Saturday, June 30, 2012

I Love Magic

I love magic. I’m not ashamed. That’s not entirely true. I’m ashamed of people who don’t love magic. You have no wonder in your cold, cold hearts. There’s a comedian I’ve recently gotten way into by the name of Pete Holmes who does a whole bit about loving magic. Skip ahead to 1:01

If that voice sounds familiar to you, that’s because you know Pete as the voice of the e-Trade baby. That’s your fun fact for today.

I’ve loved magic since I was in second grade. That was when I saw my first David Copperfield special on TV. I was hooked. He was my hero. Then I made my first communion. My parents gave me a card and it said “You’ll be getting your gift in a few weeks.”  Obviously it was something that took some time to arrive and wouldn’t fit in the reception hall. It must be the Batmobile right!?

It wasn’t, but it was still pretty amazing. One day my folks told me and my brother to hop in the car and we were going to go downtown and spend the day. When we were in the car my mom said this was going to be my first communion present. We were going to go to Lafayette Coney Island for lunch (this is a much bigger treat to me now than it was then) and then maybe to the Detroit Zoo or something. After lunch, we were walking around downtown and we started walking by the Fox theatre. I looked at the marquee and it said David Copperfield. I said “Oh man! Wouldn’t it be so cool if we were going to that?!” and that’s when my mom handed me the tickets. I still remember tricks (you know, what a whore does for money....or cocaine) that were performed that day. Even with all that I’ve learned about magic since then, the methods elude me. It’s clear that David Copperfield is some sort of sorcerer who sacrifices virgins and bathes in their blood to acquire his control over the dark forces of magic. Or at least, it was clear until the internet came along. I’ll get back to that.

After seeing David Copperfield, my career path was clear. I gave up my dreams of being an ice cream man (which I wanted to do because one of my coloring books had a picture of Goofy driving an ice cream truck and stuffing his face full of ice cream. Once I realized that I could have all the free ice cream I wanted, being an ice cream man seemed like the only career choice a rational person would make) and asked my dad to take me to Lauer’s Novelty shop so I could begin developing my routine. I bought the one where the three ropes of different lengths become the same length, I got a magic coloring book, some disappearing crayons, a simple production box, and a disappearing hankey. Look out Copperfield, I’m about to make the time you ripped the heads off of a live duck and a live chicken and switched them look like child’s play.

I practiced and I read and I performed in two talent shows. I attempted to get a job as an assistant for David Vitorelli, a magician who did a show on the local cable access channel. He called me at home and told me I was a little too young to assist him, but he gave me some advice and sent me an autographed headshot. I went to Pearl City Chinese with my down the street neighbors all the time because he performed there on occasion. He was another hero.

All in all, I did magic for like 3 years, until I started earning an allowance and being forced to pay for my own tricks. At that point, it was just too expensive. Like haircuts.

As time would go by, I would find myself earning more money as I aged. There were pockets of history when I could afford a trip to the magic shop now and again and I would get real into it again for a few months. At a point in college, I tried to actually earn some money (or a free meal at least) by trying to get local chain restaurants to have a kids night where I would walk around doing table magic for tips (and a free meal at the end of the night) but none of them were interested. I still have a little case with like 10 or 12 tricks which I will occasionally take out of the closet and fiddle with. When I was working for Careerbuilder, the guys on my team asked me to bring in some tricks one day to entertain them. It was then that I realized that the internet was ruining magic.

I love the internet. I love that anything that you want to know is at your fingertips, but I also think it’s ruining us. (Pete Holmes has a bit about this as well. You may have watched it after watching the first, but if you didn’t you should check it out). Specifically, it’s ruining magic.

One of my favorite tricks is the Scotch and Soda. It’s a great coin routine, is relatively easy to perform, and really wowed my co-workers when I did it. Then I went to lunch. When I came back, they had looked up Scotch and Soda on youtube, found out the secret, and were taunting me.

So I’m urging you, magic fans, that if you want to know the secrets, take up an interest in magic and continue to protect the secrets. Spend the money on the tricks, learn them, and spread the wonder. Don’t be a dickbag and post public tutorials on how to do a trick I spent 30 bucks to purchase.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Open Letter to Adam Carolla

Dear Adam,

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there’s been a recent dust up regarding some comments you’ve made about women in comedy. Frankly, I was surprised to read that you felt the way you did. Not because I think of you as some sort of champion of equality or anything like that, but just because it’s an undeniable fact that women are funny. Let’s explore shall we?

You’re married right? I’m sure you can relate to this story. The other night, the wife and I were eating dinner and she mentioned to me that she’s not sure who she’s going to vote for in the next election. I know right!? Women voting. We had ourselves quite a laugh. I mean could you imagine if women, with their frail and volatile emotional states were allowed a say who leads our nations?! How absurd.

Here’s another one for you. Last week I traveled to my wife’s cousin’s graduation party. She had graduated from high school and...wait for it...GETTING READY TO GO TO COLLEGE!!! I practically collapsed with laughter. The idea that a woman could be something other than a wife and mother is definitely on par with the best episodes of the Man Show.

Now maybe you’ve never encountered women as hilarious as my wife and mother, but you’re an educated man (I have to assume, based on your intellectual and hilarious social satire), and so I’m sure you stay caught up with current events. You must have heard about the woman who said the word vagina on the floor of the Michigan Congress. Now, when I think of a woman in a leadership role, I’m already starting to laugh, but when she starts using such words during a discussion on women’s reproductive rights (which in itself could be used in your new sitcom, just please give me a consultant’s credit), I really bust a gut. Now granted, not everyone is a fan of such edgy humor, but I like to push boundaries.

So Mr. Carolla, I must respectfully disagree with your analysis. Granted, often times their humor is unintentional and it certainly doesn’t have the biting wit and timing of “girls jumping on trampolines”, but you can’t read this letter and still say that women are not funny. I hope you’ll reconsider your analysis as I, and the rest of the world, look to you to know what is funny.

Respectfully yours,
Ryan McGillen

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What do you want to do?

Whenever I talk about moving home, I always get excited. I get excited because I believe that I’ll be motivated. But what will I be motivated to do?

I heard an interview with Jack White recently that summed up why I believe that Chicago saps my artistic/creative will. He was talking about why he chose to move to Nashville when he left Detroit rather than go the natural route of LA or New York (and before you go pointing out that he left Detroit, it wasn’t for artistic reasons, it was because nobody liked him).  He said that the reason he chose a smaller city is because the people who live in a big city don’t foster support for making art. That’s not to say they don’t go see theatre or go to art galleries because we all know they do. But they have so much access to art that the attitude is not appreciative. They don’t care as much. They go to a play and say “Oh Glengarry Glenross set in a struggling real estate office on the moon. Yeah, I’ve seen something like that before, but whatever.”

The Detroit area needs art. I remember when I was leaving, a lot of people gave me crap. My friend Adam and I were engaging in our time honored pastime of sitting in the courtyard of our building at three in the morning smoking cigarettes and prattling on about this and that and he told me I was deserting the city. I replied with a line I later realized was from the epic Pauly Shore masterpiece “Biodome”. “I’m a rat deserting a sinking ship.” I explained that I wanted to do theatre and more importantly improv and that I didn’t think there was much chance for me to do it outside of college because there just weren’t any places to do it. I had no confidence in Detroit ever becoming the artistic epicenter that Chicago is. Is epicenter the right word? Let me check.

The epicenter or epicentre /ˈɛpɪsɛntər/ is the point on the Earth's surface that is directly above the hypocenter or focus, the point where an earthquake or underground explosion originates

Ok, not the right word, but at least you learned something today. What’s a better word? Let’s go with powerhouse. How about that? Chicago has a lot of the same art that New York and L.A. has and I’ve heard those called powerhouses. Why can’t Chicago be a powerhouse? Is there some sort of governing board that determines powerhouses? What are the qualifications?

Anywho, I think it’s good that Detroit is not a powerhouse. I look at Detroit and I don’t see burned out buildings and dead grass. I see a place begging for me and my friends to come play. Please come make movies. Please come perform your silly plays. Please come do improv shows. Got a new idea for a business? Here’s a million empty storefronts just dying to have your weird hats on their shelves. Just do it!

Which brings me to my original question. What do I want to do? I envy my wife in that she knows that she wants to work in fitness, most likely as a personal trainer or group fitness instructor. I believe she would still do some theatre too, but being an actor is not her goal anymore. As for myself, I can’t quite say. I’m never able to put my finger on one single thing for very long.

I’m reminded of my days in junior high when I used to sit in the basement on three (or four or five or even six) way calls. For those of you under the age of say, 27, three way calling was when you would call a friend, hit the call waiting button, call another friend, and then have your own little conference call right there in the house. Just like a real life executive. Of course, my friends and I were mostly reciting lines from Dazed and Confused and talking about our non existent sex lives. On occasion, we would discuss our future. My best friend at the time and I would discuss a business that we would one day like to run. It was a variation on a giant head shop that we used to shop at called The Road Show. When we tried to nail down what our business would be all about my ADD kicked in. If I got my way, this shop was going to be the size of a giant warehouse. It was going to have a coffee shop, a performance space, a magic shop, a head shop, a record store, a comic book store, a bookstore....I think you get the idea. I knew I wanted to run a business but I couldn’t decide what kind. I guess I’m just fickle that way.

So now I’m trying to decide what will make this next phase of my life successful. Some days I think that as long as I’m usually smiling, spending time with my wife, friends, and family, and just living the life I want, I’ll be good. Other days, I want to be a director. Others, I want to own a comic book store or movie theatre. Some days I even think of being a freelance writer. The options and paths appear to be endless and as much as that excites me, it terrifies me just as much. Everything that is worth doing is probably a little terrifying though right? People wouldn’t jump out of airplanes if it was 100% safe.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Take the Leap

The wife and I were eating dinner on Sunday (I’ve been trying to institute a Sunday dinner so that we cook and eat at least one meal a week) and we got to talking about the move back to Michigan that will occur sometime in our future. In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s primarily me that is unhappy here in Chicago. She likes most aspects of life here, but also realizes that it’s not the thing she wants long term (I hope I’m getting that right. Feel free to correct me honey.) Knowing all of that, it’s easy to see how the two sides of the coin of moving to Michigan could be exaggerated based on your perspective. We’re both scared of the same things and excited about the same things, but since I’m unhappy, I focus on the things I’m excited about and try to ignore the fears where she is focused on the fears of the things that could go wrong while not allowing herself to be excited. Neither side is right.

I quite dramatically equated my feelings to being on a cliff while someone is pointing a gun at you. I look over the edge of the cliff and I see the ocean below and my mentality is “Ok, if I don’t jump, this guy will shoot me and I’ll die. If I do jump, I still might die, but there’s a chance that I’ll live.” I’m not normally a risk taker either. Getting married was probably the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken and that’s not to say I wasn’t sure about marrying my wife, but more just that marriage is a crap shoot no matter who the person is.

I was about to start mixing metaphors and talking about the situation in the form of gambling but let’s stay on the cliff. I think there’s something exciting in fear of the unknown, but I think it depends on the possible outcomes. Usually, I don’t like not knowing. I hate surprises. But as long as I know the outcome won’t be awful, I can get myself excited about the adventure. I have lots of ideas about how I would like things to go, what would be ideal. I’m sure none of them will come true but this time, unlike so many before, it won’t be for lack of trying. That’s why I stick with the cliff metaphor. It allows me to use this quote that I came across today. Any other day, I would just put the quote out there and let you think I’m well read and intelligent, but you’re no fool. You know Ray Bradbury died today and someone on Twitter tweeted this quote and that’s how I came across it. I think it resonated really hard with me today because of the things that have been on my mind.

“You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” - Ray Bradbury

That’s the part that I read that inspired me to write this blog. Then I looked deeper and found the full quote, which is something I should apply not just to this, but to life in general. Again, I may not be successful, but for now, it won’t be for lack of trying. The full quote reads:

“If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

So I’m going to try to start doing some things that I’m afraid of. Maybe I’ll talk to a stranger. Maybe I’ll write everyday and realize that some days, the writing will just be awful. Who cares? If I don’t die, lose my wife, lose my family, or lose my friends, I’ll be just fine.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sunday List

If you've been a regular reader, you know that I suck at blogging. I just can't keep up with a consistent schedule. I have fun ideas for posts, I jot them down, and then when I start writing them, they turn out to be shitty and I abandon them. I hold myself to high standards, surprising as it may be from my writing, and therefore I just don't bother.

I'm taking the inspiration from the other blog that I had, Tubb's Top 5, and using it to help me write at least one regular post a week. It'll be a post where I basically discuss some sort of top 5 list that's been on my mind. I'm going to also going to make a Sunday post on Reddit, in the askreddit section ( so that other users can contribute their lists. If you're driven to the blog from Reddit, welcome. OK, here goes nothing.

So as you probably know (again, if you're a regular reader), my time here in Chicago is winding down. I'm growing weary of living here and looking to be closer to my friends and family so that I can surround myself with people rather than just stuff.

As much as I don't like living here anymore, I know there are going to be things that I miss. They certainly don't outweigh the things that I'm looking forward to when I move back home, but they are there. This is my list of the Top 5 Things I'll Miss About Living In Chicago.

1. Walks by the lake.

I've been lucky enough the last few years to live no more than 3 blocks from the beach. If you know anyone from Chicago, you know that the way we get through winter is by saying through chattering teeth "Summer's going to be so great." It really is true though. Lazy as I might be, there's not much that will cause me to say no if my wife asks me to take an afternoon stroll along Foster beach. 

2. Tedino's Pizza

Most Chicago pizza is kind of similar. Subtle differences are all that really set them aside. I'll admit that my opinion is probably colored by Tedino's being two blocks from my apartment, but what really does it for me is the pepperoni. It's so thick and spicy and gives a really good bite to the pizza. I'll take Tedino's over pretty much any pizza place within a 2 mile radius of my place. 

3. The Neofuturists

It's been a really long time since I've been to see a show at the Neofuturist theatre. Generally, when I have visitors in town for a weekend, I take them to see their signature show "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind". The energy and excitement of the show is tough to explain, but I can try to give you an idea of what the show is all about. Basically, the company attempts to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. The order of the plays is determined in random order. All of the plays are original, true to the actors lives, and real (meaning no one on stage plays a character, the actors don't create fake sets, they acknowledge that they are on a stage, in a theatre, in front of an audience and don't try to convince you otherwise). It's a really great show that has you howling with laughter one minute and fighting back tears the next. 

4. The Harold Washington Library

I haven't been to the library in a long time, but there was a time when I would go pretty much every week. I've had a stack of books to plow through and it just seems to keep growing. I do love walking around this 8 story behemoth of a library though. You could spend a whole day in there if you really wanted to. Plus, look at that beautiful building, and just two blocks from my office.

5. Puppet Bike

It's exactly what it sounds like. It's a puppet theatre attached to a bicycle. A lot of times during the week, it's downtown on State Street performing for people who are shopping. It can also be spotted in Andersonville most of the time (I think they have a couple of bikes). Puppeteers crawl into the box, turn on some fun music, and make puppet cats and rabbits and what have you dance around. The operate mostly on tips, so if you stop to watch, toss em a few bucks. 

Like I said, hopefully I'll be posting with more regularity, but I make no promises. If nothing else, check back next week for the next Sunday list.