Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Intern Falls Off a Segway

Yes, that intern.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Segway Reaction of the Day!

As I zoomed down S Street, a couple of guys in a pickup truck called out to me at a stop sign.

"Hey man, how fast does that thing go?" the passenger asked.
"13 mph," I said, rounding up a bit. "Pretty fast for the sidewalk!"
"Yeah, you were moving," said the driver.
I smiled. "I beat the bus every time!"

I nodded my respects at them, and took off.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Answering Our Own Questions

Question Mark Guy!

(This is a joint blog entry, composed by Matt and Sweetie.)

Most people know Matthew Lesko as Question Mark Guy (or some derivation), the man who screams about free money on infomercials late at night. But for my Sweetie and I, he has long been a metaphor for our sometimes uncertain relationship. The first time we saw him, Sweetie and I were just starting out. It was September 2005, just a few weeks into our nascent relationship, and we were taking in a movie in Chinatown. At the time, I was uncertain whether Sweetie, a Latin teacher, was playful and quirky enough for me, or whether her "magistra" tendencies (magistra is Latin for "teacher") would dominate. A question mark lay before us. That night, for the first time in our lives, we saw Matthew Lesko.

Fast forward to December of 2006. We had already broken up, but Sweetie came to my Christmas Concert with the Choral Arts Society anyway. During the concert, she sat alone, wondering what would become of us. At intermission, from the balcony, she saw him: a man decorated head to toe in question marks -- dress question marks, no less!

After the concert, Sweetie brought the sighting to this tenor's attention, feeling it was a terrible omen. Sweetie was distraught, because she saw Question Mark Man as symbolizing the end of our relationship. It had now come full circle -- questions in the beginning, when Matt wasn't sure if she was right for him -- and questions in the end, when Sweetie didn't know if they would ever really spend time together again. We spotted his question-mark-adorned car in the parking garage, and decided to wait for him, intent on questioning the man ourselves. What do you mean?? we wanted to ask. Why are you always here during times of discernment? Do you have any answers for all your questions? We would not get the chance to ask. After waiting in an empty parking lot for half an hour, we realized the Question Mark Man would remain a mystery that night. As we drove out of the parking garage, we noticed yet another question-mark-adorned vehicle, and realized that the man had decoys, likely to prevent insane people like ourselves from stalking him down and trying to squeeze out of him answers to the greatest mysteries of existence.

The third time, Sweetie saw the Question Mark car through tears. I had just returned from London, and we decided to go to dinner and the theatre together. It was Sweetie's favorite kind of evening, full of feelings of love and affection. This night was an experiment: We wanted to see if we could still go out and enjoy a nice evening together whilst remaining single. The experiment failed. As we sat in my car at the end of the night, Sweetie consumed by emotion, we looked across the street and our jaws dropped as we saw the Question Mark Car yet again. It was parked right in front of Sweetie's building. It was definitely a sign. But a sign of what? Alas, there would be no answers to these incessant question marks.

Fast forward yet again. Although the future remains unclear, the Sweeties find themselves in a place of relative calm, having made plans to take an educational road trip next weekend and teach Matt a little bit about our nation's history. Today, just after Sweetie dropped off Matt's lunch at his place of employ, she happened to glance into the Starbucks across the street. She left a frantic voice mail on Matt's phone.

"Sweetie. I just happened to pass Starbucks, and -- Guess. Who. I. Saw. Question Mark Man." Her voice didn't sound surprised. In fact, it sounded like she completed expected to see him. "I swear, every time something exciting happens for us... there he is. This would be a great time to talk to him. Call me back."

I bolted through the stairwell door, confident I could run six stories down faster than it would take to wait for the elevator. I couldn't let this chance to talk to Question Mark Man -- to get some ANSWERS -- pass us by.

I ran across the street to find Sweetie pacing outside the door of Starbucks. "He's right in there!" she shouted breathlessly. "What should we do?"

"We should go in and talk to him, of course!" I said, calmly.

"Sweetie, I can't go in!" she said. "What would I say? I'm scared!"

I laughed and rolled my eyes. Sweetie was scared of everything. Now, at the prospect of finally getting answers, she was scared to find out the truth. I told her to Wait Here, and I walked inside.

Question Mark Man was on the phone. I beckoned Sweetie in, and had her grab a table just across from him, as I waited in line for a perfunctory iced chai with which to wait him out. I returned to the table where Sweetie was conducting not-so-covert surveillance, and there we waited.

"Sweetie," I said, "stop staring!"
"I want to make sure he doesn't leave."
"Sweetie, we don't want him to think we are stalkers."
"But we ARE stalkers! We need to know the truth!"

I sipped my chai and glanced at the newspaper as I waited for Question Mark Man to get off the phone. He had the handset pressed to his ear, doing so little talking that Sweetie wondered aloud if perhaps he wasn't really on the phone, but was just holding it up "to look busy." I responded that if he wasn't really on the phone, he was holding it up so that he could avoid being accosted by people like us.

"Maybe we should leave," Sweetie said.
"WHAT?! We get so close and then you would have us leave?"
"He could be on the phone for a long time."
"He's RIGHT THERE! All our questions, waiting to be answered!"

She looked a bit sheepish and agreed that, as usual, I was right. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Sweetie disagrees with that line, calling it "revisionist history."] After a few more minutes, Question Mark Man ended his conversation. Sweetie and I looked at each other excitedly, and then, after quickly arguing about who would speak first, we approached him.

"Excuse me, Mr. Lesko?" she said.
The bequestioned man looked up and smiled, knowing a fan when he saw one. He stood to greet us, shaking our hands.
"We have been wanting to talk to you for a long time," Sweetie said.
"Really?" Question Mark man looked surprised.
"You have been present at every important stage in our relationship."
His eyes widened as he realized he was going to be here a while. Boldly, pulling up a chair, Sweetie told him, "Take a seat."
I chimed in. "Do we have a story for you."

Several minutes later, after recounting his fortuitous appearances throughout our entire relationship, and offering him sound business advice ("You should ride around on a question-marked Segway!"), it became apparent that he had no answers for us. In telling him the story, we had answered our own questions. Instead of him telling us what his purpose was, we told him what he meant to us.

He looked a bit overwhelmed. In person, this friendly man was not wild and crazy at all, but rather soft-spoken and contemplative. He paused, as though taking it all in. Then he smiled.

"Gee," he said, "usually people just want to tell me how I helped save them a lot of money!"

(Under my breath) "Sweeeetie.... why aren't you waaaaaviiing...."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Classic Video: Rare Gweep Sighting!

Spotted in the wild -- one large red-bellied Gweep conure.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Top Five Zombie Presidents

Neil the Intern recently asked me who would be my top 5 zombie presidents. He elaborated: "Who, if they returned from the dead, would make the best president?"

What an interesting prompt! I quickly took up the challenge, and came up with the list below. Note: My Zombie president list may or may not be the same as my “best presidents” list.
  1. Ronald Reagan. I’m not sure if his aggressive Cold War style strategies would work in today’s world (it’s a lot harder to intimidate Gorbachev – who was, ultimately, rational – than to intimidate thousands (millions?) of people driven by religious fervor), but it sure would be fun to see Reagan try. “Mister bin Laden, tear down this cave!”
  2. John F. Kennedy. Once the nation gets over the disgusting hole in the side of his head, I think Zombie JFK would still be able to inspire us all with his rhetorical abilities. His quotes are my favorite of any modern president. Particularly poignant: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Also, he’s a supporter of Israel. (“Israel was not created in order to disappear - Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”)
  3. Abraham Lincoln. Granted, Lincoln was one of the ugliest presidents, and he would not do well in a televised world. This would go doubly so today: I highly doubt Zombie Lincoln would be more photogenic. That said, I think he would appreciate the enormity of sending our boys to die in Iraq, and be able to convey that gravitas to the world while still likely convincing a majority of Americans to go along with it. (As opposed to just pissing everybody off with a smirk and a few trite lines about freedom.) Also, we could install 21st century defensive technologies in his Top Hat, protecting him from any assassin’s bullet. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. TESLA COIL ACTIVATE!”
  4. Thomas Jefferson. I love this man, and I think it would be reassuring for the country to know that a Founding Zombie is watching over us. I’d also be curious to see if he drops his whole Agrarian vision today, in the age of commercialized factory farming. Finally, I think it is about time our country has another redheaded president.
  5. Teddy Roosevelt. For no other reason than how cool it would be to see a fat Zombie Roughrider running around shouting, “Bully!”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I know this video is bizarre, but I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to humiliate a friend on YouTube. Gweepay was all in favor of it -- he's a jolly chap -- but in the future, Dave, I'd recommend you don't show the world your boxer shorts.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Matt Inaction Day

A proposal by one of our interns (yes, that intern). Although he has known me but a few short months, he understands me better than many who have known me for years.

The following e-mail was forwarded throughout the legal department:
The day will be spent watching ways in which Matt highlights his inactivity.

Potential observed activities include: watching Matt update his blog, watching Matt delete inappropriate comments from John made on his blog, watching Matt read his NAB emails and craft pithy responses, watching Matt send off pithy responses to nearly everyone he knows, listening to Matt snore, attempting to listen to Matt snore over the drone of his fan, attempting to overhear the swill Matt listens to on his FM radio, watching Matt's body slowly decay as he eats only the spinach and prune shakes he makes in the morning, watching Matt draft long and winding memoranda on various and sundry arcana of telecommunications law, observing Matt as he slowly wanders into the intern office to level baseless insults at the interns.
For the record, my radio is more commonly tuned to AM (Rush Limbaugh, of course!). Also, my shakes contain not just spinach and prune juice, but also protein powder, thus ensuring that the decay will be minimal.

UPDATE: Neil the Intern, in a comment to this post, recommended that I publish the original e-mail I sent out, which led to his proposal. I think that is a fine idea.

In response to an e-mail from my boss soliciting suggestions for the next legal newsletter, I e-mailed the following spur-of-the-moment article to the Legal Department (edited for Google anonymity):

By Matthew S. ___
NAB Staff Reporter

WASHINGTON, DC -- From the first day John H___ set foot into the legal office, staff attorney Scott G___ knew he had made a mistake.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” G___ says, rubbing his eyes wearily. G___ looks like he hasn’t slept in days. His office is strewn with empty tea bags. “This kid was wearing hot pink pants. I [expletive] you not. Hot pink.”

G___ had been responsible for selecting three interns to work in the legal department for the summer. One, Evan M___, was a known commodity, having interned there before. Another, Neil M___, had political connections that might make him valuable (Neil is the son of a Congressman).

Then there was H___. On paper, he looked like a sure thing. A rising second-year law student, he had gotten himself published in the New York Times. He had also achieved the highest echelons of Scouting, attaining the storied realm of “Eagle.”

“When we talked on the phone, he seemed nice enough,” G___ recalls. G___ had skimmed several hundred resumes sent by eager up-and-comers across the country. Another thousand envelopes sat unopened underneath his desk.

Unopened they would remain. G___ decided to go with the Eagle Scout.

To this day, it is what he calls his “biggest regret.”

“I’ve made mistakes before, no doubt.” He leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling, a slow smile spreading across his face. He is thinking about college, grad school, all the poor, uninformed, underinformed, misinformed youthful indiscretions of the past ten years. “I could tell you stories!” Suddenly, he turns serious, and looks a reporter square in the eyes. “But John… I don’t know what I was thinking.”

To be fair, H___ gets high marks from the rest of the staff. “He’s a good kid,” says Marsha M___, head of the department. “Always gets his work done quickly.”

Gruff contract attorney M. Scott S___ agrees. “I have no complaints,” he says. “I like his pants.”

None of this consoles G___, who to this day wishes he had taken the time to look through the thousand unopened packages under his desk, instead of burning them all at an alcohol-inspired bonfire he threw to celebrate the vernal equinox.

“I’m chalking it up to life experience,” G___ says. He vows that next year will be different.

Will he read all the summer intern applications? a reporter asks.

G___ looks down at his shoes, appearing to think deeply. Just when it looks like he is about to fall asleep, G___’s head lifts back up. “I’ll open all the applications,” he says. “I can’t promise any more than that.

“One man can only do so much.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Segway Reaction of the Day!

In almost every Segway Reaction, I am asked how much my ride cost me. Typically, I respond matter-of-factly, "$5,000." This morning I decided to take a different tack. After being motioned over by an African-American gentleman, who was very curious as to how this puppy worked, he popped the question. How much?
"Free!" I said.
"Free? Oh, because you work for the company or something?"
"Nah, nah. I don't work for them. But I'm saving a hundred bucks a month in gas..."
"Ohhh, I see!"
"It's five thousand dollars but I got a loan, I pay about a hundred ten a month, but I'm saving a lot more than that. I haven't taken the bus in a month."
"Yeah, I take the bus every day!"
"So, it's essentially free," I said.
"It is free!" he assured me. "You're making money!"
"I'm making money! It's great!"

He thanked me for my time, shook my hand, and I zoomed away with a big smile on my face.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Matt's First Law of Segway Reactions

The less in-the-mood you are to talk to someone, the more people will come up and ask you about your Segway.

I have been sick for the last few days, and I am having some difficulty shaking it. Mornings are okay but I quickly lose steam, and feel lethargic by mid-day. (It's 8 pm and I'm about to go to sleep!) In short, I am not in the mood to be jolly and greet everyone I meet with a smile. Sorry about that.

Because my throat is still a bit scratchy, I felt the need to glide to the store for some more Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie (my favorite). This is not a long journey; the Whole Foods is literally four blocks away. However, Matt's First Law of Segway Reactions does not depend on distance traveled. Applying Matt's First Law, one should not be surprised to learn that I had three encounters with people on the combined journeys there and back. These were not quick little "Wow! Awesome!" encounters (I got those too but all those require are a smile, nod, and/or wave); these were in-depth discussions with people who are really curious about how the Segway works, how fast it goes, how far it goes, how much it costs, and (if the seemingly high figure doesn't phase them too badly) where they can get one.

I am sick. I am sniffly. I am tired. I did not want to talk to everyone and smile and be friendly. But, as a Segway Ambassador, it is my duty.

We few lone gliders really are ambassadors. The group is fond of telling new owners that our actions alone can have an effect on other Segway riders throughout the city. (Imagine if I weave through people like a maniac, pissing off the wrong person -- such as Old Man Winters, whose favorite hobby is attending every city council meeting and complaining about young hooligans and unusual newfangled devices.) So I have to be friendly, even if I don't want to be -- if I'm curt, it will just leave a bad taste in peoples' mouths.

So, there you have it. Matt's First Law. More to come...

PS - As of today, I have glided 235 miles!

Monday, July 9, 2007

On Stupidity

A. Half the world is in the bottom 50% of intelligence.

I was watching "1 vs. 100" the other day -- that NBC show in which... well, because I'm too lazy to type the description out, I will paste in what Wikipedia has to say about it: "a single player (the 1) goes up against 100 other contestants (the mob). The 1 gains money for each mob member eliminated, but loses all winnings with an incorrect answer at any point. The host is actor-comedian Bob Saget, and the top prize is $1,000,000 US."

Okay. So the first question in these types of shows is always insanely easy, and the broadcast I was watching was no exception. The question was: "Which of these life forms has the fewest number of cells?" The choices:

1. Eastern Grey Squirrel
2. Calista Flockhart
3. Amoeba

Now, any reasonably intelligent person would laugh at how ludicrously easy that question is. An amoeba is, after all, a one-celled organism. We all learned that back in elementary school. Imagine my shock, then, when the "1" had to use one of her lifelines (or "helps," or whatever it is the kids are calling it these days), in this case choosing to "Poll the Mob." Of course, the most popular answer was the amoeba.

But that's not all: they revealed how many people got the question right versus wrong... and of the 100 people, 89 got it right.

This means ELEVEN GOT IT WRONG. You read that correctly: 11 people out of 100 did not know that an amoeba has fewer cells than a squirrel or a skinny actress. Granted, said actress only has 100 cells, but that's still an order two orders of magnitude greater than one. I just wanted to strangle them all, but I contented myself with the knowledge that they will soon likely weed their genes out of existence through natural selection.

B. The District of Columbia Street Signage Department

Parking around my building is usually quite plentiful, except late at night. As I am a veritable Party Animal, routinely rocking the house in Adams Morgan until the wee hours of the morning, I often have to search for an open space. I recently discovered a treasure trove of spaces just half a block down the street, with a street that indicated Zone 3 parking from 7 am - 8:30 pm! Awesome! But then I noticed the sign just above:


Which is it?! And can someone please tell me which Civil Sadist gave the go ahead to install these two contradictory signs right next to each other? And what do I do? One friend told me I should park there and, if I get ticketed, show them this picture. Another said that I can't park there because the negative sign supersedes the positive sign. Yet another said that I can't park there because red signs are legally superior to blue signs.

Someone please help. I cannot cope with all the idiocy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

CAS-Capitol-Fourth, originally uploaded by CaseWriter21.

Tonight I had the pleasure of ushering in the 231st year of America's existence by singing in the Capitol Fourth concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The concert was broadcast live in HD on PBS, and I made it on screen a few times! This image is actually a photograph I took of my television screen, then cleaned up a bit in Photoshop. Click through for a larger size -- the HD image is truly stunning.

Last year I didn't do the concert, and as I watched it from home, I balked at its cheesy nature -- the Vaudeville style, the dancing girls, the pop artists. This year, it was still as cheesy as ever... but I actually got into it. There is something amusing about Tony Danza tap dancing with a bunch of hotties and singing about how "You're a Grand Ol' Flag" is "one of those songs that you hear now and then -- you don't know just where, and you don't know just when..."

I still prefer a more serious, stately celebration... but this was really fun. AND: I got to keep the tie.

Choral Arts sings backup for Elliot Yamin in "America, the Beautiful"

Where to park my ride...

When I lived in a house, I simply brought my Segway into the living room at night and plugged it in. Now that I live on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevators, stabling the pony is a little more complicated.

Inspecting the building before move in, I found a very nice bike room downstairs, which seemed to have tons of space to hold George H.W. Bush.*

Sure enough, there is plenty of room... but there's nowhere to plug him in! I ended up charging him at work one day, but I realized this is not an optimal solution. I asked building management if there were any outlets, but in my cursory examination, I hadn't seen any.

Imagine my delight, then, when someone from management told me that there was a power outlet near the trash bins I could use! (Not that I was delighted to be able to store Herbert* amidst garbage -- but you do what you gotta do.)

So I went looking for the juice...

And here Walker* stands, all plugged in and charging!

Admittedly, it is not the most dignified resting spot, but it's set off enough from the main drag that most people won't even see 41.* Next project: Choosing a damn name!

* The search for names continues. The current crop of names comes from the fact the our 41st president, George H.W. Bush, loves his Segway, rides it everywhere, and gives it as a gift to world leaders who come to visit. And he has the most awesome sign on his lawn I've ever seen. I have to get one:

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Exciting Life You Don't Hear About

Tonight, as I stood on stage behind the National Symphony Orchestra, facing the Capitol Dome and thousands of people and about to sing the dress-rehearsal concert for tomorrow's July 4th concert on the Mall, my thoughts turned to this blog. Specifically, I realized that the most exciting parts of my life -- the stuff I enjoy the most, and spend the most time on -- really doesn't make it into my blog. That's not because I'm trying to hide it or anything; it's just that when I am doing something exciting and fun, I am not writing on my blog.

It's ironic -- and a bit frustrating -- because these are the kinds of things I really want to tell everyone about. This is the stuff I get out of my apartment for. A couple weeks ago I got to sing for the President at Ford's Theatre for a special that won't air until December... apparently ABC decided that the typically summer show would make more money as a winter special, so there we were, singing Christmas carols for the president as Winona Judd asked him if he had picked out a present for Laura yet. And Olivia Newton John was there -- she was totally making eyes at me! And our musical director was Bill Conti, an award-winning composer who not only does the Academy Awards every year, but also wrote the Rocky Theme. He was hilarious and inspiring and extremely talented. And I realized how lucky I am to get the opportunity to do all these amazing things.

And I wanted to write about it at the time... but after work and rehearsal and spending time with friends, there was no time left over to write a blog post and do it justice.

That's the way it goes, I guess. Sometimes I'm really prolific... and those are the times when I have the least going on. So I write about my latest Segway Reaction of the Day, or how neat technology is, and BeforeISleep readers get a rather one-sided picture of Who I Am.

I am not just a technophile. I am a singer, a musician, a photographer, an author, a tinkerer, a scholar. And a lawyer. And yes, a technophile. :-)

It's kind of sad that I don't have time to write about the things that intrigue me the most, that make me the happiest, that take up so many of my waking hours.

Then again, it's kind of wonderful that I often have so little time to blog.

It means I am enjoying Life.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Segway Reaction of the Day!

July 2, 2007

Near the end of my 2.5 mile journey to work this morning, I got my first anti-Segway remark! According to the Segway chat boards, this is probably the most common negative response. So I'm about 2 blocks from work, when I hear a middle-aged guy yell something at me. I was traveling at about 10 mph and listening to NPR on my headphones, so it was a bit hard to hear... and there was a very slight Doppler Effect that I had to correct for... but in the end, his message was clear:

"Walking's healthier!"

Why thank you, kind sir! Yes, I suppose walking 5 miles to and from work every day might be "healthier" (it would burn 500 calories, after all). There would, however, be several down sides:
  • At my standard ambling pace of 3 mph, my one-way commute would take approximately 50 minutes;
  • With my extremely efficient body-heat-reduction capabilities, supercharged by humid DC summers, I would be drenched by the time I got to work;
  • I would have to use more sun block (SPF 70); and
  • I may get a bit tired.
Segway Opponents assume everyone just rolls around on their wheels because they're lazy and don't want to walk down the street for lunch. But as my Evil Boss can attest to, I walk to Quizno's, thank you very much. Any more than half-a-mile or so, however, and you're damn right I'm gliding!