Monday, March 28, 2011

Life is a(n Information Super) Highway

"Knowledge is Power." - Thomas Jefferson
"Knowing is half the battle." -G.I. Joe

From an early age, we are taught that knowledge is one of the most important skills for success. Whether we are declaring our independence from wigged tyranny or saving the free world from the inherent threat of Cobra Commander, the facts mean the difference between success and failure.

Inform. From the Latin In Forma meaning To give form to. Guide. Animate.

Information is what gives the world it's form. True a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. But if we did not share a common language, we could not share ideas. If we didn't share ideas, we could not invent, create, or advance. Information is cumulative, and through that accumulation, we grow, we build, and we succeed. Without information and communication, we would have been overtaken by our larger, less intellectual Homo Erectus cousins a hundred thousand years ago. Much like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man. Or any other film starring Mr. Fraser.

Why Mind Over-Matters

"If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." -Isaac Newton

Newton realized that without the advancements of his predecessors, he could not have made the discoveries he did. We could not have dreamed up the internet without first inventing computers, the telegraph, or the abacus. We could not invent the abacus without language. We could not have language without information.

"Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." - Edmund Burke

This is what happened in the film Groundhog Day. By learning from the mistakes that have been made by our forefathers, we advance as a society. It is when we fail to see the similarities of our own time and those of the past that we wind up in a backward town in Pennsylvania with a clairvoyant rodent and Andie MacDowell. Not a pretty sight.

Know Your Friends, Know Your Enemies, Know Yourself

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." - Michael Corleone 

That smooth son-of-a Brando knew a lot about many things. Enemies, friends, family, and foes, he was the king of using intelligence to get what he needed. And he learned it from the best. Not Marlon Brando. The Chinese Military genius, Sun Tzu.

"To know your enemy, you must become your enemy." - Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu wrote the seminal military strategy guide, The Art of War (Oprah's book club, 500 BC). In it, he covered field strategy, political jockeying skills, Middle-management tactics, and tips for dealing with a nagging wife.

Becoming the enemy meant learning the enemies tactics. It meant befriending the enemy. It meant making the enemy believe that you were a friend. Becoming the enemy. Some say that Sun Tzu invented the art of espionage and double agents. He also penned the James Bond novels under the pseudonym Ian Fleming.

Alright. Enough knowledge for now. My final thought on knowledge is this: Make sure it's legit. Check your facts and don't believe any old schmuck who has a blog.

NBC says it best.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DinerCast Episode #1: The Quad Cities USA Family Restaurant

First a little bit about this project.

Since I can remember, I've always had an affinity towards whole-in-the-wall diners and cafes. I worked in a mom and pop shop back in High School, a place called the PineTop Cafe. The Pine Top is no longer there, but my love for this unique culinary and cultural experience has endured.

My love of diners is about more than just the food. It's the atmosphere, the heritage, and the culture. Every time I go into a diner, I hear a new story, meet a new character, and walk away with a fresh perspective.

So to share my love of this uniquely American institution, I've begun documenting my travels to great diners and cafes around the country. So please take a listen and let me know what you think.

The Quad Cities' Family Restaurant

The Quad Cities' USA Family Restaurant

The Quad Cities' USA Family Restaurant sits on the Avenue of the Cities in Moline, Illinois. If you are unsure as to what to expect when you walk into this odd building, you're not alone. Paul and I ventured into the Quad Cities' USA Family Restaurant on a sunny Sunday, excited for the possibilities that lay beyond the dark tinted doors.

View from The Booth

Inside, we were met with friendly staff, patriotic decor, and great food. One of the great surprises on this trip was a theatrically Grecian appetizer, saginaki. This cheesy treat was flamed at our table, with a boisterous "Opa!" to seal in the flavor. The smell was foul, but the taste was awesome.

Saginaki, Anyone?

Paul loves Burgers. So of course he chose a Wisconsin Burger topped with cheese, cheap beer, and Packers fans (minus the cheap beer and Packers fans). Delicious burger, once he had removed the pickles.
Paul's Burger, and Dashing Blue Eyes

I enjoyed a reuben with fried zucchini. The reuben rocked, and the zucchini was a new experience for me. Delicious and unique.

Fried Zucchini and Reuben

Overall, a great experience. The food was filling, the staff was on their game, and the price was right. Definitely a place I'll stop in again soon.

Check (this place out), Please.

Next time you're in Moline, stop in for a gyro or Greek chicken. And check in soon to hear the next DinerCast.

If you have any questions or comments about this episode of DinerCast, please comment or email If you've got an idea for our show, send an email and I'll certainly consider it.

Thanks for listening, and tune in soon for more DinerCast!

This episode of DinerCast was produced by Chris Walljasper and Musings of a Renaissance Man in Training, with help from Brian Wilcoxon, Annie Walljasper, and Paul Workman. Photography by Chris Walljasper. Thanks to the Quad Cities' USA Family Restaurant for the great service.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Next of Kin - A Family Rivalry

Ever since I was a small child my cousin Adam and I have seen each other as adversaries. Not enemies. Not nemesi. But always aware of the others achievements and always trying to stay one step ahead.

We are virtually identical. Some have even mistaken us for brothers. Both standing over six feet, two inches (I'm a few inches taller) and weighing around one hundred seventy pounds (he's a few pounds heavier), the only real distinction is that Adam has sandy blonde hair, whereas a dark brown mop covers my head.

We both played the trombone in high school and college. Both sing and act. Both attended the same college, and now live in the same city. And the rivalry continues.

Sitting at the Kids Table

My grandparents came into town this week, so those of us who were able met at my aunt Monica's for dinner. Just as in the elementary days at family holidays, the kids were banished to a flimsy card table in the room adjacent to the dining room. Only this time the people filling the seats at the kids table ranged in age from twenty three to twenty six. As Adam and I sat there, I with my wife, he with his girlfriend, the age old picking and teasing came out in full force. When he asserted that he could beat me up, the gauntlet had been thrown. I scoffed a retort,

"You cannot. I'm made of Titanium." This was my go to response to his overinflated feather-ruffling. He couldn't argue. It was true.

"So! Kelsey and I have been working out. How much do you weigh?"

"One hundred sixty two pounds." I'd weighed myself that morning.

"Ha! Monica? Do you have a scale?"

I scarfed another hamburger while the scale was retrieved.

A few moments later we were standing in front of an electric bathroom scale in the kitchen. I stepped on the white surface first. The digital readout paused a moment, then reported,

"168.5 lbs."

I knew the number was inflated by my full stomach and my fully clothed condition. I normally stepped on the scale right before showering.

Adam stepped onto the scale and waited for a response. the digits read,

"175 lbs."

Foiled! We returned to the gray card table, Adam glib with his small victory. As we pushed the sparse remains of our delicious dinner around our plates, my grandfather bellowed across the room,

"Adam! Chris! You boys listen up. Your mom was..."

"Grandpa, we don't have the same mom." Adam interjected wryly.

"Oh that's right. you don't. Thank God for that." He went on to recount a story of my grandmother and a speeding ticket. He often refers to grandma as mom. An acceptable mistake for a man approaching seventy six years of life on this earth. But his misnomer left me thinking -- what if Adam and I had been brothers?

He'd be Ken. I'd be Ryu. It'd be epic. For those of you who don't get that reference, go look up Street Fighter on Wikipedia.

And one of us would be dead by now. That's for sure.

The Gaunlet Thrown

So Adam wanted to boast about the six and one half pounds that he had over me. That's fine. I'll succumb to the challenge, and I'll succeed. I've made it my earnest goal to outweigh my blonde brother by my twenty sixth birthday. That gives me two and one half months to pack on the pounds, bulk up, and show my dear cousin that he's got a force to recon with.

Anyone got any tips for bulking up? I sense an inspirational montage coming up...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tell Me a Story

I love hearing stories. From my grandparents, on the radio, or from the strangers I meet. Stopping to listen to the stories around us allows us to gain a clearer picture of the reality we create.

As I go throughout my day, I am continually met by people who are just waiting to share there experiences. So I offer an ear, a perspective, and a catharsis. It allows those people to open themselves to me, and it gives me an opportunity to learn something I didn't already know. What I take away may be inconsequential to some, but to me, it's crucial in shaping the world around me.

I'm also met by people who think they've sucked all the knowledge out of this world, and toss everyone else's opinions aside. I listen to these people as well, although the courtesy is not reciprocated. I listen to their indelible views as a cautionary tale. The words that are said from a self-righteous man are not near as important as the self-righteousness itself. Socrates said it best when he admitted,

"The only thing I know is that I know nothing."

And so I seek to know, all the while realizing that, in the grand scheme of things, I'll only know nothing.

Find Broad Perspective in Microcosmic Experience

My valentines day gift from my wife this year was a retrospective collection of NPR radio broadcasts. The four disc collections chronicles memorable moments in history, as conveyed by this great organization. I am currently halfway through the 1980's disc, and am not only amazed by the real-time peek into events such as the Vietnam protests in Washington or the Challenger explosion, but also thrilled by the way in which the reporters convey each event from the perspective of the individuals they interview.

Events are made up of actions and reactions. A person takes action, a government reacts. A tragic action occurs, affected people react. The important realization in this is the humanity. Without the people that comprise and create historic events, the events themselves would not exist. National Public Radio gives a face to those people who we hear as statistics in other media outlets. These stories offer an insight into the "why" and "how" rather than simply the "what" of a story.

Successful Selling is Intuitive Listening

I sell things for a living. I do not wear a checkered jacket or a comb-over (although the latter may be genetically inevitable. I am not a salesman.

The part of sales that keeps me going is the opportunity to hear a story. When I can get a business owner started on their business - why it is special, what they do that is unique, or the way they have made the world a better place with their product - it is as if they've brought me into a private part of their life. And they have - their aspirations.

Often a casual conversation with a proprietor about their business will allow them to gain perspective about their own business, taking a step back and looking at the big picture. After a few minutes of chatting, we've both learned about the store and the business owner has virtually sold himself on the product.

I'm obviously oversimplifying it, but without the stories I hear, I'd just be another cheesy car salesman with a fly-by-night deal. And that would be unbearable.

Coming Soon to a Diner Near You

I've been working on a project that I've affectionately titled "DinerCast". It's a documentary-style podcast that takes me and a few hungry associates around to local diners and eateries in an effort to capture the essence of these greasy spoons that are so important to Americana culture. With each project, the food is important, the atmosphere is key, but the conversations we hear and engage in are really what we are after. The waitresses, cooks, and fellow patrons create this sense of connection to the establishment that makes each trip to a new shop unique and memorable. Hopefully you'll find the experience just as engaging when you listen. If all goes well with editing, look for the first published DinerCast next week.

Listen for stories. Everyone's got them, and most are just waiting for someone to lend an ear.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

I almost got into a fight this weekend. I say almost with just a hint of sadness.

To put it more accurately, the fight almost got into me.

On Saturday, Annie and I drove out to Kewanee, Illinois to have dinner and drinks with our friends Brian and Kimi. The town of Kewanee is not more than a blip on the radar, known for a monstrous furniture store that encompasses close to half of the downtown. It also has the only remaining Pabst Blue Ribbon franchised bar in the United States. So when we want something cool to drink, we go to Cerno's.

Walking into Cerno's, there is a frosted filigree with the letters PBR ornately emblazoned on the door of glass and heavy, dark wood. To your left is an old bank tellers booth where, in the early days of its existence, the tavern offered a check cashing service to its thirsty patrons. The floor below is a mosaic of stone squares and fifteen feet above it is a baroque display of tin and dusty chandeliers.

The bar is guarded by massive mahogany pillars, each bearing a carved angel. The cherubim wield trumpets, heralding the cold, refreshing beer that won the blue ribbon at the 1893 Worlds Fair. Back lit logos depicting the Pabst hop leaf remind you of the beer you should be drinking.

Things Were Going So Well

The night was going swimmingly, with vigorous chatter about weddings, school, work, and various other endeavors. Annie and Kimi were on one side of the booth, Brian and I on the other, shouting above the din that enveloped our ears. The bar was not full, but it had a half dozen imbibing patrons.

Brian was recounting a story he'd recently heard of Kurt Cobain's early years when Annie grabbed my arm from across the table.

“Chris. Chris! CHRIS!” Her voice escalated as her eyes widened, looking over my shoulder at some unknown danger. As I turned to see what had riled her, a tornado of women came plowing through the narrow bar, aimed directly at our booth.

The four women were drunkenly attempting to exact vengeance for some undisclosed insult by pulling hair, shoving bodies, and slapping whatever they could make contact with. They bounced through the aisle like a pinball of human destruction, inadvertently dragging others into their fray. By the time the brawl reached our unassuming location, there were four or five other people involved.

As I laid eyes on this mess of arms, hair, and insults, I realized that while these men and women were passionately defending themselves and their loved ones, they were not willing to put down their beverages. This made for a messy component of the quarrel that had found itself to our doorstep. Bottles of domestic beer spewed forth like dark amber volcanoes. Their golden, foamy magma erupted across the tumultuous terrain of the bar, falling to rest on our table, our pizza, and yes, on all of us. Unsure of how to proceed, Brian and I stood there, passively ensuring that no physical presence enter our little corner of the bar.

With the beer bottles emptied on our table, someone decided that the only use left for these glass carafes was for bludgeoning. In a high, overarm swing, we saw a man slam the base of a beer bottle into the back of another man's skull. With such force, I'd imagine that one or the other would have caved, but neither object seemed phased. Another bottle flew through the air, landing at my feet in tiny pieces. Imagining the damage that could be done with the dagger-like shards that remained, I slid the broken pieces under the booth and hoped no one would notice. The storm of drunken emotion seemed stalled in front of our table when the Kewanee police force arrived.

That's Our Cue, Exit Stage Left

Judging by the size of the town, I would argue that the majority of the police officers of the self appointed “Hog Capital of the World” were present. They began breaking up the fight, questioning people, and issuing citations. At that point, we decided to take our leave of our beloved Cerno's.

As we walked out, Brian leaned over and said,

“You always say you want to get into a fight. That was your chance.” A true statement, but I think I made the right choice. There were only a few probable outcomes to me joining that fray, and none looked promising:

  1. I beat up a girl. I look like a jackass who hits women because he can't take on a real man. Some beefcake seeks retribution and I end up dying in the hog capital of the world.
  2. I get my cranium crushed by a bottle of crappy, St. Louis brewed beer. At least if I am going to die at the hands of a beer, I want it to be a good one.
  3. I survive the fray, only to be arrested for disturbing the peace, assault, or improper use of beer bottles. I spend a night in the Kewanee clink, next to a man charged with defacing a giant swine statue.

No matter how you cut it, this was not the fight I wanted to partake in. Not that I can really determine what an ideal fight would look like. I'd probably have ten of my biggest and closest friends with me, and I'd be hiding behind them yelling things like,

“Yeah, kick his ass!”

“Take that, punk!”

“That'll teach you!”

Until that day, I'll continue standing strong, ready to defend my family and friends from assault, but none-to-eager to dive into fisticuffs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Facial Hair of a Renaissance Man

As I got ready for work this morning, I was faced with a choice: to shave or not to shave. I'd run the razor across my face yesterday, which for some would be sufficient in keeping the follicles from forcing new growth. Unfortunately, my chin is not so docile.

For time and convenience, I opted out of shaving this morning. Let my coworkers judge the stubble on my cheek. Today, I go for the rugged look.

But this predicament got me thinking about a more grandiose question:

What facial hair choice truly embodies the manliness for a man? Is there an ideal style for a true renaissance man? Let's consider the options:

Lumberjack Beard

Full, but kempt, this style is held by woodsmen and indie-folk singers alike. It protects a baby-face from the harsh elements of the Yukon as well as Portland. Coupled with a plaid shirt and a stocking cap, you can chop wood with ease. You can also pick up a guitar and lament the callouses.

Commendable Mustache

Some call this upper-lip protection a creeper-stache, but there is nothing creepy about someone who is man enough leave the face naked, save that space between the nose and mouth. Extra man points go to the gent who can apply a little mustache wax for the Dali-esque curls.

Rugged 5 o'clock shadow

A popular choice for men as of late, made popular by Abercrombe models and that guy who's been on the bachelor three times. Ideal for the man who likes the idea of shaving, but can't handle the rigors of a straight blade on his dermis. Dangerous for those new to the facial hair world, as patchy growth resembles mange.


This style is often associated with french artists, turtle necks and beat poetry, but also has traction with strong silent types of the current day. The goatee that lacks a mustache is less commanding, and gives the appearance of an adolescent with a hormone imbalance.


Great for Abe Lincoln impersonators. Also popular among the Amish. Both are virile and upstanding, yet the style hasn't caught on as much as first envisioned in the 19th century. This option has gained traction among gentlemen in their late teens, as that is all that many are capable of growing. Don't judge, they're modeling after the greats.


Despite the popularity amongst college men, the muttonchops are really most appropriate in the 1970's. Accompanied with a light blue leisure suit, these ear warmers will be a knock out. They are also good for accentuating a strong jawline.

Clean Shaven and Dapper

By far the most popular choice, the clean shave has been popularized by the strong silent cowboys and the sharp tongued businessmen of the 50's and 60's alike. Hemingway references daily shaves in many of his books (while employing much more of a lumberjack do himself). Many of the founding father of America wore their chins bare for the world to admire. The clean shaven man displays a strong jaw, determined chin, and dashing smile.
The Conclusion

There are many other options for a manly man to consider when weighing his shaving options, but it seems from this review that a clean shave is the way to go. 

I guess I'll go home and shave...

Whichever style you choose, make a choice and own it. If your vying for the handlebar mustache, wear that Snidley Whiplash curl with pride. If you're going for a more subtle chinstrap look, keep it trimmed and proper.

What do you think? I encourage pictures of the above styles, or any others worth mentioning. Send the to and I'll post them for all to comment upon. Write in your thoughts on which facial hair exudes the most manliness as well.