All posts by Kyle

Do YOU want to follow in my footsteps?

I need to apologize that I’ve been so obsessed with my Ancestry Commercial–it must get pretty boring for most of you.  It has been lots of fun, I’ve heard from friends I haven’t heard from in years and years.  When they put my mug on their homepage (click here) and other pages (click here), well, it kind of exploded.  As a result, I’m not so bored.

But I learned today that the end is nigh: Ancestry sent out an email to all its members, asking them to submit their stories to possibly be made into a commercial.

I clicked-through the email, and there I was, again.  Plus, they created a video about shooting the commercial.  If you’re not too sick of me, click here for the webpage and here for the video.

So I guess this star is starting to  collapse on itself, soon to be sucked back into the black hole of obscurity.   It’ll probably take them a month or two to have the new commercials ready, so I’m still going to enjoy my little piece of fame while I can.

But this is good news for youyou might have your moment to shine–why not submit your own Ancestry story?  Tell them the guy in the Lederhosen sent you.

 

Kyle

PS – click here and give my commercial a few thumbs up now and again, maybe they will keep it running!

PSS – any idea how I can send this out to casting agents or casting directors?  I would love to parley this into something more, but don’t really know anyone or how to go about it.  I do need a retirement career.

PSSS – or maybe I’ll be come a Genealogist?

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

click on the links, dammit!

 

Estonia and Russia

St. Petersburg Church of the Spilled Blood
St. Petersburg Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood

Our ride to the airport was filled with anticipation. Sharon and Linda turned out to be quite nice, and we enjoyed getting to know them. They’d be on the ship for the first segment of seven days, disembarking in Copenhagen, but continuing on in Europe for a few weeks afterward. Stylish and practical, they each managed with a single small suitcase, which I envied as we wrestled our three huge bags out of the van.

Almost the entire ship turned over in Stockholm. I think only three rooms did not disembark, so the check-in queue was pretty long. In true Seabourn fashion the line shuffled along quickly and efficiently, and we soon found ourselves standing in front of an agent. “I’ll be with you in one second” she announced, turning away while she fiddled with some papers. Out of nowhere we heard a familiar voice “Mr. Graham and Mr. Merker!”and we were reunited with a smiling Belindah. Belindah worked in guest services and was promoted during our last trip. We were delighted to see her. (Last week she was promoted again—we felt like her good luck charm and beamed like proud parents when we heard.)

There are several staff members and other guests we knew from our World Cruise, so in some ways it was like returning to summer camp; we knew our way around and the routine, but we were still excited to be here and looked forward to enjoying the whole experience.

Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm
Sail away from Stockholm

 

The first week flew by. We only had one sea day that first week, so those lazy long days of slow sailing would have to wait a while.

Our first stop was Tallinn, Estonia, and we were not sure what to expect. George’s former colleague has a cousin living there, so we agreed to have lunch. It’s always good to see a place through the eyes of a local, so we purposely kept out afternoon free so we could meet.

George in Tallinn
George in Tallinn

We filled our morning with a bicycle tour. While there isn’t much to see in Tallinn, it was fascinating to hear our tour guide talk about what life was like under the USSR and how it is today. He never complained about the occupation, and did not regret being drafted into the Soviet Army. Yet he clearly believed Estonia is better off independent and worries that it may not last. He pins his hopes on NATO ensuring that Russia will be held to her boarders, but I got the distinct impression he was concerned.

Tallinn
Tallinn
Tallinn Market
Tallinn Market

Our lunch date had a similar reaction. He’s an American who did well in Russia, but realized the current political and, therefore, business climate is not really tenable. Luckily he fell in love with a lovely (and brilliant) Estonian woman and is happily living in Estonia now. I think he enjoyed discussing American politics with some fellow Americans, exploring many of the nuances lost in the media. He agrees with me: our primary system is ridiculous—we’d be better off with a national primary all on one day, closely followed by an election by popular vote. Why do we allow Iowa and New Hampshire to have so much influence on who ultimately runs? It doesn’t make sense.

imageSt. Petersburg, Russia, was our next stop and, luckily, we would have three days to explore. We managed to squeeze in Peterhof (aka The Summer Palace), Catherine’s Palace, Alexander’s Palace, Pavlovsk Palace, and The Hermitage (aka The Winter Palace).  It was a whirlwind, we easily could have spent two weeks here–there is so much to see.

Catherine's Palace - detail
Catherine’s Palace – detail

When the communists took over, they wisely decided to preserve some of the opulence, mostly so the common person could witness the disparity between the rich and the poor. Of course they only preserved a few, and World War II devastated what was left. They are still restoring them—I’d love to go back in 10 years and see the results. If you’re interested, there is a great book about the work called Saving the Tsars’ Palaces.

I find it odd that they surrounded the repentant Mary Magdalene with a frame of golden porn actors from the 80's.
I find it odd that they surrounded the repentant Mary Magdalene with a golden frame of moustached porn actors from the 80’s.  I’m not judging.

Our tours were able to get us into some sites an hour ahead of the general public, so we could enjoy the more popular stops, like the Hermitage and Catherine’s Palace, before the unwashed masses arrived.

We attended a performance of Swan Lake—how exciting to actually see it in Russia. Even though it was a production which catered to tourists, the Principle Dancers and the Orchestra were fantastic. The rest of the cast seemed unenthusiastic, hitting their marks with facial expressions that seemed to say “I have to remember to pick up cat food on my way home from work”.

Here are my pictures.  I apologize, on some devices some pictures are sideways, but when I fix them they are sideways on other devices.  Click any picture to enlarge.

Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
Pavlofsk Palace
Pavlovsk Palace
OK, I won't put under with my Jedi mind tricks. I promise.
OK, I won’t put you under with my Jedi mind tricks. I promise.
Alexander's Palace
Alexander’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace - detail
Catherine’s Palace – detail
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace
Catherine's Palace
Catherine’s Palace

image

Winter Palace - is it me, or is there a ton of homoerotic detailing?
Winter Palace – is it me, or is there a ton of homoerotic detailing?
Winter Palace ceiling detail
Winter Palace ceiling detail
Winter Palace window
Winter Palace window
Penitent Mary Magdalene
Penitent Mary Magdalene
Winter Palace
Winter Palace
The Original Facebook
The Original Facebook
Winter Palace detail
Winter Palace detail
Winter Palace
Winter Palace
St. Petersburg Bridge detail
St. Petersburg Bridge detail
Peterhof - Summer Palace with fountains
Peterhof – Summer Palace with fountains
Peterhof - fountain detail
Peterhof – fountain detail
Peterhof - Fountains
Peterhof – Fountains
Peterhof - fountain Detail
Peterhof – fountain Detail

image

Peterhof - George on the Balcony
Peterhof – George on the Balcony
Peterhof detail
Peterhof detail

 

Please share!

©2015 Kyle Merker

 

 

Super Troupers

 

We are at it again: Sailing from port to port, checking countries off our to-do list ask quickly as Santa crosses bitches off of his “nice” list. You know who you are.

We left Fire Island a week and a half ago. We had to meet our ship, the Seabourn Quest, in Stockholm on August 1st, so we came a few days earlier to see the city and adjust to the time difference.

Stockholm was great. They, along with the rest of the region, have been experiencing an unusually cold and grey summer. Not that their summers aren’t usually on the grey side, but this year was apparently worse than usual. Luckily the sun has been following us all week.

We were pretty jet-lagged in Stockholm, but we managed to stagger around bleary-eyed anyway, doing our best to “push through”. Our standard practice is to live on local time upon landing and not take a nap. We once deviated from this plan many years ago and, after our extended nap, the jet-lag took over a week to subside instead of the usual two days.

I’m always amazed by jet-lag. On day two you realize just how bad you felt the day before. You feel really good, but when you wake up on day three you finally understand how much of a zombie you were on day two. Jet lag only seems really bad in hindsight.

When we checked-in to the Marriott, the clerk suggested an upgrade. Breakfast would be 300 kroner, but an upgrade would be 350 and included breakfast. We didn’t hesitate.

Stockholm Pride
Stockholm Pride

After dropping our bags in our room we walked into town. It was pride weekend, so rainbow flags were flying everywhere; on buildings, in parks, on public busses and in stores. SAS Airline had a fabulous banner proclaiming “Love is in the air!”. We even stumbled upon a group wedding of 19 couples tying the knot in city hall. They take gay pride seriously here.

My Swedish friend Bo (I’ve written about him before, he’s not only our Fire Chief, but I’m pretty sure he’s the love-child of Aunt Clara from Bewitched and Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes) was kind enough to suggest a list of places to see, plus he introduced us to his close friend, Janne, who agreed to meet us for lunch.

Janne met us at a beautiful old wooden food hall called Östermalms Saluhall. Several vendors were displaying their goods including beautiful fresh fish, produce, cured meats, jams, jellies and candy. Lots of candy. There were three restaurants, and Janne recommended the one with typical local fare. I was disappointed to learn that the Swedish Fish was void of red candy, but I ordered it anyway and it was delightful.

George and Janne getting our lunch.  That's Janne in front of George
George and Janne getting our lunch. That’s Janne in front of George

We shook Janne’s hand and said our goodbyes, heading towards the old section, called Gamla Stan. Janne said he was walking that way and would escort us to the entrance, just a few blocks away. He is a charming man who has known Bo for many years. I pressed him for some randy “Bo stories”, but he stayed true and revealed little.

At the entrance of the old section, we shook Janne’s hand and bid a fond farewell, after which he thought he might stroll through the old section with us. We glided through ancient streets while hordes of tourists swarmed the shoppes around us. We stopped at a small Café for a beer where the cute waiter, after telling us he was not Italian because he’s from Naples, said he needed someone to teach him Swedish. We suggested Janne, and the waiter seemed interested, but to everyone’s surprise Janne refused. I guess teaching handsome Italians his native tongue was more than he could handle, but we did make him blush! We paid the check and said our good-byes.

After a few steps, Janne said he was going in our direction and would walk with us a bit. After a few blocks, he took a left while we went right, but not after saying goodbye yet one more time. I was beginning to feel like the stewardess who gets the job of standing at the exit door saying individual goodbyes to everyone leaving the plane. But this goodbye stuck. We headed to our hotel while Janne walked on. He is a very nice and interesting man. Thank you, Bo, for the introduction.

Dangerous and I'll-designed
Dangerous and Ill-designed

That evening we had one goal: Dinner. It took a lot of walking to find someplace. We set-out to find the Trip Advisor recommended restaurants by the marina, but the one we preselected was closed. We checked out the other restaurants but decided against them. You know when you’re over-tired and you can’t make a decision? That was the state we were in.

We retraced our steps, hoping to find a place we noticed in the park called The Green Queen. Well, we found it. What were we thinking? This was Gay Pride and, had we thought about it, we would have realized that a restaurant called The Green Queen is gayer than Lance Bass and Perez Hilton singing Bette Midler hits and show tunes, while wearing rainbow-sparkle Bob Mackie headdresses and riding a West Hollywood Pride Parade float. After fighting through a tsunami of tight tank tops we found a table, but quickly realized it was cafeteria style. So I guess it wasn’t that gay, after all, despite the staff looking like Village People casting call rejects. We left and pressed on.

We were tired and wanted to be served in a nice, peaceful restaurant, so we hit the streets once again, finally landing in a small Mediterranean place. It was great. Calm. Friendly staff. Perfect food. Cold wine. The only drawback was the carafe of water they put on the table: George had not noticed the spout on the side, so he drenched his lap when he tried to fill his glass. We got a fit of the giggles so bad our cheeks hurt.

The next morning we went back to town and toured City Hall, which is where they hold the Nobel Prize banquet each year. The place is spectacular—I highly recommend a visit next time you’re here.

Ceiling Detail - City Hall
Ceiling Detail – City Hall
Wall Detail - City Hall
Wall Detail – City Hall
Windows--City Hall
Windows–City Hall
Firefighter mosaic detail - City Hall
Firefighter mosaic detail – City Hall

 

It was time to meet our ship, so we packed up and checked out. The hotel ordered a taxi, and we waited a long time for it to arrive. Two women were also waiting, so we shared the cab. We’ve since became great friends, and we’re sad when they disembarked in Copenhagen. But there were many ports between Stockholm and Copenhagen, so you’ll have to stay tuned.

Harrumph!

39a1852110976bbcd5b6070a780f1f07A couple of my friends complain when my blog goes negative, like when I’m being robbed in a third world country. Well…it’s kind of hard to slap a happy face sticker on that. Luckily, my last few posts were pretty upbeat. Even being trolled by a child sex offender was kind of cheery—I think I got him pretty good. So good that he deleted his post and went back to hiding under his rock.

But, I’m afraid, I’m back to cranky: Hey you kids, get off of my lawn! This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a long time and haven’t had the nerve to post. I know I’m going to get lots of blow back, but here goes:

 

I’m not a fan of sharing food in restaurants.

I can’t believe I said it! That felt great. I’ll say it again: I hate to share. In fact I loathe it. My heart sinks when a dinner companion asks what I’m going to order, then makes a frowny face and says “Ohh, I was going to order that.”

People think I’m a “Foodie” because I like to cook. The truth, actually, is that I like to eat. Cooking is a means to an end. I enjoy the ride, I admit. I don’t mind a complicated recipe that takes hours to prep and dirties every pot I own. I’ll make it over and over until I get it right. Then I rarely make it again–the challenge is gone. George often claims a dish needs improvement, just to ensure I’ll serve it one more time.

In a restaurant I think carefully about what I’d like to eat. Sometimes I’ll look at the menu on-line prior to my visit, but I prefer the gestalt of reading the menu at the table. I eliminate menu items like contestants on The Bachelor, paring my choices down to a manageable few. I prefer a dish that is new to me, or is prepared in an unfamiliar way. Of course, whatever I’m “In the mood” for also comes into play, as does my level of hunger. Unless it’s a Sunday. On Sunday I have steak, regardless. I love Sunday.

When I’m in a restaurant I’m always taken back a little when people want to eat my food, and it puts me in a very awkward position. I wouldn’t mind if they said “Can I have a bite?” and then, when my response is “I’d rather not”, that they left it at that. But no. It does not happen that way. Instead they look at me as if my face is the Amber Alert license plate they just saw on the news.

Often the person requesting to eat my dinner gets offended. They’re offended? I’m offended. I don’t ask if I can take your things. May I suggest we share your new car? Do you mind if I rummage through your medicine cabinet: I’ll offer you two Crestor for your Viagra and a Valium. Oh, you don’t want to—well I’m offended! How dare you! I’ll just chew my Crestor with a sullen look for a while.

“Let’s Share!” is exclaimed with glee, as if they just came up with a unique way to have fun, while I try to pretend this isn’t happening to me—again. It feels like a contest, to see who ordered the best food. But if you win the contest, you lose the ability to savor all of it. “Oh, everyone, you have to try Kyle’s Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm Tart, its FAB!” as forks are removed from mouths and start to stab at my supper.

Here is my point: If I wanted the Cauliflower Fritters, I would have ordered them. So you made a stupid choice, why do I have to sacrifice my lovely Pasta Pillows in a Light Cream Sauce to make up for it? You already interrogated the poor waiter by asking a million questions. You sounded like a four-year old who just learned to ask “Why?” It was cringe worthy. You ignored his suggestions and now you’re stuck with what you got. You’re an idiot. I’m not. Keep your fork off my plate.

large

My reputation as an entrée hoarder is growing. We have one friend who takes great pleasure of informing the rest table that I don’t like to share, prompting lots of embarrassing questions, usually centered on germ phobia. People want to question me endlessly about the psychology surrounding my desire to eat my own food. I’ve even been asked if I’m in therapy for this, as if I need to be cured and freed of my chains.

I fend off these questions by not answering them, changing the subject as quickly as I can–How about those Mets! But some people don’t stop. Last December I was dining with some friends, and a lively discussion of the menu began. I knew I was in trouble as people discussed their preferences in relation to what others were ordering. Early on I made it clear that I would prefer to order and ingest my own dinner. Nervous glances darted around the table, which I disregarded, and the rest of the table continued their groupthink by settling on what they would order. The food starts to arrive, and this one person asks if she could try my appetizer. Didn’t we just have this discussion? Are you trying to embarrass me? I just pretended I didn’t hear.

When the entrée was served, she decided to give it another go. This time she waited to make sure she got my undivided attention, looked me in the eye, and loudly asked if I could give her a taste of my dinner. I was dumbfounded. I just sat through a cross-examination of my dining habits and you’ve decided to ignore that entire conversation? I was dying inside, but I think I held my ground pretty well.  I returned her hard gaze and, in clear steady voice, I openly rejected her request. “Oh” she said, “I wasn’t sure where your boundaries were”.

Let’s ponder that: You didn’t know where my boundaries were, so you figured you’d just push them to the limit? Boundaries: She needs to set some. If I ever go to dinner with her again, I’ll bring some yellow caution tape.

One problem with “sharing” is how the food gets distributed. The people who take the first portions have to take a wee bit. They need to be sure that there is enough for everyone. The people at the end of the line get the lion’s share–a phrase that entered our vocabulary because lions don’t share, either. Of course, no one wants to take the very last of the plate, so it sits there idly while everyone pretends not to notice. It’s not until the server pops by to clear dishes that those morsels are snatched and swallowed at lightning speed, like a frog catching a fly.

6925654_700bVegans have a particularly hard time. Most restaurants have just a couple of dishes specifically for them, but once the food orgy begins they have to continuously fend off foreign forks. If they enter the fray they’ll go home hungry: Vegetarians end up supplying, not demanding. Besides, some of those forks just left a platter of pork. The vegetarians I know don’t really want someone’s residual animal protein to contaminate their virgin tofu. Please leave the vegans alone; they are hungry and deserve a full meal.

There is a new terror on my horizon—the sharing restaurant. I’m not talking about a “family style” restaurant, like Carmines, where large platters are passed around as if you are at your in-laws for The Feast of the Seven Fishes. I actually like Carmines. It’s fun, and they make a boat out of ice cream. I’m talking about those pretentious places where the waiter feels he has to explain that all dishes are shared “and we recommend you order at least three dishes per patron”. When the plates come, there are roughly four tablespoons of goo which you’re expected to divvy up twelve ways. Recently we were at one of these hell-holes and one of the dishes was soup! Soup! How do you share soup? You better give everyone enough spoons so no one double-dips. Ugh! No soup for me!

giphy

MEME-Funny-Baby

Thankfully I’m not alone. My cousin recently confided in me that he feels the same way. We had somehow landed in one of these sharing restaurants with a group. When I got home he texted his complaint, and to his surprise I agreed! We chatted about how much we hated it, how we couldn’t voice it for fear of complete social annihilation, and how relived we were that we share the same opinion. It was like coming out, only more secretive and without the lure a fabulous annual parade.

Recently we ate with another couple in the East Village, ironically the friends who teased me for being too negative on my blog. The waiter came, and each of us ordered that exact same meal. It was heaven.

 

 

© Kyle Merker 2015

Stupid is as Stupid Does

If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know this story.  For the rest of you:

Commercials are posted on a site called ispot and the commercial I’m in is there as well.  It doesn’t really get many comments, although I do get lot’s of “thumbs up!”.  I did get one comment a while ago from a guy who liked the commercial, but noticed that the kilt was wrong.  I wrote back in private, basically telling him that the wardrobe people dressed me, and that there were crimes against lederhosen as well.  It was a fun exchange.

The few comments I got, on ispot, facebook, and by email, were all positive, until today when someone commented “now he should trade his kilt for some testicles. What a pansy” [sic]

Here he is: Mr. Tim Price, a genius and a criminal!
Here he is: Mr. Tim Price, a genius and a criminal!

It didn’t really bother me, but me being me I googled the gentleman.  Several hits right away–because he’s a convicted child sex offender and is on the watch lists!  You would think he’d rather keep is head down and STFU.  But no: Stupid is as Stupid Does.

So I hit him back.  I told him I was Firefighter of the Year in 2012, and I’m OK with “Pansy”, much better than Sex Offender.  You can see the exchange here (you’ll need to scroll down to see the comments), and you can view his sex offender registry here.

 

2015-07-24 11.29.13

and, by the way, testicles?  I think I’ll let Betty White handle this one:

cartoon-Betty-White-on-Balls-jpg

On a positive note, the guys at KiltedBros.com (NSFW!) are sending me a free kilt!  I suggested they put their label upside down on the inside front hem, and they did it, plus they loved my commercial!

 

I’m going back to Sea next week! Stay tuned….

 

 

(Update:  He either deleted his post on ispot, blocked me on facebook, or both!  Ha!)

 

© Kyle Merker 2015

 

15 Seconds of Fame…

…and here is the 15 second version of the commercial–this one has a picture of my Dad, his parents and grandfather.

Click this link to see the 15 second version:  15 second version

For the 30 second version, which I posted yesterday, click here: 30 second version

If you view the 30 second, please give it a thumbs up (Spot on).  I’m not sure what that does, but it couldn’t hurt.  And to the person who gave it thumbs down: My mother said she is going to kick your butt when she finds out who you are.  I’m not kidding.  She is.  Jerk.  She’s a retired NYC school teacher and is afraid of no one. You messed with the wrong woman’s son.

At one point they asked for pictures of my parents, aunts, and uncles, but they didn’t use them.  Which is a shame, I wanted everyone to be part of this.  Sorry everyone, and thanks for your help.  Here is a snapshot of our tree–although I still have a lot to fill in.  Love you all.

Zimmermann Family Tree
Zimmermann-Riley Family Tree – click to enlarge

This has been great fun.  They seem to be running it on cable, SyFy, AMC, CNN, WGN.

 

© Kyle Merker 2015

 

 

Finally…My Commercial!

Me on my set--long shot
Me on my set–long shot

 

My commercial started airing last night.  I’ve asked them to give me a schedule of when it will air, but I doubt they will.

You can see it by clicking here.

Please give it the thumbs up, and have everyone you ever met in your life do the same.  Daily.  Is that asking too much?

If you see it on television, please let me know!

(For the full story about how this came about, click here, and if you’re interested in what it was like to tape the commercial, click here.)

 

©Kyle Merker 2015

 

Postcards from the Edge to Women on the Verge

One stop we made in the Galapagos was the Post Office.

OK, Post Office is an exaggeration. It’s really just a barrel, standing on a post. The barrel has a small door, and inside are letters and postcards waiting to hitch a ride to their individual destinations.

 

Galapagos Post Office
Galapagos Post Office

 

2015-01-31 11.40.55It is actually kind of fascinating. The “Post Office”, located on Floreana Island, is just a few steps from the shore of the aptly named Post Office Bay. It’s been there for centuries. Established in 1793, ships would stop by the island and go through the letters in the barrel. If they, or any of their crew, were going in the direction of any of the addresses, they would take them. Their own letters would be placed in the barrel with the hopes that some future sailor would eventually deliver them. Whaling ships could be at sea for an inordinate length of time and this was the only way they could communicate with the rest of the world. If they were fortunate, it might only take a couple of years before their letter was delivered.

These days it’s more of a tourist curiosity and, luckily, we were tourists. After a brief history of the island, our tour guide reached into the barrel and read aloud the destinations of the postcards. If someone was going to the destination, they would be given the postcard to deliver.

We arrived on the island with three postcards. One to ourselves at our Water Island address. I don’t think that one will ever arrive. We addressed the other two to our grand-niece and grand-nephews. So one is addressed to Amy’s boys in Oakdale, and the other to AJ’s kids in Whitestone, Queens. They will probably have kids of their own by the time these are delivered.

Since we left three cards, we decided it was only fair to take the same number to deliver. It took a while for us to accumulate three suitable postcards, but we prevailed.  All had convenient New York City addresses; the Village, East 64th Street, and West 35th Street. Of course, this excursion was in January and we wouldn’t be returning to New York for a few months, but we tucked them in our luggage and managed to put them out of our minds until we got home and unpacked.

 

Think about it. If someone rang your doorbell and responded to your “who is it” with “I have mail from the Galapagos”, you would probably call the police. We assumed that the person who sent each postcard forewarned the recipient, but I wanted to be sure. So I googled each of them, found their email addresses, and sent them an introductory email. I explained that we were recently in the Galapagos and picked up a postcard for them. I didn’t want them to think it was spam, like I was the Prince of Nigeria and needed their help getting my Irish lottery proceeds out of the country, so I included a link from  the Washington Post which explained how it all worked.

Carol

The first card was addressed to Carol (I’m not using last names). Carol is a massage therapist, and I sent her an email through her website. The email bounced, but was kind enough to provide me with a working email. She responded quickly:


What a nice surprise! I know how the G.P.O. works, but didn’t know that it actually works. I’m cc’ing Ed (my husband) on this, too.

We are usually around Tuesdays through Fridays. I am here this week, but Ed, who is a travel writer, is out of town. We will both be here next week—he would get a kick out of it, I’m sure.


 

 Since her postcard was signed “Love Eddie”, it must be from her husband. Because he’s a travel writer he has a complicated schedule, but after a little back and forth we were able to nail down a date and time.

We met last Tuesday in Union Square Park. I can’t blame them for meeting in a public place, since they didn’t know us from Adam, but at the same time it’s kind of a safe bet. I don’t think criminals go all the way to the Galapagos to get mail so they can rob people, it’s kind of an expensive way to find victims.

We met near the Gandhi statue and hit it off pretty well. We compared notes about our Galapagos adventures and generally enjoyed each other’s company. We had to beg off when they invited us to grab a cup of coffee because we had to deliver our next postcard in an hour, way uptown. They saw the name on the postcard, Camilla, and told us they were on the same trip as she was! Then we showed them our third postcard and they cracked up. All three postcards we took were addressed to people on their 10-person voyage. Small world. We took a selfie and headed uptown to meet Camilla.

2015-05-11 14.05.25

 

Camilla

As I said, the second card was addressed to Camilla. It wasn’t signed, and written on the back of the postcard were some nice sayings, telling Camilla how nice it was to be near water, to remember to relax, to enjoy life. Things like that. My googling revealed that Camilla is a very busy girl. She is a financial journalist, author, and runs a popular website. She also already knew how the Post Office worked, so we checked our schedules and easily found a mutually convenient time.

It was a beautiful day, and we arrived at her apartment building right at our appointed time. The doorman said she was not in. I checked my iPhone. I had an email from her saying she was sorry, but she was out. We were about to leave her correspondence with the doorman when she arrived, out of breath. I think she forgot, and when I emailed her that we were on her way she flew to meet us. We had a nice chat in front of the building, taking our selfie while talking about our trips. She is lively, fun and upbeat.

2015-05-11 15.05.45

She invited us up to her apartment, which was lovely, and told her how funny it was that we took three random postcards and they all turned out to be from the same group. She said she knew Fire Island well, having spent many nights in Davis Park with her family. She told us that her mother was a designer, and Mom’s architect friend “Hubby” had built many homes there. Hubby would ask them to spend a few nights  in newly constructed houses in return for making some design suggestions. She mentioned Hubby several times. Finally George said “Hobby? Do you mean Hobby Miller?” Hobby is a legend in Water Island, he built many of the homes.  His family still works here, in construction, home care, and real estate. And of course, Hobby was exactly who she meant. As I said—small world.

Finally, it was time to go. She said she knew the third postcard recipient, Wendy. “Oh, you’ll love her. She’s an internet superstar, she’ll probably have a camera crew there!” I smiled to myself, we kissed her cheeks, and then we were gone.

 

 

Wendy

I had smiled to myself when Camilla mentioned Wendy because my attempts to reach her had become so strange. I’m going to have to walk you through all the twists and turns.  Keep in mind that, in the end, we loved her. She does a lot for charities (I think). She is beautiful and charming. She’s just a rabid self-promoter. And good for her. I liked her, even though I didn’t think I would, mainly because of what I went through trying to meet her. And only thirty-some-odd emails later we were standing barefoot in her apartment.

Like Carol and Camilla, I googled her first. Lots of hits, I might have blown up the internet. Her focus seems to be dogs. Books, charities, reality shows. Her postcard was addressed to an address on West 35th Street in Manhattan, which is why we chose it—it was convenient. The postcard was clearly from a fan, it said: Wendy—Thank-you from the Galapagos for all you do to help animals and provide hope for the World! Don’t let the world/everyone down—your [sic] a voice to bring awareness! Dog bless you! It wasn’t signed, but there was a little symbol drawn on the bottom, ◊.

Arranging to meet her took many emails, some of which I’ve included. I don’t want to divulge her personal information, so let’s pretend her name is Wendy Darling and her company is Wendyco, just for illustrative purposes.

 

I couldn’t find her email address in my search, but I did find info for her “publicist”. So my first email went to the address listed under “Information”, yappy@wendyco.com. I was careful at the beginning, in case she thought I was a deranged fan or something.


To: Yappy@wendyco.com
From: Kyle

April 28, 10:44 AM

I’m trying to reach Wendy Davis. I have a postcard from the Galapagos. It’s hard to read the signature, but I hope whoever sent it told you it was coming, so you don’t think we’re crazy.

We were hoping to drop by and deliver it, and hopefully take a selfie while we’re in New York for a couple of weeks.

Here is how the Galapagos mail works:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/28/AR2010012803677.html

Let us know when we can deliver your mail!

Kyle & George


The response came from Missy Pringle.


To: Kyle
From: Missy Pringle
April 28 11:09 AM

Wendy Davis? We have a Wendy Darling is this who?


So I had screwed up, right off the bat. Her name is not Wendy Davis. Wendy Davis is a politician from Texas, who I greatly admire. I should have said Wendy Darling.


To: Missy
From: Kyle
April 28 11:15 AM

Yes! Sorry. Wendy Darling. Sorry, I type faster than my brain.


No response. So, I’m ready to just hand-deliver the postcard to where it was addressed, but about a week later I get an answer.


To: Kyle
From: Missy Pringle
May 6, 8:53 AM

What days/times!? Happy to check her schedule!



To: Missy Pringle
From: Kyle
May 6, 9:22 AM

We should be around next week, let us know what works for her (and you)


I kind of wanted to meet Missy Pringle, so I was hoping she would be there when we came by. I decided that she was young, due to her overuse of exclamation points, plus assistants are usually just starting out. I had this image of her with one of those ballpoint pens with a big, plastic flower at the end. I was sure she dotted her i’s with little smiley faces.

I google everything and everyone. But I couldn’t find anything on her. No Facebook matches seemed to work. Same with Linked In, Instagram and Twitter. I even checked Etsy.  Nothing. I googled her name with wendyco. A few hits, but nothing substantial. She’s listed as the Press Contact on some press releases, and a Zoom Info page. But that’s not social media, and anyone under 29 is all about social media. It didn’t add up, and I was a bit suspicious. Her existence was officially in doubt.  Of course, you can’t prove a negative, but I was on the case.


To: Kyle
From: Missy Pringle
May 6, 9:32 AM

Weekend? For how long – just a meet and greet?


A meet and greet?  Really? A meet and greet is something politicians, rock stars and celebrities set up to get through as many fans as possible. Basically they take a selfie or shake your hand while an assistant stands at the ready with a huge bottle of hand sanitizer. I’ve been to a few in my life. Once we were invited backstage to meet and greet Ann Margret (she was lovely), and when we went to a fundraiser for Al Gore we all lined up on one side of a velvet rope while he walked the line and shook each person’s hand. (I knew I only had a moment with him, and I wanted to get his attention, so I thanked him for sending us his annual Christmas Card. He smiled and said we were welcome. “Did you get ours?” I asked. “And I saved every one!” he shot back. It was a moment.) Anyway, I thought it was kind of grand of her to think I was stopping by for a meet and greet. And since I’ve decided Missy might be a fictional character, I figured Wendy was sending these herself. I was fascinated.

So, instead of googling Wendy Darling, I googled the address of her “office”, which was apparently also the address of her “publicist”. Hundreds of different businesses were listed at this address, on this floor. Clearly it’s one of those addresses you rent, they collect your mail and forward your phone. OK, not a big deal, lots of businesses are run this way, but it did support my theory that Ms. Darling was making herself seem bigger. And, seriously, I’m OK with that. When my book came out, I did the same thing. I sent out my own press releases under a pseudonym, and it worked! I didn’t take it as far as Wendy does, like setting up “meet and greets”, but still I did it.


To: Missy Pringle
From: Kyle
May 6, 9:39 AM

Not around during the weekend, but here next week. This should take all of two minutes.



To: Kyle
From: Missy Pringle
May 6, 10:21 AM

Easy! So you can do next Thursday at 8:30 AM



 

To: Missy Pringle
From: Kyle
May 6, 1:27 PM

That works, see you then…



To: Kyle
From: Missy Pringle
May 6, 1:54 PM

Can you meet Wendy at Starbucks on 59th and 9th?


That’s pretty inconvenient for us. I picked this postcard because of the address. Of course, I realized, she can’t meet me at 35th Street because it would expose that she doesn’t really have an office. But why go through this? I’m just a dumb guy who’s trying to deliver a postcard. I can see playing this charade to get press, or other business purposes. But for some schmuck delivering mail? It seemed over the top and unnecessary.

All of this correspondence happened before we met with Carol and Camilla. When we met with Camilla, she had said that Wendy was an internet superstar and would probably have a camera crew. I had a feeling they knew each other better than Camilla let on, and I was right. Now I googled BOTH of them in the same search, and it turns out they have known each other for years. Camilla goes to Wendy’s press events, and is listed as one of the celebrity guests, and they reverse rolls at Camilla’s press events.

But, if they are friends, why didn’t Camilla just say so? The plot thickens, but it was easy to surmise that they were traveling to the Galapagos together. Did they send each other the postcards? Eddy sent one to Carol, and they were clearly traveling together. We sent one to ourselves, too. I picked up the postcard addressed to Wendy and reread it:

Wendy—Thank-you from the Galapagos for all you do to help animals and provide hope for the World! Don’t let the world/everyone down—your [sic] a voice to bring awareness! Dog bless you! ◊.

I was now officially obsessed.


To: Missy Pringle
From: Kyle
May 6, 2:33 PM

Sure


The day before the appointed meeting I sent “Missy” a reminder.


To: Missy Pringle
From: Kyle
May 13, 4:32 PM

Just to confirm, Starbucks on 59th and 9th at 8:30 in the morning


And now Missy drops away, and Wendy sends the response:


To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 13, 6:47PM

Hi Kyle! Yes happy to meet for a coffee – question by chance can you do earlier? :) If not 830 it is!



 

To: Wendy
From: Kyle
May 13, 8:11 PM

We’re on the lower east side, so earlier won’t really work. I hope that’s OK. Sorry



 

To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 13, 8:13

Are you here this weekend?



To: Wendy
From: Kyle
May 13, 8:27 PM

No, we’re not, sorry. Listen, we can just put it in the mail, it’s really not a problem.



To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 13, 8:41 PM

How’s 215 tomorrow at the waldorf?


The Waldorf. This is changing by the minute. Now I’m just a little pissed off and more captivated than ever. Does she have ADD? The Waldorf? George pointed out that we had planned to be on the Upper East Side anyway, so I responded:


To: Wendy
From: Kyle
May 13, 8:44 PM

Sure, sounds good.



To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 14, 9:35 AM

I would love to have my dog meet you – see below facebook [her Facebook link is included at the bottom]– can we meet instead at 3:15 [she gives address]? Will meet you downstairs! Be fun to promote Galapagos! Do you have pets?


I’m worn out. I must to meet her. I have to meet her.


To: Wendy
From: Kyle
May 14, 10:52 AM

You are hard to pin down! Same time?


By now you might be bored with this back and forth, but I don’t want you to skip her response. Here you go:


To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 14, 10:57 AM

Google me u will smile I help the world! Is 315 OK? Do you have pets?


I help the world? Who says that? I’ve known quite a few people over the years who do God’s work. Not one of them would use such a phrase. It’s a charming thing if someone finds out about your good deeds by accident, but if you have to shove it in their face, well, it’s the opposite of charming.


To: Wendy
From: Kyle
May 14, 11:26 AM

Let me check with my husband, but please, this has to be the last change. You’re a tornado!

You are pre-googled, which is how we were able to email you in the first place. You and Camilla sure are busy. We delivered her card on Tuesday.

We do not have a pet at the moment, but we’ve had many many rescue dogs over the years. Right now we travel too much, but as soon as we slow down we are sure some little creature—usually needing an immediate five thousand dollars in medical care—will limp into our lives again.

I’ll get back to you on the new meeting place and time.



To: Kyle
From: Wendy
May 14, 11:34 AM

Forgive me! Now at a conference at the waldorf so sadly made this am impossible! Hope so!


It made this morning impossible?  Wendy chose the date and time.  Just yesterday she said she would make our 8:30 rendezvous if I couldn’t change it. What, was there a last-minute, emergency conference at the Waldorf only she could handle? She weaves a tangled web.

I was all ready to not like her. Walking down her block at 3:10 I said to George “If she’s five minutes late, we’re leaving the postcard” and he agreed. She was 5 minutes early, just like we were. And we really enjoyed her. Chatty, going a mile a minute, but still fascinating. And gorgeous.  Especially her big blue eyes. She invited us up to her apartment and we accepted. We talked about dogs, Galapagos, life in New York, life in general. And we took our selfie.

2015-05-14 15.28.47

She gave me an autographed copy of her book. As I leafed through it, I could hear George in the distance saying “So we figured that you and Camilla sent your postcards to each other!” I also heard her hesitate before she agreed.

While they were talking I found the autograhped page. Not only did the handwriting match the postcard, but she penned “Dog Bless You” and, next to her signature, was the symbol. ◊. Her trademark. She had sent the postcard to herself.

2015-05-13 06.05.43

I can only think that she was trying to impress the deliverer of the postcard, whoever it was, by making them think a fan sent it. But we had stumbled onto the indisputable fact she sent it to herself.

It’s OK, we enjoyed meeting her, but I’d really like to tell her she doesn’t need to go through all this to impress people, especially people she doesn’t know and doesn’t need to impress.  She’s impressive without setting all this up. Write a postcard to yourself, sure, but gushing and lavishing praise on yourself? A little weird. Besides, isn’t that what she pays Missy Pringle for?

 

Please like and share with your friends. Remember you can click on any image to enlarge it, and don’t forget to click the links!

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

My Ancestry Commercial: How it Happened, from Soup to Nuts

In my previous post, I explained that I first joined Ancestry.com in 2011 to try and track down Uncle Phillip. I wound up getting lost in my own genealogy, having lots of fun along the way.

In March, while we were in Ecuador, I received an email from them. This is not unusual; they are kind of like Pottery Barn, in that they relentlessly bombard you with emails. I’m surprised I even opened it. Here is the email I received:

 

The Email That Started It All
The Email That Started It All – click to enlarge

 

I thought, huh, I have an interesting AncestryDNA story. So I sent it off. Then they asked me to submit my story in a short video, so I did. (Click here to view my submission)

About a week later, the casting director both called and emailed me. She invited me to have a Skype call with her, which would be recorded, so I could tell my story without any time constraints. George and I were back from Ecuador by then, so I made the call from my sister-in-law’s kitchen table. It was a  simple, straightforward conversation, and I was relaxed as I told my story. After about 30 minutes she stopped recording the call and told me that I “had everything they were looking for” and she would be in touch.

The next step was a call from the director, Matt. I was at the beach for that call, and we spent about a half hour chatting. Toward the end of the call, I asked him what my chances were to be selected. He said he would be very surprised if they didn’t use me. I was shocked.

A few days later the casting director called to tell me I was officially chosen. She said the competition was pretty fierce, they had about a thousand submissions and were only taping 5 stories. She said I would soon get a call from wardrobe, and they would be flying me out to Los Angeles to tape the commercial.

Wardrobe said to bring casual slacks, a nice pair of jeans, a solid colored button down shirt, a sweater or two and comfortable leather shoes. I flew to Los Angeles on Jet Blue early on a Thursday morning, and, after checking into my hotel, I was picked up to go to a wardrobe fitting.

I did have a quick laugh on the plane.   There was a woman on the plane, a couple of rows ahead of me on the opposite side of the cabin. You couldn’t miss her.  I would describe her as unfortunate looking, and she kept jumping up out of her seat.  Sometimes she’d use the restroom, sometimes she’d grab a snack.  Often she would get treats for the people in her row, and the people behind her.  She seemed to be treating everyone very nicely, even if she was a bundle of nervous energy.  When I walked by her to use the restroom, I realized my mistake.  This wasn’t a homely woman at all–it was actually Rod Stewart!  I should have said hello–we might be related.

Mr. Rod Stewart.  I should have introduced myself, we might be related!
Mr. Rod Stewart. I should have introduced myself, we might be related!

 

Wardrobe was set up in the hallway of the ad agency. It was great fun. First they looked at what I brought. They liked my jeans, my Cole Haan shoes, and my plaid Penguin button down shirt. They vetoed my sweater, so they supplemented my outfit with a sweater of their own.

Wardrobe Department - German Costume
Wardrobe Department – German Costume

Then they had me in lederhosen, shirt, hat, hose and what I would describe as peasant shoes, which I thought were kind of cool. They wanted me in a jacket, too, and I explained you wouldn’t wear a jacket with lederhosen. They took me at my word.

While they had several pairs of lederhosen, shoes, and shirts in different textures and sizes, they only had one hat. They had asked for all of my measurements before I arrived, but they never asked about my giant bulbous head. The hat, of course, was too small, but they managed to cram my cranium into it and make it work.

Wardrobe Department - Scottish Costume
Wardrobe Department – Scottish Costume

Next was the kilt. It was a little tight, so they let it out. They also rented a big swooping sash, which would go over the shoulder. They never really got the sash to hang right at the fitting, so when I returned to my hotel room I googled examples which I brought to the shoot. They tried another hat, but there are simply times in your life when scissors, glue and tape can’t compensate for your supersized skull.

The fitting took about 2 hours, even though only 45 minutes were allotted. While hanging out in wardrobe I got to meet a couple of the other people also cast in the commercials.

My overnight research
My overnight research

 

There was a set of twins who looked familiar to me. They are African-American OBGYNs living in Chicago. I was wracking my brain, it sounded so familiar, so I googled them. They were on a The Amazing Race. I’ve never watched it, but I must have seen some promos. They were here because they thought they might be descendant from John Quincy Adams, but they couldn’t prove it one way or the other. They did find, however, that they could trace sets of twins back hundreds of years.

One young woman, also African-American, told me her story. Her  great-grandfather was a doctor in Alabama, but it was against the law for African-Americans to have a medical license. The most advanced license they would give him was Pharmaceutical. It was also illegal for him to treat white people and, since blacks were living in abject poverty, he could not make a living treating them. He finally ended up working for a pharmaceutical company and had a fairly good career. Unfortunately for him, Alabama was NOT a place to be making money while black. He was murdered, and his land was taken away from his family. His murder was never solved.  If you think we’ve come far from this behavior, read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It is a great read and, sadly, shocking.

Two other people were going to be filmed, a woman from Oregon who, from what I could tell, simply had fun tracing her lineage. She told me her story but there was no draw-dropping moment. The other woman, who was from Ohio, was pretty sure she was descended from the Vikings, but her DNA showed inconsistencies from her family members. I don’t think any conclusions were drawn here, either. I guess we will know if they air her commercial!

I returned to my hotel room. They were picking me up at 6 AM to take me to the studio, and I knew I’d be pretty bright-eyed if I kept to East Coast time. I went out for some pizza, was in bed by 8, and awoke at 5 in the morning, feeling pretty great. I couldn’t believe I slept so well—I was pretty excited!

The twins and I were in the same car, so I asked them about The Amazing Race. They were very personable and charming—I bet they are a casting director’s dream.

There was no traffic, but the studio was pretty far. It took about an hour to get there. We were met by a production assistant who showed us where the catering tent was and told us to eat. I took a muffin and coffee. Then I tossed the muffin away—I was convinced it would get stuck in my teeth. If I knew there were still a couple of hours before I would be in front of the camera, I wouldn’t have worried. I was too nervous to eat, anyway.

Once inside I met the wardrobe team again. They had taken some things in and let some things out, so they wanted to give them a final once-over. Then they dressed me in my own clothes, the ones they picked out the day before. Then they were called up to the set with their pins, tape, elastic bands and racks of clothes.

Make-up
Make-up

Make-up was next. They had two make-up chairs, and they worked on the twins first. Once the twins were beautiful, they were led up to the set. They would be taped first. I took a seat in the make-up chair and, well, they did their best with what they had. I thought it would take a bucket of paint to spruce up this old barn, but it was pretty minimal. The day before the director instructed me NOT to shave, and the make-up crew was unsure this was best. I told them I brought my razor just in case the director changed his mind, but I returned home with it untouched.

Then I sat and waited. A long time. A very long time. I tried reading, but couldn’t concentrate, so I really just sat there.

Twenty-one years ago, back when I was a probie training for my Fire Department, my friend Jon Gilbert and I were at the Fire Academy to try our hand at the smoke maze. Our masks were covered so we could not see. We were kneeling on the floor getting ready to force the entrance door open when Jon had trouble with his mask. Prior to this I had no anxiety at all. As I sat there, blindfolded, waiting to “go in”, I got the chance to worry. “What is on the other side of this door?” “Do I know what I’m doing?” “Can I get hurt?” “Will I make myself look the fool?” Things like that. By the time they fixed his mask, I had used up most of my air bottle. Once we got started I calmed down a little bit, but worrying about the unknown had unnerved me. I’m sure–had we just gone in right away as planned–I wouldn’t have given it another thought. Within five minutes my pass alarm went off and we were forced to retreat.

We weren’t allowed on-set until they were ready for us, so sitting and waiting to be called was a similar experience. Other than pitching my muffin in the trash, I really hadn’t given this any thought. At all. Up to now, I was remarkably calm. Now I was sitting in a very big room, alone with my thoughts. My mouth stayed dry no matter how much water I drank. I leafed through magazines and struck up a conversation with anyone who came by, just to distract myself. Mercifully, after about two hours, I was brought to the set.

Me on my set
Me on my set
They decided to lose the shelves.  Apparently the X in the back of the shelves was distracting.
They decided to lose the shelves. Apparently the X in the back of the shelves was distracting.

Wardrobe pushed a sweater over my head and make-up dusted me with final flourish of magic powder while my set was put into place. My very own set. It had a big wooden chair, and shelves with books, beer steins, a boat and some framed family pictures. One of my great grandfather, and two of me in my lederhosen. They put a piece of tape on the floor and told me to stand there. So I did, for a long time, while they adjusted the lights. Then, with a flourish, the bookshelves were deemed unsuitable and stricken from the set. My family pictures were set up on the floor behind me, and a small table appeared to hold the beer steins and a photograph. And then they began to tape.

Me on my set--long shot
Me on my set–long shot

There was no script, of course, I was just telling my story. On the teleprompter, where an actor’s lines would be, was superimposed the director’s face. Like the Great and Wonderful Oz, his slightly green face floated in front of the lens. This way I could respond to him, but be looking  directly into the camera. It was great fun. He asked me a few questions to warm me up, then asked me my story. I think I did pretty well—although I kept calling it “Ancestry.com” when they wanted me to simply call it “Ancestry”, so we had a couple of “do-overs”. Sometimes they would stop and adjust the lights, and sometimes they would come up from a huddle and ask me the same question again.

That was difficult. I think I sounded natural when they asked me a question the first time, but to go back and do it again, it felt weird. I was also concerned because I realized how much I say “ummm” and “uhhh” when I’m thinking, but someone on the crew told me not to worry—they can just cut those out.

At some point they asked me if I was going to continue tracing my tree back even further. I said that I planned “to trace my tree back to an acorn!”. There was a brief silence in the room, then from the far corner we heard laughter. Apparently it was the client. The folks from Ancestry.com loved it. If they do chose to air my commercial, I hope they put that in!

German Kyle on set
German Kyle on set

Then it was time for the lederhosen. He asked me more questions, some of the repeats from before, and then he asked me to do something I hadn’t anticipated: The Schuhplattler. I was impressed with myself, actually, I nailed it—even though the last time I danced was 45 years ago! There was one thing I noticed that was different from my childhood. I was now wearing a costume, it was made of cotton instead of leather, so it didn’t have the right sound when I slapped it. It surprised me that I even noticed that, but I did.

Me in the monitor doing the schuhplattler
Me in the monitor doing the schuhplattler

2015-04-24 11.02.11

Next came the kilt, which, thanks to my research, was correctly worn over one shoulder, instead of hanging in front of my like drapes. A touch-up by make-up, a few more questions from the director, and I was done.

Scottish Kyle on set
Scottish Kyle on set

After I was changed, the Ancestry.com people wanted to have a chat and said how much they liked my “audition tapes”. We chatted for a bit, and I told them the story of how I used Ancestry.com to find evidence that Karlyn had no family. They thought it was an interesting story and had me tell it again so they could tape it. They were very nice, and seemed to genuinely like my enthusiasm for their product.

I was released. I had the option to go back to the hotel and stare at the walls, or wait around for lunch. I chose lunch—I wanted the full experience, including Craft Services! Afterwards I returned to my hotel and got ready for my very early flight home.

 

So, it was great fun. It was interesting to be on a set, especially one built just for me! I had a wonderful time. Even if they never air my commercial, I have to admit this has been an amazing experience and I’m grateful it happened.

Last week, they asked for pictures of my family—Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Parents, Grandparents, and Great Grandparents. They want to build my tree to show on-air. I hope they use my family pictures—I think it would be fun to have everyone in the commercial together. This could be a great experience for everyone.

So, that’s the story of filming the commercial. Keep your fingers crossed, and perhaps you’ll see me, and my extended family, on TV. I didn’t notice any gauze on the lens, so I hope HD is kind to this 53 year-old face.

 

 

Please like and share with your friends. Remember you can click on any image to enlarge it, and don’t forget to click the links!

 

© 2015 Kyle Merker

What my DNA had to say, and how it took me to LA.

I am writing this on an airplane, flying from LAX to JFK. I have a story to tell, all true, and it requires your patience. It’s kind of long. And it goes back in time. Way back.

But I need to start closer to the beginning, back to 2011 when we cruised to Alaska. Our entourage included my mother, my Aunt Georgie, and my future in-laws Glen and Elsa. During the cruise we learned from our fellow passengers Jeff and David that marriage equality had passed in New York, which was kind of a shock since we always said we would only get married if it was legal in our home state. We never imagined they would call our bluff. With our families looking on, we were immediately engaged.

After dinner, Aunt Georgie told me that Uncle Phillip was gay, and so begins my tale. My response was “who the hell is Uncle Phillip? I never heard of Uncle Phillip!” and instantly realized I needed to know more. My mother later whispered in a matter of fact tone “Uncle Phillip was not gay!” Still, I was intrigued.

 

A few years earlier I had poked around on Ancestry (formerly Ancestry.com) and thought I’d fire it up again and try and track down my Great Grand Uncle Phillip. The way Ancestry works is you input what you know, like you parents’ and grandparents’ information. If you’re lucky, Ancestry comes imageback with “hints” to their past, include who their (and by definition your) relations might be. You can see other people’s family trees, along with public records like wills, deeds, census information, passenger lists, etc. From there you can find kernels of information to help build your tree. So, finding Uncle Phillip took a little searching, but wasn’t hard. Getting some dirt, well, that is more of a challenge.

I became obsessed with trying to figure out if Uncle Phillip was a Friend of Dorothy’s or not. I learned a few key facts about him and used them to my advantage. Mom said he was a bachelor, a geologist who lived in El Paso, Texas. I tried to make a survey of the people around him, just to see if there was a “friend” who would consistently appear. Unfortunately the government–with the possible exception of the FBI–doesn’t keep records of who your buddies are. I compared census records at Uncle Phillip’s residences over time to see if the same name would pop up with his (didn’t happen). I googled is name and address (he mostly lived in a boarding house), I searched newspapers, land records, and wills. There wasn’t much, until I discovered that he had lost his passport. I hoped that this was my break.

Back then, if you lost your passport, you basically had someone certify that you’re American. This was 80 years before 9/11; things were a bit looser back then. I somehow stumbled upon the letter written by his friend to secure his documents. “Eureka!” my inner voice rang out. I started investigating his buddy who wrote the letter. His name was Clarence Chester Chase, and it turns he was indicted in The Teapot Dome Scandal in 1924. He was Collector of Customs and, his Father-in-Law, Albert Fall, was a former US Senator and Secretary of the Interior, serving in the cabinet of Warren Harding. Fall went to jail. Nice people you’re hanging with, Uncle Phillip.

Interesting, but my digging didn’t reveal anything about their relationship, in fact Mr. Chase had a wife and kids. Not that that disproves anything–back in the day gay men had a family at home and a boyfriend at the Athletic Club. I never did figure out Uncle Phillip’s orientation, but it really doesn’t matter. I hope he had a full and rich life.

 

Great Grand Uncle Philip
Great Grand Uncle Philip

 

The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann.  If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.
The arrow points to my Great Grandfather, Albert Zimmermann. If you look where the hose curves, you can see my Grandfather holding my Mother.

But now I’m deep into the Ancestry website, and I continued tracing other relatives. I didn’t realize my maternal great-grandfather was, like me, a volunteer firefighter–until I found him mentioned in the The Daily Star newspaper. My mother confirmed that he was a volunteer firefighter, and she even had his shield and some pictures, which she gave to me as a present. But the real gift was the connection I now felt with him and my family’s past.

 

I traced as much of my mother’s family as I could, but the trail would sometimes grow cold. My Mom gave me lots of oral history, filling in the blanks where Ancestry could not. I’m still working on it.

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We didn’t really know my Dad’s family, the only person I ever met was his half-sister, Marie, who served as my Godmother, but my christening was the last time we laid eyes on each other. The extended family I knew and loved was solely on my mother’s side. So it was ironic that tracing Dad’s side of my tree was much easier—the Merker branch of my tree lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS.  This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938
Melvin Edgar Merker II, DDS. This is a page from his book, Dependable Dentistry, published in 1938

I knew his grandfather–my great grandfather–was a dentist, but not much more. Through published business listings I found the address where he practiced, which was on 39th Street in Manhattan. Since we lived on 30th street I strolled over, just to see the building. I also found him on a passenger list from Bermuda. Digging deeper I discovered he held a patent on what seems to be the precursor of the dental implant, and he wrote a book titled Dependable Dentistry, which the University of Michigan digitized in 2008. Apparently it’s still referred to today!

Research was a bit slow. Ancestry allows you to copy information from others’ family trees, but who’s to know if they are right? I found lots of people whose dates didn’t line up—daughters giving birth to mothers, people married to themselves, or, my favorite, the 102 year old woman bearing children. Lots of people had that one. To avoid perpetuating such errors in my tree, I built each branch slowly, adding ancestors only when enough circumstantial evidence was discovered to support it.

Information would come in waves. When Giles Claude Merker drowned in Illinois in 1892, it was covered by the local paper, which disclosed the names of many grieving relatives—this helped me greatly in filling out even more my tree.

 

Newspaper story on Gile's downing.  (Click to enlarge.)
Newspaper story on Gile’s downing. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, me on the floor.
Karen and Kirsten with their dance partners, Kyle on the floor.

Merker. It’s a German name, and my late father’s own genealogical research traced us back to a small town in Germany called Groß-Bieberau. Dad embraced his German heritage. Big time. We ate German food like leberkäse, schnitzel, landjäger and wursts. He belonged to a German social club and we were member of it’s kindergruppe. We were dancers, performing the schuhplattler in parades, fairs and festivals. My father danced the schäefflertanz. I wore lederhosen, Karen and Kirsten wore dirndls. My sisters were even on TV—The Bell Telephone Hour: The World of Christmas with Victor Borge.

Christmas was a celebration of our German Heritage. A miniature Bavarian village glowed under our tannenbaum while we munched on stollen and marzipan. My parents spoke German, but usually just when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying.

We did everything but goose step. We were as German as anyone could be.

 

Kyle with his dance partner.
Kyle with his dance partner.

 

I was understandably confused, therefore, when Ancestry told a different story. Sure, the Merker line went back to Germany, but only one person named Merker. In fact, I couldn’t get back to anywhere else, not for generations. I traced the Merker tree through Illinois, Kentucky, and Maryland. I connected us to several revolutionary war fighters (MERKER FAMILY: get your DAR and SAR applications ready–you’re in!). It’s seems like we fought in every major conflict, including both sides of the Civil War.

Then I found something remarkable. I came upon an ancestor, my fourth great grandfather Samuel Magruder Thrift, in a book called City of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement. Once upon a time they published these biographies of the local prominent families. These books told where they lived, how much land they owned, and, if it was even remotely interesting, a bit of ancestry. Toward the end of Sam’s entry was a line about his wife, Sarah Fleming Cowan, my fourth great grandmother. It made me sit straight up in my chair while my neck hair did the same. It says:

“Samuel Thrift was united in marriage to Miss Sarah Fleming Cowan, a descendant of the Stuart family of England, her ancestry being traceable directly to Mary, Queen of Scots.”

Now I’m dumbstruck. Could this be true? My research went into overdrive. Before I get your hopes up, let me say this: I am NOT a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, although at the time I didn’t know that, so I was motivated to do a lot more research.

 

But hey, back up! Wait. Breathe. Deep breaths. What about Germany? I still hadn’t gotten there, except one person on my father’s side. What the hell am I doing in Illinois, trying to make my way back to Scotland? What about the beer steins decorated with edelweiss I was supposed to find? This can’t be right: We’re German!

So, what does Kyle do? He gets his DNA analyzed. Yes. Yes I did.

Ancestry has a DNA testing service, so I spit into a vial and mailed it off. The results came back fairly quickly, and my jaw dropped when I opened the page with the results.

The first hit was, understandably, 52% British Isles. No surprise there. My maternal grandmother, who I miss dearly and think of almost every day, her family was from County Cork. 52% seemed high, but it made sense. 52%, I’m good with it.

The next hit: 28% Scandinavian! What? Hold on, think. OK, Scandinavia is up there, just northeast of Germany. Right. But 28%? Hmmm. Borders were fluid back in the day, and everyone was always invading each other so, maybe. But I never heard of Scandinavian as a background for us.  OK, Scandinavia. Great. Maybe I’ll get a discount in Ikea. Wait ‘till I tell Chief Fridsberg!

Next hit: less than 10% Central Europe. Huh? Really? 10%? Even if all 10% is from Germany, we’re not really very German. Still confused, I called my sister Kirsten and we tried to do the math. “Maybe I should get my DNA tested” she mused. “Uh, unless you know something I don’t know, they should be the same…” I suggested before we both laughed so hard my sides hurt.

Not even 10% German, but rather the more generic and ordinary Central European.  Alright, 10%. I wish I knew that when they called me Kraut in grade school, and–maybe–I could have been a good guy once while playing war.

From time to time Ancestry reruns your DNA, and they eventually got back to me. That 10% turned out to be…wait for it…: Greek and Italian! Now it claimed my DNA is less than 4% Central European. My world, and my lederhosen, were turned upside down.

 

My DNA results!
My DNA results!

 

As I said, thanks to Sarah Cowen’s mention in her husband’s biography, coupled with the revelations hidden in my DNA, I really buckled down and went to work, painstakingly finding evidence to get to the bottom of this. What I found was pretty remarkable. If you’re still with me and haven’t fallen asleep yet, or decided you had better things to do (the high dusting comes to mind, have you seen the top of your bookshelves lately?), I’d like to get on with walking you through the more interesting part. The Scottish part. And I’m going to start with me. Let’s climb a tree!

 

To quote Dickens opening title in David Copperfield: Chapter One: I am Born.

Little German Kyle
Little German Kyle

And I was, on August 17, 1961, the third child and only son to Melvin Edgar Merker III (1925 – 2001) and Arlene Zimmermann. Dad wanted to name me Melvin Edgar Merker IV but my mother dug in and named me Kyle. I love you mom, clearly you had my back from day one. Unfortunately I need to leave my mom here and climb a few rungs up the Merker side of my tree.

 

My grandfather was Melvin Edgar Merker II (1903-196?) and my great grandfather was, obviously, Melvin Edgar Merker (1873-?). He was the dentist, and was born in 1873. Think about it—no Novocain. Ouch.

My great-great grandfather was born in 1834, his name was Charles Lewis Merker (1834-1886) and it was his son, Giles Claude who drowned in 1892. It was Charles Lewis’ father who came from Groß-Bieberau.

But we are going to leave the Merkers here in Illinois. It is Charles’ wife, my great-great grandmother, we follow next. Her name was Isabella Lorraine Thrift (1840-1886), and she came from a fairly prominent family. She was born in 1840 to AJ Thrift and Minerva Jane Hawkins (1819-1851).

Her father, Andrew Jackson Thrift (1815-1888) was a jackpot of information. He was my 3rd great grandfather. I found his application to the Sons of the American Revolution, and once I input my ancestors listed on his application, my bonsai-sized tree started to grow into a sequoia. Both of his parents came from very wealthy families, so there is a very discernible trail. Rich people leave wills, deeds, newspaper stories and marriage records in their wake. The poorer you are, the more anonymous you are.

AJ’s parents both have interesting pedigrees. I can trace his father’s ancestors back to Nathaniel Thrift, my 10th great grandfather, who was born in Scotland in 1598 and died in Virginia in 1675. But, while AJ’s Dad’s roots are fascinating, it’s his mother–my 4th great grandmother–Sara Fleming Cowan’s (1792-1864) tree we will continue to climb today. She’s the one who erroneously thought she was a direct descendant of Mary Queen of Scots.

Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland
Samuels family goes back for generations in America, and then further back to Scotland

I’m going to climb faster now: Her father was Issac Cowan (1755-1809); his mother was Susannah Fleming (1702-1751); her father was William Fleming (1662-1726); his dad was Patrike Fleming (1657-1754); his Dad was Jon Fleming (1635-1665); and he was fathered by John Richard Wigtown Fleming (1610-1665). It was William and his father Patrike who moved to the United States from Scotland, settling in Pennsylvania.

This is the part of the tree we just climbed.
This is the part of the tree we just climbed.

Whew, let’s rest here a second and catch our breath, and I’ll quickly tell you that during my research I found five men I am descended from with the title Sir, and their wives with the title Lady! Those family names include Kerr, Steuart, Stewart and Fleming. We aren’t climbing any of those branches now, but I was pretty stoked—if nothing else I descended from fancy people with fancy titles!

Let’s climb. I told you that because it gets even better, because John Richard Wigtown Fleming had to address his Father’s Day card to Lord John Second Earl of Wigtown Fleming (1589-1659). My 11th great grandfather was both a Lord and an Earl! Pretty cool, ey? Of course, he was the Second Earl because his father was the first. His name was Lord John Montrose Fleming (1566-1619), who inherited his title of “Lord” from his Dad, John the 5th Baron Lord of Montrose Fleming (1528-1572).

The Flemings
The Flemings, back to Lady Janet

 

He was the 5th Baron Lord and, if we continued to follow his tree we would find a succession of titles. But, as interesting as that story is, it’s his wife we are going to follow now. Her name was Lady Janet and she was my 14th great grandmother. Her full title? Lady Janet Baroness Fleming Princess of Scotland Stewart.   Princess? Of course, because “Pops” was King James IV King of Scotland! Lady Janet was Mary Queen of Scots Aunt and Governess. (Sarah Fleming Cowan was close, not a direct descendant of MQoS, but a distant relative instead.)

Kings of Scotland, my 15th, 16th, 17th great grandfathers and beyond! I’m blown away. One more thing: King James IV’s mother was Margarete Oldenberg and her parents, my 17th Great Grandparents on her side, were the King and Queen of Denmark and Sweden!

 

Lady Janet's, and our, Royal Lineage.  I plan to take it back further, much further.
Lady Janet’s, and our, Royal Lineage. I plan to take it back further, much further.

So that’s my family tree and DNA story, or an interesting fraction of it:  I found the dirt on Uncle Philip, although not the dirt I was looking for.  I feel a new connection with my great grandfather, a volunteer firefighter.  And, after living my life as a German-American, it turns out we’re not only Scottish, but descendant from royalty.

I recently found a book that claims to trace Lady Janet back to Charlemagne, so I still have more digging to do.  Lots more.

I’ve been working on this for years, but never told anyone because, well, it sounds like bullshit. How do you bring this up in conversation without sounding like a pompous jerk?

 

So, what does this have to do with my trip to LA?  I’m coming out of the Royal Closet now for a reason: I was in Los Angeles because Ancestry.com was so interested in my story that they cast me in a commercial! They need to decide which of the 5 commercials they shot will be aired, and let’s hope they choose mine! Those that are chosen will air starting June.  Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.

Me on my set!
Me on my set!

 

But this missive was long enough. I’ll tell you all about taping the commercial in my next post, but it was super fun and I’m very excited!)

 

©2015 by Kyle Merker

 

 

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