mother’s side, I have been happily introduced to some of the finest food that her ancestral country has to offer and this day was no different.  Marilyn took us to one of her favorite little places where we feasted on roasted squid, sushi and maki rolls.

Paradise.

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Our weekend trip to the city just so happened to coincide with one of San Francisco’s most beloved music festivals, a sorta-kinda bluegrass thingy called, appropriately, “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.”hardly-strictly-bluegrass-2016-featured

The title says it all, really.  They feature a lot of bluegrass/country bands on about six different stages scattered through Golden Gate Park, but they’re not terribly anal about the type of music the bands play.  Artists of all stripes are welcome and, on this, the last day of the festival, they were featuring some of their most popular acts, including the Dropkick Murphys, Roseanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and the great T. Bone Burnett.goldengatepark

We drove down to Golden Gate Park and stashed the car under the de Young Museum and made the long trek deep into woods in search of music.

And lemme tell ya: Central Park in New York is a pretty big place, but Golden Gate is a good 20% larger and this walk- a slightly milder version of the Bataan Death March- made me hearken back to the comparatively blissful run to the Fine Arts Palace the day before.

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Like Woodstock, but with slightly more pot.

Finally, we arrived at the entrance to the Festival and fell into step with the rest of the concertgoers streaming in.  As promised, the various stages (which had names like the “Banjo Stage” and the “Rooster Stage” and so forth) each sported a different set of acts and were set apart at enough of a distance that they didn’t interfere with each other’s sets.

We plopped down at the Rooster Stage and took in an artist called Jonathan Richman but, sadly, he played exactly the kind of country music that makes Milo’s hair stand on end. By the end of Richman’s set, my son looked ready to go full-Altamont on this guy but…he wrapped things up and the lovely Ms. Roseanne Cash took the stage.roseanne

Thankfully, Roseanne – vocally that is- takes more after her Momma than her Daddy and her set was simply glorious and her voice strong and sweet.  She played not one tune that belonged to her parents; it was an entirely original set and each song was better than the last. (Her band was pretty spiffy, too, though every time the slide guitar started playing Milo began eyeing the exit.)

14468461_10211024697839785_5960553209706461262_oIn between sets, I was thrilled to have the chance to reconnect with an old Chicago friend (and now San Francisco native) Gina Raith, who was there with her beau to see Emmylou Harris.  Gina and I hadn’t seen each other in about twenty or so years and given that the last time we’d laid eyes on each other we were both working for this tyrannical Chicago lawyer whom we both despised, we both seemed much, much happier than back in the day.  After a brief visit (and with T. Bone due up soon), Milo and I bid them a hasty farewell and ran back to join Marilyn waiting in the grassy hills.

t-boneFinally, T. Bone took the stage and woke the crowd right up.  As we had to fetch our car early, we only caught a couple songs of his set, but he was in fine fettle and the crowd roared back it’s approval.

As we made our way our of the park and back to the car, the music fading in the background as we trudged away, I reflected once again on what a simply wonderful city this was.

San Francisco really does have it all.  A spectacular looking city with a year-round temperate climate and a culture that is artsy without being fartsy, great food, natural beauty and a pretty fine ball club to boot.

Say, whatever happened to those Giants anyway?san-fran-2

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The next morning, it was time for Milo and I to hit the road and my chance, at last, to knock off two items from my bucket list.

The first?  To drive south along US 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, and take in what was supposed to be one of the most beautiful scenic highways in the world.highway-1-central-coast-4

The second, a visit to Xanadu.  Milo and I had plans to stop off at the storied Hearst Castle in San Simeon to see what kind of house can be built when a man has both unlimited funds and a ridiculously huge ego.

We bid Marilyn farewell and, following her recommendation, took the 101 down toward Monterey before cutting over to US 1.  And by this route, you end up taking the PCH through some decidedly un-coastal areas.

pch-2But then, once the highway lurches back toward the sea…oh my.

You have likely seen the views (and the highway) in a dozen or so movies.  The sweeping cliffs, the crashing waves, the mini-islands jutting up out of the surf, the multi-colored coastline.

Well, until you’ve actually driven along the edge of those cliffs, you truly cannot imagine just how majestic it is.pch3

Every mile or so, it seems, there is a “Vista View” pull-over stop and by the time I parked in the tenth one, Milo was getting a little sick of it.  But then, we’d get out of the car and…

Breathtaking.  That’s all I can really say.  It simply draws the breath right out of your body.

For lunch, because it is “the thing to do,” Milo and I stopped at the legendary US-1 eatery, Nepenthe.  You can certainly see how the place gained it’s reputation.  Perched atop a seaside cliff, with a view up the coast to rival any we had seen, it is the only restaurant I’ve ever dined in where the tables all face one direction:  Out.nepenthe-view

And based on the burger I ordered at the place, the world-famous “Ambrosia burger,” what you’re really paying for is the view.  (“Ambrosia” my eye.  I’ve had better burgers in a 7-11.  But the view is very nice.)

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“Ambrosia”?

We got back on the road and continued our twisty way down the coast, stopping for the occasional photo-op and then zipping back onto the highway.  As you’d imagine, this route adds hours to your trip, but it is worth every second.  It is without question the prettiest drive I’ve ever enjoyed in this country.

Eat your heart out, Italy!pch

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Finally, getting late in the afternoon, we arrived at San Simeon.  You can see Hearst Castle from miles away as it is situated on top of a hill overlooking the coast and is….well, a castle.hearst

I’d always wanted to see Hearst Castle as it’s owner, William Randolph Hearst, was the model for one of the most famous characters in film history- Charles Foster Kane from Orson Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane.”  Welles and his Mercury Players made no secret of the fact that Kane, an egocentric, power-hungry newspaper magnate, was based on Hearst and Hearst himself so bitterly resented this “homage” that he did everything he could to quash the viewing of the film. kane

In the movie, the eponymous tycoon builds a monument to himself and calls the resulting, ridiculously over-the-top mansion “Xanadu” after Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure dome.

Hearst, the real-life mogul, was not nearly as creative as his cinematic counterpart and simply called his place, “La Cuesta Encantada” which means both “The Enchanted Hill” and “My Huge F**king House.”

hearst-2And it is difficult to properly describe the Hearst Castle without tripping over into hyperbole.  But let me just say that I thought I had prepared myself for the ostentation of the place and…I clearly had not. To see just how far Hearst was willing to go to complete this extravagant, too-big-to-be-believed monument to himself was truly jaw-dropping.

Designed and built over the years by architect Julia Morgan, the mansion is actually incomplete, the final wing of the place left unfinished by the time Hearst died. But what they did complete…holy cats.  It almost defies description.hearst-castle-dining-room-1024x682

A dining room that would make Henry VIII say “Wow, that’s a bit much.  Can we pull back on the grandeur?”  A library that would be impossible to read in because you would be constantly looking up from your book saying “Jesus, this place is ridiculous.”

My favorites:  Hearst’s private bedroom, which was actually quite cozy when compared with the rest of the house, but which connected via hallway to his mistress Marion Davies’ bedroom on the other side of the tower.

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Hearst’s room.  Cute, huh?

Think of that.  The guy was married, stowed his wife in an apartment in New York and literally built an entire tower in his California manse where he and his mistress could cavort.  But he maintained a separate bedroom for each of them because, well, propriety and all that.  Amazing.

The “Celestial Bedrooms,” in case you were wondering, are the two little rooms just under the bell towers where Hedda Hopper used to stay (along with half of the Hollywood celebrities of the day) and which command absolutely stunning views of the coastline.

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Celestial Bedroom. Because why not?

And then there are the pools.  Yes, that’s pools plural.  The first is the famed “Neptune Pool,” which is such an avalanche of marble, gold and statuary as to make Caesar blush. At over 345,000 gallons, it took fifteen years just to build and was expanded three times before Hearst deemed it finished.  (Apparently a tiny little 250,000 gallon pool isn’t quite enough for some people.)

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The Neptune Pool.  I can’t even…

The second pool (situated under the tennis courts, as you’d expect), is modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (you’ve been, haven’t you?) and comes off as a dark and forbidding looking place at first until you realize that it was likely the spot where all the Hollywood stars did their skinny-dipping and then it seems like the perfect spot to swim.underground-pool

The Hearst Family donated the house and the surrounding estate to the State of California soon after Hearst’s death (avoiding a huge tax bill every year, coincidentally) and allowed the State to convert the place from a private residence to a tourist destination, but, they had one caveat:

The State could keep and run the mansion as they liked and bring in filthy tourists to view the place and all that, but…only under the condition that the Hearst family be allowed to use the place for private events whenever they wished.  Thus, bachelorette parties for the Hearst granddaughters and great-granddaughters are regularly held poolside at the Castle as the occasion warrants.  (Though I’m sure they have to bring their own ice.)hearst-1

I could honestly write about the place all day.  How it used to house the world’s largest private zoo (complete with polar bears, leopards, jaguars, chimpanzees and more). How the working ranch that now occupies the property still has zebras among its herd to this day. The thirty-eight bedrooms.  The forty-two bathrooms.  The private theatre, billiard room, three guest houses, servants quarters…the place is just nuts.

And this was the house Hearst used to call the “Little Ranch.” Because he had bigger estates elsewhere.

Let that sink in.

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We finally left Hearst Castle (which takes a while, actually, as the grounds are so enormous) and soon pulled away from US 1 to take a more direct route back to Los Angeles.

The entire drive, which had been about five hours to complete one way the previous Friday, took about twelve hours to navigate on the return trip.

Worth every minute.

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Overture, Curtain, Lights!

Actually, before we set foot on the Warner’s lot, let’s go back one day and talk about Bond.

James Bond.

lazenbySee, the day before I wound up auditioning at Warner’s, I actually had my first movie audition since coming back to Los Angeles.  It was for a film called, of all things, “Becoming Bond: The George Lazenby Story.”

Because, clearly, people are simply clamoring to know the life story of the only guy to only perform the role of James Bond in one film.

Actually, and I’m not kidding, they should be.  Lazenby’s biography- how he bluffed his way from fashion model to 007 – is a fascinating one and including the true tales (once thought to be rumors) that studio executives would set him up with beautiful women- and then stay in the room to watch him cavort with them- just to be sure their new Bond wasn’t gay.

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“Totally not gay!”

Ah, the sixties!

Anyway, I had submitted myself on a few auditions through Actors Access (which I’ve done throughout my stay) and…boom.  I got called in to read for the part of a British casting agent who meets Lazenby and is clearly taken with his smoldering good looks.

It was – like Lazenby’s career as Bond – over quickly.  I went into a casting agency down in Culver City, read for the folks in the traditional banged-up little casting room and was out the door before you could say Ernst Stavro Blofeld (look it up).

Still, it was the first audition I’d had this month and I was as hungry to audition as hippos (really hungry, hungry ones) are for marbles.

It turned out to be a nice, and perfectly timed, stretch of the acting muscles.

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Now to the main attraction:

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CSUN- Home of the Matadors! (Because that’s not offensive.)

The next day, I had gone through the routine of my usual, predictable morning.  I dropped Milo off at school, returned home, recorded an hour or so of my latest audiobook production and- when I could no longer spend another, sweaty moment in Ft. Raphael (it gets awfully lonely in there)- I had gone out for a long run around the CSUN campus to clear my mind.

I do this every morning, rain or shine.

Ha!  There’s no rain, silly.  But still:  Every morning.

exploding-phoneUpon my return on this particular morning, however, I was shocked to see that both my email and telephone had exploded in my absence.  It was my agent – the lovely and talented Orion Barnes – and he wanted to know if I could be in Studio City that afternoon for an audition on the Warner’s lot.

I checked my calendar:  Any plans?  Hmmmm.  Let’s see.  Noooo, I looked pretty good. Yeah, I could maybe do that. (Inside: Omigodomigodomigod!)

The audition was for the television show “Shameless” and was with one of Warner’s casting agents, Kimberly Wong, who I did not know but who now- almost immediately- became my favorite person on this Earth.shameless

Now, it wouldn’t be cricket for me to describe either the scene or the plot from the “Shameless” episode (potentially giving away spoilers and all that), so all I can really safely say is that the audition was for a cop.

And he wasn’t a nice cop, either.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  Right.

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Did someone say…?

So I cleaned myself up, spent some time looking over my sides, snazzed up in my best sleazy Detective outfit and drove down to the Warner Bros. lot.

You know why?

Because I was needed down at the Warner Bros. lot.  (I swear, I could write that all day and never get tired of it.)

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This was not, in fact, the first time I had ever visited a movie studio.  Those who read this blog regularly may recall that I visited the Universal Studios lot earlier this year when I was invited to lunch at the commissary by my friend Jamie Pachino. And that was awfully fun.warner-bros-logo

But this….this was different.  I was going to enter a movie studio for the first time as an actor.  I had been summoned by an actual casting agent at an actual movie studio to read for an actual TV show and…

…okay, calm the hell down.  Just look over your sides and don’t get all teenager-going-to-see-the-Beatles for crying out loud.  You’re a grown man-actor auditioning for a part.  You’ve done this before.  Act like it.

I had driven past the Warners lot before, of course.  Most anybody who has ever driven through Studio City has.  My voice over agent has her offices just on the other side of Warners and let me tell you: movie studios are hard to miss, even if you aren’t looking for them.warners-exterior

For one thing, they have (as you’d expect), these giant sound stages littering the lot. These stages are often situated right next to the road, with towering walls that feature gigantic billboards advertising whatever movie or television show is hot at the moment.

wb-tourAnd, of course, you can tour the studios, too.  For a fee, guides will show you about the place, pointing out this or that famous building and…hey, what’s this?  Why it looks like they’re shooting something today, folks! (And you can watch as they actually film a commercial or scene from a movie or something.)

I have never been on a studio tour, but I imagine they’re a lot of fun.

But not quite as fun as this.

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I was directed to park at “Gate 2” which is actually just a parking structure across the street from the studio itself.  I was issued a gate pass and told to leave my car there and then walk across the street and enter the studio.  I’d be directed where to go from there by security.dsc02252

I walked into Gate 3 at Warners, had my bag searched and sent through a metal detector and then shown the winding path through the lot for my audition.

And then…they turned me loose.  Inside the studio lot.  To go wherever I chose.

animaniacsOh, the temptation to go all Animaniacs on the place.  You have no idea. (And yes, the tower is there, just as you’d expect.)

warner-bros-water-tankBut no, I am a professional and I was expected by Ms. Wong, so I solemnly and calmly walked down the alleyways between the sound stages and made my way to the casting office.

As you stroll along through the studio, you simply can’t help but notice a few things.  For one, I passed the studio where they shoot the Ellen DeGeneres show which, while interesting, had no real “Wow” factor for me…until I saw the plaque on the wall outside.

See, at Warner Bros. studio (because of the long and storied history of the company) they make a point of posting on the side of each sound studio exactly what films and TV shows were shot within its confines.  In the same studio as the Ellen show, for example, they had also shot:

treasure“Strangers on a Train”, “Now, Voyager”, “Bonnie and Clyde” and…”Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

Gulp.

This wasn’t some back-room, stand in front of the video, sorry-about-the-coffee-stains-on-the-couch, rinky dink audition.

I was standing in the middle of Movie History Central.

Okay, quite enough of that. Get to your audition.

So I did. I refocused. I continued on my way down the alley, banishing images of Alfred Hitchcock and Humphrey Bogart (almost) entirely from my mind.

dsc02246I even managed not to yell out, when I passed the parking space that had “Malpaso Productions” stenciled on it, “Hey! Does everyone know that Clint Eastwood works here?!?!”  I was cool, calm and collected.

I was ready for my close-up.

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It sounds ridiculous to say it, but it must be said:  The studio looked like something out of Central Casting.  I mean, I know it was a movie studio, so this is going to sound dumb but:

stage24It looked like a movie studio.

They had the little bungalows scattered around the lot, just like you’d expect.

They had the rows of writer’s rooms right in the middle of the place, just like you’d expect.

And in the casting office, they had a shit-ton of actors waiting to audition.

Just like you’d expect.dsc02247

But then, on closer inspection, I noticed that…no, these guys weren’t auditioning for the same part as me. Unless the producers were so unsure of what they were looking for that they were seeing both middle-aged Irish guys and mid-twenties overweight Hispanic guys for the same role.

Turned out that, as I had deduced, they were casting three roles for that episode that day and that the competition for my role amounted to…five guys.  Those are my kind of odds.

The big Hispanic guys, by the way, they all seemed to know each other.  Every time another one came through the door (and each one was bigger than the last) they would all greet each other by name.

waiting-room-2This was hardly surprising. I had no doubt that they ran into each other at similar auditions all over town.  When you put out a casting call for some very serious, extremely heavy, badass dudes with multiple arm- and neck-tattoos…these were the guys who would show up.

Apart from the big, mean guys sitting there, bulging out of their tiny waiting room seats, they were apparently also casting the part of an African-American newscaster.  Thus, the room looked like this:  about ten, big, scary gangbanger looking dudes, another half-dozen extremely polished and professional looking black men in suits and another six schlubby, rumpled Irish guys with attitudes.

Casting agents bring together strange bedfellows.

waiting-roomNow, as any actor will tell you, when you show up at an audition and see a room full of guys, you know you’re in for a long, long afternoon. Casting sessions are brutal in that they (a) almost never start on time, (b) go much, much slower than they actually should and (c) usually feature long, incomprehensible waits between each actor.

Not this time.

They cut through that room of actors like a chainsaw through a teddy bear.  Before I knew it, the big dudes were edging their way sideways out the door at a rapid clip until they were no more.  Then the black newscasters were gone.  Pretty soon, it was just me and the other asshole cops.sound-stages-41

In audition situations, by the way, I always figure you either want to go first or last.  Be the guy who sets the bar or, if that’s not in the cards, be the last (and presumably most memorable) guy to be seen that afternoon.

On this day, I was last.  Every other guy had been in, out and vanished.  That left one asshole cop:  me.

Another thing about these types of auditions:  You almost always go into a room and have to deal with only one or two people.  They set you up with a piece of tape on the floor, showing you your mark.  They will input your name on a video monitor, have you speak your name into the camera (which is called a “slate” for those not in the know), and will usually read the scene partner’s lines with you if a reader is needed.casting

But for this audition?  At Warner Brothers studio?  I walked into a room full of people.

I don’t know which one Kimberly Wong was because there was simply a sea of faces out there.  I counted at least six before I told myself it would probably be best to stop counting.

There was a group of women seated on a couch in front of me.  Another couple of people sprawled in chairs.  Another person to run the video and at least an intern or two in the back. They were extremely friendly, un-intimidating and uber-professional.

out-the-doorOkay, campers, now what’s the rule?  Do you remember?  What’s the #1 rule of auditions?

That’s right:  Play the character.  That’s it.  Do your work, show them your interpretation of the character and then get out.

So the big question is:  Did I do my job?  Did I keep my head, play the character, finish up and leave?

C’mon, people.  Of course I did.  I can tell you, in all honesty, I wasn’t in the least bit nervous.  I was off-book, relaxed and loose.  I even got laughs from the assembled group (and at the right times, too).

Plus, they asked me to do the scene twice.

Then they thanked me, I thanked them…and I got the hell out of there.

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Tempted though I surely was to take a stroll around the Warners lot and see if I could see anything interesting (look, George Clooney’s stunt double!), I thought it best to simply continue my plan of behaving like an aloof, been-there-before actor and just make my way back to the car. The last thing I needed was to have security pick me up and call back to the casting office to ask why they just let their actors wander about anywhere they pleased.warner-bros-studio-1

But really, I could happily have stayed there on that lot for the rest of my life.  Moved into a bungalow, lunched every day at the commissary, I would have been fine.

Instead, I made my way back to Gate 3, past security, across the street and back into the car.

dsc02254As I pulled out, I got this wonderful view of the studio entrance. And all I could think of was:

Please lord in heaven, have me back. Don’t let this be the last time.

And then I pulled out of the lot and…went home.

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For the next day or so, despite my glaring at the phone with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns (or maybe because of it), the call never came.  The part clearly went to someone else.  Those are the breaks.stare-at-phone

But Orion, bless his heart, had kept his word.  He had not just gotten me an audition, he had gotten me a beauty.  Walking onto that lot and into that casting office- while not a big deal by any means in the grand scheme of things- was another ceiling I had broken through on this trip. Another rung up the long, long ladder I had mounted so many months before.

But I couldn’t help but think, as I always do:  Would it be the last?

Stay tuned.

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UPDATE:  I would later learn, from my agent, that according to the folks in casting at Warners, I had “won the room” during my audition and that those who had seen me live in the session wanted to cast me in the role.  Sadly, one of the producers- reviewing it later on tape- shot me down and hired someone else.

That’s showbiz!

Laundry Day, Every Day

One of the great perks – indeed, maybe the great perk – of the apartment where Milo and I are living, is the fact that we have free laundry facilities.laundry-4

That bears repeating:  Free.  Damn.  Laundry.

I know, I know, it might not seem like a big thing.  And maybe, big-picture-wise, it isn’t. But to me, the fact that we can walk down the hallway and pop our clothes in the washer/dryer anytime we like, for free, make this one of the greatest places I’ve ever lived in my life.

Allow me to explain.

laundry-1When I was growing up, my parents would do the laundry, naturally.  (Hey, I was a baby. Not a big lazy baby. Just a regular, non-laundry-doing baby.)

Then, after my folks split up, it was mostly my mother who took care of the dirty clothes. That was, among many other things, her job.  Does that make me sexist? No, it makes me five years old.

But soon after that, and I mean the very second my brother and I were old enough to sort the coloreds from the whites (yes, in the laundry room, there is segregation now, segregation forever), my mother had us doing clothes on our own. And I mean milliseconds after we appeared to grasp the concept.

laundry-2Since then, for whatever reason, I’ve been a huge laundry fanatic.  I know it might sound a tad obsessive, but it’s true:  I absolutely love doing laundry.

Why?  Well, for one thing, it is probably the least labor-intensive chore there is.  You pick up the clothes.  You drop them in the washer.  The washer does all the work of making your clothes clean without any input or effort on your part whatsoever. They churn, they rinse and they spin around and in no time…ding!…they are totally spic and span.

laundry-6After that, you move the clothes to the dryer.  No great effort involved in that.  Basic lifting and dropping, right? You pop a sheet in the load with them to ward off static cling and…once again you are free to do what you wish for another forty minutes or so.

When the buzzer goes off, then comes the most demanding part of the laundry adventure: the folding and actual putting away of the clothes.  It is, truly, the only part of the laundry process that involves actual work and, I’m assuming, this is what causes people to despise this particular chore.

laundry-5Oh, the horrible, horrible folding.  Is there anything worse?

Ah, grow the hell up.  Laundry is awesome.

Now take a knee.  Because this next part is important.

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About two weeks into our California Adventure, Milo piped up to offer me some criticism. (He’s sixteen.  That’s what sixteen-year-olds do.)

“You do laundry too often.”

I beg your pardon?  How is such a thing even possible?  Doing clothes too often?  Ridiculous.

laundry-3Clothes get dirty.  You wash them. They are clean.  You wear them. You presumably sweat and fart in them.  Sometimes you wear them to they gym and you work out in them.  Then, once soiled, you take them off, deposit them in the hamper and, when enough dirty clothes have accumulated, you wash them again.  How can you wash them too often unless you are actually washing clean clothes?

“Don’t be silly child,” I responded (or words to that effect.)  I explained my perfectly reasonable laundry habits to him and, at the conclusion, was convinced that my logic, on the laundered clothes front, was entirely unassailable.

laundry-4Milo was having none of it.

“The loads you’re doing.  They’re too small.  You do laundry every other day.  It’s just too much.”

I was incredulous.  I certainly did not do the laundry too often.  I did it only when necessary. I mean absolutely necessary.

Didn’t I?

The thing about kids:  Even when they’re way off base, totally wrong and entirely uninformed…they make you examine your own habits. Question yourself in ways you normally might not.

They cause you to look at yourself and ask stupid questions like:

Do I do the laundry too often?

And upon reflection and in the harsh light of unassailable truth:

I suppose I do.

So the question, naturally, is why?

Why in heaven’s name would I look around the room (as it turns out I do every other day) for items that need washing and gather them together into ever-smaller and laughably tiny piles and insist on running a load when I could clearly wait another day?  Or, really, another week?

Well, thanks to my observant (and now largely despised) teenager, I was forced to examine this question.  Why do I do the laundry so freaking much?

And the answer came, as plain as day:

Because I could.

controlIt was something over which I had control.  Here, on the seemingly warm (but actually frigidly cold) West Coast, at the mercy of the endless sea of uninterested casting directors, never-to-be met film and television producers and directors who would, rarely if ever, see my face….

…I could control one thing.

I could take clothes that were dirty and magically, quickly (and economically!) turn them into clothes that were clean.  With very, very little effort, I could fill our tiny chest of drawers with fresh-smelling, just-from-the-dryer garments which were without stain or blemish and with which my son and I could happily start each day.

in-controlI could not, try and I might, make auditions appear out of the ether.

I could not, despite my fervent wishes, cause my name to suddenly pop up on the screens of every casting agent in town.

I was unable, through sheer force of will, to draw the attention of the all-powerful directors who possessed the ability to once and for all recognize my talents and forever change my life by bringing me aboard their latest projects.

I could not do any of these very much wished for yet impossible things.

Nope.  I am entirely handcuffed.  Powerless.  Hopeless.

But by thunder.

I could sure as hell wash the living bejesus out of those goddamn socks.

********************

And then, one day, you get that call. The call you’ve been waiting for.

And you think:

Jeez, I hope my favorite shirt is clean.

********************

First, let’s back up a couple of weeks.

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Frustrated by my phone’s seeming inability to ring, I finally reached out to my film/TV agent out here, the wonderful and talented Orion Barnes.  Basically, I was checking in to see if there was anything that I could do to boost my own prospects and visibility.

Oh, I knew there was one thing.  There was an avenue here in Los Angeles down which I had not yet ventured on this trip that could very well lead to my being seen and called in by casting directors.  But I had long ago vowed not to travel down that particular road again.

I refer, of course, to the casting workshops.

devils-bargainAs previously recounted in my post on this subject, “The Devil’s Bargain,” there are these insidious little “Pay to Meet” evenings that are sponsored at a number of venues here in town where, for a price, you can audition for many of the city’s top casting directors.

The key phrase being:  for a price.

It is a shameful practice and one that I, to my own horror and embarrassment, took part in briefly during my first trip to L.A.  After all, I had been told, that’s just the way they do things out here.workshops

Well, as I am unwilling to judge almost anything without giving it a try first (for example, I was recently delighted by a simply wonderful beet salad and- ask anyone- I flippin’ hate beets), I spent the funds necessary to participate in about five or six of these “Pay to Meet” sessions back in January.

And it was…what’s the word I’m looking for?  Ah yes:

Awful.  It was fucking awful.

The unions shouldn’t allow it.  The studios shouldn’t allow it.  The actors shouldn’t allow it.

casting-actors

“We’re actually dying inside!”

Yet, they roll on and, with very few exceptions, the practice appears to be flourishing.

Well, not for me.  Not this trip. I have drawn my own, personal line in the sand at will categorically not participate in these sessions.  Orion knows this and, even if he thought it was a good idea, I knew he wouldn’t recommend my taking part in these workshops.

But the question remained:

Was there anything else I could do?

Orion’s response?  “Come by the new offices.  Let’s talk.”

So…off to Burbank I went.

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You want to know the one phrase I heard more often from my actor friends out here in Los Angeles than any other?  Here ’tis:bad-agent

“My agent sucks.”

It was shocking to me how many actors I talked to out here who were displeased with, almost to the point of loathing, their industry representatives.

“I never get sent out.  Ever.  My agent sucks.”

Not, “I’m getting a new agent because my current agent doesn’t send me out.”  It wasn’t as if they were willing to actually dump their agent and seek new representation.

lemon-carThis was resignation.  They had bought a lemon, but they weren’t going to take it back to the dealership for a replacement.  They were going to keep driving the lemon.

It was as if they had been cursed and couldn’t do anything about it. Like their agent had been assigned to them for life and there was no remedy.  Just have to live with it.

It was more than a little puzzling.

grossmanjackFor my part, I have been very lucky in my career, agent-wise.  Back in Chicago, I am repped by the terrific Grossman & Jack Talent agency and can honestly say that they are highly respected, honorable, loyal and have gotten me a lot of work.  What more could you ask for in an agency, right?

orionWell, out here, I’ve got Orion Barnes of the Rogers Orion Talent agency and, once again, he has an excellent reputation, a long (but not too long) roster of successful clients and could not be a nicer guy.

It was, therefore, a great pleasure to visit with him a couple of weeks back and get the reassurance I needed that he was, indeed, submitting me to casting agents on every project he could and that it was just a matter of time before something finally hit.

rogers-orion“It’s been a rough year across the board,” he told me. “But be patient.  Something will happen soon.”  He is well aware that I write this blog, by the way, and told me: “I want your story to have a happy ending.  I promise you, I’ll do everything I can.”

Thus reassured, we shook hands and I walked out the door.

And what do you know?

Five days later, I was walking onto the Warner Bros. Studio lot for an audition.

More on that…in Part II.

warner-bros

We Laughed, We Cried, We Podcast(ed)

Okay, we’ve had fun with movies and baseball games (and more of them are to come, for sure), but let’s get back to basics.

After all, the purpose of this trip is to find work, right?  So, let’s talk show bidness.

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Being a theatre person for my entire adult life, I am naturally superstitious.  I believe in portents and signs, I cringe when a black cat shoots across the path in front of me and I never, ever say the name of that Scottish play, either within a theatre or without. (You can never be too careful.)superstitious

I therefore took is as a very encouraging sign when, only three days after arriving in Los Angeles (and without alerting them to my presence in the city), I got an invitation from the Flappers Comedy Club to come back and perform one more time in their Yoo-Hoo Room.

yoo-hoo-roomFaithful readers of this blog may remember that, back in January, I had the audacity to go to a Flappers audition after honing my comedy chops in Los Angeles all of a month and, to my shock, they called me up and booked me for my first professional gig. (For a refresher on how the event proceeded, here is an accounting of that night from February.)

Once again, this invitation was for me to appear at one of their “Pro-Am” nights, which is a combination of professional and amateur comics and, once again, part of what the club expects is that the young/aspiring comedians (I qualify as “aspiring” anyway) will show up with lots of friends and family members in tow (both to buy tickets and order drinks and such).standup

But really…it doesn’t matter to me.  All I ever want is to get on stage.  The rest of the details are usually unimportant.

So, a couple of weeks back, in anticipation of the Great Event, I spent a few days running over my planned routine (waiting until Milo wasn’t around so I wouldn’t torture him with the repetition).

oreosAnd after reviewing my previous successes and failures in the comic realm, I decided to go with this bit where I rant and rave against the perversion of the Oreo cookie.  I adopt this stuffy English accent and levy a dire warning about how altering the perfect cookie is causing the end Western civilization.  This particular routine always seems to get a nice response.

Remember, though:  I hadn’t done stand-up comedy for about six months.  I mean, there’s rusty, there’s really rusty and then there’s Jack Haley’s freakin’ Tin Man.

tinmanI was the latter.

Still, I have one advantage that usually rescues me in such situations:  I have no shame.

If I bombed, I bombed.  I truly did not care.

And if it worked?  Fantastic. That would be a lot of fun.

I had no idea which way it would go, but in the end, I knew it didn’t matter much.  In five minutes, my set – for good or ill – would be over and if no one died, I will have judged it a success.

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The evening, as you’d expect, was a very mixed bag.  It still astonishes me how many comics will get up and expect to be imbued in the moment with something hilarious rather than having a fully-planned and (generally) prepared routine.  But there were at least

VIETNAM AIR BOMBINGS

three comics who appeared to think “I’ll just get up there and something will inspire me.”

The muse, as it were, took one look at them and then unceremoniously flipped them the comic bird.  Ka-BOOM.

The ones who had prepared sets? They did fine.  And the headliner, a comic named Tom Clark, who has had years and years of experience and alternated between prepared jokes and truly inspired audience banter, did a terrific job.

tom-clark

Tom Clark

As for me?  Well, I can let you be the judge, because I not only taped my routine, I created a video file out of it and loaded it up to YouTube.  You can watch it here (I am introduced as “Kevin TEECE”) and let me know how you thought it went.

For myself, I could not have been more pleased.

Oh, and the lady who booked the talent for that night? She asked me to sign a waiver so they could post video of my act to the club’s website.  And has since checked back to see when I might be available to return.

So….I took that as a good sign.

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But that’s not all of the video treats I have in store for you in today’s episode.  No indeed. Because since we last chatted, I have completed….*ahem*…..

Boris Karloff Bride of Frankenstein

“Christ, not this again.”

The Greatest Audiobook of All Time.

Yes, that’s right.  The one-and-only “Bigfoot & Frankenstein” is now available for sale and I could not be more proud and/or ashamed of my work on this piece.

To be honest, when I was in the middle of putting it together, I thought to myself “Jesus, I hope the author isn’t offended that I am essentially turning this into the ‘Showgirls’ of audiobooks” (i.e. “so horribly bad it’s actually good”).  But it turns out that he’s either in on the joke or completely oblivious.

I’m going with the former, because the latter is unthinkable.

bigfoot

“The Bigfoot Stamp of Approval”

Anyway, you can get a sneak preview of Part One of the “Bigfoot & Frankenstein” audiobook right here.  But for God’s sake buy it (here’s the link for that).  It’s about three bucks and, I guarantee:

Worth.  Every.  Penny.

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Still not done with the video clips!

See, I’m not just in California to get acting work, tape audiobooks and show off my comedy chops.  No sir.  I’ve also got books to sell!

COATFor those of you who may not know (because I only mention it in every OTHER post):  In 2012 my dear friend Ron Fox and I wrote a memoir about our lives growing up in the warm embrace of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in South Florida and entitled our little tome, “Confessions of a Transylvanian.”  (You can have a look on Amazon or on Audible, if you so desire.)

Since it was first released, it has done very well on the cult book circuit and has enjoyed a small following amongst Rocky Horror fans.

movie guys builder3But now what we’d really like to do is to try and interest someone (anyone) into optioning the story either for a television show or a film.  (I will doubtless write a screenplay for it myself one of these days, but I’ll have to find a couple of free months to do so.  Stay tuned.)

The reason I bring up the book is simply this:  Last month I was invited to be the featured guest on a local podcast here in L.A.- called “The Movie Guys“- to talk about “Confessions,” the RHPS phenomenon itself and about movies in general.

scholz-steve2

“I made this happen!”

This whole thing was put together by my Chicago compatriot Steve Scholz, who is a contributing writer/creative guru behind the scenes of the podcast and an all-round super guy.

The whole “Movie Guy” operation is deceptively simple.  Literally put together out back in the garage, the podcast is simultaneously taped and videotaped for your listening and/or viewing pleasure.

The hosts, Paul Preston, Karen Volpe and Bart Kias (regular contributor Adam Witt was out that week), put on a wonderful show, reviewing movie trailers, chatting about upcoming (or current) films and then interviewing their guest on whatever they are shilling (or willing to spiel about).screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-3-09-41-pm

You can check out the video link of my evening with “The Movie Guys” here.  To skip to the interview (wherein I chat about Rocky Horror, Scientology and my favorite movie of all time), you can go to 50:30 in the broadcast, but the whole show is worth watching, I think.  They’re a funny bunch and I would happily join this merry band again anytime.

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So…on stage, yes.

tick_tock_wall_clockProducing audiobooks….check.

Appearing on podcasts and hawking the memoir?  Roger.

But…still waiting on TV audition #2 and movie audition #1.  Which is a problem.

And how we deal with that predicament will be dealt with….

…in our next episode.