Monday, July 28, 2008

Potentially Exciting News

Charlie (age 7): Dad, can I start a blog?
Me: Why would you do that?
Him: So I can be famous.
Me: Well, I don't know if that's how it works.
Him: You have a blog, right?
Me: Yeah. I used to talk about you on my blog. Like when you were six and then eight babies. But I stopped talking about you so much because I didn't know if it was okay with you.
Him: It's fine with me. I want to be famous.

I suspect it would be like the hamster. He would get to name the blog and pet it sometimes but I'd be cleaning up after the damn blog all the time.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I hosted Weekend America this weekend, America.

I recently found out that since moving to St Paul I've lost a bunch of pounds. Like way more than I had expected to. So that combined with the fact that I'm a big time celebrity means I can offer diet tips.

1. Move to a city that, though you love it and are glad to be there, really can't hold a candle to Seattle in terms of restaurants. Not trying to insult anyone, it's just a fact.
2. Engineer a worldwide energy crisis such that the price of gas soars and it just makes more sense to walk or ride your bike to work and everywhere else.
3. Have the earth maneuver such that summer arrives. Blistering hot, humid Midwest summer. Then sweat like crazy.
4. If possible, have three kids, including a newborn. This will mean less time to cook or even eat and your dinner will often be whatever part of a hot dog gets left behind.

That's it! Book me, Oprah Wimifrey!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday Question: Movie Math

(note: this was originally posted not as a Friday Question but then I realized it was Friday and that it made a pretty good question. So some of the comments might be a bit out of context, like the one where Glenn Fleishman berates me.)

If you remove Minnie Driver from Good Will Hunting, a good movie becomes great. If you remove Minnie Driver from Grosse Pointe Blank, an uneven movie becomes very solid indeed. So then if you take the remaining Driverless parts of those two movies, you get a crazy fantastic movie that could take over the world. And you'd have a double Driver movie of such intense annoyance it would threaten the existence of goodness itself.

These are facts!

What kind of addition or subtraction or multiplication can you suggest to make a bad movie good or a good movie great? I encourage you not to just use this as a diatribe to rail against least favorite celebrities. Don't hate, additionate!



um...missed...that episode.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wow, musical edition.

Ben Folds. Rufus Wainwright. Duet. Careless Whisper.


I think the best part is the audible gasping of the crowd realizing "THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!!"

Wow, chapter 2

Okay, you know a trip is going well when you've traveled halfway around the world, all eyes are on you, you're handed a basketball and you somehow manage to go all Rip Hamilton.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


As noted on, there is little doubt as to who won the battle of visuals yesterday:


Monday, July 21, 2008


I've been told to be more self-promotional. This from the executive producer of my show, who is also my boss's boss, who is also my regular old friend, who has also won a Peabody, who also helped invent This American Life. So I listen to him, even though he's younger than me, which makes me feel ill and dying.

So I hereby launch a new Monkey Disaster regular feature, entitled HEY LOOKY LOOKY.

Right then. HEY LOOKY LOOKY: I had a story on last week's show about whether Satan, or rather the absence of Satan, has anything to do with the baseball team in Tampa. I interview a Lutheran pastor, a Satanic high priest, and a baseball writer. I use real Satan nicknames like Old Gooseberry and Black Donald AND I invent new ones like Smoky Jim.

Here it is.


Friday, July 18, 2008

An honor

Conservatize Me, a book I wrote, made the summer reading list at the Seattle Public Library as voted on by the Adult Summer Reading Club participants. I'm huge in the place I used to live among readers who don't pay anything to read books.


Friday Question: Advice

Patton Oswalt is one of my favorite comedians. In fact, it should be a federal law that he's everybody's favorite comedian. He recently gave the graduation speech at his old high school and it's a terrific read.

Here's a passage I've already seen heavily quoted:

"So now I’m going to try to give all of you some advice as if I contained fatherly wisdom, which I do not. I contain mostly caffeine, Cheet-o dust, fear and scotch."

"First off: Reputation, Posterity and Cool are traps. They’ll drain the life from your life. Reputation, Posterity and Cool = Fear.

Let me put that another way. Bob Hope once said, “When I was twenty, I worried what everything thought of me. When I turned forty, I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. And then I made it to sixty, and I realized no one was ever thinking of me.” And then he pooed his pants, but that didn’t make what he said any less profound.

Secondly: The path is made by walking. And when you’re walking that path, you choose how things affect you. You always have that freedom, no matter how much your liberty it curtailed. You…get to choose…how things affect you.

And lastly, and I guarantee this. It’s the one thing I know ‘cause I’ve experienced it:

There Is No Them. "

I've given two graduation speeches in my life and for the life of me I can't remember what either of them were about. I bet they seemed trenchant to me at the time. But at the time I was 17-21 years old. And I really didn't know shit, quite frankly. I wonder what advice I would give now. I like to think it it would be simple. Information you can use. I think I would tell the graduates, "When you're flying on an airplane and they ask if you'd like anything to drink, tell them you'd like a can of Coca-Cola. If you just ask for a coke, they'll just give you a plastic cup of mostly ice and you won't be sated. Ask for the can and they'll give you the cup, the ice, AND the can. Then you're sitting pretty, my friend."

So what advice, practical or not, would you give graduates?

Also, for extra credit, Patton contains caffeine, Cheet-O dust, fear, and scotch. What do you contain?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Everyone Has Probably Heard This...

but it's the Violent Femmes covering Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" quite beautifully. Make absolute sure you listen through to where Gordon does the "ha ha ha, bless your soul" part.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Question

Okay, we've been pretty heavy around here lately. Philosophical Friday Questions, long posts that are emotionally exhausting for all involved. Let's take a nice summer week and go back to a long time favorite:

I'm On To You!

I'm on to you, tiny air conditioners.
I'm on to you, Sharon Osborne.
I'm on to you, Vitamin Water.
I'm actually sort of even on to you, regular water.
And I'm completely on to you, Steve Ballmer and David Stern.

Who or what are you on to?


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Overnight, chapter 4

For all chapters, go here.

Heading west on Denny Way towards the Seattle Center and not yet to mile 17, I realized there was simply no way this was going to be a 20 mile walk. I was devastated. I had told everyone I would walk 20 miles, I had told myself I would walk 20 miles. My feet were pounding with pain, I was somewhat bleary, but I didn’t want it to end. I was kind of angry about it, actually. I ended up passing the 17 mile mark about ten minutes before entering Seattle Center so it worked out to about a 17.5 mile walk.

As I entered the Seattle Center, I was greeted with more volunteers cheering me on (I think I was coming to the finish line much earlier than most people). I was also greeted with the bags that had been decorated to memorialize the people who had died by suicide. I had written about Rick on one of these bags but here were hundreds of the bags, lining the walk, each with a candle inside. All these glowing things, each with someone’s name on them. People finishing their walks slowed down to look for the bags they had made. Some found them and were camped in front just staring, sometimes talking a little. There were so many bags.

“To Mom, we love you and we miss you.”
“Eric! You are always in our hearts!”
“For my friend, Crystal.”

And this one:
“To Jill’s husband, your wife and family miss you very much.”

I didn’t stop to read very many of them because I decided that I simply wasn’t done walking yet. I hadn’t come to Seattle to walk 17.5 miles; I flew across the damn country to walk 20. So after the finish line, I just kept going. I walked out of Seattle Center and started heading downtown on 2nd Avenue once again. The roadside mileage markers had long since been removed so I just calculated on an average 20 minute mile and figured I’d walk 25 minutes then turn around and walk another 25 back. I mean, sure I could have factored in walks to the car and stuff but that doesn’t count. That’s not the rules.

Thing is, walking through downtown at a little past two in the morning means closing time at the bars. Drunks spilling out into the street, kids out partying screaming out plans for where they’d go next, various dodgy looking characters with whom one best not make eye contact. The entire variety of intoxication. I’d never been more sober.

I had never walked this far in one stretch before and by the time I was heading back to the Seattle Center, I was in pain with every step. But I got there. I walked the 20 miles. It didn’t make Rick’s death any more bearable, the extra 2.5 miles didn’t prevent any more deaths. But it was a promise I made that I had to fulfill. I can’t really think of any symbolic relationship between this and the struggles of suicide survival. Maybe they’re there, who knows. But just as I didn’t want to look out at the water during the walk (that’s where Rick’s ashes were scattered), I didn’t want to really think about anything other than the walk.

Returning to the Seattle Center at 2:40 in the morning, I grabbed a plateful of food, a mylar blanket, and a free T-shirt and sat down. Then I covered my face with the T-shirt and collapsed into, oh, about seven minutes of uncontrollable sobbing. Then I dried off and ate the food. Good food.

Eventually I got up to go look at the bags again. There were hundreds of them, each memorializing someone who died, who devastated their families, who caused a chain reaction of despair that will never end, who tipped a domino that will ripple through their families and hurt family members who haven’t even been born yet. These bags all glowed in the pre-dawn darkness. They weren’t ghosts, they weren’t the people who had died. They were bags with candles in them.

And the bags shouldn’t have been there. I mean, I’m glad they were for the purposes of the walk; it was incredibly powerful and poignant. But those people should have been at home in bed. Mom, Eric, Crystal, “Jill’s husband” should all be home in bed. They should wake up hours later and have some breakfast and read the paper and then go to the park or maybe a movie. They should hug their kids, kiss someone, learn a new language. They should dance. Instead, they’re a bag on the grass.

When people ask me how many people were walking that night, I quote the figure of 1200 which I heard somewhere. “That’s great”, they inevitably say. And yeah, that’s true, it’s great that there is attention for this problem. But they shouldn’t be there. They shouldn’t need to be there. That was the first line spoken at Rick’s service in Seattle. The pastor said, “We shouldn’t be here.”

I looked through many bags, trying to find Rick’s. But I gave up after a while. He was in there, someone else had surely seen his and missed their own bag that I saw. Rick was in there, part of this terrible club, part of this sea of bags, this sea of souls with Eric and Crystal and Mom and Jill’s Husband and Kurt Cobain and Chet Baker and Spalding Gray and Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf and Elliott Smith. Here’s a picture I took of someone I never knew:

I returned to the building where people were resting and recovering. I watched through some huge windows as the sky turned a lighter blue. Dawn had arrived. A closing ceremony was held. A girls choir sang. The two walks combined, New York and Seattle, had raised something like 3 million dollars. The money would go to prevention programs, psychiatric research, and other avenues to understand and stop suicides so fewer bags and walkers would be needed one day.

I’ve been sitting here at a keyboard trying to think of what to say in the What It All Meant part at the end here. I think it was a political act, I believe that if depression/mental health/suicide got the attention that drunk driving got, there would be fewer deaths. It was personal, of course, as I awakened to this vast network of people sharing this common experience.

But more than anything else, it was gaudy. It was tacky. It was a little obnoxious. And that’s a really good thing. Here were people in these beads marching through a city, not disruptively, but acutely and glaringly present. And they were speaking about this unspeakable act. They took their horrific pain and put it on display. Depression is a lonely place and so is grief. For one night, it was placed in a community of darkness, pain, and ultimately daylight.

Next year, the walk is in Washington, DC.

Here’s Weekend America’s story on the Overnight.
Here’s Weekday on KUOW talking about the walk.
Here's a really interesting article in the NYT Magazine.

Build the fence on the Aurora Bridge.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, July 07, 2008

A Conversation with Kate (age 5) About Music

(Some music is playing in the living room as we sit down to play cards)
ME: Kate, the person singing here is Neil Young.
KATE: Oh. (pause) Dad, if I have to hear any more of this, I am going to die.
ME: You don't like Neil Young much, huh?
KATE: I only like one rock band and that's Alvin & The Chipmunks.
ME: But you love Wolfmother.
KATE: Yes! I love Wolfmother! But this music now is horrible.

To be fair, it was the unforgivable "A Man Needs a Maid".

The Overnight, chapter 3

For chapters 1 & 2 go here.

A lot of people on the walk were from somewhere other than Seattle, which, along with New York, was one of only two cities hosting the walk in 2008. So these out-of-towners didn't understand why we needed to go up a steep tiny street to see a troll statue. Me, I used to live in Fremont but I never quite got the troll either. As the night wore on, I noticed fewer official volunteers and more people who seemed to be just watching the walk, like they stumbled into it. The guy near the troll statue was like that. "I lost my friend. Thanks for walking," he was half-mumbling, "High five. Thanks. Good job." He may have had a few drinks. This walk meant something to him.

I kept on walking through Fremont down to the Burke-Gilman trail and at this point we were north of Lake Union in Seattle. We were pretty thinned out by then and I just had to hope I was going the right way. I fell in with a woman who was walking alone. Her grandfather died before she was born but she was walking to understand why her dad was the way he was. This woman was a teacher and invited her dad to her classroom on a day when they happened to be having a Day of the Dead celebration. Her dad got panicked and had to leave the room. He's pretty old now but incapable of having a conversation about death. She walked for her dad. He couldn't.

Further east and down to the Husky Stadium parking lot for a midnight (well, 11:45) lunch. Sandwiches, pasta, some brownies, and also chairs and grass embankments. O, you foul temptresses chairs and grass embankments! Such relief to get off one’s feet but tempered with the knowledge that it would make getting back on one’s feet so much harder. I paused, talked to the Wisconsin folks a bit, checked in with the Pirates fans, and then stood up to start walking again, more stiffly. Past the Museum of History and Industry, across the Montlake Bridge and over to Eastlake Avenue and heading south. By now it was way past midnight and no one was really visiting any more. No one was sharing stories of who they were walking for. It was too sparse a crowd and the pain was getting to be a real nuisance.

Part of what I loved about the idea of the Overnight walk, back when I first read about it, was the stagecraft of it all. You walk through the darkness, you emerge in the light, you are part of a mass of people who all share this issue with you. It was a 20-mile walk but it was almost performance art, almost a protest. They didn’t talk about the part where the crowd would thin and it would be dark and kind of cold and you’d be alone. Still, this 12:30 a.m. stretch was just as potent symbolically as the more obvious theatrical moments. There came a point as I walked past the Eastlake Zoo tavern where I was alone. Part of this massive charitable healing event, sure, but really? Alone. No one within 100 yards of me. And I’m in pain, each step like a hammer to the foot. And I’m tired. And wondering if I could really keep doing this thing but knowing I had to. I had to keep walking through this darkness regardless of who was or wasn’t cheering me on. We can wear beads and special shirts and have been sponsored by wonderful friends, we can seek fellowship and sympathetic ears but we’re all ultimately alone.

Unless you’re part of the group of people in red T-shirts. Then you’re with everyone else in the red T-shirts. “Dude, you’re not even walking on your left heel!” shouted what appeared to be their leader, a buff and blond male cheerleader type as I passed them. No, I told him, it was just hurting me a bunch so I was favoring the front of the foot first, hoping it would get better. He had a lot of questions about my shoes in between cheering his team of five or so on. “I’m a personal trainer,” he said, “so I’m, like, REALLY into shoes. It’s all about the shoes! Whoo!” Not the kind of person you expect to meet on a suicide walk.

Down around the south part of Lake Union. A family on the side of the road. Mom and Dad standing and cheering, two young kids in a wagon smiling and clapping, they couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. Way past their bedtime. This family has a reason for being there.

Two teenagers walking near me asked if I knew how long the walk was. 20 miles, I told them. They said that’s what they had thought but they had heard from someone that it was only 18 miles. We snaked through the South Lake Union neighborhood past the mile 16 marker and I fell back in with the exuberant personal trainer and his redshirts. He thanked me for walking. Politely, I thanked him right back. He said that he’s lost two friends to suicide and that he’s battled depression his whole life. “I’ve been awfully close to suicide myself. I have to fight this every day,” he said quietly before turning back to his group with “Whoo! Come on everyone! You’re doing great!”

NEXT TIME: the end of the walk, eventually.

All walkers wore beads. Cheap plastic strands but extraordinarily heavy when you factor in symbolism.

We were asked to stretch before the walk even though it was just walking.

Seattle just before it got dark.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Friday Question: Independence Day

Don't stay in and read blogs. Go outside.

But as long as you're here:

What are you independent of/from?

What are you dependent upon that you wish you were independent of?

As for me:

I am independent of coolness.
I am too dependent on staying in touch.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Still Slammed

Exciting life lately. Here's ducklings in a bathtub.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Totally Slammed This Week

Here's an inspirational video of a Pinto.