Monthly Archives: May 2011

Day 98. My First Appreciation of Memorial Day

Monday, May 30, 2011

Until 14 months ago, I didn’t appreciate Memorial Day enough.

My Grandma Norma was young then, growing up on a farm in southern Iowa in the ’30s. Soon after high school, she married her high school sweetheart, Maurice, who grew up on a nearby farm. They had wanted to get married even earlier, but Norma’s mother thought they were too young. Norma’s sweetness, that would become her trademark later, was evident even then. Maurice was the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone, including writing Norma poetry. A Renaissance man in southern Iowa.

It felt like they were just getting their lives started when a delusional man they hadn’t ever met, a world away, started acting on his delusions. Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, and France, and bombed England. Then, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the war came to the southern Iowa, or more accurately, took southern Iowa to the war. In a blink, Maurice found himself an Army staff sergeant stationed in England.

Staff Sergeant Swan was a member of the 453rd Bomb Group. A gunner, Maurice sat in the tail of a B-24. The environment around him was anything but simple, but what he desired most was simple enough. Maurice wrote piles of letters home to Norma, mostly simple letters about missing her and waiting to see her again. He just wanted to be home.

On May 8, 1944 Maurice was involved in a mission over Belgium.  They were spotted and were fired upon. Maurice’s plane was spared any direct hits, and checked in to say they were all right, but their relief was felt only briefly. The plane above them in formation took a hit, careening toward the ground, and smashing into Maurice’s plane on the way down. They both crashed into the Belgian soil. Maurice did not survive the impact.

On his person, they found two things.

They found a Bible, and a locket with a picture of Norma.

It hit Norma hard. Dealing with the grief at only 21, Norma had to decide whether to have his body repatriated or left to be buried in what would become Ardennes Cemetery, an American Military cemetery in Belgium. As about 40% of other widows at the time, she chose to have him buried there.

The war died about a year after Maurice did.

Maurice had told Norma that he wanted her to remarry if anything happened to him in the war. That was difficult for her to accept. But, a few years later, Norma met a teacher at Winfield School, where she worked, the same school she had gone to herself years earlier. Orra had grown up in a different part of the state, but found himself in the area teaching and developing a reputation as a great basketball coach. Although he now jokingly says that the first thing he liked about Norma was what he noticed when she “was walking away,” he was truly smitten. He and Maurice were different, but it wasn’t about comparisons.

Norma and Orra soon got married and started a family. They are now 90 and 96, respectfully, still living in the same house they bought in Iowa City in 1961. I, of course, have only ever known them as my grandparents. Grandpa Orra is the most laid back guy I’ve ever known, and Grandma Norma is somehow the most joyous and worry filled person I’ve ever met. They have their own magnificent love story. Norma wouldn’t change a single thing about their decades together.

Like every woman who lost a husband in WWII, there is still a young widow inside that feels the hurt of losing her first love.

She has never flown in a plane and has never been to Ardennes Cemetery.

No one in the family had been there. She had never quite had closure.

She had always wondered.

For 66 years, she wasn’t sure if she did the right thing in having him buried there and not here.

Last year, Michelle and I decided to join in on a European trip that our friends, Joe and Jannah were taking. The trip would begin in Rome and end in Brussels in late March. Before we left, I consulted my uncle, and family historian to see about visiting Ardennes. It would work perfectly. We e-mailed the cemetery that we were coming.

We arrived in our rented Renault on a drizzly gray afternoon. In the office we were met by, Walter, an American Army officer in full dress uniform. He had been waiting for us and had researched everything he could on Maurice in preparation. The cemetery was immaculate with rich greens contrasting brilliantly the exactness of the lines of the white headstones in every direction. They had taken such care to carve out this spot, prompting the surrounding nature to even pay respect. Walter walked us to Maurice’s headstone. It was the one marked with an American and Belgian flag for our arrival.  We laid flowers that Grandma Norma had purchased, we cried, and listened to Walter tell us the cemetery history and the unending care that the cemetery has received year round for decades.

When Michelle and I left, we knew we did something special.

When we got home, I realized that we had done one of the most important things of our lives.

I called Grandma Norma to tell her about the trip. I described for her the cemetery. I described for her the care. She described Maurice for me. Even though she could never be there, she could have closure knowing that a family member went there and reported back. She finally put to rest the wonder about her choice 66 years ago. In that moment on the phone she was just a young woman describing her first love to me.

That was the first time I understood Memorial Day.

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate soldiers’ sacrifices, I just did it on an intellectual level. I am pretty staunchly anti-war, so I’ve always been ambivalent about such things before, but I now know on a gut level that it isn’t about the wide view. I don’t think that Memorial Day is about nations and wars and borders and battles, and numbers. I think that misses the point.

I think it’s about individuals.

I think it’s about what that one person who is lost means to those individuals who miss them. Death is inherently stuck to the past, but missing that person is forever attached to the present.

At the same time, we, as a nation collectively have the young widow still inside us that misses our loved ones. We take a day each year to allow somber in and acknowledge our loss.

The totality of thinking about every soldier who has lost a life is too enormous for me. I have a hard time truly appreciating freedom as an idea, when I haven’t ever known anything else. I don’t know when a war is “just” or “good,” but I know that one person being willing to sacrifice their own life for others is something more than “just” and something more than “good.” I know that that is worthy of my remembrance. I know that feels like freedom.

I talked to my mom today as she was picking up Grandma Norma and Grandpa Orra. It takes awhile for my mom now as they move slowly gathering their things. They were getting their things together to make the annual 45 minute trip down to Winfield to go to the small cemetery where there is a headstone for Maurice. They walk slowly now, treading in the damp spring grass, to lay flowers and pay their respects to Maurice.

It’s just a small moment in the lives of two elderly people.

Collectively, it’s a big moment for all of us.



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Day 97. Two Worlds…One BBQ

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I will head back to Los Angeles tomorrow night. My feelings of being home have certainly transitioned. I mentioned that when I came home it was weird to be visiting my own house. In the span of a couple of days being home felt 100% normal. It was like I had never left at all. I hung out with the same people, drove down the same roads, and did improv shows. So, now it feels strange to be leaving.

It really is two separate worlds.

There is the world with comfort, and longtime friends, and a wife, and a home, and dogs.

The other is a world of hustling, and getting by, and striving.

I’ve been struck by how different the two are. On a positive note, however, I’ve also been struck by how awesome it is to vacation at home, when you aren’t routinely there. Think about it, vacation is this great getaway where you get to be away from the everyday stresses. Home, is where you feel most comfortable. I got to do both at the same time.

This evening we hosted a birthday BBQ for me. It’s like a perfect scenario for me because I got to have lots of different people over and we talked and played various yard games. That is my idea of a great time.

The coolest part was that at one time there were seven kids I got to play with. I love playing with kids, but it’s not acceptable for me to just go to a park and play with them, or to just invite them over to my house. It’s creepy. This scenario was normal and fun.

Tomorrow I will be off to the other world. I found out that my flight doesn’t leave until the evening, so I get a bonus day!


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Day 96. Cleaning out the Recycling Pile: “Why is Everything Wet?”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Recycling is something that is important to Michelle and I. Every time we use something that needs to be recycled, we will take it into the garage and toss it towards the bins we have for recycling. We have tin, aluminum, plastic, paper, and cardboard. There is a bin for each in a row on the side of the garage.

When we start filling them up, they are perfectly organized. Soonafter, they become indiscriminate mounds. When that happens, we do the adult thing and just keep tossing more and more Yoplait containers, and Chunky soup cans, and Lean Pocket boxes into to one massive pile void of any organization as it spills towards the bikes on the other side of the garage.

We start thinking that it would be good to take the recycling to the recycling center. Then, for several weeks, we talk about how we need to take the recycling to the recycling center. Then, we plan a Saturday when we are going to take the recycling to the recycling center. Two weeks later we follow through.

Today was one of those days.

I had decided it was one of my tasks when I came home. I would be in charge of it. In reality, I eat most of the packaged foods in the household.

Here is a list of things overheard while cleaning out the recycling:

-“Why is everything so wet? It’s so wet!”

-“My old strawberry yogurt is now green.”

-“So this is where all the spiders in the world live.”

-“Why didn’t we do this earlier?”

-“This is a newspaper from the ’50s. How long have we even lived here?”

-“Seriously, where does all this moisture come from?”

-“If this is recycling, does that make throwing things away instead, cycling?”

-“How do you know if you have a mosquito bite or a spider bite?”

-“Al Gore had better damn well appreciate this.”

-“It’s oozing.”

-“It smells like someone killed a goat with an old summer sausage in here.”

-“It seems like the spiders are organizing on top of the cardboard to protest their oppression and I’m Hosni Mubarak.”

“-Your back seat got all wet.”

-“Why is everything so wet?”


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Day 95. A Mystery Hour Again

May 27, 2011

Today, I had an improv show and a Mystery Hour. It was like old times! The improv show went pretty well, like most other things since I’ve been back, it felt supremely normal. The training I’ve been doing in improv comes from a slightly different perspective, so I could feel that a little bit, but mostly it was fun to be doing it again, I’ve missed doing improv with my longtime friends.

The Mystery Hour went off without a hitch. Just kidding, we were very hitchy and rusty. We had mic problems and music problems, but it was still a good show. In the past, that stuff would have really bugged me, but tonight, I was just happy to be doing it again.

My friend, Catherine, who I met on the plane, that works for Community was my first guest. Then we fooled the audience into thinking a blindfolded man put a mouse in his mouth. My friend, Matt, was the next guest, who had been a guest on the very first show. Then, we did a sketch that wasn’t funny at all. Then we had an amazing band on.

We came home and I interviewed my sister in law’s boyfriend, who I just met, about his intentions with my sister in law.



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Day 94. Shaving Facial Hair vs. Conan

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Today, I shot a scene for my reel. As I’ve mentioned before, an actor’s reel is like a video resume. You want to have clips that showcase your abilities. I’m happy with mine, but I felt like it could really use something that looked really good that wasn’t too goofy, as a lot of my other stuff is. So, I enlisted the help of some friends.

Brandon, who is an awesome filmmaker. He supplied the camera and lighting.

Sarah, a great actor, who I was in the Skinny Improv with.

Lyle, my friend who owns a wine bar where we could shoot.

Tyler, he did sound.

It was really fun and I think we got some really good stuff. It is so great knowing talented people to just call up. I miss that in LA. The key is to make it look like it’s from a real movie with high production value. I think it will look like that. We played two people at a restaurant having a marital argument about whether the woman’s sister has a “mannish” nose. It turns out when I’m in an argument I get really bug eyed. We had to work past that. I asked Michelle when I came home and she confirmed this.

I’m very excited because Friday is my late night talk show. I haven’t done the show for a few months. I’m putting it on while I’m in town. If you want more info, click here.

I was watching Conan last week and noticed that they did a similar bit to one I did on my show last year. It involved shaving facial hair. Was Conan copying me? Probably.


Conan’s (it’s not letting me embed)

So, they win on production value.

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Day 93. Could Have Done You Better

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Like a lot of people, I can’t stop thinking about Joplin.

It’s created a bit of a melancholy haze with everything. Here, it’s so close, and so horrific. Similarly, a few years ago, a volunteer that I worked with lost her husband. I think it is a special thing when you make a connection with someone of a different generation. That’s how I felt with her. A woman in her upper 60s, she was shocked to come home one day to find that her husband had committed suicide. It devastated her. Soon after, one afternoon/evening I went down and sat and talked with her for a long time.

It was a really powerful moment for me. I came home and wrote a poem about it. As I’ve shared before, I don’t have many of these and I think this is my last one. I can only write them in really intense emotional times.

I was struck by the idea that we describe funerals in the possessive of the person that died, when really it is the first thing the deceased can’t own.

Could Have Done You Better

Ron’s funeral was Saturday,

But it was never his to own

It was o-only, only her’s,

And her’s alone


And as blue crashes to blue

The laughter melts to tears

She’s forgotten how to care for her

After all these years


And I could have done you better

I could have done you free

But now, all you left me

Is a memory of me


The eyes she looks through

Are no longer the eyes she sees

The sofa’s screamin’ empty

As the sky gives way to trees


She’s askin’ questions

She should never know

Like, how did two birds die

From just this one stone?


And I could have done you better

I could have done you free

But now, all you left me

Is a memory of me


Her trembled hands are clasped,

Desperate to atone

He meant more to her

Than flesh means to bone


His grief met her’s

As metal met with gray

Now she’s married to thoughts

That words could never say


And I could have done you better

I could have done you free

But now, all you left me

Is a memory of me

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Day 92. Exhilaration Babies

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I can be idealistic and a little anti establishment, so I’ve never wanted to be what I’ve seen as a sell out. I used to think that people with money, who had nice, big houses with everything they need at their fingertips were sell outs. Who needs so much stuff, so close?

I’m not convinced all of those people are sell outs now.

The more I’m around people that have young kids, the more apparent it is to me that when you have young kids, you need things around you because you can’t go anywhere.

Today, I went up to Lawrence, KS to visit my sister and brother in law and their kiddos. I had yet to meet the newborn twins. Bob and Cari have Ella, who is about 18 months, and Cole and Oscar, born in April.

Here’s the play by play of my exciting day up there.

12:31. I arrive at their house. Bob and Ella are playing on the floor. Cole is asleep on the floor while Cari holds Oscar

12:33. I’m playing with Ella. She’s a laugher.

12:46. I shield my eyes as my sister begins breastfeeding Oscar. From now on, I only speak to her foggy reflection in the window.

1:34. Ella goes down for a nap.

1:48. With hands now free, Cari tries on clothes she has ordered from the internet. She can’t go out to stores anymore.

1:59. We decide it’s time to do something exciting. We move the conversation to the dining room!

2:13. I’m holding Oscar. Apparently, he both wants the pacifier, and wants it to be on the floor.

2:14. Cari determines that he’s hungry. I find interesting things to look at outside.

2:32. Field trip! We all make our way to the garage where Bob and Cari show me their 3 seated stroller.

2:36. We come back to the living room, exhausted from the field trip.

2:42. Bob brings one of the stroller seats in to the living room to clean it. Yesterday, Oscar peed on it.

2:43-2:59. Bob is looking up online how to properly clean urine from the stroller.

3:00. Bob is now on the phone explaining the situation to the company.

3:10. Cole is now hungry. Oh look, a squirrel!

3:32. I decide to make a journey to the bathroom. Not sure which is the adult toilet and which is Ella’s potty training toilet, I cross my fingers and go in the one with bright colors and a smiley face.

4:02. I’m holding Cole. He’s farting like he just consumed a canister of sugar free candy. It’s making my shirt, three layers down move in the wind. Seriously.

4:13. We are finally going somewhere outside the house for real. We get the kids together, head out the door, take a few steps and sit down in the backyard.

4:24. Bob is playing with configurations of a tarp, remembering back to the days when he camped.

4:42. Ella is picking cherries from a low hanging branch and delivering them to Cole. ‘Tis better to give than to receive as Cole doesn’t seem to know he’s getting a gift. I think it’s rude. Cari claims it’s because he can only see fuzzy images 8 inches from his face.

4:48-4:56. Every time Ella runs away from me toward the cherry tree, I try to hit her with a soft plastic ball. Cari laughs.

5:06. I leave. Some will say I left because I was throwing a ball at an 18 month old, others will say it is because feeding time came back around, yet others will say it is because I can’t handle the intensity of hanging with BOCCE (Bob, Oscar, Cari, Cole, Ella).

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