Monthly Archives: May 2010

Cover Story

We have all heard the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  I actually used it myself  just the other day.  I had received my passport in the mail, and as per the instructions, I double-check all the information.  I quickly discovered that my date of birth was incorrect, so I called the 800 number to ask what to do.  I was instructed to bring my passport downtown to the Kluczynski Federal Building and fill out a form, and that a corrected passport would then be sent out to me.  I did as I was instructed, and as I entered the building I was greeted by security and metal detectors.  Of course.  Because in this day and age, we can’t be too careful.  So I waited in line, put my coat and the contents from my pocket including keys and a cell phone in the tray and proceeded through the detector. 

BEEP…BEEP…BEEP

The young lady on the other side of the detector told me to remove my belt and then proceed through again.

BEEP…BEEP…BEEP

Having set the machine off twice, I am now told to step aside for a more detailed search.  The young woman follows, and she waves the wand up and down my body, and each time it beeps as it passes my right pants pocket.  I reach in and find a quarter.  The young lady smiles, but then tells me she still needs to check a few things.  She pats down my arms and waist and then asks me to lift my pants leg to check my socks and shoes.  As I do, she is stunned by the presence of almost a dozen Celtic style tattoos on my right leg.

Oh my God.  I would never have expected that!

That is when that little phrase from all of our childhoods crept across my lips.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Everybody has said it.  And we understand the meaning behind the phrase.  The only problem is we really have no other choice.  Without actually reading the book, how else are we going to judge it?  Sure, you can take recommendations from friends, or read reviews, or stick with certain authors you like, but when it comes right down to it, how do you judge a book you have yet to read?  If you are like me, you look at the cover.  You read the dust jacket.  If there is a picture of a long-haired Fabio type guy riding a horse on a beach with a young scantily clad heroine next to him, I am not going to give that book a second look.  If there is a gun or a knife with spots of blood on the cover, it is more likely to draw my attention.  Book publishers design books covers to be judged.  They know what target audience they are aiming for, and they use the cover to attract them.  So then why is it so surprising when that same concept overflows into everyday life?

No matter what side you find yourself on with the new Arizona immigration law, we can all agree on one thing.  While trying to put a stop to illegal immigration in the southern states, nobody is looking for a French Canadian.  Is it discriminatory?  Absolutely.  Is it fair?  In no way.  But is it the truth?  If you ask me if I think people should be just stopped on the street and told to prove they are a citizen or in this country with proper documentation, and I would instantly say no.  The simple idea brings on images of communist Russia or Nazi Germany.  Is that what the intent of the Arizona law was?  Probably not. 

We can all also agree that there is something wrong with our immigration policy, but we also want our government to protect us from threats like the failed car bombing in Times Square.  This is why rules are set up for the proper and legal crossing of international borders.  For my trip to Ireland this November, I needed to get a passport, and in order to do that I first needed to obtain a copy of my birth certificate.  I had to prove who I was, and declare my intentions in order to get a passport, all the time being reminded that any discretion or misinformation could be punishable by federal law.  Although I have much sympathy for the plight and poverty that brings people from south of our border into this country, I also have a hard time justifying their actions simply because there is more opportunity here.  To be blunt, they are breaking the law, no matter how good their intentions were.  There are many people who legally immigrate to this county every year.  But they do it by following the rules.  Is it easy?  No.  And it shouldn’t be.

Because the truth is, you can’t tell a book by its cover.  But if you take the time to read the book and discover what is on the inside you can better assess which books are good and which are bad, and I would at least like to have the option of figuring out which books are the good ones before I stock my shelf.  If you disagree with the rules, then by all means do what you can to change them or make them more fair.  But the answer is not to just excuse all those who have broken the rules.  I don’t agree with the Arizona law, but if those who choose to break the law feel safe in hiding among those who took the time to follow the rules, do we have any other choice but to judge a book by its cover.

Write or Wrong

I am not a writer.  That is to say, I have never been paid to put my thoughts on paper or into the electronic media.  I have written, but it is not my profession.  My sister Marney is an actual writer.  She is a journalist for a paper way South West of Chicago called The Braidwood Journal.  And yes, it is a very small paper from a very small town, but she still seems to enjoy it quite a bit.  It is what she went to school to do, and what she got her degree in.  My degree was in Theatre Management.  I graduated Cum Laude with that there degree.  You would think that would make me smart.  But it doesn’t.

I work in a job where my degree means nothing.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my job.  It just has nothing to do with what I spent all those years in school studying about.  Oh sure, I did spend almost two years down in North Carolina working with friends trying to put together a theatre company, but like many of those who had high dreams and no money, the company was doomed to fail.  The name of the company was The Carolina Projects Theatre, and we did manage to mount two productions before we ran out of cash, and in my unbiased opinion, both shows were pretty darn good. 

While living in Durham at that time, I came about as close as I ever will to being called a writer.  Unfortunately, it was a bit of a lie.  As young folks will do from time to time, I may have exaggerated my resume a tiny bit, and somehow I was hired to teach a creative writing class at a local arts center.  Although I had taken creative writing classes in college, along with one course in play writing, I was in no way qualified to teach a class.  What I did have was just enough knowledge to fake my way through it, and I was actually asked if I would teach it again.  But my life had other plans and I soon returned to Illinois to have a ruptured disk in my lower back removed.

Since that time, I did return to the theater, sort of.  After bouncing around for a few years as an auto shop service adviser, I finally got hired as the manager of The Geneva Theater.  No, not live productions, mostly Disney films.  But I was managing a theater, and I did enjoy the work.  But when a better offer finally came along, I left the theater once again.  But what still existed was this desire to be “creative” in some sort of manner.  In a perfect world, while acting and directing in North Carolina, someone would have discovered my talent and soon I would have been a household name on stage and in films.  But we all know that just doesn’t happen.  It actually takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and in many cases years of extra work and walk on parts before you make a name for yourself, and to be quite honest, I just didn’t have that sort of dedication.  And as they say, life just kind of happened, and soon there were kids and bills, and later a divorce and even more bills.

So then about a year ago, my sister Marney, who is a writer may I remind you, started a little blog she called Foul Mouthed Hooligans, and that ignited the creative spark inside me back up again.  My initial thought was that I would write a blog maybe two or three times a week and use that to develope enough dedication to maybe work on a short story or write a script.  But then once again life happened, and I found there was longer and longer time between when I was able to dedicate myself to the simple act of writing.  Then the other day, a little inspiration hit me, and I sat down with an idea and started out to write an outline for a story that has been trapped in my head for a while.  It involves a character that I initially created many years ago, but I never really had a complete story for him to tell.  Now that story has started to come together, but I just don’t know what to do with it.  The ideas are very clear in my head.  Unfortunately, they usually come to me while driving in the car.  So I got myself a spiral notebook and I try to jot things down when I can, and the result is that I now have half a notebook filled with things I can’t even read myself.

At time, the images are very clear.  It is almost like a movie in my brain, complete with dialogue and soundtracks and camera angles.  Now I just somehow have to get it out of my head and down on paper. And I don’t even know if the idea is good.  I tried to explain part of the story to Maureen, but as I was telling it, I started to second guess myself.  It started to sound stupid or too contrived.  I wonder if the story is too unbelievable.  How realistic do the characters need to be?  Maybe I should try to write science fiction.  Those guys never seem too concerned with something being implausible.  And then of course there is the whole fear of failure.  What if the story really is just bad.  Maybe it is better off just locked up in my mind.

You see, I am not a writer.  I don’t even play one on TV.  I’m a dad, and an employee, and at times a part-time farmer.  I can’t balance my life enough to get the lawn cut without my next door neighbor taking pity on me and having his “guys” cut it for me.  Between baseball games and ice lessons, graduations and summer trips, birthdays and hospital trips, who really has time for the things they want to do.  Which is why I guess I am not a writer.  I started this blog because it was something I wanted to do.  If suddenly there were deadlines and editors, would I really want to do it any more?  It was relaxing to just sit down for a while and write just whatever came to mind.  If I’m stressing out over an idea that has yet to make it to paper, what kind of relaxation is that?

So maybe this story needs a little more time.  Maybe it is best just stuck up there in my head for now.  It will work its way out eventually.  Or maybe not.  I guess only time will tell.

Or maybe I’ll hire Marney as my ghost writer.  She the professional in the family.  She is a writer.

The Meijer Brand

Maureen, being the wonderful woman that she is, did a real nice thing for me the other day.  She picked me up a bag of Cheetos.  It may not seem like a huge thing, but the fact is, she knows I like Cheetos and she was at the store picking up drinks for everyone to have while watching one of Alex’s baseball games, and knowing I had probably not eaten because I tend to do that from time to time, she was thoughtful enough to pick me up a little snack while we watched the game.  Being a family on a budget like so many others these days, I usually don’t buy the “real” Cheetos.  We have a store near us called Meijer and they carry all sorts of those store brand items that we have all become used to seeing.  Remember the old days when Jewel first introduced the generic brand?  It was a white label with this green stripe across it and it just said “Green Beans” or “Diet Soda” or “Beer”.  Yes, they actually made generic beer.  The white and green label become so recognisable that the band Public Image, LTD put out a record with the same white cover entitled simply Record.  I actually had the cassette tape which of course then had the title changed to Cassette.

Meijer uses the same concept, only the packaging is a little better these days, but the prices are still much better than the brand names.  Unlike other stores that try to hide their store brand behind a fancy name like President’s Choice, which I belive is now the Jewel store brand, they just call them Meijer.  In the case of the Cheetos, they are called Meijer Cheese Puffs.  We take advantage of a lot of the Meijer brand items, especially pop and snack items.  With the brand name pop sometime costing more than $4.00 for a twelve pack, it is nice to know that the kids will drink the Meijer pop for just $2.50 or sometimes on sale for just $2.00 a twelve pack.  And they do a cool thing where they have Meijer Soda Red and Meijer Soda Blue to imitate the different taste between Coke and Pepsi.  Although as a Dr. Pepper drinker, I really do not care for either.  Luckily the 7-Up people who own Dr. Pepper seem to put their pop on sale quite often, and when the 4 for $10 sale is on at Meijer I make sure to stock up.

But back to those Cheetos for a minute.  As I said, on this day Maureen had picked me up one of those individual serving bags of Cheetos, and although I did not eat them that day, I did take them to work with me the next day and ate them as snack.  Ok, that’s not quite the truth, I ate them as a snack in the car while stuck in traffic that morning on the way to work.  But that is besides the point.  The point of this whole thing was that when I opened that bag of Cheetos and popped the first orange crunchy puff into my mouth, a strange thing happened.  I quickly realized that I liked the Meijer Cheese Puffs better.  First off, the Meijer puff is a much brighter shade of orange, which to me only says more artificial cheese flavor per puff.  The Meijer puff also had a saltier taste, which then says to me, gosh I wish I had a beer to go with this.  Overall, I just thought the “real” Cheetos were lacking in flavor.  This of course did nothing to detour me from eating the whole bag.

When it comes to the snack foods, my kids are not too picky, and I guess neither am I.  Maureen would also agree that the Meijer brand potato chips are really good.  They have a Black Pepper and Salt chip that is down right good.  I guess the point being that in today’s market, it just doesn’t make sense to stick with the more expensive brands.  I buy Meijer peanut butter, although Maureen would disagree with me on that one, and frozen chicken breast, and even toilet paper.  Yes, if Charmin is on sale, I am grabbing that and hoarding it in the master bathroom, but the Meijer brand is good enough for most of the asses that pass through my house on a regular occasion.  It is not the sand paper they tried to pass off at work one year.  But that was somewhat short-lived.  Seems that someone higher up on the food chain found a way to increase the TP budget in a hurry.

I have tried to make my kids understand that money is not flowing through our house the way it seems to in some other household, and to that end they have come to accept the store brand items as part of their life.  The “stigma” that was attached to the old Jewel generics is gone.  And the quality of what the store brands produce is much better.  It is not worth the savings if nobody will eat the cheaper brands, and on occasion we do find somethings that doesn’t meet up with expectation.  I have from time to time tried to slip a little bit of the Meijer coffee in with the Folgers, but Maureen is a bit of a coffee snob and likes the upscale flavored coffee that Folgers makes, and to her credit she does a great job of finding it on sale.  But when it come to saving a little money and still feeding your family these days, you can’t go wrong with many of the store brand items. 

Meijer Cheese Puffs are great.  I am eating some right now.

I just hope all this orange crap doesn’t stain the keyboard.