Crazy Train

Last Friday night, I met my college buddy Mike downtown for the White Sox game. (Thanks to all of you who've asked--but my feet were just fine that night and are no longer rejecting shoes.) Mike and I haven't seen each other since my graduation and have only talked on IM. So, it was cool to hang with him and we saw a great Bottom-of-the-9th-Inning Winner! (And got cool free 70s-era Sox hats!)

But the real story starts after the game. Since I met Mike at the ballpark, I came down on the train and then jumped on the Red Line to the park. After the game, Mike and I caught the Red Line and I got on the 11:40 train to the burbs.

As I got on the train, I saw a young brunette who kind of looked familiar. But I shrugged it off. I found a car with very few people sitting on the top level and got a seat. When the train left, my car's upper level was occupied by: 2 uppity East Coast 20-something girls, 2 drunk Northern Illinois preppy frat guys coming from the Sox game, 2 wasted punk guys coming from a show in the city, a bouncer from some club, and me.

Trying to explain what that train ride was like cannot do it justice. It was loud, raucous and pretty hilarious from my point of view. The East Coasters were flirting with the Northern Guys. The Northern Guys couldn't see straight. The Punk Guys kept picking on the Northern Guys. The East Coasters were flirting with the Punk Guys. One kept hugging everyone who said they thought it was OK to have a home phone and a cell phone (??). I said it wasn't to avoid the hug.

Really, I just listened to my iPod and kept out of the circus. Until one of the punk guys, Tony, tapped me on the shoulder. His cell phone was dead. He asked to borrow mine. I had no problem with that. He took the phone and made a quick call.

This simple act apparently endeared me incredibly to Tony and his friend. He told me about how much he didn't like the Northern Guys--and how much he liked me. Tony told me all about the show he was at. I asked Tony if he knew Flatfoot 56--my only knowledge of the Chicago punk scene at all. He did. In fact, his drunk friend said he'd actually played a show with them in "a basement in Elgin."

With a relationship built upon my generosity with my cell phone, we bonded over Celtic rock. "I like your style, man," Tony kept telling me. "You're my friend, man. Yah."

When we stopped at one suburb, a group of kids on the bottom level got up and grabbed their bikes from the side of the car. I saw the brunette again. It was my sister's high school friend! I was like, "Kristin?" And she was like really unsure of me at first about having someone from the noisy and profane upper level calling her name. But seriously, how random is that? But it gets crazier. On that train, I also saw work friend Joel and Melissa and one of their friends we play Frisbee with.

And then, as we pulled from one stop, I looked out the window to see Jill and Leigh--fellow game attendees--waving from the platform. The entire time, they'd been sitting just one car away from my Punk Rawk Drunken Circus.


I Conquered the Cereal

All that generic bulk cereal I bought is finally gone!

This morning I ate my last bowl of Fruit Rings. It took me about 5 months to get through all 11 bags. It actually took me longer than I expected but I still averaged one 32 ounce bag every 2 weeks. Some bags only made it a week. But I really slowed down toward the end here. In fact, in the last three weeks I have eaten two boxes of Mueslix as well because the sugary Fruit Rings were bugging me.

And so, with a spoonful of sugar this morning a chapter of my life comes to a close.


Weekend in Iowa

On Saturday, The Intended and I drove with The Incoming Mother-in-Law to Des Moines, Iowa, for a retirement party. Sadly, it was not my retirement party. But still, we had a lot of fun on our road trip. (How could you not, what with all of Iowa's great.... you know, whatever makes Iowa great.)

I am actually convinced that as you drive through Iowa on Route 80, there's actually only a one-mile stretch of road that is looped over and over. But hey, I am from Illinois so I really can't be calling the kettle black. At least Iowa has some hills now and then.

I've never been to Des Moines and so it was pretty cool. (Add one more to my Capital city list!) On Sunday, before the party, The Intended's Uncle was nice enough to take us on a tour to show us all the sights of Des Moines:

Seriously though, Des Moines is a really growing city and has some neat development going on. It was neat to see. Other than the tour, the trip was pretty much all about eating good meals, enjoying company and driving. On the way home on Sunday, we stopped at the gas station that my Aunt Kathy manages:

Unfortunately, she wasn't working. But I took a photo for evidence. (I am staring into the sun--not trying to be a pirate. Arrrgh.)

The only other notable trip fact is that I'm suspicious that I am being stalked by an oriole. Not like Cal Ripken...but an actual bird. On Thursday, I noticed an oriole outside my condo. On Friday evening, I was on a train and saw one out the window. Saturday morning: I saw one on my way to pick up The Incoming Mother-In-Law. And then, throughout the 4.5 hour drive to and from Des Moines I continued seeing an Oriole on the side of the road over and over.

Some may assume that there's just a lot of orioles out. I, however, think there may just be one. And he's following me around. He's everywhere. At first I thought he might be my guardian angel. But The Intended and The Incoming Mother-In-Law told me that orioles are mean and nasty. So he might be an assassin.


My Feet Hate Shoes

So, really this month is much more substantial than I realized when writing the blog yesterday. Yah, May 23 was the Lost season finale and June 23 is my wedding day. But thankfully my brother (Thanks, Chad!) reminded me of another huge milestone for my life: Today is the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars.

Thirty years ago, I was an adorable little 4-month old. Little did I know that Luke, Han and Chewie were also born and changed my life. We've come a long way, Star Wars.

To celebrate, I'm gonna wear my gold bikini all day long.

More and more, it seems 2007 is becoming the Year of the Todd: 30th Birthday, 30th Anniversary of Star Wars, Wedding, Europe Trip, the final Harry Potter book. I can barely stand it all.

From one nerdy subject to another: I think I am turning into a Hobbit.

For the last three days, my feet hurt so bad any time I wear shoes--any shoes. When barefoot, they feel fine. But in shoes, they are incredibly cramped, pinched and aching. It's unbearable. I've had to take my shoes off in restaurants, movie theaters and at work. What am I going to do at the White Sox game tonight?

My theory is that I am slowly becoming a Hobbit. Part of the evolution is apparently discomfort with shoes. I have noticed no sudden hair growth on my feet however. They just hate shoes.

The other solution of course is that my feet are suddenly growing exponentially.


Two Big Life Events-One Month Apart

Best Man Doug calls me early every Thurday morning on his way to work to replicate our old Thursday breakfasts. This morning I greeted him with, "At this time in exactly one month, I will be waking up as an old, married guy." That day, June 24, will be my first full day as a husband.


Being May 23 yesterday, the Intended and I weren't sure how to celebrate our -1 month wedding anniversary last night. But we watched the uber-good season finale of LOST, so that was cool.


CAN you believe Marc is leaving?

Tomorrow is Marc's last day, so a proper goodbye was in order. This morning, his office was full of aluminum cans. Why? Well, Marc loves Mountain Dew. He drinks approx. 5.25 cans a day. And so that leads us to what the entrance to his cube looked like:

A giant wall of green cans. In fact, several of them were actually consumed by him--as you can tell by the initials on them.

The culprits had been saving these cans for a long time, stealing them from Marc's trash after he'd gone home and collecting cans from everyone they knew.

The collection of the cans started in March for Marc's birthday prank. But the culprits needed more time and hoped that Marc may forget about any prank if he was let off easy in March. Maybe he wouldn't expect an attack in, say, August.

But his resignation forced an earlier prank. The scramble for enough cans was a struggle. Truck beds were filled with bags and good old R2 held several for months.

You'll notice below that lining Marc's desk are beer cans. Reportedly, those were already there.

Among all the cans are 12 full cans of Dew Marc had in his cube. They helped with numbers...and made for a nice game out of it:

No one knows exactly who the culprits were. But surveillance cameras captured this image of the mastermind:


The Ultimate Ultimate

It's Ultimate Day.

In fact, every Tuesday this summer is Ultimate Frisbee day. A group of about 6 to 10 of us from work meet out on a lot and play a pick-up game. It's really fun, the only real exercise I go in for anymore, and good bonding. I'm not that good but it's a lot of fun. And I do have my own niche play: The dive. I don't really catch anything unless I'm diving to the ground for it. I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing.

Tonight is a special Ultimate Day because--as long as he's feeling OK with his cold enough to play--it's Marc's last Ultimate Day as a company employee. He may make it some nights this summer even with the new job, but this could be it. But even with that emotional context, tonight's game cannot be the mythological game last week was. Because it's not gonna rain.

Last Tuesday night was one of those special times in sports that you just don't forget. It was one of those times when, as it was happening, you just knew, "This is special." It was like game out of The Sandlot--when sports just made everything seem right. It was one of those times when you later see someone involved and you share a nod that says, "I was there with you, brother." As Marc wrote last week, it was legendary.

It started out with us getting 10 people to show up. Not often do we have 5 on 5 games so it was more competitive and fun from the get go. And then the rain started. And it kept coming as a warm, steady wall of water. But it was a warm rain that was more refreshing than bothersome. It was just fun. No one even thought of quitting. Our shirts got heavy. You could barely throw the Frisbee because of slick hands--and nothing to dry them with. I couldn't see with my glasses full of rain. So I took them off. And then I couldn't see because hair gel streamed into my eyes. So I found an old stocking cap in my truck.

The best part for me was on one drive when I ran into the end zone and dove (as per my style) for a Frisbee. I made the catch and then....I just slid in the wet grass. It was like playing sports on a giant Slip N' Slide. I should wet down the field for my dives all the time.

Oh, I just read that Wikipedia page that I linked to above. I like that it says Ultimate is a non-contact sport. I'll try to remember that from now on.


Night of Rawk!

Yesterday, I went with my friend Charissa and one of my youth groupers, Ethan, to see Family Force 5 play in Orland Park. Charissa knows the guys a bit now from working on two animated movies for them (the new one is now up on FF5's myspace page). So, we went to the venue early to sit down with the guys before the show to brainstorm ideas for the third Family Force movie (oh man, this one will be the best, I think. It probably won't be done until late summer/early fall because Charissa is now being hired by my magazine to do an online cartoon series. Whoo! That should debut this summer. )

I also figured out why the band likes Charissa so much. She bakes them cookies. But as Chap Stique says, "We like Charissa for many reasons." But I think the cookies help.

I've only seen the band do one long set--at Cornerstone. Other than that, I've just seen them perform 4 song sets on tour with TobyMac or at showcases. This time, as the headliners, they did a full set with lots of talking between songs and then ended with prayer. I had the opportunity to interview the guys last year at GMA and get a sense of their hearts. So I knew they were deeper than just Hulk gloves and silly names. But yesterday I saw it even more. Talking to them candidly backstage, hearing one expressing real excitement about getting married as a virgin, seeing them glorifying Christ with their words, and ending their show with a heartfelt prayer really touched me.

Oh yah, and they also tore my face off with rawk.

The show was at a church (with a great, huge stage!) and I think the concert crowd was mainly the church's own youth group kids. We were able to get really close to the stage--and because all the concert-goers were about 4 feet tall, I had a great view of all the excitement and theatrics (including choir robes).

During one particulary booming song, the girls in front of me were jumping up and down like crazy. That's great. The problem though was two-fold: 1) They both had super long hair that kept flying up into my mouth. 2) They were short and so I was very concerned that I'd get a skull to the chin. I kept looking back to Charissa like, "Save me." But the crowd was too thick for me to move. Finally, I moved back away from them and was able to rock out hair-free.

The Final Hair Post

So, I've had a couple people who I don't see often ask for a comparison of New Haircut/Old Haircut since I've talked about it so much. I figured everyone was sick of hearing about my hair, so I just let it go.

But when Marc told me that a reader of his blog commented there about wanting to see Before/After pictures, I knew I had to give the public what they want:

Speaking of my hair, I discovered that my experience actually supports an important Biblical truth. Really. And so I am producing public awareness posters:


So Many Options!

Friday mornings have a whole new dimension now. There's more decision making.

Since the company has re-instituted Casual Fridays, it is nice just getting up and throwing on jeans. But now I can wear T-shirts. And I have so many shirts I want to unleash on my co-workers. Clowns eat people? Meat is Neat? Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood? Mayor of Awesomeville?

Oh, the burdens I carry. How can one man saddle all this stress?

Today I decided that I really couldn't pass up wearing a Sox shirt since it's Cubs vs. Sox weekend. I have to represent. There will be plenty of time for all my T-shirts this summer. Unless I get fired, I guess.

I've also been considering making a new shirt. The company is re-organizing into Media Groups or Franchises. Basically, like magazines are clumped together with their own support teams of marketing, internet, etc. It's a great idea, but I want to make a shirt that says, "I'm my own media group" or "I AM the franchise."

But, that would just be one more option to cloud up my Friday mornings.

Weekend Forecast:
Tomorrow is going to be a big day of errands and wedding stuff. I need to talk to the baker about my giant cookies. I need to go test the sound at the reception hall. But after all that work is done, Sunday is play time. I'm going to a Family Force 5 show. Whoo.


Boys Don't Get Hugging

Last night, The Intended and I completed our tour of our sisters' graduation ceremonies. Both ceremonies were very nice. But last night's took the cake because of the unintended entertainment provided by two young boys sitting behind us. They were probably between 3 and 6 and there to see their mom graduate. I swear that the younger brother was this kid.

We were seated in tiered stadium seating with the boys right behind us. And I mean, right behind us. They weren't up in their chairs but sitting on the floor in front of their family. They spent most of the ceremony leaning forward resting their chins on the backs of our chairs. The older one was over my left shoulder. The young one over The Intended's right. At first, they would just breathe heavy and moan with boredom every so often. But then the fun began.

The younger brother began to blow loud and long raspberries repeatedly.

The thing is, we really didn't care if his dad stopped him because it was the cutest thing ever. The Intended was giggling so hard that I pretended that she was overwrought with emotion over her sister's graduation. "There, there," I said and patted her arm.

Soon the fake-farts stopped and it got better. The brothers began to repeatedly ask questions of their dad and grandparents:

"When can we go home?"

"Why are we just sitting here?"

"Why's it so dark in here?"

"Why can't I go sit with Mom?"

And then, the best part came. On stage, each graduate came forward when their name was called, received their diploma and hugged two professors. The Little Jerry Maguire guy didn't get this at all and started making a series of great comments that left me tearing up with laughter:

"Why are they hugging so much?"

"Will they stop hugging soon?"

"They hug a lot in Mommy's class."

"We don't hug in my class."


Dreams and Blessings

I had a great dream last night. In it, My Intended and I flew into the London airport. Not to see London. But because there was a special Meet-and-Greet with the Osbourne family. So we flew in and she went shopping in the airport. Meanwhile, I stood in line to get autographs from Ozzy, Jack and Kelly Osbourne. After I got my signatures, I met The Intended at a Pretzal stand and we flew out to go home.

My old boss Randy sent me a great e-mail this week. I had to share it because this story shows why I have faith in the youth of America:
Rita has been helping David pray at bedtime. Like most 3-1/2-year-olds, he sticks with the known and familiar when thanking God for his blessings--mom, dad, brother, a sunny day. Last night, he added something else. This is verbatim:

"And God, just remember...Star Wars."
A boy of my own heart. God bless him. And Luke Skywalker.


Hair Yesterday, Gone Today

About a week ago, I rolled over in bed and a piece of my hair stabbed me in the eye. That's when I knew, the long hair had to go. It'd gone bad.

Last night, I went back to Mario Tricoci University. It took 2 hours to get done, but it's short and spikey--it's back to the Todd cut. The temporary long hair experiment is over. I'll tell ya, it's nice to have it short again (especially as it's getting warmer out). But old habits die hard. I did a hair flip involuntarily this morning and nothing happened. That was weird.

I will miss waking up to this:

As I was sitting in the chair getting cut, I was staring out the storefront window of the University. This kid ran by. He was around 3 or 4 I think. (Honestly, I am bad with kids' ages. I'm not sure how old he was. I know that he was older than 18 months and couldn't drive yet. Somewhere in there). Anyway, as he ran by, his pants just slipped right off him. The best part was that he didn't stop at all. He just kept going. With his dad chasing him.


Full Circle

This weekend served as another significant little marker on the journey I'm on right now. My Intended and I have less than 7 weeks until the wedding and one of the changes for me will be that I am leaving the church I've attended for about 8 years. I'm excited about this move. The Intended's church is a great fit for where I am spiritually right now and I cannot wait to see what opportunities are there for me. I'm ready and even aching for that change.

Still, leaving my church is kinda hard because of the relationships I've built there. Especially in my work as a youth counselor. I've worked with the youth groups (especially the junior high) since the month I first started going to this church. 8 years. That's a long time. I've met dozens of friends. I've seen once-6th graders go on to college. The other counselors are like siblings to me.

While youth group is not over for the year yet, this weekend was my last youth group retreat with this church. Ever. I didn't actually realize that until we got to the Wesley Woods Retreat Center in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. As we drove in, it looked familiar and I recalled being there twice before. That got me thinking a bit about my retreat memories: people running into the lake in January, booby-trapping windows to prevent kids from running out in the night, and skiing down a hill on my face.

Here's the house we stayed in this weekend:

On Saturday, I walked down the hill from the house and spotted through the trees a cabin sitting way back in the trees from the rest of the camp:

When I saw it, I realized that this was the retreat center where I first came as a counselor with my church. Then it hit me: Wesley Woods was the site of my first retreat--and now my last. Weird coincidence.

This long red cabin was where I first came on a winter retreat 8 years ago with a big junior high group that I hadn't met until the night we left for the retreat.

This was the red cabin where I had to park my Grand Prix up against the bedroom door so the boys wouldn't run out in the middle of the night (we had a pesky group back then.)

This was the red cabin where a 6th grader first told me that I was his friend.

This is where my youth ministry started. Before that weekend, I hadn't ever worked with church kids before. I didn't even know I liked youth ministry!

And so, this weekend was kinda sentimental. I did a lot of reflecting on where God's brought me since that first youth retreat. I thought a lot about my youth group memories. And I thought about where God is gonna use me next. Will it even be with youth (in addition to the magazine I work for)? I hope so.

Other than all that mushy stuff, I played a lot of volleyball and ate a lot of junkfood. I also spent a lot of my time being creeped out by the house we stayed in. It had this Blair Witch basement (with a lock on the outside of the door -- creeepy!) and this painting:
I can't even explain why it weirded me out--I guess because of the eyes materialize out of nowhere. But it was spooky.


This I What I Do At Work.

A Real IM Conversation:

Marc: Hey - how does one earn a nickname like "The Jackal?"
Todd: Hmmm. Laughing a lot?
Marc: That's the heyena.
Todd: Oh. Eating deceased animals?
Todd: It seems that I don't actually know any distinguishing traits of the jackal, I guess.
Marc: I see on the news that Carlos the Jackal is to Face Trial in Terror Attacks in France. Do I have to be a criminal to have that nickname?
Todd: It might help.
Marc: Cause all the nicknames i've been given have been very poor.
Todd: If you like that nickname I can start calling you that and we'll see if it catches on
Todd: Do you like Marc the Jackal? Or just The Jackal?
Marc: hmm - i don't know if that has a good ring to it - doesn't flow off the tongue so well
Marc: Marc the Aardvark
Marc: No, that ain't gonna work either. Who's gonna be afraid of an anteater? Besides the ants of course.
Marc: Although, maybe it's a metaphor - i'm larger than life and everyone around me is small, like ants
Todd: That's good
Marc: Can you imagine going through life with an ego like that?
Todd: Hey, you're The Aardvark, not me.
Todd: I like nicknames with "the"
Marc: as if there is only one Jackal in the world
Todd: exactly.
Todd: I need a nickname too. Like The Ratchet
Todd: Or The Fixer
Todd: I don't know why. They make me seem cool to have in a pinch.
Marc: The Cordless Screwgun
Marc: The Beltsander
Marc: The Jigsaw
Todd: Oh, I think I got my nickname: The Hatchet
Todd: I don't know what it means. But it sounds ominous.
Marc: And I don't know why people like to bury those things either.
Marc: Do they grow?
Todd: i don't want anyone burying me
Marc: Your a cremation type of guy, eh?
Todd: Instead of "The something" you could do something like Marc Two-Toes or Six-Finger Jimmy
Todd: Six-Finger Jimmy is funny since you have 10 fingers and your name is not Jimmy
Marc: How about Jimmy Two-Face - it's just that you never actually see Jimmy - you normally see Marc - but Jimmy is there... lurking .... just don't cross him
Todd: oooh, I like that
Todd: Jimmy Two-Face and The Hatchet.
Todd: We're two really scary guys now
Marc: indeed
Marc: i just re-read that new dress code. Glad we can wear blue jeans on Fridays now. But stretch pants can't be worn - i guess i won't ever be wearing my Nacho Libre costume here at work.
Todd: haha. But...crap. Now I have to go home and change.
Todd: Are tube tops OK?
Marc: great - now you just brought back that old mental image of barry bonds in a tube top
Todd: Take that, Two-Face!
Todd: That's what The Hatchet does.
Marc: you are living up to your name
Marc: whatever that means
Todd: Yah, I don't really know what "That's what The Hatchet does" means.
Todd: But I think it's my catchphrase.
Marc: some might argue that The Hatchet chops wood - but those people would only be partially correct
Todd: Yah, 'cause apparently "what The Hatchet does" also means that I give people bad mental images of tube tops.
Marc: I have to say - we haven't had a conversation this bizzare in a long time - I'm claiming that the blue jeans have brought back our creativity.


The Gift That Keeps On Giving

So the final gift that My Intended and I opened at the Wedding Storm was from Emily and Esther. It's a nice wooden serving tray. But it's not any old serving tray. They customized it for us. It's a fantastic Star Wars serving tray--with pictures of the three original movies forming the background.

When I first opened it, that's all I really noticed. Cool, Star Wars. And then, I looked again. Those aren't pics of Han and Leia. They are pics of me and My Intended as Han and Leia.

While I am thrilled to finally have a photo of myself with a wookie in the background, that Han Solo hair is just ridiculous. And what is my face doing? I have no idea. It's kinda freaky. (Although not as creepy as it would have been had My Intended been pictured as Leia and I was Luke. Awkward.) But still, this is one weird image. Just ask Emily's roommate Charissa. She sent me this story in an e-mail:

"So I was lying in bed Saturday night after The Storm, and I put my hand under my pillow to feel thick paper under there. I have this Classic Crime poster above my bed so I thought maybe it had fallen down (although looking back on it, i don't know how a poster of that size could fall under my pillow without me seeing). I turned on my lamp and pulled the paper out to see it. The first thing I saw was that scary picture of you as Han Solo! Apparently Emily thought it would be funny to print out the pic and stick it under my pillow to frighten me at night! I totally screamed and threw it on the floor. It was great."

Honestly, I don't know if I should be more amused by the funny prank or humbled that my picture is used to scare people...but, I mean, look at it. That would be freaky late at night. Or anytime.

Anyway, this gift is right up my alley--geeky, fun, and personal. Plus: It's functional; I'll use it to serve blue milk to Aunt Beru (that joke goes out to any other SW nerds out there.)