McDONALD'S IS MY LIFE!!!!

A classic tale from the long tradition of Gorski folklore ends with the title of this blog. It’s a tale of a teen full of the lethal cocktail of angst and processed French fries. Let’s head back to the 80s, as I do often behind the tears of a broken man…. My parents made their car available to me in high school. It provided an opportunity to learn the value of responsibility and to avoid the cost of a daily bus fare. It was an 82 Chevy Malibu, two-toned, with a sweet, sweet 80’s-style boxy shape. And the radio? Well, I could only get the soul station on AM. But, I was more than happy to cruise with the likes of Cool and the Gang, Chaka Khan, Prince, Anita Baker, and of course George Clinton. Although, I eventually did expand my musical options by installing a portable tape recorder on the floor hump, connected to 2 plastic speakers from an old record player.

The deal in that first year of driving was clear. You go to school and you come straight home. You don’t go off the path, which consisted of a 15-minute drive down Dempster Avenue between our house in Morton Grove and Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles. In my mind, I still stand by my choices on that fateful day.

It was on that day, that I made the decision to stop somewhere on the way home. Now, I ask you, if you are driving down Dempster, and you stop at McDonald’s – ON DEMPSTER – are you leaving the path? I think not! You have not made a detour, you have simply stopped momentarily on that path. And for good reason. You stopped for sustenance; to gather much needed energy for a continued safe journey – energy that helps you stay alert for the remaining 7 minutes of your trip. Admittedly, other stimuli clouded my motivations that day, because the stop served a dual purpose. It served a social purpose. McDonald’s was not just a place to gather, but a symbolic representation of freedom itself. The location was a hub of excitement – a place for some quality time with your friends, for sharing stories, and for catching the eye of girls you hope to get the nerve to meet some day.

And so, this perfect storm of new-found freedom, teen hormones and the power of a V4 engine resulted in a surprising conflict at home. My parents were FURIOUS that I didn’t follow their rules of straight to school and back. But, as I already established, the stop is technically included as a part of that straight path. In fact, we had just learned in math that a line is made up of an infinite series of points. So, using science, I could justify stopping at the gas station, Par King minature golf park, or the forest preserve for that matter, and I would have fulfilled the requirement of staying on that path.

Regardless, my parents clarified what they meant by “straight home” through a calm series of angry screams. As a teen, though, it was my duty to protest, to negotiate, and to justify. And so, after our informative and lively exchange of ideas, they outlawed McDonald’s specifically. Naturally, I had to express my outrage, resulting in the now historic phrase “But, McDonald’s is my life!!!”

We laugh about it now. It does come off as a bit ridiculous to be so passionate about fast food. Luckily, we’ve all grown past those days. Or have we?

If you think about, we’ve all seen similar insane outbursts from adults. Put a middle-aged suited man in at an airport gate with an abundance of justifications for getting what he wants, while some ticket agent must kindly inform him that he can’t have it, and you soon find yourself in the Orchestra Seating section of a full-out adult melt-down. Or, make a simple joke to your friend at 9:30pm when they haven’t eaten dinner yet, and prepare for a snippy onslaught of chirps and yelps that serve as the human equivalent of barking.

Even as an adult, I find myself slipping into that same helpless, freak-out once in a while. It feels just like the good old days of childhood. That’s the magic of a regression. All it takes is some minor trigger, often unrelated to the reality of the moment, but powerful enough to evoke some memory, and we regress.

In Episode 4 (available Thursday 9/12), we meet Cabbie Joe, who could be described as a bit immature, as well as delusional in terms of his own talents. So, when he clashes with Drunk Tom, it makes for some fun regression for them both. And it acts as another challenge for our future father to deal with feuding adult-children.

Grab a burger and fries, and check out all the latest web series episodes here.

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By the way, I’m interested in the phenomenon of regression because of how it’s rendered me helpless to my past, and created many challenges in romantic and work relationships. My wife and I learned more about the issue in a book called “Grow Yourself Back Up” by John Lee. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a parent. Aside from helping heal the past, the book can help prevent passing your old issues onto your children, and thus breaking the cycle of confusion.

THE MUSIC OF THE CUBBIES

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I now wait for the last piece of the puzzle – the musical soundtrack to season 1 of my web series. Music will set the proper mood for each episode, and honestly, it will hopefully smooth over some of the more glaring mistakes I made throughout the process. Music will save the day – no pressure to my composer John Kobayashi.

While we wait, I can share a few stories about music in my life. Today’s story takes us back to the very start of it all. After some mind-bending, I counted back to discover I have been actively making music for the past 36 years, starting with trumpet lessons in grade school. And although I took a lot of lessons with many different music teachers, I believe I’m still in the process of learning a more valuable life lesson that lurked in the shadows of those early music days. My little kid behavior held clues of a flaw/opportunity that still challenges me in my current frustrations as a filmmaker. But, first, let’s go back to 1977 and 1978…

It all started in 4th grade with the Borg School band program. Parents and students visited the band room one night to check out instruments and pick one to play. I wanted to play trombone. It looked cool, and it had a slide that made funny sounds. It seemed different from the other instruments. Unfortunately, the music teacher cautioned my parents that I didn’t have what it takes to be a trombone player - my arms were too short. So what! I could do exercises. I could get arm extensions. I could work hard to build a trombone player belly with burping power. Instead, she recommended a trumpet. I don’t remember feeling disappointed, though. I suddenly found myself holding my own brass trumpet, and as it turns out, trumpet players have bellies too! Besides, if I felt any subconscious anxieties that people didn’t want to listen to me, then a trumpet would cure that issue right up – no ignoring me now.

Everything about the trumpet fit me perfectly. Feeling different from the other kids and out of place before, now I found myself in a band, an instant group working together. I made new friends, such as fellow trumpet player David Rubin. It wasn’t long before we realized that we shared the same goofy sense of humor (thus wasting 2/3 of our lesson in fits of uncontrollable laughter that I’m sure drove our teacher into madness). I also felt a visceral connection to music. I could express emotions on another level, and I received plenty of positive reinforcement from my family who attended all my concerts like I was the new pope.

My neighbor Brian was a couple of years ahead of me, and he already played a mean bass. I looked up to him, and we spent our summers together – so it made sense that we would start our own band. We created a fake drum set out of cardboard, and we managed to grab one of my uncle’s old hi-hats. Brian played bass, and I played trumpet. I guess I played drums too? I’m not sure how that worked, but someone had to play the drums. Why else did I spend all that time with the scissors and paint? Maybe Brian played drums? Anyway, our music was written using dashes on a blank page. For example, Jingle Bells would be written like this:

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I know. Insane. Especially considering the obvious – we both knew how to read music in band. So, why didn’t we go out and get some sheet music paper to figure out the notes? I have no idea. But, somehow it all worked.

We called ourselves The Cubbies (being huge Beatles’ fans, and also Chicago baseball fans). We wrote songs about the neighborhood, recorded songs on a tape recorder, and even went on tour around the block (called the Wonderful Wildi Tour). As you might suspect, we modeled much of our escapades on The Beatles. However, like Lennon and McCartney, Brian and I eventually disagreed on the direction of the songs. In our case, he wanted to do straight versions of Beatles’ songs with new words, but I wanted to create completely new songs. I became obsessed with writing truly original music. I’m not sure why I developed that notion, but I adamantly attempted to come up with new melodies for each song. It didn’t always work.

My first song was “Blue Skies are Pretty”:

Blue skies are pretty, Blue skies are pretty, With white clouds, With white clouds, There are clouds shaped like bunnies, and other funny things, I like clouds, They are nice, That’s why I say, Blue skies are very pretty!

I thought I was so original as a child, but it turned out that part of the melody was a blatant rip-off (“With white clouds” sounds like “Three Blind Mice”). I also wrote a wonderfully lyrical song called “Keep on Smiling” which I thought was so romantic and cool, until years later when I realized it was the melody from “Rocky.” Other hits included “Helicopter,” “Dice Yeah” and “Crain Street.” At least these songs seemed completely original, but mostly because I haven’t gone back to analyze them. And you can’t make me!

I thought the band lasted quite a long time – at least 2 summers, but I can’t be certain. Brian eventually acted out The Beatles experience to the point that we dressed up old pill bottles with homemade labels like “Heroin” and “Cocaine” and pretended to experience a police bust. In the end, the band couldn’t last. We burnt out too fast, like shooting stars, or maybe more like incense.

The whole experience gave me a taste of the thrill of performance and provided instant gratification – mostly because I had no idea how bad we sounded. I could write a song, and then the next day we would record it. No one in the neighborhood had anything to do with their time (pre-Internet/cell phones), so they would sit and listen to our “concerts.”

My drive for instant gratification never ended. It’s still true today. I want to see the product of my work as fast as possible. That’s the reason that the web series has proved to be quite a challenge. It took much longer than I expected, and bringing all the little pieces together to make a final product required time and patience. In the old days, I could sit down with a piece of paper, some colored markers, and throw together what I considered to be a hilarious cartoon birthday card for someone in my family. They would read it within the hour. The results were immediate, and the audience reaction always positive because of the gesture.

Soon I will be sending all my friends what I consider to be a fun card in the form of a 6-episode web series season. So, I look forward to the instant gratification that can only come with a 3-year homemade project. And then I will get back to my inner child, and make a few projects that may feel like they were made with construction paper and crayons. That way, I won’t have to wait another 3 years for my fix.

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By the way, I still get opportunities to play my horn to this day. I will be playing with The Outcast Jazz Band at Grant Park as part of the summer dance series on Friday, July 26, 2013:

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance1.html

It’s free, so if you’re free, come get some instant gratification!

Xcellent Xmas Xdition

Traditions define most of my childhood. Outside of the daily routines like nickel lunch milk cartons and beatings from the local bully, each holiday carried a unique set of expectations — from the annual blowing up plastic models on the Fourth of July, as well as the Easter hunt for a good hospital after Grandma collapses from exhaustion. Through all the holidays, pranks with my cousins kept us particularly cheery. My fondest Christmas memory involved tricking our parents into thinking we were breaking Grandma’s fine china. Good times.

Eventually, the traditions evolved as the family structure changed. I resisted the changes at first. I clung to these rules that seemed to define the very culture of our family (when in reality, they merely defined our tendency to form habits). My resistance even led to my first major fight with my wife. After only five hours of Christmas at my Grandparent’s house, she wanted to leave — outrageous, right? I mean, we hadn’t even started the scotch-fueled poker game, much less put out the leftovers for the third meal of the day. So, I avoided her, ducking from room to room for at least another two hours until I could get my paws on a beef sandwich. Later that night, she spent more time letting me know what I did wrong than we the time we spent at the party.

It only took a few years of therapy to realize that her complaints were reasonable. I finally opened up the door to new traditions. In fact, for a while, I embraced the creation of new traditions so much, I didn’t want any of them to remain traditions. Why not do something different each time to avoid feeling stagnant?

That ill-conceived tradition didn’t last too long, though. Creating original experiences each holiday quickly exhausted me, and I went back to accepting some traditions as a comfort. After a busy year, I now understand the benefit of some habits that give the holiday a little structure.

So, here are some photos to document a few of my current holiday traditions:

Santa-palooza at the Willowbrook Ballroom with the Outcast Jazz Band (nothing like playing jazz in a Santa hat!)


My lovely office view for the self-imposed daily writing retreat at Caribou Coffee


Senior citizen-style dinner on New Year’s Eve (i.e. 4:00pm or earlier)


My niece Sydney and Goldie keeping secrets from me (you can totally tell they’re spreading vicious rumors!)

 

Our annual intervention with Sensation after another “snow” bender


Goldie’s driving shift during the annual road trip from Los Angeles to Chicago

 

Happy New Year to all!

Pre-Production, Fun and Romance

Today I celebrated Valentine’s Day with some fabulous take-home sushi. The take-home dinner may not seem like the ideal romantic date, but my wife and actually prefer the cozy meal in front of a fire and a great movie to the crappy service we’ve grown to expect from Los Angeles eateries. Besides, I gave her a very thoughtful card, and according to Hallmark commercials, that can fill the holes in anyone’s empty heart.

Jackie does prefer to eat at home, and she could see from my zombie-state that I needed to recover from my very busy and productive weekend in Chicago. Here’s what really went down:

First, I held my casting session for the BABY TIME pilot on Friday. Some of my ideal actors were not available. However, lucky for me Chicago is bursting with talent. I did see a large number of actors that turned out some great performances from a quick 1-page scene. And, I was relieved to find myself laughing at the scenes that I wrote. You never really know if something works until a good actor finds the subtext between the lines to carry a scene. Very encouraging. It’s all part of the magic of collaboration.

Next, I met with my cinematographer Darryl Miller. We went through the script to discuss the basic visual design. He was hugely helpful with suggestions and solutions, including his addition of a hilarious visual joke to the story. Another fun example - he converted one of my camera movement ideas into a much better visual motif that will help represent my main character’s flaw while adding tension to the narrative. I love the simple approach of his idea: 3 quick shots of the main character walking instead of one shot. We extend his traveling time, emphasizing his control-freak frustration in not getting to his destination quick enough, while lengthening the tension for the viewer. It’s a nice subtlety that people won’t notice, but can improve the texture of the story - it’s perfect! I so appreciate these little improvements - another example of the collaboration process in action.

Then, I played another one of those fun Outcast Jazz Band gigs at Hackney’s in Palos Hills - a musical collaboration. I actually paid attention to the music, and played respectably. Much to my delight, many of my friends who normally rush home after the gigs actually stayed to hang out. We closed the place down in a splendidly social way. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my parents house (Che Gorski Bed & Breakfast), I could only get 4 hours of sleep before my flight the next morning.

I love capitalizing on every moment of the day, but it tends to add up, which made for a hazy Sunday. Lucky for me, my supportive wife Jackie provides a daily inspirational fuel, which makes my marriage my greatest collaboration to date.

Break's Over

Whenever I plan ahead enough, I can travel back to Chicago for another gig with my friends in the Outcast Jazz Band. During the Christmas break, we played our annual Christmas Swing Extravaganza at the Willowbrook Ballroom. It’s an old-fashioned dance hall ball room that hosts the event every year, with swing dance lessons before the big band plays.

I find the experience of playing live in the middle of 17 other creative musicians to be nothing short of sublime. In addition to playing fun music, I goof around quite a bit. Unfortunately, this time I had a difficult time staying focused due to my obsession with capturing my life on Facebook, and the performance suffered. It was easier in the 90’s to tell long stories and jokes during the measures of rests (even two beats could be enough time for a really great one-liner), but that was when we played the same music over and over. I actually had to sight-read at this gig, which means I should’ve been paying attention, not taking the above photos to upload.

As great as the fun on the bandstand, the breaks can often provide the most entertainment. With a drink in one hand, and a stolen piece of wedding cake in the other, I have heard some of my most offensive and exciting stories of my life. And in my early years, I may have even lived the offensive and exciting story myself.

For this reason, we tend to take our time returning to work. And, if we don’t police ourselves, the bridal party will eventually begin to wonder why they paid us. We once spread a break to 25 minutes, causing the mother of the bride to unleash some offensive curses herself.

So, now I must tell myself “Break’s over!” I took some time off of blogging over Christmas. I spent it fine-tuning my script for the web series first episode, location-scouting, auditioning, and then deciding that the script needs to change. Why? Because I’m not enjoying it. My analytical mind takes over sometimes, and I wind up with a tight story, without making myself laugh. If I can’t laugh, then what’s the point?

I’ve been going over the story of the whole series, and I’m battling in my mind between making a full in depth feature script, and just having fun with it episode by episode. After all, the character we discover in ourselves makes the journey all the more worth it. That sentence is an example of my efforts to use the types of poetic phrases I’ve heard before and reuse them to teach a lesson.

What’s the point of all this? I’m tired. And this is after a 3 week break. 3 weeks is not enough? Sure, I had to deal with my family. That can be exhausting. And not because we are arguing or battling some serious dysfunction. We don’t live our lives the same way, and forcing ourselves to live together for 2 weeks puts a strain as we get along.

But, I’m still tired. What did I do today? I wrote a little. I watched TV. I worked out on my new fabulous Wii Fit (thanks mom and dad!), and watched more TV. Okay, I did laundry as well, but it was a relaxing day overall. And now I’m tired. It’s 11:24pm, so that kind of explains it. But, if I had a kid, I think I would be BT (beyond toast).

Ultimately, I come back to that argument again and again - don’t have kids because I’m lazy. Nice. But, then I remember the joy of playing in the band all over as we begin playing our second set of music. So, ending the break isn’t so bad. I can find a unique life experience from the Outcast Jazz Band that has rewarded me for 19 years since I joined. It’s work, but it’s worth it.

PARENTING LESSONS FROM CHICAGO

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Last week, I traveled to Chicago to do some research for the Baby Time project by visiting with friends and family. I enjoyed the trip immensely, but my only regret was not stopping at Oberweiss for the best ice cream in the country, but unfortunately my dad thinks Oberweiss should be called Oberpreissed.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

- Raising children is difficult / a struggle / a challenge - Life as you know it is changed - You will make many sacrifices - The joy far outweighs any frustration - Life is way better seen through the eyes of your children

Not exactly a mind-blowing revelation. But, within these talking points that all the parents must get on their faxes every morning, I hear the difference in the details from one parent to the next. And, those differences in experience appear to be a direct result of their approach and philosophy.

Overprotective – Results in a constant stressful and helpless existence, following your child around every turn with the loving family mantra of “Watch out!” (No one claims to be this parent, but everyone knows one.)

Free and Easy – Results in a flexible lifestyle, with the freedom to eat out and socialize at will, with the children following you around. Children are rewarded for good behavior, instead of to shut them up. The plus with this approach is a well-socialized infant, but the negative is that if they act up, the outing is over immediately.

Well-Balanced – Results in a sometimes-stressful experience of watching your children screw up, followed by an opportunity to learn from the mistake. You experience the joy of living life almost entirely through their eyes, and then your reward is the anguish of letting them go off to college without you.

Overscheduled – Results in a well-balanced child with lots of extra life experience in sports, music, and other activities. You have the excitement of carting your children around like they are the rich teen celebrity that employs you.

Obviously there are many other approaches, but I had to go to the Cubs game on Saturday.

Through all my discussions, everyone agreed that Jackie and Dan would make great parents. I thank you all for your vote of confidence. On paper, I whole-heartedly agree! Jackie and I are educated and compassionate people. With my abstract sense of humor, and Jackie’s music teacher knowledge, we’d have a very stable and unique spawn. My fear is that if I don’t fully understand the weight of the stress and sacrifice that parenting requires, I might be sorely disappointed when the experience reigns down on me.

Maybe caring for dogs will help. I’ve learned compassion from Sensation, my chow. He’s got a medical problem. Any time his body is stressed, he can have seizures. And the seizures cluster, meaning he’ll have 2 seizures a day for 7 days. For the last year and a half, this happens every 3 – 4 weeks. Unpredictable, varying in intensity, the seizures cause his body to convulse, followed by chaotic confusion, and the need to run outside like a mo-fo to relieve himself (the dogs don’t like to go inside the house, luckily). The drugs calm him (like valium and chlorazopate), and he can sleep for 8 – 20 hours. That is, until the next seizure, which seems to gravitate towards 2am when I return home after an exhausting party at the theatre, or at 5am, or 7am, or 3am, or the middle of dinner. I can’t help but look at him with compassion and ask “Can I kill him now? How about now?”

I know it’s horrible. It shows that I am truly a monster. After all, if he didn’t have a high quality of life, killing him would be the compassionate thing to do. But, when he’s seizing, he’s unconscious, and if this happens 6 times, and then he has 3 weeks of normal living, that seems like he still has an ultimately quality life, right?

I think the key is to be aware of those thoughts. And hopefully, I would never have those thoughts with my own children. Besides, I think it’s better to be conscious of those dark thoughts, than to hide it deep in the subconscious and wake up one day with your car and kids in the lake.

And, a reminder of the biggest lesson from Chicago: how you look at the experience changes the nature of the experience. Parents who decide to enjoy the ups and downs show less stress. Sure, they feel pain, but when they appreciate the mistakes for their lessons as much as the successes, then they appreciate every moment of their lives, and that’s living!