Cold War calling

Yesterday I made calls for the Obama campaign to people in swing states, at a little gathering at Tara’s house. The Obama site makes it surprisingly simple to get a list of complete strangers’ phone numbers — plus they supply you with a script: Hello, is BLANK available? This is BLANK, I’m calling from Barack Obama’s Campaign for Change. Depending on the call list, my task was either to convince people to vote Obama or to vote early.  Calling strangers has the same liberating air to it that walking around naked at the spa does; you won’t see these people again, and though a phone call can be totally intimate,  this one’s just anonymous business. Most were wrong numbers, or answering machines. We were supposed to only reach undecided voters, but one fellow in Indiana was definitely already decided:

–Ma’am. I don’t vote for socialists.

–Uh… He’s not a socialist. He’s… you know, a Democrat.

–No ma’am, he’s a socialist. Have you read the Communist manifesto?


–Well. He wants to redistribute the wealth of this country. That’s socialism. Now you get your facts straight.

I started explaining Obama’s tax plan and got endlessly mired in frustration, because the dude was positive that whatever I said meant the Commies were on the loose. I ended with something like, “Ok then, have a great day” and hung up. I’m not sure my calls were all that productive.


Kevin likes to make fun of me for blogging. He does it in an endearing way. If I’m by myself in our home office he will bust in and go, “Are you blogging? Are you? Blogging?” Or if I’m answering the “how was your day” question, he will ask if I blogged any blogs at all. I write for Gapers Block, I edit entries on the Healthy Schools Campaign blog, sometimes I write snippets for The Neo-Futurists blog, and of course I’ve been hammering away at some incarnation of this site since 1996. You could say that I blog a lot. I originally, at 16, wanted my own zine but had no car to actually drive to Kinko’s and get copies made. So a web site published from home under my AOL screenname seemed like the next best thing. Why do I blog? In short: As a lifelong introvert, who likes people and action enough to venture from my internal bubble even though it’s psychologically tiring, blogging allows me to parse thoughts, play with words and communicate en masse without having to actually talk. Here’s Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic: Why I Blog. (Ten bucks says Kevin reads this blog entry aloud because of all the times it mentions the word “blog”.)

Breakfast: Drawing a blank

I can never figure out what to eat for breakfast. I know. It seems like an insane quandry. But I’m looking for something other than simple cereal or yogurt — some unknown fresh, healthy, fast and cheap breakfast. Otherwise I will simply pick up a chocolate-filled croissant from the coffee shop every single day and rationalize it away as “just one more day” of chocolate-filled croissantyness. Which can’t be good for me.

I once knew a woman who slathered a bowl with peanut butter, filled it with plain yogurt and topped it with raw oats. She had this every day. Googling “hippie breakfast” has brought me suggestions of things like vegan breakfast pizza and quinoa. I’m looking for something less fancy. And perhaps therein lies my problem. Perhaps I just need to stop with the fussing and search engine-trolling and pick up a piece of fruit and a piece of cheese and call it.

Show = done

This weekend was the staged reading of Inside Fighter at the Around the Coyote festival. Performing at that festival is always full of unknowns. As part of past festivals I’ve performed in a huge echoing auditorium, a small funky lounge/gallery, an empty storefront next to a KMart, and this year — the balcony of an enormous meeting hall, overlooking the festival’s visual arts displays.  This year’s performance space meant that people could stand and watch the reading on their way to other things, so they came and went throughout the performance. The sound was also a DIY affair — we got some rented speakers and mics and set them up ourselves. But for all the unknowns and the casual tone, Dennis (of course) rocked it — and I dunno about my own performance, but it was cool to be there and feel the energy of so many people and so much art thrumming in one space. I know that at least five people heard it and and got something out of it, because they came up to me afterwards with comments. One older black woman even chanted at me several times, “You’re a fighter too! You’re a fighter too!” Which is priceless. (My heartfelt thanks to Don, Dennis, Oriana, Becca, Kevin & Whit, & my sis Christina, who all pitched in their time and love, and to those who came out to see it — particularly SJY!)

In the parking lot

The new draft of Inside Fighter weaves together the story of my grandfather’s boxing career with the story of my year of teaching. After our rehearsal on Monday, I drove my co-performer Dennis home and then turned around in a Jewel parking lot, to head back towards my apartment. That’s where I ran into a teacher from South Shore HS, who’d had a room down the hall from me and was one of the teachers in my commiseration clique/ad hoc support group. He’d been teaching for like 10 years and could’ve easily been profiled on some cheesy “A Teacher Who Matters” special — he had success stories and real, heartwarming anecdotes coming out his ears. 

I rolled down the passenger side window when I saw him and yelled, “Mr. Patner!” He stopped and turned and waved. “Ms. Muscato! I’m having a year like you had!” he said, coming over to the car and leaning in the window. He walks like a football coach and talks like a Chicago cop. “A year like me? Dear lord no,” I said.  And he told me about how he’d ended up teaching eighth grade history in a chaotic classroom. “I feel like I don’t know how to teach at all,” he said. “It’s a nightmare, I don’t know how you did it.”

Up until this year, he taught 11th grade history, which meant that a lot of my ninth graders eventually passed through his doors.  He told me that one of my students — Steven, who was way too smart for my class and so spent a lot of it drawing pictures of hand guns and making smart alecky comments — actually made a lot of progress in Patner’s class.  So much so that Steven actually thanked him for setting him on the right track.  “I gotta remember those success stories,” Patner said, shaking his head. “These eighth graders are kicking my ass, I’m tellin’ ya… it’s a whole different ballgame. You look so … happy. You look like a whole different person.”

“I am happy,” I said, and told him what I was up to these days. During Inside Fighter I actually place myself in a re-enactment of my classroom, where Dennis plays a bunch of chaotic students and I play myself. And then I talk about taking every day just one day at a time. I’d rehearsed this not 20 minutes ago. To be talking to Patner was so surreal, like seeing a ghost. “Man, you just gotta take it one day a time, you’ll get through it,” I told him.

“Yeah. I gotta remember that. One day at a time.”

Gerunds, and a play this weekend

Preparing: for a staged reading of a new version of Inside Fighter, the play I wrote last year. The reading will happen at Around the Coyote this weekend, Oct. 18th & 19th, 3:30pm. Stop by and say hello, won’t you?

Reading: Watchmen. Apparently the movie deal for the book has been in the news a lot lately, but I’ve blocked that out and pretended I’ve been deported by the present-day and sent back to the time when the book first came out. I haven’t read much in the way of comics, so a blank, fresh mind is easy to come by.

Listening: to public radio, I still can’t tell if the sky is falling, or the financial floor has dropped out from underneath us, or however you want to put it. But the smart people at NPR foretell of gloom. Which makes me feel better somehow. Like if even the weatherman is afraid of the storm, your own fears aren’t unjustified.

Remembering: last week’s day off for my birthday; a trip to Northerly Island and 12th St. Beach, then a stop at the planetarium (free admission!) for a 3-D movie, then to the Harold Washington Library to check out comics, then coffee at Atomix and a walk up to Quimby’s. A perfect nerd day, in retrospect.

Hoping: that the rustling behind my fridge isn’t a mouse. I will scream. I will scream.

The rest of your life and what to do with it

I firmly believe in the whole idea of “do what you love” for a living — but there are some specifics inherently lacking in that sentiment. Here’s a fairly useful breakdown of what it means to turn your passion into a career. It made me think about how, yes, I was drawn to work at a theater, but more specifically I like being part of smart, collaborative, honest creative work — whether that’s an alternative weekly newspaper or a performance group that practices in garages.

Maybe you’re Karen

I hate losing touch with people. Feels like I’ve drop the ball. The cosmic ball, I suppose. Maybe your name is Karen, and your last name is Roberts or Robard or Robards or Roberts or something else entirely, and you went to school in Evansville, Indiana, and drove a huge brown Cadillac and we watched Audrey Hepburn movies and were glad that she was skinny because so were we, though she wore it better — let’s be honest — and you had big sunglasses before they were really ubiquitous. You were a terrible driver, it was like the car was too big for you and was actually doing the steering, while you had to battle to keep it in line; you always threw out the “mom arm” at quick stops — and you had a boyfriend that you drove back to Indiana to see every single weekend, and you lent me books on Buddhism that helped keep me sane when living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I think you were an English major. We interned together at F&W Publications in Cincinnati in 2000, the summer I was pretty sure that life after college was a death sentence. Apparently my memory holds many facts about that summer but your last name isn’t one of them. And the facts I’ve got aren’t coming up in Google.

The Muscato College for Everyday Betterment

I sometimes wish I could take time off from a job to study again, like when I was in college, except take totally different courses. Like things I could actually use and/or things that are fun and contribute to being happy. I think I’ve written a list like this before, but it changes all the time. Last time I mentioned speaking Spanish and riding a motorcycle. Here is the latest version of additional courses I would take. I wanna learn how to:

–Ride a longboard. (My skateboard is nifty but requires a lot of kicking to go any sort of distance… plus I’m too wussy for tricks anyhow.)

–Play an instrument you can sing to. Guitar. Or Autoharp.

–Make documentaries. Like March of the Penguins. OH MY GOD THE PENGUINS ARE SO CUTE I COULD BE THEIR FRIEND AND FILM THEM.

–Grow a garden. My tomatoes this year were a study in potential. Lots of leaves, few tomatoes.

–Street fight. Like, how to kick some serious ass. For self-defense purposes.


Update (like 20 minutes later, after a shower and some time to consider): There are accessible ways to learn things in a city like Chicago. And I should take advantage of them, rather than make wishy-wish lists of things to learn. Yeah, it’d be expensive and crazy to do all this in one year, but I can space it out. Plus, I’m not going to grad school because I don’t have anything I want to go go grad school for. So, here’s the plan… Spanish: I’ve heard Spanish Horizons is pretty good. Motorcycle? Ride Chicago is like four blocks from my apartment. Longboard: meet up with one of my friends who already rides a longboard. I’m a genius. Sing-a-long instrument: a class at Old Town, probably Guitar 1 Rep. I know basic chords, just need some structured practice. And you can volunteer in order to get free classes. Documentaries: I must know someone with a video camera. It’ll be meeting penguins that’s tougher. Gardening… is probably easier when you make more of an effort to govern your tomato patch. I’ll try again. Street fighting: B&W gym near my house has fliers all over the neighborhood for a class like this. I should sign up. Maybe in the spring. I’m kind of busy right now.


Updated again, 15 minutes later, after staring into space for a while:

It’s my birthday on Wednesday. Maybe I’m having a reprise of a quarter-life crisis. Dear lord. Please no.