Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My horn, tooted

I submitted some blogs for a contest earlier this week, and was pleasantly surprised at the feedback I received yesterday.

In his e-mail, the editor said my writing samples "were excellent. You're a great writer and, so far, they don't need too much editing. It's refreshing.

"I don't know if you read a lot of columns or what but your writing already has a quasi-seasoned columnist tone to 'em. Good work."

Oh, and he described the picture I submitted (from last year's hot dog eating contest) as "epic."

Not bad, eh? I should know by the end of the week if I'm a finalist in the contest, and if I win, I could end up being paid to write a weekly blog! I'll definitely keep you all updated.

Thanks for reading my blog--if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be nearly so quasi-seasoned.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Now I'm stepping out this old brown shoe

Here are more recollections from my internship in New York City in 2003 (check the last post if you're curious what prompted this burst of nostalgia). The previous batch of memories were all directly related to my internship, but this group will be about stuff I did when I wasn't working.

--I (along with the 30+ other interns in my group) lived in a place called International House, I-House for short (although I don't recall ever eating pancakes there). It's located on the fringe of the Morningside Heights neighborhood, and I had to walk into Harlem to get to the nearest train station--125th St. and Broadway, on the 1/9 line (the 9 was still running then), one of the few above-ground stops in Manhattan.

There was a security detail in the station at all times. I'm not talking police--there were heavily armed soldiers there around the clock. It was only about 18 months after 9/11, but I don't know if that's why they were there (they certainly didn't have troops in every station). I could never decide if their presence at 125th made me feel more or less safe.

--It's funny to look back at how nervous I was about setting foot in Harlem, since I ended up living there without fear for a year and a half. My friend Natalie and I checked out Amateur Night at the Apollo one Wednesday, and were both pretty anxious as we walked along 125th back to I-House. So young and naive.

--Speaking of Natalie...she and I worked together at BYU Broadcasting and were very good friends, and we did a lot of fun stuff together in the city. We felt lucky to see Les Miserables on Broadway about two weeks before it closed (I felt a little betrayed when it was brought back just a few years later), we got to sit on the front row at a Letterman taping, and we also went to see the new Blues Brothers (Dan Akroyd and Jim Belushi) at the China Club. I won tickets to that show from the radio station I listened to out there--yes, the same station that produced the top 500 list that monopolized my blog last year.

--A few of us tried to get into a Daily Show taping on standby one afternoon. We would've made it, but one of our group was late, and we waited for them rather than going in. Instead, we were invited to attend a taping of Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn. You probably haven't heard of that show. There's a good reason for that.

--I also saw The Lion King, Aida, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. The Disney productions were my least favorite, but still very good (I probably would've liked Lion King more if I had an actual seat instead of a standing room ticket).

--I've never officially chosen a favorite movie, but circumstantial evidence indicates it's probably A Mighty Wind. It was the first movie I ever purchased on DVD, and it's the only movie I've ever seen more than once in a theater--both times during my internship. If you've never seen the movie, I urge you to do so.

--Those were my first experiences paying $10 or more for a movie, but not everything in new York is overpriced. I caught a number of free performances, most notably a James Brown concert (it was his 70th birthday party).

--Almost everyone's internship started a day or two after we got to New York. But a few of us had an extra day to hang out in the city before we went to work. One of them, a fine arts intern, seemed to be flirting with me fairly heavily that day. And I was definitely cool with that. I was pretty surprised when, a few weeks later, her husband (whose name, as you would expect, is Rocco) flew out to visit her! Though it's not surprising if I was deluding myself about the flirting (it's happened before), she definitely wasn't wearing a wedding ring at the time.

--Mostly, though, my experiences with my fellow interns were fantastic. It was during this time that I met my friend and faithful blog reader Larissa. We did lots of stuff in big groups. I have fond memories of taking the long train ride out for my first Coney Island experience, or of nine of us crowding into a medium-sized limo and paying about $6 each to be driven to dinner in style.

--We had so much fun together that, as spring term drew to a close and we prepared to go our separate ways, I came up with a way to pay tribute to all of the good times we shared. I distributed high school yearbook-style ballots throughout the I-House and prepared trophies (cheap souvenir shop postcards) for our end of internship awards.

There were the standard "Most Likely to Succeed"s and "Most Popular"s and "Best Dressed"s (I won Best Sense of Humor--I promise I didn't rig the voting, there just weren't many funny people out there), but we also had some NY-centric categories.

We voted on who was most likely to get lost on the subway, who was most likely to never leave New York, and who was most likely to become the I-House pub DJ (way to go, Randall Jeppeson!). Larissa was the runaway winner in the Most Likely to Appear on Broadway category. Amazingly, our faculty advisor Kevin Stoker beat me out for Most Likely to Get Booed Off the Stage at the Apollo. I guess we didn't have a very informed electorate.

Jeff Mulcock was voted most likely to win a "Mormy" (awards at the singles wards' film festival that have since been renamed "Lingos"). Jeff stayed in New York, and I'm pretty sure he did win a few. Here's a Lingo from last year that I'm in. The jokes I make were staged, because Garrett the filmmaker kept hearing me make funny comments and then making me repeat them while the camera was rolling. Kind of lame. Here's a classic 2008 Lingo starring my then-roommate Ryan.

That ought to be enough to make my point. That point being, of course, that I love those brown shoes. Oh, and that New York is an amazing place to visit and to live. Hopefully I'll be able to do both again someday.

I'm so glad you came here, it won't be the same now, I'm telling you

A few posts back I mentioned that I got a new wallet for Christmas, allowing me to throw out the one I'd been using since my junior high days. As a result of that change, these brown shoes are now my longest-tenured accessory.

I bought them from Payless for $19.99 to take with me on my internship to New York--almost seven years ago! I thought they looked really nice, especially for the price, but was surprised when I started getting compliments on them. Everyone loved them! A friend commented positively on them as recently as last fall, until I had her look closely to see all of the scuff marks and scratches. I've checked many times to see if I could get another pair like them, but sadly, it seems they are no more. Payless still carries the brand but not this model. So I'll probably keep wearing these as long as I can. If I replace the laces, they might have a few more good years left in them.

Every time I put them on, I remember that first trip to New York and the great memories I made. Here, in no particular order, are a few of them that, while not deserving of their own post, certainly warrant at least a mention in list format:

--My other favorite physical reminder of my internship is my copy of this article, which ran in YM Magazine (which I think no longer exists). I interned at Today In New York (TINY) on WNBC, a local morning show that ran right before the Today Show. We subscribed to dozens of magazines, which we skimmed through searching for segment ideas. One of the other interns found the article and shared it, and everyone asked me a bunch of questions about the church--the only decent missionary opportunity that arose in the seven weeks I was there.

On the first pages of the article there was a photo illustration showing a girl from the neck down. She was wearing an Avril Lavigne-style tank top (I don't like calling them wife beaters, especially when girls are wearing them. Can we all agree to just call them "Avrils?"), with a "Finding Faith in Christ" pass-along card tucked into her studded leather belt. It was awesome.

--The TINY studio was on the same floor as Conan O'Brien's. I worked two floors above, but sometimes I would need to go downstairs, and more than once I walked past a green room where Conan was lounging, chatting with show staffers.

--A few floors up were the SNL studios. I didn't get into a taping, but I did get to watch a rehearsal for about half an hour one day. Original cast member Dan Akroyd was hosting, and I got to see him work on a Donatella Versace sketch with Maya Rudolph, and I also saw several takes of a Tracy Morgan "Astronaut Jones" sketch.

--There was one glorious day when I was granted respite from the monotony of my usual tasks (searching magazines and the Web for story ideas and logging tapes for pieces on spray tans and eyebrow threading, mostly). We did the show on location at the Belmont race track, just a few hours before local horse Funny Cide attempted (unsuccessfully) to complete the Triple Crown. I was basically the assistant producer for the weather segments, hanging out with the weatherman, a cameraman and sound guy at our spot on the opposite side of the track from the anchor desk, keeping in touch with the executive producer with one of those cool Nextel walkie-talkies.

--We got tons of stuff every day from PR people who wanted us to promote their product on the show: books, movie press kits, candy, makeup, whatever. Once we were done with the item (if we used it at all), it went on the "free stuff counter," and anyone could take it. I got a lot of free books that way, including a weird one called "The Dogs of Babel" about a man who tries to teach his dog English to help him solve his wife's death, and "How To Lose Friends and Alienate People," which was turned into a really crappy movie a couple years ago. (I'm really surprised at how much I disliked the movie, considering I enjoyed the book, and the movie starred Simon Pegg, who I love, Kirsten Dunst, who I loved in everything she did through Spiderman 2, and Megan Fox, whose acting skills are marginal but is very attractive.)

I gave most of the books away to others from my internship group (there were about 35 Comms and Fine Arts students from BYU all living in the same place). "The Devil Wears Prada" went to Hillary Connelly, one of my shoe complimenters and a gorgeous PR intern that I had a crush on.

This is already getting long, so I think I'll do a part two with the rest of my treasured memories.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pie heaven

The new seasons of 24 and LOST started within the last few weeks. They're two of the only hour-long scripted shows that I've ever followed, and I highly recommend both of them, including past seasons if you haven't watched them before.

As I've written before, I much prefer watching a show from week-to-week instead of in huge chunks on DVD. I love being able to discuss the most recent episode with fellow fans, and build up anticipation and make predictions about what will happen next. But if a show is already a few years old and you don't have that option, plowing through an entire season of a show in four days also has its charms. That's how I saw the first four seasons of LOST, and the format and pace of 24 particularly lends itself to that kind of viewing.

The only other 60-minute shows I can think of which I've seen every episode of are Glee (which is still in its first season and barely counts), Brisco County (which my dad got for his birthday last week--I'm excited to rewatch it), and two that I watched last year (for one, it was my second time) that I wish to recommend to all my readers.

Twin Peaks and Pushing Daisies (hereafter TP and PD) are pretty different thematically. TP is a serious drama (albeit a drama with frequent funny and quirky moments) centering around a murder investigation, and PD is a comedy about a man with the ability to raise the dead for one minute. However, they have an eerie number of similarities. They're like the Lincoln and Kennedy of underappreciated TV shows.

Both ran for two seasons (TP from 1990-1991, PD from 2007-2009). There were only 30 episodes of TP, and 22 of PD. So if you choose to watch these shows (and you definitely should), it won't be a huge time commitment.

Both shows are set in small towns that have unusually high crime and murder rates, and investigators who solve crimes with a combination of quick wits and supernatural powers.

Both have a very distinct feel, owing to the fantastic music, sets, and costumes used. These aren't your typical small screen shows. The attention to detail, as well as the budget, is high, and as a result each episode almost feels more like a movie than TV show. And every so often a character will break out into song. When it happens on PD, it's usually Olive Snook (played by Kristin Chenoweth), and it's delightful. When it happens on TP, it's usually Leland Palmer or James Hurley, and it's a little creepy, but no less memorable.

There's also a very distinct sense of humor in each show. There's rapid-fire dialogue in PD that just makes you smile. TP is filled with dozens of weird, bizarre moments, as well as a number of sight gags that go on so long, that they start off as strange, move on to agonizing, and eventually loop all the way around to funny.

The casting is excellent on both shows. The lead performers (Kyle MacLachlan in TP and Lee Pace in PD) were relatively unknown before their respective shows, play extremely likable and quirky characters, and will probably both have less impressive careers than I think they ought to (there's still time for Pace to end up with more impressive credits than MacLachlan's roles in The Flinstones, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and, of course, Showgirls).

Each show features a strong ensemble cast--Chenoweth, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene (from my favorite musical Little Shop of Horrors) in PD; Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Ray Wise, Peggy Lipton, Miguel Ferrer, Piper Laurie, Russ Tamblyn and others in TP (feel free to consult IMDB if you need to remind yourself who these people are; chances are you know them).

There are also plenty of well-knowns in smaller roles on each show. Those on TP usually had extended, multi-episode cameos, while on PD it was usually one-and-done guest stars.

The likes of Fred Willard, David Arquette, Joel McHale, Paul Reubens, Stephen Root, Mike White, French Stewart, David Koechner, Nora Dunn, Mo Collins and Rachael Harris all show up on PD. David Duchovny, Heather Graham, and Billy Zane were all on TP before becoming super-famous, and David Lander and show creator David Lynch also steal a number of scenes.

Several actors who have made splashes in new sitcoms this year (Jayma Mays on Glee, Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family, and Cougartown's Josh Hopkins) got their feet wet on PD.

You like Seinfeld? Look for Banya on PD, and on TP you'll see both of Susan Ross's parents, Mrs. Choate (the old bag Jerry steals the marble rye from), and Sue Ellen Mischke (the bra-less Oh Henry! candy bar heiress).

Oh, and Willie Garson and the great Molly Shannon were each in an episode of both shows.

Both shows also feature an important unseen character: MacLachlan's Agent Dale Cooper is constantly leaving messages for "Diane" on a personal tape recorder on TP, and Jim Dale's narration on PD is at least as important to and enjoyable on the show as Ron Howard's work on Arrested Development.

My two favorite, bizarre connections between the two shows: both feature a middle-aged, potentially unstable redheaded woman who wears an eye patch; and pie is a crucial element of both programs (nothing like waiting until the 17th paragraph to explain a post's title).

The main character in PD owns and operates a restaurant called The Pie Hole, and a good chunk of each show takes place there. On TP, many of the characters are constantly eating, and they're usually eating pastries. The local diner is legendary for its cherry pie. Sometimes, characters are shown eating four or more slices in one sitting. It's easy to get hungry watching either of these shows.

One final, unhappy similarity: both were cancelled well before they should have been, and it seems that both shows were caught off-guard: each finale was kind of a let-down, with several key story arcs resolved (or left unresolved) in unsatisfying ways.

But I hope that last part won't sour you on the idea of Netflixing these shows. Or borrowing TP from me. Or buying me PD for my birthday. While the final destination for both programs was a little disappointing for me, the ride was so worth it. Just get the first disc of season 1, get yourself a slice of pie and a tall glass of milk, get a friend to watch with you (especially TP--it's probably too scary to watch alone), and enjoy. You can thank me later.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm a hungry man, but I don't want pizza

I'm a bit of a packrat. I never throw anything away. (I'm still only a bit of a packrat because I really don't have that much stuff.) A few weeks ago I was going through some old things, getting them ready to take to my storage unit. I found some notebooks from my college years. There were very few actual class notes in them, a result of my amazing memory and my easy classes.

Instead, they were full of rough drafts of the fliers I made for my Simpsons parties, brackets for Nerf basketball tournaments, and similarly important items. There were also a number of song lyrics, mostly for parodies I never finished.

I was surprised to find a nearly completed original song. Surprised because 1) I never write original lyrics because I have no musical abilities; 2) it actually is pretty good--even though I can't write music, I can hear in my head exactly how it would sound, including a key change; and 3) I wrote it for a girl I had a crush on. This is weird because I have never done this for any other girl, and this wasn't even a major crush. In fact, I wrote the song during a spring term, and during summer term a new girl moved in with this other girl, and I had a much bigger crush on the new girl--even went out with her a few times. But I never wrote her a song.

The notebook also contained one completed parody. As a freshman at BYU, I turned Alice Cooper's "Feed My Frankenstein" (prominently featured in Wayne's World) into a Valentine's Day song and performed it for the girls who came over during visiting hours. But I don't believe I saved the lyrics. A few years later, I tried to do it again. Some parts are pretty similar (as far as I can remember), but the second half of the new version surprisingly became rather dark and stalker-y.

My parodies sometimes do things like that. They're at most semi-autobiographical. I get an idea for a theme, or maybe come up with a line, and then just let the rest develop organically. And sometimes the result is a little creepy.

Anyway, here are the lyrics for the updated (2003) version of "Be My Valentine." Feel free to compare to the original if you're not familiar with it (they're a little PG-13, so be wary).


Yes, yes, I know you're hungry...ahh, here comes dinner
Be my Valentine!
I've got a fever, my body's cookin'
Burning with desire, 'cause you're so good lookin'
I'm a lucky man'
Cause I got to meet ya
I'll come to your house
And then I'm gonna treat ya

Take you out to dinner
Wine and dine
Can't believe you're single
Because you're so fine

Be my Valentine
Please stroke my ego
(I'm not psycho)
Be my Valentine
Hungry for love
Won't you please be mine

You don't want me to stalk (you)
Well, baby, what's up
With that? You sent signs with your flirty stuff
Who sent you candy, are you a cheat?
Guess I'll have to stop being sweet
So when you're not ready, when you're home all alone
I'll call and harass you on the telephone

Be my Valentine
Please stroke my ego
(I'm not psycho)
Be my Valentine
Hungry for love
Won't you please be mine

Baby chow down
Hungry for love and it's crunch time

[Repeat chorus]

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!