Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The wisdom of the bleachers

Last week, a bunch of people in my office had an after-work drinking binge get-together at a bar down the street. Apparently, they spent a lot of money on liquor, because the bar's owner offered to buy everyone there tickets to today's Cubs game.

Of course, they accepted. And of course, there were last-minute cancelations. And of course, I volunteered to snatch up one of the leftover tickets.

So I spent this afternoon in steerage the left field bleacher seats amid a sea of assholes raucous, drunken fans enjoying a Cubs game roasting in the oppressive heat in the warming glow of the autumn sun. I'd never sat in the bleachers before, and I have to say that the screaming, alcoholic morons fans who sit there are the most loud, obnoxious, juvenile and borderline retarded enthusiastic people I've ever watched a Cubs game with.

And two of them, sitting all shirtless and tattooed and festooned with peanuts dangling from their ears and nipples a row in front of us and about 10 people to our left, were kind of hot in a "the bar's closing in 15 minutes so I guess you'll do" kind of way.

These people -- even before they're drunk -- will yell anything that occurs to them at anyone who happens to be in their line of blurred vision. And whether they're clever or not, they'll often seek congratulations for their outbursts with self-aware guffaws accompanied by the international gesture for "Dude, I'm holding my hand in the air for you to slap it palm-to-palm in a gesture of pathologically unsocialized solidarity. So gimme five!"

Here is a small sampling of the things I learned from these people today:

These seats rock.
These seats suck.
That girl has a nice rack.
Dude, that's my beer.
(Cincinnati Reds Left Fielder Adam) Dunn sucks.
(Cincinnati Reds Left Fielder Adam) Dunn, you suck.
(Chicago Cubs Left Fielder Moises) Alou rocks.
(Chicago Cubs Left Fielder Moises) Alou! Over here! Wave at me!
Right field sucks.
(Unofficial Cubs Troubadour) Ronnie Woo Woo rocks.
(Cincinnati Reds Left Fielder Adam) Dunn sucks.
(Cincinnati Reds Left Fielder Adam) Dunn has herpes.
(Cincinnati Reds Left Fielder Adam) Dunn has a big butt.
Dude, you're scaring me.
Jesus, this game is taking forever.
Eleven fucking innings. And the score is still just 2-2.
You suck.
No, YOU suck.
No, YOU suck.
Asshole.

Injuries, massages and fake adjectives

Three friends -- all of whom are professional massage therapists -- have repeatedly offered me free massages during my marathon training. Naturally, I'd feel like a total mooch accepting their generous offers, so I haven't taken them up on it. Until Monday night, when I finally found myself being mercilessly prodded and pummelled by the always-hunky Robbie, who is even hotter and more muscular than he looked at IML*:



*IML = International Mr. Leather, an annual competition not unlike the Miss America pageant -- only with more body hair and fewer clogging numbers -- held every Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. Competitors and observers from all over the world come to parade around in their leather finery and huff testosterone-filled air as though it were airplane glue.

Anyway, back to Monday. Robbie threw all of his 200+ pounds at my IT bands, which didn't stand a chance. After an hour of intense work, I got up off the table with no pain for the first time since I locked up after my 20-mile run two weeks ago. Of course, the next morning, things were pretty much back to their initial levels of pain -- but for a couple glorious hours Monday night I was able to thank Robbie without wincing. (Does that sentence sound vaguely naughty? Do you think maybe we had sex? Or did I just buy him dinner? Aren't you dying to find out? Will these stupid questions ever end?)

Then today I got a free evaluation at AthletiCo, a totally cool physical therapy facility run by and for sports enthusiasts. Mike, the knowledgeable and experienced marathon runner/therapist, stretched and poked and wiggled my IT bands and my bad knee for a good 30 minutes -- completely FREE, mind you -- and 1) pronounced me able to run the marathon, 2) gave me some stretches and stabilizing excercises to do, 3) advised me what kinds of cardio I should do when I'm in too much pain to run, 4) offered a bunch of advice on the appropriate use of knee braces and 5) alleviated my fears about further injuries and subsequent marathonal failure.

So, in summary:
Robbie ROCKS.
AthletiCo ROCKS.
Marathonal is NOT A WORD.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Lookee what I just got!



A brand-spankin' new iMac G5, Baby! Right here on my desk.

And it's NICE.

(You may commence thinking lustful, envious thoughts.)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

What's on your TiVo Season Pass?

You can tell a lot about a guy by the trash he washes on TV -- and by the order he ranks his shows.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy How much do I love this show? It has gay people who are funny and clever (except for poor Jai) and who are the de facto experts on something that straight people strive for (except for poor Jai). It offers dramatic transformations of homes and wardrobes and personalities and lives. It sometimes features straight men crying. It sometimes features HOT straight men crying. And it does it all with love and humor. And even though it promotes some negative, frivolous gay stereotypes, it's a "reality" show where people don't yell at each other. And I have to respect that. And I've never missed an episode.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy UK Edition Even more fun than the US edition because 1) all the guys are hot (especially Dane) 2) they all talk funny 3) the screen sometimes offers UK-to-US dialect translations and 4) did I mention they're all hot?

Playing it Straight This trash-ee little "reality" dating show featured one woman and a bunch of male suitors, some of whom were secretly gay. It got canceled mid-season last year due to poor ratings, but I keep it on my Season Pass in the hopes that it comes back to life because I'm DYING to know how it turned out.

Will & Grace I'm losing interest in this show -- especially since that dreamy Harry Connick, Jr. left -- but for some reason I keep watching it.

The Apprentice I LOVE this show -- it's what I do every day at work, only times 50 -- with the added bonus of cameras and career-altering drama and telegenic people.

Joey I don't love it yet -- and I probably never will. But I'll hop on the early bandwagon. Because I'm a FOLLOWER.

Six Feet Under One of the most fascinating soap operas on TV. Especially because 1) the gay guys have the most stable relationship in this vast wasteland of matrimonial instability and 2) I dated a funeral director for 3 1/2 years.

Extreme Makeover I am so addicted to this show. And thanks to the miracle of TiVo, I can fast-forward through everything but the surgeries, the makeovers and the dramatic, life-altering reveals.

The Complex: Malibu I stopped watching when they evicted the hunky gay guys. There was too much yelling, the two most hateful couples made it to the final four and I totally lost interest. But I keep it on my Season Pass because my friend Bill is some kind of producer on it. (Sorry, Bill.)

South Park Screw you guys. I'm going home.

Amish in the City Trashy, yes. Exploitive? Only of the self-absorbed, staggeringly immature city kids. The Amish kids come off as pretty level-headed and intelligent. And this one has a smokin' hot bod. And some wicked scary teeth.

The Graham Norton Effect Funny, yes. But have you seen all the other shows I barely find the time to sit through? So I rarely watch this one.

Saturday Night Live ditto

Mad TV ditto

Family Guy Brilliant. Growing on me.

The Simpsons Can't talk. Eating.

Crossing Jordan A piss-poor Quincy, M.E. knockoff with some stop-you-in-your-tracks bad writing, special effects and acting. Yet still strangely compelling.

French in Action A French-education program on PBS filmed in the early ’80s -- with all the visual horrors those words conjure in your mind. Every. Last. One.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Another fascinating post about ... running

CHICAGO HALF MARATHON

The pix are in! The pix are in! And they're all right here.

(I never even saw the paparazzi hounding me on this race. But they were obviously there.)

And now there's actual photographic proof that I did the damn thing. There's also photographic proof that: 1) I was in a lot of pain and 2) I run like a girl.

Note the heroic stoicism in my eyes, though. You can even see it through my sunglasses.

Also note the old-lady stride I'm struggling to maintain at the finish line. You can almost see the pain radiating, cartoon-like, from my right hip and my right knee.

Also note how small I've become. ACK!


RUN-HIT WONDER

I ran this 10K last night, and the race was such an epic fuckup that the entire course should have been surrounded by crime-scene tape.

To wit:
• There were 10,000 registered runners. This fact we heard over and over and over ad nauseam from one of the "celebrity" drama-queen judges from "American Idol," who was struggling mightily to sound like an intelligent emcee for the event. I could have lived a full, satisfying life without ever occupying the same ZIP code as any of those self-important morons, and last night I got to hear one blather on and on and on in person before and after the race. Whee.

• There were about 20 people running the gear check -- which made for a 45-minute wait standing elbow-to-asshole in line with a large percentage of the abovementioned 10,000 runners and all their lumpy backpacks. Good thing I got there 50 minutes before the run. Too bad I really wanted to stretch before I took off running 6.2 miles on an injured knee and hip.

• They blocked off one lane of Lake Shore Drive for the leg of the race that was on the Drive. One lane. (I remind you: 10,000 runners.) And there were tons of cars whizzing by us in the adjacent lanes. And there was a fucking COP parked in our lane yelling at us not to stray into the traffic lane. (Note to stupid cops: We're not as dumb as you are. We don't run into obviously heavy traffic. And we know better than to park our cars in the middle of the only (and already heavily congested) designated runner lane. You suck and I hate you.)

• The finish-line food consisted of: water, apples and trail mix. (Food people: You suck and I hate you.)

On the Jake-isn't-always-an-angry-old-queen front, the entertainment aspect of the run was cool -- and it kept us runners motivated almost every step of the way. There were stages set up about every mile with one-hit bands from the ’80s rockin' hard as the runners cruised by. And there was a huge concert at the finish line featuring DEVO, who whipped it good.

On the Jake's-a-social-misfit front, though, I didn't recognize half the bands (Dramarama? General Public?), and I didn't recognize ANY of the songs they were playing. But I found endless amusement in the fact that this had to be the LAMEST gig these bands have ever played -- they were literally out in the middle of nowhere in the dark playing to a relatively sparse moving crowd that heard about 2 minutes of anything they did. Whee.

Now I'm back in recovery mode, with an ice pack around my knee and a huge (read: Elvis-sized) gold finisher medal just begging for a place to be displayed. Other than that hairy patch of chest peeking out of my unbuttoned shirt, I mean.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What are you doing Saturday night?

I know what I'll be doing: Singing two songs in a fund-raiser revue. In drag. As the handsome Miss Heidi Holes.

And you're invited to come!

The show is called Lipstick & Lyrics, and it features a bunch of large-boned women singing LIVE (regular drag queens just lip-synch like the common trash they are).

I'm doing two numbers: Everybody's Girl, which includes lyrics like "to reaffirm my status/it's absolutely gratis/to use my apparatus," and Maybe This Time, which may or may not include sex toys.

Here are all the details:

Lipstick & Lyrics
Saturday, September 25
Hydrate, 3458 N. Halstead
8:00: doors open for a hosted bar sponsored by Bacardi Rum
9:15: show
$10 donation (benefitting the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus)


My first number is early in the show, so be sure to get there on time. If you're lucky, I'll let you see the bra I just boldly bought right off the discount rack in front of a bunch of smiling women who thought I was shopping for lingerie for my wife or something. HA! JOKE'S ON THEM!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

ACCOUNT STATUS: DELINQUENT

NORTH SHORE AGENCY, INC.
A National Collection Agency
751 Summa Avenue • Westbury, N.Y. 11590


ACCOUNT STATUS: DELINQUENT


Dr Mr Jake _______,

We are a collection agency and our business is to collect. But we are also in the business of helping to resolve problems which (sic) occasionally arise between publications and their subscribers.

MEN’S HEALTH has informed us that you have not paid for your subscription. They would rather keep you as a satisfied subscriber than have to consider further collection notifications.

Send your payment in the amount of $19.97 and we will report that payment to our client. Your account will be cleared and you will receive the remaining issues in your original subscription.

Mail your check, payable to North Shore Agency, in the enclosed envelope.

THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT AND ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE.

Sincerely,

E.J. Sullivan
Collection Mgr.


* * * * * * * * * *


FROM:
Jake ________
Disgruntled Consumer
1234 NoFo Road
Chicago, IL 60600

TO:
E.J. Sullivan
North Shore Agency, Inc.
751 Summa Avenue
Westbury, N.Y. 11590

Mr. or Ms. Sullivan:

A collection agency. For a canceled magazine subscription. Wow.

So here’s the deal:
• I mailed my free-issue-of-Men’s-Health response card a couple months ago.
• I got my free issue and quickly remembered exactly why I let my previous subscription expire (puerile heterocentrist copywriting, clumsily homoerotic photography (to keep both subscriber demographics happy, no doubt), that jaw-droppingly-stupid “Ask Jimmy the Bartender” column, etc. etc. etc.).
• I politely mailed my “please cancel” notice when the bill came.
• I politely mailed yet another “please cancel” notice when the first threatening letter came.
• I figured if the unskilled laborers at Men’s Health can’t manage the simple task of data entry when it comes to canceling subscriptions, it’s really not my problem if they keep wasting postage trying to contact me about it. So I simply threw away the next five or so invoices that cluttered up my mailbox.

And then your letter arrives, full of vaguely ominous threats rendered in all caps and 36-point bold Arial. (Brrrr! Hear that? It’s my spine tingling!)

So now it’s come to this. I’ll type this part slowly so you can read it:

I’ve canceled this subscription TWICE. I’m now writing you a third time to cancel yet again. You people never spring for postage. Do you KNOW how much stamps cost these days?

And here’s the important part. Pay attention. (Just a few more sentences. You can do it!)

I have ended this business-consumer relationship in accordance with the terms of your free trial offer. I owe you nothing. I will pay you nothing.

You are hereby commanded to register me as a canceled (and increasingly disgruntled) subscriber. In every database you have. Every. Last. Database. And you are hereby forbidden to contact me on this matter again. Got it? Good. Now go drink your milk and wash up for your nap.

Sincerely,


Jake _______

P.S. “They would rather keep you as a satisfied subscriber than have to consider further collection notifications.” Amen to THAT! Nobody wants to suffer the unmitigated horror of further collection notifications. Nobody.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

My first half marathon

I did it! I did it!

And now you can relive the glory with me, mile by mile:

2:00 am
Wide awake. For no particular reason. The alarm will go off at 6:00. Which means I get to run 13.1 miles on four hours’ sleep. Assuming I can get to sleep. ACK!

6:30 am
I’m driving down Lake Shore Drive toward the Museum of Science and Industry, waaaaaay on the other end of town. The race starts in an hour. I feel pretty good, considering I’ve had four hours of sleep and my tendonitis has prevented me from doing any training for a week. But I have a Power Bar in my gut and prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs in my veins, and I’m ready to rumble!

The starting line
The race will wind through parts of Hyde Park to Lake Shore Drive, run up the Drive a couple miles then turn around and retrace itself back to where it started, eventually turning the start line into the finish line. Unfortunately, whoever put up the banner with “start” on one side and “finish” on the other did it BACKWARD—meaning we’ll start under the finish sign and finish under the start sign.

The mind boggles.

Mile 1/2
We’ve barely reached the point where the crowd spaces itself out and we can start running at our regular individual paces. Suddenly a cop with a bullhorn drives by, sternly warning us to stay on the left side of the road because the race doubles back this way at the end and the early finishers will need to get through.

Right. Because even though the best half-marathon winners do 13.1 miles in a little over an hour, we’ve managed to seed our race with runners who can cover that distance in FIVE MINUTES.

Obviously, this was also the guy in charge of hanging the start/finish banner.

Mile 2
A female runner makes a pretty big scene of working her way across the pack from the left side of the road to the right side and heads for the bushes. Of course, we all follow her with our eyes to make sure she’s not hurt—and our runners’ altruism is rewarded with a shot of her squatting indelicately behind a tree, spraying her unused Gatorade all over the ground.

There are port-a-potties like every 10 feet along the course, and she has to pee behind a tree (actually, only kind of behind a tree) like a common housecat. Classy.

Mile 3
Hyde Park—at least the parts of Hyde Park where we’re running—is amazingly lush and verdant and beautiful. There are trees and rolling hills and landscaping and well-maintained roads and even a giant gilded statue of a benevolent woman holding implements whose symbolism is lost on me (all of which I’m guessing is left over from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, which initially developed this area of the city and gave us the glorious building that now houses the Museum of Science & Industry). I should really come down here more often.

Mile 4
We’re out of the aforementioned lush neighborhoods and pounding our way north on Lake Shore Drive.

An old man running in front of me lets out a mighty grapefruit fart—juicy and multi-sectioned—without even looking around to see if anyone is behind him. Sheesh! Everyone knows the cardinal rule of run farting is to at least give the impression of discretion.

Wasn’t Impression of Discretion an ’80s hair band?

Mile 5
I pass a woman standing on the side of the road with a hand-lettered sign that says, “Run Tamara Run!” I want to stop and tell her that the race is TODAY, but I don’t think she’d get it.

Mile 6
Um … this mile is kind of a blur. But I’m pretty sure I did it.

Halfway mark
59:38 on the timer. Which means almost exact nine-minute miles. I’d originally hoped to beat this pace—the pace I always do—but I’m just thankful my tendons are so graciously allowing me to run at all today. I’ll take the nine-minute miles.

Mile 7
The turnaround on Lake Shore Drive. A kids’ drum corps is pounding out a funky cadence beside the road to keep us motivated. The air is warm and summery with a hint of fall in it. The trees around us are just starting to turn color. I have flashbacks to my late-summer marching band rehearsals in high school. I’m soooo glad I’m not carrying my trombone at the moment.

Mile 8
My knee hurts. Bad. And not in a what-you-should-expect-after-8-miles kind of way. But my IT band and my hip flexor are still pretty pain-free.

Mile 8.5
There are faint footprints in the concrete on Lake Shore Drive—a ghostly signature from one of the myriads of forgotten workers who’ve built and paved this road over the decades. It’s not something you’d ever see from your car, which makes it kind of a secret hello from one of the privileged few who get to traverse this tiny little section of the city on foot to another.

Mile 9
An egg-shaped man passes me at a pretty healthy pace. He’s running kind of funny, though, and I notice he’s taking short, rapid strides using only his toes and the balls of his feet. He looks, quite frankly, like a mincy little queen. Or a victim of Japanese foot binding.

And he’s kicking my ass. I choose to find this amusing.

Mile 10
I hear “Hi, Jake!” as familiar-looking guy passes me and smiles. I say hi back—and once he’s out of conversational reach, I remember he’s one of my ex-boyfriend’s friends. I haven’t seen him in two years. I barely recognized him, but he was able to recognize me and remember my name—from behind. I suck.

Mile 11
My IT band is NOT happy. In fact it is all but literally screaming in pain. I press my fingers into my right hip and go the next mile as though I’m trying to encourage my fellow runners to join me in a rousing chorus of “I’m a Little Teapot.”

Mile 12
An open letter to the people who clap and whoop and cheer and hold signs along the routes of long races:
You people ROCK. You rock more than porno sex. And Sibelius’ Second Symphony. And the lobby of the Palmer House. And hot guys in jeans and flip-flops. And springy new running shoes. And Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. And those little molten chocolate soufflĂ© desserts served with vanilla-bean ice cream and perhaps some sprinkles of candied ginger. I love you.

Mile 13
The home stretch. I am NOT feeling so good (physically, that is—I’m emotionally still in the game) and I probably look like a horse that needs to be shot. People are cheering and whooping along the side of the road and the runners are jockeying for space to do their final sprints. I’m just hoping my leg doesn’t fall off and cause a scene.

The finish line
Nobody got the sign turned around, so I finish my epic journey under a yellow banner that clearly says START. I’m just so happy to be done that I cross the finish line, let the nice chip lady cut the timing chip off my shoe and limp over to something sturdy so I can stretch my IT band without falling over. About five minutes later, I suddenly realize I never looked at my time.

Thankfully, the miracle of the Internet has it for me by the end of the day: 2:03:13, which is my chip time—as opposed to 2:03:50, which is my final time. (Shouldn’t my chip time be my official time? Anybody?) So my final pace is about 9.4-minute miles, which is not bad for a crippled old horse (I almost typed “whorse” there for some reason … hmmm …) who hasn’t run in seven days.

Post-race food
Real races reward you with tasty, sugary treats and other fast-acting carbs: cookies, granola bars, bananas, sports drinks, more cookies. Not here. The cop who hung the start/finish banner was also in charge of the post-race food. Which is why we get dinner rolls (just one!), flavored sparkling water (just one can!) and potato chips (just one bag!). ACK! I challenge you to find me one runner who craves—or can even choke down—potato chips after two hours of running.

Aside from the friend of the ex-boyfriend—whom I can’t find anyway—I know NOBODY at the race. So I eat what little there is that isn’t chips and sparkling water, stretch for another 20 minutes, and limp to my car.

And when I get home, I sleep like the DEAD. The very, very happy dead.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Warming up for Sunday, me hearties

ONE

My first Chicago Half Marathon kicks off tomorrow morning at 7:30, tendons willing. After this week's Monday Of Pain and a week of rest and stretching (and good drugs!), things seem to have calmed down to the point where I think I'll be OK.

If you hear a scream worthy of Greek tragedy echoing across the land around 7:40 am (CT), you'll know things turned out differently.


TWO

Talk Like A Pirate Day kicks off tomorrow the moment you wake up.

If you need any help, I leave you with the lyrics to the theme song from THE BEST DISNEY RIDE EVER:

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We kindle and char, inflame and ignite,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
We burn up the city, we're really a fright,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We're rascals, scoundrels, villans, and knaves,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
We're devils and black sheep, really bad eggs,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We're beggars and blighters, ne'er-do-well cads,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.
Aye, but we're loved by our mommies and dads,
Drink up, me hearties, yo ho.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Dating exponentially

What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul.

What does a gay man bring on a second date? What second date?

Every stereotype-driven joke has a cruel nugget of truth to it—which makes the following announcement all the more amazing: I had three dates last night. With the same man.

While you all catch your breath and recover from the shock of falling off your seductively firm buttocks at that news, let me back up a bit: One of the benefits (if you’re one of those cheery simpletons who can see the silver lining in every painful cloud) of getting tendonitis during marathon training season is that you suddenly have a week or so of evenings free. Which means you can finally do something about the backlog of invitations for drinks you’ve put off so you could instead run and sweat all alone every night of the summer.

You see, I’d been chatting up this fella on Friendster for quite a while. He had an interesting profile, a sunny disposition, a cultured worldview … and a devastatingly handsome mug. As an added bonus, he scored high in the willing-to-write-long-and-interesting-emails compulsory events in the Dating Jake Olympics.

So we decided to meet for drinks last night after work. And WOW. He was more handsome in person than in his pictures. And he made great arm candy conversation at our first stop on our Night of Endless Dates: Bandera, a great little restaurant/bar that overlooks Michigan Avenue and offers a fabulous dark-oak-and-stone ambience and a jazzy piano-bass-and-drums soundtrack.

Our conversation was so effortless and so frequently punctuated with laughter, in fact, that our first two hours totally flew by. (And I chugged more Pepsis in those two hours than I’d consumed the entire summer. Urp.)

Early revelations in the first date:
• We’d both gone to the University of Iowa at the same time.
• We’d traveled in some of the same circles while there.
He’d dated my roommate. (You’d think I’d remember a man this fun and interesting and freakin’ hot hanging around with my dorky college roommate. But then again you’d think (or I’d hope, at least) he’d remember me back. So I guess we’re even on that one.)

After two hours, we decided we were pretty hungry, so we headed down the street to Big Bowl for some Asian cookin’ and a lot more spirited conversation, and then we meandered up to the Oak Street neighborhood because he unexpectedly had to have a short meeting with a client. (No, not a drug client. He has a legitimate job related to the industry I’m in, so I can vouch for his story.) And ever since he’d found out he had to meet up with this client in a bar at 9 pm he’d been dropping hints that maybe I could hang around and we could continue our date afterward. Which I was all for.

So I happily plopped myself down in a nearby Barnes & Noble with a New Yorker and a cup of bland cocoa and entertained myself while he raked in some cash for his company at the bar across the street. And when he and his disarmingly cute grin showed up at my table an hour later, I declared enough time had passed that we were officially on our second date.

But it was 10 pm and we didn’t know where we should go. A bar would be too loud for more conversation. A restaurant wouldn’t satisfy the particular hungers we were both feeling. And a romantic trip to the windy, chilly lakefront would no doubt draw our well-shaved nuts (not that I knew that about him for sure, but c’mon—we’re both gay) deep inside our well-toned abdomens. But I knew I had an evening of Must-See TV queued up on my TiVo, so I suggested we go to my place to (ahem) watch TV.

Which is exactly what we did, sitting side-by-side on my couch without even the remotest of unseemly physical interaction between us. And before I knew it, he’d fallen asleep and missed half of Joey. (Which made him the luckiest person in the room.)

And when he jolted himself awake, I decided that since he’d just enjoyed a refreshing nap we were now on our THIRD date of the night. Even though it was almost midnight.

The relentless cuteness between us never let up, so I’ll spare you the saccharine details of the rest of our (completely chaste though thoroughly enjoyable) evening, which lasted much longer than prudence would normally allow on a school night. (That prudence is a pushy bitch.)

But I will leave you with a few high-pointers he scored on his Boyfriend Aptitude Test:

• Extremely close to his family
• Well-traveled
• Animated conversationalist
• Not above scouring sale racks and resale shops for fun clothes
• Impish grin matching an impish personality
• Ready laugh, used often
• Interesting career
• Slavish attention to me, frequently involving the word "hot"
• Killer smile
• Killer other physical attributes
• Ass tattoo of Rush Limbaugh clubbing a baby seal*

And this morning, after a trip to the doctor for some fresh tendonitis drugs and my final hep-A vaccine, I actually ran into him on the bus. Which—if we adhere to the extremely random date parameters from the evening before—means we’ve already had four dates and we’re now planning our FIFTH. Which may just happen tonight. :)

*I made that one up. (I never even saw his ass, remember?) But I wanted something scandalous to report here. So you’d all talk about us and stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Survey says ...

So three years ago I get this notice from the Census Bureau telling me I’ve been chosen to participate in some survey, and some guy will be contacting me in the near future to make it happen. Fine, I think. Surveys are kinda fun. Bring it on.

Then the guy calls me and tells me it’s three hours long and he has to come to my house to do it—all of which sounds irritating and intrusive, so I politely decline his invitation. But he insists, implying that the government doesn’t give me the option of saying no, Comrade, but he’ll come to my office after work some night if that will be more convenient.

Sure, I guess.

The coming-to-the-office part makes it seem a little more safe anyway, so I acquiesce and eventually find myself sitting in one of our conference rooms with a creepy-looking government employee answering an ENDLESS series of increasingly personal questions about everything from my family history to the racial makeup of my friends to what’s on my rap sheet to my drinking and drug habits.

But I answer the questions, feeling all smug that I have black friends and a squeaky-clean record and no unseemly habits and parents who never hit each other. And the guy finally leaves, but not without rewarding me with a Census Bureau-logo ruler. Three hours for a friggin’ RULER! (I still have it somewhere, in case you want to drop by and see how they measure linear space at the Census Bureau.)

Fast-forward to last week. Another notice arrives in the mail. There’s another survey we’d like you to participate in, Comrade. And apparently it will happen every three years FOR LIFE. Lucky me.

Only now, I’m told a little more about it: It’s designed to identify correlations between substance abuse and evolving lifestyle indicators like health, family, criminal records, traumatic events, etc. And this year I get $40 for starting the survey and $40 for finishing it.

So last night I started the whole process over—only we did it in my house, and they sent a different creepy-looking government employee.

And either I just didn’t remember the scope of the questions from three years ago or they got waaaaay more probing. Again, I was all smug in dismissing every question about drugs and alcohol with a curt “never”—the answer I also gave to every question about being neglected as a child and being the victim of violent crime and endangering other people’s lives by driving recklessly.

But after a while, the questions started making me sad. And then sick. Before you were 18, how often did your father hit your mother? Have you ever assaulted someone with the intent of causing serious injury? Were you ever sexually molested by a stranger? By someone you trusted? Have you ever gone more than a month without having somewhere to live? Have you ever done or said something hurtful to intimidate someone into letting you have your way? Have you ever taken sexual advantage of someone who was under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Have you ever taken prescription drugs that weren’t yours? Have you ever been witness to a terrorist attack or violent crime that included casualties? Have you ever unexpectedly stumbled upon a dead body? Were you ever intentionally injured by a stranger in a public place?

The questions kept coming and coming and coming, and it occurred to me that somewhere in this country there are people who could answer yes to them. And odds are, if they could answer yes to one or two horrible things, they probably could answer yes to a lot more. I interrupted the numbing barrage to ask the census guy if he’d ever had people answer yes to any of the more horrible questions. He emotionlessly confirmed they had and plunged right in to the next question for me.

And some of them I had to answer yes to. Have you ever lost a friend or loved one in a terrorist attack? Have you ever been verbally harassed for being gay? Have you ever suffered from a panic attack?

Ugh. I should have said no about the panic attacks. They were all a part of the exciting world we call social anxiety disorder, a little mental prison I inadvertently locked myself in for most of my adult life. I’d get panicky and physically ill in situations like crowded bars and parties (especially parties), so I went out of my way to avoid them. Until last year, when I finally freed myself (surprisingly easily) through a handful of sessions with a therapist. And now I try to attend every social event and party I'm invited to so I can accomplish some way-overdue catching up on my social networking. And maybe find me a freakin' boyfriend. But I digress.

My point is that saying yes to that one question about panic attacks opened the door to a labyrinth of more specific questions about them: frequency, duration, severity, symptoms, delayed reactions, effects on my behavior, embarrassment, etc. etc. etc. And by the time we’d gotten back to the rest of the questions, we’d spent an inordinate amount of time blowing the panic attack thing waaaaaaay out of proportion. Which made me extremely thankful that I didn’t have to answer yes to any of the other questions. It would have literally added hours to an already-too-long interview. And it would totally have made me miss Queer Eye.

So the survey ends. I get my 80 bucks. The creepy-looking government employee leaves. And I immediately call my parents to thank them for things a child should never have to specifically thank his parents for: Raising me in a loving, stable home. Shielding me from the horrors that obviously befall tons of other kids. Giving me the kind of worldview that makes me able to appreciate everything I have. Moving out of an all-white neighborhood when I was young so I could go to an integrated junior high school. Never hitting each other.

Monday, September 13, 2004

SHIT FUCK DAMN PISS HELL

So I get up at 6:00 and run my 20 miles Saturday morning. I survive, and I actually feel pretty good afterward. I stretch repeatedly throughout the day -- and the rest of the weekend for that matter. I proudly limp to an art showcase thingie on Saturday night with Bill and casually work my epic accomplishment into random conversations with people (most of whom are coworkers and many of whom are fellow marathoners) -- and I bask in suitable levels of praise all night.

I'm fine all day Sunday ... though I blow off the Bucktown 5K Sunday morning because -- DUH -- I'm in waaaay too much pain to run another three miles only 24 hours after pounding out 20. Besides, I could injure myself.

I go to the first chorus rehearsal of the season Sunday night and end up at Sidetrack with some friends afterward. Again, casually working the 20-mile thing into random conversations all night (hey, I earned every bit of praise I can squeeze out of this) and all the while treating my legs and hips with care so as not to aggravate any of the minor aches and pains that are never subtle about announcing their ever-present presence.

I tumble into bed and sleep a long, restful, profound slumber.

And when I wake up this morning, it's back. The searing pain in my right hip flexor that killed last year's marathon dreams almost exactly a year ago. It's back. It also hurts where my IT band connects to my outer hip. I have a VERY noticeable limp. It hurts to stand. It hurts to sit. It hurts to stretch.

It hurts to think I've lost yet another four-plus months of training to an injury I've been excruciatingly careful to avoid.

It hurts.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Running Verse

Six a.m.
Incessant buzzing.
Sweet sleep no more.
Yawn and stretch and try to come to life.
The inner soundtrack is already playing.

My longest training run
stretches out 20 miles ahead of me.
Part excitement. Part dread.
I'm up early to get it all done
before the late-morning heat
has a chance to melt my resolve.

New socks. New shoes.
I unlock my hamstrings
and gently ask my IT bands
to give me four hours
without any trouble.

I chug a Gatorade.
I choke down an energy bar.
Nothing like grit and chemicals
to start your day.

I fill my pockets with Power Gel.
Some ID. Just in case.
A twenty. Just in case.
SPF 45 on my nose and shoulders
and my goddamn love handles.
One last pee.
Perch my sunglasses on my head
for later.
And I'm out the door.

It's cooler than I'd anticipated.
A welcome surprise
that calms my apprehensions
and challenges me to win
the race against the thermometer.

My journey begins.

Mile 1.
There's new gravel along the path.
Sparkling white, even in the shade.
A blank canvas
upon which to tell the story
of my epic achievements today.
Assuming I make it.

I find my groove,
I settle into my zone
and start enjoying the run.
Daybreak. If you'd only believe
and let it shine, shine shine ...

I really wish I could control my inner playlist.

Mile 3.
The early hours
are for runners.
I encounter endless parades
of training groups
plodding silently along the path.
Bootcamps in an army of hope.

Mile 5.
Stop to pee.
The running association and the shoe store
have tables of free Gatorade along the path.
I gulp. I thank.
I keep going.

Mile 7.
The beach by Navy Pier
is set up for a swimming event.
Or perhaps a triathlon.
I don't stop to ask which.

Mile 9.
I've never run this far south.
Uncharted territory for me.
A straight stretch of path
between the lake and the Drive
shaded by beautiful,
abundant,
blessed
trees.

It occurs to me
these gently swaying trees
might make a good closing line
to a poem about running
that I could post on my blog.
Nah.

Half a mile later
I'm at the hill
behind the ice cream stand
by Shedd Aquarium
where my niece and nephew
and their cousins
rolled and giggled in the grass
just a few weeks earlier
while the adults sat by and talked,
reveling in the beauty of the day.
I smile and keep going.

Mile 10.
My turnaround.
It hasn't even gotten hot enough
to take my shirt off.
I'm gonna make it.

Mile 12.
Another free Gatorade station.
Another friendly hello from a volunteer.
Another reason to love Chicago.

Mile 14.
I don't know how Pheidippides—
dispatched to Athens in 490 B.C.
with news of the victory at Marathon—
made his run through the desert
without custom-fitted shoes,
Gatorade and BodyGlide.
But I'm thankful I didn't have to run
history's first marathon in his place.
Everything today is thoroughly modern!
(Finally! A show tune!)

Mile 16.
I take the optional path
through the park on the other side of the Drive.
Just another diversion
in the race to keep my mind
one step ahead
of the pains in my lower regions.

Mile 18.
The non-runners are up.
Regular people enjoing the lakefront trail.
Walking, biking, blading.
With no idea
what I'm about to accomplish.

Mile 20.
I round the bend along the gravel path
and gasp.
The lake stretches calm and peaceful to the horizon.
A rough stone wall separates us.
Serenity.

Eighth-mile home stretch.
Too sore to sprint,
too excited to let the moment go uncelebrated.
I gallop home
with all the grace
of a drunken camel.
Daybreak ...
I've musically come full-circle.

I cross my finish line.
Triumphant. Alone.
I did it.

In the breeze
the trees applaud quietly.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Who from my labors rest

Last April, when I was a "Xanadu" dancer backing up a fabulous drag queen in the always spectacular Who's That Girl?, one of the other drag queen's choreographers saw me perform and asked me to be a backup dancer in the far more prestigious Miss Continental Pageant over Labor Day weekend.

Flattered beyond description and thrilled that I'd get to work with one of Chicago's leading dancer/choreographers, I of course screamed said yes and ran home to put it in my calendar.

The choreographer and I kept in touch over the summer, but as Labor Day approached I realized I'd never heard another word from him about doing the show. I finally called him last Tuesday to see what was up/when rehearsals were/etc. And he said: "Oh, your drag queen dropped out."

So were ya gonna call and tell me, buddy?

I was very disappointed and more than a little frustrated, but -- thinking strategically that I wouldn't want to alienate him and blow any future chances at doing more of this go-go boy stuff (which is TONS of fun) -- I played it cool and started making friendly small talk with him.

And after about the 10th time he turned our conversation to the topic of me fucking him, I realized that perhaps I was being strung along only for a sexual encounter that just wasn't going to happen. So I cordially ended our call and turned to face an ugly new reality: I'd kept my Labor Day weekend completely open for the show and now I had nothing to do. No parties. No barbecues. No weekend getaways. Nothing.

Sigh.

But then I started thinking about all the unfinished projects on my to-do list, and I decided to tackle them all. So -- big breath -- here's what I accomplished this weekend:

• I finally stenciled the bathroom, and it looks hella cool. The pattern is this swirls-and-squiggles thing that looks part Keith Haring and part Aztec and totally sweet marching joyfully around the tops of my walls.

• When I realized how wicked handsome the chocolate-brown-and-sparkly-silver stencil paint combination looked on my walls, I used it to repaint my new cubey candle shelves that Jeff made me. So now the bathroom has thematic continuity.

• I headed down to Fleet Feet on Sunday to get a new pair of running shoes so they'd be all broken in in time for the marathon. While I was there I also got padded running socks, BodyGlide to protect against unsightly chafing and a FREE moisture-wicking shirt available to every shoe-buying customer who's running the Chicago Marathon. I swear, the Fleet Feet staff is so friendly and so knowledgeable, I'd buy my crack and hookers there if they'd let me.

• Since I was in the neighborhood, I popped over to the new CB2 to look for a shelfy thing for my piano music. I not only found something I kinda liked, but I fell in love with the store's whole aesthetic. Now I desperately want to remodel my entire house in Post-Ironic Sturdy/Industrial Danish Modern -- mostly so I can casually set out troughs of fake grass and mean it.

• While I had my credit cards out, I wandered over to The Container Store so I could stare at all the crap organizers they sell and rub myself longingly. (Is their catalog little more than organizer porn or am I just writing this sentence so I could introduce the phrase organizer porn to the masses?)

• I didn't find any organizer stuff I wanted, but I did find some brushed steel box shelves on sale that would look super sweet in my bedroom. For the last three years I've had framed album covers of "A Chorus Line" and "Evita" and a framed poster of "Les MisĂ©rables" hanging over my bed, which has done very little to persuade the endless parade of muscular blond men with melon-like buttocks and thick, kissable lips in my bedroom that I'm not a bottom. I've been thinking for months that they (the show tune art, not the muscular blond men with melon-like buttocks and thick, kissable lips) needed to go, and these box shelves were exactly the kick in the bedpan that I needed to make that happen.

• When I got everything home, I realized I'd need more than a few empty box shelves to complete my over-the-bed transformation, so I dug through my box of unhung knickknacks and found a few other things to hang artfully with my shelves. I also found a bunch of crap I'd been saving that looked much better in the dumpster.

• I also decided to prime and paint the extra cubey candle shelves from the bathroom with silver stencil paint and incorporate them into my over-the-bed tableau. (I know -- it sounds like I'm hanging an awful lot over my bed and I'm clearly in danger of having things fall on my head as I sleep overdecorating, but trust me: I'm an enthusiastic disciple of Less Is More. So it's gonna look cool. Play your cards right and you just may be invited over to see it. Plus, I have a pretty big bed, so there's plenty of room for visitors who compliment my decorating skills to romp between the sheets with me hanging things with judicious restraint.)

• While I had the primer out, I decided I should also prime and paint the ugly white conduit that was installed around my bedroom walls when the building got cable a couple years ago.

• While I had the furniture pulled out, I realized I really should thoroughly vacuum along the baseboards in the entire house. After all, it had been 3 1/2 years, and the dust buffaloes were starting to herd.

• And since the house was pulled apart in every direction, I also decided it was the perfect time to do a bunch of laundry as well and let it hang to dry from every available surface.

Whew. As of this writing, some things aren't totally finished -- that stencil paint takes longer to dry out than Rush Limbaugh -- but I slept a very satisfied sleep last night knowing that it didn't really matter that my crappy friends didn't invite me to any of their crappy Labor Day barbecues. Because I had important decorating things to do.

(OK, I did go to Jeremy's last-minute get-together on Sunday night and a nice last-minute dinner with Bob, David and Steve on Monday night. But the operative words here are "last-minute." I am a Boy of Destiny! I want my social life scheduled in advance!)

Monday, September 06, 2004

Double standard

Jeremy threw a nice little Labor Day party last night. About 10 of us from the chorus sat around talking and drinking and singing along with CDs for a couple hours, and then we all headed out the door to walk to the new sports bar that just opened up about five blocks from his house.

We had barely all gotten out his door and onto the sidewalk when two black women standing at a window on the third floor across the street saw us and yelled "FAGGOTS!" down at us.

Now, whether or not they could tell we were gay -- hell, whether or not we actually were all gay -- is of no importance compared to the fact that these women knew it was perfectly OK to yell "FAGGOTS!" at a sizeable crowd of complete strangers in a population-dense neighborhood and that they would suffer no repercussions. No significant reaction from us. No threats of violence from other gay people in the vicinity. No horrified stares from their more civilized neighbors. Nothing.

And they were right. We just ignored them and kept on walking.

But had we yelled "NIGGERS!" back at them -- which none of us would do, of course, though we would be perfectly within our rights for doing so, and it would be the most logical retort in an insult war since all we knew about them was that they were black (and obviously combative assholes) -- we could very well have set off a scene that could realistically involve angry neighbors pouring out in the streets, threats and/or acts of violence, police involvement, and maybe even coverage on the next night's news.

Why?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

It's not the humidity. It's definitely the heat.

Give me a day that's cool and overcast with air as thick and moist as unset Jell-O® (mmm ... Jell-O®) and I can run for hours and hours and miles and miles ... as I so effortlessly deomonstrated on last weekend's 17-mile jaunt.

But throw in a bit of sun and some bell-bottomed, afro-poofed temperatures (that would be in the 70s, for those of you not able to follow my Jake-must-have-gotten-dropped-on-his-head-a-lot metaphors) and I become sweaty, gaspy, plodding and pink as an Easter ham (mmm ... ham).

Which is exactly what happened today. It was cool and overcast when I took off for what was supposed to be an epic 20-mile excursion, but when I hit the 4-mile mark -- at the beginning of a three-mile stretch along the lakefront with NO trees or shade of any kind -- the friggin' sun burst forth and started frying all my plans for glory.

And when I got to the 17-mile turnaround, I decided it was best to cut my losses and head home without my 20-mile prize.

And then I got all heat-strokey. Again. Long story short: I ended up running about 14 or 15 miles and walking the rest.

Of course, the clouds rolled back in when I was about 3 miles from home. But by then I was beaten into submission and my legs had started to tighten up. And I started feeling like I was developing toe blisters to boot. So my ceremonial final-eighth-mile sprint home probably looked more tragic than triumphant.

And I had been such a good boy last night. They kicked us out of the office early yesterday to get the holiday weekend par-tay started, but I'd been fighting a horrible sore throat all week so I headed home and took a nice long nap that ended up lasting four hours.

I felt much better when I woke up, thank you for asking, but I wasn't quite all there. So I decided to lie low, watching TV and playing around online, and then I slept for another 9 hours and woke up all better, thanks for asking again.

So with an all-better sore throat and epic levels of sleep under my belt, I expected to hit the trail and pound out those 20 miles as easy as pie. But it was not meant to be. Curse you, perfidious running gods!

Mmmm ... pie.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Paving the way for Generation Jake

I recently stumbled on a Web site that listed the most popular baby names since 1990. And in the boys' column, Jake—without fail—has been in the top 5 ... often in the #1 spot.

Which means, of course, that I wasn't actually a complete antisocial freak throughout my childhood. I was just ahead of my time.

The other boys in my class had unobtrusive, coolly familiar names like Mike or Scott or Brad or Dave or Eric. (Hi, guys!)

But I was Jake. I was Jake every single day of those all-important formative years when your self-esteem is linked directly to having a plain-old, common name—especially one that doesn't rhyme with everything. When it came time to single out kids for ridicule, everyone else was called either dork or geek. Not me. I got my very own custom-tailored (one might call it high couture) nom de moquerie: Jake the Rake that Baked a Cake and threw it in a Lake.

Yes, it was dumb. No, it wasn't really a specific insult. (Yes, I'm 36 now so I should probably stop dwelling on it.) But the nickname stuck. Probably because it had that rhyming iambic lilt—and enough heft to it that it continued to ring in my ears long after my peers found other kids to tease.

Dad wasn't much help either. He coined his own loving nickname for me: Jakerino Dumb-Dumb. (I know. Dad never was much of a poet.) And my ex—who's been my ex now for more than four years—still calls me Jakerino to this day.

Anyway, I persevered through the '70s, '80s and '90s, blazing a trail of social acceptance and paving the way for Jakes everywhere. I even helped foster in an era of great Jakes in literature—like the ones in Sixteen Candles and Melrose Place. Woof.



Despite all the aforementioned social traumas, the name Jake has served me well. Until it started spreading around the country faster than Rush Limbaugh at an all-you-can-eat buffet, it was unique enough that nobody ever had to ask me, "I'm sorry … what was your name again?"

And that rhyming part helped me learn to read. As soon as I mastered the art of hanging around in front of the refrigerator, my folks bought those brightly colored 2-inch magnetic letters and kept them at kid height on the refrigerator door for me. Once I learned how to spell Jake with them, other useful words, like little rhymed bretheren, were soon to follow. (See that stupid nickname above if you need examples.)

Armed with my powerful slient E vocabulary, I went on to beat my two cousins in the all-important typing event of the family's unofficial—though not unprestigious—Baby Races.

You might say my illustrious writing career was hunt-and-pecked to life with these immortal words on my mom's old Smith-Corona: Cake I like.

I still do. It's the official food of Generation Jake.

It happened again!

Last month I stumbled on a print ad I wrote for Citi in -- gasp! -- Newsweek.

Then yesterday I was clicking through theonion.com -- the freakin' Onion Dot Com! -- and there, flashing seductively before my very eyes, was a banner ad for Citi that I not only wrote but concepted and more or less art directed (but not, for the record, designed) as well! (Do you KNOW how famous this makes me? Yeah, I know: not at all. But it gives me a pretty huge thrill nonetheless.)

If I hadn't been so surprised by randomly stumbling on this ad, I might have had the presence of mind to grab the source link so I could display it here. About a million revisits to theonion.com later, I've decided the ad was running as part of a very short media buy, because the damn thing hasn't popped up again. So I don't get to show it to you.

But if you're scrolling through any Web sites aimed at college students in the coming weeks and months and you see a Citi banner ad that uses a Space Invaders vocabulary to sell a credit card with a $0 intro APR and a $50 statement credit with your first purchase ... THAT'S MINE!

(I also wrote the jump page it takes you to. For your continued reading pleasure. Apparently there is no end to the contributions I have to make in the world of selling credit cards to poor people.)