All posts by Rick Dudley

How To Dress Like A Runner (Hint: Louder Is Better)

Dressing like today’s hip, fashion-forward runner is easy. First, a few questions: Are you a circus clown? Are you a school crossing guard or a highway construction worker? Do you dress in the dark? Basically, you know that you are properly dressed for a run when you step outside your door and your neighbors glance your way and start screaming, “It’s too bright! I’m blind! Blind, I say!” Good job, you!

When I first got into running, practically everybody wore plain cotton clothes. Cotton tees, cotton shorts, cotton sweats. If you were really hip, you layered cotton shorts over your cotton sweats; don’t ask me why it was hip because it was like wearing underpants over your jeans. This was about a decade after the so-called “running boom.” (We were so unhip that we still called running “jogging.”) On my high school track and cross-country teams, other than the school-issue blue and gold sweats, you were considered flashy if you wore red. We mostly stuck to shades of gray and navy.

And running shoes were not yet the technicolor wonders you see today: my first pair was dark gray. My second pair was dark gray with white piping. My last few pairs of running shoes are so bright and multicolored that it looks like one of my kids vomited up a confetti cake on our laundry room floor. (Sure, blame it on the kids.)

I can almost pinpoint the moment that really bright clothes started becoming the norm for runners: I have a cotton T-shirt from a hometown 5K in 1988 that is light gray with block letters that are black. Classic and classy. Three years later, same race, different design, this time the shirt is polyester and the letters are cursive and in neon green. Welcome to the future, runners!

Nowadays, I have trouble getting dressed for a run because it’s difficult to match neon yellow shirts with electric blue shorts with purple and green shoes and pink hats. Send out the clowns.

shirt photo for blog

On the bright side (see the clever pun I did there?), my kids won’t want to borrow my clothes. Unless there’s a “Look Ridiculous Day” at school next year.

When I was in college, I ran cross-country for one (injury-riddled) season. I used to show up to practice wearing my favorite Air Jordan shorts, baggy, knee-length, and double layered. I’m not saying the other runners were faster than me solely because of my baggy pants (there may have been a talent gap), but I spent a lot of time on 90-degree August days lost in cornfields with the other freshman runner about 3 miles behind the rest of the team, ruing my fashion choices.

I get it, though. There are good and valuable reasons for loud running clothes. First and foremost, for those of us who run on city streets, it’s all about visibility. Taking a page from bicyclists, we runners want to be seen by drivers. Bright clothing could literally save our lives.

From a race director’s standpoint, I can see why a bright shirt would be beneficial. No one wants to open the goody bag just before a race and say, “This shirt is ugly!” (I have been known to do that. I’m pretty sure I even posted a derogatory comment about the gunmetal-gray shirt I received from the 2014 Chicago Marathon in one of my blog posts. The joke’s on me: my lovely wife Jen likes the way I look in it. Thank you, Nike!)

If you’ve ever been to a marathon, you know that the starting area looks like the crowd on Day 1 of the Electric Daisy Carnival. (And the finish area looks like the crowd on Day 3, after having ingested whatever was being offered by random strangers in the parking lot.) There’s a reason for that: I don’t know how many times (one, actually) that I’ve showed up to a big race and told my wife, kids, or whoever came out to cheer for me, “I’ll be the guy wearing the blue shirt.” Good luck with that. Now I try to differentiate myself: “I’ll be the guy wearing the neon blue shirt with the pink sleeves, the shiny white capri-length tights, and the purple hat. You can’t miss me.” And I’m right: they won’t be able to miss me as I run by and wave, although they might want to deny that they are related to me in any way.

I am learning to accept that, as a middle-aged runner who is okay with change, I might have to look like George Michael (or, more likely, Andrew Ridgeley) in the video for the Wham! song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Specifically at the 1:10 and 2:35 marks.

Fullscreen capture 5222014 94024 PM

Q: Is this a music video from 1984, or the start of a local 5K in 2015?
A: Yes and yes.

Besides, fashion comes and goes. My middle child’s school recently had an ’80s Day, where kids were encouraged to dress like—get this—people who lived through the 1980s. Conveniently, I still have a closet full of polos and button-down shirts similar to what I had back then (old habits die hard), so she raided my closet and wore a polo with a popped collar layered under a button-down; she was going for the “rich guy who is always the villain in John Hughes movies” look. Anyway, my point is that the pendulum sometimes swings back my way. The last race T-shirt I got was a gray polyester shirt made to look and feel like a soft cotton shirt with letters so light blue and faded that one can only assume this is a throwback look. I loved it, but alas, it was too tight on me. It’s been a perfect addition to Jen’s stable of running shirts, though. I’ll stick to dressing like a clown.

The website of the Electric Daisy Carnival.

Not Enough Time

I was going to write something glib and funny this weekend. Then I got word that an old friend from grade school died suddenly in an accident.

I would be doing John an injustice if I tried to give a biography of him. Honestly, I didn’t know the man in full. We were good friends from the time he moved into our neighborhood in early grade school until high school. After that, we went to separate colleges and rarely crossed paths in adulthood.

Facebook is a wonderful thing, though: A neighbor of mine recognized John’s name on my Friends list and said that she worked with him occasionally and that he visited our town on business. I invited him over to my house, and he obliged me with a 2-hour visit. We reminisced, but mostly we spent the time filling each other in on the last 20 years of our lives and finding out who we became after we grew up from who we used to be.

P1020019smIf I had more time with him, I would have told him about these particular things that stand out in my mind: First, when we were in 6th grade, I somehow convinced my mom to let me walk to John’s house every morning before school so we could hang out. (John was a latchkey kid, so I don’t know if he even bothered telling his dad that I was doing this.) We’d listen to his record collection (Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” was a particular fave of his at the time, before he got into Led Zep) or watch TV, but what John really wanted to do was call into a radio station to get the DJ to play a joke of ours on the air. He’d talk about doing it on a daily basis. I was too chicken to do it, so one morning John dialed the number to the station, actually got punched through to the DJ, and promptly handed the phone over to me. I stammered through possibly the lamest joke the DJ had heard that month (something about a dog getting shot in the foot, then later tracking down the shooter in a saloon and saying, “I’m looking for the guy who shot my paw.”)

I learned from John that not everybody shares the same worldview as me. Walking home from school once, he asked me, “If you could change your name to anything in the world, what would it be?” I didn’t even have to think about it; I blurted out, “Bruce!” John looked at me like I was an idiot. “BRUCE?!?” he yelled. “That’s worse than your actual name!” (In my defense: Bruce Lee, Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Jenner, Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern.)

One summer, John, a few friends, and I decided to build a clubhouse behind his dad’s garage. We spent weeks riding our bikes to a lumberyard, buying as many two-by-fours as we could afford, and balancing them on our bike handles for the ride back to his house. The sawing, the hammering, the sweat equity, and the lack of parental supervision made us feel all “Lord of the Flies.” I remember we didn’t finish the project, and that his dad had to take over for us.

On one of those working days, John thought it would be a great idea to cool ourselves off by filling up gallon milk jugs with cold water from the hose; then we could climb a ladder onto the garage roof and dump the water on each other’s heads. (Did I mention the lack of parental supervision in our childhood?) John’s only rule was, “You have to stand under the whole gallon of cold water; no chickening out!” I convinced him and our other friends to go first; I got to  dump the water on John’s head. He screamed throughout. When it was my turn, he gleefully climbed the ladder. The problem with this was that it wasn’t like the Ice Bucket Challenge that was so popular in 2014, with one quick dump and you’re done. The stream from a milk jug takes about a full minute to empty on one’s head. (You can see where this is going.) I chickened out. “Not fair!” John yelled. “I didn’t chicken out!” Yeah, well, perhaps I taught him a lesson about fairness in life. Or just that I was a chicken in most things.

When I think about the stuff that we got into as we moved on to junior high, I cringe. Say this for helicopter parenting and overstuffed schedules for kids these days: I know for sure that, because I rarely let my son out of sight until high school, he and his friends weren’t opening up a manhole cover, dumping gasoline down it, and flicking matches in it to see what would happen. (Do not try this at home.) John was there when we tried our first cigarette (sixth grade) and when we convinced some random stranger to buy us alcohol for the first time at a liquor store (eighth grade; we didn’t know what to ask for, but I remembered Bruce Willis in a Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler commercial, so that’s what we got).

We had one fight that I can recall. John was a competitive kid who you loved having on your side but hated playing against. He was a great goalie and the biggest Chicago Blackhawks fan that I’ve ever known. Baseball was my sport growing up, along with running (which wasn’t really a sport for me but something I did to get away from the neighborhood bullies with much success). Strangely, it was a volleyball game in PE that put us over the edge. I don’t know what in particular led us to start taunting each other from the other side of the net on this day (keep in mind that I was so short that I could barely reach the bottom of the net, let alone attempt a spike at the top of it), but my team won a game and I razzed John (completely out of character for me and for him), and then his team won and he got after me. After we won the tiebreaker, John had had enough of my being a sore winner and called me some names, one of which was “shrimp.” Again, why on this day of all the days of my life that I’ve been called a shrimp that I went over the edge, I can’t say, but I flew at him in such a rage that our PE teacher, who had never seen me so much as raise my voice at another kid, stood there in shock as John and I wailed on each other for half a minute. He only separated us when we both looked at him mid-fight and asked, “Are you going to break this up before one of us hurts each other?”

One thing John and I had in common as adults: we both grew tired of the daily grind of a desk job. I left my job to become a stay-at-home dad, and John followed his passion and spent the last 8 years as a dog trainer. Chris Jones, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article on Sunday, April 19, 2015, and touched on the challenges we face as we grow up and older: “…the dreams of youth have a way of clashing with harsh reality in middle age, when many of us feel like we are what we are, have done what we can do and struggle to see the way forward. Our novelty has worn off. Our interest in positive change has a way of dissipating.” In other words, it dawns on those of us in middle age that the dreams of our youth will go unfulfilled. We also start to see people our own age pass away too soon and, sadly, we find ourselves standing at a wake, telling our friend’s wife and kids how sorry we are for their loss.

There is so much to be disappointed about in life. It’s not fair, people chicken out, our friends fight us, clubhouses go unfinished. When we are children, our parents and teachers tell us, “You could grow up to be the President!” But even those people who do grow up to be President find that half the country hates them and that their grand visions will most likely go unfulfilled.

We all want to know that our lives matter in some way big or small. Well, John mattered to me. When someone we know dies, the standard warning we have for those still living is, “Tell your family that you love them.” I tell my wife and kids I love them daily. I tell my dad and my siblings I love them every time we end a phone conversation. Maybe, though, I should be extending that circle out further. So yes, tell your family you love them. Reach out, though, and tell your friends that they matter to you. Tell your neighbors that they make your life richer. Find an old teacher and tell her that she changed you in ways that no one else was able to. And please, track down grade-school friends on Facebook or however you can and tell them, before it’s too late, that they mattered to you, and still do.

Are You Winning?

A few years ago, I placed in the top 5 in a few local 5Ks. It got me thinking that, with the right training and focus (and the hope that the best runners oversleep and miss the starting gun), I could win one of these suckers.

Then I heard about a new race for a local charity. Excited, I told my lovely wife Jen, “This could be the one!” (I had been running sub-19:00, or under 6:05 per mile, not a stellar time, but maybe good enough.) The morning of the race, I went early to the starting area to pick up my race packet. As I was leaving the tent, I looked through the packet and said to one of the volunteers, “I’m sorry, but my race bib is missing.” The volunteer said, “That’s not a mistake. This is a fun run, a noncompetitive race. We won’t be timing it.” “Oh. Thanks,” I said.

I went home and told Jen, “It’s noncompetitive. What the heck am I supposed to do with that? I don’t think I even want to do this anymore. Plus, the shirt’s not even that great.” (This makes me sound like a whiner, but in my defense, the shirt wasn’t that great.) Jenny talked me off the ledge: “Just use it as a training run. Besides, you already spent the 25 bucks to register.”

So I went to the starting line a few minutes before the race was to begin. It was very foggy. Looking around at the crowd, I saw none of the usual group of guys and ladies who win the local races. (That was the plan; sometimes, newer races are less likely to draw interest from experienced runners.) As a matter of fact, I saw no one who even looked remotely interested in running hard, save for three 10-year-old boys. Then it dawned on me: All these people were here early on a chilly, fog-shrouded Saturday morning out of the goodness of their hearts to donate money and support a good cause. I was the only jerk who wanted to crush everyone else’s spirits. I felt really small. (Which is saying something for someone who is 5 foot 4.)

The gun went off, and the three 10-year-olds shot from the starting line as if they were running a 50-yard dash. Conveniently, after about 50 yards, I caught them. They stayed with me for the first quarter mile of the race, when two of them slowed down. The other boy ran with me until a half mile into the race when, suddenly, he came to a complete stop and started wheezing at the side of the road. Poor guy. I ran on.

Now it was just me out front, and for the first time I noticed that it was incredibly foggy. I mean the type of foggy where I couldn’t see more than two houses ahead of or behind me. Before the 1-mile mark, some guy was walking his dog when I appeared out of the mist. He yelled, “Is there a race, buddy?” I said, “Yeah.” He said with shock in his voice, “Are you winning it?” “Yes,” I said.

Just past the 1-mile mark, Jenny was there to cheer me on. Two women walking down the sidewalk saw her, then me, and yelled to me, “Is there a race or something?” “Yes,” I said. “Are you winning?” “Yes.” About a half mile later, a husband and wife were setting lawn chairs up in their driveway to watch the runners when I came upon them quickly from the fog. “Hey, where’s your race bib?” the guy yelled. “It’s noncompetitive; they’re not timing,” I said. He turned to his wife as she sat down and said, “It’s noncompetitive.” She groaned. “Hey,” the guy said to me, “Are you winning?” I said, “Can I just run the race without having these long conversations?!?” but he didn’t hear me as I had disappeared into the fog.

Here’s the thing about leading a race: It’s not easy. It can be nerve-wracking. Even in a race where I was near certain that no one could catch me, I ran scared. It had always been so easy to start off relatively slowly and reel people in as a race progressed. Now, here I was, exactly where I thought I wanted to be, and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t handle the pressure.

At about 2.5 miles, I came quickly upon Jenny in my small window of visibility. “Is there anyone even close to me?” I yelled. “There wasn’t anyone even within 2 minutes of you at the first mile. Frankly, this is boring.” So with that little pep talk, I surged ahead and ran to the cheers of the volunteers near the finish line. I crossed in 19:50, not even close to my best time that year. The race director looked over my shoulder at my watch and asked, “How’d you do?”

“Well, I won,” I said.

This is how I felt when I finally won a race. Bottom left: my lovely wife Jen's thumb.

This is how I felt when I finally won a race. Bottom left: my lovely wife Jen’s thumb.

Since then, I’ve won two more races, one a 5K in my brother’s town, and another a 10K on country roads in blistering heat. Those are stories for another blog post. The thing about these races, though, is that they weren’t my best efforts and were not my most enjoyable experiences. (Other than allowing me to humblebrag on Facebook.)

I had a point, and I’m trying to remember it. Something about winning not being all it’s cracked up to be. Actually, it was pretty cool to cross the line first. But I could have done without the disbelief in everyones’ voices when they yelled out, “Are you winning?”

I Never Found Herb at Burger King

Here’s how my brain works: “I think I’ll write a blog post about running. I’m hungry. Maybe I should write about proper nutrition for marathon runners. I wonder how many people found Herb in that Burger King promo in 1985?” So I decided to write about Burger King.

First, I should say that I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in a long time, maybe since I was a teenager and certainly not since I’ve been married. (I verified this with my lovely wife Jen.) When I told my middle child, the patient one, that I was thinking about posting something on Burger King, she said, “What possible connection to Burger King could you have?” See, we don’t really eat fast food that much. There is an Arby’s literally within sight of our house that we have never been to. (Editor’s note: Yes, “literally” as in literally.) I have not yet set foot in the Burger King in our town, and we’ve lived here for 14 years. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the insides of all of the Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Little Caesar’s, and Pizza Hut franchises in our town put together.

My kids think I have always been hyper-vigilant about my health and theirs. Actually, I’m shielding them from a shameful secret from my past: until I met their mother, I was a fast-food junkie.

I grew up loving McDonald’s. (My favorite menu item of theirs from my childhood: Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Ooh, and the Triple Thick Shake, vanilla flavored.) And Burger King (Whopper Jr. with Cheese.) And Arby’s (Beef ‘n Cheddar.) And Taco Bell (the BellBeefer, which was a ground-beef taco in a burger bun, kind of like a sloppy joe but tasting all Taco Bell-ish). I could go on, but I won’t because I want to get to the Where’s Herb? campaign.

But first, of all the fast-food joints in my hometown, Burger King holds a special place in my heart (and my arteries) because it was within walking distance of my junior high. Every few weeks, a few of my friends and I would skip the bus ride home and walk to Burger King. I have no idea how I informed my mom of this change in plans; with no cell phone, I probably used a quarter at a payphone to call home, or I just came in late and no one cared. (This was a looser time in American childrearing history.)

One of my friends’ favorite pastimes at Burger King was to unscrew the lids to the salt shakers but place them on the tables so that they looked normal. (Back when salt and pepper shakers were routinely left on tables.) Then we would wait for someone else, usually an unsuspecting friend sitting at the same table as us, to sprinkle salt on their already-heavily-salted fries and watch the lid fall off and all the salt pour out onto the fries. We believed that we were hilarious and original.

Sometimes we would wait until a friend’s back was turned while they flirted with girls at a nearby table and we would dump salt or pepper into their soda. Once, we dumped about 10 tablespoonfuls of sugar into a friend’s Pepsi; the joke was on us when he drank it because he didn’t even notice a difference.

One of the funniest things I have ever witnessed, food-wise, was when a boy who was one year older than me bet that he could stuff a whole Whopper in his mouth. We pooled our money and offered him 10 bucks if he could do it. (I should mention that he had a mouth like Mick Jagger’s.) He took the Whopper, opened as far wide as he could, and (I am not making this up) placed the whole Whopper in his freakishly large pie hole and closed his lips around it. He held his hand out for the money, but one of my friends said, “Not until you swallow it.” He started trying to chew it without opening his mouth, and it was apparent that this wasn’t really working. Have you ever had one of those moments wherein simply making eye contact with someone makes you laugh so hard that you’re crying? He and I did that. Except I could laugh out loud, but he was tearing up and little Whopper bits were spritzing out of his lips and all over. His tears were filled with sesame seeds from the bun. (No middle schoolers were harmed in the making of this memory.)

This is Herb. And a poster of him that appeared in every Burger King. I never found him. (But I kind of looked like him in my awkward '80s nerd phase.)

This is Herb. And a poster of him that appeared in every Burger King. I never found him. (But I kind of looked like him in my awkward ’80s nerd phase, which sadly lasted deep into the ’90s.)

But this is a blog post about Herb. Remember Herb? (Sorry, I’m paraphrasing Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” The song, not the subsequent movie, which was practically unwatchable, unless you’re on drugs. Which may have been the point.) For years, I’ve asked people who lived through the ’80s with me if they remember the “Where’s Herb?” ad campaign. Usually, the answer is no, not really, or it sort of rings a bell. That surprises me because it’s pretty vivid in my memory, for two reasons: 1. I watched a lot of TV. A lot of TV. My kids have no idea what “too much screen time” means. The main screen in our house at the time, the TV, came on when the first person (my dad) woke up in the morning, around 4:30 a.m., and it stayed on until the last person (my mom) went to bed, around 10:30 p.m. Then my brother and I would secretly stay up late watching Johnny Carson and sometimes David Letterman on the black-and-white TV in our shared bedroom. (Don’t tell my dad; he was under the impression we were asleep by 10.) Subsequently, I saw all these commercials in 1985 concerning a mysterious guy named Herb. Oh, and 2. I had a marketing class in college, and the “Where’s Herb?” campaign was taught as an example of how not to promote a product.

The idea behind the $40 million campaign (according to Wikipedia) was that there was a guy named Herb who was the only person left in the country who hadn’t ever eaten at Burger King. There were these commercials showing Herb’s friends and relatives expressing concern about him and saying, “Herb was always a little different.” Then came the kicker of the campaign: Herb (actually, an actor named Jon Menick) would visit a Burger King in each of the 50 states, and whoever recognized him would win $5000, and then the rest of the customers in the restaurant at the time would have their names entered in a contest to win $1 million. From mid-November until the Super Bowl in January 1986, Herb’s identity wasn’t revealed, so basically, millions of us would walk into our local Burger Kings and ask random guys, “Are you Herb?” Because (and I can’t stress this flaw in the campaign’s premise enough) no one knew what Herb looked like because he didn’t appear in the commercials. Burger King aired a commercial finally showing Herb during the Super Bowl. Herb was very plain looking, like a typical ’80s movie nerd (glasses, buzz cut, tie, flood pants). From what I recollect, the actor would wander into a Burger King in, say, Indiana, and linger for a while, with a handler who would judge which person spotted him first. In some cases (many, apparently), no one recognized him. It’s not like he was Ronald McDonald prancing around or even the Hamburglar. That was part of the problem: this campaign was supposed to show how Burger King was different than McDonald’s somehow.

The campaign lost so much steam that it morphed into a discount promotion: anyone could walk into a Burger King, say, “I’m not Herb,” and get a burger for 99 cents or something. (If your name was Herb, you could say, “I’m not the Herb you’re looking for.”) For a while, I followed news reports of the states in which Herb was spotted, but the media sort of let it all fade away, so I remember only a handful of states. (Remember that this was in the days before the Internet, so there was no easy way to keep track of this.) For years later, I would periodically think, “If I find myself in a Burger King and I see Herb, is the $5000 offer still good?”

I can find no verifiable list of the number of states that Herb crossed off his list. I’m not sure if Burger King will want to sponsor my blog after reading this post, but for what it’s worth, I was the one guy who liked the Where’s Herb? campaign. Did I mention that Burger King’s sales dropped 40% from 1985 to 1986? So it’s not as if the campaign didn’t have an effect; it drove tens of thousands of customers to McDonald’s and Wendy’s and other rivals (who advertised, and I am not making this up, that Herb ate at their places but not at Burger King). For those of you who do eat at Burger King, here’s  a fun activity you can take away from this post: Next time you’re there, give your order, then look around furtively and whisper, “I’m not Herb.” Let me know what the discount is at nowadays.

This is the Super Bowl commercial that revealed Herb to the world. You can almost taste the excitement.

This is the first commercial, where Herb is talked about but never shown.

For what it’s worth, this is Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” Yes, it’s over 18 minutes long. I’m not saying you should listen to the whole thing, but you’ve come this far with me, so why stop now?

My Oscar Acceptance Speech

Wow. I’m as stunned as all of you are to have heard my name called tonight. I did not expect to win this Oscar, especially since, until a few months ago, I wasn’t even aware that a person could be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for a movie based on a blog post. But I’ll take it.

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“You like me! You really like me!”

I guess I should take a moment to thank my business partner, mostly because of the lawsuit: part of the agreement was I mention him in any potential acceptance speech. So, this one goes out to my former friend and mentor, or as I like to call him, “Plaintiff.” I’d also like to give a special shout-out to the little people, and by “little people,” I mean anyone 5 feet 3 inches or shorter; thank you for making me feel tall.

In all seriousness, a lot of hard work went into the making of this film. I am humbled to have worked with such a great director and cast and crew and production team; I’d like to give most of the credit to them for bringing my words to life. I’d like to, but I can’t because, let’s be honest, without my script, this movie would have been nothing. Hence, me standing here holding this statuette and them all sitting at home cheering me on. So, thanks for your minor contributions.

I have to believe that my late mom is looking down on me and smiling. She was such a big part of my success; I can still hear her speaking the words that motivated me to get to where I am today: “Sweetie, don’t listen to what your teachers and the social worker and the school administrators say: You can be anything you want when you grow up. As long as it doesn’t involve being tall, or particularly good-looking, or especially intelligent, or having the ability to work with your hands, or playing well with others.” I knew then and there that I was going to be a writer!

I know, too, that my dad is looking down on me. He’s not dead; he just disapproves of my life choices. Dad, this one’s for you; you warned me that when I went to Hollywood, it would be filled with a bunch of whiny, narcissistic, ego-inflated, body-obsessed liberal wackos who spent their days puffing each other up in useless meetings and their nights at drug-fueled orgies in the Hollywood Hills. Well, Dad, you were right: it was everything you promised and more! Thanks for cutting me off financially; that really forced me to find my way in the world (and, unanticipated bonus, to find cheaper pot suppliers).

One of the greatest pieces of advice I got when I first starting working on screenplays came from two previous Oscar winners, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They told me, “Write what you know.” I’m paraphrasing from their legal filing; it was more along the lines of, “Whereas we find Mr. Dudley’s screenplay to have undeniable similarities to our own work,” etcetera. Boy, did I learn the hard way to write what I know. I suppose in hindsight I shouldn’t have named my first attempt at a screenplay “Good Will Hunting 2.” But that’s all been settled in the courts, and now I hold no grudges against Ben and Matt, who are both in the audience tonight. However, I would like to kindly suggest that they drop the order of protection requiring me to stay 50 feet away from each of them at all times; that’s why my seats were in the balcony and I had to find an alternative access to the stage from the backstage area when my name was called. (I’m also trying to figure a way to triangulate our paths through the Vanity Fair Oscar party, but I’ll cross that red carpet-covered bridge when I get there.)

Did I thank my agent yet? No? I owe a lot to her. (Twenty-five percent, actually; she told me that was the standard rate.) She had all the connections and taught me which parties to attend, which studio heads to schmooze, and, most importantly, which producers to sleep with. (As an aside to my wife: Just kidding, honey! And as an aside to certain producers: Not really; those two and/or three nights we spent together were some of the most memorable drug-fueled times of my life!)

I see that someone in back is giving me the “wrap it up” signal. Either that or they’re telling me that they are going to slit my throat when I step off the stage. Wait, is that Affleck? Aw, Ben, you’re a card! Always joking! Anyway, I would be a heel and a cad if I didn’t mention my lovely wife Jen. Jen, my darling, this is all possible because of you, in so many ways. First of all, the movie is named “My Lovely Wife Jen,” so there are some obvious real-life comparisons. I was particularly pleased when the casting director got Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Aniston to play you in different stages of your life, although I didn’t realize how powerful a player Aniston was until I found out she was playing the young “you” and Lawrence was forced to play the mature “you.” Also, Jen (my Jen, not the other Jens), thanks for always supporting me when things looked bleak. I’m talking about the financial support, because there were times when your emotional support was frankly a little lacking. I mean, how many times can a guy be criticized for not having a real, actual job and not getting changed out of his sweatpants all day (and, in one particularly low stretch, not doing anything but watching Seasons 1 through 4 of “thirtysomething” on repeat for 6 months straight while eating pork and beans on the couch) before it starts to affect his self-confidence? But we worked through all that, and I just want to say that everything I earn from this movie goes to you. That is, everything after paying my lawyers and Affleck and Damon and my former business partner and my agent. Everything after that, I mean.

Motion Sickness: A Love Story

For her birthday, our eldest daughter wanted jigsaw puzzles. We put out the word to friends and families. We are working our way through them now, spending quality family time at the dining-room table for hours on end. “Isn’t this great, kids?” I said the other day. “Huh?” they asked. “Isn’t this great?” I repeated, a little louder. “What?” “ISN’T THIS GREAT!?!” I yelled. See, the problem is that, although my lovely wife Jen and I are focusing on the puzzle, my kids are doing it while also using headphones and watching “Parks and Recreation” on their iPads, or anime on their laptops, or YouTube videos on my laptop. I love having to scream out loud to be heard in a silent house.

But the puzzles: Our daughter received 10 or 15, including a few really cool ones: a 3-dimensional “crystal” one in the shape of a swan and a “3D Extreme” 500-piece puzzle, which is not actually 3D but made of different layers so that it looks as if the images are popping out at the viewer and swimming around (literally swimming because it’s an underwater scene). The image is a painting by Christian Riese Lassen, “one of the world’s most popular and talented artists,” according to the back of the box. (Who am I to argue? Besides, his website mentions that he has been featured on “20/20,” CNN, ESPN, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and “Baywatch,” and he skis, surfs, snowboards, writes poetry, and studies Judo and Tae Kwan Do. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes!)

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Hard on the eyes.

 

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Easy on the eyes.

I had to recuse myself from the room when this puzzle was out because of the fact that I get motion-sick easily. So easily. If I try to walk and text, look out. Also, I’m really slow at jigsaw puzzling; my most effective method (besides stealing one piece and waiting until everyone does all the work and starts looking around and saying, “We lost a piece,” and then swooping in and putting the last piece in and yelling, “Ha ha! Gotcha again!”) is to hold up a puzzle piece to the image on the box and then try to match it up on the puzzle. This only works if Jen or the kids have done most of the puzzle already. So, that and the motion sickness kept me out of the dining room for a week.

I don’t remember having motion sickness when I was younger, although I certainly wasn’t the first kid in line at roller coasters. My friends would be like, “Come on, Dudley, let’s ride this rickety old wooden coaster!” And I’d be all like, “Oh, sorry, I’m not taller than the ‘You Must Be This Tall to Ride’ sign for this one.” (Sad excuse. Also true.)

As an adult, I recall the first time I got hit really hard with motion sickness: Jen and I took a trip to Sequoia National Park, and on the way up into the park, we had to take this steep, winding road for 45 minutes; I had this feeling in my gut like, “This is not good.” On the way down, Jen was flying; the speed limit at times would get up to 40 mph, but sometimes it would slow down to 10 or even 5 mph because of the curves. There are tons of “Slower Traffic Pull Over” signs and turnouts every half-mile or so. “Slow down, Jen!” I yelled. “I think I’m going to be sick! And look, that speed limit sign just said 10 mph!” “I’m doing fine,” she said. “Besides, that’s just a recommended sign for people who can’t handle the speed; those of us who are comfortable driving faster can go faster.” “Oh,” I said, “and I suppose the state of California is the only state in the nation where speed-limit signs are just recommendations for slower drivers!” (I was not in a good place.) I held it together until we reached a restaurant outside the park entrance, but I was so miserable that I had my head in my hands on the table and felt as if I wanted to be in a dark room with no noise. I wasn’t even able to enjoy my locally raised grass-fed bison burger.

I love mountains; I just hate traveling up and down them. Part of the problem is living in the Midwest, where a large speed bump in front of Walmart is considered “being at altitude.”

For the next few years, I was only struck by motion sickness while on vacations, so I assumed that it was related to the travel (by plane or car) rather than my habits while on vacation. I faithfully took my Dramamine before airplane rides and boat trips and kept my fingers crossed. That didn’t always work. On a 1-hour ferry ride from Long Beach, CA, to Catalina Island, we were told to watch an instructive video playing on ceiling monitors; I tried to simultaneously watch the video and keep my eyes on the horizon. Didn’t work. People of Avalon on Catalina Island: your city is gorgeous, and I apologize for vomiting on its streets.

I tried the Scopolamine patch behind my ear for a trip to Australia. I was miserable most of the time I had a patch on; turns out a very small percentage of the population actually gets dizzier from the patch than from their motion sickness. Lucky me. We went up to Port Douglas, Queensland, to go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. The ship we were on visited three separate areas of the reef, and by the third site, can you guess where I was? Back on the boat, staring out at the horizon. (Interesting fact about the Great Barrier Reef: its horizon looks exactly the same as the horizon near Catalina Island.)

At Disney World, I had a blast avoiding all the fun rides. That is, until we reached Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and my young nephew challenged me to ride the Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith Ride back-to-back. “This is awesome!” he screamed on the first ride. “Mommy, make it stop!” I yelled. On the second ride, he hooted at the 0- to 60-mph start of the ride; I tried to yell, “Mommy, make it stop!” but my lips were flapping up against my nose and chin. I pushed my youngest child and her cousin out of the rented double stroller and made Jen push me back to the hotel shuttle.

The good news, I guess, is that my motion sickness is not vertigo (I had one bout of vertigo a few years ago, and it was as bad as people say it is), and it’s not really migraines, although I do have some of the symptoms of migraines. More good news: I figured out how to manage it, besides the obvious of never going anywhere and staying off of speed bumps. I started to get motion sickness while not traveling, so I pinpointed what the triggers were: neck and shoulder stiffness (such as when I do a lot of yard work or driving), poor nutrition (e.g., the food on every vacation I have ever taken), and not drinking enough.

So, here’s how I keep motion sickness at bay: Dramamine for air travel, healthy eating habits and proper hydration, and neck and shoulder massages when I start to feel upper-body soreness. (Sometimes I even fake neck pain to get a free rub from Jen: “Oh, my neck hurts; I think I feel motion sickness coming on! Help!” etc.) And on vacations, I go in with the assumption that I’ll be battling motion sickness, and every day that I don’t is a gift and a miracle.

Christian Riese Lassen’s awesome homepage 

How to Run While Injured (Hint: You Shouldn’t)

The other night, I prepared my version of an egg muffin for dinner: two locally sourced eggs fried on a toasted, buttered whole-wheat English muffin (extra gluten, please), topped with Wisconsin pepper jack cheese and placed in the oven just long enough to make the cheese melt, with a little salt and pepper. (This is a go-to meal on days when I don’t want to use my brain to come up with a dinner plan.) It was great, and along with sliced apples, some citrus, and a salad, it was all we needed for a fulfilling meal.

An hour later, my lovely wife Jen found me eating a bowl of Cinnamon Life at the kitchen table. “Um, what are you doing?”   she asked. “Eating cereal. I wasn’t full,” I said. She raised an eyebrow and said, “You do realize that you’re not training for a marathon now, right?”

For the first time in 3 years, I am not actively training for a big race because I am battling an injury. And by “battling an injury,” I mean “sitting on the couch watching Season 4 of ‘Portlandia.’” Jen noticed that I hadn’t cut down on my caloric intake since I stopped running (I noticed, too: my innie belly button is deeper and I’m having trouble buttoning some pairs of jeans). As with most of my running injuries, this one was self-inflicted. After my last marathon, I was so disappointed in my preparation and/or effort that I actually increased my mileage in the months after it. I’m a low-mileage guy anyway because of long-standing knee problems, and I knew that every time I increased my mileage in the past there were repercussions, but I thought I could be smart about it this time.

Not so much. I developed anterior tibial tendinitis. That’s a fancy medical term for constant throbbing pain on the top of my foot that also extends up past the ankle. Initially, I wouldn’t notice it until the middle of the night, when the pain woke me up and I could not find a comfortable position to put my right foot in. I tried resting for a few days, but it returned when I ran again. Then I took off a week and tried running; it showed up on both feet after that. Now it is sore even if I only wear laced shoes. So I decided to shut things down for a month to 6 weeks.

That’s the important thing to know about the vast majority of my running injuries: if I have pain, I stop running for a while and it will get better. Over the years, I’ve dealt with tons of different types of injuries that have all improved with rest. I have tried running through injuries, but that almost never works. The problem is that I picture myself as Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride,” absorbing the six-fingered Count Rugen’s stabs only to get stronger and screaming ever louder, “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!”

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“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

If you’ve ever suffered through a conversation among runners, you’re familiar with how they try to one-up each other with their running-related injuries: Runner A: “I’m running a 5K this weekend with a broken toe.” Runner B: “Oh, is that all? I ripped my Achilles tendon in a 10K last week and still won the race.” Runner C: “You guys are lucky. My last marathon, my groin literally fell off at the halfway point, and I had to carry it to the finish line.” Runners A and B: “We have no idea what that means. But we are impressed.”

I don’t want to bore you with that type of litany of injuries that I have had over the years. Okay, actually I do. Here is an incomplete list: heel blisters, sprained toes, dead toenails (if you are thinking of marrying and/or sleeping with a runner, keep the lights off in the bedroom or make them wear socks), calf strains, glute strains, low back pain, iliotibial band syndrome, shoulder and neck soreness, bloody nipples (yes, bloody nipples), plantar fasciitis, and all sorts of knee pain (patellar tendinitis, loose cartilage, “runner’s knee,” bursitis, chondromalacia).

My collegiate running career ended prematurely because of a stress fracture in my left leg. Well, that and my idiotic plan to recover from it: I was so afraid to sit out practice and fall behind in my development as a freshman that I decided to run through the pain for a week, until I ended up on crutches for 2 months. I didn’t fully recover from the injury for a few years.

The plantar fasciitis and knee pain are like old friends. Old friends who I hate. I wear shoes all the time for the plantar fascia pain, and my knee soreness, although nearly always there, is not bad enough to warrant any sort of intervention.

A lot of these injuries, I have learned, have to do with a weak core. Strengthening my glutes, abs, low back muscles, and hips, along with cross training and reduced mileage, are a pathway to pain-free (or at least reduced-pain) running. Otherwise, I’m forced to take extended timeouts from running.

A few years ago, I ran into an older relative of mine at a wedding. I hadn’t seen him in quite some time because he was on the wrong side of a divorce. He asked me how my marathoning was going. I knew that he had been a runner and a more adventurous type than I was (think “running with the bulls in Pamplona” adventurous), and I asked him if he was still running marathons. “No,” he said, “I overtrained by running a half marathon daily for years and years, and now my knees can’t sustain any sort of exercise.” And then he added, as if he saw the gears turning in my brain, “And don’t you do the same thing as me. Protect your knees. Reduce your mileage. It’s too late for me, but not for you.”

Sage advice; I just wish I wasn’t sharing my “I crossed the finish line carrying my groin” story with him at the time.

Take Your Eyes Off the Computer and Read These Books

When I was young, my grandfather lived with us on and off. One of his endearing quirks (and by “endearing quirk,” I mean “thing that most drove my mom insane”) was reading aloud anything he saw: cereal boxes (“‘Lucky Charms: Frosted Oat Cereal with Marshmallow Bits,’ yum”), newspaper headlines (“‘First Lady Visits Refugees in Hungary,’ interesting”), and, while we were driving, restaurant and store signs, which was a running commentary as we rolled along our town’s commercial strip (“‘McDonalds: Over 50 Billion Served,’ I wonder how they know,” “‘Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich Is Delicious,’ yes it is,” “Burger King: Home of the Whopper,’ I’ll stick with McDonald’s”). Much to my lovely wife Jen’s chagrin, I have become my grandfather. I read everything aloud to her and to anyone else who is listening. Later, I’ll probably read this blog post aloud to her.

The problem is that I have a short attention span. I am not a fast reader. I lose interest quickly. I struggle to read a New Yorker cover-to-cover in one sitting (or, let’s be honest, at all). On the other hand, Jen and my kids are freaks of nature. They read books like they are going out of style. (Which they are, according to a recent study; see below.) I’ll start reading a book, recommend it to Jen, and then, the next time I open the book, find a bookmark deeper into the book than mine is. Way deeper. I’ll spend a few weeks plodding through a book; she’ll read it in a night. She has a Nook because when we go on vacation, she doesn’t want to carry 10 books; I bring 3 magazines and I’m set. (As long as there are cereal boxes and restaurant signs to read…)

The Pew Research Center keeps track of American’s reading habits, and in the January 21, 2014 issue of The Atlantic, which I just got around to reading, Jordan Weissmann reports that the average American read 5 books in 2013. Five measly books. In 1978, 8% of Americans didn’t read a book at all. In 2013, it was 23%. Yikes. The silver lining, though, is that 18- to 24-year-olds’ reading patterns are holding steady over the years. Young adults’ reading habits are, as Weissmann notes, “the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002.” Whew! There’s hope for us yet.

Here are my 10 faves of 2014, with brief comments (I know you don’t have time to read this because of all those books you’re plowing through). I managed to read 40 books last year. So these are the top 25%:

BN-BH259_0131no_DV_201401291444321. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B.J. Novak. This short-story collection caught me off guard and I laughed throughout. You might know Novak as Ryan from “The Office.” He’s also a writer and executive producer. He’s also funny and smart. I kept thinking of Steve Martin (in his writing, not his standup) when I read these stories. I judge how funny a book is by how much of it I read out loud to Jen; I pretty much read something on every page to her. The standout story for me was “The Something by John Grisham.” I snicker just thinking about it. Bonus: Many of these short stories are a few pages long, matching my attention span.

us-book2. Us, David Nicholls. Douglas is a chemist who plans a European tour with his wife Connie and their teenage son before he goes off to university. Then Connie says that she is thinking of leaving him but that they should still do the trip. Hilarity ensues. Very sad and funny in dealing with what happens when a marriage takes a wrong turn and about a father’s relationship with his son.

Unknown3. Thank You, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse. You’d think I would have read me some Jeeves and Wooster stories before this point in my life, seeing as I have always preferred funny over serious. But I was an English major in college, where we had to read serious literature and not, you know, enjoyable literature. Please find a Wodehouse book and read it. It’s “Downton Abbey” with a laugh track. (That metaphor makes no sense because it’s a book.)

Unknown4. This Is the Story of A Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett. This is actually several nonfiction pieces, not just about marriage. Patchett is a novelist (Bel Canto) and also a magazine writer. This collection of her shorter works is bravely honest and confessional. If only my writing was this deep and insightful. (Instead, I’m blathering on about cereal boxes and McDonald’s signs.) Also, she co-owns a bookstore in Nashville called Parnassus Books. Talk about supporting the cause!

5. Bad Luck and Trouble, Lee Child. This is a departure from the other books on my list, but I’m a sucker for Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Reacher is a former Army MP who roams the country and solves grisly crimes. The Reacher books remind me of John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee books from the 1960s to the 1980s. Tough man, sharp mind, not afraid to bend the law to lay a heavy dose of justice on the bad guys, and he has a way with the ladies: isn’t it obvious why I relate to Reacher? (Because I’m nothing like him. Sorry, I thought that was obvious.)

Unknown6. The Map Thief, Michael Blanding. The subtitle of this is “The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.” In a nutshell, it’s the gripping story of…oh, forget it. True story, too.

Unknown-17. Born Standing Up, Steve Martin. If you’ve read any Steve Martin books (An Object of Beauty is a good place to start) you’d think, “Wait, is this witty, serious-and-funny writing from the same comic with the arrow through his head?” Yes, same guy. This memoir traces his standup years and is not really an autobiography; it’s more an explanation of how Martin’s standup act developed; in fact, it focuses only on his childhood and adult life for how they related to his act, and it ends just as he is about to transition to his movie roles. Also, very funny. (A must for almost all the books on my list.)

Unknown8. I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend, Martin Short. Consider it a companion piece to the previous book. Wonderful, obviously funny, but less obvious is the fact that this is a love story about Short and his wife. You will laugh and cry. (Well, I did.)

Unknown-19. Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living, Nick Offerman. Do you like the Ron Swanson character on “Parks and Recreation”? Do you like meat? Do you like woodworking? Then this might be the book for you. Warning: There are raunchy parts.

Unknown10. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin. I didn’t think that I would like this book. I was wrong. Should I say it was funny and sad? Do you sense a pattern in some of my selections? AJ Fikry is a bookstore owner who was recently widowed. In rapid succession, a rare book of his is stolen and a baby gets left in his bookstore. And we go from there.

These books barely missed the cut: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson; One Plus One, Jojo Moyes; I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, Courtney Maum; In the Land of Invented Languages, Arika Okrent; Food: A Love Story, Jim Gaffigan.

The Best Films I Saw in 2014 (Okay, That’s Misleading)

I feel as if I need to start this post with a caveat: This is not a list of the best films of 2014. This isn’t a list of Oscar contenders. So what is it then? I’m glad you asked. This is a list of the movies I saw in 2014 that I liked the most. I wouldn’t recommend them for everyone. Also, they are not even all made in 2014; I just happened to see them this year.

The last time I saw a large-enough sample size of new releases to make a “Ten Best of the Current Calendar Year” list was before my lovely wife Jen and I had kids. In those halcyon days when we were young and gorgeous (well, one of us was) and had all the time in the world, Jen and I would breeze into theaters to gorge on double features, then stay up late with friends discussing the meaning and message behind the films we had just seen. I had a friend who would see as many new releases as he could on their opening weekends. I told Jen, “I want to be him.” She said, “Well, good luck with that.” Subsequently, she stopped going to the theater with me as much. Then we had a son. Then a daughter, and then another. Soon, the only new releases I was seeing had cartoon characters or talking animals or, just to mix things up, talking-animal cartoon characters.

I’m rambling. (Also, I think I just blamed my kids and wife for making my life less enjoyable.) Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I still managed to see 56 films this year. That’s about one every 6.5 days. Most of the movies I see are about a year after they were released, when I can see them on DVD or instant streaming. I’m only counting the first time I saw a film; if I counted subsequent viewings of “Frozen” alone this year, the list would be past 70. Here are my ten favorites, in no particular order. I keep my descriptions brief because about 800,000 other people could do a better job than me of analyzing these movies.

1. “The World’s End.” 2013 comedy directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Hilarious British film, part of the Cornetto Trilogy of tenuously tied-together movies (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) but not as gory as the others. I loved watching the “what the heck is going on here?!?” looks on my wife’s and kids’ faces when they first saw this.

2. “Before Midnight.” 2013 romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The third film in another trilogy, this one including “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” Revisiting these characters is like sitting in on conversations with old friends. Old friends who are more attractive and smarter than me.

3. “The Lego Movie.” 2014 animated comedy directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. I would have liked this movie even if I wasn’t forced to watch it several times with my kids. Funny in a way that works on many levels, and somehow corporate and subversive at the same time.

4. “Drinking Buddies.” 2013 comedy/drama directed by Joe Swanberg, starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. I’m a sucker for Swanberg’s movies, low-low-budget films where very little happens to move the plot along.

5. “Enough Said.” 2013 romantic comedy directed by Nicole Holofcener, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. I did not see this film coming. I’ve always liked Holofcener’s films (particularly “Walking and Talking” and “Friends With Money”), but I wasn’t sure about Tony Soprano in the male lead role. It would have been interesting to see where his career went after this one.

6. “In A World…” 2013 comedy directed by Lake Bell. What a bizarre little movie. Bell is a vocal coach competing with, among others, her father and her father’s protege for the coveted role of resurrecting the “in a world…” voice-over for a movie trailer. Awkward and funny.

7. “Robot & Frank.” 2012 drama directed by Jake Schreier, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of a robot. Yes, a robot. What I like about this near-future science-fiction film is that it is just a few years or a decade beyond us now, which makes it seems all the more real. Langella is masterful as an ex-con who may be suffering from some form of dementia, and the unlikely friendship he strikes up with the robot helper forced upon him by his children centers the film.

8. “The Way, Way Back.” 2013 comedy/drama directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, starring Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Sam Rockwell, among others. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age films. (Or the adult version, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life films; see No. 10 below.) Rockwell is at his suave but goofy, one-liner, early-Chevy-Chase best in this one. Carell plays a jerk.

9. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” 2013 romantic comedy/adventure/drama directed by Ben Stiller, starring Stiller and Kristen Wiig. I like this movie because I am Walter Mitty. I’ve always lived most of my life in my head. The first time I read James Thurber’s 1947 short story upon which this was based, it was as if Thurber had been reading my mind. Very loosely basing this on the story, Stiller retains the heart of it but goes off in a whole different direction.

10. “Wish I Was Here.” 2014 drama/comedy directed by Zach Braff, starring Braff, Kate Hudson, and Mandy Patinkin. I liked Braff’s first film, “Garden State,” and I liked this one even more. It deals with faith; death; a man’s relationship with his father and his children; and the notion of being present or living in the moment, a great concept that I struggle to put into practice. Plus, it stars the voice of Olaf from “Frozen” as a stoner.

Other movies that just missed the cut: “We Bought A Zoo,” “Stuck In Love,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” Liberal Arts,” Hamlet 2,” The Trip,” “Begin Again,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

 

A Short Fashion Story. (That’s a Height Joke.)

You might find this hard to believe based on my marathon braggadocio, but I am actually a tiny, little man. I have been since I was tiny. And little. I must have had a growth spurt at some point, but I don’t remember it. I am still the same size since I was when I was a ninth grader: 5 feet 4 inches tall (and three quarters of an inch!), 125 pounds (rounding up, while fully clothed). I know what you’re thinking: “How in the world did you  fend off the ladies back in high school?” It was not easy, folks, let me tell you.

My lovely wife Jen and I have a comfy oversized chair in our family room. Once while we were sitting in it together, Jen said, “We are crowded in this thing because you are bigger than me. But not by height, obviously. Or weight; we’re about the same.” I said, “Is there another measure of size I’m not aware of by which I would be considered larger than you?” She said, “Density. You are denser than me.” I cannot really argue with that one.

Her point, I hope, is that although I am a tiny guy, I am a little wider in the chest area than one might expect for how skinny I am. That combined with my height makes it difficult to shop for clothes. Let me clue you in on a little secret: the fashion world is biased against short people. Up until a few years ago, when the topic of designing clothes for short people came up, the fashion industry stuck their collective fingers in their ears and hummed a few bars of Randy Newman’s “Short People” (“I don’t want no short people, I don’t want no short people round here,” and so forth).

So it’s up to me to stand up for short people. Wait, I am standing up.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Jen and I were visiting a friend in San Francisco. She worked in the Financial District, and while walking to her office, Jen and I stumbled upon a store called The Short Shop (Fashion Clothing for the Shorter Man). I thought it was hilarious. We went inside to see what kinds of magical shorter-man clothes they sold. It was mostly dress shirts, suit coats, and slacks. One of the employees asked me, “What size coat do you wear?” I said, “I’m a 38 Short.” He said, “But in here, you’re a 38 Regular!” Frankly, the “you’re one of us!” vibe spooked me, and I left without buying anything. In the ensuing years, when it dawned on me that I was never going to grow to 6 feet tall, I wished I had supported their efforts with a purchase or two. I’ve been to San Francisco since then, but I haven’t been able to find the store and I think it’s gone.

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The Short Shop in SF. I know, you were expecting a Hobbit hole.

Seeing as there aren’t short-man stores in every community (someone get on this, pronto!), where is a short man to shop? I was wondering when you’d ask; otherwise, the 3 minutes I spent doing research for this blog post were a complete waste. First and foremost, I want to thank the fashion industry for removing those collective fingers from their ears long enough to introduce the term “slim fit” to the American man’s style palette. Before slim fit was common (I’m talking 2 years ago), many guys, and short guys especially, had to wear shirts that were blousy and pants that were baggy. We all walked around looking like Seth Green in “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Nowadays, thankfully, you can’t swing a short guy around by his tiny feet in a men’s store without hitting a slim-fit item of clothing. (Please, do not try this.)

Before I mention my go-to places for stylish short-man clothes, I should say that you can always use a tailor to make clothes from whole cloth for you. I assume you are rich if you go this route.

Also, if you have no shame, you can shop in the young men’s section of a department store. I have done this, and I will continue to do this, and I will continue to claim that I am looking for something for my son (even though he is currently 6 inches taller than me and still growing). Then again, I have no shame.

Which is why I have also on rare occasions shopped in the women’s section of clothing stores. Specifically, I bought a women’s windbreaker/rain jacket from Eddie Bauer that has come in handy over the years; I wear it all the time, but most importantly when I run in cold or inclement weather. It is black, so no one can tell that it is for the ladies (except, of course, I just told everyone, so if you see me wearing it, pretend things are normal, okay?). Now, when I mention “women’s clothing,” I’m not talking about walking around in stilettos wearing a pencil skirt. (But if you’re a guy and that is your thing, hey, I don’t judge.) I’m mostly thinking of outerwear.

For pants and sweaters, the Gap is very friendly to short men. (Wait, is it The Gap or just Gap? I’m old enough to remember when they had an ad jingle that went, “Fall into the Gap.” But they seem to downplay the “The” these days.) They carry jeans and other pants with a waist of 28 and, very rarely in stores, you can find an inseam of 28, although usually 30 is their smallest inseam; I could go down to a 26 or 27 on the inseam. The 30-inch waist is the cruel cutoff at most stores; I’d like Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and some other stores a lot more if they went lower than 30. Anyway, Gap clothes have traditionally run slimmer than clothes at other retailers, it seems to me. I do wish they had shorter sleeves on their dress shirts.

This is probably redundant, but Gap’s partner store Banana Republic is another great short-man store. They carry a little higher-end merchandise than Gap (and it shows on the price tag), but it’s where I go for suits,  V-neck sweaters, and dress pants. (Again, you’re more likely to find shorter inseams online than in stores.)

I love Levi’s. Stores with extensive Levi’s collections will carry narrower waists. I wish they were made with a shorter inseam, but I’ll still buy Levi’s jeans and hem them myself, although the knee break is off then. (I don’t know if “knee break” is a real term, but I do know that the proportion of the leg is thrown off when you cut several inches off the bottom and hem the pants. I made up “knee break” to shorten the length of my explanation, but now I just screwed it up by explaining anyway.)

J. Crew, like Gap and Banana Republic, slims it up and shortens it for the little fellas out there. They are also pricey. (When I say “pricey,” I mean that their jeans cost over $100, in some instances well over it. I understand that you get what you pay for, but I don’t really like paying that much for a pair of pants.)

If I’m feeling lucky, I will go to a Nordstrom Rack and look for Ben Sherman polo shirts. I love Ben Sherman. If you can believe it, Ben Sherman sizes their polos down to extra small; that’s awesome because it makes me feel gigantic when the extra small is too small for me and I have to move up a size to the actual small. Whereas the Gaps and Banana Republics are more classic American in their style and color scheme, Ben Sherman spices things up more. I have a sweet black and bright pink striped polo and another purple and black polo that are not as garish as the colors suggest. Plus, I like their fitted sleeves; they show off my guns. (By “guns,” I mean “tiny biceps the size of a ripe plum when flexed.” [I had Jen read this blog entry before I posted it, and when I asked her if I should use another metaphor for my biceps, she said, "No, they are about the size of a ripe plum."])

Truly, however, the short man’s savior for clothes with appropriate proportions and comfortable fit while retaining the style that I love is a guy named Peter Manning. Mr. Manning is someone in the fashion industry who recently saw a need for clothing aimed at the 25% of the population 5 feet 8 inches and under who didn’t want to drown in blousy clothes or shop in the teen section. The first time I ordered a pair of American-made denim jeans from Peter Manning with a 29 waist and a 27 inseam, I was in love. No cuffing necessary, no hemming required. Where has this been all my life? I also own a sweater that fit right out of the box, a button-down with sleeves the right length, and a comfy weekend sweatshirt that doesn’t hang below my rear. Mr. Manning, if you are reading this (and I’m pretty sure you’re not because you’re busy making clothes and solving other short-man problems like how to reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards), I salute you, sir.

For more in-depth (and probably more accurate) info about fashion for short guys, go to The Modest Man, written by an Actual Fashion Blogger named Brock. He knows way more about style than I do. Plus he’s taller than me, and I know that matters to some of you out there. He’s probably also smarter than me. But I’m pretty sure I’m denser.

Randy Newman sings “Short People” (Warning: explicit anti-short-people lyrics)

Peter Manning NYC

The Modest Man, Style Tips and Advice for Short(er) Men