Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Hello my faithful readers,

Well, I just got back from vacation. I don't think I've ever had a paid vacation, so it felt nice to know that when I returned I would still receive a paycheck. If only there was a way to stay on vacation and yet still get a regular paycheck.

At anyrate, it's New Years Eve tonight. Normally, one would spend today reflecting on the last year and making promises to oneself for the purpose of breaking those promises over the course of the next year. I, unfortunately, am just getting back from vacation so I'm spending the day reading emails and catching up on random stuff, so you will get none of that from me!

But I wanted to wish you all a happy New Year and offer you all of the requisite salutations and so forth.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Ghost Town!

This year I have been suckered into working Christmas eve. This doesn't bother me too much, but I'm sitting here currently at my little cubicle, one of four people in the whole company who actually came to work today, waiting for something to happen so that I will have something to do.

It's strange being in Chicago during the holidays - especially in my part of town which is inhabited for the most part by people in their early to mid twenties. I would say sixty percent of my neighborhood has left town. And they will be back in droves for New Years Eve.

The good news is I have my pick of the prime street parking spots. Last night, I came home at 11:15 or so at night, having spent the evening with Katie's family and grandparents. Normally at 11:15, I would be forced to drive around the neighborhood for half an hour looking for an empty spot, eventually settling for something a good ten minute walk away from my apartment because any street closer to my house is packed with little Toyotas and rusting station wagons.

The down side, though, is that there was nobody walking to work this morning. And I mean nobody. I left my apartment a little before 9:00 and it was like walking through a zombie movie - not a soul to be seen during the day but, once night rolls around, you're going to be spending your evening defending your brain from people like this:

So whatever. I just have to power through today and then I have the rest of the week off (using up my vacation days before the new year) so that should be awesome. Tonight I'm spending Christmas eve with Katie's family and then tomorrow morning we're driving to Michigan to spend some time with my family too. It should be fam-tastic.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Shopping, or The Stranger in a Foreign Land

It's that time of year again: the time where we all must wade through seas of disgruntled persons in stores where we otherwise would never shop in the hopes of finding that perfect gift for our family, friends and loved ones.

The best way to shop is with another person, preferably someone you like and who likes you as well so that, once the long lines of half-crazed people start to get to you, you have someone to commiserate with and someone whom you will not be tempted to strangle at the end of the day.

A shopping companion also helps you when you have to go into a store where you don't belong. Like Bath and Body Works. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a Bath and Body Works kind of guy. In fact, I was blissfully unaware that places like Bath and Body Works existed until about a year ago. But when I go in to the Bath and Body Works with my girlfriend, there is an unspoken understanding between me and the sales staff.

"Yes, I know I don't belong. Yes, the smell in here makes me irrationally angry and prone to inappropriate outbursts. But I'm here with this person who does belong here, and she needs something, so we're stuck with each other for the next five to ten minutes. I'm going to go squeeze the loofahs now. Please do not call security."

However, I almost always end up having to do part of my shopping alone and, inevitable, I wade into at least one store where I clearly do not belong. This happens to me occasionally throughout the year.

Once, I went to a BCBG (some clothing store Katie likes) to get her a birthday gift and was greeted by stares and strange leers by the abnormally thin, black-clad shop girls behind the counter. I left feeling out of place and somewhat dirty. I think maybe they just weren't used to bearded men showing up by themselves in their white t-shirts, black hoodies and Detroit baseball caps. I don't know. I'm just saying, it was weird.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The same thing happens every time I periodically go shopping for ladies undergarments.

I had the same experience yesterday while rounding out my Christmas shopping. I won't say what store or what I purchased because it could potentially compromise the gift exchange on Christmas day. Heaven forbid. I'll just say that I was at a relatively hip store buying an item that was clearly not hip. As I was leaving, the employed hipster guarding the exit (presumably to ensure that I wasn't walking out with anything too hip for me) took one look at my item and managed to put together a "wow, that's... uh... kickass."

A slightly younger me might have explained "It's not for me. It's a gift. I'm still hip. Honest, mister hipster." A disgruntled and stressed me might have said something like, "Kiss my ass, punk. It's lame little gifts like these that keep you from spending all day at your parents' house."

But yesterday, he got a relatively subdued me; a me that has accepted the fact that Christmas shopping sucks no matter what you do. So I just smiled and thanked him for his attempt at a compliment, resisted the urge to compliment him on his jet-black mohawk and his skull-covered hoodie, gathered my bag and left.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Michigan Coaching Update

I wanted to take this opportunity to address some questions regarding my candidacy for the University of Michigan's coaching position.

It has come to my attention via the media that my alma mater has "hired" a supposed "name" coach as the new figure head for the University of Michigan Wolverines Football Team. The media (and the Michigan AD and the President of the School) would have you believe that they have hired Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia, a man who has a record of 60 wins to 26 losses and who basically invented the spread offense.

If this were true, I suppose it would be a fantastic hire.

However, I wanted to let you know that despite this "news," I have still been in contact with the University regarding my candidacy for the job.

Now sure, you might want to quibble about what "in contact" means. For some, "in contact" means receiving calls from the higher ups and meeting in Toledo, or being "announced" in person to the U of M staff. For others, it means calling in to the Literature, Science and Arts Department's admissions line and leaving angry messages because people are too busy to call you back. Whatever; I'm not here to argue semantics.

The point is that in the realm of college coaching, of which I have been a part for approximately one week, people often say one thing but do another, and nothing is certain until that contract is signed. And even then, who knows? Look at Le Smiles! He said no to the University over and over again and yet people still thought he was going to take the job. Hell, for all we know, he still might.

So until Florida's ballots are properly counted and the supreme court has ruled, rest assured, dear supporters, my hat is still in the ring.

Go Blue.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Damn You, Metra!

It's about 8:25 on a wintery Sunday night and I'm watching the bright headlights of the Metra train approaching the Bartlett, Illinois Metra station. I make my way towards the side of the tracks with five or six other random passengers hoping to catch the train. I check my watch; the train is running about 5 minutes late.

I look back to my girlfriend, who is waiving goodbye from the warm confines of her car. I wave back to her, then wade through the snow on my way to the platform.

I make it there just in time to watch the Metra train blow past me and the other five or six random passengers.

There is a moment where the passengers and I look at one another in shared disbelief. I look over to Katie's car so that she too can share in our disbelief. Then we all collectively look down the tracks towards the train's tail lights. I hear someone say, "What the fuck was that about?"

And then, down at the end of the platform, the train slows down and then stops a good 50 yards away from us. I look but do not see any passengers waiting at the end of the platform, only we passengers standing now 50 yards away from the train. No need for a shared look this time as all of us break into a run. The platform is slippery with ice and I am slowed momentarily by an elderly lady who is trying to scurry her way towards the train. I sidestep her, thinking that if I make it in time I can hold the train for her, and I continue to charge down the platform.

As the first passenger reaches the train, the doors close. She catches the indifferent eye of the conductor, who turns away to tend to his conductorly duties (whatever those may be). I make it to the train just in time to pound on one of the doors as the train starts to pull away. I briefly consider jumping on to the door's ledge, grabbing the handle bar and holding on for dear life until the next stop, but then I realize that I am not Indiana Jones and that it is currently twenty some degrees out. I take a last few steps as the train disappears off into the snowy night.

We loyal Metra patrons begin our slow walk back to where we started, hoping and praying that our rides had not abandoned us to the cold night. As I am walking back, feeling dejected and overall angry, I slip on a patch of ice that I had so sprily skipped on my earlier mid-winter run.

I skin my knees. The old lady asks if I am okay. I respond by saying yes and then muttering a stream of obscenities to myself.

So, Metra, what the fuck was that about?

Anyone know anything about voodoo or hexes? Can you hex an entire organization, or just the one train? Is there a way to ensure that the conductors cannot sleep at night for the rest of their lives?

Just curious.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Good lord is it a busy day today. It's the kind of day where you just want to take five minutes and retreat to your happy place. Unfortunately, the closest thing I have to that right now is this blog, so you're stuck with this.

I wanted to take the opportunity, though, to thank those of you who find this site by googling the following:

"World of Panties" (user is from Warsaw, Poland)
"Clever Panties" (user is from Greensboro, NC)
"My Girlfriend in Panties" (user is from Atlanta, GA)
"Panties Pirates" (user is from Chicago, IL - oh, wait! That's me! Damn it....)

I sincerely wish I could supply you with all of the panties pictures you could ever possibly need. Unfortunately, I don't wear underwear and I generally refuse to have my picture taken without pants on. I don't want to ruin the surprise.

Perhaps one day I will have an uncharacteristic change of heart. For now, you're stuck with blog entries like Foray into the World of Panties.

Okay, enough drivel for now. Until later, my lovelies!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ultimate Celebrity-Monkey Knife Fighting

Given the horde of new reality television shows spawned as the unholy children of Network Television to do battle with the writer's strike, I thought I might offer my own humble suggestion for a reality television show that I personally would like to see.

It's called "Ultimate Celebrity-Monkey Knife Fighting"

I'm thinking a cross between Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dancing with the Stars and the time honored entertainment tradition of Monkey Knife Fights.

We follow the story of B-list celebrities as they go through the rigors of training with bona fide South China Sea pirates. Hopefully, we learn more about them (the celebrities and the pirates) as they learn more about themselves.

We also follow the story of the monkeys, who are fed only spontaneously and encouraged to stab things with knifes. Hopefully, we learn more about how to turn innocent monkeys into killer monkeys.

We then get to watch as B-list celebrities and monkeys square off in a no-holds-barred fight to the death featuring large deadly-looking knives.

There will also be a panel of monkey judges who will award style points and decide a posthumous winner in the event that both the monkey and the celebrity become unconscious from severe blood loss.

Also, sports betting will be encouraged for the studio audience. I'm also thinking of developing a home game to play along with the show, possibly a drinking game. More on that later. And finally, the whole show will be tied together by the antics of a handsome and witty host (me). I may also add a color commentator as well just to spice up the in-fight commentary.

So, assuming the major networks start pounding down my door to pick up this gem of a show (and I think that's a fair assumption to make) I shall start contacting B-list celebrities for the fight. If you have any recommendations on celebrities you would like to see on "Ultimate Celebrity-Monkey Knife Fighting," or UCMKF for short, please leave a comment in the comment section and I will see if they are available for the show.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your New Michigan Wolverines Head Coach Is...


That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I have decided to finally throw my hat into the proverbial ring. Provided the AD and the President of the school make the correct decision, I should be coaching the Michigan Wolverines to greatness next year.

Some of you other coaches may question my credentials. I understand your trepidations, considering I have never actually played football on the college level. However, there are all sorts of head coaches who aren't qualified for their jobs but end up getting them anyway, so I wanted to provide you with some facts.

FACT#1: While a student at the University of Michigan (that's right, athletic department, I'm a Michigan man) I attended every home game except for one in my four years. The only reason I missed one was because I had a show the afternoon of the game, which I know sounds lame but I think it was a really good show. I have also watched numerous away games in bars and living rooms across the country, and even saw one Rose Bowl game live (which Michigan lost due to no fault of my own) and also visited Notre Dame for one away game (which Michigan lost, again, due to no fault of my own).

FACT#2: Despite my lack of experience in playing the physical game of football (unless you count intramural flag football, which I do), I do have three months experience playing college football video games and am able to defeat any opponent, even Texas, by at least 70 points (on the easiest difficulty setting). My running backs also routinely run for several thousand yards in a year and win the Heisman trophy, so you have that to look forward to.

FACT#3: I can be very loud and angry. This will come in handy during practices (which I plan to run through my coaching staff) and in shouting at the refs during games. I also have practiced by angry hand gestures a lot and believe that I can truly convey my disgust to the refs in a very eloquent manner.

FACT#4: Having recently been in college (a couple of years ago) I can relate to the college aged recruits. This should give me an edge over other coaches because I can party with the best of them, although after midnight I start to get sleepy if I've had too much to drink.

FACT#5: I like blowing whistles and look good in hats.

Finally, I have absolutely no qualms about working for a measly $1.5 million a year and can promise you that, should the athletic department offer me the job, I am most certainly willing to leave my current position to take the Michigan job (unlike Les Miles and that guy from Rutgers who recently turned down the job). Money is no object.

So, Alma Mater, I hereby grant you permission to begin contacting me. I am available nights and weekends or during weekdays you can leave a message on my cell and then I can call you right back, I promise. I would be willing to meet anywhere for an interview, formal or informal, though if you wish me to come to you, you'll need to pick up the cost for my plane ticket since I am saving up to buy Christmas presents.

Go Blue!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Casting Lessons

My writing 5 class casted our show Monday night in a long and arduous process that lasted late into the night. This process included auditioning a whole mess of people, sneaking off to get more coffee and finally wrestling over who we wanted to cast. Since the audition was for two writing 5 shows (we combined with another class for auditioning purposes), the final step was for the directors of the two shows to take our choices from the talent pool and fight it out for the final casting.

It was strange being on the deciding end of the audition process. I did some directing when I was in college, but I knew most of the people in the talent pool, so auditioning was a lot easier. This time, I only knew one person from before hand and recognized only a handful of others. It was almost like a real audition.

As a result of my foray into the audition process, I've learned a couple of things to do and not to do when auditioning. Most of these tips I've heard before from directors, teachers, etc. but actually seeing this stuff in person really punctuates it. I thought I would share them with all three of you people reading because, for the moment, I have nothing better to write about.

(1) Don't wear black. It's actorish; it's slimming; it's chic. Ultimately, it's not terribly helpful to the people casting the show. At the end of the night, when they're sitting around trying to remind each other who you were, it doesn't help to reference you as "the guy with the black" when half the people in the audition were wearing black.

(2) You can smile at the casting people. There's no law against it and, in fact, I kind of like knowing that the auditionee has enough personal skills to at least acknowledge the other people in the room.

(3) But don't go out of your way to brown-nose either. And if you know someone in the casting group, just say 'hi' and move on. Don't have a long catch-up conversation. And don't give that person knowing winks, as though to say "I can't wait for you to cast me."

(4) At least learn your acting basics. I can't tell you how many people I saw who didn't enunciate, didn't speak loud enough, didn't turn out so that we could see them acting, etc. They're casting actors, not funny people.

(5) When you audition in a large group, you might be asked to give your name and a random fact about yourself. If that happens, just give something simple or something unique. It's not a standup routine, so there's no need to wow the casting people with something witty or hilarious. We had one guy who tried something like "Hi, I'm Johann and I like to stare at fountains all day." Dead, uncomfortable silence.

(6) Sometimes you will be asked to read sides. If you are asked, while the casting people would probably prefer that occasionally you look up while reading the lines, keep in mind that nobody expects you to be off book. So don't freak out. And don't start making up lines and ad libbing because your scene partner is going to wonder what they hell you're doing, which will freak them out and make you look bad. Especially if the writer is in the room.

(7) When you are asked to read sides, you are not expected to nail the character on the head. The casting group is looking for someone who can make choices and stick with them.

(8) Ultimately, when we were casting, we were looking for people who, in addition to basic acting skills and choice making, could relax and be comfortable in front of an audience. Auditioning is one of the most terrifying things an actor has to do, so one thing that will set you apart right away from most other people in the audition is to go in and have a good time.

And, above all else, offer the Director fellatio. That usually does the trick.

Monday, December 3, 2007


***I wrote a blog entry about what I honestly thought about a certain show, An Aerosmith Christmas, and it has since been requested that, since I was not asked to write a review by the Annoyance Theatre, I take down that post. Normally, I would say "Fuck you, it's my blog and until people have to pay me to read this shit, I will do what I want." But, in this particular circumstance - for the love of Christmas and in the interest of good kharma for all - I'll be a good sport and take the post down until they are done selling tickets.

Still, kind of a shitty deal, huh?

Happy Holidays,

-The Management***

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Random Tidbits of Information

A Couple of Pieces of Information:

(I) The comedy writing class I've paid so much money (so much...) to attend is finally getting ready to cast for it's writing level 5 show. For those of you students at the second city training center (or alumns) who are interested in giving up your lives to do a sketch show, we are holding auditions on Monday, Dec 3rd from 6:45 to 10:00. To sign up, call the Training Center Office at (312) 664-3959 to sign up for a time slot.

(II) Clever Title has received it's 1,000th visitor! Does this mean that 1,000 people have seen the site? Of course not. It means that the same three people have visited the site 1,000 times. Thank you, stalkers, for your interest, and congratulations to you, visitor whose IP address begins with 208.46.38.###! As a celebratory gift, you shall receive my gratitude (monetary value of nothing, not redeamable for cash).

(III) Last week, to keep my mother from accusing me of being a hobo over the Thanksgiving weekend, I got a hair cut and trimmed my beard. This morning in Chicago it is 28 degrees, although it feels like 16 degrees. Right now, I miss my fuller beard terribly. The beard hairs form a webbing that keeps my cheeks from falling off of my face however, because the hairs are now so much shorter, I've already lost one cheek and the other is threatening to move to Maui.

Tomorrow, I shall to write an entry of substance. This typically means failure and disappointment, but I'll try anyway. For the moment, I'm going to look for a thermal blanket.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blasphemous Bears!

Those goddamned insensitive bears have gone too far!

Here is an article about a British teacher thrown in jail in Sudan for naming the class teddy bear "Muhammad." Evidently, the teacher thought it would be a fun and educational experience for her class to adopt a stuffed animal and give it a name. After a democratic process in which the children chose the potential names and voted, the class decided to name the bear Muhammad (after a kid in the class whose name is Muhammad) which, in addition to being the name of the founding prophet of Islam, is one of the most common names in the Muslim world. It's a very cute idea.

Except you're in freaking Sudan.

So now the teacher is facing a good old fashioned public lashing.

Far be it from me to comment on the social workings of another country, but I see a grave injustice here that I feel must be pointed out. Namely: what about the children.

The kids picked the name. They chose it twenty votes to three. You don't hear anything about twenty little heathen children being thrown in jail and given public lashings. What the hell is up with that? I say, if you're going to beat the school teacher with a rod, you should have to beat the twenty kids as well. And beat them savagely too. They have an entire lifetime of potential blasphemy ahead of them. Better to get that out of their system now before they grow up and name real bears after Muhammad. Wouldn't that be awful!

Or the teddy bear for that matter. Why not punish the teddy bear? What better way to send a message than burning the blaspheming pile of fuzz in a public place? Set up a pyre right in front of the government palaces in Khartoum and have a good old fashioned bear burning. That'll teach them all.

Because it's finally time for Sudan to send a message to all the stuffed animal infidels in the world; to all the little children lurking in the dark corners of the country waiting for the opportunity to illegally name things; to all of the fifty-year-old British school-marms out there who are stupid enough to try and make a difference in the world. They should send a message that in Sudan they don't let people name cute and cuddly stuffed animals after the most revered and respected religious leader of Islam, or all the other sports icons or ordinary people named Muhammad out there either. Maybe you can get away with that shit on the murky, reasonable yet slightly foppish island of Britain, but not here. Not in Sudan.

Now that's the kind of message that really demands respect.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving - Nice

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving break. As for myself, I did nothing but eat and eat and eat and then sleep for a long time.

I spent "Actual Thanksgiving" with my girlfriend and her family, which was a good time. It is interesting being at another family's Thanksgiving dinner. You quickly realize how different Thanksgiving traditions are from family to family.

Take stuffing for example: I've learned that there are as many different recipes for stuffing as there are Thanksgiving dinners. My family makes stuffing with apples and crumbled sausage, which completely disgusts her family. They make it with green peppers and onions, which disgusts my family too (both recipes are good). I've heard of oyster and cracker stuffing, which makes my stomach crawl slightly, and carrot-celery-onion stuffing, which is what my Grandma Barkell used to make for her family. While my sister was in France on foreign study, she combined our recipe with a friend's recipe and made stuffing with apples, sausage and cranberries. Apparently, it was delicious.

I spend a lot of time thinking about stuffing. My obsession is borderline unhealthy.

However, it kind of goes to show that Thanksgiving is a reflection of those people celebrating it. There's something comforting about that. It's a unique little holiday in that you're not really required to do anything (unlike Christmas or Easter or the Fourth of July, etc.) other than eat the food that you like and sleep.

Katie and her family went to Paris for a week so, on Friday, I drove home to Michigan to celebrate "Leftovers Thanksgiving" with my family while simultaneously getting out of Katie's way so that she could pack and get ready for the trip. (She left this past weekend and I miss her already).

"Leftovers Thanksgiving" is a Topping family tradition, celebrated the day after Thanksgiving, where we as a family 'give thanks' to my dad's turkey sandwich recipe. It's like taking Thanksgiving dinner and putting it between two pieces of Wonderbread. If you are interested, I can provide the recipe (provided my Dad gives his consent to reveal a secret family recipe). Once we finish partaking in the sandwiches, we then 'give thanks' for the feeling of "fullness" with a large nap. Once everyone is confirmed awake we celebrate the nap by 'giving thanks' with a large dinner and then promptly going back to sleep.

I love Chicago, but there's something about being back in Michigan that's very restful. I don't know if it's being away from all of the job stress or the city stress or if it's just the comfort of being home, but it was a good weekend for chilling out and getting some much needed sleep. I drove home last night with bags of leftovers, and now here I am.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Thankfully It's Tuesday!"

For my international readers (all three of you), this week is a short week here in the good old U.S. of A because of a little holiday we like to call Thanksgiving. For those of you who don't know or have forgotten, this is a very significant holiday where we give thanks to our ancestors for deciding long ago to put a major national holiday on Thursday, thereby effectively handing all of us a four day weekend.

As a result, though, all of the clever little nicknames that we give to our workdays (like, 'Hump Day' for Wednesday, etc.) no longer. TGIF doesn't really work for a week that ends on Wednesday.

Well, don't worry my children. I have the solution (yet again). I would like to take this opportunity to propose a new workday catch phrase: "Thankfully It's Tuesday!"

Obviously, this doesn't work for your normal workweek. Who gives a damn about Tuesday when you're looking at three more arduous days until that brief glimpse at freedom? But on a short work week, Tuesday is like the new Hump Day.

Why not "Thankfully It's Wednesday," Nat? Because when everyone has Thursday off, nobody actually does any work on Wednesday. Oh sure, we'll all show up tomorrow, and we'll sit at our desks. But rest assured that we will be hiding Minesweeper behind our Microsoft Outlook window and spend most of our time shopping on the internet for rare collector's edition Star Trek plates.

So "Thankfully It's Tuesday" it is! Hopefully, we'll start hearing people shout it out on the street. "Man, Thankfully It's Tuesday," or, "T. I. T., am I right?"

Maybe if we're lucky, we'll see network programming on Tuesday nights, like the old TGIF evenings from long ago. There will be a nifty jingle, something to the effect of: We're gonna have some fun/ show you how it's done/ T.I.T!

Pretty soon, you'll see chain restaurants popping up all over the place named specifically to celebrate and capitalize off of the "Thankfully It's Tuesday" movement. The large red signs of the acronym T.I.T. will be all over the place. T.I.T. will become synonymous with huge and expensive fruity drinks. People will affectionately nickname the restaurants "Tuesdays." Wait, no... I think people use that for Ruby Tuesday's already. Maybe there's another affectionate nickname in there somewhere....

I'll have to think about that one.

Rest assured, though, that in a couple of years T.I.T.s as a whole will become very popular.

Hey, anyone want to join the Pen 15 club with me?

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Wonderful Sunday

If you're ever looking for a good reason to just take the whole day off and stay in bed, allow me to offer the perfect excuse:

Food poisoning!

Whether it's the joys of wandering in and out of consciousness for most of the day or the unparalleled relaxation that comes immediately after vomiting while standing up, food poisoning really makes you feel like you're on a mini-vacation.

Looking to go on a diet? Feel like you just eat and eat and can't help yourself? With food poisoning, you won't be able to hold down two teaspoons of water! Forget 'will-power' - let your stomach tell you when enough it enough.

Good times.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nat Topping's Olde Fashioned Winter Almanac

Well, I woke up this morning and left my apartment and lo and behold it was 40 degrees outside (Fahrenheit, not Celsius). It's okay, though, because with the windchill it was a nice, comfortable 30 degrees out.

That's right, faithful readers. November is most definitely here.

As I was walking to work this morning, my face flushed from the cold winds, I passed by many a disappointed worker in the same boat as me, the look in their eyes chillier possibly than the weather. The question ever present in their minds, I'm sure (because I'm a freaking mind reader) is, "How long must we endure this intolerable cold weather?"

Well, not to fear little work-force member. Because the Nat Topping's Olde Fashioned Winter Almanac is here to provide you with much needed answers.

The Nat Topping's Olde Fashioned Winter Almanac has been published continuously since 1653, when great-great-great-great grandfather Nat Topping (he was really great) crossed the Atlantic in a floating shoe box and landed on the shores of Maryland. Using a combination of astrology, observation of solar flares and deep conversations with various native species of bird, we are able to accurately predict (accurately meaning anywhere between 20-100%) the coming winter weather. While normally the NTOFWA is sold for a farthing, three pence and a shilling, today I will offer you a taste of it for free in the hopes of upping subscription numbers to more than just one:

Nat Topping's Olde Fashioned Winter Almanac (Abridged):

November 15th-22nd - November arrives like an unwanted relative for Thanksgiving Dinner. Expect temperatures between 30 degrees and 50 degrees. Time to break out some of your sweaters, but you can leave the really ugly ones in the closet.

November 29th-December 13th - The first snow of the year! People's ability to drive their cars drops drastically to the level of thirteen-year-old drivers with the first sign of flurries. Children watch the morning local news in vain for notice from the schools of that first snow-day.

December 21st-25th - All of that glorious, wintry snow melts, thereby making the popular song "White Christmas" once again cruelly ironic. General depression sets in as people open their holiday presents and find yet more ugly sweaters.

January 1st-13th - The weather seems strangely mild, hovering around 37 degrees Fahrenheit, thereby denying children their snow-days for two more weeks. Little children across the country pray to their respective Gods for snow.

January 14th - The children get their wish, WITH A VENGEANCE! Four feet of snow blanket the entire country, even southern California (who mistake the snow for cocaine falling from the sky). The temperature plummets, thereby making it dangerous for children to even leave the home. The inadequacies of the country's snow removal infrastructure are once again revealed. Time to bust out the ugly sweaters. Remember to send a thank-you note to your great-aunt.

February 1st-15th - Tundra. The outside world becomes a wasteland. Unfortunately, there are no snow-days for grown-up people. The nation once again collectively curses the entire month of February. It is discovered that the Groundhog has skipped town and now lives in the Cayman Islands.

March 5th-12th - The outside world resembles a polar ice cap. No hope in sight for warmth any time soon.

March 13th-21st - Still no hope.

March 22nd-30th - Come on, for chrissake it's Spring already! Stop with the snow!

April 1st - The Weather Channel reports that the weather will warm significantly today, providing everyone with their first glimpse of Spring. It is revealed the next day that this forecast was an "unintentionally" cruel April Fool's Day joke. An angry mob storms the Weather Channel main office and burns it to the ground.

April 7th-13th - The sun finally shows its face. Inexplicably, the weather becomes even colder. Widespread despair and panic ensues.

April 17th-23rd - Finally the tundra begins to thaw. Expect seasonable weather. People dress in shorts and T-shirts, even though it doesn't make any sense, because they are so happy that the temperatures are now above 30. Life resumes as normal. Sacrifices are made to various Gods. Summer bikini-dieting begins.

April 29th-30th - One last catastrophic snow storm before the season ends. Expect three feet of snow in most parts of the country. With this last storm out of the way, people can look forward to catastrophically hot summer months.

I hope this helps. If anyone would like to read in more detail, please mail a farthing, three pence and one shilling, plus shipping and handling, to my palatial winter bunker in the beautiful Yucatan peninsula c/o Juan Topping. Gracias.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Can I Put This On Virtual Layaway?


Virtual Chaise Lounge stolen from my virtual home at 2:00 AM Virtual Standard Time.
Chair looks like this...
... only virtual.

Will provide virtual reward for any virtual information leading to the virtual recovery of my virtual property. Please call my virtual telephone at 555-3456 with any virtual leads.


Apparently there are people out there who use the internet for something other than blogging and looking at kinky animated pornography from Japan. I know. It surprises me too that such people exist. But they do. And those people have created a space for themselves on the internet where they can interact with similar-minded people all over the world in a virtual environment.

Habbo Hotel is one such environment. At Habbo Hotel, users are allowed to purchase furniture (virtual furniture) with their own money (real money) to keep in their online homes.

But alas, even in the fake world of the internet, crime runs rampant through fake streets and hides in the fake shadows of the world wide web's fake underworld. If you are interested, you can read this example from the BBC News website.

Because apparently Dutch teenagers are stealing virtual furniture from innocent people. Goddamn it; not even my made-up property is safe anymore! DAMN YOU DUTCH TEENAGERS!

I've been racking my brains trying to decide which is more ridiculous:

(a) the fact that some Dutch kid is not only wasting his time stealing virtual items as if there were some sort of black market for furniture but that he was subsequently arrested (like, real arrested not virtual arrested) by the real police or...

(b) the fact that there are people out there willing to spend money on a piece of furniture that they can't actually sit in.

Maybe the fact that I actually need to use my money for real things (beer) skews my opinion on the matter, but does virtual furniture strike anyone else as the worst investment ever to exist in the history of mankind?

It's probably just me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Unholy Holy Night Dinner

One of the most important events of the year for my extended family in Michigan is the Christmas Eve dinner. It is so important that they plan the dinner well in advance, anywhere between a month to two months ahead of time, and usually they plan the meal around some sort of theme. We've had German Christmas dinner, Italian, Polish, Mexican and countless others. This year we are going with Cajun, which will feature as the main entree something called a Turducken.

What the hell is a Turducken?

A Turducken is a deboned chicken stuffed inside of a deboned duck which is then in turn stuffed inside of a deboned turkey. It's a dish popularized by New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme (here's the recipe) who is also well known for his specialized seasonings and his passionate yet torrid love affair with butter.
Here's a picture of freshly sliced Turducken:

Any vegans reading this blog are probably retching right now.

Unfortunately, I will not be home to sample the Turducken on Christmas Eve. I have to work that day. But I do look forward to hesitantly trying the leftovers once I do make it home. I like turkey. I like duck and chicken. They are all poultry. There's no reason why I shouldn't like Turducken.

Still, I have this vague feeling that something is cosmically not right here. I wonder if this is what Christmas is like on the Island of Doctor Moreau.

At any rate, I'll let you know how the left overs turn out.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Vote Greg Stalin in 2008

I love Italy. I spent a good month there the summer before my sophomore year in college learning every vice that I now love to indulge. I found the Italian people to be warm and friendly people who were very understanding of my limited ability to speak their language and also my sophomoric drunkenness.

But as wonderful and energetic and inspiring as they are, the Italian people are unfortunately also crazy.

Case in point: here's an article off of today's BBC news website.

Crazy not so much in the fact that the Italians make the occasional xenophobic remarks towards Romanian immigrants, but in the fact that they elected a lady by the name of Alessandra Mussolini, the grand-daughter of Benito Mussolini (the infamous fascist dictator and ally of Adolph Hitler - you know the one), to a public office.

Because nothing says democracy like Mussolini.

Now, I guess it's none of my business seeing as I am not an Italian citizen. My pale white ass is about as un-Italian as it gets. After all, why the hell should you care, three readers, what Italians do for their politics?

Well, because I can't think of anything else to write about. The curiosity was too much for me to bear and for me, a family heritage of service to ones country isn't quite enough to warrant representing your country in the European Union when that family heritage can be described as 'evil' and 'destructive to the fabric of world peace.' So what makes Alessandra Mussolini uniquely qualified to represent her country in the EU's Parliament?

Why porno, of course! She appeared on the cover of European Playboy in the August 1983 Italian edition and the November 1983 German edition. Italian and German, eh? Who would have thought. In addition to a film and television career, Ms. Mussolini also has a B.A. in Agricultural Science, an M.A. in Film Management and, randomly, an M.D. from the Universita' di Roma.

The idealistic American in me tells me that in a free Democracy a person's heritage and background shouldn't matter. After all, maybe Ms. Mussolini has shunned her grandfather's xenophobic, antisemitic, megalomaniacal policies and fascist ways. It's possible, right?


Here are some choice snippets of her 15 years of success on the political stage, courtesy of wikipedia:

"In 1992, she was elected to parliament in a Naples constituency as a member of the neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI). " Neofascist. Off to a good start. Later on:

"Her relations with Gianfranco Fini, leader of the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance party), never were very good, she announced; she then withdrew later, her resignation due to differences with him at least once. This antagonism was exacerbated when Fini criticized some aspects of fascism, such as its antisemitism....

In November 2003 Fini paid a visit to Israel. There he declared that fascism had been "the absolute evil", apologizing to the government of Israel for the racial laws that Benito Mussolini had approved in 1938. Shortly after these declarations, Alessandra Mussolini abandoned Alleanza Nazionale."

And finally my favorite:

"In 2006 she responded to criticism by trans-gender Italian M.P. candidate Vladimir Luxuria, with a line "Meglio fascista che frocio", that has been roughly translated as "It is better to be a fascist than a faggot." The Italian word used, "frocio", is considered an insult referring to one's buttocks."

Hey-o! And to think, not only did people think that it was a good idea to elect the grand-daughter of an villainous dictator... they also have kept this crack-pot in a position of power for fifteen years!

Incidentally, Italy owns the distinction of having the highest ex-porn star government officials per capita of any other country in the world.

That's not a proven fact, by the way. But it wouldn't surprise me.

So some things are just a bad idea, Italy. Although, with politics in this country becoming more and more circus-like by the day, it kind of makes me wonder how long before we're in the same boat.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Strike! The Reality Series

As one without access to network or cable television on a consistent basis, I have not noticed a substantial change in the quality of television programming. I watch the same DVDs over and over again and, luckily for me, the quality of the DVD never changes. Unless of course I accidentally step on one that is hidden beneath a pile of dirty laundry, in which case the quality of the DVD has changed to "broken."

But for those of you who do rely on TV - live TV that is - for your evening entertainment, you are probably aware from the late-night show reruns, the surge in reality television and all the press that the UWA, the screenwriter's union, is on strike. This means no new TV episodes of your favorite crime drama, no fresh Daily Show political barbs, and no new family comedies on the big screen involving "the Rock" (actually, that last one might not be such a bad thing). That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Ugly Betty is about to get even uglier.

Now before you start shaking your fists at the sky and damning writers to an eternity of agonizing torture and writer's block, I recommend that you check out why the writers are striking. Here are some links:

Basically, the producers don't want to pay writers (or actors or anyone else for that matter) royalties for 'new media,' which includes any internet or iPod viewable shows, even though the studios make an assload of money from selling the shows on iTunes or selling advertising on the free downloadable shows. The producers also would like to keep the royalties on DVD sales at a whopping 4 cents per DVD, as opposed to the ridiculously exorbitant sum of 8 cents per DVD which the writers are demanding.

Since very few writers are employed year round, most rely on those royalties to eat. Surprisingly enough, very few writers are insanely wealthy. Or even sanely wealthy. Or remotely wealthy. And with the distribution landscape changing as rapidly as it is due to changes in technology, etc. writers are now threatened with the prospect of a future filled with not eating.

As a wannabe writer/actor/ GENIUS, I am accustomed to doing work for free. That's just part of the deal when you're starting out. The one thing that keeps me from giving up and looking for a "real career" is the hope that one day I will be able to buy food, clothing and shelter with my earnings from being a writer/ actor/ GENIUS.

So, in solidarity with future-Nat and in my own potential self-interest, I feel that it is important to at least get the word out to you three people who read this blog occasionally. Also, I won't be streaming episodes of The Office anytime soon. Mostly because I don't have reliable internet access at home.

Take THAT, Hollywood!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

POST #69

That's right, ladies and gentlemen; I've reached a historic landmark. This is my 69th post on this blog (go ahead, count them. I dare you).

Why is the 69th post such a landmark historic moment, you ask? Because the numbers '6' and '9' when placed right next to one another resembles a certain sex act and because I have not progressed past the maturity level of a thirteen-year-old.

In fact, I've been looking forward to this landmark historic moment ever since I first joined the 'Pen 15" club, which I thought was an exclusive writer's club until I saw what 'Pen 15' looks like when written on my hand. Then I just felt like an idiot.

So this is what it's come to, my friends. This morning I said to myself "Man, I haven't written a new entry since last week. I need to write something. What am I going to write about?" Then, when I went to start writing the post, I saw that this was going to be my 69th blog. "Bingo!" I exclaimed. "Now I don't have to think. Perfect."

I don't know what it is, but lately I've been having trouble getting the old creative juices flowing. This is a problem considering I have a whole mess of sketches to write, rewrite, edit and so forth within the next week and a half. And here I am, I can't think of anything to write for a simple little blog without resorting to middle school sex jokes.

I've tried the usual methods (drinking, plagiarism, sacreficing small animals) but to no avail. I need to figure out how to get back into the swing of things.

Maybe I just need to sit down and watch an early Adam Sandler movie. If that's not going to get me out of the childish humor mode, I don't know what will.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The White Shirt Empire

In the span of the past four days, I have been asked by two separate friends of mine, both named Pat, to borrow white button up shirts. The first time, when Pat A asked to borrow a shirt for a show, I thought nothing of it. However, when I got a call out of the blue yesterday from Pat B, I was a little bit freaked. Pat B just moved here from Michigan and managed to get a job that starts today. He desperately needed a white shirt since all of his were still at home in Michigan.

Initially I was amazed at the strange little coincidences of life. What are the odds that I would have two friends, both named Pat, who both needed to borrow my dirty white button-up shirts within the same week?

But then, after spending a ridiculous amount of time thinking about it as I was trying to fall asleep last night, it hit me that Pat is a very common name. Not only that, but white button-up shirts are also a very common need for young twenty-something men in the big city. Was this perhaps a potential business opportunity?

I'm thinking yes.

So I'm quitting this whole telecommunications stop-gap thing and I'm not even going to bother writing anymore. I'm an entrepreneur now. And the little nugget of gold that's going to make me rich? Loaning dirty white button-up shirts out to young men named Pat who live in the city of Chicago.

I really think that this demographic (namely young men named Pat who live in the city of Chicago and need to borrow a dirty white button-up shirt) is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. Hell, I can think of at least one guy named Pat who moved to the city of Chicago within the past month. If that rate of growth sustains itself for a whole year, I'm looking at a net growth of twelve Pats, which is not even to mention the countless Pats that probably already live in the city.

And who is going to loan these Pat the dirty white button-up shirts so necessary to their survival here in the big city? Why me of course. And in return for my services they shall make me rich.

So I'm tendering my resignation effective today. I'm looking for suitable store fronts tomorrow and will be meeting with some freelance graphic designers to help put together my promotional materials. Within a couple of months, I'll bet you'll be able to find me in the Fortune 500. Shares of my dirty white button-up shirts will be tradeable on the stock market. I'll have a giant mansion on Lake Michigan which I will call "The Hampers" where I shall hold Champagne orgies.

I will be wealthy beyond my wildest dreams!

Oh, note to self: buy more white button-up shirts.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Slutty Halloween, You Halloween Sluts!

Halloween comes from the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, which celebrated the day when the boundaries between the living world and the underworld overlapped and when ghosts could walk the earth. These ghosts would cause sickness, damage crops and partake of any number of mischievous poltergeist-like activities. The ancient Celts used to disguise themselves as ghouls and witches in order to blend in with the other nasty paranormal creatures roaming around on Halloween night and so avoid becoming a target for mischief.

Living in an area of the city where there is a high concentration of bars that serve specialty margaritas, long island ice teas and cheap Old Style cans, I have come to the conclusion that there must be a disproportionately large amount of slutty ghosts, male and female, haunting the streets of Chicago.

Oh sure; to anyone else this might look like a bunch of bar-hopping twenty-something women looking to get free drinks and possibly engage in consensual anonymous intercourse with the various slutty Draculas or slutty dead-firemen who are also wandering the streets. But I know about ghosts because I've seen the movies on the TV and I know that they aren't all slutty Caspers. I know the true origins of Halloween. Even if only ten percent of the slutty costumed persons running the streets were otherworldly, that's still one out of every ten horny costumed persons.

And last night they were running around in droves.

So instead of subjecting myself to potential illness or any crop ruination, I resolved to hole myself up in my tiny studio apartment and wait it out. I placed garlic bulbs near the entrances to the apartment. I had a jar of holy water within arms reach at all time. I loaded my Glock with the best silver bullets I could buy and kept it by my bedside. I placed a crucifix on every window sill. I was ready. And I waited with a bottle of Jim Beam until the dawn just to be sure that no slutty zombies would try to break in and eat my delicious brains.

To my surprise and - I admit - disappointment, I only had one run-in with a potential ghoul last night. At about 10:45 I received a knock at my door and, being half drunk at the time, I jumped to the obvious conclusion and opened fire with my Glock. I suppose, looking back on it today, that the pizza delivery guy may not have been a ghost. I had, after all, ordered a small deep dish pepperoni pizza that night (there was no way in hell I was going out). In all fairness, though, the pizza delivery guy did look just a tad bit slutty.

Oh, and the pizza was delicious.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nat Topping - Master of the Dance (Part III - The Revenge)

Last night, my girlfriend and I had our weekly Latin Dance class.

This has become more than just a dance class, by the way; it has also become what I like to call a "Nat class." In a "Nat class" the skill becomes almost secondary as I begin to learn more and more about myself. They are heart warming and illuminating events and I hope one day to turn this particular experience into a movie. Like Billy Elliot only taller, fatter and less British.

Here are some things that I have learned about myself:

Self Revelation A: I am a dance competitor. Not in the sense that I am going to start slapping numbers on my back in the hopes that I can earn extra money and the respect of my dancing peers. To hell with that. But if I'm going to drag my ass out to the 'burbs to take a dance class, I want to learn what I'm doing. Even if I'm only going to forget everything I've learned over the next three days.

Self Revelation B: I am incapable of moving my hips. This is a particularly challenging obstacle when dancing the cha cha. Ever dance the cha cha with the Frankenstein monster? Now you know how my girlfriend feels. This may be the challenge that I ultimately must overcome in a poignant climax at the end of the movie where finally I learn to move beyond the steps and start dancing with passion and fire!

"GRRRRRR!! FUEGO BAD!" shouts the Frankenstein monster in his red sequined jump suit.

Self Revelation C: As hard as I try, I cannot dance the Tango without making an ass out of myself. As soon as I get the face under control I start flinging my arms around like I'm some sort of Tango master. When I'm not flinging my arms around, I'm making silly Tango faces. When I have my arms and my face under control, I suddenly can't do any of the steps. I don't know if this is something I can control with additional practice or if I just need to embrace the silliness and move on.

More self revelations to follow I'm sure. For now, I will continue to soldier on in my attempt to conquer my inherent awkward whiteness and, if all else fails, I can always fall back on the monster mash.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Garden Grave...

Last Friday, we did our one and only (foreseeable) performance of the Danse Macabre for this year. I have to admit, it was nice to get back out on stage and do a little improv. It's been a while since I've actually performed in front of people (last March?) and even longer since I last performed improv (last November?). I've spent most of the year writing, which I love of course, but I still have that itch to occasionally get up in front of an audience and make an ass out of myself.

I have missed doing the Danse Macabre too. Last year we did a pretty substantial run of the show and it was a good time. I think what makes it so much fun is the fact that the show is done in a style that is not only very appropriate for this time of year but also just a lot of fun. There's also nothing more enjoyable than fake-ripping the larynx off of another actor in the middle of an audience. I also tied a personal record three deaths on stage last Friday, so that was fun: (1) I had my throat cut open, (2) I was bludgeoned to death with some sort of gardening implement, and (3) I was killed by the innocence to two virginal females who happened to be twin sisters (played, naturally, by two men). Number 3 was probably the most satisfying.

The theatre in Three Oaks was absolutely gorgeous. The space is a converted Corset warehouse. They build a stage with a couple of trap doors, a hydraulic lift and catwalks across the top of the playing area. This gave us plenty of toys to work with, and one of the directives for our show was to use as much of the space as possible. There was one moment in the show where Don Hall and I took a ride up the hydraulic lift for a quick little scene. Did it advance the plot? No. Did it add anything to the audience's experience? Probably not. I had fun, though.

Once the show was over the owner of the theatre treated us to drinks and food and then put us all up for the night in a couple of different rooms in the building. It was like a little vacation.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Staged Reading

I loves me some staged reading. Last night was ours for Robot vs Dinosaur and I have to say I had a great time. We got some good feedback from the audience (the people whom we are writing for) and the actors as well (the people who have to actually say the lines). I thought the most interesting part of the talk back was when we asked the audience if they thought there was a theme to our little show. I was surprised to hear some of the different possibilities provided by the audience - themes that I never would have thought of but that make us as writers sound so much smarter than just a couple of guys that want to be funny. The most important result for me is that I came away excited to get back to work on the show.

On to the next event! The Danse Macabre opens and closes tonight at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan. The show is at 8:00 [7:00 Central for you Chicagoites] and the theatre is about an hour out of the city. If you're free tonight, come hang out. The link to the Acorn Theatre's site (with directions, etc.) can be found in the right hand column.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"When People Stop Being Ugly"


The staged reading for Robot vs. Dinosaur is tonight at the uptown writer's space. See the left hand column for more details. If you're not already doing anything, come hang out.

And now...

First, I want to apologize for not writing anything since Monday. I have been too busy over the past couple of days with contemplating the future!

Specifically this article from the BBC News website.

For those of you who don't have time to click on the link or for those of you who have an irrational fear and/or hatred of the British, I'll summarize: basically the human race is heading in two different directions. One half of the race can look forward to evolving into an ultra tall, attractive race of super intelligent uber-yuppies. According to the article:

"Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve... while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features...."

The other half... well, not so much. You remember Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movies? That'll be you, other half. Better start checking the rental listings for caves.

How long before the rest of us can expect our symmetrical facial features, pert breasts and gargantuan penises? Why, just a mere 1,000 years!

All of this courtesy of the evolutionary theorist Dr. Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics. That's right; somewhere someone is handing out doctorates for people to sit around and think about what people might look like thousands of years from now.

Curiously enough, I have recently been doing my own evolutionary theorizing and am working on publishing my own treatise on the future of humanity. Here's a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book, entitled "When People Stop Being Ugly."

It's a working title. Here's the excerpt:

"In the not too distant future - relatively speaking, of course - the human race will finally shake off the chains of ugliness and step out into the sunlight of extreme attractiveness. All humans will finally have the opportunity to sport luxuriously smooth red beards regardless of hair color, although women will be discouraged from growing them over the first 3,257 years. By year 3,258 the notion that bushy red beards are desirable regardless of sex will finally gain widespread acceptance. Also, men will be tall (~6'4") and sport an incredibly sexy beer belly. Women will finally grow that third breast we've all been waiting for. Childrens' vocal chords will not develop at all until the age of thirteen."

I would go on but (a) I don't have the time or the space on this page to include all 453-plus pages of the treatise and (b) I don't want to give too much away for free. I'll be charging money for this scientific brilliance, thank you very much.

I wonder if the London School of Economics could use another doctor...

Monday, October 22, 2007


Hey y'all.

I actually have some events this week! I updated the Events information in the left-hand column of this blog, so check those out. Also, there's a new date-nite sketch on the website as well. And, just so you people know, the staged reading on Thursday is, in fact, free.

Side note: if you ever have a chance to drink multiple free German beers with your bosses in the middle of a Friday afternoon/evening, I highly suggest that you take the opportunity. You learn so much more about your superiors, and they learn what type of socially malignant human being you really are. It's a win-win situation for us all! Lucklily, I still had a job when I arrived to work this morning.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Oktoberfest is a 17 day long festival of all things German (read: drinking) that typically ends on the first Sunday of October. Today is the third Friday of October, but that's not going to stop the company I work for from cutting out early today to go boozing together. I may have some good blog fodder coming out of this evening. Or I may have a hangover. Stay tuned, my little Cleverettes!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where The Hell Is Fall?

All alarmist apocalyptic screaming aside, does anyone else miss autumn? It's a beautiful, breezy 73 degrees here in the windy city. I know that I should be thankful, given that purgatorian November is just around the corner, just to have those last few moments of warmth. Despite that, I find myself longing for those upper 50's/lower 60's temperatures that I expect for this time of the year. In fact, I look forward to the fall - it's one of my favorite times of the year. I feel cheated.

Ah well. Enough belly aching. Here's a picture of a man making love to an inflatable rhinoceros. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nat Topping - Master of the Dance (Part II)

Last night at Latin Dance class (that's right - quit laughing) I completely mastered the Salsa and the Tango.

Okay, well, I learned the absolute basic moves of the Salsa and the Tango, so I guess the "master of the dance" part might be a little misleading. Maybe I might be better suited to"student of the dance." Or "bumbling baffoon of the dance." Either way, I'm still taking those baby steps towards overcoming my inherent awkward whiteness so at least it can be said that this experience is a good thing.

Here are my stats:

Number of confirmed times in which I stepped on my girlfriend's feet: 1

Number of times where I may or may not have stepped on her feet but she was too polite to say anything: 11

Number of times where I may or may not have dug my fingers into her shoulder blade: countless.

I will say this much: dancing the Tango makes you feel like a badass - even the most basic steps. We learned to do the side promenade last night. It looks awesome, and the great thing is the female partner does all the twirling work, so all I have to do is concentrate on not screwing the pooch on my half of the deal and then we're golden. After a couple of those side promenades pretty soon I was thinking, "I must look awesome. I'm like freaking Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman!" A quick glance down the room towards the full length mirrors confirmed that no, I just look like a slightly overweight dude desperately trying to look like Al Pacino. I spent the rest of the night trying to dance away from the mirrors.

Here's another piece of self-knowledge that I uncovered while dancing the Tango. I am incapable of dancing this dance without making some sort of silly Tango face. Try as hard as I might to just concentrate on what I was doing, I found it impossible to keep from raising an eyebrow and smirking. I don't know if it was just a function of the "I'm awesome" thoughts running through my head or if I have some sort of dancing condition which prohibits me from looking like a normal person. I might need to consult a physician. I'll keep you all posted.

But I shall soldier on. And perhaps one day in the not so distant future you might see me up on stage in a Michael Flatley-esque show where I am wowing the audience with my incredibly masculine yet ever-so-slightly suspect dancing moves. So you have that to look forward to. In the meantime, say a prayer for my girlfriend's feet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Help Desk Hell Hole

I spend a lot of my time sitting in help desk hold-music purgatory. It's just a part of the job when you work in the glamorous telecommunications industry. You know those long waits on the phone where you hope and pray that you'll get an actual person on the line just so you can do something easy, like change your billing address or something mundane like that; you know those calls? You know how irritating and long and painful they are? That's a big part of my day.

It is not unusual to spend an hour on hold just to speak with a representative from AT&T. Normally, I wouldn't wait an hour to speak to the freaking Godfather, much less some soulless cog in AT&T's intricately evil corporate machinery (no offense, AT&T). But the shitty thing is you can't just hang up and call back later because if you hang up you lose your spot in the line. Then when you call back, the wait will probably be even longer because you start at the back of the line and work your way forward. God help you if you don't take a trip to the bathroom before you get on the line.

So, as a result, I spend much of my day trapped on the phone trying to think of ways to keep from rapidly losing my mind. I'll multitask and do whatever work I can get done but inevitably I'll run out and as a result end up sitting and staring at my computer screen contemplating the nature of death.

I'm therefore compiling a list of things one can do while waiting on the phone to pass the time. This is, obviously, only a partial list. If you people have any recommendations, please leave them in the comment section. Here's what I have so far:

Compiled by Nat Topping
  1. Rock out to the hold music! Go ahead and dance! Play the air guitar. This one just requires a mind over matter mentality. You're going to enjoy yourself no matter what. Pretend that your at a Hootie and the Blowfish Concert and that the tickets were free so you'll be goddamned if you don't have a good time.
  2. Make up words to your favorite hold music! I have a favorite on the Verizon Business hold line: "We'd love to keep you Verizon Hell/ There's no escaping us/ Hell, your in hell/ and now there's no escaping hell/ no, no, no escaping this hell now."
  3. Practice the art of puppetry! I have become an accomplished hand-puppeteer over the course of a half-year here. Did you know stapler can be a shark given the right imagination? Experiment and see what items on your desk or body parts you can make talk (note: some body parts are inappropriate for use as puppets in the work place. Bear that in mind).
  4. Create elaborate paperclip sculptures! My buddy at work made a little free-standing paper clip man that I keep on my desk. Also note that your paperclip sculptures can be used as puppets. hey, you can tell your boss that you're multitasking!
  5. Teach yourself office martial arts! What office supplies can be used as weapons? The phone as some sort of nunchuks, maybe? Binder clips as throwing starts? Try snatching a pushpin from your own hand. See if you are accurate enough to put a paper clip in your co worker's coffee cup across the room.
  6. Learn to imitate a turrets syndrome patient! Swearing constantly is not only cathartic, given that you are slowly wasting away like a wilting flower and there's nothing you can do, but the streams of obscenity make for some great awkward pauses when the rep finally picks up the other line.
  7. Draw little stick figure cartoons of what you imagine the employees on the other end are doing right now! I used to have a very intricate rendering where the help desk people were too busy sacrificing a goat to answer the ringing phones. I would show it to you but, alas, but it was so elaborately drawn that the work is now hanging in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.
  8. If all else fails, search for raunchy hardcore porn using the company's internet!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Visitors from Around the World!

Hello members of the global community,

Until recently, I thought that there were only three people reading this blog. Now I know that there are at least SIX, three of which do not live on this continent. How do I know these things? Because I'm tracking each and every person reading this blog. Don't ask me how. It's a secret which I choose to take with me to my grave.

Well, ok: it's a little program thingy called sitemeter.

Today, as a de facto ambassador to three other countries, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my "global viewership" by honoring the countries whose citizens accidentally ran across my website while looking for pirate porn.

Hello, Greece! One of your children in Athens stumbled across my little blog and spent a grand total of 5 seconds on my site. I would like to say "welcome" to you, my Athenian friend, and thank you for your interest. I too am interested in your lovely country! I think that most of your food is delicious. I particularly enjoy your lamb dishes. I never would have thought that I would like lamb - they seem too cute to be delicious. You guys proved me wrong - your propensity for eating cute things has opened my eyes. I also hear that you guys have loose wardrobe requirements on some of your beaches in the islands. I hope that one day I can return the favor and visit you and your many beautiful islands. I dream of spending my afternoons at your nude beaches (fully clothed, of course, to spare everyone the site of my gargantuan penis; but I will be sporting a large pair of binoculars) ogling the German tourists while sipping some delicious Ouzo and eating stuffed grape leaves.
Hello, Sweden! One of your residents in Stockholm seems to be interested in stories about men buying panties. Hey, whatever floats your boat (I'm envisioning a viking longboat here - correct me if I'm wrong). I must confess that I do not know much about your country, other than that you guys make wooden floors and Ikea furniture. I have one of your chairs in my tiny studio apartment right now. The chair has a name, but I can't remember it off the top of my head. Something elaborately Swedish. I just call it "Chair" if I ever need to address it in polite conversation. I would be more than willing to spend some time learning about your (presumably) lovely country - particularly if you guys have nude beaches.

Brazil: I don't know who among you is visiting my site (someone from Sao Paulo), but I absolutely refuse to advertise their custom-made T-shirt company on my blog. I don't care how many nude beaches you may have, or how enticingly attractive your Amazonian women are. I categorically refuse to advertise anything on my site unless you are willing to pay top dollar (or whatever your Brazilian currency is) for the space. That's just the way I roll. And if you as a country have a problem with that, then you can go to hell. Also, I hate your flag. There. I said it.
In closing, I would just like to say "Thank you" to all the foreigners out there who have visited my blog (except for you, Brazil) and would like to encourage you to come again. Tell your friends, too. And tell Kazakhstan that I miss them terribly.
Oh Kazakhstan!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Staged Reading!

First thing's first: Robot vs. Dinosaur (the group I've been writing with on Thursday nights) will be having a staged reading on Thursday, October 25th. It'll be at the Uptown Writer's Space, located at the corner of Lawrence and Broadway in Chicago. I think the reading starts at 8:00 and should take about an hour or so; I'll let you all know for sure later on.

Last night we had the actors come to the meeting to read through our scripts so that they can get acquainted with our long-winded, rambling scenes. There's nothing more rewarding for a comedy writer than hearing other people (particularly performers) read your scripts out loud. It reminds you that you're not just writing so that you can sit in a dimly lit basement somewhere and laugh at your own cleverness in between eating cheetos and glancing over at that Japanese game show on the Spike network. Scenes are meant to be read aloud! In public! Comedy must be shared!

That being said, that act of hearing your work read aloud will also tend to point out the glaring flaws/typographical errors/lack of proper grammar/awkward wordiness etc. potentially present in your scene. So, even though your scene might seem perfect while you're sitting in your basement watching gameshows and eating cheetos (I don't know where I'm coming up with these details - I have no basement, I have no cable and I have no food) you find out pretty quickly that even your most polished script still needs work before you actually put a scene up "for real."

Not to fear though - that's what the staged reading is for: finding the flaws and fixing them before you try conning people into paying money to see your work. It's also an invaluable way to learn what works and what doesn't. If you are a writer just starting out, I highly recommend strong-arming your actorly (or reasonably literate) friends into reading your scenes aloud for you. Typically, some sort of food or beverage offering will suffice as payment. Remember, in the theatre world, certain items can take the place of money. For instance, in the actor's world, beer is just as good as currency. Whiskey is the prefered currency of the writer. Directors prefer casting-couch sex. I don't know what lighting designers like but I'm pretty sure whatever is is it's illegal.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Response to My Sister's Most Recent Blog Post

Dearest Vanessa,

You wrote a blog entry addressed to me, so I feel I should write one back to you.

In response to your most recent blog post, I suppose I owe you an explanation on the "McDonalds Bet." I was sitting in a bar with my buddy Pat, discussing various foolish things when, and I can't remember how it came up, I mentioned French McDonalds. Pat insisted, incorrectly, that there was no such thing as a French McDonalds and that they were in fact outlawed from the land of France by government legislation. I informed him that he was incorrect (yet again) and he stubbornly refused to admit the errors of his way so I was forced to prove that there are McDonalds restaurants in the land of France.

Since you had just spent approximately a year living in the land of France, I considered you to be an authority on French fastfood and so texted you to verify what I already knew: namely that I am right. Your texted response proved my point and I thank you for your assistance. Pat continues to live in denial, as is his wont, but I have since realized that there is nothing that you or I can do to change that.

He's probably reading this right now.

At any rate, I am glad that my foolish childhood dancing antics (videotaped without first obtaining a signed release, by the way, from toddler Nat) continue to amuse and delight you. Rest assured that I like you too.

In regards to your impending lameness, I would like to welcome you to the club. I can't even tell you how many times I have turned down the opportunity to party with a busload of Scandinavian strippers, opting instead to order a delicious Lou Malnati's deep-dish pepperoni pizza and watch the entire 4th season of Mr. Show. I wonder if perhaps you and I are genetically predisposed to lameness. We are related afterall, or so I've been told.

In regards to your preference for the "real life," I personally feel that I have yet to find such an experience. Would you count living in the land of France as the real life? I spent eighty hours each week for over a year working at a theatre and did not consider it to be real life. I've worked countless straight jobs praying for that not to be the real life. I have my responsibilities; I pay my bills; is this the real life yet? Meh. It's life.

I think the difference between giggling freshman Vanessa and senior year Vanessa is not so much a penchant for real life but an expression of your maturity. At anyrate, I'll get off the pseudo pulpit and say I'm proud of my little sister who is most likely smarter than me. And I'm glad that you wrote a new blog entry - you should write more often - it gave me something to read.

Talk to you later, kiddo.



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nat Topping - Master of the Dance

This will be me in roughly a week. My girlfriend, the greatest baseball girlfriend ever, has talked me in to taking some sort of latin dance class with her. I have always loved to dance but never had the confidence to actually learn how to properly do it. I also figure this will be a good way for me to erode away at my inherant white-guy awkwardness. At the very least, it should provide me with some good potentially embarassing fodder for blog writing. So you have that to look forward to.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pleasant Weather: The Coming Apocalypse

What a glorious past couple of days, weather wise. Temps in the 80's, sunny, a slight breeze coming out of the west. I even considered going swimming this weekend. Of course, I am a pasty white guy and I was afraid that I might get some sort of horrendous blistery sunburn again, so instead I kept my shirt on and enjoyed the sunshine. Yessir, there's nothing finer than summer in Chicago.

What's that you say? Check the day? Why it's Monday, silly. Oh the date. Sorry. Hold on, let me check my calendar.

October 8th. Huh. Seems a little late for summery weather given that we're clearly in autumn now. Well, maybe it's like an Indian Summer or something. Except didn't we kind of have one of those already? Maybe we get two. Maybe we as a city were extra good this year and are being rewarded with a second Indian Summer.

Well then I shall think nothing of it, give thanks to the fates and simply enjoy the nice weather with which we have recently been blessed.

Now what should I do today? Perhaps I will check the BBC news website now to read up on the current events of the day and so forth. I would check CNN but I'm afraid I've had my fill of anecdotal amputee news recently.

Let me see here. Hmmm. It would appear that Canada is asserting it's teritorial rights over something called the Northwest Passage. Boring! I wonder what David Beckham is up to. But wait, what is a Northwest Passage? Let me think. That must be a shipping lane that runs between that Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the northern coast of Canada.

But I thought that the Northwest Passage was largely theoretical. I thought that there was so much Arctic ice that there was no safe way to get large shipping vessels through. I thought that countless 16th century explorers risked time, money and lives searching for a viable Northwest Passage only to be turned back in vain.

It looks like that same artic ice has melted enough that a shipping lane over the north of Canada is now a viable option. I've always thought that we needed another shipping lane. As a matter of fact, I spend a lot of time thinking about shipping and wondering where the next lane is going to come from. Maybe we as a continent were extra good this year, so we're being rewarded with another shipping lane! I wonder if it's part of the same good things that we did to deserve all the good weather.

Oh, before I forget, note to self: buy sunscreen.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What I Will Be Thinking About All Day

This might just be the strangest little article I've ever read:

From WSOCTV in South Carolina.

Apparently, a man by the name of John Wood lost his leg in an airplane crash but has been keeping the amputated leg so that when he dies he can have it cremated along with the rest of his corpse. Somehow, his amputated leg ended up in a barbecue smoker. The smoker was sold at public auction to another South Carolina genius, Shannon Whisnant, who decided that he wants to charge people to come see the disembodied leg.

As a man who often keeps all of his most important items concealed in my oven, I can certainly empathize with Mr. Wood. One would hope that other people might respect the protective sanctity of one's cooking apparati and have the decency to return the valued possessions, legal documents etc. contained therein to their rightful owners. On the other hand, if one wants to auction off one's safe, one might want to make sure that the safe is completely empty first and, oh by the way, WHO KEEPS THEIR FREAKING LEG IN A BARBECUE SMOKER?

These are the important, hard hitting questions that I need answered, damn it.

At least I can look forward to laying awake tonight thinking of ways to rationalize this story.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Comrade Nat of the Russkaya Mafiya

Finally, after a life time of trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up (I'm 25 - you'd think I would have figured it out before now) I have stumbled across the perfect career for myself.

Mom, I'm going to be a Russian mobster.

Last Saturday, I saw a movie called Eastern Promises. Not the best name for a movie, granted, but it was still pretty kick-ass. It's about the Russian brand of organized crime running amok in London, England. (Not London, Ontario obviously; running amok is typically frowned upon by most Canadians as just plain impolite). I would write a thoughtful, intelligent review on the movie but I am so pumped about my new career choice that I fear my objectivity could be called in to question.

Ever since seeing the Godfather, I always thought the life of organized crime would be a fun and exciting career move. Unfortunately, I do not look Italian. Anyone who has ever seen my pale white ass knows this. For a while, I considered stage makeup as a suitable alternative to my poor choice of genetics but once the other mobsters find out it becomes a huge issue and, trust me, even once you apologize you will still never live it down.

But hey, Russians are pale white bastards too. And they are just as crooked and violent as any other mob! What a perfect fit. Now I just need to perfect the accent and the cold, lifeless Siberian stare.

Which is what I have been doing for the past couple of days, that is to say when I'm not pulling dustpans out from underneath my girlfriend's car. Whenever someone asks me a question, I do a little shrug, curl up the left side of my upper lip and respond in my best low, gravelly Russian accent, "Da, da," which I can only assume is Russian for "Fuck you, I could kill you right now if I wanted." I don't speak Russian. Yet.

I walk the streets at night in a black suit that I bought at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Not exactly high class custom tailoring, but I gotta start somewhere. I don't want to commit any real crimes yet, because I don't think I have enough money or connections to bribe the cops, so I just imagine them. In my imagination, I have extorted $3 million from various barbers across the city, smuggled countless duffel bags full of heroine into the city and brutally killed seventy ethnic Chechens and Ukrainians with an assortment of knives, icepicks, metal pipes, exotic handguns and once with a MiG-33.

I'd say I'm off to a pretty good start.

Then again, I've never been a big fan of Russian food. Beets have never really done it for me, and I cringe at the thought of eating fish eggs. I wonder if eating that would be a part of the hazing ritual. Also, whenever I drink Vodka I am always overcome with the desire to tell embarrassing sexual stories about myself to complete strangers.

I may need to rethink this a little bit. I guess for now I'll just keep writing drivel and see where it leads me.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Damn You, Janitor's Truck!!

At about 9:15 last night I received a call on my cellular phone. I picked up and on the other end I heard the high pitched squealing of a woman set to the sounds of a loud grinding noise in the background. I was about to chalk it up to another anonymous sadomasochistic perv-call when it became clear to me that the woman on the other end was, in fact, my girlfriend. And she was not happy.

Katie, who lives in one of the far suburbs of Chicago, surprised me earlier in the day by offering to come into the city to spend the evening with me. It appeared that I would finally realize my life-long fantasy of being hand-fed grapes and fanned by a scantily clad woman. I cleaned up my room. I showered. I bought a giant palm fan and some grapes and then I put on a nice button-down shirt. I did everything that I should do but typically don't because I'm somewhat lazy that way in preparation and was ready to go when I got the screamy-hysterical call.

As it turns out, while she was on her way down the highway a pickup truck loaded with a bunch of janitorial supplies must have hit a bump or something. Garbage bags and other assorted crap fell out of the truck, which was directly in front of her, and she couldn't swerve in time. There was now a loud scraping noise coming from somewhere beneath the car, which explains the grinding noise I heard on the phone. She had stopped on the side of the highway to call her dad, who proceeded to yell at her for stopping on the side of the highway (admittedly not the best place to stop given that there were psychotic drivers speeding around the curve at 90 miles per hour). She was scraping along down the highway and thoroughly scared when she called me.

I calmed her down and told her to get off at my exit and stop at the nearest well lit place (the CVS drug store on Diversey and Western) where I would meet her. I jumped in my car and sped off down Diversey towards the highway.

When I got to the parking lot, she was already parked and out of the car. I got down onto the parking lot pavement in my nice button down shirt to take a look. A powder blue plastic dustbin attached to a rod was lodged underneath her car. I felt around underneath the car to see where exactly it was stuck and discovered that there was also a plastic hook on the other end of the rod that was attached to the bottom of the car. I needed scissors. Stat. We were in the CVS parking lot.

You would think any self-respecting establishment selling office supplies would be sure to have scissors in stock. This was not the case at the CVS. Apparently, scissors sell like hot cakes on Damen and Western Avenues. Who knew that area was such a hot spot for arts and crafts. I was certainly not aware of this. If I had known, I would have got an apartment in the area. I love arts and crafts. I was about the leave when by chance I found one lonely utility knife hanging out in the housewares aisle.

The cashier must have thought I was going to commit some sort of heinous crime. When he asked if I needed a bag for my brand new utility knife, I told him no. It was to be my only purchase. He then got to watch me rip the packaging apart and open the blade as I walked out the door. I guess I could have waited. I'm lucky he didn't call the cops.

I then spent a good ten to fifteen minutes underneath Katie's car hacking away at the makeshift plastic contraption lodged between the pavement and the car while she was calling her dad again. I took a quick breather from hanging out in the warm underbelly of the car and noticed a smoking middle-aged Indian man staring at me. I don't know if he was trying to figure out what I was doing or just staring at my now exposed sweaty ass-crack. I gave him a polite smile. He looked away and went back to waiting for his bus.

I finally managed to pop the plastic hook off one end of the rod and cut away enough at the dustpan part so that I could drag it out from under the car.

Was it time for the hand-fed grapes yet? No. Why? Because the car was now leaking some sort of fluid too. We left her car in the parking lot for a moment and then drove back to my house to turn off all of the lights that I had left on and to wash and bandage up my hand. I changed my shirt, now black from all the crap underneath her car, and then I followed Katie back out to the suburbs so that she could leave her car in a mechanic's parking lot. Finally we made it back to her house and then we crashed. So much for a lovely evening in the city. I am happy, though, that I could help her out and keep her calm. Hopefully the car's fine.

As I was driving in to work this morning from the suburbs (a nice two hour plus traffic-filled joy ride through thick fog) I was cut off by a little purple Hyundai. The rear driver's side window rolled down, and a man popped his head out. He then projectile vomited onto the pavement twice. My sentiments exactly. I thought how nice it would be to have a chauffeur or, better yet, not to have a car at all.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I declare this week the week of rewriting.

I've been pumping out sketches and other hooey for my writing various projects for the past couple of months now. And by "pumping out" I mean writing a couple of lines of dialogue in between watching old episodes of Mr. Show. Now I have a whole pile of semi-funny paper that needs to be refined into mildly-funny paper.

So, since my next writing class doesn't start for another week or so I will be spending my evenings working on taking out lines that don't work, moving things around and generally hacking up my scenes. It should be a long arduous process.

I had an instructer at U of M say that "the secret to writing is rewriting." I think that's true. Writing is the process of taking a bunch of ideas and refining them into something legible. I don't think I've ever written anything that wasn't made better by at least a couple of minor changes.

So that's all I have to say today. Oh, one other thing: I called it in August.

Lions won, you Bears fans.