Four Years Alive.
Wednesday December 07th 2011, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Denver, Family, Friends, Leukemia, Me, Myself, and Reid, NYC

On the evening of Thursday, December 6, 2007, my mom was driving me home from The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. We were discouraged. The whole reason for my flight home had been to get checked out at Children’s by Dr. Glancy’s successor. But I hadn’t fit into the pediatric MRI machine because my shoulders were too wide. They had been able to draw my blood, but that was more of a formality, and very unlikely to tell us anything. Tomorrow, we’d find an adult MRI machine, get me imaged, and hopefully get me into the doctor. It was so frustrating, having come all this way to be seen today, only to be delayed. Especially because we knew the problem: the reoccurring nonspecific benign lesion in the bone of my upper right arm was back again.

For months, I had been trying to get doctors in New York City to x-ray it, to diagnose it, and to treat it, but every orthopedist I went to see thought it sounded too much like cancer. I kept explaining that I had had this thing in my the same exact spot in my right humerus before, and that my orthopedist back home had removed it three times before. During each of the surgeries, pathology had been run on what was taken out of my bone, and each time, it was pretty inconclusive. But one thing had been absolutely certain each time: it was not cancer.

The first operation had been when I was twelve. I had shattered my arm playing basketball. Not because I ran into someone or because I twisted my arm in a weird way while shooting the ball. Evan had lightly tossed me the ball from a few feet away, and that light force had been strong enough to create multiple hairline fractures in my arm. It turned out there was this lesion in my humerus that had been growing from within the marrow, outward, eating the bone until it was paper thin. I remember feeling pain in it years before that, when I was even younger; once when I was reaching for something under a cabinet, and another time when I stretched my arm way over my head. Looking through old x-rays in which my right humerus happened to appear, it looked like the lesion had been growing there for a long time. Or at least as long as my humerus had been sneaking into x-rays of other things like my lungs and my elbow.

I was twelve at the time, in the seventh grade. I went to the Children’s Hospital, and was seen by the head of orthopedics at the time, the great Dr. Gerard Glancy. He ended up operating on that same unspecified, non-cancerous lesion three times: that first time, when I was twelve, then when I was fourteen, and again when I was nineteen. Each time, this thing, whatever it was, had been definitively referred to as “dead.” It was not an active infection of any type, and it definitely wasn’t cancerous. But it kept coming back. It was confusing to everyone involved: to Dr. Glancy, to the pathologists, to my family, and to me. But I guess eventually we just came to accept it as that weird thing I had.

The orthopedists I visited in New York City did not see it that way. To them, my tale was dubious, at best. It sounded like cancer to them. I tried to explain, it wasn’t cancer–it definitely wasn’t cancer–it was an unspecified benign bone lesion, and if they’d just cut it out, I’d really appreciate it. But they didn’t even want to look at it, they didn’t want to x-ray it, they didn’t want to examine me. I was frustrated and upset and tired. I had been trying to deal with this thing since around my birthday at the end of July. Months went by, and the pain in my arm became so intense that it was keeping me awake at night. That pain and lack of sleep, in turn made me constantly fatigued and sore all over.

Early on, I had found myself a new primary care doctor, as my old one had moved out of town since I had last needed to visit him. I think I picked her because her office was within walking distance of my apartment and when I Googled her name, there were no negative reviews on the first page that came up. She always seemed very keen on helping me get well, but she herself very rarely diagnosed or treated any of my problems. It was on her recommendation that I visited many of the orthopedists who tossed me out. To her credit, she did send me to get the only x-ray taken of arm during this entire debacle, though, to her detriment, it was, for some reason, taken at a shady lab, where no one checked to make sure it was useful. Those few doctors that actually agreed to look at the image thought it was too dark and blurry to determine anything. As I was repeatedly turned away from doctors who didn’t want to so much as take the responsibility of even suggesting a different course of action to get help with my arm, my primary care doctor was finally able to treat me for something that had likely come about due to the stress and anxiety of trying to deal with everything: two long bouts with pneumonia.

Just after Thanksgiving, my dad flew Better Than The Machine to Colorado to perform at his 50th birthday party. For the first time in my life, the altitude got to me. I had been away for longer than I’d ever been away before. That made me sad, because I always made fun of people who couldn’t handle the altitude. Just tremendous amounts of fun. Take that, you sea-level dwellers! But now, here I was, exhausted and hurting. My arm was no help. I was trying to drive the group around in a mini-van, but had to turn them over to my sisters a few times because I was so sore. We had a great performance at my dad’s party, but for the first time ever, I had trouble singing “Give A Shit,” our big musical finale. My voice cracked and squeezed, which pissed me off for the rest of the night. I’d sang my heart out to crowds who wanted to rush us off stage before, but I couldn’t sing in front of my dad’s friends. After several days, I returned to New York with the rest of the group.

My arm only got worse. I didn’t really know what to do. One night, I finally walked over to the ER at Columbia Hospital and waited for 9 hours to be examined. The doctor told me to go home and take two Tylenol. I walked outside and called my mom. She told me she had talked to Dr. Glancy and had sent him a copy of the dark, blurry x-ray my doctor had taken. Although he wasn’t actively seeing patients anymore because he was in the process of retiring, Dr. Glancy took a look at the x-ray and thought it looked a bit suspicious. He had been able to see all tiny fractures in my arm when it had first broken all those years ago, and once again, he seemed to be the only one who could see something wrong now. He told my mom that if she flew me home, he’d see to it that someone with a full understanding of our background together would see me as soon as I got into town. It was a very nice offer, and it was tempting, but it seemed sort of ridiculous. I had only been back in New York for a few days–there had to be an easier way of dealing with this than flying back across the country.

The next day, I went with Amy to visit her dad Rick at his office next to Grand Central. We would go by and pick things up from time to time, though less so since we had moved up to Sugar Hill. Amy had been at the ER with me the night before. She sat with me for several hours, until it became apparent that my case was very low on the totem pole. I had told her to go home, because it was getting late and she had work in the morning. I told Rick about this latest futile development in my months long saga and he shook his head. Amy and her family were always very supportive of me. And I always felt like Rick was a guy I could count on to tell it to me straight. He looked at me, and looked at Amy, and he looked down. Very respectfully, very fatherly, sad for me about what I’d had to go through, he said, “Man, this is really bumming me out.”

We left Rick’s office, I called my mom, and told her I needed her to fly me home.

As my mom and I continued home down the highway through rush hour traffic, discussing the problems with the tiny MRI machine at Children’s, my mom’s antiquated cellular telephone rang. I assumed it was my dad, calling to see if we wanted him to pick up something for dinner. I answered, and an unfamiliar voice, with a cowboy twang greeted me.

“Hello?” the voice asked, “Is this Laure Levin’s phone? Is this Reid?”

“Uh, yeah, yes it is,” I said, shrugging at my mom.

“Reid, this is Dr. Travis Heare, from orthopedics. Dr. Glancy–”

“Oh, hello, Doctor!” I responded, enthusiastically, “You heard about the MRI today? I guess my folks talked to you and they said we could coordinate something tomorrow. I’m looking forward to meeting you–”

“Reid,” he interrupted, stern but not unkind. He spoke slowly, slower than his drawl should have caused, “Reid, I’m sorry we haven’t met, and I don’t usually make these sort of phone calls, but we’ve been trying to track you down, and we found this number.”


“Are you at home?”


“Are you going home? On your way?”

“Uhm, well yeah, we were at the hospital for a long time trying to get me into the MRI.”

“I’m going to need you to turn around and come back to the hospital. Are you driving the car? You might want to pull off the road.”

“Yeah, yes–but I’m not driving,” the moment I said this, my mom grew very concerned.

“Okay, well, would you like me to wait a minute?”

I pulled the phone away from my mouth for seconds that I felt I couldn’t spare, I looked at the highway for a minute, I saw no good place to pull over, I looked at my mom, who was looking at the road and at me, I looked back at the road and I said to her, “Pull off at the next exit.” I think she asked why, and I think I just repeated that she needed to pull off.

“No,” I said into the phone, “what’s going on?”

“Reid, you have leukemia,” he said some other things, and I couldn’t hear him. I told my mom to pull the car over, and she was so worried. But I wouldn’t tell her until the car was stopped. I didn’t know how she would react. I didn’t know how I would react, saying those words, seeing what it did to her.

My gaze was locked straight in front of me. Leukemia? “You’ve got to stop the car.”

“I’m looking for a place, there’s nowhere to stop, please just tell me what’s going on!” She was frantic, concerned. She knew something was very wrong. We had pulled off the highway, but were stuck in a sweeping mass of cars going through green lights, forced to turn, nowhere to exit, nowhere to pull off.

Not leukemia, god not leukemia! “Mom, stop the car!” She was tearing up, and so was I.

Dr. Heare was still talking. I interrupted whatever he was saying, “Is there any chance it’s wrong?” No, one of the blood tests I had taken earlier today was irrefutable, the numbers were off the charts. And I was putting myself in serious danger if I did not return to the hospital immediately.

The car came to a halt in a parking lot. “Mom, I have leukemia.” What the hell is leukemia?

* * *

Yesterday, December 6, marked the fourth anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Although several family members saw reason to celebrate this day during the past couple years, I never felt any good reason to give the day much special recognition. After all, it was the day I found out I had cancer, the day my life was irrevocably changed for the worse, diverted suddenly from the course I’d long been charting to one that wasn’t on any map I’d ever seen or heard of. It was a terrible day, as far as I was concerned.

It’s always seemed like there are so many happier and more meaningful days whose anniversaries we could choose to celebrate. For instance, the day my leukemia went into remission. Or the day I was released from the hospital following all those long months of rehabilitation after nearly dying from hemorrhagic pancreatitis. Or the day I finished cranial radiation. And I looked forward to being able to celebrate the day I finished chemotherapy for years, probably starting just about the moment I received my first chemotherapy infusion. And the truth of the matter is, there’s no reason I can’t celebrate all these things, not to mention many other accomplishments and benchmarks, big and small, achieved and yet-to-be-achieved along the very long and difficult journey of beating leukemia, finishing chemo, and recovering from all of it.

But after four years, I finally understand why December 6, 2007 is so special and what it means to me. It wasn’t the day the problem started, it was the day the problem started to be fixed. It was the day I was given an answer I may not have liked, but it was the answer to the question I had been seeking endlessly for months. And on that day, so many small events and decisions, both in and out of my control, from so many years of my being, came together in a grand confluence that saved my life.

We had finished speaking to Dr. Heare on the phone. We drove back to the hospital and I called my dad and Amy to tell them the troubling news. My mom and my dad and I reentered Children’s that night, dumbstruck. We were met by an oncologist named Dr. Meg Macy, who explained to us exactly what acute lymphoblastic leukemia was: a cancer of the white blood cells that compromises both the immune and circulatory systems. She explained why Children’s–this place I’d ended up because of a long story that began with me playing basketball when I was 12 years old–was the best place for me to be treated for this pediatric cancer. And she explained that my white blood cell count was extraordinarily high–there were hundreds of thousands of the compromised white cells per microliter–putting me at such extremely high risk that there had been a massive effort to make sure I didn’t get home before they got me back to the hospital. The oncologists did not believe even a night could be spared.

If I hadn’t flown in that day, and hadn’t gone straight to Children’s, and hadn’t got my blood tested, and hadn’t had a phone Dr. Heare was able to find the number to, and hadn’t gone straight back to the hospital, it’s quite possible none of those other days I considered to be more happy and meaningful would have ever existed to be celebrated.

That’s part of why December 6 is important. The other part is that, on that night, in the ER at Children’s, my parents and I were joined by close family and friends, who all lent their support. Those who couldn’t be there in person talked to us on the phone. This group only grew as the days and weeks and months passed. I owe the fact that I’m still alive to many, many wonderful people. Too many people to list, and certainly more than I’m even aware of. Their involvement, from well-wishes to visiting me in the hospital to praying for us to sitting with my parents and talking to sending cards to bringing food for the family to keeping me in their thoughts, and all the other infinite ways people supported my family and me, it all stemmed from that day.

They saw me, a small sapling in a hailstorm, and they quickly began planting themselves around me, connecting their root systems to mine, helping my roots to grow strong and robust and to be able to dig deep into the ground. And others heard through any number of means what had happened, and this group branched out and formed beautiful green leaves. From those branches grew many more branches and lots of small twigs, each with its own unique leaves, each feeding into a system that collected energy, strength, and will for me. A gigantic tree of life, planted on a day of sadness, that I will pay respect to and celebrate for the rest of my life.


* * *

This is a comic I happened to read yesterday. It’s from one of my favorite ongoing webcomics, xkcd. It seemed appropriate, if not eerie and entirely improbable that I should have discovered it yesterday. Click on the image for a larger version if you can’t make out all of the words. Or, even if you can read all the words, I still highly recommend clicking anyway and checking out more xkcd (it’s a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language–it’s got something for everyone).

xkcd: Lanes

New Better Than The Machine Video – Paul Revere: The Truth
Friday July 01st 2011, 11:17 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Friends

Just in time for the Fourth of July, I am very proud to present a brand new animated comedy video from Better Than The Machine, in collaboration with Green Shoe Animation! Find out the truth about an American legend: let’s just say that when the British were coming, Paul Revere was ready for more than an attack by land or by sea.

Commentary to follow!


Happy St. Patrick’s Day
Thursday March 17th 2011, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with Better Than The Machine responsibly: use whiskey for everything!

People Online Are Dumb, pt. 2: The Clearing-Upening
Wednesday February 16th 2011, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Attack Of The Internet!, Better Than The Machine, Me, Myself, and Reid

Two nights ago I posted an entry called “Is It The Rest Of The Internet, Or Am I The Dumbass?” from which I cut three paragraphs yesterday. I did this because yesterday morning I found that I had several responses to that entry that, while supportive, did not address what I thought I had written about. It became very evident very quickly that what I had written suggested some things I did not mean to suggest. So I’m go to address a few things about that post, including what I meant to convey.

What I did not mean:

1) That I think all the comedy I make is good. I was sincere about taking responsibility for the bad videos I’ve put online, and I know there have been several. I mentioned Better Than The Machine putting up videos that we weren’t necessarily happy with because sometimes we just needed to put something up. There are a lot of comedy attempts both online and off that I look back on and wince.

2) That I am insulted by people that don’t understand or like the comedy I create. There have been times when I thought we had created a great video and then we put it on YouTube only to find out no one got it or no one liked it or both of those things. When that happens, I’m disappointed both in my inability to have pulled off what I was trying to pull off and that I had no clue that it wouldn’t go over well. That’s totally on us, though. It’s our job to entertain, it’s not the job of the audience to be entertained.

3) That I am offended by responses to our videos. I know better than to take all the things people say online to heart. Some people go out of their way to be mean on the Internet, and they feel comfortable doing so because they are relatively anonymous and not within close proximity to whatever or whomever they’re attacking. People attack our videos because they don’t like them, and being really mean about things you don’t like is cool to a lot of people on the Internet. Sometimes people attack our videos for no real reasonable reason whatsoever. So it goes. I’ve been on the Internet since I was six or seven; I know what to expect.

When I worked for the Huffington Post reviewing incoming comments people were trying to get posted in response to articles and blogs, I discovered a whole new level of horrible people on the Internet. They are racist, sexist and bigoted about anything else you can possibly imagine. These people threaten violence, and when they do, they go way beyond your run-of-the-mill Internet bullies that wish cancer or death or cancer leading to death on other people. There were explicit descriptions of violent acts they wanted to commit against other people, including child abuse and rape and murder, because these people are anonymous and feel empowered saying these things. (I must note that these sorts of awful comments don’t get past the diligent comment moderators of the Huffington Posts)

There have been nasty, personal comments made about all five members members of BTTM on YouTube and around the web. They don’t compare to any of the despicable things people would try to slip through the cracks on the Huffington Post, but there have still been some really terrible personal attacks for no reason. With no provocation whatsoever. We generally laugh at how messed up the people who make those comments are and we move on.

People can and do attack my material, and they can and do attack me on the Internet. And that’s it. I make it a point not to engage these people.

What I did want to express:

1) Nothing groundbreaking, nothing complicated, in fact, something you probably already know: lots of people on the Internet are dumb. I’m not talking about cyberbullies or the kinds of terrible people I described above. I’m talking about people getting online that are either natural morons that somehow managed to find their computer and turn it on, or people who are of average intelligence whose IQ’s plunge a good 70 to 80 points when they open their web browsers. That’s it. That’s what I was trying to say, but I built it up and I made it too focused on me and a project of mine. I was using that particular project to show people who weren’t reading an explanation and then were making weird statements because they didn’t know what was going on because they didn’t read a couple of sentences.

Thanks for your kind words and for giving me a chance to clarify the particular venting I needed to do that day. Ironically, I was trying to use an example about something being incredibly clear, but I did not write it clearly.


UPDATED, UPDATED and UPDATED AGAIN! – Matt And I Did Some BTTM Stuff And A Lot Of People On The Internet Are Dumb. (The Post Formerly Known As “Is It The Rest Of The Internet, Or Am I The Dumbass?”)
Tuesday February 15th 2011, 1:08 am
Filed under: Attack Of The Internet!, Better Than The Machine

(updated 2-16-11, 5:00 PM MST: For clarification about what I wrote in this blog post, read this other blog post.)

(updated 2-16-11, Some Horrible Hour MST: I didn’t get this done, I’ll get it done later today [Wednesday]. I’m tired and don’t feel good. Stop looking at me like that. That’s not fair at all. Okay, okay, I’m sorry! Jeez! Yeah, I know. You’re right. Okay, thank you. Yeah, I’m sorry too. Let’s never fight again. Especially about my shortcomings. I love you too. Okay, goodnight.)

(updated 2-15-11, 10:30 AM MST: I appreciate all the feedback. However, I realized from that feedback that I was unclear in what I was trying to convey in the second half of this post. I’ve removed the confusing content and will update again later today.)

Today Matt Gallo saw an opportunity to update embarrassingly outdated Better Than The Machine things around the Webbernet. The group is on a hiatus that will one day be announced on the website as having been going on since April 2010. Matt and I updated a lot of things, like, the official home of Better Than The Machine on the World Wide Web! A whole new post! For Valentine’s Day! With videos! That are not new!

While picking out old BTTM videos even distantly related to Valentine’s Day for, I watched some other old videos I knew had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day. I haven’t watched any of our videos in what feels like a very long time. I watched some of my favorite videos and some of my least favorite videos. In doing so, I was reminded of my general opinion of 95% of people inhabiting YouTube: they are dumb.

UPDATE (2-15-11, 10:30 AM MST): Confusing content removed.


Now playing: Barenaked Ladies – Life, In A Nutshell
via FoxyTunes

On Mental Health, My OCD and Last Night.
Tuesday January 18th 2011, 2:31 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Family, Health (Not Cancer), Leukemia, Me, Myself, and Reid

There is a powerful social stigma in our culture that prevents a great deal of discussion about mental health. This, in turn, leads to a great deal of mental health problems going undiagnosed and untreated. As too many of us know, the consequences of not treating mental illnesses can be as dire as not treating physical illnesses.

I am not ashamed to avow that I have received and still receive professional care for my mental health. It might not be surprising that I have been in treatment for my mental health since I was diagnosed with leukemia. But there were also times in my life before I was diagnosed that I received care for my mental health. And, while I’m at it, I don’t mind saying that there have been times in my life when I should have sought out someone to help me with my mental health, but I didn’t. Now I should stipulate that just because I don’t mind anyone knowing that I’ve been treated for mental issues doesn’t mean I’m going to publicly explain them all. A lot of that is private, exactly like a lot of physical issues and illnesses are. (Obviously, writing about my leukemia in this blog is an exception I’ve chosen to make to that privacy.)

I could talk about the sorry state of mental health care awareness and acceptance for forever–it is something I am very passionate about–but there is one specific reason I’m writing about this right now.

While writing two blog entries last night and into the very early hours of the morning, I had the worst experience with my obsessive-compulsive disorder that I have ever had. There is an amount of my OCD that I experience each time I write a blog entry: I often reread the entire entry constantly as I’m writing it, and I edit and re-edit almost every entry before and after it’s posted at least three times. One recent example that highlights my OCD, but that I do not consider atypical, is a post from a few nights ago when I had a bad headache and I just wanted to say I went to a concert, but that my head hurt too much to write anything else. I spent an hour on that one sentence, which completely destroyed the entire purpose of only writing one sentence to say my head hurt too much to write anything else.

I started off writing a blog entry at about 10:30 last night. At first, I was writing about seeing some friends who were in from out of town. That entry, as many of my of other entries do, went off on many tangents and kept growing and growing and growing. Sometimes I will spend many hours working on long entries only to decide that they simply aren’t working. When that has happened in the past, I have always deleted whatever I was working on, maybe saved a line or two that I liked, and I’ve written a new short entry. Last night, I decided that what I was working on wasn’t working, but I couldn’t stop myself from continuing to work on it. I wanted to stop working on it. Oh, how I wanted to stop working on it! But I couldn’t because I had a compulsion to keep going. The closest thing I can compare the feeling to is really, really having to go to the bathroom, but trying to hold it. Eventually, you have to go, no matter how much you dance around.

I danced around last night. I got up from the computer, trying to get away, but I kept returning to it and working on it. Finally, I stopped myself. I don’t know how. I am constantly aware of how long it takes me to write, so it wasn’t looking at the clock that did it. Whatever it was that stopped me, I was extremely relieved to be free from that long treatise. I was exhausted both because it was so late and because I was fighting with myself. After this disturbing incident, I made the mistake of consciously deciding to write a small entry that said, “It’s late, I’m tired and I can’t write anymore, so I’m going to bed.”

You can read what that entry turned into for yourself. Needless to say, I was pretty hysterical by the time I finally got off the computer. I wanted to go to bed so bad, but I just couldn’t stop writing and revising, even after I posted the entry. I stood up several times, but this only made me uncomfortable, as my hands remained on the keyboard so I had to bend over to type. I sat down. I was hitting the keyboard. I kept trying to stand and walk away. At one point, I almost threw my laptop at the wall just to stop myself from editing and writing how upset I was that I was editing. What I was thinking in my mind and what I was doing with my body were totally in total opposition. I was thinking “stop stop stop!” and eventually, I hit the power button in the middle of an edit, I closed my laptop, I took it into another room and left it there. Then I turned off my phone, which I never do in case I need to call upstairs to my parents in the event of an emergency, and I put it in that other room as well, knowing that I would use it to keep editing if I left it at the head of my bed.

I am convinced that I have always had a degree of OCD. When I was younger, I would have described myself at times as a perfectionist. By the time I was in college, I knew I had OCD, and I knew that it was annoying when it kicked in not only to me but to other people around me, but it seemed to come and go. When I started undergoing treatment for leukemia, it got a lot worse, and its effects have been noticeable and cause for frustration, jokes, and anxiety by me and other people.

I saw my psychologist this morning at our weekly appointment, which had luckily been scheduled for today. We talked about some ways to deal with what happened last night and we talked about why it’s gotten worse over the years and the reason why what happened last night happened. When I was diagnosed with leukemia, I instantly lost control over most things in my life. OCD is an anxiety disorder. My way of reacting to the anxiety of losing control over so much in my life was–and is–to control the hell out of what little there has been left for me to control (which I have to give my mom credit for telling me for a couple of years), such as the placement of things in my room, never scratching my computer, and the content of my blog entries. Last night, something completely out of my control happened that caused my anxiety to spike, which I was aware of at the time. Just like when I was diagnosed with leukemia, my mind’s way of dealing with this huge and sudden burst of anxiety over something I could not control was to try to control every single aspect of something I could control, which happened to be my blog.

I guess that’s really it. It’s 2:15 AM. I’m going to reread this once and then post it, because that’s what I set out to do tonight. Well, I set out to write about what happened yesterday and reread it once, not to stay up until 2:15 writing about it. It’s so late because I’ve written so much. I’ve fought off the urge to delete this post three times and to put it off until tomorrow six times.

I’m going to reread it now.

Hah. Okay. It’s not exactly how I want it, but I’m fighting off the urge to revise and edit and re-revise and re-edit. I’m going to post this and be done with it.

Oh, I didn’t explain why I can do that right now. I should’ve ch
My spiked anxiety level went down when I figured out exactly what had made it go up. I can choose to let this entry be as it is, even if I do feel a compulsion to keep working on it.

Tomorrow: a quick wrap up of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Maybe I’ll do another one of those things where I wrote a bunch of short statements that would fit in a tweet. That was fun. What did I call that? I called it a twitlog. Whoops. I’ve been calling my Twitter based entries Twitlogs, too. I’ll have to sort that out. Another time.


Now playing: Joe, Marc’s Brother – Sleep My Friend
via FoxyTunes

Eleven Months To Go. Thanks For Helping Me Celebrate!
Saturday June 12th 2010, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine, Friends, Leukemia, NYC

As of Saturday, June 12, I have eleven months to go in my chemotherapy regimen. Performing in New York City at The PIT with Better Than The Machine again, with lots of great friends in the audience who then came to celebrate afterwords, was a great way to mark this day!

Thank you all.


Twitlog: Several 140-Character Stories I Meant To Blog About

Since my last entry, I’ve missed several topics I wish I’d blogged about. Knowing full well from prior experience that if I gave each of these many topics their own posts, I would quickly feel overwhelmed and, just as quickly, give up. So I decided to write about each of these many topics in one entry I’ve dubbed a “twitlog.” Aware of my propensity for verbose verbiage, I decided to treat each story as a Twitter post by limiting each of them to 140 characters. Onward!

-Last Vid: Bobby Fitzsimmons (of screen & stage) vlogs. Los: great! But whycome so few hits for funny video? I want to play Bobby’s cousin.

-New Vid: Crazy lady thinks cat is her son; boyfriend aghast. YT Comedy Spotlight! Moms Day dedication: to all moms, not just the crazy ones.

-Ebert: Why I Hate 3-D (And You Should Too) I’ve been saying that! If only I were a movie critic, they’d listen… and pay! Er, just listen.

-Rachel moved up and out to D.C. Rebecca is graduating on Friday and got into law school. I’m writing in my blog in the middle of the night.

-Dad and I met current Minnesota Senator and former SNL writer and performer Al Franken the other day. He was extremely nice and personable.

-How could I have possibly forgotten to mention burping as a side effect of iron overload? Hmn… maybe it’s because I’ve been busy burping?

-Weekly bar trivia, I think I love you.

-The Fam is going on a cruise next week to honor Boo’s graduation & acceptance into law school, Roo’s promotion & move, and my 1 YEAR TO GO!

-I’ve been feeling well enough to restart physical therapy. Crack! Snap! Oops! Those exercises hurt enough that I’m not sure I can do PT. Ow.

-I went to my first Derby Day party/benefit. Mmm… mint juleps. It was a blast until the last 90 seconds-we had to watch some horse race.

-The Levin Fam is being honored by the ADL for community service & leadership. I serve the community by making videos about boobs and farts.

-My ANC is great, but my platelets are so low that I’m off chemo until at least after the cruise. Note to self: don’t get stabbed on cruise.

Funny parody of Jay-Z & Alicia Keys’ Empire State Of Mind. Star Wars, I admit I’m still in love with you despite George Lucas’ best efforts.

-I’ve tried so hard to enjoy the new Steven Page-less BNL album. It’s very, very okay. But it lacks a certain… Steven Page.

-New “Give A Shit” lyrics: Earthquakes, volcanoes and the oil spill/My candidate still says, “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

Whew, okay I think that does it. This turned out to be a fun challenge. Maybe I’ll wind up making more of these. We’ll see how I feel about it a few days out. At any rate, I enjoyed doing this enough to create a new category for these things (’cause you know, this entry wasn’t already in enough categories).

For the record, “twitlog” is a double portmanteau, and I love me some portmanteaus. First, of course, there’s the Twitter-weblog combination, which is an apt description of all these Twitter-style stories in my blog. Second is the more self-derisive combination of “twit” and “log”; with the “twit” being myself, and this effort being the only “log” of what happened in the unintended space between more frequent and detailed blog posts.

I’m such a nerd.


Now playing: Guster – Jonah
via FoxyTunes

New BTTM Video: “Med School Porn” + Analysis and Behind-The-Scenes Goings On
Saturday April 17th 2010, 12:46 am
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

Better Than The Machine’s sexy new video “Med School Porn” proves that while med school’s expensive, paying the bills doesn’t have to be anything but fun! Also, of some noteworthiness, this our 100th video on YouTube! That’s a helluva lot of videos on YouTube! Trust me, it took a long, long time to for the five of us to count that high on our combined fingers and toes. We kept reaching 99, until Matt Gallo revealed that he’s missing a toe. And if you think that’s sexy, you’re gonna love this video:

“Med School Porn” was directed and edited by Ballard C. Boyd. Rachel Popson guest stars as “The Girl Who Is Not Christina, For Once,” which is to say, she was the girl who poured beer on herself. Rachel’s a great actor that we went to school with. Rachel and her girlfriend Joanna (an alumna of BTTM) participated in a triathlon last summer to raise money for leukemia patients and studies. They participated in my name (and someone else’s too), which was an amazing thing to do. So, Rachel’s good people. As if you couldn’t already tell that by her agreeing to appear in one of our videos wearing only erotic underwear. Sometime this spring or summer, I think Rachel and Joanna are going to come stay with my family, which should be a lot of fun, and it’s certainly something I’m looking forward to!

Anyway, back to the sketch. Christina came up with the idea and wrote the original draft. She then asked me to take a look at it. I’ve found that I always really enjoy working on second drafts of Christina’s scripts. She lays down superb groundwork that forms the plot and some of the character’s voices, and so the first thing I do when she asks me to look over something is just to read the script and understand what she’s doing. Then I take a pass at some light editing, which is mostly trimming it down by saying, “Oh, these three lines could be just this one line and it’d make perfect sense,” or, “this line could just be these two words, instead of explaining all that,” which is easy for me (ahem, on other people’s work, not necessarily my own verbose sketches or blogs, so much) and that’s something I like to do.

Then I take a third pass which is the really fun part of working on Christina’s sketches. To me, they seem so well formed already that I don’t have to think all that much about plotting, I can just add a lot of jokes. She sets them up so well that I go through her scripts fast, and just see jokes all over and add them. She and I try to get together and write whenever I’m in town, and it’s a very different way of working than I’ve ever worked with a writing partner before. I have to say I really enjoy it, whether in person or not. Now, just so this doesn’t sound tooooo egotistical, I will say thank goodness for Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature, so that when we’re working through email, she can see exactly what I’ve done to her script, and she can go with some of my ideas and quickly delete all the ones that don’t work outside of my brain.

I was just looking back at what I had added, and a lot of it was Matt’s pizza guy, which seemed so funny to me on paper. But I’ve got to hand it to Matt and Ballard for interpreting those words and then really selling them. Matt mugging to the camera is just hilarious, and I think it really sells all those lines for a great laugh. Matt’s versatility just keeps expanding, especially when I think back to the first video I ever shot of him. I’m really impressed by how he can help jokes on the page really become the jokes that work so well on the screen.

Producer Christina also did a really good job of producing this stuff, which included getting Rachel on board, and buying props and setting costumes and things like that. Producing is clearly a job we should have given her several years ago.

My favorite moment in the sketch is not from any script I ever saw, and that’s when Carlos walks up, and Matt signals to him to go away. I thought that was really funny. I would guess, but I don’t know for certain, that this was something Ballard came up with while filming. His mind is very attuned to building laughs and jokes that really add a good beat here or there. Ballard also did a good job working in a really weird location. Having slept on the floor of Christina and Alex’s apartment last time I was in The City, I can tell you that the door is around a big corner, so that basically, where Christina and Rachel were sitting was a backwards “L” shape away from the door. I don’t know where Ballard stood, but the going back and forth and keeping Christina so close to the camera really gave the appearance that everyone could see each other, which they probably couldn’t. I trust Ballard and his director magic fully to be able to do that–we’ve shot so many things at his very, very small studio apartment and none of them really look like the same place. I don’t think I could pull that off.

I think the one and only thing that I wonder how other people feel about is Christina’s last line. Again, I don’t think that was ever in a script, so I’ll bet there was some brainstorming that went on before they shot the video. In looking over my edits, the ending I wrote was that the pizza guy leaves and Christina looks to Rachel and yells, “And you put all your clothes back on!” to which Rachel responded, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” Which I will admit sucked. I figured someone would come up with something, like Rachel saying, “Oh, but I’m so comfy!” or “Oh, no just girl on girl, then, either?” I guess I thought of those too late (15 seconds ago), and they probably wouldn’t have been used anyway. But the first time I watched it, I was pretty startled at what Christina ended up saying! In watching it an extraordinary number of times, I think I’m desensitized to it now, but on first hearing it, I shouted, “What?! Where’d that come from?” Like I said, I don’t mind it so much now. Neither, apparently do YouTubers, who are eating the video up. The video was briefly featured on the YouTube Comedy page, and even more briefly on the YouTube Videos page. The search for porn seems to have really helped us out.

All in all, I’m quite happy with this sketch, and I am quite happy to have another sexy sounding video that will continue to attract potential masturbators for a long time. Hah! I’ll bet they’ll be none-too-happy.


P.S. Matt is not actually missing a toe. Sorry to wait to reveal this ’til the end, you creepy, creepy, nine-toe-fetishists.

New BTTM Video: “How To Give Bad News” + Analysis
Saturday March 27th 2010, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Better Than The Machine

The only thing worse than giving bad news is giving bad news badly. Or, now that I think about it, the only only thing worse than giving bad news badly is probably receiving bad news given badly. Like if someone came up to you, all smiling and jolly and slapped you on the shoulder and said, “Hey, congratulations on someone pouring water on your mom. She was an old witch anyway, so I’m sure that was a perfect painful death for her.” But you didn’t know she had died, and also she wasn’t a witch, and you got along with her quite well. Something like that would definitely be worse, and maybe the worst.

Hmn. I don’t know. This is why I’m not a scientist.

“How To Give Bad News” was directed and edited by Ballard C. Boyd and features our good friend Elisabeth Hansen. Elisa and Matt have been a real life couple for quite a while now, and she and I graduated together from the theater program at Pace. It was neat to get her into one of our videos. The bare legs Matt drags in belong to Mr. Carlos Cabrera. You can tell from their beautiful caramel completion.

This particular video was shot the same night as “How To Juggle” was shot, but it’s been in the boiler for quite a long time. I have notes about it in my notebook dated from last summer. I think the bit with the legs needed to be figured out, and when that was figured out, it was just good timing to film two Iowa Training Films at once.

I was also not there when this was shot, so this might just be all I know about the video…

Oh! Well, as a result of this video and “How To Juggle,” Carlos and Matt and I have been talking about developing some other recurring sketches, or developing some existing sketches into a recurring format. It seems fun and also a bit easier if we have a blank week. And, let’s see… yep, that’s it. That’s all I know. If anyone who was there wants to add anything to the record, go right ahead.

It is also worth mentioning that, by some counts, whatever video comes out next week (this, upcoming next week) will be our 100th YouTube video. By some other counts, it will be our 99th video. It has to do with having to remove “Special K with Birth Control” and making the remixed “Super K with Birth Control.” I want to make a tribute to 100 videos, because, well, that’s a helluva lot of videos. The tribute won’t be our 100th video because I am not feeling up to working on it right now, but it’ll come along soon enough. I promise it will be very silly.

Enjoy your newfound power of giving bad news as a pair of naked legs, and make sure to check next week for a brand new 99th or 100th video from Better Than The Machine!

Don’t let the machine get you down. Seriously, it’s an insurance nightmare.