Friday, August 31, 2007

Michigan Football Time

It's that time of the year again. Time for we the faithful to don the sacred colors and make our way to stadiums, sports bars and living room television sets around the country. It's college football season

What? Two football blogs within a week? What? I must be slipping.

Check that, fool: I just loves me some college football. Michigan Wolverines football.

I can't help it. Believe me, I want to write about something worthwhile tonight. I want to write something insightful and thought-provoking about immigration policy or abortion or some other big ticket topic.

But I can't. Because tonight, on the eve of college football's first Saturday of the year, all I can think about is the old maize and blue. Chalk it down to growing up watching the bowl games with my dad (a Michigan alumnus), or to living with Kenesiology (basically the study of sport) majors my whole time at U of M, or to walking among the throngs of blue clad students heading to the massive stadium (The Big House), or to watching in person as the Wolverines picked apart Notre Dame (an enemy second only to those treacherous rapscallions THE Ohio State Buckeyes) or the day we rushed the field from the student section (it was awesome).

Back in high school I hated football. Mostly because I knew the football players from my school and I knew exactly the shade of bastard they wore around the halls on their way to passing grades and a free-ride scholarship to Michigan State. I went to Michigan not because I wanted to be at a great football school but because I wanted to be at a great school. But when those student tickets arrived in the mail and I haphazardly threw the package onto a pile of random papers, my dad was sure to warn me to keep track of them. I was going to be a fan of Michigan football, he said. It was inevitable. I would be helpless.

Sure enough, seven years after my first steps into the Big House, I find myself scrambling to find a bar that will show the Michigan vs. Appalachian State game.

Last November, I watched the Michigan vs. Ohio State game in a tent behind a bar with no sound. I was hung over from a night at the Kingston Mines and I had a huge blister on my hand from falling asleep next to my radiator (don't ask) but I was there bright and early to stake out my seat. I still have the scar to this day - of the radiator burn on my left knuckle and of the heartbreaking loss Michigan suffered. It was still a great football game.

My friend Aaron, an actor currently studying at Brown University, claims that a good football game is better than the best theatre. I don't know that I agree completely, but I certainly can see his point. The problem with football is that the stakes are so specific. If you don't give a damn about one team or the other, it looks like a bunch of grown men dressed up in colorful clothing running around on a square throwing a brown thingy around (which is essentially what football is). But in that regard it's just like in a scene. If I don't care about at least one of the characters the scene just looks like a bunch of people in silly clothing moving around on a square throwing around words they memorized (which is essentially what theatre is too.) You can manufacture an audience's connection with a character through good writing. I don't think you can do that with football.

I definitely prefer Aaron's assessment to Noam Chomsky, by all accounts a very smart man who claims that sports are an institutional method of diverting we unwashed masses from paying attention to world events. Personally, I find it insulting to think that I can't be passionate about more than one thing at a time. It's like saying chewing gum was invented to keep idiots from walking too much.

Besides, football games are only once a week. Given that I have two teams that I would like to watch frequently - the Michigan Wolverines and the Detroit Lions - that's like six hours out of my week where I'm probably not thinking about the slow relinquishing of my God-given American rights to the corporate-fed corruption machine known as the US Government, etc. etc. I don't really want to live in a world where I can't take six hours off a week from being horribly depressed.

So to you, Noam Chomsky, and to you football naysayers, I say this: go get yourself a blue shirt and come along. If you give football a fair shot, you might be surprised how much you enjoy yourself.

And Go Blue!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In Defense of Blogging

My instructor in comedy writing class has encouraged we students to engage in daily journal writing as a means of sharpening our writing skills. He recommended that we run out and get a notebook or start a blog. Bonus for me - I already had a blog. That's one less notebook to buy. Score. So now, every other week or so the instructor goes around the room and asks each of us if we are still writing every day.

During one of these sessions I was surprised to hear one of my compatriots, a copywriter at a local ad agency and someone who's scene writing I actually respect, start talking the smack about blogs. Obviously I don't have the transcript in front of me, but it was something to the effect of 'I can't stand people bitching online about their mundane lives or about politics and religion or what have you, flattering themselves into thinking that other people actually care when in reality only three people are reading the crap anyway. I'm above that.'

This coming from a man who probably spends his day writing print ads for acne medication.

So of course when the instructor got around to me I had to confess my sins. "Well, Kiff (my instructor's name is Kiff), I did write something nearly every day this week but it was in a blog so it was mostly crap about my mundane life, religion and politics. I also wrote a long piece of drivel about a pirate."

If I had known I was just going to annoy the three people who read this thing, I never would have started.

Wait, no, I would have started it any way.

I would be lying if I told you that I'm only writing this blog for myself. Of course I intend for you to read this. Otherwise, why the hell would I bother posting it on the web? I could just as easily write a bunch of nonsense in a word document and still get that delightfully productive-feeling tying sensation on my finger tips.

But I don't know that the value of blogging is necessarily in the information conveyed in the blog. I'm not going to flatter myself into thinking that any ideas, opinions, or stories that I post on the blog are going to change anyone's lives or make anyone think differently. I mean hell, I wrote an entire entry about buying panties once. Where's the value in that?

The value is in the belief that, for whatever reason, the blogger feels that their experiences or their beliefs or biases or opinions are worth expressing to other people. It speaks to the importance of individuality and the right to express yourself to people regardless of whether you are conservative or liberal, whether you're a seasoned writer or an existentially distraught teenager, whether you're a Michigan fan or an Ohio State fan, whether you are expressing your love of Star Trek commemorative plates or your hatred of corporate America's influence on national politics. I could balloon this out into a freedom-of-speech-importance-of-free-thought-in-a-democracy tirade, but I don't want to alienate any of my steady audience of three people so I'll stop there.

I'll just leave with this. I know my compatriot didn't mean any harm with his anti-blogging tirade. But I say shame on anyone who tries to tell you they're above expressing themselves.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Train Ninjas For a Living

Not really. Although, note to self: get a job where the jargon makes me sounds more important.

Let's say you're sitting at the bar of some suave cocktail lounge, enjoying a delicious gin martini with two olives, when suddenly an incredibly beautiful blonde woman walks up to you and asks to borrow a cigarette. You give her a cigarette and light it for her. After blowing a tantalizingly perfect smoke ring, she leans in and introduces herself. "I'm Madeline," she says. You respond with whatever your hypothetical suave name is, and then she asks you, "So, what do you do?" You resist the urge to say "you" while making grotesque pelvic thrusting motions. She repeats the question, "What do you do?" How do you answer?

Well, if you're a neurosurgeon, you say "I'm a neurosurgeon."

"Sounds important. What does a neurosurgeon do?" she asks.

"I don't want to bore you with the technical jargon," you say casually. "Basically, I save lives."

That's impressive. That woman is probably already sitting in the passenger seat of your Aston Martin waiting for you to whisk her off to a fairytale life. Now, if you're a provisioning manager at a small telecommunications reseller, what do you say?

"Oh, well, I'm a provisioning manager at a small telecommunications reseller." The words come tripping off of your tongue like it's the most natural thing to say in the world. Your eye glasses start to slip down your nose, so you push them back up with one finger.

"A provisioning manager, what's that?" she says.

"I don't want to bore you with the technical jargon," you say casually. "Basically, I'm responsible for providing T-1 dedicated internet solutions, or DS1 private line solutions to customers across the... hey, where are you going?" you ask frantically as she walks out of the suave cocktail lounge.

Not that I go around trying to pick up hypothetical people at hypothetical cocktail bars. It does occasionally dawn on me when I'm trying to explain how my day went that I am speaking an entirely different language from what the typical person is willing to try and understand. There are entire dictionaries filled with telecommunications lingo that means absolutely nothing to people outside of telecommunications. Hell, I don't even understand what the hell I'm saying half the time and I spend forty hours a week just spewing this stuff at people. Here's a typical conversation for me:

OTHER PERSON: "So Nat, how was your day?"

NAT: "It was a real pain in the ass. I'm trying to have this LEC drop off the loop to the ckl1 end of this DS1 intrastate private line order, but I can't get the ridiculously stupid LEC tech to post the DEMARC info to AT&T, so do you think they can complete out the CTA? No. So of course now I got the customer calling me because he knows the LEC redispatched today, so he's hoping to activate the circuit, but I can't even get AT&T to talk to BellSouth, which is owned by AT&T and it's just a big cluster fuck, the whole thing. And meanwhile, I can't even get AT&T to verify the ckl2 side is wired so I don't even know what's going on with that."

OTHER PERSON: "Wow. I have absolutely no idea what you just said."

Me neither. So, as a result, I've come to realize that I need one of two things: either I need to find myself a more impressive sounding job OR I need to make up something to tell people that sounds awesome, like Ninja trainer. I'm thinking this is what I might tell people from now on:

"Hi, I'm Nat Topping. I'm a provisioning manager." What, pray tell, is that? "Well, you see, I provision special weapons and highly technological gizmos for British secret agents. Like John Cleese from the James Bond movies. The Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies, though. Not the new one, although that was an awesome movie. Can I buy you a drink?"

There. Much better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Presidential Solution #1

August 28th, 2007
My fellow Americans,

In light of the recent spat of resignations plaguing the current President's administration, and given my quest to learn as much as I can from previous administrations' mistakes (and there have been a lot of them throughout the short 231 year life of the country), I hereby make the following promise for my administration, should you chose to elect me President of the United States of America in 2040:

If I am elected, all cabinet posts, positions within the Executive Branch and support staff shall be limited to a term of 3 months maximum. After the 3 months stint is over the various positions will be swapped out for other "trusted advisors" (campaign donors, hint hint) These constrictions will not apply to myself nor to the future Vice President of the United States who, provided his personal checks clear, will be Greg Wendling. You may or may not know Greg now but, believe me, after the great "pie" scandall of 2037 his will be a house-hold name.

The benefits of the 3 month system are three fold:

  1. The public will not have to deal with any given self-serving crooked moron ruining their various portions of the US Goverment for any longer than 3 months at a time.

  2. The self-serving crooked employees within the Executive Branch will be able to ruin their various portions of the US Government and then skip out of any responsibility before Congress even knows something is wrong (they're notoriously slow on noticing that kind of stuff).

  3. I will be able to shirk responsibility for the entirety of my sixteen years, claiming that the system makes it impossible for me to hold accountable/be held accountable for the actions of transient politicians, thereby allowing me to continue to take long and expensive vacations to various luxury spots throughout the world.

See? Look at that! Am I a problem solver or what? I'd like to see a Yale grad come up with an answer like that. I'll bet you can't wait to see what I'll come up with for Immigration, or the Economy, or the great Alien invasion of 2034! Vote Nat Topping, SEXY.

God bless America.

And by America, I mean limited responsibility.

Monday, August 27, 2007


I know that I'm probably supposed to write something original, preferably something opinionated or funny, but all I can think about today is this article from the BBC News:

Greedy, violent, sexually abusive vervet monkeys ravaging the country side of Kenya - and I complain that the Lou Malnati's delivery guy takes too long. I'll tell you, nothing puts your life into perspective like a band of marauding monkeys.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ah, Football! (Preseason)

Well, you knew it was going to happen eventually. I’ve put it off for over a month. I can’t help it anymore. I’m going to write a blog entry about sports.

That’s right, people. Football. American football.

Specifically, I want to talk about the importance of preseason NFL football games. Technically, the official NFL season doesn’t start for another couple of weeks. However, before the season begins, they start playing what are known as preseason games. Why? Well, for several reasons.

1: More games = more money.
2: The only other sport showing on TV right now is baseball.
3: Baseball is approximately 87% boring.
4: There’s a legitimate reason too, but I’ve forgotten it.

So, instead of waiting until September, I can run out to a bar tonight if I so chose and watch some “freakin” football.

The only problem is that, both technically and practically speaking, the games don’t really mean anything. The amount of games a team wins in the preseason bears no weight on the team’s overall season record. Here’s an example: going into the Lions-Colts preseason game today, the Detroit Lions (my favorite team despite them being the second worst team in the league last year) have a 2-0 preseason record. The Indianapolis Colts (or, the team that won the Superbowl last year and whose quarterback, Peyton Manning, was both the MVP of the Superbowl and the MVP of our hearts) have an 0-2 record this preseason.

What does this mean? Did Detroit become drastically better over the past half of a year? Was there divine intervention involved, or a Faustian bargain? On the flip side, did the Colts suddenly become awful? Have they become fat and lazy feasting upon the delicious victuals of championship fare? Did Manning's throwing arm fall off?

Or, maybe the Colts just don't care because it's the preseason. Who gives a damn about the preseason?

Well I do. Because it's fun, and it gives me something to watch until the college football season starts. Go Lions.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Great Storm, Part I (Probably)

It was a violently rainy day yesterday. By that, I mean large metal trashcans moved away from the side of apartment complexes in the back alleys. I mean trees laying in the sidewalks. I was trying to fashion a floatation device out of old cereal boxes and duct tape. When that didn't work, I started gathering up every piece of wood that I could find so that I could build a boat and every pet that I could find so that I wouldn't be lonely in the post-storm world.

Seriously, though, winds were like 80-90 mph, trees were leaning sideways with the wind and rain. It looked like what I imagine a large tropical storm would look like. At work, the power was browning out occasionally. At home, I lost power twice.

Of course, it could have been worse. My girlfriend's parent's basement flooded. When she called me last night (I was huddled in the corner running through the Rosary) she was frantically driving from store to store trying to find a generator.

But luckily, the storm has subsided. The weather currently is cloudy but calm. The forecast today?

"Showers early with strong thunderstorms developing by the afternoon. High 79F... Rainfall may reach one inch. Flooding is possible in flood prone areas."


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Napoleon's Missing Member

For the longest time, I thought that it would be very cool to one day be incredibly famous. The question was never 'do I want to be rich and famous?' but 'what's the best/easiest way to become rich and famous?' How did I land on attempting to write comedy? I can't even remember anymore. I was probably very drunk at the time. Or running a very high fever. Or maybe a bit of both.

And then yesterday I saw this:, from our thought provoking friends at CNN who, in addition to providing up-to-the-minute reporting on daily news and insightful commentary on current events, also offers an enormous amount of random crap to lift our spirits and distract us from real problems.

It's enough to make you rethink your life plans, isn't it? Conquering pretty much all of continental Europe is all well and good, but what does the accomplishment really amount to when some French priest runs off with your disembodied penis at the end of the day? Unless, of course, Napoleon checked the "organ donor" box on his driver's licensce in which case, I suppose, he asked for it.

Oh, and just for the record: there's an awful Catholic clergy joke to be made here. I'm not going to make it, but I just wanted everyone to know.

Even poor Saint Francis Xavier ended up with pieces and parts all over the place. I thought that back in the day spreading one's remains to the four corners of the earth was supposed to be a punishment.

When I was in Italy I visited Sienna where they have this huge cathedral devoted to Saint Catherine. And in this cathedral, sitting in a ornate little box, is the disembodied head of none other than Saint Catherine. It's sitting out for everyone to see - this shriveled little medieval head just kind of hanging out in the middle of this beautiful Romanesque cathedral. And let me tell you, several hundred years has not been kind to her complexion. Is this the reward for a lifetime of selfless giving and devotion to God? They put your creepy mumified remains on display for tourists to gawk at, snap pictures of and shiver uncontrollably over? Saint Catherine would probably be rolling in her grave if she could find the rest of herself.

No wonder young priests are so hard to come by these days. I bet there would probably be less corrupt businessmen crawling around out there in the world if there was a demand for dead CEO penis on eBay.

Actually, come to think of it, I may be on to something there....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The High Seas Adventures of Billy Beers, Pirate Entertainer: Second Part of Part III

“That night I returned to my hammock down in the powder magazine with fanciful thoughts flitting through my head; thoughts of Puppyfish, and what they might look like. I wondered why Salty had called it a “dread” Puppyfish. I also wondered if the Puppyfish has an adorable wet nose. Growing up on the soil-farms of my native Wisconsin, I had always wanted a puppy. And a fish for that matter. Alas, my father was allergic to dogs, so we could never have one. And my mother had an irrational fear of fish. We did, however, have a pet rock named Ignatio. One of the saddest days of my life was the day we had to put Ignatio down.

“It was getting late, and I resolved to put these thoughts of long-lost pets out of my head. I sang a little song that I wrote myself (“Sleepy-by, Billy Beers, an R&B Lullaby,” which will be my first single once my Pirate recording artist career takes off) and slowly I slipped off into slumberland.

“But only for the moment.

“It must have been very early when I was knocked out of my hammock by some indescribable force. I landed face down on the popsicle-stick deck of the powder room. The ship was shaking, as though it had been hit by some gigantic wave. I crawled out of the room and up onto the deck.

“Once I reached topside, I saw the other Pirates scrambling around the deck, shouting “Avast!” and “Y’arr!” and other Piratical-type terms. I managed to pull myself up to standing using the main mast. Just as I got my bearings, Salty ran by, carrying an armful of sausages from the galley.

“’Salty!’ I shouted. ‘Where are you going with that armful of sausages?’

“’T’is the dread Puppyfish! She’s come to claim the boat as her own. I warned the captain. Ay, warn him I did. But nobody listens to poor Salty. Not the captain, not Salty’s seventeen children and sure as you’re born not the Puppyfish.’

“’Right, but the sausages?’

“’What, these?’ Salty, seemed to have forgotten that he was carrying an armful of sausages. He looked down for a moment. ‘I’m trying to assuage the damned beast’s thirst for blood with these meat products. Hopefully the creature will be distracted long enough to allow us time to escape.’

“Now, if there’s one thing that I, Billy Beers, love, it’s a giant sausage. I thought to myself, I’ll be damned if I let some cute, adorable creature from hell steal a meal from me.

“’Let’s not be too hasty,’ I said. ‘Show me to the monster. I’ll calm the thing down.’

“Salty shrugged and led me off to the port side of the ship. There, bounding about in the waves, was a giant fish – perhaps fifty feet long – with the head of a baby beagle. Curiously, the Puppyfish’s nose was dry.

“’That answers that question,’ I said to myself. ‘It looks like it just wants to play.’

“’I don’t care what it does, just so long as it leaves us alone. Look out!’ shouted Salty. Suddenly, the Puppyfish bounded towards the boat and slammed into the side. The ship rocked, creaking as it adjusted to the hit. I was knocked to my feet, along with Salty and the sausages.

“’Bad puppy!’ I shouted. ‘Down!’

“The Puppy flipped it’s wagging tailfin at the side of the boat, again sending everyone to the deck. Captain Pete ran over to me. ‘Christ in a handbag, what are we going to do now?’

“I thought for a moment, and then finally, I decided that I would do the one thing that I, Billy Beers: Pirate Entertainer, knew how to do really well. ‘Someone get me a microphone,’ I said.

“Moments later, I was singing the most beautiful version of “Sleepy-by, Billy Beers, an R&B Lullaby” that I could muster. As I reached the bridge, the Puppyfish stopped bounding about, standing still for the moment listening to the song. ‘It’s working,’ shouted the pirates. I finished the song with one of my signature flourishes. There was a long pause. The puppyfish stares at us. The crew stared back.

“The Puppyfish opened it’s mouth and let out a series of loud yelps. Then is bounded directly at the ship, slamming the port side with a renewed fury. The crew fell to the deck.

“’Great job, Billy Bust! Now what?’ shouted the Captain.

“’I don’t know,’ said I, ‘Maybe we could throw him the mast like we’re playing fetch?’

Monday, August 20, 2007

Superbad, or The Three Reasons to Say 'I Love You'

Ah sweet adolescence! I recall a time back in the more eventful days of my youth when I too was bounding from party to party, brandishing my fake ID at liquor stores across the state, saving parties with entire cases filled to the brim with bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade and citrus flavored vodkas. And as my reward for saving these illicit high school parties with the delivery of alcohol, I was showered with numerous sexual acts provided to me by freakishly attractive and obscenely drunk high school females. Yes yes, those were the glory days. And I have the movie Superbad to thank for this trip down memory lane.

Hell, who am I kidding? I couldn't even relate to the nerds in this story. Same thing with the American Pie movies. I spent most of my high school party time in traffic between school and home. But they don't make movies about teenagers sitting at home watching Comedy Central and willing their acne to disappear. I guess that's what I get for going to an all-male Catholic nerdery. But at least me and the Lord are TIGHT! Jesus and me are like this, holmes.

*You can't see it, but I'm crossing two fingers. I'm also sighing and shaking my head in embarrassment of my own self.*

Luckily, they make movies and TV shows for just such occasions: to spice up the otherwise boring existence of people like myself. As far as that's concerned, Superbad does a very good job of diverting attention. It was a very coarse, perverted, puerile, base and disgusting movie. So I, of course, loved it. It was fun, imaginative and very well acted. It has Michael Cera in it, as well, from Arrested Development. The kid has great comic timing. And, for the most part, the movie was very well written.

The only thing that kind of bumped me was the amount of gratuitous cursing. This is only a minor concern - the movie is still very much worth seeing - but I'm going to use this as an opportunity to launch into a different topic, so come on along friends!

Now I'm no puritan. At least, not anymore. Not since I sold off my shoe buckles and got rid of my black knickers. I like a well placed curse word as much as the next guy. I can even get behind the occasional string of profanity inserted into the middle of a blog entry.

"Fucking pansy-ass cock balls licker bitch-hole poopie-drawers"

Wasn't that fun? Indeed, swearing can be a joyous and wonderful mode of expression. But like most pithy remarks, it should be used sparingly. Take the word "love" for instance. Telling someone that you love them can be used to great effect; for instance, as a means of getting you out of trouble, or convincing someone to do something for you, or coercing someone into having sex with you. These are the only three good reasons for saying I love you. What if you were constantly telling someone that you love them? Pretty soon the word doesn't really even mean anything, your girlfriend breaks up with you for being insincere and you end up paying people just to say the word "sex" to you.

Seriously, though. Can you imagine a movie where people are constantly slipping "I love you" into casual conversation? It would drive me crazy. I would try to remove my eardrums with a straw. Proper swearing has the same ability to heighten a moment as a well placed I love you. However, that power has to be reserved. If your characters are constantly swearing, it dilutes that power to the point where your perfectly placed "fuck" is just like the four hundred scattered haphazardly before it.

That being said, go see Superbad. It's a lot of fun, even if it gets a little gratuitous from time to time.

Thus ends my mini-sermon of the day. Go forth and be tight with the Lord.

And remember, cock-ass fuck ankle banger.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Pajama Men, "Stop Not Going"

Here's the bad news first: this show closes tomorrow, August 19th. There's a show tonight at 7:30, a show at 9:30 and one tomorrow at 3:00. If you have a spare $20.00 on hand, you should run down to the Storefront Theatre and check this show out.

Katie and I went to see this last night. The Pajama Men were in town last year at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, and I heard a lot of good things about the show but I never made it out. I nearly missed them again this year too. I am glad that Katie forced me to go.

Since I have a blog now and, as such, am entitled to criticize everything and anything I wish, I went into the show last night figuring I would pay attention to the things I didn't like and then write about them today. I could then imitate those people experienced enough to have insightful criticisms to make, thereby making myself feel smart and well informed about The Arts and all of that good stuff.

Of course, once I actually got into the theatre, I forgot about all of that bullshit and just enjoyed myself. It felt like I was watching the best improve show I had ever seen. If course, most of it was scripted. But with the style of the dialogue, the way the scenes and the characters flowed seemlessly and the fact that, like every improv show, the scenery and the props were all mimed, the show felt like great improv. It was a chance to see two viruoso comic performers firing on all cylanders. It was the kind of show that makes me want to be a better performer.

Maybe one day when I am more informed on The Arts, I'll provide a more detailed analysis. For today, though, I'm just happy that I went to the theatre and saw a really great show.

The Pajama Men - Stop Not Going
Through Aug 19, 2007

Storefront Theater
66 East Randolph
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Saturdays at 7:30pm and 9:30pm
Sundays at 3pm

Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The High Seas Adventures of Billy Beers, Pirate Entertainer: Part III

"We set out from Jamaicatown in our rickety schooner, the Spitz Swallows, in the hopes of plundering Booty on the Spanish Main. I always thought that 'plundering' was a tad bit violent and unnecessary considering we had never even met the guy, although he must have done something to deserve the name Booty, so I had mixed feelings about the whole voyage from the beginning. Luckily, I was not to be doing any of the plundering. My job was only to keep the other sailors' spirits up. Luckily for them, I'm Billy Beers: pirate entertainer.

"On the first few days out, the seas were choppy and volatile and out little ship was battered back and forth across the waves like we were a toy boat made of Popsicle sticks. Of course, the Spitz Swallows actually was constructed entirely of Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue and to this day part of me can't help but think that this had something to do with the trip's nastiness. It was nearly impossible for me to perform my 7:00 floor show; I was projectile vomiting almost nonstop throughout those first stormy days. Luckily, the crew seemed to enjoy watching me be horrendously sick. At least someone was having a good time.

"By the sixth day of the journey, the seas, like Alanis Morrisette, had mellowed out. I went topside to get some fresh air and sunlight. Salty, the ship's cook, was leaning against the side railing looking out over the sea. I had always liked Salty, although I never cared much for his cooking. I have to watch my sodium intake. I sidled up to Salty.

"'Say, Salty, sea's so silent,' I said. I've always been a fan of slipping alliteration into casual everyday conversation.

"'Y'arr, shut your pie hole, ya derned fruit,' he said. Salty and I had a healthy relationship and liked to joke around.

"'I just think it's nice and quiet, don't you?'

"'Ay, but t'is a deceptive quiet. T'is the dreaded Sargasso Sea.'

"'Sargasso sea's scary, says Salty Sailor.'

"'Would ya stop doing that? No one thinks you're clever.'

"'Sassy Salty. Sacred Sasquatch stains.'

"Salty reached for his butcher's knife, which he kept on him at all times, just in case he ever needed to butch something.

"'Sorry.' I said quickly. 'I mean, my apologies.'

Salty eyed me warily for a moment, and then put the butcher's knife back. He looked out over the seas, with a mournful look in his eyes. "'Many a man has died upon the waves of the Sargasso Sea,' he said. 'These waters are haunted by the most fearsome creature ever to inhabit land or sea.'

"'What creature?' I asked. I was still new to the whole pirating thing at the time. Salty looked at me with a glint of fear in his eyes.

"'The dread giant Puppyfish.'

COMING SOON: The second part of part III!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ode to Wikipedia

I would like take this opportunity to confess my undying love and adoration for wikipedia. I would also like to confess that I am a nerd.

I'm taking comedy writing class at the Second City Training Center in the hopes of one day ruling the world with an iron fist. Maybe not the best place to start my quest for world domination, but that's a whole other blog entry. My class assignment for this week was to write a scene based off an episode from history. I thought to myself, "Sweet God, what am I going to do? I'm looking at the entire span of human history, which has to be what? Six or seven hundred years long? How can I take this vast sea of possibility and distill it down into that one pure drop of inspiration?"

The answer came from wikipedia, of course. Did you know that in Ancient Rome there was a dude by the name of Vedius Pollio who wanted to execute one of his slaves by feeding him to his pet lamprey?

Eureka: Comedy Gold!

For those of you who know nothing about wikipedia, it is an online free encyclopedia. For those of you who want to know more about Vedius Pollio, or want to know what the hell a lamprey is, go to and check it out.

Wikipedia is set up such that theoretically anyone can add to, alter or otherwise edit the encyclopedia. In this sense, it represents the best and worst aspects of the Internet (except of course for free pornography, which will always be the Internet's greatest contribution to society). On the one hand, wikipedia offers the free exchange of a vast amount of knowledge. You can find anything from information on the philosophical life's work of Friedrich Nietzsche to telecommunications terminology, to the real name of Falco, the artist who brought us the song "Rock Me Amadeus" (Johann Holzel for those of you who were curious). And because people are adding to the site all the time, the amount of information, useless or otherwise, available continues to expand every day.

On the other hand, any dipshit can mess around on the site. As a result, the word "penis" may show up at inappropriate point of some articles, or the CIA may occasionally doctor an entry about Iran. Also, the entries may not be one hundred percent accurate, or the entries may express the writer's biases and not provide an objective presentation of the facts concerning their topics. Whatever. I'm not writing a research paper, so I'm not going to nitpick.

For sketch writing, though, it is a very useful tool. Typically when you write a five page scene you won't need to know every detail of, say, the history of Micronesia. Most likely, you'll never write a scene about Micronesia - I don't even know if comedy exists in Micronesia or what a Micronesian joke might be like - however, you may at some point in time find that you need to know something, anything, about the history of Micronesia to make your scene work. Maybe you need some sort of detail to make your history of Micronesia scene plausible. Boom! Wikipedia, baby! In terms of overall scene writing the articles provide a good starting point for generating ideas. After all, when you're starting out on a scene the very first thing you need is inspiration. The article doesn't need to be completely accurate. It only needs to provide you with an idea.

So if you're looking to kill some time on the Internet expanding your mind, I highly recommend wikipedia. Or, for that matter, porn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vote Nat

My fellow Americans,

Given that in order to ascend to the most esteemed office of President of the United States one must be at least 35 years of age; and given the in order to run for the office of the President of the United States one must obtain ludicrously large sums of money; and given that most Presidents of the United States are, indeed, old bastards; and given that Presidential races seem to begin earlier and earlier with each passing election; given all of this, I would like to make to following proclamation:

I, Nathaniel Barkell "Alphonso" Topping, do hearby declare my intent to run for the office of the President of the United States in 2040.

I know what you're thinking: 'what kind of idiot announces his candidacy on some piece of shit blog that only three people read?' I figure, if people can announce their candidacies on late night or morning television programing, then why not a blog? Who knows? By the time 2040 rolls around, blogs may be an acceptable and influential form of media. Besides, I have yet to raise the funds to buy off television programs so for now this will have to do.

Speaking of which, 2040 gives me plenty of time to raise the money necessary to bribe, cajole, browbeat and otherwise foist myself off on the American people. As such, I will begin taking donations immediately. Furthermore, I will be "hiring" volunteers to run my campaign, to write my speeches, to harass people over the phone during dinner time and, finally, to give me much needed support in the form of handjobs. I've already come up with the campaign slogan: Nat Topping, SEXY. Your job is half done! So, if any of you young grass-roots oriented coeds are looking to help in any of these aspects, please feel free to stop by my "campaign headquarters." My "campaign headquarters" are located on Mildred Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. You will know the place by the smell.

The genius of running in 2040 is that a: I will have time to raise the money, b: I will be at least 58 years of age, which is just the right age for running out of conscience and c: I will have plenty of time to develop a campaign platform. By the year 2040, the issues will be completely eliminated from campaigning and thus I expect the event to be primarily a popularity contest. To that end, my campaign platform will consist of thinking of ways to make myself look cool. So you can look forward to that over the following 33 years.

In parting, I would like to say that I look forward to a solid 33 years worth of hoodwinking you into voting for me, Nathaniel Barkell "Alphonso" Topping, for President in 2040. In return, I also look forward to being served by you the American people for at least 4 years.

Thank you, and God bless America.

And by America, I mean me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Good lord, that's me. Spending time with family takes a lot out of you. I seem to forget that everytime until I come home and see everyone again. I've seen more vaguely familiar faces over the past two days than I can shake a stick at. And I can shake a stick at a lot of vaguely familiar faces. At the visitation today there was, of course, the immediate family and the extended family. But then, there were people who knew the extended family since they were all little children, or they worked with extended family members or knew someone somehow. It made me accutely aware of how few people I have kepy in contact with over the years. Ah well. I have to get up early tomorrow, so I'm going to head off to bed. I promise to write more drivel once I'm back in Chicago.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Clifford Barkell

My Grandfather on my mom's side of the family passed away yesterday. His heart finally gave out on him. We just lost my Grandmother Topping a couple of months ago too, so it's been a pretty upsetting summer for my family.

I don't want to dwell on it here on this blog or write a long lengthy dissertation on death and dying.

I will say this, though: there is nothing more terrifying than hearing a parent cry. I've seen my mom angry and upset and frustrated and exhausted before. I've seen her cry at the movies for Braveheart and I think she may have even cried from joy on one or two occasions. But I can't remember a time where she was crying from grief. I was lucky in that I spoke with her on the phone, so I didn't have to actually see her distraught. Still, just listening to it is enough to break your heart.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm going home tomorrow for the weekend. The funeral is on Monday. I'll be back in Chicago on Tuesday. For those of you who actually read this thing, I'll try to update the blog while I'm out of town.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

40 + 49 = Headache

Well, my work life is about to become a whole lot more difficult.

One of the other project managers is terminating her employment with this company today. Guess who’s picking up her orders? Have you figured it out yet?

That’s right. Me.

I don’t want to bore you with all of the intricately ridiculous telco babble involved, so I’ll just say this: I currently manage 40 orders. Effective tomorrow morning, I will be responsible for 89 orders. That’s more than double the daily crap to slog through. If you see me cowering or balled up under a desk over the next couple of weeks, you now know why.

So, I apologize in advance for any posts I may put up complaining about T-1 activations, LECs and the overall idiocy of AT&T. Rest assured that, if I post something like that, that I am only temporarily out of my mind and will return to some semblance of normalcy once we hire a new hand.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The History of Coffee

Coffee is the only worthwhile culinary innovation, indeed the only worthwhile innovation of which I am aware, ever to come out of Ethiopia. Coffee was discovered when goat herders noticed their goats eating the berries of the coffee plant. They then watched in awe as the goats began to chain smoke cigarettes, discuss literature and fidget uncontrollably.

Coffee then moved to Egypt, Yemen, and then throughout the Arabian Peninsula to Persia. Coffee had a rocky start in the Muslim world, where it was used as a ceremonial drink, then banned, then reinstated as a health drink, then banned, then reinstated as a ceremonial health drink that was both consumed and banned from consumption at the same time.

Soon, coffee was imported by the Italian city-state Venice. The merchants proceeded to sell the exciting new drink to the upper class in very small amounts at exorbitant prices. Starbucks was born and yuppies began to drink coffee.

Coffee spread throughout Europe like syphilis. The drink was initially considered a “Muslim drink” and was banned by the Catholic Church, thereby increasing sales and popularity. Before long, coffee became popular among brooding artists and educated young people. Thus, pretentious pricks began to drink coffee.

Before long, coffee was seen as the drink of rebels and intellectuals in Britain. Coffee was subsequently banned from Britain, and people were forced to drink tea and become more charming, if slightly foppish. Thus, English people began to drink tea.

And in the Thirteen Colonies, or Young America as I like to call it, the Boston Tea party happened initially with the purpose of brewing a whole lot of tea at once. However, when Britain found out about it they became angry that nobody charged anybody money for the tea (and that nobody invited them to the party), so they refused to send the Colonies any more tea. Luckily for Boston, coffee tended to suit their pastries better, so people made the switch. Dunkin’ Donuts was born and uneducated doughnut eaters started to drink coffee.

This increase in coffee consumption made Americans reliant on coffee for their caffeine fix (the drink of rebels, remember?) and it was only a matter of days before people started shooting tax collectors and began demanding popular representation. After a couple of battles, a really cold winter or two, and the intervention of the French, the United States was born.

So next time a relative or in law drags you to a God-awful Ethiopian restaurant for a meal of boiled pigeon and flat bread, just remember that, in a strange sort of way, America owes it’s independence to Ethiopia.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The High Seas Adventures of Billy Beers, Pirate Entertainer: Part II

"It was a cold December day when I first started my career as a pirate entertainer. I was working at a German themed bar in Ireland called “The Cork Zucker” where I was a male showgirl and a part-time male cocktail waitress. The hours were very long, the job quite thankless and the pay outright atrocious, but at least it was a job in show business. If you want to be in show business, you have to start at the bottom. As far as the entertainment totem pole was concerned, I had gone down all the way to the bottom.

"I had no where to go but up the pole.

"On that cold December day I was just closing out my last tab for the day as a cocktail server (the floorshow was to start in fifteen minutes) when a ragged looking man in ragged looking clothes barged through the great Gothic oak doors of the Zucker, with a wild grin on his face that was nearly concealed beneath his bushy red beard. His peg leg clinked against the industrial steel floor as he walked towards the bar.

"'Guten Tag,' said the bartender in a thick Irish brogue. 'What can I get for you?'

"'Ay, d’ya have any grog?' asked the ragged man.

"'I don’t think so. Is that a type of Apple Cider?'

"The ragged man stared at the bartender in his lederhosen, taking a moment to survey him up and down with his menacing eyes. He grumbled, 'I’ll have a Miller Light' and then turned to look out at the other patrons. I caught his eye, and he grinned at me. I smiled back uneasily, not completely sure what to do in the situation. The bartender broke the gaze by bringing the man his Miller Light. I scurried off to the dressing rooms to get ready for the show.

"'Here’s your beer. That’ll be two Euros.'

"'Arrrr. Do you take ducats?'

* * * * * * * * * * *

"The floor show went off without a hitch. It was a medley of songs from South Pacific and from the early years of Destiny’s Child. The audience of seven clapped profusely; the three Japanese businessmen seemed like they particularly enjoyed it. I hurried to change out of my sequined jumpsuit and then headed out to the bar for my customary post-show drink – a virgin rusty nail. The bartender and I were talking over the finer points of the show when I heard the clicking of a peg leg on an industrial steel floor.

"'Pardon me, Miss. May I have a word with ya?' His breath smelled of sardines and sulphur. I turned around.

"'My name is not Miss. The name is Billy Beers. And for the record, I am a man.'

"'Many apologies, Mr. Beers. I never seen a man move like before. Also, m’ thinks you’re wearin’ a frilly woman’s blouse.'

"'It’s not a frilly woman’s blouse. It’s a frilly unisex blouse.'

"'I have a business proposition for ya, Beers, if you’d only come sit with me in the corner.'

"'Okay. I’ll bite,' I said, and then turned to the bartender. 'If you see him getting frisky, call the cops.'

* * * * * * * * * * *

"'So let me get this straight,' I said. 'You want me to run a cruise show on your ship.'

"'Ay, t’is true. Many a long and lonely night have we spent crossing the cold and empty seas with naught to do but play checkers and drink. Methinks the men are becoming bored and restless and tired of checkers, and I need something to keep their minds off of the humdrum daily grind of ship life. T’is not all glamour, you know,' said the ragged man, pausing to take a big drink out of his plastic bottle of Miller Light. He swallowed. 'Most of the time, we sit on boats and wait for treasure ships to go by. You don’t see too many treasure ships these days. T’would certainly help to give the lads something to look forward to.'

"I sat and considered for a moment. This could be the break I had always waited for. This cruise ship was the perfect way for me to get away from the Cork Zucker, to get out and see the world. Maybe even sail to Las Vegas. Who knows – before long I could be hobnobbing with the likes of Wayne Newton or those Cirque du Soleil fruitcakes.

"'What’s in it for me?' I asked.

"'Adventure. Dubloons. Plenty of booty.'

"'Oh no thank you. I don’t do that anymore.'

"'I mean plunder. And, I’ll teach you to do this!' The ragged man stood up from his Bauhaus knockoff chair, pulled out a match and lit his beard on fire. He began to laugh wildly as he pulled out a set of pistols and fired one shot each into the tin ceiling. The Japanese businessmen applauded and nodded profusely. The ragged man roared with laughter. 'Plus, if you say no, I’ll run you through with my cutlass like you was a cur!'

"'Okay then. I’ll go put in my resignation. What’s your name, by the way?'

"The ragged man grinned wildly and, with a mad glint in his eye, shouted 'Captain Pete Fitzgerald. And you?'

"'Billy Beers, entertainer.'

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Horrible Advice on Overcoming Writer's Block

Have you ever hit a wall? I did. Yesterday. Not a physical wall - although I have done that as well in the more clumsy moments of my life - but a proverbial wall. The kind of wall you hit when you really want to write something but you can't because your mind is preoccupied by oh I don't know... the difference between red and black squirrels. It's not just the color, people.

The Writer's Block is a horribly debilitating disease that harms not only writers, but also human beings. I have seen many a regular Joe or Josephine virtually paralyzed while trying to write a check or sign a credit card slip. How many poor unfortunate highschoolers put off writing that important English paper on Beowulf? I guarantee you, they procrastinate not because they would rather be playing the most recent iteration of Grand Theft Auto or huffing Premium Unleaded Gasoline or having unprotected sexual intercourse with skeevy slutbags (they can be male or female); these distractions are nothing more than that - distractions. They procrastinate because of the dreaded Writer's Block.

But don't worry - The Writer's Block is treatable. Here are a couple of fail-safe methods, which I have made up just now but are none-the-less effective, that will help you push through these trying and difficult times.

  1. Kick a Seagull: I saw a guy do this once on Mackinac Island and it looked pretty inspiring. I can only imagine that the kicker was something of a poet. He certainly has the soul of one. I know that merely witnessing it helped me write my most successful poem yet: Seaghoul: Forced Flight of the Soul. At the very least, the act of kicking a defenseless animal should give you enough guilt to fuel a short story.
  2. Get Toasted: All of the great writers were colossal drunkards. Why should you be any different? Follow in the tradition and start your morning off with a double of Jack Daniels. By your fifth or sixth drink, you're bound to write something. Just keep a pad of paper and a pen next to the toilet.
  3. Plagiarize: This method has gotten a bad rap as of late, but still effective. Hip Hop does it; why not you? Just be sure to pick something obscure. People might notice if you're stealing from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Find someone Hungarian (who the hell reads Hungarian literature?) and go to town.
  4. Masturbate: A lot. I can't promise it'll inspire you to do anything but go back to sleep, but hey; it's a way to pass the time.

Those are just the four off of the top of my head. You can find these and many more helpful tips in my upcoming book on writing entitled Write. A more clever title is forthcoming.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Nain Rouge, and other creepy little bastards

I’m paying a lot of attention to folk tales lately. I wrote a thirteen page scene not too long ago for the Robo-Writers that was a riff on the life of Johnny Appleseed and I had an absolute blast doing it.

I was sitting in the Golden Apple, which is a greasy spoon down the street from where I work, doing a free writing exercise. Golden apples feature prominently in a couple of Ancient Greek myths, which I loved as a kid and used to read all the time. They’re great little stories. Grimm's Fairy Tales were compiled as the Germanic cultural version of Greek Myths. I began to think about how tall tales and folk tales are kind of like America’s version of the same thing. Obviously, there’s less religious significance, but from the standpoint of literature they’re great examples of simple, solid story-telling. From that free writing session came the idea to write a cracked out version of Johnny Appleseed (Golden Apple, Appleseed, etc.)

So I’ve casually started reading up on tall tales and folk lore and the like, just to get a better taste of the storytelling that is our cultural heritage. I would recommend rereading a couple of them. They’re fun little reads and they’re generally pretty short. You can find them all over the internet. I’m partial to Rip Van Winkle. I went out and bought a collection of Washington Irving’s shorter pieces so that I could get the full version. But then, I’m a nerd and like reading kid’s stories (Harry Potter) and old, boring crap.

I think it would be fun to write several longer story-scenes like Johnny Appleseed and then combine them into an evening of American storytelling.

Here’s a great one I found that’s about my home town. It’s about the Nain Rouge, or Red Dwarf, who’s responsible for all sorts of terrible things that have happened throughout the history of Detroit. I can't believe I've never heard of this one before. I lived in Detroit for a good 23 years or so and never came across the Nain Rouge.

I love the idea of an impish little red faced bastard being responsible for all of these nasty events. Who knows? He might be behind the recent slump in car sales, or the rising unemployment rate; hell, he may even have a little seat at city hall. I’d like to use this little mischievous character in something. I just have to figure out a full story to go along with him.

Anyway, I’ll stop blathering at you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The High Seas Adventures of Billy Beers, Pirate Entertainer: Part I

“We were stranded on the rocky red shores of Djibouti, just Captain Pete, the First Mate, and me: Billy Beers, Pirate Entertainer. The rest of our miserable crew had died when our ship, The Spitz Swallow, was attacked by a school of strident tuna. As I floated towards land on a barrel full of monkeys (don’t ask), I watched as the fish mixed one pirate with some mayonnaise, salt, pepper and some fresh chopped onion and then ate him alive on top of some Melba toast. As the tide tugged me towards shore, I could see the burning wreck that was our ship slowly slip beneath the waves. How a school of strident tuna set fire to our ship, I will never know. Needless to say, t’was a fearsome, loathsome sight.

“The sun bore down on us as Captain Pete, his First Mate and I struggled ashore. For you lubbers who will never know the perils of the sea, the Indian Ocean is a tempestuous mistress; all three of us suffered from swimmer’s ear that afternoon. There was no sign of civilization, not a single sign of life for miles and miles around. There were only rocks, oodles and oodles of red rocks stretching out for as far as the eye could see.

“’Captain Pete,’ whined the First Mate, ‘what are we going to do?’

“’You’re a pirate. You tell me. What do you think, Billy?’ asked Captain Pete. I scoffed haughtily.
“’I don’t know about you scallywags, but I’m going to eat me a monkey from this barrel,’ quoth I. However, because none of us had brought our barrel openers, we were forced to find an alternate way of getting to the sweet monkey meet. The Captain suggested hitting it repeatedly with our hands. The First Mate offered to scold the monkeys into opening the barrel from the inside, however when asked he admitted that he was not fluent in monkey, having only taken two semesters at Pirate University and so lacking the proper vocabulary. Finally, I decided to simply throw the barrel into the air and let it crack open upon the rocky red coast.

“Up, up into the air the barrel flew, and then down onto the rocks it fell. With a mighty crack, the barrel shattered and there were instantly twenty monkeys running about the beach. We three tried to catch a monkey but, alas, they all eluded us. Luckily, one of the monkeys left their monocle in the barrel, and so we were able to trap him when he came back to retrieve it.

“The First Mate seasoned the monkey with a touch of salt and pepper, olive oil and a little cumin which we found on the rocky red shores of Djibouti, and Captain Pete made a fire. I practiced some vocal warm-ups, as I did not want my voice to lose any of its trademarked resonance during our stranding.

“We were just about to dig in to our monkey meal – the First Mate had made a lovely little field greens salad with fresh Gorgonzola and candied pears which we found on the rocky red shores of Djibouti – when suddenly we were set upon by a tribe of angry pygmies who were vacationing in Djibouti. They were short and fierce, and there must have been four hundred of them, each one craving a delicious piece of monkey meat. Captain Pete and the First Mate drew their cutlasses and began indiscriminately hacking away at the intruders, but in the end they were overpowered by sheer numbers.

“I could see that it was up to me to save us again. Luckily, if there’s one thing an angry tribe of vacationing pygmies loves, it’s a show stopping musical number. ‘Don’t worry, guys. I have this handled,’ said I. They don’t call me ‘Pirate Entertainer’ for nothing.

“Obviously, I didn’t have the flashy lighting or the sequined costumes that I was accustomed to but, given the circumstances, I performed a rousing a capella version of the theme from TV’s ‘The Love Boat.’ The pygmies stopped in their tracks. A long silence settled over the beach. I could hear a few pair of tiny hands clapping somewhere among the pygmy horde.

“’Brilliant performance,’ whispered the First Mate, wiping a tear from his eye. ‘I hope it worked.’

“At that moment, the tiniest pygmy of all – who I can only assume was the leader – stepped forward. He was no taller than my calves. He looked up at me, his tiny little eyes glimmering in the sun. He uttered something in pyg-latin. I shook my head, so he repeated himself.

“‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I don’t give autographs.’

“The pygmy king snorted. He turned around, surveying the rest of the pygmies and then, lifting his hands up into the air, shouted something else. The crowd of pygmies raised their spears into the air and began to press forward towards my crewmates and I.

“’Good job, fruitcake!’ shouted Captain Pete. ‘Now what?’

“I wracked my brain. ‘I don’t know. Do you think they’d like the theme from Friends?’